Where Does Church Revitalization Begin?
The topic of Church Revitalization has been a subject of interest for several years now. Most people are familiar with Olsen’s American Church in Crisis often quoted statistic about plateaued, dying and dead churches. While the information from Olsen may be a little outdated, the question of what to do about the epidemic is still relevant for anyone in such a ministry position.
I have done enough research on the topic to discover that every denomination is struggling with how to stop the churches from closing their doors. I discovered there are multiple reasons why a church will die; to include the location, past church history and leadership issues.
As a result of the emphasis given to the number of churches closing, various philosophies, approaches and tools have been develop in hopes of finding the root cause of the epidemic.
I appreciate the high level of interest and energy given by so many including my own denomination to find a solution. Church Revitalization does not have an easy solution. There are too many variables to investigate and filter through to determine a “common cause” among the churches. While there are no quick fixes or answers; when a church does find new life again the results are remarkable.
Some of the variables that must be taking into account before starting any church revitalization project include age of the church, age of the congregation, past church history (successes and failures), community demographics,(growing or declining in population) and is current leadership capable of leading the process.
Often Church Revitalization enthusiasts are eager to do the research, conduct community and church surveys and crunch the data in hopes of uncovering the hidden secret to turning around a failing church. In our current technological age a researcher can find just about any information to diagnosis a perceived churches condition. The conclusion may point to a problem that is geographical as well as spiritually. Do not misunderstand me, there must be sufficient homework accomplished before settling on a course of action. Life has taught me that one must be careful with statistical information alone. Church revitalization is not a one dimensional issue.
If a church is to begin a revitalization process, it is absolutely essential to know where to start. But even more important to know where the Church is headed. Church revitalization inherently carries with it the idea that at some point the church now languishing was at some point successful and alive. Even having said that, the question comes to mind – what does it mean to have a successful past? If a church cannot identify a time when it was healthy and accomplishing Kingdom work; then it may need to start with a Strategic Planning Team to develop for the first time a clear vision or concept of what it means to be a New Testament church. Strategic Planning directions and guidelines are beyond the articles scope.
Church revitalization is about causing renewal within the life of redeemed people and the Churches current dilemma. Revitalization is not revival; it is more than revival. I have pastored four churches. I may not be an expert, but I have found some steps that will help determine a successful church transformation.
First, every church is different; its context, its people and its particular ministry for the Kingdom of God. There have been enough attempts at reviving dying churches to provide a plethora of books documenting the success story.
Secondly, revitalization it is absolutely difficult work. While reading these stories, one quickly learns that it is a difficult process. As with any work within the church, one can expect opposition and discouragement along the way. Church revitalization requires diplomacy and perseverance.
Thirdly, revitalization requires the right leader. Even though so many churches are experiencing warning signs of decline and death, not every pastor is a revitalizer.
Revitalization is as much about the pastor/leadership as it is about the overall church. There are churches that would rather die than change; there are also pastors that would rather change pastorates than embark on the struggles of changing a church. Scripture is filled with examples of resistance to God’s will; in particular the nation of Israel. Often a position of comfort is sought. This should not sound so strange; individuals and church acquiesce to a point of their comfort.
In a church situation where revitalization is being considered; before all the research and studies are done, leadership must answer a question: are they the ones to attempt revitalization? This may sound like a dumb question. But in reality this must be the first investigative point. Long before thoughts of studies and demographic analysis is attempted; there has to be clear direction from the Lord Jesus that the leadership is called to the work of revitalization. Specifically, is the pastor the right person? This question cannot be easily answered. According to Luke 14:28; before attempting a work, consider the cost beforehand. If the pastor/leadership is not willing to invest at least five to seven years towards the work, do not start. The work will go unfinished and the people will become further discouraged, hindering any future work. Many reading this article now are trying to determine if they are called to revitalization. This is a pertinent question that must be asked with a peace and clear understanding from God. Word of caution: revitalization will not be like anything you have done before!
