Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.

The Local Church Is Going Backwards in America

Summary: Pastor Jim Feeney preached this sermon in March 2007, primarily in response to a respected researcher’s prediction that Americans’ commitment to local churches will decline by at least 50% from the year 2000 to the year 2025.

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Researcher and pollster George Barna has recently published a book entitled Revolution. His research has led him to make this prediction: between the years 2000 and 2025, the percentage of Americans for whom a local church is their primary means of spiritual experience and expression will decrease by at least 50%!

• Mr. Barna reports that many of what he calls “revolutionaries” are redefining for themselves what “church” will be. What do I foresee?

I see a disaster in the making! I state without reservation that the local church as described in the bible is at the very center of the heart of Jesus Christ in His plans for this world.

Acts 2:47, KJV says, “And the Lord added to the church [ekklesía] daily such as should be saved.” It was the local Jerusalem church specifically to which they were added by the Lord.

• Professor Peter Wagner has stated that the single greatest evangelistic method under heaven is the planting of new local churches.

• In all his apostolic journeys, Paul left local churches springing up wherever he preached.

• Acts 14 tells us that Paul and Barnabas went out, preached in many cities, started new churches, and followed up on those churches by ordaining elders in every church (vs. 23).

I have two motives for this message today:

(1) I desire to help you strengthen your unfailing love for and commitment to the local church. I want to prevent casualties.

(2) I hope to challenge each individual here today to ask yourself: “How can I add my spiritual gifts and my participation in this local church in such a way that South Valley Church becomes a magnet for people wanting more of God?

So let’s ask ourselves some very important questions and then answer them from the Scriptures.

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Where in one place can I consistently experience the worship of God, the Word of God, and the gifts of the Spirit?

• Answer: In the local church!

1 Corinthians 14:26
  What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.
“When you [the church] come together...” you experience Word, worship, and gifts.

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Where did God “set” spiritual leadership and spiritual gifts?

• Answer: In the church!

1 Corinthians 12:28, KJV  And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.
“IN the CHURCH”! That’s where you are blessed by the ministries of apostles, prophets, teachers and other ministries.

“IN the CHURCH”! That’s where you are blessed by healings, tongues, prophecies, and other spiritual gifts.

Acts 13:1  In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers.

Not lone-wolf prophets, accountable to no one. New Testament prophets were and still are found "in the church".

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Where can I find apostolic teaching, edifying fellowship, gatherings to pray? Where can I be filled with awe as I see God move mightily?

• Answer: In the local church!

Acts 2:42-43  They [the Jerusalem congregation] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. [43] Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
• The congregation in Jerusalem was a place where Christians could find these things so important to their spiritual growth.

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Where can I find and join together with like-minded people who love to pray?

• Answer: In the local church!

Acts 12:5, 12  Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.... [12] ...he came to the house of Mary... where many were gathered together praying.
• A local church is a group of people who know each other well enough to gather from around the city to pray.

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If I am sick, where can I find spiritual people to come and pray for my healing?

• Answer: In the local church! Call your elders. Call for spiritual Christians by name to lay hands on you.

James 5:14  Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him...
• Who are your elders? Can you name them?

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Can’t I just be part of the big, worldwide “Church”?

1 Corinthians 1:2  To the church of God in Corinth ... together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ...

• It’s not enough just to be part of the big, worldwide Church. You need to be part of your “church ... in Corinth”, your local church in your city.

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How can I receive apostolic oversight and input if there is no apostle in my area?

• Answer: Directly or indirectly through the local church.

1 Corinthians 4:17b  [Timothy] will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.
• Multiple churches receiving apostolic input.

• South Valley Church has its own "Timothys" — Pastor Tom Ware, Pastor Dave Barton — who were raised under apostolic leaders and are imparting that heritage to you in the local church.

• Occasionally visiting apostles will be here to strengthen this local congregation.

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Can’t I just be a me-and-Jesus Christian?

1 Corinthians 11:18  In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church...
• Churches come together for distinct purposes (in these verses, for the Lord’s Supper). No lone wolves.

Psalm 68:6, KJV  God setteth the solitary in families.

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How about just having one big “city church” or regional church?

1 Corinthians 16:1  Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.

Galatians 1:22  ...the churches of Judea that are in Christ.
• These verses describe not just one big regional church, but multiple congregations within a geographical area. Churches in Galatia, churches in Judea.

• The concept of one city church certainly has appeal. But it has not seemed to be thoroughly workable in the practical realities of the God-given differences in gifts, ministries, and administrations (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).

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Is there any room for biblical “home churches”? Yes.

Romans 16:5  Greet also the church that meets at their house [Aquila and Priscilla’s house].

Colossians 4:15  Salute ... Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.

Philemon 1:2  ...to the church that meets in your [Philemon’s] home.

BUT ... remember, the apostle Paul called these “churches”, not just a few saints getting together. And in his many epistles, plus his apostolic practices in the Book of Acts, Paul has told us at length of the things that characterize local churches. It's important for "churches" to have these things in order to be biblical:

• Biblical “churches” had designated elders.

• Biblical “churches” had word, worship, and spiritual gifts.

• Some biblical “churches” had apostles; some had prophets and teachers.

• So churches meeting in the home will follow these biblical norms. A legitimate, biblical "home church" will follow the apostolic patterns described at length in this message. It will be far more than a home fellowship gathering. It will be a multi-faceted group, with known leadership and a diversity of spiritual gifts that simply happens to be meeting in a home. That would describe a biblical "home church".

• And remember, the local church in Jerusalem met not only from “house to house”, but also in the temple:
Acts 2:46  And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house...

Acts 5:42  And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.

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Some might say, “Well, we’ve decided to have ‘family church’.”

1 Timothy 3:5  If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?
• The apostle’s words here make it quite clear that one family is not a “church”! He speaks of the family and of the church as two distinct entities.

• Many years ago, in a vacation cabin on a Vermont lake, our family had a Sunday morning “church service”. My 6-year-old son led worship. I preached to the congregation of four! It was a wonderful spiritual time, but it was not a “church”. It met our need that morning for a time with the Lord, but it lacked many of the very important biblical elements we have looked at that a local church provides.

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Hebrews 10:25  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

• The disastrous trend happening today concerning gathering as a local church is “all the less”!

• The “Day is approaching.”

Resist the prophesied falling away from congregational gathering.

• Don’t be among those who give up meeting together”.

• Be men and women committed to the local church. If there are problems, seek God and work together with the leadership to fix them, rather than to flee the churches and thereby magnify the problems.

• The local church remains right at the heart of Jesus’ plan to draw this world unto Him.

A related sermon may be viewed at Why I Love the Local Church.

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©2007, James H. Feeney.
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Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.