Summary: To accomplish the task of evangelising our world, we must work as though our congregation was new. New churches have a vibrancy that can be lost as we grow older. In time, if we don't take care, we will have an "inherited church" rather than a vibrant, living congregation.

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” [1]

Each year, Forbes Magazine publishes a list of the richest people in the world. [2] I find it instructive to note the variety in the list. These billionaires represent quite a variety of business as well as a variety of nations in which they live. What stands out is that the wealthiest among us are self-made. We recognise the names of many of these people: Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg, Carlos Slim Helu, the Koch brothers, Charles and David, Larry Ellison. Most of the super-rich are entrepreneurs who grew their financial assets from comparatively little wealth.

What is fascinating to note is that the children of the super-rich, people who would have made this list in previous decades, are either no longer listed or their names appear much further down the list. Inherited wealth tends to dissipate rather than grow. Names such as Rockefeller, Carnegie and Morgan are no longer on the list.

Perhaps this observation can be related to the churches. “The churches?” Specifically, I want us to think about the “inherited church.” When I was training preacher boys in Dallas, I urged those young men to become pioneers, pushing the Faith into communities where the Faith was not well-established, shining the light of the Gospel into darkened corners of the world. Tragically, these men often sought an established pastorate, endeavouring to serve in a church with a large attendance. However, while they were looking for a larger church to serve, they were ignoring some significant opportunities to plant churches.

It has long been observed that the fastest growing and most effective evangelistic churches in America tend to be new churches. An older report indicates that in 2006, new Baptist churches (less than three years old) in Oklahoma averaged nearly 10 baptisms, while older churches averaged about 8.5. In that year, the largest church in Oklahoma (not a Baptist church) was only 10 years old. [3] New churches exhibit a vibrancy that is difficult to capture in old-line churches.

Church life in Canada reveals that most of the churches leading our nation in reaching the lost sheep are young congregations. If there is hope for reaching our nation with the message of Christ the Lord, we must see new churches rather than merely hoping that older churches will somehow rise to the challenge. However, the majority of churches in our nation are “inherited churches,” churches founded and built by previous generations. We “inherited” these churches in that the buildings were largely built by previous generations, as were many of the ministries, organizations, and guidelines governing church polity. Even the framework for the budget may have been developed decades ago. And in many cases the lay leadership of the congregation hasn’t changed significantly in forty years.

Like inherited wealth, the inherited church can live in the afterglow and off the resources accumulated from previous generations. In both cases, with wealth and church, the tendency is for accumulated resources to dissipate, dwindle and decline. These resources include not only tangible things such as buildings, but also the congregation of believers itself, and the intellectual and spiritual energies that were expended in growing the church. Thus, the challenge facing the inherited church is to rekindle the urgency and spiritual energy that is always present in a growing church that effectively reaches lost people. The pioneering spirit present at the beginning of a congregation must be recaptured for that church to resume growth.

THE PAST BELONGS … IN THE PAST — “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead’” [REVELATION 3:1]. Evangelicalism has a reputation of being alive! Large churches and vibrant worship communicate that the Faith is acceptable to current generations. Whether that reputation is deserved or not may be subject to some question. To be certain, many of the great churches of previous days are a pitiful shadow of the greatness that once characterised their presence in the nation.

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