I have been in church revitalization for almost 3 years in the church where I currently serve as pastor. My first church some 13 years ago was a church in need of revitalization. In between, I’ve been a part of two church plants.
Even more, I’ve worked with dozens of pastors in church revitalization and church planting. Along the way, God has blessed us with some success and I’ve tried to learn some things — and pass them along here.
For example, I’ve learned there are some commonalities among pastors who can successfully revitalize an established church.
Here are 7 attributes of pastors who do church revitalization:
Calling. I don’t recommend church revitalization to anyone unless they have a clear calling from God. I believe God often gives tremendous latitude in allowing us to choose where we serve, but church revitalization appears to be a unique calling — one I’d be certain God has called you to do. Honestly, it’s the same for church planters, but, in my experience, it’s easier to plant a church. Starting completely over is usually easier than trying to revive an established church that has been in decline. (That’s just my opinion, but it’s based on experience.) And we need lots of church plants. I don’t have statistics to back it up, but there has to be more Kingdom money in established, but declining churches than the total invested in recent years in church planting. We need church revitalization — if for no other reason to be good stewards of Kingdom resources.
Supportive spouse. As in church planting — or any ministry — if you’re married, the spouse plays a huge role. But, to be honest, in church revitalization, Cheryl’s part has been one of the hardest parts for me personally. I have the greatest pastor’s wife. She genuinely loves people. There are days, however, when people with no filter chose my wife as a punching bag for their frustration with me. It happens almost every time we announce a change. (I’ve made it very clear that is not an acceptable response, and it’s gotten better with time, but it still occasionally happens.) But, that never happened in church planting. And, might not happen as often if we left everything alone and didn’t try to revitalize. The bottom line though is that Cheryl felt we were being called to this. In fact, she sensed it before I did. (She almost always does when it comes to matters of faith.)
Love of history and tradition. The key here is that you’re in revitalization. It’s not demolition. You’re leading a church to rediscover their past. If they don’t have a past worth rediscovering — then demolition might be a better option. Give. up and go plant a church. But, revitalization will involve celebrating some of the great moments from history. Along the way, there will be traditions worth maintaining. They are culture — DNA — and they work towards the mission they just need new energy behind them.
Entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve heard those who love “new” say they’d get bored in revitalization. Not! In addition to loving what’s old, it helps greatly to love all things new. And, this attribute and the last one are rare as a combination. It’s unusual to love history and tradition and have an entrepreneurial spirit. You can’t leave things exactly as you found them and expect the church to revive. Revitalization involves change. The heart of a planter, if they can live with the other attributes needed, works well in church revitalization.
Patience. It won’t be easy and you will not be able to move as fast as you can in church planting. The delicate balance between preserving DNA while encouraging change will be challenging at times. To be successful, you’ll need to honor the past while you push towards the future. That takes patience. (And, frankly you’ll have more somedays than others.)
Visionary. A church revitalization pastor receives a call and then grasps a God-given vision for what could be. It’s a strong enough vision to provide the tenacity to see it to fruition and to be able to cast in a powerful enough way where people are willing to follow.
Resilience. Dictionary.com defines resilience as “the power or ability to return to the original position after being stretched.” Yea, that. No, doubt you’ll be stretched as a church revitalizing pastor. And that also requires perseverance. Dictionary.com defines perseverance as “steady persistence in a course of action”. And, yea, that too. You’ll have set backs. There will be days you think you’re making progress only to realize people are upset about the color of the carpet. Through it all, you’ll have to keep going to be successful. And, if God called you to it then you will be.
My goal is not to scare you away from church revitalization. We need some who will take up the calling. My goal is for you to be prepared — and ultimately — to be successful.