Walking around the church facility for the very first time, it was evident that God had blessed the church. Just over an acre of land, or nearly 50,000 square feet of space, was under roof on the 4.26-acre property. But the massive footprint from multiple buildings hid the resounding decline from the community within the church’s walls.
Upon becoming the pastor, it did not take long for me to unwind the struggles and trials of nearly three decades of steady decline. In reviewing the church’s history, one cannot point to a single instance that forced the decline, but a series of missed opportunities in retrospect that caused decreases year after year. The question I had to ask was “Who would want to come to a church that has declined, and one that has fallen for nearly 30 years?”
The simple answer is a church revitalizer with a heart for the medium and small church. Proverbs 29:18 (NIV) reads, “Where there is no revelation [vision], people cast off restraints; but blessed [favored] is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.” That proverb has been tattooed on the hearts and bodies of people for decades. While they do it to honor Scripture or even as a simple reminder to seek direction for the church, they are words to live by.
Bryan Rose wrote, “Imagine a day when the question ‘What’s your vision, pastor?’ brings you energy and excitement, not dread or suspicion. Now imagine a day when every ministry understands its role in fulfilling the entire church’s disciple-making call, not just its role in filling a church calendar slot.”
The local church today needs passionate leaders who love the local church and is willing to dedicate their life to serving the community of believers that God has given them and not the ones they wished they had. I love the 100 or fewer person church. I love the close-knit relationships a pastor can build over time and the opportunity to serve the community. In a day and age where new is better, I say the church of Jesus Christ is worth serving and helping to save. But it will take vision, passion, and a commitment not to give up when things are hard. What I have learned in decades of ministry is that in the hard places, God teaches the most.
Capturing the God Vision
Inside every local church is a vision that God has for it. The question that must be asked is, will we follow it? I get it: Leading is hard. But leading a person or church with no vision is next to impossible. So, lead by capturing God’s vision inside the local church. Stop waiting on the people to give the vision and seek the vision that God has. Too many pastors come into a new church and force their vision on it, only to see the church revert to what it was after the pastor leaves. Think about it this way: Has any member ever asked why? The simple answer is because God has been removed from the process, and carnality took over.
Vision is not dictated because someone starts or finishes an assignment. God has the right vision for each situation and season the church finds itself in, but the leadership must be willing to pray and discern God’s will for the local church. Without a generous heart and spirit entuned to God, the church leadership will miss their directive from God. Be open to God’s move by focusing on the main thing, obeying God, teaching the church, and serving both. When you do that, leadership transforms, and the church becomes more spiritually healthy. Be the visionary leader God has sent and not the leader you think the church needs.
Capturing the Passion of Opportunity
The catalyst of a revitalization turnaround is excitement. It seems rather elementary, but it’s revolutionary as the palpable excitement overtakes the doom and gloom of what was for what is to come. Inside the broader group of the church is the leadership vision that will take the church to the next level, but it must be harnessed, encouraged to grow, and shared from the pulpit to the pew. God has an incredible plan for the local church, even those struggling to stay open. Trust me, when the pastor becomes on fire for the future, the people can’t help but get caught up in the wildfire of optimism.
Optimism and action create a one-two-punch of forward opportunity that pushes back the negative voices and dark forces that have kept the church from moving ahead. I have seen passion and opportunity transform the church in my current revitalization assignment, which has moved the church forward with new plans that others have said, “We talked about but could never seem to move forward.” What changed? The plans stayed the same, but the passion for which the plans were talked about and implemented captured a new opportunity cycle that has delivered results. God has the plan inside your local church, but as a leader, you must claim the mantle of leadership and lead with passion and opportunity to move the church forward on small and large projects. The days of playing it safe are gone, and the God days are ahead.
Capturing the Commitment to Serve
If you are leading a local church or ministry, you must decide if it is worth saving. I am not asking for your opinion but for God’s direction. There is a tendency to close a church down rather than to invest in revitalizing the church. I have heard it said that it is easier to plant a healthy church than recreate it in a dying church. Instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water, why not begin to pray like never before for God’s guidance to love the people and community you have while preparing for future guests? What do you or the church have to lose?
Think about it this way: People inside and outside your local church need a Bible-believing church serving as the hands and feet of Jesus. The community needs a church that captures the community’s needs and strives to meet a portion of the needs through praying, giving, and sowing of their time through volunteerism. If the pastor is not leading by example, how do you expect the people to maintain consistency once the excitement of trying something new wears off?
The leader must share the vision and live it out for the people to capture it within their DNA. Vision once cast is only fulfilled when it is lived out through the leader’s example. Challenge yourself to be a leader who leads in prayer, serving and repeating the cycle so that others may follow.