The Church That Dreams Again

I love the local church.

There are no caveats to that statement. I love the local church.

I know. Church members can be difficult. Criticisms abound. Ministry is messy. Church leaders often wake up on Monday mornings and think about quitting.

But I still love the local church.

My Path of Love for the Local Church

I have dedicated the past three decades of my life trying to serve the local church. I have served as pastor of four churches, interim pastor of many more churches, dean of a seminary focused on the local church, president of a consulting firm dedicated to the local church, and now president of an organization providing resources to the churches.

Nearly all my 24 books were written to help the local church.

But I should do more. I really have not done enough.

My Desire to Help Local Churches in the Days Ahead

I am seeking God to find the best ways to do more. Indeed, I will be announcing more initiatives in the near future. I pray they will be done in God’s power, not some feeble attempt of my own.

In the meantime, I am continuing to study those churches that were in doldrums, decline, and despair that are now making an exciting gospel impact. What did God do in those churches to guide the turnaround? What can we learn from them? Are there common elements in revitalized churches?

One factor I can share with you at this point is simple but profound. In each of those churches, a group of leaders began to dream again. They began to dream about what God could do through them. They began to see God’s possibilities for impacting the community. They asked God how they could be a part of His dream and His vision for a revitalized church. They stopped looking at their own limitations and began to see God’s possibilities.

My Humble Request of You, the Reader

Here is where I ask for your help. Do you know of a church that has dreamed again? Can you share a brief story of how that took place?

Would you share with me how I can best help your church to dream again? I am moving in that direction, but I want to hear clearly from God and God’s people.

So I conclude this brief post with two requests:

  • Please share any stories you have about churches that have dreamed again and, as a consequence, seen their ministries and impact revitalized.
  • Please tell me how I can best help you and your church. Here would be a simple exercise. If you and I were to have coffee together for a few hours one morning, what would you want me to share?

You can respond to me via the comments on this post, or you can email my social media director: I will read every comment and email and ultimately, respond to all of them.

Thank you for hearing my burden and my call. And thank you for being the great readers of this blog that you are. You have made this blog an incredible community.


  1. jdougn says

    Rainer’s quote: “But I should do more. I really have not done enough.” Begs the question, are you doing what God has called you to do? If so, how is it that you are not doing enough and who decides how much you should do?

  2. Abel Perez says

    Thanks so much For what You are doing, Our Lord is already helping to pastoral health throug your writing, when we can read about what is in our minds some time, but not so clear. Please keep doing it. I wish there was an Spanish version, at least of your blog. I’m a bivocational Baptist pastor in Panama. Thanks

  3. Mark Dance says

    When I think of revitalized churches, I picture the faces of several revitalized lead/sr pastors. I have been through the burnout to breakout journey and am currently helping several other pastors through it. Under your leadership, LifeWay is becoming a much greater voice of hope for pastors and churches that have lost hope.

    The bottom line to helping churches dream again is helping pastors dream again. Thank you for loving the local church and the pastors who lead them. Thank you for being the voice of hope for pastors who have lost their hope and vision.

  4. Mark Lindsay says

    Dr. Rainer,

    Love it! God bless you for your zeal in this regard!

    For God to do “far more abundantly beyond all we ask or think” invites us to dream. Who are typically the dreamers among us? Are they not the young believers, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who “naively” believe God can do anything through His followers, and earnestly wants to? I believe that this is a primary attraction of the “attractional” church. Yet, young believers in those churches are mostly living off the outrageous dreams of others. How many attractional mega-churches are actually listening to them? They have the millennial pegged, for sure, and they are exciting places to be, but there is no real engagement of giftedness there on a broad scale.

    I feel confident that you would agree the place for that is in the ten-thousands of ‘typical” churches scattered across our land. Is it not time to empower these precious young people in our own “typical” churches and let them dream!

    We have empowered three groups of young adults in our church to dream about how to connect their community to Christ. While they are still taking baby steps (and isn’t it sad that “dreaming” in our churches requires baby steps) you ought to see the innovative ideas they are coming up with, and who they are seeing as their community. It is exciting to see, and it has their dreams and fingerprints all over it. Praise God!

