A Definition of Church Revitalization – A process through which God transitions a church from great-commission ineffectiveness to great-commission effectiveness.
- Pastors whose primary strength is personal care-giving/counseling should think and pray long and hard about whether they are willing to make the changes in their ministry style which will be needed to lead a church turnaround. We believe that almost all pastors can do this work, but not all are willing to adapt themselves for the task.
- Many pastors who have even a minimal degree of leadership giftedness which has not yet been honed into leadership skill, can become strong leaders with concerted, deliberate effort.
- Revitalizing a church often takes an enormous investment of passion and energy on the part of the pastor/leader. It is good to seek the counsel of someone who knows you well before diving into this task.
- How many years are you willing to devote to this task? Some experts say that it takes as many years for a church turnaround as it takes miles for an aircraft carrier u-turn: seven. Another observer said that “Revitalizing your church is like remodeling your house. It will take more time, cost more money and make a bigger mess than you could ever have imagined, but in the end, it’s worth it.” Thom Rainer says that pastors embarking upon a church revitalization effort should think in terms of three years of concerted effort.
- Read books and other resources and lead the revitalization effort yourself (as the senior or solo pastor).
- Work with a church consultant who can guide you through a revitalization process.
- Assign a staff member or lay leader the task of leading the revitalization process. This method has some dangers which we would like to discuss with you; generally speaking, only the pastor can or should try to lead a church through this process.
An Overview of the Revitalization Process
- Whet the church’s appetite for change. Use sermons, lessons, visits to thriving churches and personal conversations to grow a holy dissatisfaction with the current condition of your church along with a vision for a better future.
- Secure buy-in from the church’s leadership team. You cannot do this without their support and cooperation. If your church is not effectively making disciples of Christ and your leaders are strongly opposed to a revitalization effort, you should consider relocating.
- Start with an assessment of the church’s current condition. We’d love to talk to you about your options. Your best option might be the Comprehensive Church Assessment which I can offer to your church.
- Call the church to concerted prayer for the revitalization process. Do everything you can to get as many people as possible – from both inside and outside the congregation – praying for this process. Our enemy does NOT want churches revitalized.
- Write an assessment report, or prayerfully work through the assessment results from a church consultation process with the church’s leadership team or transition team on a retreat day or days.
- Agree on a series of action steps which will need to be taken to return the church to vitality. Prioritize the steps and assign the corrective actions needed to various individuals or groups, making sure that there is accountability connected to each task.
- Find small wins with which to begin the change process. As your church is a system, any positive change will have good repercussions throughout the church.
- Use your pulpit ministry to paint the vision for the changes which you believe God wants to bring about in your congregation.
- Engage your leadership team or transition team in a strategic planning process which includes work on your church’s purpose, mission, vision, values, ideal disciple and ministry strategy (disciple-making process).
- Patiently transform your church’s culture so that it supports your new vision and values. Beware of mistaking changes “on paper” for actual cultural transformation.
Revitalization Best Practices
- We do not recommend launching into a church revitalization effort without outside counsel. Meet regularly with a pastor or denominational leader who has been through such a process and pay careful attention to his advice.
- Churches without pastors should seek an interim pastor who is able to lead the initial stages of a revitalization process.
- As above, seek as much prayer from both inside the church and outside the church as possible. Who do you know who will pray for your effort?
- Focusing on who you are as a leader, as well as what you do, is vital. Your life is your own most important tool in the revitalization process. Be prepared to model the kind of soul-conscious, community-minded disciple you are hoping to see your church produce.
- A high degree of proactivity (or differentiation) is required of the turnaround leader. He must be able to act upon (rather than being acted upon) his environment, with calmness, confidence and perseverance.
- A high degree of emotional intelligence is required of the turnaround leader. You must be able to know and control your own emotions. You must be able to “play well with others.” You must be a likeable, consistently cheerful person.
- Take your time with the process. You began your ministry with a written or unwritten contract with your church. Your congregants will expect you to continue to provide the services to them that they “hired” you to provide. A sudden change in your job des-cripttion will have negative consequences. You must work for long-term change while simultaneously doing the short-term duties which your congregation expects of you.
- Don’t be afraid to make one change at a time – six month “projects” work well for some churches – instead of making many changes at one time. Your church has a change “speed limit.” If it is seen as being in crisis, by your members, you might be able to make many changes quickly.
- If you cannot contract with an outside consultant, team up with other pastors who are taking their churches through similar processes. My Becoming Effective Leaders (BEL) Group program is specifically designed for preparing pastors for turnaround leadership. I’d love to have you in a BEL Group.
- A transition team, made up of your church board, as well as additional men and women who have a passion for their church’s health and a willingness to study together as a team, can be a powerful stimulus for church transformation.
Books and Resource Guides
- Re:VISION, Aubrey Malphurs and Gordon Penfold
- Pastor Unique, LaVern Brown, Gordon Penfold and Gary Westra
- Redevelopment: Transitional Pastoring That Transforms Churches, Brian A Thorstad
- The reTurn Resource Kit: Restoring Churches To The Heart Of God, David Miles
- Transitioning, Dan Southerland
- Pouring New Wine Into Old Wineskins, Aubrey Malphurs
- Advanced Strategic Planning, Aubrey Malphurs
- Winning on Purpose, John Kaiser
- Fish or Cut Bait, John Kaiser
- Make or Break Your Church in 365 Days, Paul Bordon
- Direct Hit, Paul Bordon
- Leading Turnaround Churches, Gene Wood
- Breakout Churches, Thom Rainer
- Simple Church, Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger
- Bringing Your Church Back To Life, Daniel Buttry
- Comeback Churches, Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson
Organizations, Web Sites & Blogs
- Pinnacle Ministries (pinmin.org) has a revitalization program called the Retool Kit
- theunstuckgroup.com has many resources for revitalization
- biblicalleadership.com is a “mega-blog” which offers much help for revitalization, from multiple writers
Training – is available from:
- Church Consultant, Brian A. Thorstad – www.helpingchurchesthrive.com
- Turnaround Ministries www.turnaround.com