Six Paradigm or Model Shifts for Church Revitalization

There are Six Paradigm or Model Shifts for Church Revitalization that addresses the current crises of leader quantity and quality:

1. A new goal of sustainable critical mass

Traditionally, within the local church, our primary concerns have been the pastor's abilities to preach and to maintain the traditions of a particular church. Keep us at or near our capacity and things will go well. Yesterday’s leaders were selected and assessed in relation to degrees and years of service. Today’s church revitalizer is assessed and selected as to ones ability to turn around a church that is in decline. In fact, churches are being assessed today by the candidates as to their ability to be revitalized as well. In the next 15 years there will be a growing shortage of pastors willing to fill our churches that have low renewal potential. In our denomination we have 6,000 Southern Baptist Pastors who leave their ministries each year. More than 200 pastors are fired each month. A recent LifeWay article stated that 6,000 Southern Baptist pastors leave their ministries each year, more than 200 pastors are fired each month and there are 70,000 vacant pulpits in America.

Today’s pastors who serve as church revitalizers know that when an existing church falls below 50 adults workers, the church is in danger of loosing its critical mass of workers necessary to turnaround the church's decline. Keeping a church from falling below the necessary critical mass to allow it to have renewed life must become a priority focus before it is too late. The Greater Orlando Baptist Association works hard to help churches that want to keep from declining and face the key issues early before it is too late. Some churches, after showing some interest in revitalization, decline to get help. Then, once the church is polarized and in rapid decline, they're back pleading for the exact help they refused previously. The sad thing is, most of the time, they waited too long and now there is little that can be done other than a church merger or giving of the property to the association for a church plant.

In this new model of sustainable critical mass, we focus on building skill sets deemed necessary for revitalizing churches. Todays revitalizers must have skill sets which will allow the church its best chance of reversing decline. Transformation of declining churches takes a different set of competencies than pastoring twenty years ago. We must seek to build healthy church revitalizers able to develop sustainable critical mass.

2. A new methodology for rebirthing something new from the decline

If today’s challenge is to revitalize the local church, it is immediately apparent that we need a new methodology for rebirthing something new from the decline. A purely traditional process of pastoral shepherding will not effectively build congregants spiritual life, character and practical ministry capacity. Many church revitalization organizations have recognized this and are supplementing their information downloads with a variety of intentional spiritual, relational and experiential dynamics. The emphasis is not just to download knowledge but to encourage personal transformation. In this new paradigm, we must implement a holistic process that gives strong, integrated attention to four dynamics for church renewal:

Spiritual Transformation. Experiential union with Christ is the center of a truly transformational revitalization paradigm. We must move our developing church revitalizers from a posture sitting in their sanctuaries to walking their streets, meeting their neighbor and sharing Christ!

Relational Transformation. Developing church revitalizers desire to go on a journey! They need daily relationships with mature fellow revitalizers, role models, and examples. They need spiritual 'Pauls' in the context of normal daily life and ministry. In the encouragement, support, challenge, teaching, discipline and accountability of these relationships, the shepherd’s character is built, marriages are strengthened and spiritual life is nurtured.

Experiential Transformation. Developing church revitalizers learn by doing and not only by listening. Activity is the new norm not audience participation. They are transformed through trails and pressure. The church revitalizer is stretched by challenging tasks that focus on church revitalization and renewal.

Proclamational Transformation. Developing church revitalizers must work on new ways of teaching of the Word of God in an engaging way that is woven into the ongoing daily realities of life, family and ministry. This new focus is central to healthy leader development.

All four of these dynamics must be strongly present in an effective church revitalizer’s development process. The second paradigm is a new methodology for rebirthing something new from the decline.

3. A new ministry design developed from church assessment and leader assessment

Traditionally, we have not given sufficient thought to a new ministry design developed from church assessment and leader assessment. Our designs of the past have perpetuated tradition and modeled teaching as we have been taught. Jesus, however, designed an extraordinary collage of diverse learning experiences for His developing leaders.

Churches in decline and pastors of declining churches both need an assessment. Shepherds need to know the strengths and obstacles of their church. The church needs to know if the leader has the skill sets or is able to acquire the necessary skill sets for a turnaround. Within this new paradigm, we learn how to design learning experiences as Jesus did. Imparting and acquiring skill sets necessary for church revitalization is a rather chaotic, complex and multifaceted issue of relationships, influences, tasks, responsibilities, duties, opportunities, pressures, crises, blessings, sufferings, successes, and mistakes. All work together to build the emerging leader.

Thus, an effective church revitalizer development process is not a neat series of sequences but a fiery immersion in real-life, real-time experiences that reflect the complicated and fundamentally difficult nature of church revitalization and renewal. The process brings deep heart issues to the surface to be dealt with and compel the individual church and individual revitalizer to look utterly to God for success. The third paradigm is a new ministry design developed from church assessment and leader assessment.

