Revitalization: Which Model is Right for You?

Merry Christmas! The last few weeks we’ve been talking about Thom Rainer’s insight into church revitalization. Today we’ll consider a few different kinds of revitalization that he outlines and the ways BGW projects have carried out revitalization. I hope that as we near the new year, these ideas are especially helpful as you consider your goals for 2016.

In my first blog in this series, I discussed that every church needs to practice revitalization – I see it as a way of life, not a last resort when things get tough.

Typically though, there are a handful of different more drastic styles of revitalization. According to Rainer (here and here), here are the top 5:

  1. Acquisitional Revitalization – In this model, a struggling church gives way to another one – asking them to come in and take over. It is also possible to look at this like a Partnership Revitalization, which would look like a few churches coming together and merging, in order to figure out what the future looks like together. BGW sees this model frequently and it makes so much sense.
  2. Covenantal Revitalization – Here, existing members and leaders all vow to make behavioral changes. It is unclear what changes will occur or how they will navigate these changes without any additional resources or leadership. But at least they are committed to something new. The only question in this model is what that is. I have not personally seen this model really create revitalization, but it is a starting point.
  3. Leadershift Revitalization – In those mode of revitalization, the leadership is what changes. Perhaps a new pastor comes on, with new vigor and ideas for what is next. If this is the model you choose, the question is if the congregation committed to the church and its future, even if the leadership isn’t exactly as they had hoped or envisioned. Most entrepreneurs do not want anything to do with leadership. Find ways to involve leaders at all levels without wearing them out with meetings.
  4. Relocational Revitalization – Some churches may decide that their location is what is holding them back. Perhaps it is and moving to a new community will provide space and opportunity for growth. Beware of abandoning a community just because it is challenging though. You must ask if you are leaving because you are called to leave or if you are just running away. We may need to circle these communities in prayer, reach out to people in these communities and start seeing people within our churches living in these communities with their light shining bright.
  5. Organic Revitalization – In this model, a church tries new methodologies and approaches with their existing resources and persons. Rainer believes this is the least successful model because the focus is often on fixing symptoms rather than root issues. I think the hardest thing about this type of revitalization is that it is hard to start. It’s not only an uphill battle since everyone is already used to another way of being, leaders may have a hard time finding time and money to create a new program and practice.

What if there were a sixth option though?

Sustainable Revitalization – Your church may be interested in doing some exciting forms of ministry and aren’t sure how to fund them, or perhaps you are trying to find a way to be invested in your community and think running a business might be a way to do it. Obviously, we have some bias to this model since it is paramount to the financial future of the church. This is called out in detail in my book 10 Tsunamis Impacting Ministries.

Your building could bring significant return on investment to your ministry, if you allow outside groups to use it in a variety of forms. Whether you have a facility now or are interested in building one, there are many options on the horizon. We have guided churches through many different forms of this kind of revitalization, and you could be next. Let’s take a look at a few of their experiences:

A church of ours in Silver Spring, Maryland has had over 400 different public events and over 150 concerts since opening their new building four years ago. Another, in Escondido, California, has over $40,000 per month in income from non-church related rental of their facility!

In addition, we are working with a group in Portland, Oregon that is doing a women’s and children’s shelter. They are purchasing an older motel which will be renovated and used for the shelter. The State of Oregon will be the responsible party for paying the operating expenses which will give the ministry significant cash to fully reach this group of people while paying all of the expenses of their ministry.

We have another project in Rowlett, Texas that has taken excess land and developed two major soccer fields and 10 practice fields on it. Leases net out $120,000 per year and bring thousands to their site on evenings and weekends. The church already owned the infrastructure to make this project happen, they just needed to carry out the vision.

Imagine if you could cut your mortgage and reduce your overhead expenses by two thirds or more?

What if you could interact with more people, offer employment to some of your congregants, and gain sustainable income in the process?

Could this be the key that will unlock revitalization for your ministry?

Now’s the fun part – you get to dream up what this should look like for you. What vision is God putting on your heart?

