Third, most revitalization does not actually work at first.
Another thing about church revitalization most leaders miss is that most revitalization does not actually work at first.
Church revitalization is often a process of two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes, it’s two steps forward, two steps back. And sometimes, it doesn’t work at all. This is not always due to the resistance of people, although this can play a major role.
You need to become accustomed to slow, steady success with frequent failure.
Revitalization doesn’t usually occur with a sudden swarm of new believers zealous for sharing the gospel knocking down the doors of your church. It’s slow, steady success with frequent failure. It’s making the right choices, helping organize things well, leading from a spiritual perspective, and helping the church through revision.
Revitalization is frequent failure. There are many things that don’t work in church revitalization. If that freaks you out, you are probably going to really struggle with church revitalization.
One church where I led as interim pastor years ago was at a crisis point. It was near bankruptcy, but we were able to turn it around and get it healthy again. Then, the church hired a pastor and the pastor came in with an attitude of “I’m here and this is my plan.” He neither wanted to love the people nor wanted to walk with the people. His ideas shattered some of the unity we had worked towards as a church.
In the end, he got discouraged because he couldn’t figure out why the people weren’t doing what he wanted. Here’s the key that he missed: Revitalization usually doesn’t work at first. It’s a series of struggles, sometimes failures, and then breakthroughs and successes.
It may seem strange, but knowing that a lot of the things you will do are going to fail helps you. You’re free to hold your ideas a little more loosely when you know some of them can and will fail.
Fourth, most revitalizers change the wrong things first.
My experience has been that a lot of people who are going through revitalization have gone to seminary or Bible college where they were taught that what they needed to do was to purge the membership and restructure the leadership. This is a terrible idea.
There might be a time for that, but this is not the most urgent need. Instead, start by leading spiritually. Change things like your evangelistic capacity. Start reaching people. Help your church members get in better community. Build small groups or revitalize your Sunday School. Generate a sense that we’re doing something that makes a difference. Don’t start by cutting people.
Fifth, leadership is the most common failure point.
Most church revitalization failures are leadership failures. This is not because people are bad and didn’t try. Too often, it’s just because we didn’t walk through with the necessary leadership a proper path to make revitalization successful.
Keep in mind that we usually move two steps forward, one step back. What happens is that leaders give up too soon. They may get frustrated and give in, and the end result is that they don’t see the revitalization come.
This is not to say that there is never a time to give up. Sometimes there is. But oftentimes, people give up too quickly. They confuse their frustration with God writing off their church.
We need to patiently endure as leaders. Don’t give up.
There is a great need for people who are about seeing the church of Jesus Christ revitalized. If we love our people well and walk through revitalization together, we can help our congregations get back on track and back on mission.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.