What Does Church Revitalization Mean?
Every place I go people ask me for a definition of church revitalization. Here is one I have used for at least the last ten years:
Church Revitalization is a movement within protestant evangelicalism, which emphasizes the missional work of turning a plateau or rapidly declining church around and moving it back towards growth. It is lead through a Church Revitalization Initiative, which is when a local church begins to work on the renewal of the church with a concerted effort to see the ministry revitalized and the church become healthy. Church Revitalization means that the local church knew how, at one time previously, to renew, revitalize, and re- establish the health and vitality of the ministry. One of the challenges for the laity in the day in which we live is that they have lost the knowledge of church renewal and no longer want to cultivate the skill sets necessary to see their church experience revitalization. Even sadder is when a congregation does not have the corporate memory that there was a day when the local church was reaching people for Christ Jesus and active as evangelistic witnesses into their community.
Some church revitalization restarts originate from the decline of others due to failure to remain on the threshold of community transitions. Sometimes our memories of how things use to be hinder us from seeing what we could become. I know that death is painful yet Jesus Christ can bring something new out of the sorrow. One critical point from the start is a complete change of lay leadership and direction is a must for this model to be successful.
When we are talking about a true “church revitalization restart," I am not referring to the typical small, struggling church that finds fresh life and growth, nor am I looking at mergers or relocation of existing churches. A church that is a candidate for a church revitalization restart has already sought advice from the local association leader or district leader about disbanding or is almost ready to disbanded. The church has dwindled down to about twenty or thirty survivors who are too tired to continue on. They no longer possess the critical mass necessary to get the church healthy once more. The leadership, which remains, are too tired, too ineffective, and too small in numbers to bring about the changes it will take to make the turn. Those left are at the end of their rope and often want to make decisions that are unwise or lack any chance of success.
A church in need of a restart is a church that must have leadership and resources for outside of itself. Within these churches God often uses the local Association Director of Missions or a district super intendant leader to help bring back to life what I am calling a “church revitalization restart." These leaders will look for healthy churches to parent the restart for a time. When a parenting church or field partner seeks to aid a dying congregation with a solid revitalization strategy, reality must be squarely faced and decisions must be made that are often hard for the declining church. It is hard to admit sometimes but the concept of letting the declining or dying church die is huge if you are going to restart it and make it a growing new work. For good healthy change, there needs to be a spiritual death for that former church. There is mixed opinion in the area of whether a church revitalization restart should close up for a time or continue on. I believe a significant case could and should be made for closing if not for even a short time. Some, to be fair, say that a rebirth of vision is all that is needed. That may be too optimistic and in my individual experience too unrealistic as well.
Next week, I will share some real-life church restart stories.