top of page

Is It Too Late For The American Church?

“This then is what I mean by spontaneous expansion. I mean the expansion which follows the unexhorted and unorganized activity of individual members of the Church explaining to others the Gospel which they have found for themselves; I mean the expansion which follows the irresistible attraction of the Christian Church for men who see its ordered life, and are drawn to it by desire to discover the secret of a life which they instinctively desire to share; I mean also the expansion of the Church by the addition of new Churches.”

For over 30 years we have been working with a particular Church in another part of the world (unnamed for safety) and their leaders to accomplish what most thought was impossible: to see every man, woman and child in that nation with a repeated opportunity to be reconciled to God. In the mid 1980’s when a group of Church leaders were first moved by the Spirit to truly engage this vision, they understood it immensely. They would have to plant 1,000,000 churches to see at least one small body of Jesus followers within access to every person.

The results of that vision over 30 years on are amazing. The growth of the Church in that nation is I believe one of the most inspiring stories of Christian history.

But I don’t want to dwell on their journey. My thoughts turn to my own nation. Is not the God who that Church so faithfully follows the same God we confess here in America? In spite of the data describing our realities inside of the church and in our culture, I refuse to believe that what God awakened among those Church leaders so many decades ago cannot also be awakened today in our own nation.

But after over 50 years of working with churches, I am not also fooled into believing that it will be easy. We have much to learn. I see four things at least as our primary challenges to be effective with the Gospel responsibility we were left by Jesus 2,000 years ago.


  1. Our effectiveness is directly related to the maturing incarnated righteousness of our people. Our people are our message. For as I have said often, whatever God is going to do He is going to do through all of Christ’s people. How they live then becomes eternally important. If we cannot grow people who look more and more like Jesus every year, then we are indeed in trouble. But God has designed them to mature. In the last Adam, everything they need to say no to the flesh and yes to the Spirit is available to them. While the bumps of life will continue to challenge them, spiritual failure and unrighteousness does not need to be their default.

  2. Our effectiveness is directly related to the Biblical strength of our values. The market place’s statements about organizational values has bled into churches. And, in most cases they are not only nonsense to the distinct organic nature of the church, they cannot be found in scripture. One example suffices: excellence. That idea might be right for Starbucks but it has no place in the life of a local church. The organic life of the church is meant for people just as they live their lives. Not in a vacuum that presents life as something only a manufactured media company would create. It creates a message that we are more about perception and entertainment than we are about learning to live the righteousness of Jesus in the trenches of life.

  3. Our effectiveness is directly related to the kind of leadership that we identify and train who work with us. Yes! Leadership is vital to our local body, but we are doing almost nothing to raise them up, form their lives, put them into leadership opportunities, and see them flourish. This has become the answer I hear too often. At the same time, most churches I talk to have visions about things that they know that they should be doing, especially in the neighborhoods and cities where they are. Without leadership to move that desire, the vision is a pipe dream. They will forever have just enough leadership capacity to lead their internal programs, and even too many of those people will be hired from without.

  4. Our effectiveness is directly related to whether we have created a structure that doesn’t get in the way. We are addicted to gathering people as our default. So, all of the things that it takes to keep the religious circus going dominates our imagination, time, money, leadership, people and corporate expenses. Is this addiction feeding spiritual, biblical and evangelization ends? I don’t think so. If we are to see a “revival” of effective evangelization in our nation, it will be because we begin all of our structural thinking with decentralized strategies at the forefront, not as an afterthought.

It might be well before I close to define what I mean by effective. Four things, simply stated, stand out. In summary, when I speak about effectiveness, I mean people mobilization and evangelization effectiveness. They are:

  1. A growing number of people showing that they are indeed instruments of righteousness. Surely a growing number of people growing in righteousness inside the body and on display for the world around them will be felt and can be seen and measured.

  2. A growing number of people are coming to faith. Every expectation in this regard needs to be measured by the context. Historically and globally it is self evident that there are differing numbers of people prepared to receive the Gospel message. But to continue to see nothing but a reduced number of our own children following Jesus, is surely not God’s design. If it is true that the average church is winning on average one person a year to faith, that should be unacceptable to everyone. If we cannot begin to see at least 3 and 4% of our local body growth come through conversion growth, then maybe it is indeed time to write “icabod” across our nation. My work with churches tells me that there are still pockets of receptive people in our nation.

  3. The church is opening new decentralized sites. All the data is in. For people to come to faith, the majority of them need to have a relational encounter with someone who knows God and walks with Jesus. Structurally that ought to result in two obvious decisions. One, we envision, educate and empower our people to be the instruments God wants them to be, 24/7. Two, we make sure that the structures we build don’t get in the way.

  4. There is more willing and prepared leadership than the church life actually needs. Here it is again. A vision focused church, with their eyes set on eternity, will work daily to raise up more leadership than they need at the moment. So that when the Holy Spirit inspired opportunities present themselves, they are ready.

    Is God done with our Church in our nation? I hope not!

    More extended thoughts on each one of the ideas above can be found at and There you will find books, articles and other resources that answer the questions for the church hungry for effectiveness.

Is It Too Late For The American Church?

Dwight Smith

bottom of page