“On the Borders of the Infernal Lake”: Spurgeon on Church Revitalization

“On the Borders of the Infernal Lake”: Spurgeon on Church Revitalization

Spurgeon understood that there was no programmatic formula for church revitalization. But like Ezekiel preaching to the dry bones, he believed in the power of the Word of God to raise dead church members to life and to make them into an army for gospel ministry.

When Spurgeon first arrived at the New Park Street Chapel in the winter of 1853, the church was dying. But in the coming years, through the preaching of the Word, God would do a remarkable work. With the thousands being drawn to Spurgeon’s ministry, church membership would grow dramatically, elders would be called, and the church would become an engine for gospel ministry throughout the world. It was this vision of the power of God’s Word to revive dying churches that fueled the Pastors’ College.

From the beginning, Spurgeon’s plan “was not only to train students but to found churches,”[1] and this included both church planting and church revitalization. As demographics in London shifted from the city to the suburbs in the 19th century, urban congregations began dwindling. Young pastors were drawn more to church plants in the suburbs than to historic churches in the city. Spurgeon himself recognized that “the resurrection and salvation of an old church is often a more difficult task than to commence a new one.”[2]

At the same time, Spurgeon encouraged his students not to neglect these dying churches. After all, it is God who resurrects and saves, not the student. The privilege of the church revitalizer is to see God work miraculously through His powerful Word.

To encourage his students in church revitalization, Spurgeon once gave two motivations and three practical admonitions for his students.

Motivation 1: Chances are, things will get better.

When you take a dying church, chances are, your ministry will lead to the improvement of the church’s condition.

Brethren, do not be afraid when you go to a place, and find it in a very bad condition. It is a fine thing for a young man to begin with a real downright bad prospect, for, with the right kind of work, there must come an improvement some time or other. If the chapel is all but empty when you go to it, it cannot well be in a much worse state than that; and the probability is that you will be the means of bringing some into the church, and so making matters better.[3]

Spurgeon was not guaranteeing to his students that their ministries in a dying church would always flourish. It is quite possible that under God’s providence, your role might simply be to help that church close well and steward its resources faithfully in that transition. At the same time, the encouragement is that things cannot get much worse than they already are, and yet chances are that under a faithful ministry, the Lord will use you to make things better. As the church brings in a new pastor, as the people are energized under his ministry, as they begin to pray and invite others, the probability is that the Lord will use you to bring new life to the church.

Motivation 2: Chances are, the congregation will love your ministry.

Rather than taking over a successful church and dealing with constant comparisons with previous pastors, a dying congregation will gratefully love the young pastor who comes and serves them sacrificially. This will be especially true as sinners are brought to faith under your ministry.

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