Years ago, when I ran relays and low hurdles, I was always thankful for the device that made a quick start possible. The starting blocks were a valuable tool to spring forward and get that early lead. When it comes to revitalizing a struggling or declining church, I find it beneficial to have a clear and decisive starting point. Too often churches wait until the church is on life support before seeking “medical” attention for their malady. The congregation and the leadership need to begin the revitalization process while the church is alive and vibrant. Seeking to redefine and redesign the group should be accomplished when the church is healthy and has strong resources. “No one will ever arrive at their desired destination unless they first recognize there is a nobler place to be.” Start when you sense the fire is growing cold!
I recommend every church to do an assessment of its mission and ministry effectiveness every year or two, just like you would ask a doctor to perform a physical to remain healthy and productive. The graph to the left reveals the crucial point for this evaluation process – during the height of the ministry and structure stages. You should redesign before the apex of the bell curve. Determine afresh why God planted your group in your locale. Preach on why God planned your church in this location and what the purpose was for its beginning. Then, ask yourself, “Are we still accomplishing that for which Christ Jesus planted us? Are we still living up to His calling in us?” If your answer to these questions is NO, then now is the time to start a renewal process. Get to it! Start now! Seek to make an eternal difference, even if the risk is high and the resistance is almost excruciating. Before the plateau stage is on the horizon, the church must begin redesigning the next three to five-year vision strategy. If the ministry is beginning to be mundane, NOW IS THE TIME!
1. Start when the church family is desperate for the Power of God. Nothing positive will occur when the congregation no longer expects Almighty God to show up and show off! How big are your goals? How big is your God? Plan big with a big God and you will be surprised what God will do.
2. Start when the body is desperate for the Presence and Person of Christ. If the family feels the curse of Ichabod (1 Samuel 4:21 – “The Glory of the Lord has departed…”) is written on their church walls, they will cease inviting friends and family to join them in this slow death march. When the family of God is desperate for the presence and person of Christ, others will see and hear of their zeal and be more inclined to join their quest.
3. Start when the leadership is committed to obtaining the favor of God, more than the accolades of humanity. What is most important to you, pastor? Do you prefer to be empowered by a Holy God, or are you more enamored with the dreams of being in some other church where everything is hunky dory, or the pastor of a larger church or being sought after by a denominational agency? Jesus warned us about such things: (John 12:42-43) Flourish where you are planted for the honor and glory of the Vinedresser (John 15:1-11)! If you are not committed to the right-here-and-now, then let someone else take the reins and lead His Bride to the pastures He has prepared for them.
4. Start when the Congregation is Desperate for Something Different. Don’t change simply for the sake of change. Often when a church family sees that the church is struggling, it is past time for something to be done. But when the congregants are crying out for a change, it is time to storm the gates of the status quo and make the adjustments necessary to get the church back on track. If you are not committed to join them, then find a new set of tracks.
5. Start where you find the anointing and leadership of the Lord. Sometimes we find ourselves getting ahead of God. We may find in a Google search an answer that appears good and innovative, but is it God’s plan? Does our direction keep us focused on the best message ever proclaimed? Is the Gospel the source of our foundation? Do the lost people in our community see our love for God being displayed in our care and ministry for the people outside our church walls? Are we doing what Jesus would do if he were a physical member of the church we attend? If we are not living up to His example, then we need to renew our relationship to the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
6. Start when you are seeing bitterness, anger, apathy, defeat and despair. A negative, complaining and grumbling persona will destroy the church’s future opportunity for healing and revitalization. We need to have a CAN-DO attitude because we serve a WILL-DO God. If we gather together in harmony and unity (Matt. 18:20), desiring to do His Will, He will be there! Remember, we cannot be defeated when we are His! (2 Cor. 4:7-10)
7. Start when the members are beginning to be more concerned with maintaining the church facilities than reaching the lost souls of humanity. A passion for the lost is vital. We are not a museum; we are a ministry! Recognizing people are headed for a God-less eternity should instill a sense of urgency in the body of Christ; for such were we! The church must remain externally focused. Searching diligently for the lost sheep is the example Jesus gave us about His Shepherding Father. May we be known for leaving the building to rescue the perishing.
8. Start on your knees. This is where Jesus began the walk to the Cross. It is the primary starting point! The source of empowerment for Him, for the church and for every revitalization process is the same. Power is spelled P-R-A-Y-E-R!
Isn’t intriguing that the disciples asked Jesus early in His ministry to teach them to pray? They didn’t ask for training in healing, exorcising of demons, multiplying of bread and fish, or the ability to walk on water. They asked, “Lord, teach us to pray…” Prayer is the faucet that opens the pipeline to the blessings of God. If we pray, we can move mountains. If we pray, we can stand strong when the storms rage and when we pray, we capture the eyes, ears and heart of our Heavenly Father. Prayer changes me!
9. Start when you are absolutely convinced the process, the race and the finish are not up to you. Revitalization and renewal are not about the leader, the congregants or the community. It is about obedience to the Great Commandment, the Great Commission and our Great Savior, King Jesus. The process is to get His Bride ready for His return. To assist her in adorning herself with the fullness of the Spirit and being a co-laborer with her in proclaiming the Gospel to the nations. Revitalization is REVIVAL! If it does not lead us to revival, then it is not revitalization – it is merely a Band-Aid on a dead body!