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Options For a Struggling Church

This article is written specifically to churches that find themselves in the unenviable position of decline and / or stagnation.


What is a church in this position to do?


The First Option We will Discuss is


REVITALIZATION


Revitalization is the process of recovering a church from a struggling and ineffective ministry, that has plateaued or is declining, to a vibrant ministry that impacts its community and world for the glory of God.





The first thing you must realize is that you are not alone. Did you know that most churches in America stand in need of Revitalization!


Revitalization can be described as renewal in the context of:


Pastor + Existing People + Old Structure + History

Let's consider each one of these, in turn




PASTOR

If a church does not have a pastor, then it is obvious that it needs one! Finding the RIGHT pastor becomes imperative! As I have observed so often down through the years, there are many churches (which actually need revitalization) which have fallen into the mold of "starter churches. " These are churches where a young preacher, with a heart full of vision, but a head full of mush, can learn in the school of "hard knocks!"


After a few years of abuse he leaves with his tail between his legs to go and nurse his wounds, wondering if he will ever pastor again. These churches are churches that God has either long since removed their candlestick or spewed them out of his mouth. One church would not be wise to engage. The other still has hope of revitalization. Do you know which one?


If a church has had a Long-term pastor, then this next statement is an inconvenient truth, but it must be given. Many times, but not always, a church that stands in need of revitalization (and truly wants it) needs a new pastor. A church must be very prayerful about this matter. Both current pastor (if the church has one) and people must seek the Lord intensely about this matter. The current pastor may be used of the Lord to revive the church, but this is more the exception than the rule.


This also needs to be stated. A church must be very careful not to fall into the "perfect pastor trap." A church that stands in need of revitalization will often "hire" and "fire" many pastors seeking that "perfect pastor" that will lead them out of the wilderness.


May I say to to you that there are no perfect pastors....just like there are no perfect church members! Revitalization is a mutual commitment of both pastor and people to work toward the goal of a healthy church!





 

To the Aspiring Revitalization Pastor

(This information will also help churches looking for a pastor)


If God is calling you to pastor a church that needs revitalization, you must be absolutely sure that this is what God is leading you to do. The challenges, and sacrifices, to both you and your family will be large. Entering into a revitalization work lightly is not recommended. You must make sure that your family is on board and is prepared for the challenge.



You must know as fully as possible what you are getting into. Many pastors, with good and noble intentions, take a struggling church, just thinking all it needs is a little "tweaking." A church that is in the final stages of its current lifecycle needs much more than "tweaking."



Consider the difference to be the difference between putting a bandaid on a scraped knee versus being life-flighted to an advanced treatment hospital for intensive care, that was not available where you were, for a disease process that will take your life if not successfully managed.


Your evaluation of this potential church involves asking lots of pointed, hard questions of the church and her current influencers. Questions must be asked, not just about the present shape of the church but also its past. Leave no stone unturned.


It is best if the revitalization pastor has special training which has equipped him to know what to do or at least be able to anticipate and perceive needs and solutions quickly. If at all possible, to enter into a revitalization effort with a small team of qualified and prepared individuals is highly recommended.



 

EXISTING PEOPLE

Although a revitalization effort is often initiated by one pastor, this pastor must remember that he is not alone. He never revitalizes a church alone. If he has no one else, he at least has the current membership (and specifically current leadership) of the church as his team! This team will very often be problematic in various ways. Remember, it is this current "team" that has found itself in need of revitalization. This team will need special help and care. They, very often, don't know exactly what is wrong or what to do about it. ... even though they may act like they do.


Remember, the revitalization pastor is at the church to lead change. Change is very hard for some people. It is particularly hard for church members that think all they need is "a new pastor" to get the ball rolling again. They are right in assuming that new leadership is required (or at lease new vision for the current leadership), but many times they do not anticipate that a new leader will actually need to LEAD!




Leadership can be very threatening to people who are accustomed to a certain form of "normal."






OLD STRUCTURE

Old structure relates to the church, with all of it's current buildings, people, bylaws, leadership structure, etc. This is where the challenges begin. Out of three churches I have pastored, two of them had constitutions and bylaws that were from the the 50's. At one of the churches, you would have thought I was suggesting that we burn the Bible, when it was suggested that updating the current by laws was a necessity.


Many times, the facilities are in need of repair. Suffice it to say that most people are not going to want to come to a church that is falling apart and smells like a coat closet with a hint of bathroom floating in the air! Curb appeal and presentation makes a difference. We both know that people should be concerned about prayer, soul-winning, Bible-preaching (which are usually also in short supply in church's needing revitalization) but we must also know that the way we care for and maintain the "externals" of our church can speak volumes about the state of our church.


This process of revitalization is usually a slow process (in relation to both people, organization, and facility). A pastor must be very wise as he seeks to administer change. Most of the foundational work for revitalization occurs over a period covering the first 5 years. After that, the next 5 years are generally considered an advance time for the church. Many things can impact this timeline, but statistically, it is fairly acccurate.


HISTORY


When you engage in the work of Revitalizing an existing church (and most of the time with a replant too for that matter), you must often deal with the church's past. Although a church's history is usually not all bad, many times that history is not pretty! As I have often said, "ministry is messy!" Many people's idea is that "if we just ignore it, it will go away. Let's just sweep it under the rug." Let me tell you from experience, and I have Biblical foundation for this statement......It won't go away!


This bad history is the reason the church is in the shape it is in! The first thing a church often wants to do, when seeking a way forward, is change their name. This is often an attempt to escape their history. This never works in the short run! Most small town communities. have long memories. If a church can live long enough after a name change they might be able to outrun their past. Although this idea of a name change can certainly be considered, it should also be considered that it just might be better, rather than change the name of the church, to redeem the name of the church.


But there is actually something else to consider here.


When a church has a difficult past, it is best to face it! It is called "Healing the Heart of Your Church!" Repentance is often in order. Confession of sin is paramout! If a church wants to start with a clean slate it is absolutely necessary that this church get right with God! it is necessary to clean out the rubbish and the rubble! This might mean confessing our faults one to another. It might mean apologizing to previous pastors. It might even mean making things right with other churches in the area, or making a public confession to its community for it's failures!


There is, for lack of a better word, a spiritual DNA at work here. For those of you who have never done the long term work of revitalization, you may not understnd this, but church's that do not make thorough work of repentance at the beginning of a revitalization effort (and throughout their recovery) will find themselves falling back into old patterns and sins, torpedoing their efforts of renewal.






In our next post we will consider Replanting as an option for a church!


Please don't be afraid. There are answers for your church. Pray about it and call when you are ready to explore those options.


Reference work - Hallock, Mark. Replant Roadmap. Littleton, CO: Acoma Press, 2017

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