In a day when 90 percent of all churches are plateaued or in decline, one of the most urgent needs we face is finding a way to revitalize existing churches. Church planting is an important strategy, but simply to abandon thousands of existing churches to eventual death is a callous disregard of kingdom resources and opportunities.
In a recent article, Ed Stetzer offers several useful steps to helping churches turn toward a new, vital future. Here are three of the most important ones:
Define your present reality. Dying churches don’t seem to know they’re dying until the bank forecloses on them, and then they’re shocked. They’re shocked, but the people in the community, who’ve seen the cars in the parking lot dwindle to a handful are not shocked.
The people of the church don’t know how they could go from healthy to dead overnight, but no church dies overnight. It’s the result of a protracted and untreated illness. A sick heart still can beat…for a while.
Doing a few things well can achieve success, while doing many things poorly can achieve failure. Sadly, many churches don’t have the guts to hear the hard things, even if they already know the truth about themselves.
Prepare for future success. People in transformational churches receive on-mission training. Part of the challenge is that too many churches function with a surface-level orientation. Some leaders have no desire (or perhaps ability) to lead and teach people to engage in God’s mission. We need to move from that surface-level orientation to intentional training.
This may require a change for you. From my experience as a pastor and working with many pastors, I've noted that most are unaware of their leadership gifts, their strengths and their weaknesses. So we remain unsure as to why things aren't happening the way they should. Yes, stubborn and rebellious people fill some of our pews, but another component is the lack of pastoral leadership. Sometimes our people aren’t prepared to live on mission with an outward focus because we as leaders haven’t prepared them to do so. You cannot lead what you do not live.
Move into the community. Transformational churches build a good reputation within their towns or cities. This probably will involve moving into a totally different line of thinking. Churches should seek significance in a city, not signage.
This question needs your answer: If your church disappeared from its community, would the people in the community miss it? For many, the sad but true answer is no. No one in the community would miss the church because the church has never impacted the community.
Your church should be essential to the community. For this to happen, your church must move outside the building; it must be outward-focused. (Read Ed’s full article.)