People like to lump church planters and church revitalizers together. However, condensing them down to a single category can be unhelpful. What makes a pastor or a church planter great at what they do is not always the same as what allows a church revitalizer to excel. Church revitalizers must have a unique set of skills that are necessary for them to be successful in their roles. Below are five necessary characteristics for a church revitalizer.
First, church revitalizers must have a willingness to have longevity
When it comes to church revitalization, a lot of people give up too soon and too fast. A church revitalizer needs to have a willingness to have longevity because it will take time to work through some things. People can be resistant to change, and church revitalizers must be willing to wait those people out.
They must be willing to walk slowly with people along the journey towards revitalization. In the vast majority of cases, a church isn’t going to spring into new, vibrant life overnight.
Second, church revitalizers must have relational patience
If you’re planting a church, you do not necessarily have to be relationally patient. A church planter can come into an area and do their thing, and if people don’t respond, they can move on. But in church revitalization, it is essential to be relationally patient. Church revitalizers need to take time with people and love people who don’t always agree with them.
They must remember that a church member disagreeing with them is not the same thing as disagreeing with God. There will be people who have different views, approaches, and philosophies. A church revitalizer needs to have the patience to take time to weigh all of those opinions. They have to learn how to love the entire congregation well, including those they disagree with. That takes a great amount of relational patience.
Third, church revitalizers must have leadership muscle
A church revitalizer needs to be willing to exercise their leadership muscle. They need to function well as leaders because they will have to get a group of people to work together and figure out how to get to their goals. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t solely preach your way to church revitalization.
It takes more than simply preaching. Church revitalizers need to exercise some of their leadership gifts. They need to invest in their leadership skills – take some classes or receive other forms of leadership training to keep expanding their leadership abilities. Good leadership is key for successful church revitalization. If there isn’t good leadership, most of the time the end result will be frustration.
Fourth, church revitalizers must have spiritual awareness
Church revitalization is a spiritual task. Revitalizers can’t lead only organizationally. They must also lead spiritually. Not everyone is going to respond well to spiritual leadership. That’s okay. The people you want on a revitalization team need to be spiritual leaders.
At one church I served at, the leadership team had been elected to their positions and many were business leaders. When I came in, I pushed them to develop as spiritual leaders of the church. I was very up front about it. We met together monthly and I asked them to read the Bible and discuss the Bible passages they had read. We memorized verses together. We talked about each other’s spiritual lives and the ways we had been sharing the gospel. I was working on generating an awareness that, in a church, leadership is a spiritual issue.
Within a short amount of time, about a third of the people on the leadership team stepped down. This was not on bad terms, but they had simply decided they had been on the board because they were business leaders, and they weren’t comfortable in a role as spiritual leaders.
It’s okay for people to respectfully step down as change is introduced. When you lead spiritually, not everyone is going to stay. We need to do it anyways. So church revitalizers need to have an awareness that church revitalization is a spiritual issue and they need to be okay with and ready for some people to step down from such a position.
Fifth, church revitalizers must have organizational ability
Organizational ability is essential for every endeavor when you’re going to grow a church past 100 or so members. If church revitalizers don’t have organizational gifting, they at least need to have the ability. Church revitalizers will need to reorganize things while working collaboratively with others.
Many times, inexperienced church revitalizers want to completely change the organization. They go and change things such as the bylaws and the congregation gets irritated. Instead of destroying what the organization had in place beforehand, try to take the framework of the old organization and adjust it to be more effective.
Create some systems that will raise up more leaders. Work together with others in the church to reach out to the community in new ways. Ultimately, revitalizers who cannot organize well are probably not going to get very far.
These five characteristics – willingness to have longevity, relational patience, leadership muscle,
spiritual awareness, and organizational ability – are necessary to church revitalizers. But even if a church revitalizer possesses all five of these, we must be careful to remember that revitalization is typically a slow process.
Oftentimes, we will move two steps forward and one step back. Whatever our strengths or weaknesses, we must patiently endure as we pursue renewal in our churches.
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.