I have a pet peeve when it comes to certain words and phrases. We all do. And sometimes pet peeves are just annoying for arbitrary reasons. But the terms "revival," "alive," and "dead" when used for churches really irk me because they say much more about human judgments than they say about the reality of God.
Alive v. Dead
First, I can think of few things more insulting than calling a church "dead." No self-respecting Christian would do this to the face of a member of one of these "dead" churches, mind you, but they'd nevertheless think it was true. And what makes a church dead? Well it's not growing for one! How could God be anywhere that wasn't gaining momentum? But of course, by this logic we'd have to say that God must therefore be most present at churches with tremendous growth, like those of Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, or Rob Bell. Are these the epicenters of God's presence in America?
At a party recently, I spoke with someone from a large church in Chicago that wanted to plant churches in every neighborhood. Either plant them or partner with existing churches. But it was explained to me that they only wanted to partner with "alive" churches, not with "dead" ones, i.e., only with ones that were growing and contemporary. I find this sort of judgment unusual, to say the least. It's bad theology at worst.
Another problem is that "dead" churches aren't just shrinking but they're not very fiery. They're not charismatic. Their music isn't contemporary. They aren't seen as relevant. And everyone knows the message of the gospel is to be relevant!... That's probably a topic for another post.
Revival implies death first and then having new life breathed into a church or place. But I think the whole philosophy of revival is inaccurate, as if God eventually leaves churches who aren't charismatic enough or who don't attract new visitors. Or leaves when people don't respond to the gospel.
Growing up in a charismatic, Pentecostal church, we would often go to "revivals." We'd travel around to wherever it was happening: "There's a revival in Kalamazoo!" "There's one in Indiana!" They were events, unpredictable, that just happened. As if the Holy Spirit were a rock star who traveled incognito and then appeared at random places. And we'd all flock to get a taste!
The problem with all these labels - "alive," "dead," "revival" - is that it says everything about our judgments of God and others and nothing about God's nature. If the Church is the Body of Christ, can any part of it ever be dead? Isn't it always alive? And does it have to meet our standards of growing, contemporary, relevant, young, etc. just to deserve our attention?
The Holy Spirit doesn't appear at different places at different times like a fairy. God is present to us and in all churches at all times. The difference is how are we responding to God? When are we opening up to Truth and seeing God in new ways so that our understanding is changed? That is the only kind of revival. The Holy Spirit isn't gracing some with its presence and denying it to others. No, we are all constantly given a choice of saying Yes to God, especially in and at our churches. And what makes us so sure every other church should look like ours? Not judging includes churches, people. Let's be more Christian than that.