The need for church revitalization – we used to call it, “church turnaround” – is all-too evident.
BC, that is, “before Covid,” we typically heard that sixty-five to ninety percent of American protestant churches were plateaued or in decline, at least as far as their Sunday morning attendance numbers.
In our post-Covid era, those numbers have only worsened. While thousands of new congregations are being birthed each year, thousands more are being dissolved, making the total number of churches about the same, year by year.
Most recently, some of our national leaders have completely readjusted the numbers correlating to small, medium-sized and large churches. Ninety-two percent of Protestant churches in America today are under two hundred and fifty in their weekend attendance, seventy percent of churches are under one hundred on Sunday mornings and the median (average) sized congregation has sixty-five weekly worshipers.
But that’s all the hand wringing you’re going to hear from me.
If you know me at all, you know that I believe, deep down, that:
- Our churches can be great because our God is great, and He is willing to stoop way down to make us great (Psalm 18:35).
- Our churches can be great because Jesus promised the Holy Spirit’s empowerment so we could bring the gospel – and the gospel is carried by churches – to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
- Our churches can be great because, as revivalist Oliver Price put it (Pray With Christ, Shepherd’s Publishing), we can experience “Jesus Christ, obviously present and actively in charge” of our churches. This was God’s plan. This is His promise. Does God want the Body of Christ in your community to be sick, stagnant, lethargic or narcissistic?
- Our churches can be great because God has promised, in Ephesians 3:20, that [God] “…is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us…”
- Our churches can be great because Jesus promised seven churches to whom he had just dictated seven powerful letters:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.”
This promise of course, is seen by its context to be about Jesus’ wonderful willingness to come in and make our churches more beautiful and powerful than they have ever been, for God’s glory.
Why a Playbook?
I’m sure I don’t know NFL football like some of my readers do, but I know that every team has a playbook, a listing of every offensive play which that team has practiced thoroughly and feels it has some chance of using successfully.
Sometimes the playbook is kept and controlled by the head coach and the offensive coordinator. On other teams, the playbook is miniaturized on the sleeve of the starting quarterback. While most QBs are getting the plays sent in from the sidelines, some of the superstars have the authority to call the plays themselves. On some teams the first fifteen or so plays are “scripted,” decided in advance by the coaching staff.
There is no perfect order for the revitalization plays that you “run” at your church.
I once argued that there is probably a near-perfect order for the church revitalization “plays” which could and should be used by a church leadership team. I didn’t know the order, but I felt that it should be “discoverable” with enough research.
I now think that I was wrong about that. Churches are just too different from each other for us to “script” a revitalization. Consider the significantly different counsel given by Jesus to the seven churches of Revelation two and three. However,
There are three plays which should almost always be run first.
1st – Help your congregation face the true condition of your church. 2nd – Help your congregation to take responsibility for the condition of your church. 3rd – Lead your congregation to begin praying for revitalization. I’ll flesh these out over the next three weeks.
There is probably a “best case scenario” for the order of the plays to follow in your congregation.
I don’t pretend to know which plays should be run in which order after the completion of the first three. What I’ll give you over the next couple of months, however, will be a reasonably complete playbook of possibilities – all of which have enjoyed the blessing of God in diverse churches at various times.
Likewise in your church, the order does matter. “Back in the day,” I spent too much time creating systems, policies and procedures and treated becoming a disciple-making church as almost an afterthought.
Fortunately, we’re not in this on our own. The same Holy Spirit, who knows what needs to come first, second and fifteenth in your church, who led the churches of the first century so effectively, is still willing to lead us into powerful ministry.
Meanwhile, please don’t miss the most important truths I shared above: Our churches can be great because our God is great, and He is willing to stoop way down to make us great (Psalm 18:35). The revitalization of our churches is a promise to be claimed, a check to be cashed, a treasure to be uncovered.
FOR STAFF OR BOARD DISCUSSION:
- Is there evidence that suggests that our church needs revitalization?
- Do you have any church turnaround/revitalization stories to share with this group?
- How is Brian’s concept of a “playbook” different from a start-to-finish list on how to do a church revitalization?
- What do you think of the three plays that Brian says can and should be “scripted” for the beginning of the process?
- Have you seen a church work on the wrong project first? (Like painting the wall that needed to be torn open in a home remodel.) (Note: Brian is not generally talking about remodeling church buildings, though that sometimes is a good thing to do.)
- What do we need to do next?