R – Relational
We live in a world where people need relationships that are cultivated and sustained. The church is a social, relational organization. A relevant church needs structures to assist in developing and strengthening relationships. A relevant church seeks to create community. Churches that fail to start new groups and relevant groups, have decided to die. Relationship building will either make you or break you as a pastor/leader. If you are effective in drawing people around you in effective lasting relationships, you will have a greater chance to be effective. What makes a church secure and stable is not mere friendliness, but true concern, compassion, and caring for others. Most declining churches give little thought to how relationships develop within the church. There needs to be a purposeful commitment to relationship building with other believers (most of this is outside of small groups)! I have asked hundreds of unchurched people the question, “What is the one thing you would look for in a church?” That simple research indicates that more than anything else, people want to build meaningful relationships. As Christians, we know that people ultimately are looking for relationships with God. In today’s world, if the church is going to reach the unchurched, it must build bridges of relationships.
E – Evangelism
Declining churches often replace evangelism with feel good inward focused events, which while designed for the already initiated individual of the church, does little to draw or compel new people to the church. Relevant churches keep practices of effective evangelism front and center. Declining churches create events which provide a good time for the present membership, but does little to reach a lost community. In order to remain relevant the declining church needs a process to identify, cultivate and track prospects. They need to pray for lost people and keep the subject of lost people before the membership. The revitalizing church must have a plan to mobilize members for the task of evangelism. An ongoing plan to train members in evangelism is critical if a dying church wants to see a turnaround. The church revitalizer must model evangelism and apprentice those who could assist in the evangelization of the community around the church. We have learned that revival and renewal occurs when the Holy Spirit makes inroads into the souls of the least likely and the disenchanted. So we need to start praying and be prepared for the Spirit of God to move us outside the box. Any effective evangelism strategy has a plan to deploy the trained members into the field. If a church renewal effort is going to be successful, the church will need an effective plan to follow-up and disciple those who accept Jesus as Savior and Lord. This is one of the key ingredients towards revitalizing a dying church.
L – Loving
Displaying the love of the Lord displays a church’s ability to attract and connect with people at a heart level. Showing love is a way for church members to draw people to themselves, not because they are charismatic, but because they care about people and see the best in them. They relate at a heart level and trust comes easy. This is not an issue of whether or not large numbers of people flock to you, but whether people who know you seem to migrate to you or away from you. That's an important question to ask of your church and its membership. When you do hook up with people, do you quickly connect at a heart level? People like you best when you are yourself. They may not all like you, but they will like you best when you are yourself. They can trust you when they know "what they see is what they get." Be yourself.
E – Evolving
Relevant ministry is the buzzword among many church revitalizers as we work to help church evolve and stay relevant. Some churches are open to such conversation while others are afraid to think about what their church has become and the steps one must take to allow it to evolve into something much healthier. The world is changing faster than it ever has before, and without sacrificing the Truth of the Gospel, the church needs to change with it. Evolving ones church towards a future which impacts culture and community is important. There are some things pastors and churches can do to make sure they do not miss opportunities to minister to people in the midst of a changing culture. Networking ones struggling church with a healthy one willing to come along side of you and assist is a tremendous way to begin the journey back towards health. These churches can bring value and support to the membership of a declining church and offer encouragement while giving direction. These networking of churches working to revitalize dying churches help bring fresh vision and ideas back to ones community. Keep in mind is that change is not new to the church. Churches have been evolving in different ways, and for different reasons, since the beginning of time. Stop resisting the necessary changes which just might save your church. The apostle Paul was relevant in his culture by becoming a Jew to the Jew, and a Greek to the Greek. Are we willing to sincerely engage our culture with the love and message of Jesus? If so, are we willing to make the adjustments that are necessary? The need to remain relevant applies not just to the pastor, but also to the entire priesthood of believers represented in the local church.
