Once the local church has begun the process of church revitalization there are some key elements you will want to develop during the initiation stage of your revitalization efforts. Some of these will be structural redesigns and some will be redesigns that will impact lay thought and perspective. Here are the key elements to begin developing during the initiation stage of church revitalization:
The atmosphere of the revitalizing church is essential to it transition and transformation. The temperature change of a renewing church is vital. An atmosphere of transformation is necessary for the declining church to begin a journey towards revitalization. Growth, which is much, needed will only come as the positive atmosphere of hope towards renewal replaces the negative atmosphere of the past. The church revitalization atmosphere is a predictable set of elements which will determine how new participants feel to be part of the transforming church.
The appearance of the buildings and grounds portrays how the revitalizing congregation feels about itself. While cleaning up the place will not make people come to your church, it does make a statement that you are trying to take initial steps towards transformation. Churches which are struggling with decline need to keep the facility and grounds looking the best they can. While you may not be able to re-carpet the entire church you may want to begin systematically refurbishing as many key rooms as possible and then keep at it during the revitalization process. Try getting rid of the clutter and the old Sunday school materials that no one uses but is taking up many rooms which have become storage closets at best. If you can refurbish the walls with paint in the nursery and children’s wings first. Buildings will not revitalize a church but when they look terrible they just might keep revitalization from beginning.
Your people are a key to the atmospheric nature of the revitalization effort as well. If you and your people are defeated or act defeated in they way they do the work of the church it will hurt your efforts. An atmosphere that is positive and uplifting will make an impact just as much as a negative atmosphere is something that will defeat the church and hurt its renewal efforts. Seek to eliminate the down beaten attitudes and atmosphere. Help your people learn to look up and not down. You will need to model this for them for some time before they will finally get the idea and follow the model you have provided.
An important ingredient in the atmosphere of the revitalization church is unity. The early church of the Book of Acts teaches us that it was in one accord and had all things in common. If you are in the process of revitalizing a church which has a reputation for fighting among them this area of unity will be a struggle until individual repentance and corporate repentance is dealt with. Memberships, which fight, quarrel, squabble, and bicker spend almost all of their energy on the fight and the end result is the flight of the committed members who want to see the church revitalized and transformed. Not only will existing members leave but possible new members will not want anything to do with them either. When unity is faked at best people know it and want nothing to do with it.
Do your church members have a feeling of expectancy and urgency for God to do something great within their church and in their lives? Revitalizing churches begin to have a high degree of expectancy and a sense of urgency each week as they expectantly watch for the initial serendipitous moments from God begin to impact their church. Do visitors begin to arrive and see something happening in your church? Do you have members beginning to display acts of service? Expectancy replaces the dullness that many have come to expect in the declining church. Coldness towards outsiders is replaced by an urgency to get to know ones community like never before. The days of arguing about monies being spent on outsiders is replaced by strategies to take the church out into ones community and share Christ Jesus.
The atmosphere of the worship service is another huge area to consider during the initiation stage of revitalization. Put some fun back in the Son for you and your church. Preaching must be alive today and visual. Music must be done well and aimed at those you are trying to reach not those who are already there. Lousy music will smother any chances of revitalization. It will not take very long for those who are trying to work towards renewal to feel that it is useless if every Sunday they are kicked in the teeth by older members who gripe and complain that they hate them and their music. Services must be meaningful and joyous. Worship should meet the needs of the new worshipper, causing the new worshipper to want to return. Sermons should be solid and fun and humor will not kill the message. Laugh a little and have a little fun in your messages. Try telling more stories over more Greek expositions.
Visitors want to feel welcomed and sense that they are really wanted at church. Fare too many churches hurt the revitalization efforts by creating an atmosphere of “uses” and “themins.” It is hard for revitalization to begin to occur if those visiting are not genuinely made to feel welcomed. Increasing ones visitor flow is a necessary ingredient to re-establishing critical mass. I had a church in Florida I was working with and they argued that critical mass was not necessary to revitalize a church. They dwindled down to about 25 members and it was terrible. A popular interim pastor came in and the critical mass began to grown and last week they were well over 350 in attendance. Still those men who argued with me could not see that critical mass enables you to grow while drastic decline hurts your chances for growth. Work hard at getting more visitors in your church.
