A Surprising Reason that Church Revitalization Doesn’t Always Work

It’s fun to watch churches that once were dying now come to life again. I love it when I hear stories of resurrected congregations, and I’m beginning to hear more and more of those stories. At the same time, though, many attempts at revitalization don’t work. The reasons for failure include at least these:

  • The leader doesn’t have the gifts and skills to lead a revitalization
  • The church is unwilling to make the changes needed
  • Lay leaders dig their heels in and protect their positions and power
  • The pastor leaves too quickly
  • The church wants revitalization, but without trying to reach their community
  • Only the pastor is willing to admit reality
  • The leaders establish unrealistic expectations about the pace of revitalization, and they get disappointed.

You could probably add more reasons to this list, but I want to focus on what is, in my estimation, one of the main reasons revitalizations don’t work: within the revitalization strategy, prayer is only perfunctory and reactionary—it does not cover the church’s efforts; it’s only and always “catching up” with those efforts.

Here’s why that’s problematic:

  1. If prayer is not in the DNA of a movement, the leaders quickly begin to operate in their own power. It’s easy to do that, too, when you’ve been trained to lead and you know what you want to accomplish. We do first, and then pray only when we must.
  2. The enemy doesn’t have to fight hard against a prayerless church. He’s not alarmed by solely human efforts, and he’s certainly not stressed by people who lean little on God. He can focus his attention elsewhere when that happens.
  3. A little-praying church essentially says, “We don’t want or need to spend much time with God.” I know that’s a difficult statement to make, but prayerlessness says just that – and that attitude’s not likely to lead to revitalization.
  4. We’re not going to reach non-believers apart from prayer. None of our strategies alone can open blinded minds (2 Cor. 4:3-4). Only God does that, and He uses the prayers of His people to do so.
  5. When we don’t pray, it’s possible to see something like “revitalization,” but it won’t be life transformation. See, we can in our own power increase our attendance numbers, but only in God’s power can we make an eternal difference. Real revitalization reflects the latter.

The point? Make sure prayer is primary to your revitalization efforts – not peripheral.




  • Bill Pitcher says:

    We are 5 years into a revitalization–though I didn’t know the term at the time. The church had nothing but a Sunday morning service. The FIRST thing we did was add a mid-week Bible study, which quickly turned to a prayer meeting. There is no doubt in my mind but that is when change began. We have doubled in size, and have begun reaching our city. God has been faithful to the prayers of His people.

  • Neil Norheim says:

    Prayer is the powerful priority. In any attempt at revitalization, the priority must be intentionally focused on seeking the Lord and listening to Him. Notice that while the temptation may be to focus on personal skill, analysis and experience, that only satisfies the human desire to accomplish a human will, in my opinion. This prayer priority is a serious concentration on seeking God and listening to Him. While the revitalization process includes listening to the history of the local congregation, by collecting facts about history that includes facts and figures about attendance, offerings, events, celebrations, crisis, etc., the first step ahead of that must be to get the commitment of people to pray specifically. Suggestions for that effort would be to get a written commitment from people to pray. This would not be to seek His blessing on what is planned, but rather to seek God to reveal what His plan may be. (This written commitment by people in the congregation to pray would also include providing a reminder for them to take home to use as a visual reminder of their promise to pray.) That seeking God may include the following: 1) Offer thanks for the local congregation. 2) Ask God for the renewed joy that comes from sharing the Gospel. 3) Pledge personally to God that you will seek Him and listen for His counsel.4) Begin praying for the Ministry Staff, Elders, Deacons, Bible Teachers, Trustees and Group leaders – by name. 5) Ask God to help you find a place to serve in this congregation while you wait for His direction. 6) If there is a consultant or a revitalization team in place, begin to pray for God’s blessing on them, by name, as they listen for His counsel. 7) Determine that you will make this a daily part of personal prayer during the revitalization process of listening to God, participating in the Church Health Survey, participating in any proposed interview process, and purposing personally to listen and learn from what is found. PRAYER MUST BE FIRST. God is still in the business of listening to our prayers and I must be in the habit of listening to Him.

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