Becoming an effective Church Revitalizer

William D. Henard

One of the frequent questions asked of me regarding church revitalization is, “What are the requirements for being effective in church revitalization?”  Mark Clifton, in his book Reclaiming Glory: Revitalizing Dying Churches, has done an excellent job in outlining the characteristics necessary for a church revitalizer.  I do not want to just repeat his thoughts, but there are several identifying qualities that I believe every pastor must possess to be successful in church revitalization. In the work that I do in training pastors and connecting them with churches in need of revitalization, preparatory assessments are absolutely necessary. Most, if not all, church planting organizations require assessments prior to entering into a church planting agreement. Some are rather intense. The same should be practiced in doing a church restart or a legacy replant.  One of the things that has been recognized in church planting is the fact that not everyone has the mentality, training, or entrepreneurial spirit necessary for being a church planter.  A similar idea holds true for church revitalization in some fashion, but every pastor needs to develop revitalization skills because all churches will need revitalization, change, or adaptation at some point or another (even the church plant).

The skills or attitudes that I would deem essential in church revitalization are the following:

A Love for the Established Church.  

Most churches in need of revitalization have a long, rich history (even church plants eventually).  Within that history one finds sacred cows, multiple generations, traditions, habits, hurts, and a multitude of other traits, some of which are positive and some are negative.  While all of us would love to start a church that would have no problems, quarrels, battles, or issues, the chance of creating such an entity is slim to none.  Churches have problems because people have problems.  Churches experience conflict because they are filled with Genesis 3 people.  We are redeemed, but we are still in the flesh (1 John 1:8; 1 Cor 10:12).  Remember that the only perfect church is the one without people – and that scenario then creates a whole new problem of its own.

Therefore, to be good at church revitalization, a pastor must love the church.  Love the church for who she is as the bride of Christ.  Love the church, warts and all.  What I have seen in many church planters is the impatience of working through established systems, networks, committees, and structure.  They do not have time nor the patience for all the interruptions that come in shepherding an established church.  I do not view that characteristic as a negative.  It just demonstrates the difference between a church planter and a church revitalizer.  If church revitalization is the goal, it demands a love for the established church.  Love the people; love the systems; love the challenges; love the possibilities.  By loving these things, it does not mean that they cannot be changed.  In most cases, it is easier to change something that is loved than that which is unloved.

Love Multiple Generations of People.

Most church plants are targeted plants.  They focus on a certain age-group or demographic.  Their processes, strategy, and structure all point to reaching that target group.  Church revitalization usually involves working with multiple generations, multiple socio-economic groups, and even multiple ethnicities.  A church located in a transitioning community may have a make-up of several types of individuals.  This diversity offers a certain set of challenges that the targeted church does not have.  Think about it.  If a church is made up of those of the Silent Generation (1945 or before), Baby Boomers (1946-64), Gen X ((1965-76), Millennials (1977-95), and Gen Z (1996-present), an incredible set of threats exists for ministry, worship, discipleship, fellowship, and evangelism.  One set of blueprints will not engage all those groups.  Worship wars probably occur or are smoldering.  And the pastor must shepherd the entire flock.

Thus, it demands that the revitalization pastor love multiple generations, backgrounds, make-ups, ethnicities, affinities, and distinctives.  Love the old, young, and everyone in between.  It is learning to connect with people with whom a pastor has little or no connection.  It is determining to love the things that the people love – or do – or cherish.

Love the Ministry.  

While some discussion takes place regarding the call to ministry, I am one who firmly believes in the specific call.  R. Albert Mohler, in a blog post titled Are You Called?, writes, “The great Reformer Martin Luther described this inward call as ‘God’s voice heard by faith.’” It is my conclusion that the call to ministry is sometimes the one thing to which a pastor must hold when he is attacked or discouraged in his ministry (understanding obviously that we always hold onto Christ).  When the pastor asks the question, “Why am I doing this work or serving this church?” the answer is, “Because I am called.”  Ministry is more than a forty hour a week job.  In fact, ministry is more than just a job.  It is a calling, and because it is a calling, it becomes something that a revitalization pastor loves to do.  He loves the church.  He loves going to church, doing church, being the church, and serving the church.  He loves and honors being in ministry, because when ministry gets difficult, love takes over.  A pastor cannot revitalize a church effectively if he does not love what he does and is called to do.

As I believe that church planting is an important calling for the ministry, I am equally convinced that church revitalization is an essential calling for a pastor.  I would challenge every pastor to check out the qualifications for revitalization and see what it takes to help a church return to health.  Remember that healthy churches plant healthy churches.  The two are intrinsically connected.

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