It has been four years since I entered church revitalization after two church plants. I had done something similar previously in ministry. My first church after entering vocational ministry needed revitalization.
I fell in love with the energy of starting something new in church planting. At the same time, I continued to be concerned for churches like the one in which I was raised – the church which has seen better days. I became more convinced we need new energy in both.
This experience of church revitalization has given me the tremendous blessing and opportunity, fueled by this blog platform, to speak not only to church planters (who I still love by the way), but also those who are attempting church revitalization. In the process, of these four years I have learning some things – lots of things.
There appear to be some vital elements for a healthy revitalization to occur.
Granted, the Holy Spirit must show up and God must be glorified. And, we know this can happen with a room of donkeys, but in general terms, working with normal church people (whatever normal means in church work) there are components, which I believe need to be in place to see a church revitalize.
Here are 7 vital components in church revitalization:
Admitting you need to revitalize
This is hard, isn’t it? I remember shortly after I arrived a senior member of our church visited another church which had undergone revitalization. She saw the excitement and came back with a new understanding. Her comment to one of our staff members was, “We have to change some things, don’t we? We don’t have a choice!” The church as a whole must come to this level of understanding.
Letting go of right to control
This is what makes or breaks revitalization in many churches. If the “No Change Allowed” sign is hung – or even the “but not that change” – on issues which aren’t even Biblical, then revitalizing the church will be very difficult.
A vision of something better
What’s next for this church? Where are we going? How are we going to get there? There must be a compelling vision, such as loving a community for Christ and clear avenues for people to be involved in reaching the vision.
A history worth revitalizing
This will be the toughest part of this post. There are some toxic churches which seem to have never been healthy. They’ve run off every pastor they’ve called. Many of these churches wouldn’t follow Jesus well either. They are stuck in systems and personal agendas – usually run by a few people – and aren’t going to budge. (I realize this is a cruel statement, but it is sadly a very repeated reality.)
Leadership willing to lead change
This is more than the pastor. In many cases, the pastor is only the figure head of vision and change. Change is hard. It requires trusted leaders within the church willing to step up and lead along side the pastor. There is a difference in trust and popularity as a leader. Sometimes the pastor may be popular, but hasn’t earned the level of trust longer term members have. The pastor needs these people to help guide change. Collective leadership is so important – always – but, especially in the early days of revitalization.
The tenacity to weather storms
It won’t be easy. It’s far easier to start something than to try to grow again after a period of decline. The longer the decline the longer it will take to see revitalization. Some pastors, leaders and churches have the patience. Some don’t.
A few committed people
You need some people already established in the church – not just leadership – who love the church more than their personal agenda. These might be leaders or might not. Many times newer people attracted during times of change don’t have the roots or credibility to do this. As great as they are – and even with them as a primary focus – the church needs longer term people to embrace a new future. These people have to support the pastor, speak up for the changes and create an atmosphere conducive for growth again.
Well, those are my candid observations. They aren’t based solely on opinion, but they certainly aren’t a product of extensive research either. They are derived from my experience and hundreds of conversations with other pastors and my own personal experience.
Here’s to revitalizing the church to the glory of God!