V – Vision
Since the early 1990s, there has been considerable emphasis placed on the visioning process. With that has come a lot of confusion. Ministry leaders often misunderstand the issue of vision. A biblical understanding of vision is an appropriate step for bringing clarity to this issue. Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint (Prov. 29:18). It is clear in Acts 16 that the apostle Paul’s motivation for going to Macedonia was a clear and compelling vision or revelation that he received from God. In verse 9 we are told that, “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” Immediately, Paul redirected his actions in response to this vision. As a result, the gospel was preached and the church was established at Philippi. In the same way, church revitalization must flow out of a clear vision from God. Any other motivation, no matter how noble, is not sufficient. Therefore, it is essential that before one begins the journey of church revitalization that he understand what it means to receive a vision from God. For Paul, the vision he received was so specific and clear that it required a new direction. There was a new sense of authority in Paul’s life. He was compelled toward this new vision. God’s revelation of what He wants to accomplish in the reaching of a certain people group at a particular point in the future as a result of His church being faithfully revitalized. It is important to understand that this kind of vision is not created, for it already exists within the heart of God. Therefore, it is discovered as God reveals it to the listening church revitalizer. This revealed vision must be shared by the church revitalizer and the local body of Christ. Proverbs 29:18 has been interpreted by many as, “Where there is no vision, the people perish (KJV).” A descriptive translation describes the verse like this: “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint (NKJV).” A personal translation may be, “When they do not have a word from God, everyone does what is right in his own eyes.” When believers are not hearing from God, there will be spiritual anarchy in the lives of the people of God. Since a fresh vision is the result of hearing from God, it is important that the church revitalizer spend time alone with God in order to hear Him clearly. For those who are initiators by nature, it is important for the visioning process to include time for prayer and fasting. A vision from God will become clearer and more intense over time.
There are countless ways to communicate vision, but the communication of the vision must be intentional. Therefore, the role of the vision caster is a primary one for the church revitalizer. He will need to constantly cast the vision throughout the process of revitalization and renewal.
A – Adapting
In Genesis 12:1-4 God gave Abram a revelation of what He wanted to accomplish in and through him. “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’ So Abram left, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran.” Notice Abram’s response to God’s revelation. Abram adapted immediately, left, and did what the Lord revealed to him. A good question to consider is, “If God revealed a new thing to you as the church revitalizer as to what He wants to accomplish in and through you, how long would it take you and your church to get in a position to respond?” Being prepared for the task of revitalization is about spiritually positioning ourselves to respond to God’s activity around us.
Regardless of the model you use for ones revitalization effort being able to adapt will allow you many opportunities to reach a new milepost and move towards significant renewal. Every church revitalizer should have a ministry to the body and a mission to the world. When this is happening a new milepost is being accomplished. This signifies that the renewing church has reached a new level of healthy maturity and another milepost has been realized. While mileposts may vary, each milepost serves as a key organizing principle for accomplishing the vision received from God. Mile posting allows us to ensure that healthy systems are in place prior to initiating the revitalization process. When there is a conflict between calendar and the completion of a milepost, calendar should be adjusted. Churches that are adapting themselves to receive our diversifying culture will be churches that thrive in the next ten years. Begin noticing the demographics of the broader community around you, and find ways to welcome them in your building. Adapt and embrace the changes that are right for your community as you move forward to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. We ought to be discerning and creative enough to find fresh ways of pointing people to the Redeemer in a way that the least likely will start coming into the Kingdom. An adaptable church is only possible when an adapting pastor leads it. Adapt or die, it is your choice. Chose to become adaptable.
N – No Excuses
It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” We are skillful at the art of making excuses, aren't we? "I don't know how." "I didn't understand." "I couldn't find the right tools." "The voices told me to clean all the guns today." "I threw out my back bowling." "I have a doctor's appointment." Do you ever catch yourself making excuses when things don’t turn out as you had expected in your church? Have you ever tried to explain away why you didn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t or simply wouldn’t do something? If so as a church revitalizer, these are subtle signs that indicate you are living a life of excuses, which prevent you from reaching your full potential for revitalization and renewal.
