Mark Sayers is one of the most significant commentators on the state of the church in the west today.

A church leader from Melbourne in Australia, he has wrestled for many years through finding ways for the church to thrive in the post-Christian culture endemic in the places he lives, works and travels. From pioneering formats of church to reach those disillusioned with traditional church to realising the paucity of deconstructing faith with nothing left in its wake, his latest book offers a manifesto for hope and renewal in this cultural moment.

Perhaps best known for the podcast This Cultural Moment he hosts with US church leader and writer John Mark Comer, Sayers offers insightful analysis threaded through with optimism that the church has suffered a period of decline in the past, and it is in these difficult times that the seeds of renewal are planted.

And yet nothing can ever be taken for granted – there is no automatic rebound mechanism; what is needed are people who know the times they are in and commit to relentlessly following Jesus and His call.

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This call for a remnant is at the heart of his latest book Reappearing Church. Sayers’ conviction, and one I wholeheartedly share, is that in an era when the influence of the church is declining, and church attendance is falling, what is needed are for those who are committed to following Christ to do four things.

Understand the times

First, they are to understand the times they are in. It is important to be aware that our society does not privilege religious belief in the way that society may have done in the past, nor is it viewed apathetically as it has for much of the last fifty years with an assumption that these faddish beliefs will die out. For some, religious beliefs are considered harmful and therefore there are conscious efforts to squeeze them out. It is vital to recognise this, but not become distressed at the trend.

Another feature of our times is the unremitting insistence on novelty and progress: the new thing is always better than the old. Whether this is reflected in technological change and consumerist attitudes, or in values that are considered outdated.

A holy remnant

The second aspect Sayers notes is the need for those who are left to work together and commit to each other. The remnant is often used in eschatological terms, relating to a particular view of the second coming and the return of Christ. But in this context, Sayers is referring to the minority of Christians who are fuelled by the fire of their faith to be a catalyst for renewal. Even in an era when nominalism is a smaller component of church attendance, it still exists, and the trajectory of those who attend church out of a sense of duty or habit will likely be to a shifting of beliefs and values in line with culture rather than fixed on God and His kingdom.

Sayers quotes Bible teacher Arthur Wallis, saying: It is time to cease excusing our sins by calling them shortcomings or natural weakness, or by attributing them to temperament or environment. It is time to cease justifying our carnal ways and materialistic outlook by pointing to others who are the same … we must face our sins honestly in the light of God’s word, view them as He does and deal with them as before Him.”

This is a call for radical holiness, for those who are committed to Christ to exhibit this in every area of their life. Instead of consuming all that the world has to offer, this community of
believers has to contend for the kingdom of God, and this has to affect every area of our lives. Sayers writes: We are temples of the Holy Spirit individually, but not in isolation; the church (locally and universally) is also a temple of the Holy Spirit, not bound to one location. Through Jesus’ sacrificial death upon the cross, He has renewed our mandate to spread the
presence of God in the world.”

A prayerful community

The third component necessary is prayer. Quoting Welsh Protestant minister Martyn Lloyd-Jones as writing fifty years ago about the need for prayer in a time of cultural upheaval, the prescient words are as necessary now as they were then. Lloyd-Jones wrote: I shall see no hope until individual members of the church are praying for revival … praying with urgency
and concentration for a shedding forth of the power of God, such as He shed forth one hundred and two hundred years ago, and in every other period of revival, and of reawakening. There is no hope until we do. But the moment we do, hope enters.”

Sayers notes that as we find seeds of revival within ourselves, as God works transformation in our lives, this spills out and we will gather with others who God is using. These are the cells where revival starts to grow, and this is grounded in prayer: Our lives are designed to be in
intimate relationship and friendship with God,” Sayer writes, When we don’t pray, we become spiritually dehydrated.”

Hope for renewal

Hope for renewal is the final component that is essential. We cannot make revival happen. Sayers writes: Strategies of renewal, which attempt to make revival happen on our terms and timetable, fall back into the error of religiosity … Such errors, rightly intended, wrongly create kinds of Babelic revival structures, falling into the temptation of using the dynamics of hype, manipulation and image management. As with all religiosity, exhaustion arrives quickly, with
disillusionment soon to follow.”

But we can hope. The faithful remnant brings life to the church and the non-anxious agents of renewal bring health to society. We can learn from history that this has happened before, and we can trust in the future that it will happen again. Sayers’ call to remnants and renewal is not new, but nor is it just ancient history.

I grew up in a church planted by Arthur Wallis, who Sayers quotes and who was at the heart of the restoration house church movement of the 1970s and 1980s. As I grew up, his name was nothing but a name, as he had died in my early years. But as I started to read his books
and borrow my parents’ collections of his teachings on tape to listen to, he became a formative figure in my own discipleship. Wallis was from a Plymouth Brethren background but had a dramatic encounter with the Holy Spirit in 1951. He became absorbed in the revival that had taken place in the Isle of Lewis two years previously, and in 1956 wrote his classic In the Day of Thy Power, drawing on his visits and research.

Wallis was passionate about the need for the church to commit to praying and hoping for revival to come and for the work of the Holy Spirit to fuel that movement. I hear from church leaders today a similar yearning: there is a growing belief that in the challenges of contemporary culture and in the struggles of the church to find its place, there are the seeds of another great awakening. In the 1990s there was excitement about moves of the Holy Spirit, most notable through what was termed the Toronto Blessing’. But while it led to excitement within the church, and which was formational for many current leaders, it did not bear the long-term fruit many hoped for.

Sayers quotes Wallis calling for Christians to be miniature forerunners”, preparing the way in our heart and in the hearts of others. In times of social upheaval and significant personal
anxiety, we need the church to be revived and society renewed. Our hope can never just be for individual spiritual experience. We have to hope that in Jesus who transformed our lives, our world can and will be made new.

Reappearing Church is a good book, but however good it is, that’s not enough. It is a passionate call for Christians to commit to each other, to living Christlike lives and hoping and praying for renewal. The value comes not in reading words on a page but in the overflow of God in our lives into the community around us.