Posted by: Brad Beaman | May 17, 2008

Dead Church Wake Up!

George Barna in his book Turnaround Churches, profiles thirty churches that were about to die and made a turnaround. He compares dying churches to the Sears Catalogue. For about 100 years Sears was the symbol of mail order catalogue business. They introduced their mail order catalogue in 1894. For nearly one hundred years Sears was the catalogue retailer top dog.

In 1993 Sears announced that their catalogue would cease. What worked well in the past was no grantee of future success. The irony is that they buried their mail order catalogue when mail order business was $90 Billion business and the industry in a time of tremendous growth. That is striking that when direct marketing was at its height the most successful catalogue company of past dies out.

Barna makes a connection to the church. Today he says Christianity is growing as fast as ever and exciting things are happening and there is unprecedented church growth worldwide. In our nation more people are attending church than ever before. Yet some great churches of the past, prestigious churches that used to set the pace are dying, even closing their doors.

Sometimes the pride and complacency that comes with success often spells the fist step in decline. The paid staff grows and lay involvement becomes less. It is like a car that runs out of gas that does not come to an immediate stop but coasts along for a while.

In Revelation 3: 1-6 Jesus addresses the church in Sardis. It ran out of gas and was coasting. This church needs a turnaround. Jesus gives them a call to wake up. He exhorts them to be alive again. A church that is alive is an exciting church where people are expecting God to do great things.

When churches experience what God called the church to do it is dramatic. This is what Sardis needs. Sometimes a church comes alive and is looking for real ways to touch the world. An alive church is full of vision, purpose and a sense of God’s presence. When a church comes alive it is the place to be. When the church wakes up it is no longer the church for church sake, but it becomes the church with an eternal purpose.

The Church about to die
Jesus says you have a reputation of being alive but are dead.
Revelation 3:1
“To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.

Jesus calls Sardis a dead church, but vs 4 sheds light.

Revelation 3:4
You have a few people in Sardis that have not soiled their garments

Revelation 3:2
You are about to die, strengthen what remains.

The picture is that this was a great church in the past alive and did great things. They had prestigious pastors, dignified lay people, but the real dynamism is missing.

It becomes the place to be seen. A prestigious church that in reality is a place only of religious formalism. This formalism has a death grip on the church. That seems to describe Sardis.

What needs to be done? Wake up!

Revelation 3:2
Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.

When a church has a good reputation, much activity and past accomplishment it does not guarantee a spiritually alive church. The church in Smyrna was a sleeping giant.

Jesus calls the church to wake up. Worldly concerns had lulled this church to sleep to the point of death. Today there are churches across the landscape that are sleeping and about to die and Jesus says, Wake up!

Satan should fear a dying church. Why, because at any moment a core group in the church could hear Jesus words to wake up. They could get their church back on mission and make the gospel central. Then the church would no longer be focused on self. In Smyrna there was a small remnant there that had some life. That group needs to be strengthened and revitalized or the church will die.

How to revive the church.

Revelation 3:3
Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Jesus did not instruct Smyrna to go to a church growth conference in Philippi. He did tell them to remember what they had seen and heard. What they had heard was the basic message of the apostles. Jesus calls them back to the basics.

When Vince Lombardi tried to wake up his sleeping Green Bay Packers football team he called them back to the basics. He knew they needed to focus on the football basics of blocking and tackling. He took it to an extreme, held up a football and said; Gentlemen this is a football.

What Barna found in his study of turnaround churches is that those that did turn about got back to the basics. The return to basic theology and simple ministry was refreshing for most people, even those who had been Christian for decades. The people could agree on the crux of their faith. They were returning to what is eternally significant, practical and encouraging. This step allowed the pastor to restore the people’s confidence in the core of the churches ministry. Turnaround churches page 80

Teaching the gospel basics leads a church to renewal. The churches grow and gets sophisticated and fancy. Then it moves away from the basics to stimulate the intellectual. The problem is the church becomes too sophisticated for the basic offence of the cross. This is not suitable for the palate of the sophisticated church.

What is the solution for a dying church?

Revelation 3:4
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.

Get the spiritual remnant left in the church strengthened and focus on the basics. Concentrate on the core essentials of the church; evangelism, missions and basic discipleship. Teach the church members about the Holy Spirit lead day by day moment by moment walk. Emphasize prayer and scripture.

