My friend Thom Rainer, who is the founder and CEO of Church Answers (an online community and resource for church leaders that I highly recommend), says that most church revitalizations take more than five years. That might seem discouraging for some church leaders, but it’s reality. Here are some reasons why revitalization takes a while – and why church revitalizers can’t give up quickly.
- Most churches didn’t go into decline overnight – and they won’t change overnight, either. Regardless of the size of the ship, it’s not easy to turn around a vessel that’s been going in a wrong direction for a long time.
- Churches are complicated organizations. They often have multiple programs, several leaders, and differing goals – most that operate in their own silos. Just getting everybody on the same page can take a while.
- Satan fights against new life in a congregation. He’s not alarmed by plateaued and declining churches, but he’s not a fan of churches that begin to reach people again. If his arrows can slow down the process and discourage the leaders at the same time, he’s pleased.
- The issues to address are often several. You have to start somewhere – so one step in the right direction is good– but fixing one issue sometimes reveals other issues to address. Practically, the more issues to address, the longer it takes to deal with all of them.
- Turning people outward when the world’s an ungodly, dangerous place isn’t easy. There’s a reason so many churches have turned inward: it just feels safer when we hang out with only believers and avoid the world as much as possible. Convincing people to engage the darkness takes some time.
- Genuine discipleship—a necessary component of church revitalization, in my judgment—is an ongoing, never-ending process. Revitalization without real discipleship might show an increase in numbers, but it likely won’t give evidence of transformed lives. Sometimes, revitalization begins with only one face-to-face discipling relationship that then leads to others. That’s seldom a quick process.
- Revitalization often requires healing wounds—and that’s not easy. Churches who’ve lost their life often have painful, divisive, histories that have left scars. Scars just take a while to heal.
So, do these realities mean that we should just give up on revitalization? Actually, it’s just the opposite – we must press on, pray continually, proclaim the Word, and praise the Lord for every glimpse of His glory in our churches.
Recognizing and admitting that you’re in need is the first step. Second is to halt the decline. Then, only then can the rebuilding begin.
As for #3, don’t give credit to Satan. It is human nature to want slow down the process of change and preserve the comfortable.