At some point, all churches will be in need of some type of revitalization. Here’s how to know when it’s time.
By Bill Henard
I worked with a church plant that is now about ten years old. The church had grown to an attendance of 250 but now was down to about 50 members. They were very much style driven, adopting a certain method of worship and ministry taught through a church planting network. Unfortunately, other churches had relocated to their area that utilized this same methodology, and the church plant was not able to compete in worship or in ministry. As some members left, other issues surfaced that caused a greater exodus of people, eventually resulting in a mere shell of the church it formerly was.
When I began working with them, I worked with the leadership, walking through these various styles and ministries, evaluating them based upon their effectiveness. When I met with the congregation at large, I shared with them the changes that needed to happen in order for the church to rebound and revitalize. One couple responded, “But we like how we do worship.” My answer to them was, “That style is hindering your growth and is actually causing your church to decline.” Their response to me was very disturbing but so apropos. They said, “We do not care if it is causing us to decline, we do not want to change what we do.”
The good news is that the church did survive. When I began working with them, after the fallout, about thirty-five people remained. By the time of their relaunch, they were averaging 150 and were totally self-supporting.
This situation demonstrates how most all churches will be in need of some type of revitalization. Pastors of established churches and of church plants need to learn the art of the Targeted Revitalization. It is an ongoing process for every congregation, calling for the church to refocus and to re-vision. A good question to ask at this point is: When does a church need to consider going through a targeted revitalization? Here are some ideas.
1. When a ministry loses its effectiveness
For example, cold-contact evangelism used to be effective in most parts of the United States. In today’s culture, fewer areas exist that are open to having a stranger come to the door unannounced. In fact, in some areas, this type of evangelism does more harm than good. Churches that have always used this method of evangelism, and only this method, probably have seen significant results in the past but now are finding their numbers dwindling. The church has not lost its evangelistic zeal. It simply needs to change, and in a way that probably will not come easily. The same thing is true of giving a public invitation; in some situations, the public invitation has lost its effectiveness. (As one who has for decades given an invitation after preaching and has written on the biblical foundation for a public invitation, I find this statement a difficult one to make.) It does not mean that the church does not invite people to salvation; it just means that they are finding new ways to accomplish this task. The change will be incredibly difficult to accept in some churches, but if the invitation has become ineffective, then it needs to be revitalized. A targeted revitalization is in order so that the church can make the changes necessary to remain effective in reaching those outside of Christ through the preaching of the Word.
2. When church members lose interest in a ministry
Churches minister in many capacities, but when the pastor and his family are the only ones who show up to conduct a particular ministry, it is time to reconsider. The change is far more than just stopping the ministry. There may be a theological or spiritual reason for the lack of participation, or it may require a logistical shift. The ministry needs to be revitalized or revamped.
3. When conflict becomes commonplace
When churches become focused on problems or create the proverbial “mountain out of a molehill,” the church is in need of revitalization and revival. The revitalization may be more in a spiritual area than a technical one, but when a church begins to fight amongst itself, it means that it has lost its vision and purpose.
4. When Great Commission evangelism becomes secondary
In most church plants, evangelism is a strong priority. Ministries, outreaches, and strategies all have an evangelistic purpose and focus. As a church settles in, it can reach a point of complacency that is deadly. Members are satisfied because they see people being baptized, never realizing that they are comfortable because the only baptismal candidates are their children. Now that the church has grown, outreach has become far more internal than about reaching the community, and genuine evangelism has become secondary. In fact, a resistance to evangelizing those who are outside of the church may be present (although few will openly admit it).
5. When the church’s original vision is lost or not followed
Vision changes, as does strategy. The original vision that the church had could possibly be fulfilled, if the vision was somewhat limited. It also could be outdated in the sense that the community or the city has changed. The vision from fifteen years ago was adequate, but now it is outdated or stale. It is time for the church to re-vision and restrategize. Revitalization is necessary because people are still connected to the vision; they do not follow it but will resist changing it.
6. When a church needs to make changes to grow spiritually
Churches start with particular styles, ministries, or structure because they have limitations to resources, people, or finances. As the church grows, so must its structure for discipleship and worship. People, however, become satisfied with these programs or processes. They like the songs sung or the type of material studied, even though both are lacking in spiritual depth. The church originally sang simpler songs because that is the style that allowed their musicians to lead in excellence. A more surface discipleship material was utilized because most of the discipleship leaders were young Christians themselves. Now, as the church has grown and matured, it is time to move to a deeper level of worship and discipleship. The change is not something that can happen overnight, therefore, the church must strategically work through a process of targeted revitalization in order to grow to the next spiritual level.
7. When the church has gotten into a rut
Similar to the comfort zone, every church faces the spiritual/ministry rut. Doing the same thing the same way every week makes ministry appear easy and familiar. It is difficult to come up with something new every week, whether in preaching, worshiping, or discipling. Anybody can come up with that one creative sermon that wows the masses, but try that accomplishment weekly—even with a worship or preaching team—and it is easy to see how the church can get into a rut.
One church with which I consulted was a church plant under a decade old but was certainly in a worship rut. They had a worship team that met on Sunday afternoon and would encourage the pastor to develop a sermon based upon a movie clip that someone on the worship team has researched. Every week, the movie clip would be shown and the pastor would preach a sermon around the movie clip, interjecting Scripture as appropriate. Not only were there some theological issues at play in this method, but the church was in a rut spiritually and evangelistically. The church had stopped growing, but no one seemed to notice. The sermon was more about a clip than about Scripture, and that fact led the church into a spiritual lull. It needed a targeted revitalization that met with resistance but was absolutely necessary to move the church into a spiritual climb instead of a spiritual drought.
8. When the church is ready to go to the next level
At its birth, a church is limited in what it is able to do in ministry and in mission. Its focus is much more restricted and concise. Its primary purpose is to grow and survive. As the church moves through the obstacles to growth and solidifies its existence, it becomes time to move to new ministry and mission. If the church does not make these changes, it will stagnate and stop growing numerically and spiritually. Thus, the church must look to create new ministry endeavors and choose to engage new mission opportunities.
It is time for the church to go to the next level spiritually and structurally, but those changes require strategy. They may not be fully accepted because they demand that some ministries cease while others are birthed. The changes necessitate a reallocation of finances, with more money going toward these new ministry and mission endeavors. Because even these changes are difficult and strategic, a targeted revitalization is in order. Remember that revitalization is the process to help the church learn to embrace change.
Excerpted with permission from ReClaimed Church by Bill Henard. Copyright 2018, B&H Publishing Group.