10 Reasons to Consider Church Revitalization — Even Over Church Planting

Bellfry of old Russian church against blue sky

I meet with young church planters frequently. I hope that continues. We had great experiences in two successful church plants and it’s certainly in my heart. Currently we are working to plant churches in Chicago. I love the energy of planting. We need lots of new churches.

In this season of my life, God has called me into revitalization. We are positioning an older, established church, that was once in decline, to grow again. And, it’s been amazing — and challenging — and rewarding — and hard.

God began to encourage my heart towards revitalization when I considered my home church — the one where I served in lay leadership until I was called into ministry late in my 30’s. That church introduced me to Christ, help me grow, and I wouldn’t be in ministry today without them.

But, that church has seen better days. (Thankfully, they are in revitalization now and a friend of mine pastors there.) What will become of the established church? That was a burning question on my heart and God lined my heart up with a church in need of revitalization.

Now, after the experience of the last few years, when I meet with church planters, I often encourage them to consider church revitalization. I realize church revitalization doesn’t have all the attraction of church planting. I left behind my skinny jeans to enter church revitalization. And all God’s people said amen. But, here’s the thing: the attraction in church revitalization is in the mission. And, that’s hopefully the same reason anyone enters church planting.

Here are 10 reasons to consider church revitalization — even over church planting:

You love the thought of restoring history. Our church is over 100 years old. Wouldn’t it be a shame to see that history come to an end — if we can reverse the decline?

You are ready to go to work now. There are far more opportunities in church revitalization. I read that near 90% of established churches are in decline or plateaued. There’s work to be done immediately.

You like having an established base of financial support. The good thing about many established churches is that they have loyal supporters. Sometimes those are the ones holding out until the doors are closed — they never want to change — but many times those people are just waiting for leadership to take them somewhere better than where they are today.

You love inter-generational ministry. In an established church, if you start to reach younger people, you’ll see a blending of generations. That’s a beautiful experience. It’s been one of our favorites in ministry. And, personally, I think it’s healthy and a very Biblical model of church.

You like a challenge. I didn’t put this as my number one, but don’t be misled. You will face opposition if you try to change things from where people are comfortable. You don’t face that same challenge in a church plant. But, you didn’t get into ministry expecting it to be easy did you? You agreed to walk by faith, right? And, you’ll have that opportunity in church revitalization. Everyday.

You won’t run from every conflict. You mustn’t. You must stay the good course. The mission is too vital.

You enjoy healthy structure. Granted, it might not be healthy, but you’ll find structure. And, as long as you’re not doing away with structure completely — which isn’t healthy anyway — you can usually tweak structure to be healthy again.

You are Kingdom-minded. You see the bigger picture. There are more Kingdom dollars being under-utilized in stagnant churches than may ever be invested in church planting. What are we going to do about it? If you’d like to know the answer — maybe you’re a candidate for revitalization.

You can endure a long-term approach. It likely won’t happen immediately. In church planting, we could change in a weekend. That’s not necessarily true in the established church. There are many things that can happen immediately. Certainly we saw some immediate, very positive changes and the church began to grow quickly. But, the best changes have taken time — but they have paid off dramatically because of our more methodical approach.

You truly love the local church. I didn’t love everything about the church that I came to pastor — or the established church I attended all my life until surrendering to ministry. But, I truly love the local church. Enough that I’d be willing to invest energies in trying to save one.

Let me be honest. Some churches can’t be — and may not need to be — saved. There, I said that. They’ve been toxic since they began — running off pastors so a few families can remain in control. They aren’t interested in reaching a lost world. They are looking for a comfortable place to hang out with people just like them.

But, there are so many churches who are ready to grow again with the right pastoral leadership. And, I encourage some of our young, eager, pastors — even some who may be considering church planting — to consider allowing God to use you in revitalizing an established church.

Actions Speak Louder than Words: A Sermon

Happy senior couple.

In the series Love Helps, I shared a message about the importance of actions building oneness.

I shared four actions to help build oneness:

7 Common Elements of a Healthy Team

Working at office

What fosters team spirit? What makes a healthy team?

All of us want that. I would even say especially leaders.

Most of us understand that progress towards a vision is more possible if a healthy team is working together.

