By Craig Thompson
Church revitalization is all the buzz in evangelical church life these days. Mark Clifton says a healthy or revitalized church is “one that has a reputation for making disciples who make disciples and whose community is noticeably better because of the existence of the church.”
Of course, the fact many churches have reputations for lots of things other than making disciples and improving their community is the reason we need revitalization.
But, how can you lead your church to move from unhealthy to healthy? One internet article won’t give you all of the answers you need, and this article won’t even address the role of the Holy Spirit which is the most important factor in revitalization.
However, beyond the work of the Holy Spirit, I’ve discovered five key ingredients necessary for a pastor to lead a church to revitalization.
1. A commitment to God’s Word.
Leadership is important in any church, but all the leadership books and principles in the world will never measure up against God’s Word.
Pastors who seek to revitalize churches must commit not only to preaching God’s Word but also to living by God’s Word and creating accountability in the church according to God’s Word.
The Bible teaches us how we should minister, evangelize, worship, organize as a church, and even arrange our benevolence ministries. When we organize our churches according to the wisdom of the world, we shouldn’t be surprised to see the church behave like the world.
But, if we commit to building a church around God’s Word, we may just see God’s church act like God’s people.
2. A strong sense of call.
When a pastor inherits an unhealthy church, they need to recognize the sickness will affect them at some point. Unhealthy churches are full of hurt people, and hurt people hurt other people.
As you work to care for hurting people, they’ll sometimes turn on you. A strong sense of God’s call in your own life may be the only thing that sustains you on the hard days when the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence.
3. Care and concern.
The adage is old and cliché, but it’s true. The people to whom you minister won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
You’ll earn the right to lead them to become healthier by sitting at their hospital bed, preaching funerals, doing marriage counseling, and attending little league baseball games.
Revitalizing pastors don’t hide in their offices, they live and love among the people to whom God has called them.
It’s likely that when you walk into a new church, you’ll identify many things wrong with the church. Be patient. Don’t change anything for six months.
After the first six months (or even a year) you can begin to implement change slowly, but be patient.
If the deacon selection process is wrong, don’t try to fix that the first day. Be patient with your people. With patience, you may be able to not only show them what’s wrong but to lead them to identify their problems.
Further, you should be patient with them because, at some point (maybe several points), you’ll mess up and will need them to be patient with you.
One of the hardest truths of revitalization is if you want to see a church become healthy and stay healthy, you’ve got to stay longer than five years. You have to stay long enough to not only see the church transition toward health but to build health.
Thinking back to Mark Clifton’s definition above, it takes several years for a church to be able to produce “generations” of disciples. It also takes many years for a church to produce enough healthy leaders to maintain gospel health and momentum during a pastoral transition.
Stay long enough to not only see the ship turn but to guide it to healthier waters.
Church revitalization isn’t easy, but it’s possible. If you’re willing to be characterized by the five principles above and if you’ll lean upon the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, you may just have what it takes to lead a church from death to life.
CRAIG THOMPSON (@craig_thompson) is the husband of Angela, father of four, and senior pastor of Malvern Hill Baptist Church in Camden, South Carolina.