Revitalize: New Life for Dying Churches

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We all love a good comeback story. One of the greatest is that of James J. Braddock—the Cinderella Man. As an entire nation struggled to overcome a devastating economic nosedive, this unlikely hero stepped into the role of a lifetime.

A one-time contender for the light heavyweight title, Braddock hit a losing streak in 1929. Braddock’s claim to fame was that he’d never been knocked out. But when the stock market crashed in 1929, Braddock seemed down for the count. He struggled to win fights and put food on the table for his family. He eventually lost his house and his savings. No longer fighting in the ring, he fought instead to keep his family together.

One day his former manager offered him the chance to stand in for the opener to the 1934 heavyweight match at Madison Square Garden. It meant fast cash and a chance to say goodbye to boxing forever. He didn’t even have to win. But things didn’t go as planned. Braddock won the fight.

He became a symbol of hope for an entire nation fighting to pull itself out of ruin and back on its feet. And then on June 13, 1935, Braddock, a 10 to 1 underdog, won the heavyweight championship of the world. He made one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sports.

Today, churches in the United States have the opportunity to make the kind of comeback necessary to accomplish Christ’s challenge to make disciples of all nations. Studies show a majority of churches are plateaued or declining in attendance.

Many are on the verge of closing their doors—desperately in need of revitalization. It’s easy to get discouraged by the statistics, but there is hope. Many churches once down for the count have experienced revival and a renewed sense of purpose and mission.

In this issue, churches that were once down for the count share how they’ve gone from stagnation and decline to vibrant and growing congregations reaching their communities for Christ. We celebrate with those churches that have made turnarounds— that have rediscovered God’s mission for the church. They remind us that comebacks are possible.

Revitalization isn’t an easy road, but it’s a road worth taking.

Facts & Trends Articles

Church Revitalization: New Life for Dying Churches by Bob Smietana

For years, Galilee Baptist Church was a vibrant evangelical presence on Chicago’s North Side. The 500-member strong congregation had one of the largest Sunday schools in the city and a thriving missionary program overseas.

Then, a little at a time, the church slowly declined. New people stopped showing up. Old members died off or moved away.

By the late 1990s, Galilee was a church full of empty pews, with a handful of people hanging on.

8 Characteristics of Breakout Church Leaders by Thom Rainer

Little doubt exists that many churches in America are sick. The statistics paint a dismal picture. But I remain optimistic about churches across our nation because we serve a God of all possibilities.

Can a dying church find life? Absolutely. But it takes leaders who are willing to do the hard work of leading their churches toward health.

While conducting research for Breakout Churches, a study of churches that moved from decline to significant and sustained growth, I discovered several traits that distinguish breakout church leaders from merely good leaders.

Leadership Challenges in Revitalization by Ed Stetzer

I fell in love with church revitalization early in my ministry when I led a church of 35 senior adults during a brief stint teaching at a seminary.

The median age of the people was 68. It seemed like there was an oxygen tank or a walker at the end of most pews. They came to me and said, “Dr. Stetzer, help us reach the young people.”

Leading a church in revitalization has taught me some invaluable lessons. While the process is often difficult and slow moving, if approached correctly it can reinvigorate and empower God’s people to produce lasting fruit.

7 Principles for Church Revitalization by Ron Edmondson

Loving the people will help you lead the transitions you need to make. Years ago, God convicted me that if I focus most on loving Him, loving people in any church, any city, or any setting will be much easier for me.

How to Assess Your Church’s Well-Being by Micah Fries

Unfortunately, many churches in the United States are facing the same predicament I faced in that doctor’s office. They’ve been sick for a while, but have put off doing anything to address their illness.

But what seemed like nominal pain and marginal problems are in fact, signs of a life-threatening condition. Churches often face problems that are much deeper and much more systemic than they realize or want to admit.

The Joy of Church Revitalization by Ron Edmondson

When someone from the search committee at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, first approached me about being their pastor, I resisted. Cheryl and I begged God not to bring us here.

5 Questions to Assess Your Church’s Health by Micah Fries

These five simple questions can give you a quick, initial diagnosis of the health of your church.

Other Resources

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