Revisionizing the Church

Revitalization is an on-going topic. Many authors have recently have weighed in on this topic. The problems with the church have been exhaustingly documented in social media and surveys. Thom Rainer’s thought on why churches die, puts it as: “Stated simply, the most common factor in declining churches is an inward focus.”[i] Looking at the “Seven Pillars of Revitalization” of Dr. Cheyney, the phase revisionizing [which is the basis for the article] consists of “re-dreaming the dream.” In Robert Dale’s book, Dream Again, he uses the bell curve to depict both the rise and decline of church growth and maturity.[ii] The top of the bell curve is identified as “Ministry,” it can be construed that the church at this point is excelling at its ministry vision and goals. Yet as with anything, and churches specifically, nothing is static. Either there is progression or regression. If a church has reached its apex in ministry effectiveness, the concern should be “how long can we sustain our ministry machine?” In the book of Revelation, Jesus identifies two churches that could fit into a necessary revisionizing position. First, the church at Ephesus had lost its first love. While there were many things well established within the church such as doctrine and polity; they had lost their first love. In a church that has battled forward to become established, the labor of climbing the mountain can be exhausting and resigning when the “mountain top” has been reached. Obviously Ephesus is had quit growing, Jesus told the church “remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first.” [Rev. 2:5]

When a new church work begins there is much activity and energy to get the work done, this is primarily because the church membership knows it has to labor much in order to survive. There is a hunger and thirst for the things of God, which carries a strong compulsion to work. For example, Nehemiah being able to build the walls around Jerusalem in 52 days is an example of having the goal and desire to work. But when the church has become established and there are programs and processes in place, the offering plate is full and there is plenty of people in the seats, a church can and will become complacent. Ephesus had a long history of “dignitaries” at the church. Timothy, Paul, John the Apostle and Mary the mother of Jesus, all were “Church members”. Ephesus had, had a great success and position within the community. But by the time Jesus writes at the end of the 1st century, lost were the beginning fervor and the elite members. It is easy for churches to lose the reason or vision of why they began the work in the first place. So Jesus tells them, remember and repent in order to be restored. Essentially Jesus is saying, find the dream again of why the church was so important and build upon it!

The 2nd church, the church of Laodicea, the lukewarm church, in a different way is reflective of needing a new vision. The problem the church had a high false opinion of itself. They thought they were one thing, but in reality they were quite another. This could either mean the original dream was wrong, or the dream got distracted along the way. They were neither hot nor cold means that the church was not a threat to the lost cultural around it, really a church in name only. Laodicea appears to have become like its culture, rather than impact it with the gospel. Jesus reproved the church, in that they needed to become the “church” of God not the church of people. The original dream failed, necessitating a New or different vision or dream.

If these two churches are to “Redream the Dream,” where do they begin? The beginning point of revitalization is critical. As was mentioned above, if the top of the bell curve is the apex of ministry effectiveness, what is the next step? It could be argued that the ministry should be allowed to continue as long as it was effective; true but what does effectiveness mean? It cannot mean a good bank account and attendance. We have been measuring those for years and have not been effective in reaching the Lost for Christ.

Dale suggest that a “redream the dream point” should be just between the “Ministry phase and the Nostalgia phase.[iii] There is a glaring problem with this – the church has already begun a decline from a plateaued position. It is much easier to slide down than it is to climb up the mountain. The difficulty in moving a church that has stopped or started a downward spiral is difficult at best and impossible in most cases.

I believe that the point of revisionizing must begin while on the way up the mountain. Most churches when they begin have some sort of Strategic Plan or document. It will outline what they want to do, how it is done, and who they are as a church. Strategic Plans are great, but only for a season. Once the strategic plan is in full implementation, there must be the beginning of another plan. Instead of basking in the glories of a well-developed ministry, there must be the challenge of “What’s next?”

Gary McIntosh in Taking Your Church to the Next Level is a great resource for follow-up dreams. Again where does the Revisionizing begin on the bell curve? It should begin between the “Structure and Ministry” phases that Dale identified.[iv] Instead of allowing the church to get to a “flat spot” in the road, the momentum of moving must be used to accelerate the next growth point of the church. Instead of employing another bell curve, the church needs a sigmoid curve. Dale’s bell curve was great and necessary in birthing a church, but not for long tenured church health and development. The church does not need to redevelop vision, goals and purpose statements, which have already been established. Instead of a strategic plan, the church needs a Long Range Plan; one that builds on the achievements and failures of the original vision and strategic plan. It is here that churches can dream about next steps and make the necessary course adjustments.

The church at Ephesus forgot; the church of Laodicea became satisfied. Both lost the vision of what God wanted for them. When a church does not have future goals mapped out, it can quickly stagnate into a comfort zone that breeds nostalgia and “inward focus.” Our churches in America are dying; they are dying along with the members who built them during the Builder and Boomer generations. Revisionizing enables the Next Generation to take ownership and responsibility for the “Work of God in their generation.” [Acts 13:36]

Our church took a year and a half to develop a Strategic Plan and fresh vision for the church. Our church is 45 years old, but never had a vision or purpose other than “be a church.” Once we begin implementing the Strategic Plan, we soon discovered how fast God could work. It has been a year since we implemented the Vision and Plan; the church is on the move again, dreams and visions of new possibilities fill the atmosphere. Instead of needing to start over, our church implemented a Long Range Team; one that will build on the old [new] vision, and create new heights of ministry and Kingdom impact. The bottom-line; a sigmoid curve launched off a bell curve is needed to “continue the work of revitalization” and prevent apathy and single generation churches.

[1] http://thomrainer.com/2014/05/common-factor-declining-churches/

[1] Robert Dale, Dream Again, Broadman 1981, 19.

[1] Dale, 115.

[1] Dale, 118.

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