One doesn’t have to be a missiologist to recognize the need for many churches to experience revitalization. One of the more powerful ways to experience church revitalization is through a renewal movement. Study the great awakenings and you will see stories of revitalization birthed in the midst of revival.
Jonathan Edwards’ church at Northampton is a well-known example, but there are thousands of stories from history of churches being revitalized as a part of these larger movements.
But we don’t have to have a great awakening to see churches revitalize, either! Here are some types of renewal movements that can help bring revitalization today.
First, there is a missio-renewal, with churches who are rediscovering the mission of God.
They realize John 20:21 applies to them, "As the father has sent me, even so send I you." This means a renewal of the place and role of mission, as in the missional church.
Many churches are experiencing a missional renewal. They might not use that word, but they're discovering a sense that we're all called on mission.
We see greater engagement in community. We see a greater number of people serving others. We have to be careful, however, because we can see a passion for community engagement and yet not see men and women come to faith in Christ and be changed by the power of the gospel. More about that in Part Two.
Second, we can also talk about a leadership renewal.
Churches and leaders can get excited about the subject of leadership and that's a good thing. I'm a professor of leadership among my roles at Wheaton; I love teaching leadership and see the lights go on. Kotter's eight-step change management process is something I find to be helpful for church leaders. First, he says to create a sense of urgency. Revitalization requires change, and there’s no change of the status quo without urgency.
Leadership interest comes in waves. Leadership represented a huge emphasis in the 80s and the 90s. I think that we are seeing more interest in the topic again today— hopefully with careful, biblical discernment.
Leadership renewal helps leaders in a specific time and place to be more effective in leading churches through the change necessary for revitalization to occur.
Third, there is a spiritual formation renewal.
Thank God for a spiritual formation renewal. This looks different in different traditions, but we can all agree that our growth in Christ through the Spirit is critical for revitalization to happen.
It can look differently in different traditions, but the spiritual formation renewal simply means the church goes deeper in discipleship.
Fourth, evangelistic renewal also has to be central to what we discuss.
When churches struggle, often the first thing a church loses is often its focus on evangelism. Yet, that’s the very renewal a church needs to revitalize. One of the clear markers of a church that has been plateaued or declining for years and is now experiencing revitalization is the evangelistic growth it experiences both through a number of new believers and through a growth in church members reaching out with the gospel.
More in Part Two tomorrow.
Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange team helped with this article.