The Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 147
What are the early signals that your church needs revitalization? God designed your church to accomplish a specific purpose. Whenever a congregation begins to slow down in accomplishing that purpose, or starts to pursue its own agenda, the church begins to need revitalization.
Revitalization is the process of restoring a church back to Biblical health–vitality. But the problem comes when churches don’t realize when they’ve become unhealthy.
It’s a little bit like your personal health. You might not notice gaining a few unhealthy pounds each year, until you look at a picture of yourself from a decade ago! Likewise, churches slowly creep towards unhealthiness. Unless they ask critical questions, it’s unlikely that the church will notice there is a problem without a crisis. Unfortunately, when a church is in crisis, revitalization is much more difficult.
The good news is, there are some early warning signs that your church can look for that indicate your church needs revitalization. These warning signs can be exhibited in large or small churches–growing or declining. Here are five warning signs your church needs revitalization.
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Warning Sign 1: The church and its members are not reaching people with the Good News about Jesus.
Jesus commissioned the Church to make and mature disciples. That is our mandate. It is the fundamental mission of every church in every nation for all time, until Jesus returns. Therefore, every local congregation ought to see more and more people becoming disciples every year.
Some churches will say, “We’re better at discipleship than evangelism”. But the reality is that if evangelism isn’t a byproduct of discipleship, people aren’t actually maturing in Christ. The Bible makes it clear. Even though not everyone is called to be an evangelist, we are all called to actively share our faith with our family and friends.
If your church has not baptized many (or any) new converts in the last few years, this is a warning sign that your church needs revitalization.
Warning Sign 2: Tradition or cultural values crowd out a focus on Biblical discipleship and life transformation.
At The Malphurs Group, we like to say that your Core Values are the hidden hand in your church that makes decisions when you aren’t paying attention. That is to say, the intrinsic motivations that drive your church are responsible for the micro-decisions that ultimately drive the day-to-day operations of your church.
Therefore, if our adherence to traditions or our devotion to politics is a stronger internal motivator than Biblical discipleship, we are unlikely to gain much traction or witness much life change. Tradition is not always negative. Most traditions are born of something right and good. But it is common to lose touch with the root of the tradition. Our adherence to the rituals can become a kind of perversion of why the tradition began.
Likewise, politics are not inherently evil. But all of our politics must be checked against the standard of God’s Word. When our devotion to a “side” overrides our commitment to Scripture, our church is likely to get off track in our mission to make and mature disciples.
If you look around your congregation and don’t see much life transformation occurring, this is a warning sign that your church needs revitalization.
Warning Sign 3: The church calendar is so cluttered that it’s difficult to know which ministries are truly effective.
Churches accumulate ministries like people accumulate junk in their garage. Over time, a garage might lose its primary function: a place to park the car. Likewise, ministries lose their primary function: to mature disciples.
If your church has a lot of ministry activity, but little life transformation to show for it, odds are that it’s time to clean out your “ministry garage.” The church must identify key criteria for success, and assess the existing ministries according to that rubric. Once you’ve identified the good and effective from the superfluous and ineffective, you’ll need to make hard decisions about the future of certain ministries.
Take a look at your calendar. If you’re not sure what’s actually helping to make disciples, this is a warning sign that your church needs revitalization.
Warning Sign 4: The church feels stagnant and is unclear how tomorrow could be different or better.
In Genesis 2, God gives a command to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth, and to subdue it. The Lord never intended for mankind to be passive and stagnant. We are to be moving forward, making plans, and living out His call. When we look at the New Testament, we see the Apostle Paul and the early church making plans for planting churches and bringing the Gospel to every corner of the globe.
Therefore, when churches become stagnant, stale, and lack a compelling vision for the future, they are falling short of God’s design. While the term “vision” might be a relatively recent invention, the concept is woven throughout the Old and New Testaments. God raises up leaders and gives them a compelling direction to lead His people towards.
If your church lacks a clear direction and compelling picture for the days ahead, this is a warning sign that your church needs revitalization.
Warning Sign 5: The church regularly fails to make plans and follow through to completion.
Churches love to brainstorm and write down ideas, but they’re tragically poor at following through. Part of the challenge is inevitable. Most volunteer teams meet monthly, and so decision making is limited to 12 or fewer moments each year. There isn’t enough time for good deliberation, and even less time for good delegation.
Healthy churches overcome these natural obstacles by installing systems and delegating types of decision-making to staff and more nimble volunteer teams. The solution is to acknowledge the limitations and build strategies that can thrive within them rather than to ignore the challenges and place an unrealistic expectation on your team.
But if your church has built a bad habit of making plans but not following through, this is a warning sign that your church needs revitalization.
Revitalization is often associated with small, declining churches. Certainly churches in decline generally do need revitalization. But not every church that needs revitalization is experiencing significant decline. Indeed, it’s far easier to revitalize a church that has a handful of dysfunctions rather than a church that is almost closed.
Look through this list of five warning signs with your leadership team, staff, or board. Be honest with each other, and ask yourselves: does our church need revitalization?
If you’d like to learn more about Strategic Envisioning, which is a process designed to help churches maximize their potential and increase church health, connect with a Certified Guide.
BONUS: Watch this episode on YouTube.
Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).