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Do We Need Revitalization?

 We usually will go to our family doctor once a year for an annual checkup.  We want to make sure everything is ok and hope for a clean bill of health.  Maybe we need some minor adjustments or simple instructions to improve our health such as starting to walk more.  Basic steps such as that can make a huge difference in our overall health.  The greater problem is if we ignore our health until very drastic steps must be quickly taken and.  Usually, the longer you ignore sickness the worse it becomes until it can even be life threatening.

Hey church, the same is true about you!  The longer you refuse to ignore signs of being unhealthy the sicker you will become.  Even though the sickness your church might be experiencing can be very complex the solutions can actually be very simple.  A church says, “We never see visitors and no one ever gets saved!” The solution can be as basic as inviting more people and sharing your faith regularly!  The reality is that if your church attendance continues to decline eventually you will have to close the doors unless something changes.

There are different levels of sickness just as there are different stages of cancer.  Are you willing to diagnose just how sick your church is?  Are you brave enough to cry out to God and ask Him to show you where you are falling short of being the vibrant body of Christ He desires for you to be?  Are you willing to repent of the things He shows you that need to change for your congregation to be healthy and thriving once again?  There are different levels of church sickness that you need to consider so you can take the steps necessary, whether they are simple or not.

  1. Maybe you need to refocus on why you exist. Your church exists for His glory and so that “God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known.” (Ephesians 3:10) In Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren reminds that according to Acts 2 the church is to grow warmer through fellowship, deeper through discipleship, stronger through worship, broader through ministry, and larger through mission. Which one do you need to refocus on the most?  Pick the one big thing you need to work on and refocus on that for the next three months. The dictionary says, “The verb refocus means to readjust an optical device.”  It can also mean to change your priorities.  The word of God is our lens and it is to be our rule and standard. Look through His lens and see what may need to be made clearer.  Paul says, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”  In II Chronicles 20:12 it tells us that when God’s children were terrified because a mighty army was descending upon them, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”  That is a great place to begin by refocusing! 
  2. The prescription for health may require more than a simple tweak or adjustment; it may demand revitalization.  When you take the two root words of revitalize and add the “ion” it means to make live again.  It is the idea of restoring vitality to your church by giving it back the vigor and vitality it once had.  Thom Rainer describes the difference between refocusing and revitalization like this. Refocusing means you want to improve by asking, “How can we do this better?”  Revitalization wants to fix what is wrong and asks, “How do we make it right?”  In our Activate initiative we describe the lifecycle of a church in three stages.  Are you inclining, reclining, or declining?  The longer you have been on the decline the harder it will be for revitalization to occur. There is no silver bullet or plug-n-play that fixes everything overnight.  There is a big difference in the time required to lose 5 pounds and losing 100. There is a big difference in commitment if you decide to get in shape to run a 5K and running a marathon.  It may not be easy but it is always worth it when we are battling for God’s glory. 
  3. Another option may require a church considering replanting.  There are many different ways this can look.  It might mean handing the building over to a healthy congregation or to a new church plant.  It could also mean selling the facilities and reinvesting the resources into advancing His kingdom.  A congregation might need to prayerfully consider what could be done to use the investment that was already made and who might be able to focus on reaching that community for Christ.  Every church has a lifecycle and there comes a time to accept that. 

Recently on a podcast I heard Mark Clifton say, “For a neighborhood a building represents a sacred space.  Every neighborhood benefits from that sacred space. When they see that space decline and fall into disrepair it reflects on the glory of God.  We know that building is not the church but the unchurched, the unsaved, they do think it is a representation of the glory of God.  It is worth reclaiming that property for God’s glory.”  He then quoted a friend who said, “A vacant church looks like a long abandoned castle of a long forgotten king.” 

Consider contacting us to see how our Activate initiative might be able to help you evaluate where you are and what steps you might consider next.  Ultimately Activate is a discovery process, led by the Holy Spirit, driven by the pastor (along with the support of a team within the church), supported by the huddle, and coached by the BMA Activate staff.  You can email me at larry@bmaam.comor Heidi Sorrells, our Pastor’s Advocate, at heidi@bmaam.comand she will be happy to help you any way she can. 

Autopsy of a Dead Church

They say there is a first time for everything so this is the first time I am running someone else’s blog in its entirety here but I think its worth it. Our Activate ministry is a:

BIBLE-BASED DISCOVERY process, LED by the HOLY SPIRIT,
driven by the PASTOR, supported by a TEAM within the church, DISCIPLED by the pastor’s Huddle, and COACHED by the Activate staff.

