10 Reasons to Consider Church Revitalization — Even Over Church Planting

I meet with young church planters frequently. I hope that continues. We had great experiences in two successful church plants and it’s certainly in my heart. Currently we are working to plant churches in Chicago. I love the energy of planting. We need lots of new churches.

In this season of my life, God has called me into revitalization. We are positioning an older, established church, that was once in decline, to grow again. And, it’s been amazing — and challenging — and rewarding — and hard.

God began to encourage my heart towards revitalization when I considered my home church — the one where I served in lay leadership until I was called into ministry late in my 30’s. That church introduced me to Christ, help me grow, and I wouldn’t be in ministry today without them.

But, that church has seen better days. (Thankfully, they are in revitalization now and a friend of mine pastors there.) What will become of the established church? That was a burning question on my heart and God lined my heart up with a church in need of revitalization.

Now, after the experience of the last few years, when I meet with church planters, I often encourage them to consider church revitalization. I realize church revitalization doesn’t have all the attraction of church planting. I left behind my skinny jeans to enter church revitalization. And all God’s people said amen. But, here’s the thing: the attraction in church revitalization is in the mission. And, that’s hopefully the same reason anyone enters church planting.

Here are 10 reasons to consider church revitalization — even over church planting:

You love the thought of restoring history. Our church is over 100 years old. Wouldn’t it be a shame to see that history come to an end — if we can reverse the decline?

You are ready to go to work now. There are far more opportunities in church revitalization. I read that near 90% of established churches are in decline or plateaued. There’s work to be done immediately.

You like having an established base of financial support. The good thing about many established churches is that they have loyal supporters. Sometimes those are the ones holding out until the doors are closed — they never want to change — but many times those people are just waiting for leadership to take them somewhere better than where they are today.

You love inter-generational ministry. In an established church, if you start to reach younger people, you’ll see a blending of generations. That’s a beautiful experience. It’s been one of our favorites in ministry. And, personally, I think it’s healthy and a very Biblical model of church.

You like a challenge. I didn’t put this as my number one, but don’t be misled. You will face opposition if you try to change things from where people are comfortable. You don’t face that same challenge in a church plant. But, you didn’t get into ministry expecting it to be easy did you? You agreed to walk by faith, right? And, you’ll have that opportunity in church revitalization. Everyday.

You won’t run from every conflict. You mustn’t. You must stay the good course. The mission is too vital.

You enjoy healthy structure. Granted, it might not be healthy, but you’ll find structure. And, as long as you’re not doing away with structure completely — which isn’t healthy anyway — you can usually tweak structure to be healthy again.

You are Kingdom-minded. You see the bigger picture. There are more Kingdom dollars being under-utilized in stagnant churches than may ever be invested in church planting. What are we going to do about it? If you’d like to know the answer — maybe you’re a candidate for revitalization.

You can endure a long-term approach. It likely won’t happen immediately. In church planting, we could change in a weekend. That’s not necessarily true in the established church. There are many things that can happen immediately. Certainly we saw some immediate, very positive changes and the church began to grow quickly. But, the best changes have taken time — but they have paid off dramatically because of our more methodical approach.

You truly love the local church. I didn’t love everything about the church that I came to pastor — or the established church I attended all my life until surrendering to ministry. But, I truly love the local church. Enough that I’d be willing to invest energies in trying to save one.

Let me be honest. Some churches can’t be — and may not need to be — saved. There, I said that. They’ve been toxic since they began — running off pastors so a few families can remain in control. They aren’t interested in reaching a lost world. They are looking for a comfortable place to hang out with people just like them.

But, there are so many churches who are ready to grow again with the right pastoral leadership. And, I encourage some of our young, eager, pastors — even some who may be considering church planting — to consider allowing God to use you in revitalizing an established church.

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Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • […] Good call, Tom. You’re right. I agree with you completely. I even wrote a post encouraging some who are considering planting to consider church […]

  • lerato says:

    hey Ron i am 25years old minister ive been busy with work of God my whole when other young people went to varsities when i completed matric i went straight to ministry my advice go for young people plus here in south africa the are many young people who are minister and have their churches and they doing good i say consider me ive been wanting to do church planting but you know to start a church requires money hiring a building,sound,marketing tools,transport to do envagilisim please contact me lets talk more here is my email address leratomohlahlane@gmail.com

  • […] Ron Edmondson: 10 Reasons to Consider Church Revitalization – Even Over Church Planting […]

  • karson says:

    i appreciate your love for revitalization, I think the only point solely related to revitalization is number 1. The rest can be said about planting.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Absolutely. So come on over planters. Thanks for helping me make my point. 

      • Karson says:

        I am not opposed to it especially if its healthy wich usually a turn around is not. With planting you dont have to deal with as much red tape and from my experiance (planted one church) we see a higher percentage of salvations. I would argue (last church was a revitilization) its cheaper and less stressful to plant. Obviously call is the major factor. Many turnarounds are in buildings worshipped by the members and buildings that are money pits. I brought up selling the building at my last church it wasnt long until I was no longer paid. Not fired just no longer paid LOL. God pless you and others in this work!

        • ronedmondson says:

          Absolutely. We need lots of plants. I've planted 2 churches myself. We need to restore some kingdom dollars in existing, declining or plateaued churches also. Either close them or get them on mission again. God bless your work too pastor. 

  • David Barnes says:

    I couldn’t agree more. As a pastor ove always felt called to renewal ministry, but my ordination call was for church planting. I enjoy that but love the history and intergenerational ministry of rebuilding a congregation.

    The challenge is finding opportunities to serve an existing congregation. Usually they are embedded in a denominational structure. It is easier to just start a chutch from scratch.

    I live in chicago and would be glad to work with an existing congregation if you know of one.

    • ronedmondson says:

      Great encouragement. I'll keep my eyes open in Chicago. We are working there now. If you're not familiar, check out the work of New Life Chicago. Love how they combine planting with revitalization. 

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  • Brian says:

    With the current church planting culture being so pervasive many know the route, or can easily find their way on that track. How does one find the road that leads to revitalization? This can be particularly tricky in light of your final thoughts that not all established churches necessitate or even want revitalization. I have seen too many churches chew up and spit out pastors & their families over the years. It is truly tragic. The established church is what has caused so many in the younger generation to consider planting in the first place. I agree there is a need for revitalization. It will be a tougher road as there aren't as many tools, resources, etc in place to help younger pastors to make that choice and find the right church. Even if they were to desire revitalization there seems to be little in the way of movement to help facilitate that reality.

    • ronedmondson says:

      I agree with you completely. We need more energy in this — not just from the pastor side, but from leadership in denominations, associations, seminaries, etc.And, one initial key in revitalization is to assess the health of the church and willingness to change. I think we often give that process too long. That’s more than I can answer here, but my suspicion is the history of the church can be studied and you can learn a lot. Then the pastor should be able to tell fairly quickly if they really want to change. All things such as location, culture, history, etc should be assessed.Harder work — just as necessary.

    • pastorrob says:

      Check out NAMB.net under Revitalization. They are coming at this full steam. Just met with them a week ago. Excited about the prospects.

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  • Bill says:

    Hey Ron, how about us OLD, eager pastors? I am pushing 50 and have been a staff pastor for 8 years after a career in industry. I love the local church and have resisted the temptation to explore planting because it would be for the wrong reason – frustration with the way things are in an established church. I have never owned a pair of skinny jeans but it sure seems that my direction for the church is more suited to that generation. I agree with everything on your list, especially inter-generational ministry. That may be the hardest area to navigate because you can't focus all of your efforts on just one.

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