Many congregations have embarked on a revitalization process only to find that the church was unwilling to change once the process began.
This is an unfortunate truth and accounts for many church closures each year. Congregations must “count the cost,” and assess its readiness to change (especially if there is question) before beginning a church revitalization process.
The first indicator of success is whether or not the people of the church in general are open to trying new things. This may be an elementary point, but it’s overlooked frequently.
When you dig down deep enough, the issue that’s really at play isn’t being “anti-change,” it’s fear. For the church, it’s fear of stepping out of their comfort zone. More than that, it’s fear that if they step out of their comort zone that it won’t make a difference and the church will continue to struggle.
Having a willingness to change means being willing to overcome our fears to embrace the mission God has given us. After all, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline,”(2 Timothy 1:7).
To determine your own willingness to change and to assess the willingness of others, ask pointed questions and propose specific scenarios to get to the heart of the respondents.
Host a Town Hall-style event to get everything on the table. Begin to talk about change, a revitalization process, and what it would entail. Field questions and have an honest dialogue. In our experience at The Malphurs Group, congregations (collectively) are far more open to change than they realize. While there are certain, vocal people in your church who will resist, most want to see positive progress towards reaching the community.
Structural Ability to Change
Though a congregation may be willing to change, sometimes the internal bureaucracy of a church will function as a barrier to change.
There are good constitutions, by-laws, and structures and not-so-good ones. In some cases, the original outline was so granular and detailed that there is little room for change.
I once saw a constitution that stated the exact Sunday morning worship time! What happens if it needed to be changed for a special event or due to weather? Is the church in violation of its by-laws?
More commonly, a church’s by-laws might identify specific processes that require congregational voting to establish new teams and member changes. Your by-laws can be church handcuffs!
A well-written and healthy constitution should be specific enough to cover legal/statutory requirements and provide for good oversight and safeguards, but broad enough to allow the leadership of the church the freedom to continually move the ministry forward on mission and towards vision achievement.
The reality might be that your church has structural constraints that you’ll need to navigate. In an ideal world, you could simplify your constitution and by-laws prior to a revitalization process. A great resource for healthy structures is Leading Leaders by Dr. Aubrey Malphurs. But this might not be possible for many churches.
Instead, become an expert in the by-laws. Know the in’s and out’s. Don’t be caught off-guard by them, and make a gameplay for navigating them. We address this issue specifically in Episode 3 of The Church Revitalization Podcast, “Empowering Your Revitalization Team.”
This is the big one. No positive changes will take root if the leadership of the church is not steadfast in the plan to begin with.
Leadership must be strong enough to withstand the inevitable criticism that will come and be positive enough to continually motivate the congregation to success.
In point one, I mentioned the fears that the congregation often has. For pastors, the fears are different. For leaders, it’s a fear that if they start making changes, people will leave. Pastors may feel that they may be out of a job if they start to implement changes.
Church leaders, you have to start being more afraid that you won’t become a Great Commission church than you are that people will leave. People will leave anyway for lots of reasons. The upside in your church is always with taking a risk, never with the status quo.
We are frequently asked about success statistics in going through a revitalization process with The Malphurs Group. The truth is, no matter how well the church lays out a plan, if the leadership caves or falls away when it gets hard, the church will not succeed in the change process. But we can say this confidently: 100% of churches that commit to the process and follow through see their church transform, and experience healthy, sustainable growth.
So, are you ready for revitalization? If you’ve got a congregation that is at least open to change, a structure that enables the change (or at least you are an expert in navigating that structure), and your leadership has put away its own fears, yes!
That’s a lot of “if’s!”
If you look at this list, and you think you might not be ready yet, what should you do? Start somewhere. Maybe start working on the hearts of your people by preaching about change and the Great Commission. Maybe partner with The Malphurs Group for a Church Ministry Analysis, which has frequently served as a kickstart to a process for churches that were unsure. Maybe start studying your by-laws or bring up the possibility of streamlining them at your next board meeting.
Just don’t be complacent. Start somewhere. Before you know it, you’ll be ready for revitalization!
A.J. Mathieu is the President of the Malphurs Group. He is passionate about helping churches thrive and travels internationally to teach and train pastors to lead healthy disciple-making churches. A.J. lives in the Ft. Worth, Texas area, enjoys the outdoors, and loves spending time with his wife and two sons. Click here to email A.J.