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 While the information from Olsen may be a little outdated, the question of what to do about the epidemic is still relevant for anyone in such a ministry position.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.
Where Does Church Revitalization Begin?