These Bones Can Live!

I love the Lord and I love his church. So it grieves me to learn that the Christian Reformed Church declined in membership from 316,000 in 1992 to 245,000 in 2014. Denominational loyalty has also decreased. And the number of pastors separated from congregations via Church Order Article 17 has increased dramatically in the last decade. These are not good signs.

The CRC’s rich biblical theology and heritage of scholarship, though wonderful, makes us vulnerable to spiritual pride. We work hard; we give generously. Seldom do we face a problem we think we can’t fix. We appoint study committees, assign task forces, attend conferences, and head out on listening tours.

Though all these are good, they mostly produce incremental rather than life-transforming changes. Our efforts have not stopped membership losses or shortfalls in agency budgets. Unless God intervenes, we will soon face a crisis in which some churches’ very existence will be in jeopardy. There is a problem. So how do we stop this trend? Where do we look for a road map that can lead us out of this morass?

Perhaps our denomination is in need of revival. Some of us tend to frown at that word. But as a CRC minister for 50 years, I believe that the Bible has some direction for us here.

The book of Nehemiah outlines a pattern that brought revival to God's people. Interestingly, the same pattern brought revival to the disciples at Pentecost.

Nehemiah started with prayer (Neh. 1), followed by the reading of the Scriptures by Ezra “for all who could understand . . . from daybreak till noon” (8:2-3). That led to confession “for a fourth of a day” (9:3), accompanied by repentanceand fasting(9:1) and a recommitment to covenant living (9:38; 10:29). The resultswere changed lives and the restoration of the tithe (10:30ff).

In Acts 1, prayer is followed by Peter boldly preaching the Scriptures, leading worshipers to ask, “What can we do?” As the people recognized and confessed their sins, Peter called them to “repentand be baptized.” They committed themselves to Christ. The results were changed lives, generosity—and 3,000 people joining the church in one day (2:41-47).

We need that fresh breath of vitality today. Among us is a growing assembly of people who long for more prayer and God’s empowerment. Major revivals occurred historically when seasons of prayer were followed by passionate, prophetic preaching addressing common sins until they were confessed, forgiven, and their powers were broken. We long for messages that liberate and truthfully proclaim, “Thus says the Lord!”

God’s people, seeking holiness, need encouragement and comfort, but they also want to be challenged and confronted to bring about life changes. When God’s Word is proclaimed with transparency and humility, it often leads to the confession of personal sins and addictions by individuals, or to the admission of some common corporate sins of the community.

Can we come to God with this? I believe declining churches grieve God too. God desireslife. It is not too late. God promises to bless: “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word” (Isa. 66:2). And “If my people, called by my name, will humble themselves, pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:14-15).

That’s God’s commitment; it’s our assignment. He has promised to show up. Which church, ministry, or agency will lead us in the way of humility, confession, and through surrender to new life? I long for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit.


Web Question:

  1. Do you believe that the Christian Reformed Church is in decline? Is that decline only in numbers or can you identify other symptoms of decline as well? Are we headed for a crisis?
  2. What are some of the ways we have sought to reverse, or at least moderate, this decline? Have they been successful? Why or why not? What changes should still be made?
  3. What does Wildeboer mean by “revival”? Do you agree with him that revival is needed in order to overcome our denominational decline?
  4. What would revival look like in the denomination? In your congregation?
  5. What might revival look like in your own life?
  6. If revival is a gift of the Holy Spirit, can we “plan” for it? Schedule it? Orchestrate it?
  7. If we genuinely want revival, what can we do now to seek it?

About the Author

Henry Wildeboer is a retired pastor in the CRC. After pastoring a church in Washington State and two churches in Canada, he taught Leadership Development at Tyndale Seminary.  He also served as Regional Director with Home Missions.  He has written two books, Miraculous Healing and You (1999), and When God Shows Up: A Pastor's Journey (2013). Henry and his wife Jan live in Bowmanville, ON., and attend Rehoboth Christian Reformed Church.

See comments (5)


Great article.  You could also correlate many of these comments to the general state of christian participation in Canada and the USA, as both have seen declines in membership and church attendance.  It might be interesting to research those who are growing, examine the depth of growth and understanding, and then highlight the most pertinent points of difference in belief and practice and historical legacy between those churches which decline and those which grow.  

A good word - Thank you. And may the Lord have mercy.

yes, there are some very, very serious problems:

Repentance is the key mentioned in Rev 2:22, also mentioned in Rev 2:5, and 2:16... 

the scripture that has been on my heart a lot is Rev 2, where Jesus tells the Church of Thyatira, I know the good you do, NEVERTHELESS, I have this against you, that you tolerate this woman jezebel and her "pornea"/sexual immorality.  

however, it seems this has become our gospel: BOQ The gospel of repentance and redemption has been replaced with a gospel of non-judgmental niceness.EOQ

at this point, what I have experienced in the Church leadership is adamant refusal to acknowledge wrongdoing especially by the leaders, let alone repenting of such, and how dare anyone rebuke or call anyone besides themselves to account, and if you do call a leader to account and nothing is done and you don't drop it, then you are being divisive, and not submitting to authority, etc...

I will mention the one issue of pornography (let alone all other sexual immorality including sexual abuse of children going on in the Church).... the statistics on porn in the church indicate this issue alone is pandemic!  let alone the mountain range of issues that go along with it, like the cover up through deception and lies and justice issues, etc that are directly connected with it,   Why, in God's Holy Name, would we think He would bless the Church with this kind of evil going on, and the incredible resistance by the leaders of this being exposed in order to protect the institution and themselves instead of protecting the souls of the oppressed?

Wildeboer writes "declining churches grieve God too"... I would say unholy churches grieve God (Ezekiel 6:9) and therefore they are declining (Ezekiel 6 -15 for additional support) , and I think the primary reason is holiness issues.

Well said, Pastor Wildeboer. Praying for revival among us! 

Great article, and like all great articles, it causes us to ask more questions.  Most revival occurs within specific church settings.  Can we revive at a denominational level?  is the denominational leadership in touch with what is happening in the churches?  When we meet each year for Synodical Decisions are they made by people who truly represent the church today?  What is the average age of the Elders voted into Synod?  Should we have Synodical Term Limits so we can continue to bring in fresh vision?  There is so much disagreement about our struggle with becoming culturally adjusted, yet isn't that exactly what Jesus did, challenge the current beliefs and traditions of his religion in a fresh way that responded to the culture in which he lived?  I, too, pray for revival, and beleive strongly that revival begins with denominational confession and repentance.