The Cost of Church Revitalization

I’m amazed by these words by researcher Ed Stetzer in his book Planting Missional Churches: “Church revitalization does not happen much, but it does happen sometimes. I have been struck by how infrequently it actually occurs.”

Talk about sobering! Church revitalization is possible, but it’s rare. According to statistics, most existing churches are in a state of plateau or decline. The good news is that these churches can be turned around, at least in theory. The bad news is that most of them will never pull out of their decline.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it takes to turn a church around. I can think of a lot of churches that are in decline, but I can only think of a few that have turned around. Here’s what they have in common.

First, they got uncomfortable. I’m amazed how easy it is to drift into a comfortable life and ministry. Sadly, comfort and decline go together. Churches that become stable and comfortable have chosen safety, but it’s a safety that leads to death. Churches that die are churches that have forgotten how to take risks and live dangerously in their mission.

In each church turnaround, the church made a decision to begin living on the edge again. This meant taking new, very real risks. Leaders are the first to go here. Leaders put a lot on the line when they choose to lead a church into risk and discomfort.

Second, they confronted dysfunction. Churches have a way of slipping into dysfunction over time. Because it’s scary to confront dysfunction, a lot of it goes unchecked and eventually it becomes unnoticed. The dysfunction eventually begins to choke the church and its ministry. Until the dysfunction is confronted, there’s little hope for a turnaround.

The cost of confronting dysfunction is high. In each church turnaround, people got angry, and many people left. In some cases, the church was almost stripped to its core. It took courage and a willingness to suffer. The payoff was substantial, but there’s no denying that it cost a lot to those who were willing to confront the dysfunction.

Third, they refocused on the gospel and on mission. It’s not enough to get uncomfortable and to confront dysfunction. Churches need a positive focus. In the faith communities I know that have turned around, the churches became focused on two things: the core of the Christian faith, centered on the person and work of Jesus; and the mission to take that news to others.

It’s no wonder that church revitalization is rare. In each case, the turnaround took years, and the pain was significant. Both church planting and church revitalization are necessary, and both are costly and risky. But churches can be revitalized, and the cost, though significant, is more than worth it.

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Darryl Dash

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If someone wants entertainment they're going to the wrong place. Church is not a place for entertainment...or in my opinion a barrage of coffee and donuts. Why are churches today bringing the world INTO them? Then there's the thing with children...age appropriate??? These little guys can pick stuff up in service. Besides Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Mt. 19:14.
 
— Laurie
 
I love the intentionality here as well as the challenge to look at the data. That's missing so many times. I would like to offer a contrarian's take. Church members and regular attenders have so many ways to get information: Announcements, bulletins, social channels, relationships, and email being among the options. But brand new people are likely going to check out the website and that's it. It might be wiser for churches with limited time and resources to focus their website almost exclusively to guests. This group of people isn't looking for a calendar of events but wants to know about regular programs. They probably aren't interested in watching all of the messages but instead may want to preview one of the services. For the times we need church members to go to websites (sign up for camp, join a group, etc), we're probably better off designing and promoting a specific page rather than cluttering up the homepage.
 
— Michael Lukaszewski (@mlukaszewski)
 
A great question! Unfortunately, the Church Unique Kit is no longer available in print form. We are working on revising it and updating it into an online experience, but that project is at least six months out. An alternative is to come to an upcoming certification class. There is one May 15-18 in Houston, and October 23-26 in Atlanta.
 
— VRcurator
 

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