Church revitalization isn't easy, but it's necessary. Ron Edmondson shares thoughts from his personal experience.
I’ve written frequently about church revitalization. As one who has planted a couple of churches, I know the unique challenges. One thing I’ve noticed is the number of pastors who enter revitalization thinking the church just needs new leadership. Or better sermons. Or them.
I’ve learned there is so much more.
Here are 5 secrets of church revitalization:
1. Have a clear vision.
You have to clearly know where you are heading. What does a revitalized church look like? Specifically what does this church look like?
In my experience, unless you are starting over completely, people need to be able to “connect the dots”. It must make sense where you are going. That means whatever is next will likely have some similarity to the past. You can’t take people too far from the root DNA.
Keep in mind, vision doesn’t change frequently — if ever. For a church, a vision might be “to make disciples”. The next season after revitalization will still be to make disciples. There may have been some time since people experienced that in the church, but it’s likely still what can motivate them. If the church has a deep heritage in missions, the future will likely need to have a strong missional aspect.
2. Honor the history.
Hopefully this theme is clear from the previous point, because it’s paramount. I’m convinced you simply cannot be successful if you don’t at least attempt to honor the past. I frequently say rediscover don’t reinvent.
Unfortunately I hear so many pastors who go into a church as the champion of everything new. They alienate people who have given their heart and life to the church — making them think everything they have ever done is wrong. These pastors can never seem to get traction.
One of the single biggest days in the life of the church since we’ve been in revitalization was the day we had a “homecoming” type of day and invited the two former pastors to attend. It seemed to rally all aspects of the church. If there were “sides” they seem to come together this day. I knew we needed this to occur if we had any hopes of moving forward successfully.
What can you do new which will reach new people — without hijacking the church?
How can you build momentum?
Whatever you do it will almost always involves change. In fact, I’m not sure you can define revitalization without some form of change.
The end goal should be to create a healthy environment for sustained change and growth.
Ask questions such as:
- What are we doing that requires more effort than the results produced? (Eliminating things gives you margin to do better things?
- What are people no longer excited about doing? (These usually zap energy from other things.)
- What is something everyone gets excited about at this church? (You can usually build upon these. For example, our church gets excited about big events.)
- What is one thing we can try next? (Keep a list and try several of them — not all at the same time.)
- If money was no option, what would we do? (This question can often help build momentum for something you can do.)
This is where you get the best minds in the room and brainstorm. These people may or may not be the current leaders. I wouldn’t even be shy about inviting people from outside the church. They could be from other churches — in the community or outside the community. (We visit with another church every year to learn from them.) Or, what if you asked people in the community what they would look for in a church? You don’t have to implement their ideas, but you might just learn something. (I spent a lot of time the first year talking to community leaders.)
4. Attack your fears.
It can seem daunting to revitalize a church — especially once you actually start making hard decisions. People can be intimidating. In fact, when you change some things, you’ll find people can be mean. You will likely have to face some direct confrontations. People you thought were the sweetest Christians may smile at you on Sunday and give send you the nastiest email Monday morning. Some may grandstand at business meetings. Others will work behind your back. (All true for me — and more.)
You have to love the calling you have to revive a church more than you love popularity — or an absence of conflict. And, you have to have patience and tenacity.
It will take longer to realize change than in a church plant. Much longer. Usually the longer the church has needed revitalization the longer it will take to see improvement.
But, know this. There are usually those in the church desperate for change and solidly behind you. You have to look past the loud negative voices to find them. That requires faith and perseverance. (In my experience, God rewards those who faithfully serve.)
5. Forgiveness and repentance.
If things were done wrong in the past — lead people to recognize and admit them.
I felt the need to preach on forgiveness and unity — a lot — in the early days of church revitalization. And, I challenged people when I heard bitterness or anger.
Church revitalization is hard. But it is so needed. And, there are so many Kingdom opportunities out there.
And, these aren’t “secrets”, even though I used that in the title. Yet, they aren’t always our natural reactions in church revitalization. We tend to want to do all new things. We ignore conflicts, rather than address them. We back away when things get too difficult.
If you’re attempting revitalization now what has been your biggest struggle?