I’m no science guy but I know how to Google, and I discovered this morning that 50-70 billion cells in the human body die – and are replaced with new ones – every day. Cell types that experience the greatest turnover are skin cells, blood cells and some of the cells that line structures like organs and glands.
As much as I love helping with the revitalization of churches in crisis, I’m an even bigger fan of ongoing church revitalization. I love seeing churches that become healthy and effective and stay that way, year after year.
Next week I’ll write about how they do it, but first I want to share seven reasons why all churches need ongoing revitalization if they’re going to avoid the need for crisis revitalization.
1. Churches turn inward with fast and powerful spring-loaded switches. I once heard Chuck Swindoll say, “If you’re the pastor of an older church…more than two weeks old…” He then caught himself and retracted the joke, but it wasn’t much of an exaggeration. Churches turn inward with breathtaking speed.
This tendency is rooted deep in human nature: “…each of us has turned to his own way…” (Isaiah 53:6b). Church Consultant Bill Easum, in The Complete Ministry Audit, presents “The law of congregational life” which says that “Churches grow when they intentionally reach out to people instead of concentrating on their institutional needs. Churches die when they concentrate on their own needs.” This is simple, timeless and true.
2. Homeostasis is an ever-present reality. Homeostasis is the force which exists within all systems – and churches are systems – which causes them to resist change. You could call it institutional inertia. Churches, like rocks, want to stay in the same place.
3. Fear causes good people to resist change. Most dogs that bite do so because they’re afraid. Not many church people resist change because they’re bad people; they most often resist change because they’re afraid. They are comfortable with the known, and even though they may be attracted to the leader’s vision for the future, they fear the “zone,” the dark valley of chaos and confusion and loss that must invariably be passed through between the present and the future.
4. Pride causes good people to resist change. Many corporations offer stock options to their employees. Jesus doesn’t. No matter how long you serve a congregation you will never own one share. God owns it all because Jesus paid it all.
But it’s easy to take an unhealthy ownership of the Sunday School, or the visitation program or the handbell choir, or the “whatever,” if you started it or ran it for ten years. Pride says, “It’s still a great ministry” even when all signs indicate that it’s no longer working.
5. A changing world diminishes program effectiveness. The gospel never changes. The Word of God never changes. But the world around us is changing constantly, and that means that many of our man-made methods for making disciples have to change to fit the times.
Institutionalization is the enemy of program adaptation. At the peak of our church’s success, with our congregation “firing on all cylinders,” we fall into the trap of thinking that if we keep doing the same things in the same way we’ll continue to get the same wonderful results indefinitely. Solution? We create policy manuals and even procedure manuals for everything.
It’s just a matter of time before following our policies and procedures perfectly results in disappointing outcomes.
6. Closed learning loops replace open hearts and minds. The closed learning loop is an intellectual inward focus on the part of an organization’s leaders. We don’t ask or listen to outsiders. We ask each other and listen to each other with the unspoken agreement that we’ll compliment and reassure each other, even while our ministry is dying.
7. The flames of love and our sense of our dependency gradually diminish.
It was not without reason that the Apostle Paul wrote, in Romans 12:11, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” This is so important, and so easily lost, that we almost need designated staff members to “maintain the flame.”
I’m grateful to my friend Joe Humrichous (The Vine and the Church, Lead Pastor) for the observation that forsaking your first love (Revelation 2:4) is not about ceasing to love Christ; it’s about ceasing to desperately seek His face and His power. In other words, we’re doing so well as individuals or churches that we don’t seek Christ and His blessing as we once did. If prayer was ever important to us, it definitely isn’t now, because we’re doing fine without it.