By Fred Koenig
Each year Annual Conference session opens with the singing of the hymn “And Are We Yet Alive?” This year during Sunday morning worship, Rev. Jim Preisig answered the question in a quiet moment at the begging of his sermon. He asked everyone to listen, and said he could hear movement and even hear breathing.
“I can hear you,” he said. “Do you know what good news that is? Because as long as I’ve been in ministry, they’ve been telling me you’re dead. It’s a tragedy when we believe what the world is saying about us.”
Preisig is the senior pastor at The Summit in Lee’s Summit. He said too many people believe the cultural rumor that the church is dying or dead, and churches that have lost hope have lost their providence with God. He believes we are poised on the edge of a great time of renewal, similar to the Roman-Greco world of centuries past.
“We see shrines to false Gods around us, and people dying looking for something to live for,” he said.
A story in the Washington Post told how globally Christianity is rising sharply, with China predicted to have enormous gains in Christianity within the next generation.
Preisig sees the only natural way for things to progress is through Christian revival.
“There is a void in every human heart that is uniquely shaped for Jesus Christ,” he said.
He quoted John 10:10, which quotes Christ as saying, “I come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.” He said the reason for being a Christian isn’t to get a ticket to heaven someday, it’s to have life today.
“Christ’s promise doesn’t happen when you die, it happens when you come alive in him,” Preisig said.
That’s not to say our culture makes reaching people easy. Shifts that have occurred just within our lifetime have moved people away from church.
“In Missouri not that long ago, you needed a letter of reference from your pastor to get a home mortgage,” Preisig said.
“There were no (school or civic) programs on Wednesday night because that was church night. No stores were open on Sunday morning. We thought we didn’t need to do evangelism. We were wrong. Dead wrong.” When Preisig came to Lee’s Summit, it was a large, historic downtown church in decline averaging about 700 in weekly worship. The church recently built a second site in a strategic location.
“We saw more first time visitors in one year than I have in my previous 15 years combined,” Preisig said. Last year average attendance was 1,521.
It was initialing challenging to convince some people in the church that it was necessary to commit a large amount of resources to developing a new place for new people rather than just maintaining their current facility that they loved. For them, going beyond their affection for what they had freed them to create something more for what could be.
“The church has never been about brick and mortar. It is flesh and blood imbued with the spirit of God,” Preisig said. “If you’re going to help people experience the church and the way, our church is going to have to change.”