How to Help Your Church Return from Exile

Are we really exiles?

In many instances the answer to this question is yes. This isn’t because our local churches left where they were or have wanted to become strangers in their own land. I have found that this simply means they have been doing some good things for a long time. While doing good, members may have grown in their love of Christ and each other, but their likeness of Christ has not been tested outside the petri-dish of their local congregation. This can make re-entering the community in through Fresh Expressions of Church  feel as though they are returning from exile because it has been years or maybe even decades since they really stopped to listen to the world outside of their walls.

A prophetic word for today

Then I looked up and saw a man. He was holding a measuring line.  “Where are you going?” I asked.

“To measure Jerusalem,” he answered. “I want to find out how wide and how long it is.”

 The angel who was talking with me was leaving. At that time, another angel came over to him. He said to him, “Run! Tell that young man Zechariah, ‘Jerusalem will be a city that does not have any walls around it. It will have huge numbers of people and animals in it. And I myself will be like a wall of fire around it,’ announces the Lord. ‘I will be the city’s glory.’ (Zechariah 2:1-5)

The Old Testament book of Zechariah was written for groups of God’s people returning to Jerusalem from exile. People who returned to a city that seemed to have changed drastically since their departure. Many times, our churches could be classified as exiled people from their own community as well.

Many times, our churches could be classified as exiled people from their own community. Click To Tweet

Moving from exile to ex-stranger

Zechariah’s wisdom tells us that we cannot confine God’s power to just one location. Yet, how many times do we try to figure out how to make people fit into our perfect little box called church? We do it all the time and wonder why in the world they don’t fit. We wonder why all the things we love about this place and our worship don’t work for everyone else. They work for us and that is great! However, God’s power and might can’t be contained by walls regardless of whether those walls are around a building or a city. God’s plan for this world is far larger than what we can even imagine!

So how can you help move your church towards become more like ex-strangers than exiles as they move into their community through fresh expressions of Church?

Step One

PRAY! If your congregation doesn’t have a heart for your community then there is no way that you’ll ever not feel like strangers in a foreign land. You have to want to not be strangers. You have to not want to be isolated in your four walls. You have to have a holy uneasiness about the sameness that makes up your Body of Christ.

You have to want to not be strangers. You have to not want to be isolated in your four walls. You have to have a holy uneasiness about the sameness that makes up your Body of Christ. Click To Tweet
Step Two

Second, pray some more! Not just on Sunday morning. Not just inside the walls of the church. Pray in and around your community. Drive through neighborhoods and ask God to show you where he is already at work. Walk down the street and pray for businesses, families, other organizations in your community.

What do you see as you walk or drive? Who do you see as you walk or drive? How is God already moving in your community? Through these powerful prayers you may very well begin to see things you’ve never seen before, hear things you’ve never heard before and quite possibly find yourself seeing that the measuring tape you use to measure ministry is no longer valid because you can see the potential for something new God is calling your congregation to. Where might you be able to see a Fresh Expression of Church forming?

Wait, why are the first two steps the same?

Now you may say that both of those first two steps seem the same. You’re right! They do seem the same, but I am a firm believer that prayer changes everything. Every great movement begins with prayer! I know this because I’ve seen it. My congregation is a breakthrough prayer congregation.

What is a breakthrough prayer congregation you ask? We have been trained by breakthrough prayer powerhouse and author, Rev. Sue Nilson-Kibbey. If you are looking for ways to incorporate breakthrough prayer in your church, I would recommend Sue’s book & study: Ultimate Reliance: Breakthrough Prayer Practices for Leaders ( It is not only practical, but full of powerful examples of how prayer has helped churches return from exile.

Prayer has been the most important act of faithfulness our congregation has practiced as we have put into motion what we hear from God. We’ve celebrated breakthroughs together both in the lives of individuals and in the life of our established congregation and our forming fresh expression. No longer do we debate what we should do. We hand it over and allow the Holy Spirit to show us the direction in which we should go.

Step Three

Lastly, if you are still struggling to not feel like you’re wandering around all alone, find an organization in your community who is loving people well and join them in loving your community together. I know what you’re thinking. The best organization to love people should be the church! You’re correct, it should be. However, if you feel like a stranger in a foreign land when you are out in your community, then your church may not be the organization loving people best. Maybe there is a local food pantry or soup kitchen that comes alongside people and loves well. Maybe there is another church that has figured out how to meet the needs of families at a local school well. Sometimes we need a little practice and guidance on what being in ministry with people really looks like. Most organizations, especially if they are doing things well, are always looking for able and willing servants to help love people. I believe that when we get in the flow of people who are different than we are, God is always happy. I’m pretty sure when we get to heaven, we aren’t all going to look, think or act the same.

Don’t wait!

I am not going to lie, this process of returning from exile is not one that has been quick or easy. It is a continual journey for my congregation, walking from feeling like exiles into fresh expressions of Church forming in our community Just as in Zechariah’s time, there should be an urgency for the people of God to not settle in the ways of the world, but to move closer to the Kingdom of God. Today the people of God, the church, must be more Christ-like in action and we must not be afraid in doing so. The only way to do that is to return from the exile of our walls and re-enter the community in which we have been planted and called to be Christ!


Ann Marie Carley

As a UMC Deacon Ann Marie’s ministry focus is helping churches walk through sacred change. She is currently living out this call by serving as the Executive Pastor (and overseeing Fresh Expressions) at Trinity Church in Chillicothe, Ohio. She and her husband are passionate about sharing Jesus, cycling, cycling to tacos and exploring new ways to connect with others.


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