Declining or dying churches and church leaders often make various excuses for why they are not revitalizing their church. Some fear the failure around them and they make an excuse. Others are embarrassed because of what they thought would happen in their church has not. Some fear the things they must do to bring about the change needed for renewal so they make excuses. Still others lack confidence in their ability to revitalize the church. To eliminate excuses from our lives we must first look at eliminating all traces of fear. Fear traps and locks us away within our comfort zone. Living a life of excuses can have very serious and lasting consequences. Not only will excuses prevent you from reaching your full potential, but they will also hold you back from recognizing opportunities, talents and skills you might have, to help you overcome your problems. If you don’t challenge yourself to reach new heights, you will never really know what you’re capable of. New opportunities lie hidden around every corner, however you will never find them if you riddle your mind with constantly finding reasons to make excuses. Here are some of the most used excuses for why one has not revitalized ones church:
- The teaching is dangerous
In the Christian world, we can find all sorts of excuses not to obey God's voice: "It's the preacher's job." "It's not my gift." "I've already served, let someone else do it." "I'm too busy or too tired or too old or too young." It has been said, "Excuses are tools of the incompetent, and those who specialize in them seldom go far." Gabriel Meurier stated, "He who excuses himself, accuses himself." Jeremiah had every excuse ready when God called him to be a prophet. His excuses are often our excuses for not heeding God's voice when he calls. Countering each excuse was a promise from God.
C – Courageous
Church revitalizers need to be willing to take risks for the good of the local church they serve. They need to be strong and of courage. In Joshua Chapter One, God instructs Joshua 3 times to “be strong, and be courageous”. Such easy instructions, but how is he to be strong, and courageous? It’s easy sometimes to be cocky, and pretend to be brave, but what Joshua needed was true bravery and courage.
God not only directs Joshua to be “strong, and courageous,” but he dictates to him how to be so. To live the kind of life that God wants us to in the society that we live in we too need courage the way that Joshua did. Sometimes it’s hard to be strong, and courageous. God says we are to stand on His promises. If we are to accomplish what God calls us, and instructs us to do, we as well must stand on the promises. The problem is many churches in need of revitalization are sitting on the premises instead of standing on the promises. Additionally, we can sense God’s presence. How can Joshua lead with confidence, how can he confront the battles that lie ahead? He can because the same God that was with Moses is with him. We have a God that will not forsake, and one that will not fail. Next, we must stay the path. If Joshua is to be “strong, and courageous” he must stay the path. Like Joshua, we must not turn, not compromise, not become distracted, must not become detoured from what the will of God is. Faithfulness is the key. Lastly, we must start the process of revitalization and renewal. Many in our declining churches have heard the word of God, sensed his presence, and his leading, but are we still just sitting. What are you waiting for? Now is the time to get going. There is ground to cover, battles to be won, jobs that are unfinished so let’s “be strong and courageous” and do it! Let us get going.
E – Engaging
Churches and church revitalizers must engage ones community if it is going to survive. Are you currently addressing the needs of your community with the Gospel? What on going outreach events are you offering to the area where your church is located? What are the positive impressions your community has towards you and your church? The church needs to do a better job of sharing the Gospel and its relevance. Those who hear the Good News also have a responsibility to receive the news and act upon what they hear, and to follow where the Holy Spirit leads. There are a number of questions that you can ask to help determine the characteristics of your community and work out where your church interests intersect with the needs of the local community:
- What are the socio-economic and demographic characteristics of the area?
- What are the social, economic and environmental challenges or priorities in this neighborhood?
- What is happening in terms of neighborhood improvement?
- What is the backbone of community economic development?
- What employment growth strategies are promoted in the community?
Just as significantly, you will need to give careful thought to the best methods your church could use to engage the diversity of individuals and groups within the community. Consider that ones approach to reaching parents of young children will likely be different from your approach to reaching youth in the community. Ask yourself these following questions:
- What languages are spoken within this community? How I can make sure that print and other forms of communication are accessible to as many community members as possible?
- What physical barriers might prevent community members from participating in ministry opportunities and how can I best address these?
- What is the best location for a meeting or event?
- What is the best time of day for a meeting or event?
- What other established organizations within the community can help encourage people to attend?