The attitude for revitalization of the church affects the church atmosphere. A good revitalization attitude has a positive spirit. The revitalization of the church must be willing to embrace the new and to depart from tradition. Churches reaching the age of 40 often cease to grow because of becoming steeped in tradition. When that happens church programs operate more as fossils over those of featured ministries. If the attitude for revitalization is missing your church will remain or become stagnant with a motionless malignancy of failure stalling the revitalization effort. John Maxwell taught us well when he said, “Remember that if you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten.” Try some new methods and see if they work before you declare they will not. It is time to try the new and trust God to bring about the harvest. The revitalizing church must be willing to exercise a little more faith. Stop being afraid of exercising the faith that will accomplish something big for the Lord. Another way to say this is, the church initiating renewal, must be willing to change. A revitalizing church experiences the new! There are new persons, new ideas, new methods, and new needs and coming from a once dead and dying church. Is not that quite exciting? Most of us are not in favor of change because it is the enemy of the comfortable and stagnant. We must become comfortable with being uncomfortable if we are going to bring about revitalization in our churches. In fact, the attitude for revitalization must be one where the church members really want to be revitalized and grow again. A revitalizing church must make some effort to reach out into the community. It must be willing to pay the price for revitalization. Revitalization requires energy. Doing nothing requires nothing. The Church atmosphere cannot be programmed but must be experienced. Atmosphere is a complex issue with many factors determining the atmosphere.
Good health is necessary for church revitalization and transformation. Dr. Paul W. Powell, former president of the Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, gives us some good elements in a healthy church. They are:
1. There is a sweet spirit
2. There is a Bible Centeredness
3. The Pulpit is the Center of Growth
4. There are exciting age group ministries
5. They go after people through aggressive visitation
6. They involve participants in missions and ministry
The third major ingredient of church revitalization is its primary priorities. Matthew 28:19-20 outlines the basic priorities for any church. They are as follows:
1. Going: into all the world
2. Sowing: sowing the seeds
3. Cultivating: establishing relationships
4. Baptizing: leading receptive persons to Christ
5. Discipling: teaching and training the new converts to become like Christ.
These five tasks must be working simultaneously and in the proper proportion.
GOING: The Greek text indicates this command meant as the people went about their daily lives, they should be sensitive to the opportunities of sharing their faith with persons they met. The Holy Spirit provides the opportunities and the power to share a testimony with others. As the people go, they should be ready to share with others. Translating this into our lives, the Christian should be ready to share his testimony in the market place, on the job, on the street, in the department store, at school, in the super market, or wherever his life takes him.
Going includes making a formal visitation effort in the community. Jesus sent His disciples into the highways and hedges of life compelling persons to come to the Father's house. One weakness of many churches is in the area of going. The idea is the church is here, and if they want to come, that is fine! No effort is made to go and invite the unchurched. Going should include outreach to new residents of the community, the unchurched, and the backslidden church members.
SOWING: As persons go, sowing is a must. Without a time of sowing, there will be no harvest. Jesus teaches four types of soils in the parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. First the wayside is a hard path between two fields. It is impossible for seeds to penetrate this soil. Second, the rocky soil makes it difficult for seeds to grow. Beneath the surface of maybe two inches of topsoil is a layer of bedrock. As seeds germinate, their roots reach the rock and growth is prohibited. Third, the thorny soil contains so many thorns that the two root systems become intertwined and the good is lost. Fourth, the good soil brings forth the harvest some 30, 60, and 100 fold.
Christians sow seeds everywhere they go--in the market place, at the service station, in the hospital, on the job, and in the home. Naturally, the more seeds sown, the greater the harvest. Seed sowing should be both natural and enjoyable.
CULTIVATING: After the seeds are sown, they must be cultivated. Time is required between seedtime and harvest. As the seeds germinate, they require nourishment and proper care. As the seeds of the gospel are sown, they, too, must be cultivated. Research indicates that persons are more receptive to the gospel if the gospel is presented by friends. The levels of friendship are stranger, casual acquaintance, acquaintance, casual friend, friend, and good friend. Christians cultivate relationships with non-Christians as they visit with one another, work with one another, and live with one another. Paul mentioned that he planted, Apollos watered, and God gave the increase. More will be mentioned about cultivation in a later chapter.