We utilize Thom Rainers book mentioned here in the early stages of this church renewal/revitalization process! My prayer is this will challenge you and your church to seek to be healthy and multiply!

From Thom Rainer:

“I was stunned.

When I wrote Autopsy of a Deceased Church five years ago, the response took me by surprise. While all authors expect or hope their books will be bestsellers, I frankly didn’t see it coming. Hundreds of thousands of book sales later, Autopsy became the all-time bestseller in the genre of church leadership.

Why? Why did church leaders, both vocational and laity, respond to the book with this level of interest? The concept was simple. We interviewed church members of churches that had closed their doors or died. We performed an autopsy of deceased churches. We found out why these churches died.

After about a year of receiving questions and comments from readers, I saw a common theme emerging. The readers wanted to know what they could do to prevent their churches from dying. Ironically, a book about the death of churches became a book about hope for churches.

While the sales of the book remain strong to this day, I think it’s worth noting what we have learned in the five years since I wrote the book. On this fifth anniversary celebration of Autopsy of a Deceased Church. Here are six things we’ve learned.

  1. Most members of dying churches didn’t see it coming. Many of the members were still dealing with the shock of the death of their churches when we interviewed them.
  2. Many of the members and leaders of these churches would have begun revitalization efforts if they knew how. I am so grateful for the revitalization revolution taking place today. Churches have resources and knowledge they didn’t have five years ago.
  3. “Minor” issues kill churches. Most of these churches did not die because of some major heresy. They did not die because of a mass exodus of the population surrounding them. They died because they lost their focus. They died because they fought over things that really did not matter. They majored on minors to the point of death.
  4. The silent majority killed churches. Some members saw the problems. They knew the power brokers in the church. They knew the personnel committee ran off a pastor without cause. They heard the constant chorus of not-so-well-intending critics attacking church leadership. But they said nothing and did nothing. Their silence was a dagger in the back of these churches.
  5. Some members waited for the silver bullet. Many of them said they kept waiting on that young pastor who would attract new young families. Some of the churches got those young pastors, and they ran them off when change began to take place. Most of the churches, though, never got the young pastor. They waited until death.
  6. A church does not have to die. Death is not inevitable. But most of the members of these churches would rather see the church die than change. They got their wish.

Thanks to all of you who purchased a copy of Autopsy. I am honored and humbled by the response. Now, for the first time ever, we have a video resource for the study of this book. Perhaps it’s time take a group through this book and see what God will do to move your church in the right direction.

I pray your church will not be the next autopsy performed.”


Churches Should Thrive Not Just Survive

Thrive

     “A year from now you will wish you had started today!”  That quote by Karen Lamb is so true and we must remember that we oftentimes overestimate what we can do in a year but underestimate what we can accomplish in five years.  The reality is, we have to start somewhere!  Helen Keller put it this way, “I am only one, but still I am one.  I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

     How could our churches be different a year, five years, or even ten years from today?  Every church finds itself where it either needs to be refreshed, restored, renewed, revitalized, or maybe even rebirthed!  Focusing on revitalization refers to a recapturing of the mission of God as seen in scripture.  There are two questions every church must ask on a regular basis.  First, what is our purpose?  The second question is, how are we doing in fulfilling our purpose?

     Our mission is what God has called every church to do; fulfill His Great Commission for His glory.  A church’s vision is how He wants your church to fulfill that mission.  Vision is the passion we have in fulfilling our mission.  Revitalization could begin in our churches when we are willing to repent of our lack of passion to share the gospel in our communities.  Ken Priddy says, “You evangelize to revitalize; you don’t revitalize to evangelize!”  Revitalization begins when the ministry emphasis shifts from the membership to the community.”

     Vision is not what you want for your church but rather what God wants for your church.  We must first get a vision of God before we will ever get a vision from God.  God’s plan for your church is to thrive, not just survive.  Ten years from now will your church be thriving or surviving?  Do you really believe that God has great things in store for your church?  Vision is simply a description of hope for the future.  Someone has said there are two kinds of churches; problem-based and possibility based.  Which are you? 

     Some churches worry too much about chaos while others are overly focused on control.  Chaos can create a train wreck but control can create paralysis.  Here is something to think about; “A slow death by paralysis isn’t nearly as gruesome as a train wreck.  But death is death!”  Many churches are not even aware that they are headed toward total paralysis because slow death works on us with a symptomless deception.

     Every church that wants to thrive needs to answer these questions biblically.  Revitalization is a spiritual issue. 

