Ministering after a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic is difficult, but add to that ministering in a more secular world, and it almost becomes overwhelming. One can understand why pastors are walking away from the local church.
For over a decade, I have assisted and served in established churches that are trying to rebound from decline. The work of church revitalization is not just for one denomination to access but is desperately needed across all denominations. The established church is feeling the effects of negative attendance and offering numbers. Where once endowments would slow the decline of closing churches, the cost of deferred maintenance on older properties is stripping away the financial safety net and exposing the need for church revitalization as growth has become anemic at best.
God is calling a new group of leaders to go into dying and unhealthy churches and help them thrive again. Do you hear the call? Are you willing to do your part in reshaping the narrative in the declining established church?
There are 12 key ways to determine if you are called to church revitalization. This list, while not exhaustive, is definitive in allowing a pastoral candidate to know if they have the skillsets needed to lead a turnaround in an established church.
1. Be willing to pray.
It is not by accident but by divine appointment that God led church planters to plant the local church at its current address. God can restore what the enemy has stolen through intentional times of dedicated prayer. Prayer ushers in God’s spirit and sweeps out the negative image of where the church is today to where it can be tomorrow.
2. Be willing to learn from others.
While the church should celebrate its past, it cannot stay there. What worked 10 or even five years ago may not work today. Church and community members should be listened to in order to glean wisdom through discernment from God to find out what is needed to minister today to God’s people.
3. Be willing to say goodbye.
The hardest part of change is saying goodbye to those who resisted the change. Do not hang on to people or what holds God back from his plans for the local church. Instead of chasing after those who leave the church, permit them to go. Pray for them, and release them into the community as missionaries from your fellowship. As you release others, be sure to invest in potential members found in your daily interactions in the community. While you will lose people in a changing season, God has new people to replace them.
4. Be willing to adapt.
Evaluate every program and position for gospel effectiveness. With the church having limited resources (people or finances), instead of holding onto outdated programs, celebrate what has been accomplished and close them out as you announce what will come in the future. Remember, God has the right people and programs for the new season your church is entering if you trust him.
5. Be willing to find joy.
In a revitalization effort, discouragement will abound. Entering a changing season causes others to push back against the impending change. The cycle of change and pushback can cause discouragement and resentment if the leader is not careful. At the beginning of each day, write down three things from the previous day that you are thankful for and hold on to those thoughts as you enter the change space. It can be as simple as the flowers blooming outside to not having any disagreements. When you come in the following day, you will see the note and remember that you are making progress, even if it is slowly.
6. Be willing to take criticism.
To sustain forward momentum in your ministry, you will have to absorb criticism and release back in a positive way into what you have been called to invest your calling into. As a leader, you have a clear vision and passion for seeing it completed. But not everyone inside or outside the church will agree with God’s vision placed inside you. God has a perfect plan for your ministry, but the evil one wants nothing more than to discourage and dissuade you from moving forward by drowning you in a negative chorus of voices. Find ways to stay positive by staying the course as you move forward.
7. Be willing to partner with others.
If the church is going to move forward, you must get outside the four walls to connect with the community. The easiest way to gain traction with limited resources is to partner through volunteerism with a nonprofit agency in the community. Many nonprofit organizations lost volunteers and their donation base during the pandemic and would be glad to receive your church’s help. Also, find other pastors by being intentional in having a meal together or sharing coffee. You will be surprised at how these monthly outings can rejuvenate your soul and show you are not alone in ministry.
8. Be willing to find new ways of doing ministry.
Your local church may be holding on to past programs, but if they are not effective for winning the lost today or growing stronger Christians, they must be retired. Sometimes new ways of doing ministry may be the same program but a different delivery or style. Know your local context and develop a way forward that is God-centered and God-anointed with your people.
9. Be willing to find and share the story of Jesus.
Everyone has a story to share. Be willing to highlight stories that show the redemptive power of Jesus Christ as life change in a person’s life. The stories of redemption will become stories of restoration for a church desperate for a win. As you go about your daily routines, look for accounts that you can incorporate into your sermons or personal conversations with church members. Begin to speak life back into your fellowship by telling stories of life change.
10. Be willing to stay put.
The work you will do will be challenging but spiritually rewarding if you are willing to surrender your will for God’s will and not give in when it gets tricky. Remember, the church did not decline overnight and will not rebound quickly, but you will become the majority that can lead to the church’s turnaround with God and key leaders who share the God vision inside of you.
11. Be willing to find rest.
I cannot challenge you enough to find dedicated times of rest throughout the week and to have planned get-aways not connected to the church. Resting from the work of the ministry will enable you to evaluate the current needs of the church (positive or negative), provide needed clarification of your own spiritual life, and give you a new perspective on your mental state. An exhaustive state instead of a fresh mindset is the groundwork for spiritual failure.
12. Be willing to stay positive.
You will be your most prominent advocate or adversary. While you will not be able to control those around you, you can control how you react to every situation that comes your way. Stay prayed up, listen to the call from God and keep moving forward until he tells you to stop. The best days of your ministry are ahead if you are willing to find joy in small and big things while serving in ministry.