Also, all of us want to go home at night feeling we’ve done our best, were appreciated for our efforts, and are ready to go at it again tomorrow. That’s part of serving on a healthy team.

How do we get there?

I’ve served — and led — many teams through my career. Some I would say were healthy, some weren’t, and some were “under construction”. I take complete ownership of each of those. Team spirit — healthy teams — are greatly shaped by the leadership of the team. (And, that’s a hard word when, as a leader, we know the team isn’t as healthy as it should be.)

Among the healthy teams on which I’ve served, there have been some common elements.

Here are 7 common elements of a healthy team:

Clear strategy. To feel a part of the team, people need to know where the team is going and what their role is on the team. An understanding of the overall goals and objectives fuels energy. When the big picture objective is understood each team member is more willing to pull together to accomplish the mission because they know the why and can better understand where they fit on the team.

Healthy relationships. For a team to have team spirit it needs to be filled with team members who actually like each other and enjoy spending time with one another.

Celebratory atmosphere. Laughter builds community. A team needs time just to have fun together. And, there needs to be a freedom for spontaneous (and planned) celebration. People need to feel appreciated for their work and that their participation is making a positive difference.

Joint ownership. This one is huge, because without it the team won’t be completely healthy. Some people are not team players. Period. They checked out years ago and are now just drawing a paycheck — or continuing to hold onto a title. They may be great people, but they aren’t building team spirit anymore. They don’t want to be on the team or not in the position they’ve been asked to play. Team spirit is built by people who are in it for the common win of the team.

Shared sufferings. A healthy team spirit says, “we are in this together” — through good times and hard times. In addition to laughing together, a good-spirited team can cry together through difficulties of life. Healthy teams are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission.

Shared workload. There are no turf wars on a healthy team. Silos are eliminated and job descriptions overlap. Everyone pulls equal weight and helps one another accomplish individual and collective goals.

Leadership embraces team. This may be the biggest one. As a leader, it’s easy to get distracted with my own responsibilities — even live in my own little world. And, let’s be honest. Some leaders would prefer to lead from the penthouse suite. They give orders well, but do not really enjoy playing the game with the team. A healthy team spirit requires involvement from every level — especially from leadership.

It’s a challenge leaders. Why don’t you use this as a checklist of sorts to evaluate. How’s your team doing? Let’s build better teams.

An Exponential Interview about Church Revitalization

Expo 2015 Precon Booklet Ron Edmondson5

Tom Cheyney and I will be hosting a pre-conference Revitalization lab at Exponential East this year entitled: Finding New Life for an Old Church. Tom and I were talking recently and we both agreed — we are surprised more pastors are not considering revitalization. In addition to church planting, revitalization has tons of Kingdom-potential. And, there are lots of opportunities out there — lots of declining churches need help.

Up for a challenge — consider revitalization! 

Of course, Church revitalization involves change. And no matter how necessary the change, some people will fight until the end preferring to let the slowly die, but the church can change — and thrive again.

Exponential recently interviewed me to find out more about this bonus session:

What do you hope to accomplish through this pre-conference?

I hope people will leave with some of their questions answered about church revitalization and what it takes to be successful. We are really thinking in terms of best — and frankly worst — practices. We have some experience personally and working with other churches that we think can help. I’d love to think some church planter mindsets would reconsider revitalizing an established church.

What are some of the reasons you decided to do a pre-conference on church revitalization?

Obviously it is and should be a calling. You’ll need it, but we also need a renewed interest in revitalizing existing churches. In my estimation, we have more Kingdom dollars invested in non-productive, non-growing churches than in church plants. Obviously we need lots of church plants, but we also need to revive some of the older churches. Someone said it takes 30 years for a declining church to die. Not trying to be cruel, but that’s too long. If it’s not going to revive, maybe an immediate closure and redistribution of resources is warranted. Wow! Did I just say that?

What are some tensions you have faced in this area?

It involves change. That’s never easy. But, you can’t produce growth from decline without change. All my tension has been from change. Yet, the real root of tension is in an emotional response to change. Change always produces an emotional response — positive or negative. So, I’ve dealt with a good deal of emotion over the past couple years. But, that also doesn’t mean everything has to change. Some traditions may actually be good and should be celebrated. And, we will talk about that at the conference.