4. Church Revitalizers embracing and building new Revitalizers 

The fourth Paradigm or Model Shift for Church Revitalization is that these leaders must embrace and build potential new Church Revitalizers. Jesus came to the earth to do three things: To die on the cross for the sins of humanity, to proclaim the Kingdom of God and reveal the Father, through His words and works; and to build a team of emerging leaders. And that is all He did! So we know that building leaders is one of the central things that healthy church revitalizers do. 

Thankfully, we do not have to die on the cross for the sins of the world, since Jesus has accomplished that once and for all. We must, however, embrace the other two responsibilities. While we have focused on proclaiming the Kingdom and revealing the Father, we have rarely, however, embraced personal and systematic responsibility for building new leaders equipped for the revitalization of our churches. We have been overly busy with doing the leading of the church to build new leaders! There needs to be a reconnection of the two – leaders do ministry work and they build tomorrow's church revitalizers at the same time.

Within this new paradigm, Church Revitalizers face the personal responsibility for embracing and building new Revitalizers as a core part of what it means to be a leader. This shift alone has the potential to raise up a new army of missional pastors equipped for the task of revitalization and renewal.

5. Churches building new revitalizers

Biblically, the primary place for the development of new church revitalizers is the local church or a cluster of churches. That is why I still believe in the importance of the local Southern Baptist Association. In this paradigm, just as church revitalizers personally embrace their God-given responsibility to build other church revitalizers, so healthy local churches must embrace their God- given responsibility to build their own future ministers. Some of the benefits are:

•Multiplication. The church-based revitalization approach provides a paradigm or model that can be multiplied virtually endlessly with every local church or cluster of churches to provide a learning environment for their new leaders in church revitalization. If every local church would build only one or two new leaders for church renewal, the quantity crisis would be over!

•Holistic development. The church renewal learning process becomes considerably more effective since the local church provides the spiritual, relational and practical context for the development of the church revitalizer.

•The right people receive training. The emerging revitalizer and existing church pastor who needs training the most are those who are already engaged in renewal ministry. With the training focused in the church, we move from training the wrong individuals to training and equipping the right people.

•Flexibility. When it comes to church revitalizer development, “one size” does not fit all. Around the world, Church Revitalizers from a vast variety of cultures, backgrounds, experiences, education levels, need to be fostered. Our renewal approaches must be flexible and customizable. In addition, flexibility in our approaches to renewal is required do to the rapidly changing environment around the church today.

•Self-supporting, self-sustaining and self-propagating. The local church provides the financial support for the learning process, thus maintaining both responsibility for and control of the development of its own emerging church revitalizers. The church must also become self-sustaining so equipping future revitalizers for the work of the ministry is essential. Then the local church must become self-propagating in its effort to regrow the work of the Lord in their setting.

•Ongoing skill sets and life long revitalizer development. The equipping and training is not limited to a certain period of time, but continues throughout the church revitalizers life. Leaders are built over lifetimes!

•Effective evaluation. Members of the local community who know the emerging church revitalizer and who work with him on a regular basis are the best ones to help him both establish clear goals for his development and evaluate his growth toward those goals.

6. A Move from a Church Growth Paradigm to a Restored Emphasis on a Biblical Paradigm

For the past three decades "church growth" has been the focus of many American churches. All this emphasis on size, numbers and programs has been to no avail as we see thousands of churches in our land close their doors every year. In fact, in any given year the American church closes more churches than it starts! We are learning the hard way that church health must precede church growth. Only healthy churches manifest well-balanced, long-term scriptural growth. Church health is based upon God's precepts, principles and patterns in the New Testament. The Scripture presents a paradigm of moving from spiritual decline and functional malaise to Spirit-engendered vitality: the Church at Ephesus. God's instructions to that church serve as a curriculum outline for Church Revitalization: "Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first..." (Rev. 2:5) That is the three-fold emphasis of the paradigm: Remember...Repent... Recapture the first things.

Church revitalization is the sovereign work of God's Spirit whereby He restores His people to spiritual and functional vitality that inevitably leads to statistical growth in conversions and scriptural discipleship for His own glory and our own good.

A PARADIGM is a way of thinking. When we do as Romans 12:2 suggests, to renew our minds, and re-aligned our thoughts with God’s thoughts, our lives come into alignment and our paradigm shifts.

What about your journey right now is shifting? Opportunity beckons for each one of us to embrace the shifts that Christ is calling. Every shift that God leads us into will be grounded in the Scriptures and call us to a more biblical life. You can never go wrong when you prayerfully and humbly shift towards God through the Scriptures. My challenge is to call you to embrace the paradigm shifts God is leading you into and watch what God unfolds in and through you, your church and your ministry.

Lead the Change!

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