According to recent research by LifeWay president Thom Rainer, over 90% of evangelical churches are either in decline or failing to keep up with the growth rate of their communities. In other words, we are rapidly losing ground. In order to take back some of that ground, most churches are in need of some level of revitalization.
Revitalization has become a kind of buzzword in church circles. It simply means that most of our churches need to have new life breathed into them. Before that can happen, I believe we need to prepare for it to happen. My favorite line in the movie, Facing the Giants, was when one of the characters was asked why he was carrying an umbrella when it hadn’t rained in weeks. His response? “If you’re going to pray for rain, you had better start to carry an umbrella.” The path to church revitalization always begins with prayer. But that prayer has to include prayerful preparation. There are six ways your church can prepare for revitalization.
Taking Nehemiah as our example, before he ever had permission to leave his post—even before he had mentioned his desire to go to Jerusalem—he prayed for four solid months. But his prayer wasn’t simply a once-a-day, mark it off the prayer list kind of prayer. The Bible says that he mourned and prayed and fasted day and night for the revitalization of Jerusalem. When was the last time you prayed fervently for 120 days about anything, much less about the revitalization of your church? Revitalization has to start with fervent prayer, but that’s not where it ends.
By its very nature, revitalization is transformation. And transformation means change. And change is difficult—even painful. It requires continual change to prevent mission drift and shift focus outside the church doors instead of on personal desires and preferences. Change is not safe. Status quo is safe—but it is also decay. And more importantly, status quo is disobedience. Prepare for the emotions that will come from revitalization and don’t quit when they start to happen.
Clearly See the Problem
One of the most difficult things to do in life is admit when you have a problem. We all like to sugar coat our foibles or shift the blame on others. “We’re in decline because people just don’t go to church like they used to.” “If we just had better (fill in the blank), we’d have more people.” The excuses can keep coming—but excuses won’t revitalize your church. Excuses are like blindfolds, and people who wear blindfolds can’t go anywhere. Be completely transparent and honest about the problem. Don’t gloss over it. See it for what it is and boldly communicate it.
Know Who Is in Charge
When a church is in need of revitalization, it is very easy to look to the pastor and church leadership as the savior. We only have one Savior—and the pastor isn’t Him. Pastors are called to lead and shepherd the church—but they aren’t in charge of revitalization. As Baptists, we cherish various forms of Congregational polity. But no matter what your church’s business meetings look like, church members aren’t in charge of revitalization. Deacons aren’t. Elders aren’t. Councils and committees and boards aren’t in charge of revitalization. God is. That’s why we start with prayer and continually undergird everything with prayer.
Understand the Mission
What is the mission of your church? Do you know it? Does the majority of your membership know it? Zig Ziglar is quoted as saying, “If you aim at nothing, you’re guaranteed to hit it every time.” If the people of your church can’t even tell you what your mission is, how in the world will they be able to accomplish it? The mission of the church is the Great Commission. If your church is going to be revitalized, you must understand the Great Commission in your context. Communicate it in such a way that people can remember it. Communicate it regularly and develop a laser-like focus on accomplishing it.
One of my favorite things about the early verses of Nehemiah is when he finally had the opportunity to ask the king about going to Jerusalem. As soon as the king gave him the opportunity, Nehemiah rattled off all the stuff he was going to need for the trip. No hesitation. No delay. No, “Let me think about it and get back to you.” Nehemiah immediately gave the king a timeline, some legal requests and a list of materials. How was that possible? Did he just come up with a list off the top of his head? Of course not. He was able to do that because he didn’t just spend that four months praying on his knees in a closet somewhere. He spent it praying with a notepad in hand (only because he didn’t have an iPad of laptop available). To revitalize your church, it will take some serious strategic planning. Understand your values. Develop your mission. Cast the vision. The tactical planning of how and where you’re going to lay the bricks will come later—now is the time to cast the vision of building the wall.
Do you want to see your church brought to new life? It has to start with prayer, but it can’t end there. Prayer has to grow into preparation. Pray for rain—but prepare for it by bringing your umbrella.