Is there hope for a zombie church? The short answer is a resounding YES!
Look at these lavish promises Jesus holds out to churches He said were dead and/or in the process of dying — zombie churches:
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7 ESV)
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17 ESV)
hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 2:25–29 ESV)
Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent… 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. (Revelation 3:3–6 ESV)
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:19–22 ESV)
Jesus will breathe new life into churches that are dead and dying when they repent and remain faithful (yes, it’s true — everything in the Christian life comes down to either faith or unbelief).
I’ve been involved in church assessments and deliberations over whether to disband or go forward a few times in my life. The biggest obstacle I personally encountered was a lack of transparency and honesty on the part of the major players. People often hide their agendas or idols behind Gospel euphemisms like “we want to see Jesus transform our city.” Getting to the truth, in order to know what to do with a church that has plateaued or declined or is simply stuck on a self-serving merry-go-round can be nearly impossible with Christians who won’t “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25 NIV). If you suspect you’re in a zombie church, you will probably encounter plenty of denial and distorted views of reality in order to avoid introspection, repentance, and change.
But there is hope — Jesus says so in the letters to the seven churches. Here’s what you can do if you’d like to see a zombie church, your church, return to the land of the living:
- Pray and thank the Lord for everything you already have in Him in the Gospel: grace, mercy, forgiveness, faith, and love. Then, ask Him to increase your grace, mercy, love, and faith. It’s difficult to pray for a church that’s unlovable when you only have a little faith to go forward, trying to extend grace, mercy, and forgiveness to one another, in love.
- Pray in the Spirit for a supernatural change of heart and repentance: in yourself, in your leaders, and in your church.
- Now, pray some more and see if you can find others who will pray along with you — for yourself, your leaders, and your church. Note — It may not be wise to use the term zombie church in your conversation and prayer, but you will need to pray honestly, pointedly, specifically, earnestly and courageously.
- Finally, continue to be faithful and conquer — hold fast to what you have and keep His works. Remember what you received and heard — keep it and repent. Listen to the voice of Jesus, open the door and eat with Him.
Here are some resources for a church that is wrestling with the decision to continue on or fold into another church or churches, as well as links for a zombie church that has repented and desires to be faithful. Jesus can transform a zombie church, a cold body, back into a warm body — a living expression of the Church.