Don’t let your resources determine your direction, let your direction determine your resources. Could getting involved in a for-profit model of sustainable ministry be a new and exciting form a revitalization that is right for you?

Next week I’ll offer a few more ideas for you, from my newly released book, 10 Tsunamis Impacting Ministries. If you don’t have your copy yet, check out Amazon or iBooks, or get in touch with BGW to make an individual or bulk order.

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Eight Ways Pastors Lay the Groundwork for Church Revitalization

Church revitalization is a growing and controversial topic today. Last week, we discussed some of Thom Rainer’s excellent insight and its practical application. Let’s see what else he has to say.

In a post titled, “Four Major Ways Pastors Hinder Church Revitalization,” Rainer describes how pastors can get in their own way. He touches on the same topic in “Four Kinds of Church Leaders Who Will Not Lead in Revitalization.” Bringing these two posts together and framing them in a constructive light, let us consider today, “Eight Ways Pastors Lay the Groundwork for Church Revitalization.”

  1. Spend time with congregants and visitors who remind you why you’re a pastor – to equip God’s people for service, for the sake of building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-13). Scripture calls you to teach, train, and prepare them for service, not to mope around placating nagging critics!
  2. Constantly call people to the Great Commission! As a visible and regular example to your congregation and community, they will look to you for how to spend their time and money. Does how you use your time and allocate resources engage them in a mission for those who are still lost, or does it leave them comfortably stagnant in the existing congregation?
  3. Be a teaching church from the very start. Offer classes that introduce people to the church and what being a Christian means – and don’t skimp! Be clear about the Christian message, call, and expectations. Don’t try to pull the wool over their eyes, thinking that will help ease them into this whole church thing. They’ll appreciate your clarity and opportunities to ask honest questions.
  4. Prioritize prayer, corporately and individually. Make time for prayer during each worship service, not just a little prayer here or there but prayer that will encourage everyone present to think about the importance of prioritizing it in their daily lives too. Pray not as if it is a means to an end, but because you have been invited into a prayerful relationship with God. In prayer we get to come as we are before God, without anything to offer or hide. This is an incredible gift, especially in that we can do it together! When else do we practice such vulnerability in community?
  5. Take the present moment seriously. The alternative is living anxiously, in the past (either with regret or yearning) or the future (full of fearful hesitation or simply wanting to escape the here and now). The present moment demands something from us though, and if we cannot stand up and face it today, how will we do it tomorrow? It is not that it will get easier or better if we focus on today, it just means we’ll be admitting to God that we need Him, today and every day. It means not relying any longer on ourselves, but on God alone. It means trusting that when we let go of our anxious grasp, Christ will catch us (and that He is in fact already holding us!).
  6. Be honest with yourself and the congregation. We are often guilty of pretending everything is alright when it’s not. But fake smiles are barely convincing to ourselves and are really off-putting to newcomers. Rather than waiting for something to get really bad before talking to the church about it, let them in from the beginning. This is one way that church revitalization can happen as an every day occurrence. Congregants will be much more likely to participate in constant, little shifts and changes if they are kept in the loop, rather than a huge change that comes as a total surprise. If you’ve been stuck in the cycle of denial and hiding things until now, it’s time to start a new and healthy cycle.
  7. Look at ministry as an adventure. Being at a church, whether as staff or a congregant, is not meant to be comfortable. It’s actually fundamentally uncomfortable to learn that it is not all about us but is about God! On a day to day basis though, practice looking for the adventure and choosing it. You don’t need to walk all the way out to the edge of the plank every day, but keep a constant look out, and shift your sails accordingly. Perhaps a good place to start is thinking about new ways to teach your congregation about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and tithing.
  8. Take the long view. While short-term success is exciting, long term health is life-giving. One way to focus on the long view is by creating a handful of simple but meaningful values that you consistently teach. Whether these are written out in the bulletin or you do sermon series or Bible studies focusing on them, create a variety of opportunities for people to engage in them. Perhaps congregants could even be the ones to suggest values and help write the descriptions that go along with them. The bottom line is, these values should be so clear and practiced consistently that anyone who visits the church could go home and tell a friend what the values are and how they could participate in living them out this week.

