I believe in church planting, and I also believe in church revitalization. We need to do both if we want to reach North America. I’m particularly interested in revitalization because of the people and property resources available for kingdom work, but I’m not convinced every pastor is ready to lead through a revitalization effort. Here’s why:
- Revitalization requires a long-term vision for a church. It demands that leaders see into the future, seeing what they’ve never seen: a church genuinely reaching non-believers and discipling new believers. Some leaders simply struggle seeing anything beyond their current situation.
- It requires facing reality. This struggle is especially true if the revitalization pastor is the same one who has led the church into plateau or decline. When a call for revitalization is also a recognition of a bad trajectory, that’s hard to face.
- It demands patience. Revitalization is never an overnight process. For leaders who want results yesterday (and who serve in denominations that seems to reward results), the wait required for church turnaround can be too much.
- It requires prayer. More than one study has shown that pastors pray less than they want, and likely much less than their church might assume. Revitalization, though, often demands a miraculous move of God – and that requires consistent prayer. The pastor who begins to crank up his prayer life only during revitalization isn’t likely to maintain that prayer pace.
- It might require asking for help. Many denominations and private consultants are focusing on revitalization – but some pastors are unwilling to ask for help. Doing so, they think, is an admission of failure. (By the way, I encourage these same pastors to look at video-based resources like Dr. Rainer’s resources at ChurchAnswers.com and RevitalizedChurches.com).
- It requires “stick-to-it-ness.” Revitalization often means casting a new vision, getting members on board, overcoming obstacles, and working toward change. That’s a lot of effort with seemingly several opportunities to just “bow out gracefully.” Sometimes it’s just easier to leave than to try to redirect a church that’s already been difficult to lead.
- It might mean hurting people you love. Churches in need of revitalization are often marked by sacred cows, inefficient systems, and an inward focus. Dealing with those issues always means dealing with people, and they’re usually good people. Some pastors would rather plow around these issues – but that approach seldom fixes the problem.
- It requires taking a risk. Let’s face it: some revitalization attempts don’t work. It’s possible a pastor will throw himself fully into this task, only to learn that his efforts make little difference. If this fear invades and dominates a pastor’s mind, he’s probably not ready to lead a revitalizing effort.
So, should a pastor facing these concerns choose not to lead a revitalization? Perhaps, but not necessarily. He may simply need to recognize his tendencies, admit them, ask God to re-direct him when his thinking goes in the wrong direction, and build a team around him that helps to keep him focused. He may not be ready now, but he can get ready with the right support.
Be sure to check out Dr. Lawless’ daily blog posts at www.chucklawless.com. Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.