The evangelist Gypsy Smith said, “If you really want a revival…draw a circle on the floor…get in the circle and cry out to God to send a revival to everything in the circle.”[1] Revival begins with us! Christ himself is pictured as shut out of his own church! The door must be broken down from the inside.

There are two continua for change. One is praxis. It has to do with methods, tactics, strategies, new and fresh vision, programs, aids, staff, or new approaches. In the last forty years, we have been consumed with methodology as a means to church growth and evangelism. We have flocked to conferences, bought books and kits, renamed ministries and outreaches, spent a ton of money – with little lasting result. The other word, virtually ignored, is ethos. It is the heart and spirit of a thing, the attitude under the action or the mood under the method. It is the culture, the environment out of which the mission enterprise operates. Frankly, we do not have a praxis problem. We have an ethos problem. Methods and resources are in abundance, but the most effective praxis can be executed in an environment that sabotages any lasting impact. We are attempting to move from ineffective praxis, to most effective, without dealing with the unhealthy ethos of our congregations. Granted, a vibrantly healthy ethos still needs effective methods, but a vibrantly healthy ethos is also most likely to find such methods. It is the spirit of the church that must change and that change begins in and is sustained by humble and tearful prayer.

Chuck Swindoll once remarked that the local church should be more like the local bar – unconditionally accepting, open and unshocked by the hungry and thirsty who come through its doors, willing to welcome and talk to them all. Ralph Neighbour, a church growth specialist, actually studied taverns in Houston. Most patrons came for fellowship, just to talk to someone! At the bar, someone would listen.[2] One pastor, hearing a bar-tender complain about a customer who was a nuisance after a few drinks, started a “listening bar outreach.” The pastor offered the bar a free service. Two Christian men would come to the bar, sit in the back, and when an inebriated customer forced his lonely self on other patrons, the bartender would say, “Here is a ‘caring team’ that wants to listen to you!” The men wore distinctive jackets with logos. They loved. They listened. And they prayed.

Such ideas stretch our moral sensibilities. That Southern Baptist pastor was misunderstood by his parishioners at first, but in one year they had more tavern baptisms than from any other source.[3] Jesus was found at Matthew’s party with winebibbers and sinners (Mt. 10:9). God’s holiness was never compromised, but it never prevented him from invading unholy places. Do we want converts ready to pray, relatively clean, who know the Bible stories and don’t challenge our ethical standards? Such a ready-made and easy harvest does not exist. “Some wish to live within the sound of Church or Chapel Bell, I want to run a Rescue Shop within a yard of hell,” declared C. T. Studd.[4]

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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.

[1]       Jerry Rankin, Ed Stetzer, Spiritual Warfare and Missions: The Battle for God’s Glory Among the Nations (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing, 2010), 162.

[2]       Ray Bakke, The Urban Christian, (Downers Grove, IL; Intervarsity, 1987), 43.

[3]       Ibid, 116-117.

[4]       Charles R. Swindoll, Simple Faith (Nashville: TN; Thomas Nelson; 2003), 57.

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