Most evangelical congregations in America need some degree of revitalization in that they are on the downside of the church lifecycle.
This means that there was a time in the past (near or distant) during which the congregation was more effective than it is currently, at making devoted, growing, followers of Jesus out of the raw material of lost people.
Notice that I’ve excluded the idea of being plateaued. That’s because the martial language of Matthew 16:18 (“I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it”) doesn’t leave any room for the “stability” or “maturity” stage that shows up on many church lifecycle diagrams. Churches that try to stabilize or institutionalize their success begin a downward slide oh-so-quickly.
The bottom line is that most churches need revitalization; they need help; they need to start new lifecycles by getting fresh starts.
(1) The key of the pastor’s understanding. Clearly, fundamentally, the leader of the congregation needs to understand the basics of church revitalization. We know that it’s not enough to “just pray” or to try multiple strategies, hoping that something will work. All over America (at least), God has led his children to use a process, which He has subsequently blessed, which looks something like this:
- The pastor faces the brutal facts regarding the church’s condition.
- The pastor commits himself to a vigorous, multi-year process.
- The pastor forms and trains a “guiding coalition” of leaders.
- A united leadership team asks for a joyful recommitment of hearts, lives and hands.
- A critical mass of church members turn to God in concerted prayer and from an inward focus on themselves to an outward focus on the lost.
- The leaders de-construct and re-construct the church’s mission and vision.
- The church re-constructs the church’s activities/ministries to create a missional strategy.
- The church eliminates roadblocks and hindrances to whatever extent possible.
- The church works for and celebrates “small wins” to build momentum.
(2) The key of a guiding coalition. It is not enough for the pastor to understand the process summarized above. Churches are too difficult to change for one person to pull it off by himself. Either the pastor must build a guiding coalition of people who “get it” (understand and commit themselves to the process) or he must enlist outside help to assist with the creation of such a group.
This coalition must include any board members the church has; there are far too many stories of revitalization efforts which were torpedoed by intransigent, power-wielding, non-participating board members.
A brand-new tool which churches can use in the building of this coalition is the Woodland Advance video series, Leading Congregational Transformation, by uber-consultant, Paul Borden. Highly recommended! (See www.wooddale.org/advance)
(3) The key of the pastor’s leadership skills. Books, seminars, retreats and videos which meet the need for key #1 are legion (and this is wonderful). I’m also happy to say that we’re increasingly being blessed with materials to help us with key #2, like the video series I just mentioned.
If key #2 isn’t utilized in your congregation, if an informed and motivated guiding coalition isn’t created, it’s probably because there’s a problem with key #3, the pastor’s leadership.
Someone has to guide the church through the revitalization process. In most congregations, only one person can do this: the solo or senior pastor.
Strategies to teach pastors how to be more effective leaders through a book, a retreat, a seminar or even a training group are numerous, and I’m a big fan of almost all of them.
The problem is that most pastors who are not already strong leaders need more practical, down-to-earth, follow-up help after the seminar, group or retreat is over.
And I know that I’m not alone.
That’s why I’ve been increasingly advocating the ongoing (usually monthly) coaching of pastors to help them to actually follow-through on the leadership initiatives needed for revitalization. An alternative, and possibly even better method, is for the pastor to join a coaching group of pastors, led by an experienced revitalizer, who are all hiking the revitalization path together.
Does your church need a God-given revitalization?
Do you have all three keys, without which revitalization is not likely to succeed?