  1. Who are you?  This is your opportunity to clearly articulate the very foundational truths of why you exist.
  2. What do you do?  This details your vision which describes your plans of how your church will carry out God’s mission.  Here are five distinguishing marks of a church: A passion for Jesus; Confronting Idols; Biblical Teaching; Advancing in Discipleship; & Investing in the Culture.  These marks were written out by Jonathan Edwards and taken from the scriptures.  You see church revitalization is a return to the mission of God as seen in scripture.
  3. Where do you do this?  Your context is unique and unlike anyone else.  The temptation is to adopt what some other “successful” church is doing but be careful to adapt the principles to your context. 
  4. How will you carry out God’s mission?  The biblical mandate is to equip the saints for the work of ministry.  Our churches will have a much greater impact when we are not only focused on gathering but also on scattering and taking Christ to people where they are.
  5. Why do you do what you do?  Churches begin the revitalization process when they do everything for the glory of God.  Your church does not belong to you, it belongs to Him!  So every church must ask, “Is Jesus pleased with our church?”

     Healthy churches are willing to do whatever it takes to be the church God called them to be!       

TURNING THE SHIP AROUND

Aircraft Carrier

When I was teenager my brother, Gary, was in the Navy.  He joined the military with a vision to see the world but ended up stationed in Pensacola, FL, just one hour from our home.  Twice my parents and I had the privilege of going on his aircraft carrier, the USS Lexington, for a dependents’ day cruise.  I will never forget the jets being catapulted off of the deck, disappearing for a second, and then roaring off into the sky.  We were warned about getting too close to the edge and falling off because, “you can’t turn an aircraft carrier around overnight!”    

Good advice to churches also!  You may have a clear vision of the necessary changes needed in your church to become healthy, but it’s like turning around an aircraft carrier; it takes time.  The task of leading a church to where the members are living out biblical values every day is not an easy task.  Leading a church to be healthy will require endless energy and an unrelenting determination to be the church God wants it to be!  The journey is difficult and full of challenges but make no mistake about it, well worth it!

Here are five steps when trying to consider leading in healthy change in your church:

First, you must see the need to change!  There has to be a reality check where hard questions are being asked.  Are we maintaining the programs and machinery of the church or are we seeing people’s lives transformed?  The pain of remaining the same must be greater than the perceived pain of changing.  Some churches prefer the pain of a slow death over revitalizing their church to be what God intended.  You must be willing to pay the price for the necessary change to occur! Winston Churchill said, “There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction!” 

Second, we must know why we are changing!  All churches at some point need a reassessment of who they are, what they are doing, and why they are doing it.  You need to realign your values with Christ’s values and make sure you are living out those values every single day.  Because we live in a sinful world we tend to drift from God, not towards Him.  Reassessment can lead to realignment and when churches do realign themselves to God’s mission and purpose for their existence, revival often comes.  Change just for change’s sake is not the right motivation but when our desire is to please Christ He blesses that effort!

Third, begin by building trusting relationships!  Change in churches begins with trust.  Kevin Ford, a church health consultant, in Transforming Church says, “In church after church, I have seen leaders fail because their passion for change far exceeded the trust they had earned.”  Some leaders introduce change too quickly and sacrifice trust while others wait for that magical moment of no resistance and move far too slowly.  Trust is earned by fulfilling the expectations of the church that are realistic and biblical.  It begins by loving them and then over time will allow a leader to move from meeting expectations to challenging them. 

Fourth, change does not happen overnight!  Remember, you are not guiding a jet ski and effective leaders understand that change is usually best introduced incrementally, one step at a time.  You will never remove all stress and conflict but they can be greatly reduced by a careful and prayerful approach.  Some think that all they have to do is come up with the coolest vision statement and core values and the ship will turn.  The reality is that most “vision” statements do not bring about actual change.  Most leaders overestimate what they can accomplish in one year and underestimate what God can do in five years. 

Fifth, remember that no matter how hard you might try, you will not please everyone!  My favorite story here is of a man going to his pastor and telling him that if Jesus ever saw those drums on the stage He would roll over in His grave.  In an interview on effective leadership Ron Heifitz said, “Many people have a ‘smiley face’ view of what it means to lead.  They get a rude awakening when they find themselves with a leadership opportunity.  Exercising leadership generates resistance—and pain.  People are afraid that they will lose something that’s worthwhile.  They’re afraid that they’re going to have to give up something they’re comfortable with.”

There will always be some resistance to change and that is an indicator that biblical leadership is being exercised.  Churches must make the necessary changes to align themselves with the mission of God!