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?