I’ve heard it said that the reason so many pastors don’t experience revitalization in their church is because they resign right before it happens. They leave around year three or four, when growth is waiting for them in year five or six. For your sake, your church’s sake, and the kingdom’s sake, I’d hate for that to be you.
Are you just about ready to throw in the towel? I want to encourage you to hold on. Even if you are at year five or six, wait. Things might not be going well at your church, but the gospel is all about bringing life out of death. It feels like Good Friday to you, but, as one pastor said, Sunday’s a comin’.
So before you submit that resignation letter, consider three signs that you’d think indicate that your church is dying, but may actually point to the potential of revitalization.
1. People are leaving
It may sound odd to view people leaving your church as a good sign, especially given the pragmatic, results oriented culture of so many churches. Specifically, when longtime, well-loved people leave because of the pastor’s way of doing things, it can cause other congregants to doubt whether it was right to hire him in the first place.
But when people recognize that your direction of ministry does not suit them, it is much better for them to find another church rather than stay. When volunteers, leaders, and even ministry staff are not aligned with your vision, turnover is not a bad thing. Sure, we wish they could get behind the new direction – and oftentimes that happens. But for those who are not willing to adopt a new vision, leaving provides space for new people who are aligned with your vision to begin serving.
So rather than asking God to stop people from leaving, maybe your prayer should be for God to bring the right people in. The Spirit is at work in the fluctuations of the church’s attendance. Trust the Spirit’s leading in the ebbs and flows of the make up of your congregation.
2. Ministries are limping
Part of your frustration might be that some ministries have tons of potential but they are not taking off. But look on the bright side, if you have even mild participation, it shows that at least some people at your church value such ministries. You might have a foundation to build on.
At my own church, we had previously had a culture where every ministry had equal promotion. The negative result was that it became difficult to emphasize our ministries of highest priority. So a year ago we decided to become more intentional about how we communicated our ministries. We gave attention to the most important ones for us right now: church planting, small groups, adult education classes, and membership classes.
The results? These formerly limping ministries are now thriving. We are that we are in the midst of launching our first church plant in several years, and the number of people participating in small groups, adult education classes, and membership classes have almost doubled, all in just one year.
The key was that these ministries had some life to them. By giving them focus, we were able to fan their flame, and our church is thriving in new ways because of it.
3. You are struggling
One final sign that your church might be on the cusp of revitalization is if you have hit rock bottom. Why might that be a sign that revival is around the corner? Because when you are ripe for revival, then your church is on its way to being ripe for revival.
I wouldn’t be surprised that Satan is targeting you for spiritual attack. He wants you out before God does a new work in your life. I heard a pastor share a quip from a veteran Air Force pilot from his church, “You know you’ve found the battle when you’re getting fired at.” If you are facing spiritual warfare or unique temptations, it could very well be a sign that you’re gaining ground for the kingdom. Or that you are just about to.
Now, I’m not talking about disqualifying sin. If that is where you are, then of course you should resign. What I’m talking about is being burnt out, depressed, dry, or apathetic. Go to Jesus. Ask him to breathe new life into the dead bones of your ministry. He’s already done this in your heart, by his Spirit. He’ll do it again.
Don’t quit yet
Do these three things describe you or your church? If so, give prayerful consideration as to whether God is calling you away from your current post. Revitalization might be just around the corner.
But I can’t promise that it is. God has a different calling for every pastor. He doesn’t guarantee that if we follow the right steps or stay long enough that revival will happen. But he does say the same thing to every pastor who faithful stewards the ministry they are given, whether they get a large return or a small, “Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy” (Matt. 25:21, 23).