Back in the mid-1980s, while I was an undergraduate at Florida Baptist College, my professor, Dr. LeRoy Benefield, shared insights that have stayed with me to this day. He recounted a statement from Billy Graham, who estimated that only about 10% of active church members were faithful, practicing disciples of Jesus Christ. This revelation caused quite a stir in our classroom. Yet, Dr. Benefield didn’t stop there. He continued, “And I think Billy Graham is an optimist.” That evening, I remember wrestling with his words with no little discomfort, especially as I turned to the Gospels and was confronted by Jesus’s words about the narrow path, many being called but few chosen, and the reality that not everyone who calls him “Lord” would enter the kingdom of God.

Forty years later, I’ve come to believe that Graham and Benefield may have been onto something – let’s be clear, the church hasn’t made a lot of forward strides since then. Today, the church in North America faces growing challenges: aging congregations, plummeting numbers, and a culture increasingly indifferent or even hostile to Christianity. The reality is that the church is being marginalized, and to be honest, we’ve contributed to our own predicament.

I’ve come to believe that a critical factor in this decline is the spiritual emptiness that pervades our leadership and our membership. It’s all too rare to hear from church members engaging in meaningful, daily spiritual practices. Instead, we’ve largely fallen into the cultural milieu of relying on institutions to take care of us, and in our case, depending on the church for our spiritual nourishment. We’ve abdicated our personal responsibility for our own spiritual growth. The result? There’s a dearth of transformative, life-altering encounters with God.

However, I’m not here to whine about the situation, dire though it may be. My aim in sharing these thoughts is to ignite some sort of a change. I hope to inspire church leaders like you to introduce new practices within your ministry. Practices that could reinvigorate your leaders and members alike, encouraging a deeper, more personal engagement with spiritual disciplines.

Give Your Leaders (and Members) Spiritual Development Tools

In the heart of the 1980s, nestled within the halls of my Bible College, a profound observation was shared by my professor, Dr. LeRoy Benefield, that has clung to my thoughts ever since. He recounted a statement from Billy Graham, suggesting that merely about 10% of active church members were truly walking the path as faithful, practicing disciples of Jesus Christ. This revelation, stark as it was, sent a ripple of shock through our classroom. Yet, Dr. Benefield, with a hint of somberness in his tone, added, “And I think Billy Graham is an optimist.” I remember the weight of that moment, the discomfort it stirred within me, especially as we delved into the gospels, confronting the reality of Jesus’s words about the narrow path and the sobering truth that not everyone who calls Him “Lord” will enter the kingdom of God.

Fast forward to today, and it seems the predicament of the North American church has only intensified. Our congregations are aging, our pews are growing emptier, and Christianity, in many circles, finds itself sidelined, if not outright dismissed, by a culture increasingly indifferent to its message. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but the reality is stark: the church, in many respects, is being marginalized, and much of this, I fear, we’ve brought upon ourselves.

The decline of the church and the cultural disregard for Christianity are complex, multifaceted issues, but I can’t help but zero in on one critical aspect: the spiritual dryness that seems to pervade our leaders and congregants alike. It’s a rarity these days to hear of members engaging deeply and consistently in spiritual practices. Somewhere along the line, we’ve shifted the onus of spiritual development onto the institution of the church, sidelining personal responsibility for nurturing our relationship with God. This shift, I believe, has led us to a place where transformative, life-altering encounters with the divine are the exception, not the norm.

But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be this way. I firmly believe that with the right tools and encouragement, we can reignite a passion for personal spiritual practices within our congregations. It’s about moving beyond mere attendance and participation to fostering a culture where daily, intentional engagement with God’s word and presence becomes the bedrock of our faith.

So, let’s talk tools—practical, actionable tools that can help bridge the gap between Sunday’s sermon and the rest of the week, ensuring that the messages we labor over don’t just evaporate into the ether come Tuesday morning.

First up, let’s give them an actionable Call to Action (CTA). Over the years, teaching preaching at Phillips Seminary for the Center for Ministry and Lay Training, I’ve noticed something missing in a lot of sermons: a clear, actionable CTA. I’ve sat through messages where the closing call was something along the lines of “be more forgiving.” Now, don’t get me wrong, that’s solid advice. But even the most ardent atheist can tell you that forgiveness is key to a healthy self and harmonious relationships. The kicker? I’d wager that not many folks walked away from those sermons and actually did something about it. It reminds me of a story about Abraham Lincoln. After attending a church service in Washington D.C., he was asked if he found the sermon to be great. Lincoln acknowledged the preacher’s eloquence but noted, “He did not ask us to do something great.” And that’s precisely where the rubber meets the road. Every sermon, no matter how lofty or esoteric, should compel us towards a specific, observable action. It’s about moving beyond the abstract and into the realm of tangible, life-reflecting change.