The bible character of Joshua is an example to many potential revitalizers. There was much that Joshua had to consider about his new position as leader of Israel. As ministers of the Gospel, we are under obligation to the One who called us. Right now many pastors find themselves in less than the best of church health situations. Our faithfulness in the difficult times will be a reflection of God’s preparation of us for the task. Pastors, we are in difficult times. It is our watch and we must be found faithful.
Joshua had to reflect on what God had been doing in his life. Joshua was a valiant warrior. He had experienced great victories and witnessed the powerful presence of God. While he was part of the disappointing “committee’ that chose not to enter the Promised Land, he didn’t quit or give up. He stayed faithful for forty years in the position of Captain of the Israeli army. Before Moses dies, he is anointed as heir apparent to lead Israel to the Promise Land. This is quite a change of positions, no longer is he the executor of the plan, he is the Vision Caster. Wonderful words of encouragement and challenge come from God to Joshua. (Joshua 1:1-9)
The leadership changed but the goal remained the same. Forty years in the Wilderness did not alter God’s goal. Israel was always supposed to inhabit the Promise Land. God still commands Churches to fulfill the Great Commission. Pastors and leadership will change, but God always remains the same. Those encouraging words from God “As I was with Moses, so I will be with You (Josh 1:5) are for us.
Joshua was given a task to do that had the outcome already determined. The LORD said “I am giving this land to them.” (Josh 1:2) There would be fighting, but Joshua was told that no man would be able to stand against what God was doing.
Joshua did not let the circumstances and past dictate the future obedience and work of the Lord. We may all find ourselves from time to time in situations that seem impossible – but do not fret; God is still on His throne and we have been called to shepherd His Church. Three times in Joshua 1, Joshua is told “Be strong and courageous.” While it is imperative that churches and pastors remember what happened in the past, they cannot let it paralyze them. Now Joshua could have struggled in the shadows of Moses or he could accept the new role as “Valiant Leader.” Additionally, Joshua had fought many battles in the typical manner of warfare. Right from the beginning, Joshua and the people had to trust in un-orthodox ways – God’s ways.
So where does Church revitalization begin? It begins with pastors. Before a pastor embarks on revitalization, he must look at himself. Leadership must switch from being caretakers to risk takers. There are many qualities that have been used to help identify if someone is a church revitalizer. God looks for only one – being a man after God’s our heart. God will build His Church. If God has called you to revitalization, do not look for another church. What I am trying to say is that churches revitalization is difficult, but when God is in the Church the Church has a future. There are no easy answers, and no quick fixes. God called us to shepherd His Church, so let’s model our own Good Shepherd and be willing to lay down our life for the sheep.
Monthly Archives: February 2015
Where Does Church Revitalization Begin?
In our chaotic world today of trying to find some sort of stability, we often settle for relief rather than remedy. I have found in people as well as churches many just want some sort of relief from the crisis or current dilemma.
Some things to note about relief:
Relief is not revival
Relief is not revitalization
Relief is not reversal
Relief Prevents Repentance
If there isn’t repentance, and only a relief [more comfortable condition] then there isn’t a basis for God to work. Some situations people and churches are content to have a “manageable crisis” mentality instead of real reform or restoration.
People and Churches need both revival and revitalization – call it revivalization.
Revive the People, Revitalize the Church.
Our reading this week Acts 10-14 starts out with Peter having issues with his orthodox practices and food previously understood to be unclean. We have to remember that Peter was a devout Jew. Sometimes it is difficult to accept the freedoms that Grace gives, when we have been so accustom to the Law’s limits. While Peter was the Apostle to the Jews, and Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles; neither men were confined to their specific group. In fact Paul had to admonition Peter at Galatia for being hypocritically eating with the Gentiles until renown Jews came and then he separated himself from them. I also noted that Acts 10:1-8 shows Cornelius as devout man, fearing God, giving alms and praying continually; was still lost!. It was through Peter’s vision and meeting with Cornelius that he and his family got saved. The point here is that we can act like a believer without actually being one. I say this because in verse the Holy Spirit is received by those who heard the Gospel through Peter. Some may say that He was already saved, but the Holy Spirit was not given to the Gentiles yet. That could be a valid point, but the testimony of the Holy Spirit in our lives, verifies the salvation of the person. Also the report given in Acts 11:12-14 indicates a lost condition. This brings to question are there a lot of “Cornelius’ in the church today? Good people, even appear to be religious, yet are unredeemed? When Peter reports that the Gentiles have been included in the Salvation plan, he take heat from the circumcised. This cultural and religious differences of Samaritans, Greeks and Gentiles will be an issue for the practicing Jews for years to come. The struggle with “New” is always difficult for those who have been institutionalized or become systemic products.