We’ll talk more next time about the different kinds of church revitalization and what might be right for you. Until then, which of the ideas above jump out to you most?

Church Revitalization: Life, Discipleship, Mission

I’ve long enjoyed Thom Rainer’s valuable insight regarding the Church in the USA. Over the last year, his focus on revitalization has challenged Christians across the country, myself included. As more and more ministry leaders reach out to me with questions, concerns, and hopes, I thought it would be helpful to review some of Rainer’s wisdom with the BGW context in mind.

Rainer believes most churches need some kind of revitalization and most leaders should lead towards it. But I can’t think of a single church I’ve worked with or pastor I’ve met that ought to sit still. I can’t imagine ever telling a church to keep doing things the exact same way they are currently doing them. Even if they are doing an awesome job, they need to be looking ahead, evaluating, shifting, and digging deeper.

Perhaps we could understand church revitalization as a constant way of life. Treading water is not leadership, and is probably even more exhausting than swimming against the current. All our churches must be revitalizing as a part of their daily, weekly, and monthly life. All our leaders must guide others through this constant change, with persistence, vigor, and hope. So what would that look like?

In considering “8 Common Characteristics of Successful Church Revitalizations,” Rainer brings up the importance of pastors forming an alliance with key influencers in their churches. While this is certainly crucial, I believe that if church revitalization were to be more of a constant Christian practice, the whole congregation needs to be a part of the team needed to accomplish it.

Practically speaking, it may be beneficial for pastors to bring together key influencers on a monthly basis for prayer, communal discernment, and evaluation of how changes are going. A monthly board or session meeting doesn’t count; this meeting needs to be completely focused on the future of the church and should be looking at financially sustainable concepts as well as the biblical direction the church is headed. In addition, I would also challenge pastors to involve their entire congregation in this discernment in other ways.

Ask for their prayers, extend invitations for them to share ideas (not just via email or a town hall meeting, but in creative ways too), and engage them in putting some of these ideas into practice! We need to cultivate a culture where congregants will feel able to try anything once, feeling safe to ask questions, provide honest feedback, and think creatively. Church revitalization is an opportunity for discipleship and one that is seldom contemplated or accomplished properly!

Rainer also notes that successful churches are willing to let go of sacred cows, lose members, and experience conflict. While none of this sounds very fun, I can guarantee that it is better than walking on eggshells. I have talked with many pastors who were hesitant to bring up a potentially controversial topic or address a problem, for fear of the potential ramifications. When they’ve finally stood up, the most common result has been congregants thanking them! Remember, if you are seeing an issue or experiencing some sort of problem, the chances are many more people are feeling the same way, and are hoping you’ll step in! If you don’t, they will most likely stay silent about it and drift away, to another church or perhaps none at all.

Finally, Rainer discusses the urgency leaders need to communicate to their churches when trying to promote church revitalization. He writes, “One of the simplest yet most powerful communications of urgency I’ve heard is: ‘We change or we die.’” While this would certainly be a frightening and motivating thing to hear, it isn’t inspiring. I wonder if we could focus on the urgency of the Great Commission instead. What if we were to focus on all those who could be lost for eternity? Let’s worry about them, not ourselves!

Besides, if we were to step out anxiously into our communities, acting out of fear, wouldn’t the surrounding community notice? Rather, let’s double down on our commitment to the church and the community, as we are inspired by Paul’s perseverance in the face of great persecution and Christ’s victory in the face of death itself. This kind of hope will inspire others to join in on what we are doing.

All of this in mind, let us consider the following questions together:

  • What if church revitalization were a way of life? How would that impact your congregation’s perception of change?
  • What leaders, or “key influencers,” in your congregation could set a pattern for others to follow when it comes to revitalization? Who can you talk to about this, this week?
  • What issues have you been nervous to bring up for fear that it might disrupt a sacred cow or scare people away? Do you think not bringing it up could actually be scaring other people away (i.e. first timers)?
  • What inspires you to be a Christian? Do others know your answer? If not, who can you tell this week?