Next, let’s create a Bible study from your sermon. For decades, crafting a Bible study to complement my sermons was a staple of my week—rewarding, yes, but also incredibly time-consuming. Enter the digital age, and suddenly, we’ve got tools at our disposal that can cut that prep time down significantly without sacrificing depth. Here’s a prompt I’ve found invaluable: “Please create a 10-question Bible study based on this scripture [insert scripture here] and on this outline [insert sermon notes or manuscript here]. Include five open-ended, thought-provoking questions about the scripture and four about the sermon. Please randomize the order of the questions in your response. For the 10th question, craft a call to action based on the content.” I always handed this out as an insert with the Sunday publications such as the bulletin or worship handout. This approach not only deepens engagement with the sermon’s themes but also encourages a more profound, personal exploration of faith throughout the week.

Lastly, let’s encourage reflection through journaling. There’s a nugget of wisdom in Socrates’ assertion that “The unexamined life isn’t worth living.” Encouraging our congregants to journal offers them a pathway to daily, reflective engagement with scripture, the sermons they’ve heard, and their spiritual journey at large. The Sacred Thoughts Journal, which I’ll share at the end of this post, employs the SOAP method—Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer. It’s a straightforward yet profoundly impactful way to encourage reflection in as little as 10 minutes a day. In our hustle-bustle world, carving out even this small window for spiritual reflection can be a game-changer.

By weaving these tools into the fabric of your ministry, you’re not just ensuring that your sermons have a life beyond Sunday. You’re actively participating in the spiritual growth and maturation of your congregation, fostering a community where deep, personal engagement with God’s word is the norm, not the exception. Let’s not settle for being passive consumers of spiritual content. Instead, let’s be active participants in our spiritual development, leveraging every tool at our disposal to draw closer to the heart of God, transforming not just our lives but the world around us.

Help Make Spirituality Real and Relevant

Making spiritual development resonate with the real-life struggles and aspirations of our congregation is a challenge that, frankly, we need to tackle head-on. Let’s face it, the daily devotionals we often distribute, like Our Daily Bread or Guideposts, while valuable, sometimes miss the mark in addressing the gritty, real-life issues our members face. Sure, they offer application points, but do they truly speak to the heart of what keeps our people up at night? I’m inclined to think we can do better.

Jesus promised a life that’s full and abundant, and I’m pretty sure He wasn’t just talking about our worship or devotional experiences. He meant for that promise to permeate every aspect of our lives. So, how do we bridge the gap between the spiritual practices we encourage and the daily realities of our congregation’s lives?

First, it’s crucial that our sermons speak directly to the concerns that rob our people of sleep. While theological topics like the Trinity are undoubtedly important, they’re perhaps better suited for a Sunday school class or a deeper Bible study session. The pulpit should be a place where we address the issues that truly matter to our congregation—loneliness, financial insecurity, marital strife, parental worries about rebellious children, and so on. These are the real, raw concerns that our sermons need to touch on.

Then there are the dreams and aspirations. People have visions for their lives, places they want to visit, differences they yearn to make. Our sermons should ignite inspiration, propelling people towards a life aligned with Jesus’s teachings. After all, we identify as Christians, not merely deists. The essence of a transformative sermon lies not just in its ability to educate but to inspire a desire for change, for a life that mirrors the principles Jesus laid out for us.

Second, creating relevant Bible studies is a powerful way to deepen this connection. When we craft Bible studies that directly tie into the themes of our sermons, we offer a deeper dive into how these teachings apply to daily life. For instance, if a sermon touches on navigating financial uncertainty with faith, the accompanying Bible study could explore biblical principles of stewardship, trust, and generosity, providing practical, scripture-based strategies for managing finances. This approach not only reinforces the sermon’s message but also equips our members with tangible, biblical insights to tackle their real-world challenges.

Third, expand your impact by creating relevant daily devotionals. Utilizing AI, like ChatGPT, has been a game-changer for me. It’s a powerful ally in crafting daily devotions that speak directly to the concerns and aspirations of our congregation. If you’re unsure about the specific issues plaguing your community, it’s time to engage in meaningful conversations with both your church members and potential visitors. Discover what worries them, what dreams they harbor. These discussions can provide a wealth of material for creating daily devotions that offer biblical solutions to real-world problems.

In my own ministry, I’ve found that focusing on a weekly theme across all my platforms—blogs, YouTube videos, social media—deepens the impact of my message. For example, this week’s theme revolves around enhancing the spiritual quotient of church leaders and members, with a sprinkle of tips for deepening one’s personal spiritual journey. While I’m not suggesting you replicate my approach exactly, there’s merit in using your sermon as a springboard for a week’s worth of relevant, 300-word daily devotions. Each devotion, rooted in your sermon’s theme, can offer a potent call to action that resonates with your congregation’s daily lives.