So now we have the Gospel moving from Jews to Greeks to Samaritans and now the Gentiles. Truly the Gospel is for all. The only limits to it are those imposed by man. Peter and Paul would not only have repercussions from internal conflict but also from “Jews or Judaizers” opposed to the “Christ faith” Gospel. I laugh out loud when Perter is persecuted, thrown in jail, the church is praying and when the answer of Peter’s release is given, the Church in prayer refused to listen to Rhoda. How often do we doubt the Lord and his ability/willingness to answer prayer? Another thought, How many times do we miss the answer to our prayers when it is knocking at our door?
Paul is the topic in chapters 13-14. He and Barnabas are set aside for missionary work. As was Paul’s norm he went to the Jewish synagogue to seek out those that would be receptive to the Gospel. The reason for this is because Christianity came out of the Jewish religion, so some familiarity would make a great beginning point. Paul bridges the gap between the Law and Gospel with an eloquent historical speech. While the Gentiles received the Good News heartily, the Jews were overcome with jealousy and incite riots and opposition to Paul’s preaching. This will be an on-going problem for Paul, everywhere He goes the Judaizers will follow behind trying to cause dissension. When the Gospel is preached, it seems that it is met with opposition, just as Jesus’ ministry and teaching did. Point of the passages is that if the Gospel is preached with clarity and the Holy Spirit is moving in people’s lives, it is considered to be offensive even blasphemous for the established Jews. We face similar things today – often we become entrenched into what we have always known Christianity to be; any new method or means of proclamation cause great conflict. Today in our society there is a growing animosity towards the things of God. Less people are receptive to Christianity, because it appears to intolerant and narrow-minded. When God is moving, you and I can count on the evil forces of Satan to be close behind. Paul shows a tenacity when Acts 14:19-22, shows Paul after being stoned, got up and went back into the city. Glutton for punishment or fully trusting in the Lord for strength and power to spread the Gospel? I choose the latter.
Musings of a revitalizer
There is a new buzz word that is circulating among evangelical denominations – the word is revitalization. Many surveys and research have been done to determine the condition of the Church and what can be done to correct the 80-85 % of local churches that are plateaued, declining or dead.
I have been surprised at the great number of books, articles and seminars on the subject of Church Revitalization. The interesting observation is that much of the prescribing remedies come from a repackaged Church Planting point of view.
Both campaigns are necessary for accomplishing the Great Commission. New churches are needed to meet the growing population and changes in culture. The Church Planting movement has brought great diversity to “how church is done.” Church Revitalization is also needed for many churches are anemic, unhealthy and dying rapidly. Church revitalization is the new “buzz word” in almost all church growth and church health seminars. There is a struggle however of putting church growth and church health in the same sentence for revitalization. The former indicates many times a numbers focus; while the latter reveals a wellness desire.
Clearly there is a different world between planting and revitalizing. I was amazed at the number of books that suddenly became available on church revitalization. However, I do not believe that a success story of “rags to riches” is necessarily a revitalization example; numbers don’t tell the story.
Church revivalization is more about the core health of a church. It is about finding the cancer within the body through a surgeon-like investigation into the past; not treating surface symptoms. The focus is not on building up the attendance numbers with programs that feed the consumerism of Christianity. Revitalization is a very difficult task; in fact going through a revitalization process will result in loss of members and possible loss of job.
