Summary: Sardis was a church that had a reputation for being alive - but Jesus saw it as dead. How can we avoid falling into the same patterns that threatened Sardis?
OPEN: I once heard about a church that was so dead, that when a member happened to die during the worship service – the paramedics actually carried out 5 people before they finally got the right one.
APPLY: Have you ever seen a dead church? (I asked for a show of hands).
What does a dead church like? (Got several replies).
When people think of dead churches that’s usually what comes to mind. A dead church is usually believed to be:
A small group of believers rattling around in an old building.
Composed of mostly older people in their 70’s and 80’s.
And this group is usually quite content to stay as they are.
Experts tell us that churches often go through four stages of life. One person classified them this way:
1. The Movement Stage. This is the beginning stage of most churches. It is a small, intimate and driven group of believers. At this stage the people are nearly 100% committed. They come for Sunday School, Worship, Sunday Evening, Wednesday Night. They spend time together at each other’s homes and in Bible studies.
2. The Magnificence Stage. At this point they’ve reached a high level of attendance. They’ve attained critical mass. Now, because of their size, they can begin to do things they could only dream about before. However, at this point the commitment of the group dips to between 50 and 70%. They still have the vision, and a dream, but the intensity has diminished slightly.
3. The Monument Stage. At this stage, the congregation still does things to increase growth, but they begin to talk less about the future than they do about their past. They’ve reached the point where they work at maintaining their past reputation. They do things because that’s the way they’ve always done them. At this stage, the church is often cursed by power struggles and many talk about the church as “my church” and “our church” as opposed to the “new” people that have only been there for 20 years or less. Commitment level dips to between 10 to 30%.
4. The Mausoleum Stage is the one we would most commonly identify as the “dead church.” People have drifted away or died. Attendance levels are between 10 to 50 on any Sunday, and new people - when they show up - are suspect (they’d take control).
The Mausoleum church is the one we most often identify as the “Dead Church”
But what puzzled me about today’s text is that the church that Jesus calls "dead" (Sardis) has a “reputation of being alive.”
What that indicates to me is that Sardis wouldn’t have been a church you or I would look at and say "that’s one dead church!"
They look alive (even though Jesus declared them to be dead).
Their parking lot may have been full every Sunday, their pews packed to capacity. Their preacher may have been the finest that money could buy. But something had died inside.
I don’t think this church at Sardis had reached the level of a Mausoleum. I suspect Sardis was a church in the “Monument stage.” They appeared to be alive, but as far as Jesus is concerned, they’ had reached a state of being COMATOSE.
And here’s Jesus at their bedside, trying to slap them awake. “Wake up! Wake up!” he tells them.
Things have gotten so serious that Jesus was ready to pull their life support. If they didn’t wake up and change, he would come as a thief in the night and possibly even blot their names out of the book of life.
But Sardis was a church that looked alive!
What happened to them?
More to the point – how can we avoid ending up like them? We don’t want to be a dead church! So, how do avoid their fate?
I have two observations:
1st – to avoid becoming like Sardis, you and I (as church members) need to maintain a high level of commitment. I believe part of the problem in Sardis was that its people had begun to compartmentalize church. In other words: they’d made a compartment in their lives for church, and they had other “compartments” for work/ friends/ TV & entertainment and so on. Church WASN’T the MOST IMPORTANT part of their lives. It was simply one of many parts of their lives.
Jesus told Sardis in 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.” Their deeds were not complete – they’d lost their intensity in commitment.
Notice what happens with a church as it goes through it’s stages:
At the Movement Stage = a church has a nearly 100% involvement
At the Magnificence Stage = it has dropped to 50 to 75% involvement