I was interviewed by someone who is considering church revitalization for his next ministry assignment. My answers are not formalized – it was a casual conversation, but I figured someone else might have the same questions.
After experience in church planting and church revitalization, let me say neither should be attempted without some ability to laugh – at times – other than pray of course – that’s all you can do. And, so here’s another smiley face to brighten your day.
8 questions about church revitalization:
1. What motivated you to move into revitalization vs church planting?
It’s a calling. I wouldn’t attempt church planting or church revitalization – or any ministry for that matter – without a clear one. But, the need is huge. We have more Kingdom dollars invested in non-productive, non-growing churches than in church plants. Obviously we need lots of church plants, but we also need to revive some of the older churches.
2. What questions did you specifically ask your current church before taking the position?
Here’s the bottom line: There’s not a question that will answer everything you want to know. You’ll have to take a risk. Just like in church planting and you don’t know if anyone will show up. In church revitalization, you’re going to find things out when you get there.
You are dealing with a very complex structure. The older the church the more complex. The search committee can tell you lots of things — all that they believe to be true — and still some of it won’t be true. It won’t be that they misled you, but that the culture hadn’t been fully tested until you arrived and tried to change some things that haven’t been tried previously. That’s part of the process.
But, a key I wanted to understand the best I could was my freedom to lead. Obviously, Jesus is the leader, but did they want to rely on my leadership as I yielded to God’s leadership? Was the church ready? Could I hire my staff — and release staff if needed? How are decisions made? I looked at the budget and bylaws and every policy I could find. (And, they found more after I arrived, but the policies you won’t know are the unwritten ones.)
3. If you could change anything about your transition into your current role as Senior Pastor of a historically established church what would it be and why?
I would have asked for some of the harder decisions to have already been done. Specifically dealing with structure and staffing.
4. How did you prepare your family for your role change?
It was just my wife and me. That’s a huge difference, but I read everything I could about the church. I asked lots of questions. I interviewed the staff. I asked for list of key leaders and interviewed them. Then I shared everything I was learning with my wife. We were very open and transparent throughout the process.
But, it’s important to know that while my wife is faster to move by faith – she has the gift of faith – she’s slower to let her heart change. She can know it’s what we are supposed to do, but her heart stays longer where we once lived. She hangs on to the past harder than I do. Navigating through that and giving her time to acclimate was huge.
5. What are the biggest mistakes to avoid in your first year as the Senior Pastor in an existing church that needs the work of revitalization?
- Moving too fast to change major things.
- Not bringing people along and establishing trust.
- Not celebrating the past.
- Standing still too long. (People need some quick wins.)
6. What leadership areas did you focus on first once you arrived in your new role?
Primarily staff structure, strategy verbiage, website, communication and vision-casting.
We also had 7 key initiatives: Prayer, Stewardship, Intergenerational ministry, College, Discipleship, First Impressions and Missions.
7. What books or resources would you recommend for a Senior Pastor who is moving into the work of revitalizing a local church?
For my people who can’t assume the unmentioned, let me say the Bible. Of course. And, honestly, that’s huge. People want and need sound, clear, Biblical teachings. That will revive a church.
Here are a few books I found helpful. And, there are probably many others.
Switch – Chip and Dan Heath
Steering through Chaos – Scott Wilson
Change Your Church for Good – Brad Powell
8. What one thing would you want to tell me about the work of revitalizing the local church that I have not already asked?
Be ready to embrace conflict, love people and love the vision of a healthy church. Each love will be tested.
What questions do you have? Any of these I should expand upon?