It is not uncommon for a church to need change. In fact, the corporate church body is like individual believers. Individual believers need constant change. This constant change is what we refer to as sanctification. Sanctification is the process of being made holy, or it is the process by which God molds and conforms us into the image of Jesus. Thus, sanctification is continuous.
Sanctification is to believers what revitalization is to churches. Church revitalization is the constant process by which the corporate church body is conformed and molded into the image of Jesus—an image that is ontological and functional. Church revitalization continues to ask questions like: are we being who Christ would have us to be and are we doing what Christ would have us do? In other words are we the missional people God has “called out” (of the world) and “sent” back into the world. Missional captures the essence of who we are by our nature and what we do by our actions. However, this does not describe many churches today. The reality is that an overwhelming number of churches in America have plateaued or are in a state of decline. Depending on the source, anywhere from 70-90% of churches in America are plateaued or in a state of decline. This means they are not reaching new people. This means they are not missional, or being true to who they are and what they are to do. Therefore, what they need is revitalization. The question then becomes, how can churches be revitalized and even continue the process of revitalization? The answer is three-fold.
First, they need to trade in their current mentality for a missional one. Many times churches fall prey to the “arrived” mentality. They think because they hit a certain number of people, or have a certain number of ministries and programs, they can relax and just let the machine run. The problem with this is that it is more in-line with a spiritual country club—once we get the golf course built and have enough members to sustain and maintain a nice gathering place for members, we have arrived and can now relax. The church will never arrive until Jesus arrives a second time. Therefore an “arrived” mentality overshadows an assignment one, where the church has been assigned as the vehicle or tool by which God accomplishes his mission.
Other mentalities affecting the church’s mission include: maintenance, complacent comparative, comfortable size, and survival. A “maintenance” mentality usually transpires after the “arrival” mentality. “Maintenance” mentality occurs when a church focuses their attention from mission—reaching more people—to the programs and ministries they created to house the people already reached. What usually takes place without anyone noticing is the shift from mission to maintenance. Before long the church finds themselves maintaining the people they have reached—thereby neglecting the mission to reach more.
A “complacent comparative” mentality consists of churches (ones that have been stuck or that have been in a slow decline for a sustained amount of time) looking at where they are and where other churches are, whether in their denomination or in their area, and saying, “we are just fine… In fact, compared to other churches we are doing good.” Thus, when they take their eyes off their own condition, their own reality, their own numbers and focus their attention on other churches by comparison, they become complacent. Complacency prohibits commission.
Many individuals comprising to make-up local churches have a “comfortable size” mentality. I wish I had a quarter for every time I heard these words, “I am uncomfortable with a big church… I want to go to a church where I can know everybody….” In fact I conducted a survey one time at a church where I had asked two consecutive questions. The first question was, “Would you like to see the church grow? Yes or No?” 98% of the people checked yes. The second question was, “Would it make you uncomfortable if the church grew larger? Yes or No? Half the people who answered Yes to the first question answered Yes to the second question. In other words, while they wanted to grow, they did not want to get bigger—bigger made them uncomfortable. Guess what? When people are comfortable with the current size, and it would make them uncomfortable to get bigger or to have multiple services, they will continue to stay their current size. Comfort and convenience smothers call and cause.
And finally, churches that have a “survival” mentality are either going through, or have gone through some type of turmoil or transition that has damaged the church. During these times the church goes into survival mode in an effort to protect the ship and prevent it from going down. However, generally what happens is that the church never fully recovers from the turmoil or transition and stays in survival mode, which simply means they exist. While there will be certain times and seasons where a church may enter into survival mode to withstand the storms of ministry and opposition, the greatest antidote to overcoming the survival, or existent, mentality is to replace it with a sending one.
Therefore, the first step to church revitalization is repenting from mentalities that leave churches stuck or declining, and more importantly that crush the church’s nature and function as God’s missional people who have been called out of the world by the gospel and sent back into the world for the gospel.
The second step to church revitalization is to refocus its attention to their mission, vision, structure, and strategy. I have pasted a part of my staff agenda from the other week that lists and explains mission, vision, structure, and strategy. (Note that these four areas I have borrowed and tweaked from authors and books such as Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley.)
- Mission (Foundation). What is the Mission of Western Oaks? Why do we exist?
- Vision (Framework). How will we fulfill the mission? What will we ask from people that will be the way in which we lead people to fulfill the mission? The Mission and Vision will be same for every single age group and ministry.
- Structure (Filling). How will we structure our vision in order to effectively and efficiently fulfill the mission.
- This includes how we overall structure our church’s governance
- This includes how we structure our Sunday Morning corporate worship gathering
- This includes how we structure our children’s ministry and area—including on Sunday mornings
- This includes how we structure our youth ministry
- This includes how we structure our small group ministry
- This includes how we structure our corporate mission area
- Strategy (Furnishings). This answers how we will contextualize each area of our ministry in a way that our culture, the people we have and are trying to reach, understands. For example, this allows us to think through what our building should look like, how our building should be set up, what kind of music we play, what our children’s wing aesthetically should look like, how we should check in and secure our children’s ministry. In addition it can include things like technology, publication, marketing, communication as well as help us determine what we can do in and with our community that would help us fulfill our mission. Lastly, it helps us think through how—once we reach people—we can guide them through a process by which they become part of the mission and vision of the church.
What this process (Mission, Vision, Structure, Strategy) does is create clarity, definition, alignment, and movement so that a church can see the big picture of how they can become the people God has created them to be, as well as function the way God intends them to function.
But there is one last element, one last step that must be present if a church is to be revitalized and continue the process of revitalization. There must be a revitalization of individual hearts. Individuals must be willing to change. Here’s the reality about change when it comes to people: people love change when it benefits them, but hate change if it infringes upon them. When it comes to change in the church, or churches undergoing revitalization, people must be willing to change—even if the change is not what they like, what they would prefer, or the way they have always done it. Once again, the church exists for the glory of God and the good of the world in that it is on mission to reflect God’s glory by being his gospel agents in the world who live and share the good news of Jesus. Therefore, if revitalization will ultimately take place and continue to take place within churches people must be:
In conclusion, churches can change; they can be revitalized. While I am aware there may be more steps and elements to church revitalization, I have covered three that I think are very important. Therefore, churches desiring revitalization must discard the current mentalities that have led them to the place of plateau and decline. They must refocus their mission, vision, structure, and strategy around who God wants them to be and what he wants them to do. And lastly, the individuals who comprise the church must be willing to pay the price of change, which is their willingness to sacrifice, surrender, and be Spirit-filled for the glory and mission of God.