BAPTIZING AND HARVESTING: As seeds are sown and cultivated, they grow until harvest. At harvest time, the matured seeds best be gathered out of the fields and into the barns. As persons become receptive to the gospel, they must be presented with the opportunity to accept Christ as their Savior. A number of harvesting tools should be used.
The goal of the Great Commission is to win persons to Christ. Being faithful is just not enough. Evangelism is in a sad state in most churches today. A good description of today's evangelism might be:
1. Reaching non-Christians is a low priority for the church
2. Reaching non-Christians is a low priority for Christians
3. The Biblical concept of lostness has disappeared from our consciousness
4. Most evangelism methods are ineffective in making disciples
5. Evangelism focuses on decision making rather than disciple making
6. Evangelism methods have become simplistic
7. Evangelism is much discussed but little practiced.
The church should continually explore their evangelistic methods and activities and evaluate their effectiveness.
DISCIPLING: As the church goes, sows, cultivates, and baptizes persons accepting Christ, discipling becomes a necessity. New babes in Christ need to be fed on the Word in order to grow spiritually. They need to learn spiritual warfare, how to survive, and how to develop their devotional life. As they progress, the new converts need to be able to discover their spiritual gifts so they will make an important contribution to the body of Christ. A disciple is a learner as well as a follower of Jesus Christ. To disciple a person is to teach them to become more like Christ in their daily lives.
Any combination of these five ingredients of the Great Commission out of balance will produce an unbalanced church. Winning converts without discipling produces a church of spiritual babies. Going without winning produces discouragement. Without cultivating, there is no harvest. Without going, there is no one to cultivate. Therefore, the church must continually give attention to these four areas of the Great Commission and attempt to keep them in proper balance.
IV. Lay Peoples Involvement
The study of the Biblical principles for advancement in Acts indicates: the early church's success was attributed to the lay movement. Church history has been most unkind to the laity. Once actively involved in the ministry, a clear division now exists between the laity and the clergy. Around 300 AD, the gospel was taken out of the hands of the laity and given to the clergy. A professional clergy developed with the responsibility of preaching and teaching the Bible. The laity took a back seat. The Protestant Reformation did little to change the situation. Laypersons need to rediscover their importance and role in spreading the gospel and practicing ministry.
1. The laity has tremendous potential. The greatest need of the church today is for the laity to realize its responsibility in fulfilling the Great Commission.
Lay persons come into contact with an average of thirty persons per day. A congregation of 200 means 6000 contacts per day. What potential!
2. The lay persons are in partnership with God. Amazing? In sharing responsibilities, the pastor and the people must not care who gets the credit. Self-centered persons who must gain all the glory for themselves are a problem.
3. Lay persons are in partnership with the pastor. The pastor and laity provide the team to work in the Kingdom of God. The pastor must see the laity as true partners and treat them as such.
4. Lay persons must discover and use their spiritual gifts. Believing that God has equipped all persons with spiritual gifts, the laity must be afforded the privilege of discovering and using them.
5. Lay persons must have the proper attitude toward church growth. They must understand their importance to God and His work. As believers, created in the image of God, they have a purpose in the Kingdom of God. This purpose is more than just bringing their tithes into the storehouse and being faithful in their attendance. Jesus called persons to become priests and ministers. Christians must adopt the role of the servant.
Lay persons must work together with the pastor and church staff. Working together means upholding the pastor and staff in prayer daily. Being willing to stand on the battlefield to assist the pastor in handling difficulties, making joint decisions, and sharing various responsibilities of the church.
6. Lay persons must have the right to fail with dignity. Lay persons are not as experienced as pastors in leadership. Wrong decisions and bad judgments will happen. Failure must be used as a learning experience and all will greatly benefit.
7. Lay persons must become mature disciples. One reason God has not given the church the revival they have been seeking is because methods of preserving the results are faulty. Just as obstetrics demands pediatrics, evangelism demands Biblical discipleship. Disciples cannot be manufactured in mass and in a hurry. Discipleship means becoming like Christ in mind, attitudes, and actions.