    Blessings brother, for your work!


    • Thom Rainer says

      I absolutely love your enthusiasm and leadership Mark. Keep me in the loop. I really want to hear what the young adults will dream next in your church.

  5. says

    Thanks for all that you do. I have been reading your books and have found great value to your findings about churches, growth, evangelism, and discipleship. I participated in the Transformational church training at Lifeway, which is an excellent conceptualization of the central factors that describe the process of change that can enliven a church. Personally, I have been a pastor for 30+ years and have been an avid student of organizational behavior. What I have found is central thematic links that are addressed in much of the literature on church growth that target a subset of churches, new church plants, mid sized churches, and larger congregations. However with the growing trend toward churches declining and the high number of churches that do not fit in the bell curve that literature addresses, it may be that there is compelling reasons to visit the culture of small and declining churches. It may be that these churches that are devoutly living out what there culture has brought them to understand as a purpose for existence and are at odds with the 21st century culture around them. While spiritual change is essential to a movement of God within declining and small churches, the process of engaging culture within individual congregations and having the capacity to lead a church through a process of changing values is a daunting task for many people. Too often pastors are well equipped to be diagnosticians, but not well trained in how to engage a church in a process that helps the church body to engage with and take ownership for change. I am presently in a place such as that in North Central Florida that is deeply entrenched in southern culture and one of the issues of further concern is the lack of assistance from denominational sources. The interest is primarily placed upon new work, which of importance to future growth, However, a challenge in declining, small churches is the ability of the church to obtain help and leadership that is aware, equipped, and willing to commit to a process of creating change. There is muck more I could add here, but time and space will not permit. I would enjoy participating in directed research and input about this important issue to the kingdom of heaven and the future of the churches that are struggling for life.

    Best Regards,

    Ronnie L. Murrill

    • Thom Rainer says

      Ronnie: You have some incredible insights. I can really tell you know the pulse of many struggling churches. Please do me a favor. We will be contacting all email recipients about new initiatives in the next few months. If you have not done so already, sign up for my email at the blog site. You have much to offer. I appreciate your heart.

  6. Mark Dance says

    Since you asked for revitalization stories: In Arkansas, I can think of several African American led churches in the Delta that are going through a revitalization process with the help of the Arkansas Baptist Convention. Some of these churches are S. Baptist and some are not.

    Closer to home, is the rebirth of an independent church called “ROK Church” that joined our Southern Baptist Convention a couple of years ago and literally moved into our downtown church facility in Conway. They went from a life-support situation of about a dozen people and a mounting debt, to over a hundred on Sundays and debt free. The pastor’s name is Charles Simmons.

  7. TJ says

    Here’s my struggle that I would love any advice with. When a church has really been asleep and not dreaming but finally begins to change, there are always detractors. There are some who fear change or who were invested in the old ways and I understand them and have a sense of how to respond to them. But the people I don’t know what to do with are the people who felt like Jeremiah, calling for change when no one listened. They wanted change for years but now that it’s starting, they can’t acknowledge or celebrate it and are just upset that even more change hasn’t happened yet. How do I respond to someone like that? They want good things for the church but aren’t satisfied unless it all comes at once and in the process, they harm and slow down the progress that is coming.

    • Thom Rainer says

      TJ –

      Here is a suggestion: Offer that ambitious group a special ministry project for them to organize, lead, and execute. Perhaps they could establish a relationship with a local public school and ask how they could help them. The possibilities are endless. The key is to channel their enthusiasm and holy impatience in a positive direction.

      • TJ says

        Thanks for the suggestion. I should have added, I’m about a year and a half into a revitalization work in the North East. I have a very realistic idea of how long that will take but it’s sometimes hard to convince people that it won’t happen overnight. I can now really see how the toughest moments as a revitalization pastor are when you’re getting pressure from both sides in opposite directions.

