Church Revitalizers are called to all sorts of locales in order to be used of God in church revitalization and renewal. Some are called while there is still a faint flicker of fire left in the congregational body. Some are called in as a last ditch effort once the critical mass has left the church and those remaining are either besides themselves in what to do or are now seeking a pastor chaplain to be the last one to turn the light out once the congregants have passed on into glory. Some are called to renewal efforts in the extreme urban center of a city. Still some are called to very rural areas to renew a church. Others are called to old historic churches in a declining town, where once there was a bright future and an abundance of prospects to fill the church. Now what is left are wonderful buildings left as monuments to a past glory yet lacking any present vitality to get it growing once more. Usually these churches have waited much too long before they got serious about renewal efforts and what is left either looks through historical lenses unable to see current reality or does not have sufficient numbers of workers remaining to make a difference in outreach and evangelism. When this happens it is a loss of the critical mass necessary to revitalize the church. Drastic measures must be taken and time is not on most churches within these scenarios favor.
What are the profiles of many of these types of churches all across the geographical landscape of North America? Let’s look at a few common situations that most of these churches find themselves:
Many of these churches are left with a retired population with few if any young people.
I had a very interesting conversation recently with a retired deacon of a Baptist church! He was living on a pension from the military, a pension from the United States Postal Service and he had Social Security as well. During our discussion relating to his church and its need for revitalization he said “we just do not have anyone left who can tithe to the church!” I was dumbfounded for a moment and once I recovered I asked him if he tithed since he had prepared so well to live in retirement his church must be happy that he was still around. Then the shoe hit me square in the gut as this individual replied that he “no longer had to tithe since he was in retirement and he had tithed all of his working life.” A huge challenge in many older churches where there are limited congregants is that the seniors have begun to pull back form the support of the church. They still want to call the shots but there is less of a passion to support the church like they had in times past. When they are in a season where they could bless the church they are declining to be the supporters they once were. What the church in a no growth community is left with is a building built by those who are now not inclined to support.
The Young College Students Move Away Never to Return
When your community displays no growth or influx of new people moving into your area the flight of young high school graduates to colleges and universities in growing areas will happen. Only a small few will return to the place of their childhood memories as they face the reality that there is little hope for success in their new careers back home. When this transpires the youth that might have turned a church around disappears leaving the former picture as the becoming new norm. Even though many of these new college students will only venture out less than three hours away, there becomes less and less to draw them back on a regular pattern.
Many of these churches are only a few funerals away from closing its doors.
As the church in a fading community grows older many find that they are stuck in a rapid decline and are actually only a few funerals away from closing its doors. The faithful few are now giving everything they can to keep a memory going on and the doors open. Yet the very thing that they need which is a new vitality and vision is often the exact thing they oppose because it will mean change.
What can be done about it a dying church in a no growth town?
Struggle to stay alive and ministering to those that remain in your community.
Church Renewal often is a matter of gathering the few over the many. Once they are secured and developed into the ministry repeating this effort over and over again is the best practice for small churches in declining communities. Church Revitalizers must be providers of hope and workers towards finding the next faithful few who will join your church. Sharing ones faith over and over again and again is a good way to reach those lost even in a tiny town. What often you will see it that they keep coming one by one and if your work at it hard enough you will be able to look back at the end of a year and see a tiny church renewing itself. The ten has become twenty! Suddenly the twenty has become forty. If you keep at it the forty will become sixty and the sixty will become seventy or even eighty. That is significant in a no growth town! Steady wins out if you as a church revitalizer are patient. Your struggle to stay alive under the leadership of a church revitalizer is becoming a reality. Why? Perhaps, because for at least this period in your churches history everyone one is working together, the danger of the closing looms large. As you reflect upon this journey you might even discover that this was perhaps your greatest days of unity your church has ever experienced.
Become a place for people to develop friendships not a place that is friendly.
People today are not looking for a friendly church but a place where they can develop friends. A church revitalizer must have some prospects to reach and this will not happen unless your membership eliminates the clicks as much as possible and begin to develop new friends. If your church was once cold and aloft visitors will not return unless something is drastically different then the past. You cannot be friendly to just one another who have been there forever. You must stop being a church that is friendly to its usual attenders but lacks connection with those searching for a church home. The visitor is looking for connection and a group that will eliminate the loneliness they feel when they worship in most churches. Old Barney Fife was a friendly sort but it was to those which he had relationship. Interestingly tiny churches in declining communities often are afraid they will bother guest, which is so sad.
Bring the young back to the Son.
In one of my restart churches those who wanted me to come in view of a call to be their pastor said that they wanted more young people in the church. Four years later those very folk were now up to their ears in young people and that very spirit of youthfulness transformed the ministries and structure of the church. Youth are a blessing to the church and worth everything you must do to draw them to the work of your church. But the key phrase for bringing the young back to the Son is change. If you want a more vibrant church reach youth but be prepared to change your systems. Youth want a vibe, energy, pace, a sense of the mysterious, and they want fun. If your church is not up to making changes and having fun skip over this one. Youth will find each other if you provide the right atmosphere for their journey.
Mobilize your deacons to lead out in connection points.
Deacons, which do not wait on tables, are part of the problem and not part of the solution. Get your deacons mobilized to discover prospects both in worship and around town. Teach them to find out as much as possible about an individual and his or her family. Then mobilize their wives to go and bring a “goodie” such as a home baked pie or bread.
Improve the Music
The right music will draw people today and the wrong music not matter how much you like it will not! Music still stirs the soul and lifts the spirit of worship. It might be that in order for your church to grow you must say farewell to those leading it at this point in time. Music programs, which are stuck, hurt the church because they have become comfortable with bad music that repels not draws. Get rid of antiquated instruments and utilize those being used in the day in which we live. Just because musical instruments were popular in the past does not mean they are a draw in the present.
Host Special Events
Church Revitalizers know that a great day service is worth much to a declining church if it is done right. Whenever you can develop a crowd of prospects and visitors in a small church in a no growth community that is big stuff! Hosting these events provides you with a platform to reach others you would not have formerly reached. It also provides a favorable appearance in the community of your church and you as its minister. Events such as Friend Day of Love Your Neighbor Day work well in small churches seeking renewal.
Challenge your active members to reach out to their neighbors.
Church members are uncomfortable with sharing their faith with their neighbors. Work towards training your leaders and members how to evangelize their neighbors. Neighbors are often slow to make commitments but challenge your people to stay at it. Ask your neighbor: “Do you attend any particular church on a regular basis?” The last four words are significant. Most people belong to some church, even if they haven’t attended it in a while. When a person replies, “On a regular basis? No, we do not attend church much,” you can talk about your church.
Wrapping it up!
Most small congregations feel threatened by the very idea of revitalization and renewal. They dread they may lose their identity if they get bigger. They ask, “Do we want these new people coming in here and taking over?” Or, “If we grow, I may have to give more money and do more work.” Some people are just opposed to change. It is important to not try to hurt those resistant to change. Yet change must happen and it cannot be ignored. The Lord’s work is more important than our comfort. Although some people in church are opposed to change, almost everyone enjoys seeing a congregation come alive and grow. It is encouraging for a small church in a no growth community to begin growing once more.