What are some of the differences in leading this generation and culture from the past?

Time commitment and loyalty are different for the newer generation. There is less of it. That can be difficult, because it sometimes means we see them less often and they are can be quick to disengage if something else comes along. On a positive note, they are very driven to make a difference. They prefer a “hands on” experience. With motivation and opportunity this generation can make huge Kingdom differences. By the way, this should be a very attractive element for younger generations of pastors entering church revitalization. Many times in an established church the resources and people are there — that if energized again for the vision — a church can hit the ground running much faster than in a church plant.

What can someone expect to takeaway from attending your pre-conference?

I think there will be some frankness and some challenge. We are going to give lots of practical information, but even more, we are here to invest in church leaders. As Exponential does so well, we will be learning together and build community quickly with other church leaders. This should be very helpful and applicable.

We are excited for this Revitalization Lab. Make sure you are there by registering for the main conference + pre-conference with code: revitalization15. You will receive $30 off of your conference registration and a FREE pre-conference as well as access to Bonus Sessions. Register here!

My Top 7 Goals to Accomplish on Easter Sunday

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Easter. It’s a time of year when churches have an opportunity second only to Christmas in attracting visitors. Hopefully all of God’s churches will be packed Easter Sunday. That’s my prayer.

We’ve had months of praying, planning and preparing. We’ve done all we can do, but God is ultimately in charge of all that happens in our church — and yours.

I’m often asked, however, what I hope to accomplish on Easter Sunday — such an important day in the life of any church. It could seem overwhelming if we try to accomplish too much in one day, so what do I, as a pastor, have at the top of my list of goals for Easter Sunday.

I shared a guest post with Lifeway’s pastor blog about 7 ways a church can prepare for Easter. In this post, I want to share what I actually hope we accomplish on Easter Sunday. Only 7 things. If we accomplish nothing else, and there are probably many other things we will accomplish Easter Sunday, I hope Immanuel Baptist does these 7 well.

Gospel is shared – Duh! But, after we’ve made all the preparations, it would be like inviting people to a turkey dinner with no turkey if we don’t share the Gospel. Once we’ve worked hard to gather people into a room, we must not neglect to share the simple truth that Jesus lived, died, and rose again and by Him and through Him alone we can be saved. We must give people an opportunity to hear the Gospel — if for the first time or one of many other times. The Gospel is Good News for all people. All times. After all, that’s what we are celebrating Easter Sunday.

People feel welcome – I hope everyone who enters the doors of our church feels welcome. Regardless of what they are wearing, what side of town they came from, what they do for a living, their education status, whichever “side of the tracks” from which they arrived — let them feel the genuine love and kindness of God’s people. There will be those who don’t feel “worthy” to be in a church Easter Sunday (because they don’t yet understand than none of us are apart from grace). What better day to “love one another” than Easter Sunday!

Next is highlighted – I want people to leave knowing where the church is going next. For example, we will be studying some of the Psalms in our next series. People need to know that — in hopes that they’ll want to return.

The church is presented well – This is the Sunday, even more than others perhaps, where I hope our people are willing to sacrifice for visitors. I told our deacons Sunday night I hope they are the ones willing to move to the center of an aisle first, to make room on the ends of a row for visitors. I hope Immanuel people help visitors in the parking lot, even if they’ve never before worked in the parking lot. I hope people who seem to be looking for the bathrooms don’t have to look long before someone helps them. I hope the building is cleaner than ever. (That’s why we have a cleanup day scheduled Saturday.) Just as when visitors come to your home for the first time, this is the time to be ready to receive guests warmly. I also want to answer as many questions as people may have about the church, so we are printing a special bulletin designed to give insight to visitors about who we are, what programs we offer, and easy places where they could quickly become a part of Immanuel.

Our people are encouraged – I hope people who call Immanuel their home church — even if they’ve been there over 70 years (and some have been) or just arrived in the last few weeks (and there are lots of those), will leave encouraged by what they experience Easter Sunday. I hope there will be a God-honoring pride that we did all God would expect us to do to present an atmosphere conducive for people to ultimately hear the Gospel. I hope they’ll be challenged for the days ahead and willing to sacrifice and serve even more, directly as a result of what God allows to happen Easter Sunday.

