Why Church Revitalization Efforts Fail

It is easy to talk about church revitalization. It is a little harder to acknowledge that your church needs it. It is even harder to see revitalization become a reality. While there can be many contributing factors, there are several common reasons why church revitalization efforts fail.

1- Too little, too late

Some churches wait too long to make needed changes. It’s not that they are not making some of the right changes, it’s that the changes they are making are long overdue and not significant enough.

If your church has already lost the majority of its younger families, revitalization is going to be especially challenging. If your church needs revitalization and you are not interested in making significant changes, don’t expect results. Doing too little, too late makes revitalization especially challenging.

2- Lay leadership is not on board

If the lay leadership is not on board revitalization will not happen. Why? The church membership typically listens to the lay leadership. Your lay leaders have influence and pull within the congregation. If they are not for actively pursuing revitalization, it will not happen.

 3- Church membership is resistant

There are times when the lay leadership is on board and willing to pursue revitalization, but the membership is still resistant. Revitalization is a church effort. While it does begin at the top, the members can derail the effort.

4- Trust in their own efforts

Decisions have to be made in order for a church to experience revitalization. However, one of the dangers is to trust our abilities to make adjustments more than we trust God to work. Revitalization is not just a practical issue, it is a spiritual issue as well.

5- An unwillingness to make difficult decisions

It is not uncommon for a church to realize they need revitalization, but then refuse to make the difficult decisions that can make revitalization a possibility. It’s as if the church wants the results of change without having to make the changes. If our churches are unwilling to make difficult decisions we will not experience revitalization.

6- You are more concerned with keeping people than reaching people

This is tough. Pastors never want people to leave their churches. However, for revitalization to take place, you have to be more concerned with reaching people than you are with keeping people. Revitalization will never happen if the fear of losing people stands in the way of difficult decisions being made.

Maybe your church realizes its need for revitalization. If so, be on guard for these things that can derail your efforts.

How to Know if Your Church Needs Revitalization

Some churches need church revitalization, and they know it. Many other churches need revitalization, and are clueless or in denial about it. How do we know when a church needs revitalization? Here are 6 things that may indicate your church needs revitalization.

1- There are little (or no) stories of life change.

If there are no stories of life change, what is your church actually accomplishing? If there are no adults being saved and baptized, no marriages being restored, or no examples of addictions being broken, it may be that your church is not impacting lives and needs to experience revitalization.

2- There is an unhealthy leadership structure.

Unhealthy leadership and decision-making structures can repel younger individuals and families, they can slow down progress, and they can destroy revitalization efforts. What are some examples of an unhealthy leadership or decision-making structure? The Senior Pastor operating as the sole decision-maker (dictator) can be unhealthy. A committee-led structure is unhealthy. Being led by strong personalities in the church is unhealthy. A church cannot be revitalized without a healthy leadership structure.

3- You are too busy to live on mission.

Some churches think that the way to be healthy is to do more. So as the church begins to decline, they add programs, ministries, and events. While this may give the appearance of health, it actually can be a significant hindrance. Churches that experience revitalization always make the move to do less, not more.

4- You care more about your church than the Kingdom of God.

This is seen most clearly by the church being internally focused. When decisions are made based solely on how they affect members, with little or no thought given to whether or not those decisions enable the church do what God has called the church to do (spread the gospel), the church is unhealthy. They have lost sight of why they exist, and need revitalization.

5- The majority of your growth has come from people joining from other churches.

If the majority of your church’s growth over the past years has been from people transferring their membership to your church, then you’re not really seeing growth — you’re simply sheep swapping. When I was entering pastoral ministry I was told that if people get mad and leave their church to join yours, it’s just a matter of time before they get mad at your church and leave to join somewhere else. A church that is filled with (formerly) disgruntled church members, people who have transferred from other churches, and people who were born or raised in the church needs to experience revitalization. Why? They are not reaching people. It’s that simple.

6- Your church lacks young families.

Please do not misunderstand me. Churches need senior citizens. The church needs their wisdom, their experience, their involvement, their encouragement, and their presence. However, if there are no younger families, the church has no future. If a church has very few young families it is probably because the church is not structured to actually reach young families. This is a sign that there is a lack of health.

You may notice that I did not include declining attendance and finances on this list. While they may be indicators that revitalization is needed, it is possible to have steady attendance and steady finances and yet be in desperate need of revitalization.

Understand that revitalization is never something that happens accidentally. It is always the result of difficult and intentional decisions to move toward becoming more healthy. The church that refuses to make those decisions is in essence making the decision to slowly die.

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Why We Should Focus on Church Revitalization

Church planting has been somewhat trendy as of late. This is a wonderful thing. Stats tell us that new churches often do a better job of reaching the unchurched than do established churches. I pray this church planting boom continues. However, I would love to see the focus on church revitalization reach equal popularity. There are several reasons why I think this needs to be a focus.

1- It allows us to be good stewards of the property churches already own.

A very practical reason church revitalization should be a focus for us is that churches (even ones that are dying) already own buildings and property. Instead of seeing these facilities torn down or sold to developers, let’s focus on revitalizing these churches so that they are once again infused with life and energy.

This is a stewardship issue. Let’s not ignore the resources that already exist because the current church culture is challenging. Let’s revitalize the churches and leverage those resources for Gospel advancement.

2- It paves the way for church plants to merge with an established church.

Those who are planting churches are often looking for a place to meet. Dying churches are often concerned about empty facilities. Church revitalization brings the two parties to the table. In the past week I have heard of this exact thing happening multiple times in my region of the country. What a wonderful opportunity.

This is something that church planters have to be open to. It is also something that established churches have to be willing to pursue. But when both groups get excited about the gospel, revitalization can happen.

3- It is an avenue of discipleship.

Those in the struggling church need to be discipled. They need to be shown how their inward focus is standing in the way of them making an impact for Christ. This is not just about leveraging resources to reach the unchurched; this is also about discipling the churched. Revitalization allows that to happen.

4- It can be a great testimony to the community.

Imagine living in the same area for thirty years. Over that time you have seen a once thriving church, slowly decline and struggle. It is now on the verge of death. But something begins to happen. There is a renewed energy. There is growth. There is excitement. There are ministries started and new people coming. You learn through the grapevine about the revitalization effort that has taken place by way of churches partnering together to help this congregation become mission-focused. What a testimony that is.

Far too many people in our communities have watched churches die. It is about time they see churches revitalized.

I love church planting. But I also love church revitalization. When we pursue both, we will see a greater impact.

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