  8. says

    After a severe leadership crash, our church nearly closed. It took intentional restructuring, time for healing, bold decisions, and ultimately a decision to merge with another local church that allowed us to thrive again. God gave us confidence and clarity to keep moving forward. Sometimes that is not the case. We are now relocated, reaching new people in our community, and humbled by the fact that we are able to see cool stuff like this again. I wrote a book on our experience called Church Sucks: But it Doesn’t Have to Stay That Way.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Scott –

      Thank you for the story and for the hope. I keep hearing of churches in a turnaround that either merged or were acquired by another church.

  9. says


  10. says

    Dr. Rainer, I know my son, Andy, and I have commented numerous times about our church, the changes and the impact it is making in the Chicagoland area. Our story amazes me every day. In 2006, when our family joined our church out of obedience to God and nothing more. We disliked almost everything about it. But honestly, the story began a little before we arrived. The deacons and leaders had asked the Sr. pastor to resign for reasons I am not aware of. Eventually, the associate pastor was hired as the Sr. pastor. He and the staff began to dream again. God gave them a vision for a church that created environments to help people disconnected from God and the church take steps to find Christ and grow in their relationship with him. Over time, the staff shared their vision and captured the imagination and dreams of a stale and dying church. We sold our building, rewrote our constitution, got rid of programs that did not support our new vision, changed our name, did mobile church for 2 years and completed 100’s of hours in labor to building a new building. We opened the doors last Easter. Since that day over 1,000 new people have walked in our doors. Lives have changed. Professions of faith have been made. A community is being impacted and now we are extending that globally. Last May 4 of us went to Thailand on a mission trip. Since that time, 3 women went to Nigeria to serve, our pastor and his son went to Rwanda, John and Blake (our youngest went to Honduras) and a new team of up to 24 people is forming to return to Rwanda in the fall- most of those at the team meeting are new to the faith and new to our church. The service overseas is also changing how we live and serve here. The church we were in 2006 in no way resembles the church we are now. This all began with deacons and church leaders stepping up and making the hard decision and then our new pastor kneeling before God and seeking His face and vision for us. I would love to tell you more or connect you with our pastor. Feel free to email me any time.
    As far as what you can do, I think that helping pastors to create vision, but more than that helping pastors and staff to learn how to communicate vision and the process of change to congregations and then being available to help them through the inevitable hard moments and heart ache that happens because, although our story is one of success, it was not easy. There was much loss and pain, but the journey and joy of staying the course faithfully and in love has been worth it all. Thanks for caring for the local church. I agree. I love the church with all my heart. She is the most beautiful thing in the whole wide world. Amy

    • Thom Rainer says

      Amy: That is an incredible story. I would love to hear more in the near future. And thanks for giving me some great ideas how I can help churches. It’s always great to hear from you.

  11. says

    The best revitalization strategy that I saw work was implemented by the Christian Church. They would totally shut down churche’s for extended periods of times, rebrand, remodel, regroup & relaunch. A lot of these churches had great pieces of property in prime places but no people. So they would inject new life with a new leader. Almost a church plant but fully funded and no facility worries.

  12. says

    My church in East Tennessee is a 140+ year old church that has been a small church and done things in a small church way. Southern Baptist by doctrine and we now average around 150 in Sunday School.
    In a bold move for us we build a new building in 2005 with new worship and educational space – the good news. Bad news is we are already out of education space using the old and new facilities.
    Our church went through a painful pastor transition about 6 years ago, but our new pastor is a man who is responsive to the Holy Spirit and is developing church discipline and trying to follow the Spirit in what it means to be a local New Testament church. We are in the middle of redeloping our bylaws that have not been adjusted since the 1930’s.

    I say all that as a background to my question. I am the volunteer Sunday School director and want so badly for our church to follow the Sunday School model of Ministering, Teaching and Reaching.

    My question is – how do I properly recruit and train Sunday School leaders?

    I have heard from other SS leaders and church members that they consider the SS director to be a glorified attendance taker and curriculum orderer. I feel God has so much more for this leader in the church.

