A Church Revitalization Lesson
When a local church refuses to trade its fear of closing the door for a desire to see life come back within the congregation, the church revitalization experience will end promptly as soon as the danger of death has been eliminated. What happens next may mean another recycle of decline until it is bad again. Churches only experience renewal when their people experience renewal! Unless a churches leadership wants renewal, it will not happen. There must be a commitment to lead the church towards revitalization. If not nothing will be changed. Church renewal must shift from a few being interested to eventually a full effort of the entire congregation. Revitalization is not a secret journey but a public one.
Preachers of the Word are called by God and even with their giftedness renewal will not happen unless the laity is willing to experience a new and better journey. If the laity refuse to change, refuse to repent of unconfessed sins which are keeping the church from experiencing God’s blessings, and refuse to allow the shepherd to lead the flock, there will be no impetus for renewal.
When a church is more interested in self- conservation, it develops a barrier towards the community it is called to serve, which declares our needs are more important than your needs. Many a church is not interested in serving it’s community until it is in trouble and then it is done for survival reasons. People will see right through this approach and feel cheapened.
Key Paths for the Local Church
A key factor in congregational decline is the failure to introduce new members to disciple making and equip them in the disciple- making mission of the church. Observe a few key paths for the local church seeking revitalization and renewal:
- Place a larger emphasis on Disciple making!
- Show your faith in and to your community (Acts 2:42)!
- Share your life within the community (2 Cor. 8:3-5)!
- Remember the church is people and they are the key to renewal (1 Thess. 2:8)!
- Equip others for the harvest field.
- Develop new leaders for leadership!
- Move past self-preservation to self-sacrifice for the cause of Christ!
- Avoid copying others renewal efforts and begin listening, discerning, and responding to the Lord’s leading.
- Develop ways for the laity to give themselves to others.
- The church must face the current realities of its ministry. Truth is not an enemy of the new.
- Discover what has changed around your ministry area during the last 20 years. Most churches do not know.
- Help your people dream a little about what could be.
- Do not wait too long to begin to revitalize your church.
Understand that there is a huge cost involved in church revitalization and it will take a combined effort of laity and ministers to see renewal come to fruition.
Items to Be Addressed in Renewal
You must have a “begin the journey point in time” with church revitaliztion. It is easier to go to meetings and talk about church revitalization than to begin working in church revitalization. If you are not careful the task force can spend more time talking about what “we are going to do” than getting to doing it. The Church must begin to address some key issues for revitalization:
- The need for new initiatives (new avenues)!
- The need for new entrance points into the church!
- The updating of present ministries and programs!
- How the church will care for its new and present participants!
- The long-term development of disciples!
- The present and future staff equipping!
- How the laity will be matured in the faith and enlisted in the work of the ministry.
- The examination of any areas of work that are becoming dead weight to renewal efforts.
How to let go of ministries, which are no longer serving the church.
Remember groups leading ministries, which are left on their own, will usually justify the plans that long-time members have invested in regardless of their outcome for growth.
Church Revitalization is a long distance relay run by marathoners not sprinters. You must be willing to invest a minimum of 1000 days into church renewal. Anything less, do not get involved.
Ideas for the Closing Service
Use those who have been there the longest. Consider using some type of candle ceremony asking the oldest (length of membership) members to light a candle then working down to the newest. This is a very significant way to symbolize that their ministry meant something and that they were appreciated. Conclude the worship service with great hymns of faith and the Lord’s Supper. Then move into a period of “Starting Something New” led by the local Association Director of Missions.
Such a service is not easy to develop and it takes much thought before that final day of worship. Even your weakest unattached church member will find that they have memories of the former church. Questions the weeks before that allow those members of the church that is closing to vocalize their feelings will be helpful. Some questions you might want to utilize might be:
- What are your personal memories of the ministries from this church?
- Is there something harder about letting go than you had expected?
- What individual recollections would you share with fellow members during these final days?
- In your view what were some of the most historical events that were part of our churches life timeline?
- What were the significant events, which took place in the lives of the children of the church?
- How were the youth impacted within the community through this church?
- During each pastor’s tenure what were the significant events, which took place?
- What were the ministries, which impacted the women of the church most?
- How were the men impacted though the church?
There are probably many more questions, which you could come up with, but this serves as a means to prime the pump of your creative memory to begin thinking about your church as it moves towards closing and a restart.
Ideas for the initial restart service
When a church revitalization restart launches its first initial it is vital that new direction and tempo is set. If this is the former declining church with a new hip name you will be in trouble from the start. This is a time for the church revitalizer to share a new and compelling vision for the restart that is very different from the former rapidly declining church. During the great day of vision it is wise for the new church to ask for members to join the church as founding members and prepare to go though a new members class as an initial step towards commitment and membership. This is a way for those, which were in the former church whom decide that this new restart is for them to join right away. For those stakeholders who are not so sure once the first month of joining is over they would need to join the church in accordance with the policies set forth by the new church.
As the Church Revitalizer give the restart participants constant hope. Your compassion for the former church members, which join with you and your passion for the vision God has given you will be reassuring during the launch season for the restart. You as the leader must be the provider of hope in a church revitalization restart.