What comes to mind when you hear the word “revival?” For some it might be a bit of nostalgia for a time past. Others might find it a negative, reeking of pressure and emotionalism. Still others might be scheduling their annual revival right now; they do still happen in some places, believe it or not.
Some understand a revival to be an internal event, designed to energize the folks in the pew week after week, something different, out of the box a little bit. Maybe it’s worship services on the lawn or in the parking lot. Maybe it’s a themed series over the course of two or three or more weeknights. A meal precedes perhaps, or dessert afterwards. It is a way to celebrate or emphasize community, to be reminded why we come together week after week. And above all, it is a way of putting our feet back on the path of discipleship.
Others will argue that revivals are supposed to be outward-focused events, that the tent in the empty lot was designed to be a way of including those who wouldn’t be caught dead in a church building. And the church holding the revival was supposed to be the one doing the inviting and then the hosting; it was supposed to be on the lookout for those who haven’t felt included. It was about people needing Jesus; it was about attempting to find an accessible way to bring folks to an experience of worship and faith. And it always ended with an invitation to discipleship. That may not have been the word that was used, but that was the idea. That in the revival we start, or renew, that journey with Jesus; to follow as we are being made and making others into disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world.
We called this series, which is standing the glow of Easter, “Revive Us Again,” hoping that it would be a time for such renewal. And it might be a way of including others, an entry point into the life of the disciple of Jesus. So, we would like you, the worship planning team, to consider having a revival – maybe on this fourth Sunday of Easter; maybe for the whole series. But plan something that might jumpstart your congregation into becoming disciple makers again.
So, what makes it a revival? All kinds of things could be considered, but it comes down to two things: first is an invitation to discipleship, and second is the hospitality of a loving community of faith. The latter is one many churches are good at: that fellowship thing. Maybe plan a meal for after the service, a picnic if the weather suits, outdoors to make a witness to the wider community that this is a group of people who genuinely enjoy being together. But make it an open invitation, a street party that offers free food to any and all. But more than food, offer a warm welcome and an invitation to know more about what it is that makes the people of the church behave the way they do, which means that people need to be ready to give an “accounting for the hope that lives within them” as I Peter says later (3:15).
The only way we can hope to do that is to practice giving such an account. Maybe this Eastertide is an appropriate time to allow space for testimony during worship. Find those who can be articulate about their faith, or interview those who might not be quite so articulate and let them speak before the congregation. You might argue, but everyone in worship is already a believer. Maybe that’s true. But worship is where we can rehearse telling our story, so it becomes a part of our conversation beyond the walls of the sanctuary. Tell your story, what Jesus means to you perhaps, or how faith has shaped your life. Find ways of allowing many to be heard, particularly those who aren’t often given space to speak. Video-record people if they are too shy to speak before the congregation, but let the stories of the people be heard in worship.
The other element is offering a clear invitation to discipleship. Look in the front of the United Methodist Hymnal to find the order for Sunday Service. You’ll find it always ends with a call to discipleship. Maybe your worship does that week after week; if so, congratulations! But many do not. The call to discipleship is, for some, an outmoded, emotionally manipulative “come to Jesus” kind of experience we grew out of in middle school church camp. It doesn’t have to be. It can be a way of recommitting to a practice of faith that your church has adopted as your intentional discipleship system. It can be an open invitation to move from one expression of faith to another, one level of commitment to another. Now might be the time to encourage your congregation to look at what it means to belong, what membership is all about, and how we go about making disciples.
Eastertide is the reminder that we are made new in the resurrection of Christ. This is a perfect time to examine that newness and continue to grow in faith.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.