Two things I think need to be considered about revitalization. First, everyone is not a revitalization leader. A mere 8% are true revitalizers and super revitalizers. While there are many similar characteristics between church planters and church revitalizers, the two are not the same. Secondly, it is time to start talking with the practioners of church revitalization. Theory and philosophy have their place, but with the current emphasis, the guy in the trenches needs to hear from those who are revitalizers.
I appreciate that there is a Renovate conference; but it must grow in its scope to include real stories with all the pitfalls and praises. If church revitalization is truly a work of only 8% of all pastors, then it is unreasonable to expect that they can be the remedy of 80-85% of plateaued, dead and dying churches. Planting new works is part of the solution, but thus far that thrust is not even replacing the losses. A pondering question; could it be that we must reverse the trend of “specialization” within pastors, and develop more versatile pastors for the Church?
Dr. Jim Grant, DMin
Our reading this last week reflects both the seriousness of the Holy Spirit and the troubles the disciples would have trying to share the Good News.
Chapter 5 has the story of Ananias and Sapphira. In an attempt to look good in the eyes of the public [other disciples] they try to please on-lookers ad themselves. The plan of duping the disciples of their righteousness gets exposed. Husband and wife were in on the the scheme, so was the Holy Spirit. In the end two dead people for lying. We often think of the unpardonable sin – rejection of the Holy Spirit, but as believers we must know that our hearts and minds are in full view of the Holy Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit, we must reflect both attitude and action that reflect a pure conscience. The event does have its benefits, for the rest of the disciples took notice and were “fearful” – that means they understood the disciplining and “no tolerance’ from God.
The Sadducees [who don’t believe in the resurrection] try to do battle with the apostles and their resilience to preach even though they are threatened. Because the apostles and others were so vocal about what really happened on the day of Christ’s crucifixion Jerusalem was in an uproar. Many believed the truth of how the religious leaders/High Priest out of jealousy nailed Jesus to the cross. Even though there were threats, God told them to “Go, Stand, and Speak” in the Temple. If it were you and me we may have had some skepticism about “getting too visible” to the Temple Jews. I laugh when I read about how the Apostles were in prison, then the next morning out preaching. One can’t help but think of Houdini freeing himself in tough situations. Even though they were told to stop preaching, it seems that they actually grew in boldness and preached more.
It always seems that when God is blessing, Satan is messing! Chapter 6 gives us some insight into how to deal with church issues. The role of the Deacons then was vital in the ability for the Apostles to continue preaching. Nothing has changed. The deacon office is one of only two offices that God instituted. They were instituted for the Church. Ministers/Pastors do not have time to answer every need that arises, they must have lay leaders to care out those tasks. I really see this situation in the same light as Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law giving advice to set up levels of ministry others. Moses then could focus on the nation of Israel, rather than weary himself about trivial things.
The deacon Stephen is a remarkable man. His was considered uneducated by the religious rulers, but his ability to expound on the history of Israel says otherwise. We find that they religious leaders think they can do the same thing all over again as they had done with Jesus, with false accusations and all. But Stephen steps to the microphone and tells them the greater message of God’s dealing with Israel. Obviously they did take kindly to hearing this from some young upstart, so they stoned him. When we look at this, the scripture is true, if we are going to carry the Gospel, expect to be treated no better than Jesus. Today we are silent when opposition comes to the Message of Christ – we are afraid of Men more than we are of God! Stephen repeats Jesus’ words – forgive them.
Now this young educated, free man named Saul comes into the picture. Just for reference – Saul and Jesus were close to the same age. To think that Saul didn’t know of Jesus would be naive. Saul is zealous, but misguided. He will become the greatest apostle to the Gentiles, what a sense of humor God has!
I want to mention the Deacon Philip – what a man of God, his friend Stephen is stoned for preaching, so he goes out and preaches to the Samaritans! What boldness. Philip does not waiver in his preaching. Oh for men of God like Philip who will stand for the Lord regardless of what the world may do to them.
Back to Saul – killing and hauling believers off to jail, thinking he was protecting the Jewish faith and serving God. God has the last word in Saul/Paul’s life. I’ll come back to more of Paul next week!