    Asking for SS leader’s time is always hard during the week, and Sundays are full. At 48 years old, I have been in my roll since October, and feel that the roll I want to pursue as an engine for change and setting direction is not always received well by the more established teachers.

    I have been at this church since I married into it in 18 years ago. We were a sleepy church till the pastor controversy and since then we have been on a few highs, and just as many deep lows. I want to be a leader who can righly establish and grow our church to be more Biblically healthy through Sunday School.

  13. Wade Phillips says

    My church, Northcrest Baptist in Meridian, Mississippi, had fallen on hard times about eight years ago. After growing from a membership of less than 100, to one of about 3,000 in a 25 period, we began to decline about a decade ago. By the time our pastor retired in 2006, average Sunday attendance was probably less than 500, with Sunday School attendance even lower.

    After our pastor retired, we hired a transitional pastor, who led us for year. It was a time of soul-searching, and deciding what kind of church we were going to be. We had two connected issues that I think were preventing us from being everything we needed to be. We had too much debt, and we were not doing missions. Actually, We weren’t doing missions because we had too much debt. So our transitional pastor emphasized both – get out of debt, and get on mission.

    A year later, we hired our longtime staff evangelist to be our pastor, and we’ve been rolling since then. We finally paid off our debt, and our missions giving has increased every year. We have established mission works in Costa Rica, The Philippines and Ukraine. Our church has also gotten heavily involved in local missions, including a weeklong summer mission in our city where about 300 of minister to people in numerous ways.

    In the midst of all this, we’re growing again. Eight years ago, 500 people would be a huge attendance Sunday. Now, we’re averaging about 700-800. Our Sunday School averages about 600. Our budget has almost doubled, with 15-20% of it going to missions.

    Our pastor has emphasized several things that I think have made a huge difference. They are listed below, not in any particular order.

    1 – Missions
    2 – Small Groups
    3 – Hospitality
    4 – Expository Preaching

    It’s fun watching a church “believe again.” I realize not many people get to experience this, especially these days.

  14. says

    Dr. Rainer,

    In August of 2012 my family moved from Phoenix AZ to the southern area of New Jersey to relaunch a church that was about to close the doors. We were very happy on the outside in Phoenix at the church that we were serving at but knew that there was more that God had for us. I would have never dreamed 21 months later it would have been this incredible.

    When we arrived there were about 85 people, no salary and no morale but there was a dream that we could reach people that were far from Jesus, equip Christ followers and go to the nations with the gospel. In Oct. of 2012 while living in Ocean City, NJ, a barrier island were had to evacuate due to Hurricane Sandy that was on a track to come right over us. As Hurricane Sandy came to shore our communities were devastated and as a small church we had a choice to make, either worship as usual …. 4 songs and a cute message or get into the community and actually be the hands and feet of Jesus. Well, once we made the choice to get out and be the ‘little church that could’ and the rest was history. We worked for 3 months flat helping the community rebuild and it totally changed the church from looking inwards and now focusing on the needs of the community.

    In 21 months we have grown 6.5x from 85 to a little over 550 people with a church that is now a vibrant growing part of the community. This is pretty radical growth for the north east and it simply comes down to a group of people that started to dream again that God truly could touch our community and that we could be a vibrant part of this community. We have renamed the church from New Covenant Community Church to Fusion Church (A Place Where God and Life Come Together).

    Currently we are building out unfinished areas of the building as fast as we can and I have even given up my office (the sacred room for the pastor) to be used for additional kids rooms. the church applauded when I made that announcement.

    We are seeing people that are far from Jesus come to know Him as their Savior and many, many dechurched Christians beginning to fall back in love with Christ!

    We have seen so many miracles since we stepped out the boat 21 months ago – a church that had never met me pretty much paid my salary for a year, we were given a newer house in the community by a business owner that does not even attend the church, seen huge checks given to the church by local water companies as ‘reimbursements’ and the list of miracles goes on.

    Churches truly can learn to redream!

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