The past seven years have been a wild, unpredictable, surprising, joy-filled journey of revitalization for our congregation. By God’s grace, we have seen this old church go from nearly shutting it’s doors for good, to becoming a vibrant, gospel-saturated, growing congregation that God is using to reach the lost, make disciples, bring hope to a community, and glorify the Father as we seek to make the name of Jesus famous together.
While I don’t believe there is some “magic bullet” that will assure the revitalization of a declining or dying congregation, in my experience there are four practices that have guided our ministry and leadership, which I would say have really served as the key leadership elements that God has used to spark new life and vitality in our church body. These are four simple, yet timeless, biblical principles to remember, practice, and lead with in any church revitalization effort.
Essential #1: Love people like crazy!
Remember, God-honoring revitalization happens one life, one family at a time. This kind of intentional, small, relational ministry will, over time, help the congregation change and grow in a healthy, unifying way. It is ultimately loving people individually, not just corporately, that builds trust. And trust is everything in revitalization. Do whatever you have to do to build trust with the faithful who have been there for decades, along with the new folks who start showing up.
It is a slow process, but this is the most important piece to healthy change. Sadly, all too often young pastors and leaders blow it with the long-haul, faithful few because they don’t take the intentional time that is needed to earn trust. Revitalization will never happen without genuine love and trust built. Win the hearts of your people with love.
Essential #2: Preach the Word faithfully and unapologetically.
The Word really is what changes people from the inside out. The church doesn’t need more gimmicks. I really believe there are many from both younger and older generations that are hungry for pastors who actually preach the Bible and don’t try to entertain. This is what we continue to see week in and week out at our church.
In 2 Timothy 4:2, Paul says, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” The Holy Spirit moves in power when the Word of God is preached faithfully and unapologetically. The consistent, weekly preaching of the inspired, authoritative Word is critical for instilling fresh vision, hope, encouragement, and passion into the congregation in need of revitalization.
Essential #3: Spend loads of time on your face in prayer.
Revitalization is crazy and makes no sense from a worldly perspective. It shouldn’t work. And the truth is that it won’t work without God doing major work in the hearts and souls of our people, both young and old. And of course, hearts will not be softened and open to change apart from the work of God’s Spirit softening them by God’s grace. This is why we must be marked by dependent, passionate prayer! We must be on our faces, calling out to God to revitalize his church for his glory. If God isn’t in this, and if he doesn’t move, we are done. Pray continually.
Essential #4: Patience, patience, patience.
Revitalization takes time. It does not happen overnight. It takes long-haul steadiness. In the words of Eugene Peterson, it takes “a long obedience in the same direction.” Loving people, preaching the Word, praying faithfully, over and over and over again. If you struggle with patience as a leader, beg God to grow you in this area as it is vital for leading a healthy, sustainable church turnaround.
God-honoring revitalization will not happen unless we are patient and keep in step with the Spirit of God. He is sovereign; He knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t need us, but he loves to use us. Remind yourself daily what a joy and privilege it is to shepherd God’s people, even when you want to pull your hair out (which you will).