A Growing Passion for Local Church Revitalization
For some time now, I have developed a growing passion for local church revitalization. I do not know where this growing passion originated yet I cannot deny its existence. Perhaps my interest in church revitalization was cultivated during my time in New Orleans. At NOBTS I took a course entitled “Church Revitalization” with Dr. Bo Rice. This was one of my favorite courses during my four years of study there. The main project for this course was to develop a revitalization strategy for a local church based on its history as well as the demographic makeup of the surrounding area. Now that I have pastored a church, I would update much of the content in my strategy paper, yet I find myself referring to that project as a foundation for fresh thoughts on revitalization. I also had the privilege of serving alongside a replanting pastor in the Uptown area of New Orleans. My time with Pastor Byron and Faith NOLA forever impacted my passion for church revitalization.
My passion for local church revitalization continues to grow. When I read the latest statistical data about the health of the American church, I am deeply concerned. Each time I read a report from Thom Rainer, Barna, or the Gallup Poll, I am passionately motivated to join the fray and do something about this rapid decline of the church. In a strange way, I find myself attracted to revitalization ministry rather than pushed away from it.
I was raised in the American south in the “buckle of the Bible belt” in Northwest Alabama. I grew up in a culture where church attendance was a cultural norm. If God ever calls me to pastor in Alabama, I believe one of the greatest priorities will be to demonstrate the importance of a lifestyle of discipleship. Southerners attend church, especially if there is a fellowship meal or a singing service! Even though church attendance in the American south remains somewhat consistent, communities, neighborhoods, and families remain largely unchanged. Even though some spiritual complacency exists in southern churches, there are many faithful pastors and churches who are thriving in the context of Gospel community.
When I consider the state of many churches today, though, I am deeply concerned. Churches have not seen active baptisms in more than fifteen years. Mark Clifton writes, “Seven out of ten churches are either plateaued or declining. They haven’t seen a winning season in more years than they can count.”  Some who live in the neighborhood of a local church do not even know it exists. Would your community grieve if your church closed tomorrow? We are not sending out new missionaries, pastors, or church planters. More churches are closing each year, yet our culture continues to drift rapidly into a sea of secularism and humanism. If Rainer and others are correct that approximately 20% percent of those who attended church pre-COVID will never return, we must commit ourselves to biblical church revitalization.
Revitalization refers to the process of intentionally working to restore a church’s vibrance by reliance on God and an intentional process focusing on health. Revitalization is concerned with helping a church move from decline to thriving. I would love to see a great revitalization of local churches in my lifetime. Would you?
Kevin Ezell serves as the director for the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. He astutely notes, “We face a triple crisis in the North American church today as we seek to influence a culture that is increasingly lost and indifferent to the things of God.” He lists the three items of crisis facing the American church.
- Our population continues to become more diverse and we are not starting enough new churches to keep up with that growth.
- A shockingly high number of churches close their doors every year or simply disappear.
- Existing churches have stopped being outwardly focused and are no longer lights for the Gospel in their communities.
Bill Henard wrote a wonderful book that I recommend to all of you entitled, “Can These Bones Live? In that book, Hennard references eleven signs that a church is dying or already dead according to former LifeWay president Thom Rainer, who is the acting president of Church Answers. Read through these eleven signs and see if any of them relate to the current situation in your church.
- The church refused to look like the community.
- The church had no community-focused ministries.
- Members became more focused on memorials.
- The percentage of the budget for members’ needs kept increasing.
- There were no evangelistic emphases.
- The members had more arguments about what they wanted.
- With few exceptions, pastoral tenure grew shorter and shorter.
- The church rarely prayed together.
- The church had no clarity as to why it existed.
- The members idolized another era.
- The facilities continued to deteriorate.
Hennard does not leave the reader without a solution toward church revitalization. He provides a four-step course of action that takes time to be initiated and implemented. These four steps work concurrently, not just consecutively. What will be your priorities, parameters, players and processes in the future? (Contextualize this paradigm for your ministry setting. Meet with your staff or dream team to develop a strategy following this outline!)
- The priorities: worship, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, and ministry
- The parameters: holiness, excellence, anticipation, relevance, and teamwork
- The players: pastoral staff, lay leadership, membership, calendar, and budget
- The process: biblical focus, inward focus, upward focus, church focus, and outward focus.
Gary McIntosh serves as president of the Church Growth Network and is a professor at Talbot School of Theology. He asks,
“What makes a church durable over the long haul? Why do some churches seem to keep going while others fall into decline?” 
He answers his own question by focusing on organizational values, processes, and leadership.
When the local church struggles, God’s reputation is at stake. Clifton said, “When the church struggles, God’s reputation within that community struggles.”  He went on to say that we replant churches to “reclaim God’s glory in a tangible way in our communities”. 
Brothers and sisters, we must renew our commitment to biblical church revitalization. Today is the day for seminary students, pastors, and church leaders to study revitalization and implement strategies in the churches they serve. I am not interested in church growth due to a fad. I long to see a genuine revitalization happen which is centered on the ordinary means of grace.
I am thinking about providing a follow-up on this post. What are your thoughts? What did I leave out that you wish I had written about?
Side Note: I have recently been invited to serve as an intern with Pastor Rodney Brazil in Louisville Kentucky. Will you partner with us in prayer? Connection Church is a revitalization work that relaunched in 2018. COVID has slowed our progress. We need your prayers for effective community outreach and Gospel growth. Some of my readers may want to support the church financially. You can do so by supporting my pastor’s missionary account here. Here’s the most recent newsletter from Pastor Rodney.
 Mark Clifton, “Reclaiming Glory: Revitalizing Dying Churches, (B& H: Nashville, TN, 2016), 3.
 Bill Hennard, Can these Bones Live? A Practical Guide to Church Revitalization, (B& H: Nashville TN, 2015), 3-4.
 Hennard, 210-211.
 Gary L. McIntosh, Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got you Here Won’t Get You There, (Baker Books: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2009), 33.
 Clifton, 15.
 Clifton, 17.