Dying churches should follow Jesus advice. Wake up and emphasize the basics. Repeating the clear and basic plan of salvation over and over does not weary a church it brings it back to life. The goal is more than longevity we preach God’s love.

Waking up a sleeping church about to die will require an emphasis on the sinful state of man.
Isaiah 53:6
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

What will keep your church alive? It will be an emphasis on the cross of Christ, the resurrection of Jesus and personal faith in Jesus Christ.

During the dark ages the whole church was dying. There were a few who remembered obeyed and repented. This led to an emphasis on justification by faith in Jesus. The simple truth brought a reformation. It woke up the sleeping church. The gospel brings life.

Revelation 3:5-6
He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. 6He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

What is Jesus evaluation? Is it a church that is alive or dead, awake or asleep? It is time for the sleeping church to wake up!



  1. send me more of such iencouraging messages. I am encouraged and the dead man in me is awake now.

  2. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation 🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Alabamian!

  3. Thank you for this it’s good to see that there are people still believing that back to basks and “Keep and teach that which you have received” that Paul passed to Timothy is really what is needed. There are too many people who think that entertainment would bring people to Church or Christ. People truly do need to know that they need to be saved and saved from what if Churches do not preach from the word of God or the message of Christ then sin is never mentioned and man always stays the center of the message preached from the pulpit. I wish we give more of Christ and Less of us in our sermons and allow Christ to help us as we prepare to share the message. After all if we give that which is of Christ we would not need to read the books or go to the conferences on pastoral development etc.

    I wish we follow the example of Martin Luther who use to say I’m so busy today I will have to spend more time on my knees praying for God’s guidance.

    Often when we become busy out time with God is first thing to go it is telling to find from the surveys that many ministers today spend 2 to 5 min a day on prayer and Bible reading. If we don’t spend time with God can we truly call him our friend, can we understand the sacrifice that he has done or love that he has for those who have been redeemed. Also that price that was pied for us to redeem us from our slavery to sin and separation from God. This is so often taken as a cheep gift not worth out time or desires.

    But the good news is that there are still some who are prepared to stay faithful to the first love and mission that Christ entrusted to us

    Mt 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
    Mt 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
    Mt 28:20 and teaching i them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

    Your brother in Christ Jesus

  4. What has been revealed to me when pondering this dilemma is this:

    We CAN NOT serve God and take part in His ministry as active soldiers while still preserving and feeding our human nature.

  5. You are right on the numbers. God is speaking thru prophits and ministers as has not been seen in many years. These troubling times can be our “finest hour” or “our worst disaster”. It is time for the church toi bind together around our core belief and that is Jesus the first and the last and rid ourselves of propriatary religion. If we are to be the church, now is the time! Mj

  6. I wanted to thank you for this article!!!

    I’m in a dying church right now. Ever since our lay minister left in 2007, everything has went into business rather than God’s word or anything else. It’s so bad, that even my Pastor get’s chastized by the board for stupid stuff. He had a son in the hospital for a couple days with a broken series of bones. We had another church member, elderly mind you, in the hospital with Leukemia. He spent all the time there with his son because he was naturally worried, and God wants us to take care of our families. Well, the man’s wife goes and complains to the board of the church, and he basically gets his hands slapped for not caring about the members. It gets worse, but I’m in a position where I have to keep some confidentiality. (Not to mention I serve on said board and stood in the Pastor’s defense.)

    All I have power to do is pray for revival in this church. Maybe if God wants me to someday, I’ll have the authority to make some changes, but for right now, all we can do is pray hard!

    Thanks again!

    • Hi Josh,

      Thanks for your encouragement. You are in a tough situation, but the main thing for you right now is too keep your walk with the Lord vibrant and be a model for those who are living in pettiness. It is a chance for you to model an alternative way of victorious life and let the believers see what the abundant life really is.

      In Christ,
      Brad B

  7. Let us be big in faith and trust in the bibel with his message daily for power and food to be strong in life of heaven and expect the Lord, for he is coming with power ,and now ,let the Holy Spirit fil us all in joy and in encourage in Jesus name and win,thanks and bless and pray,keijo swedne

  8. Inspiring message. God bless you

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