Imagine the difference it could make if every sermon and every piece of content we create as church leaders directly addressed the heartaches, struggles, and dreams of our people. By making our spiritual guidance relevant and actionable, we’re not just preaching; we’re equipping our congregation to live out their faith in the most practical, life-affirming ways possible.

In essence, our role as pastors and church leaders is to ensure that the spiritual development we foster within our churches doesn’t just float in the realm of abstract theology but lands squarely in the midst of our congregants’ daily lives. By doing so, we’re not just talking about faith; we’re activating it, making it the driving force behind every decision, every challenge, and every aspiration our members face. This is how we make spirituality relevant. This is how we fulfill our calling to shepherd our flock not just towards heaven, but towards a richer, more meaningful earthly existence, deeply rooted in the teachings of Christ.

Extend Your Influence … Just Ask!

In our churches today, there’s a glaring gap that, frankly, we’ve been tiptoeing around for far too long—accountability. Now, I know just mentioning the word might make some of us squirm in our seats. It seems we’ve developed a sort of allergy to the concept, perhaps fearing the implications of holding one another accountable for our spiritual practices. But let me share a little secret that’s transformed the way I engage with my leaders and members: the power of simply asking.

Over the years, I’ve penned numerous posts about the five discipleship questions, but there’s one that stands out as a game-changer: “What have you read in scripture this week that intrigued you?” This question, when asked consistently, has an uncanny ability to spark a genuine engagement with the Bible. I’ve made it a practice to ask every member of my staff this question weekly, and the results have been nothing short of remarkable. It’s as if the mere act of asking sets the wheels in motion, and before you know it, everyone’s diving into their Bibles with a newfound zeal.

This principle isn’t just limited to my staff; it extends to the entire congregation. Imagine the impact of integrating this approach into the fabric of our church life. If you’re crafting weekly Bible studies or devotions, take a moment as folks share their thoughts on your sermon to flip the script and ask them, “How did it go with your daily devotions last week?” or “What part of last week’s Bible study caused you to think?”

I’m willing to bet that if you consistently ask Ms. Barbara one of these questions as she’s walking out the door, by the third or fourth week, she’ll be eager to share insights from her spiritual journey. It’s about creating a culture where spiritual engagement isn’t just encouraged; it’s expected, and where sharing that journey becomes a natural part of our community life.

Nike tells us to “Just do it,” but in the realm of spiritual development, my mantra has become “Just ask.” It’s a simple strategy, but its power lies in its ability to transform. When we ask—and keep asking—we signal that spiritual growth is a priority, that we care about each other’s journeys, and that we’re all in this together.

This approach does more than just increase Bible engagement; it fosters a sense of accountability and community. It tells our congregation that we’re not just interested in seeing them on Sunday mornings; we’re invested in their growth every day of the week. And when people feel that their spiritual journey is valued and supported, they’re more likely to dive deeper, to reflect more, and to live out their faith in tangible ways.

So, let’s make a shift. Let’s move from passive observance to active engagement. Let’s not shy away from asking the tough questions, from encouraging one another, and from holding each other accountable. Because when we do, we’ll see our churches transform, one question at a time. Remember, it’s not about prying or policing; it’s about showing genuine interest and care for the spiritual well-being of our community. So, let’s just ask.

Wrap Up

Let me wrap this up with an invitation. I hope I’ve helped you see that the journey toward your congregation’s higher Spirituality Quotient demands intentionality, practical tools, and a willingness to engage in meaningful conversations. The strategies I’ve shared—providing actionable calls to action, making spiritual development relevant, and extending our influence through simple yet profound questions—are more than just ideas. They’re a call to action, a roadmap for revitalizing our approach to ministry in a way that resonates deeply with the daily lives and spiritual hunger of our congregation.

I encourage you to download a copy of the Sacred Thoughts Journal from here. This resource is not just another resource; it’s a tool designed to facilitate deeper, more reflective engagement with Scripture and personal spirituality. But don’t stop with just downloading it for yourself. Please freely distribute it throughout your congregation, to serve as a catalyst for their spiritual journey, encouraging them to dive deeper into their faith, to reflect, and to grow.

This is more than just an invitation; it’s a challenge. A challenge to move beyond the status quo, to elevate the spiritual vitality of our communities, and to truly embody the transformative power of the Gospel in every aspect of our lives. Don’t just commit to these practices in theory but embrace them with conviction, knowing that through them, we can witness profound spiritual growth both in ourselves and in those we are called to serve.