Children are safe and have fun – If parents entrust their children to our care they should be assured their children are safe and well-protected. In addition, I hope children leave telling their parents how much they enjoyed being at Immanuel this Sunday. Children have a raw honesty about them. They don’t always know the words to say, but parents know whether or not this is a place their kids will be welcomed. Children are often a huge door to the families eventual active involvement in a church. And, this shouldn’t mean children don’t learn. Obviously, they need the Gospel as much as adults, but I believe truth can be shared in an inviting setting.

People leave with hope – Second only from hearing the Gospel, I hope people leave our Easter services with a sense of hope. Actually, that’s my goal every Sunday. The world can be a scary place. There will be lots of brokenness among us Easter Sunday. As followers of Christ, we believe we hold the answer to hope for the world. It’s in the Resurrected Savior — whom we are celebrating — the King of kings and Lord of lords. I hope people don’t leave more confused or feeling guilty about their life, but rather they live knowing their is A Way, there is an answer — there is HOPE — in Jesus Christ!

Easter Sunday is coming. I’m praying for my pastor friends, for the church of Christ, and for those who will enter our gathering places this Sunday, joining the Church in Easter worship.

5 Ways a Once Good Marriage Slips Away or Falls Apart

couple in distress

How does a once good marriage slip away?

I get asked that question when it becomes public that a marriage everyone thought was rock solid falls apart.

As the song goes — It’s a slow fade. A good marriage doesn’t deteriorate overnight. It diminishes gradually.

There are probably lots of reasons. There are usually a few common causes in my experience.

Here are 5 ways a once good marriage slips away — or falls apart:

Other interests come between them. It could be a relationship — even other good relationships — or a hobby, or work, but something gets a higher priority than the marriage. Distractions will destroy a good marriage.

Unresolved conflict. Conflict left unattended sometimes sits like it never existed. But, oh it did. And, it does. Someone is holding on to it. Trust me. And, the longer it sits the deeper the wedge it causes.

The couple stops dreaming together. When a couple is dating they have lots of dreams together. They discuss their future. They dream about where they will live and travel. They dream about family and adventure. It’s an energy that fuels the relationship. When it stops. The fuel it brought stops.

Boredom. I’ve long said this is one of the leading causes of marriages unraveling. Couples quit dating — quit laughing — quit having fun together. They get caught in the routines and busyness of life. Boredom sets in and the closeness they once shared begins to drift. The enemy love this and suddenly one or both spouses seek excitement elsewhere. Dangerous.

Living separate agendas. It’s okay to have separate identities. Even encouraged. It’s okay to have separate interests. It keeps things interesting. But, it’s not okay to have separate agendas. The agenda should be two very different people blending those differences into one. When that’s not happening — the strength of the marriage will slowly — or quickly — fade.

I’m praying for your marriage — as I continue to pray for mine. Stand firm.

Here’s What A List Won’t Solve

Clipboard with Checklist

I’ve been called the list guy.

I’m sure there are at least 7 reasons why. :)

Most of the time that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes I’m sure it is. One guy wrote recently — “What’s with all the lists? Don’t you know how to write without them?”

Whatever! But, I’m okay with that. Seriously. There are other blogs out there that don’t use lists. Some that do. And, I’ve been told I’ve encouraged some that do to use the lists they do. (So, what’s that about? Crazy.)

I don’t use lists in every post. I didn’t this one, but lists sometimes help me make a complex issue simpler.

I start my day with lists. I process using lists. I often think in lists. I counsel people with lists — steps to think through — options — thoughts — in lists. It works for me.

And, thankfully, it seems to have worked for this blog. I have a lot of blog posts beginning with “7” in the title and my blog traffic isn’t too shabby. I could give you a list of reasons I’m thankful for that.

But, I need to be honest. Lists aren’t everything.

Lists — in and of themselves — aren’t the solution.

There. You heard it from “the list guy”.

And, I can promise you this: Here’s one thing a list won’t solve.

It won’t solve your problem if all you do is read a list.

Period.

Reading a list won’t fix a broken marriage. It won’t improve your leadership. It can’t cause you to lose weight. You won’t be a better parent simply by reading another list.

I could give you a whole list of reasons why. Probably 7, 10 or 12 reasons why.

If you ignore doing the right things — list or no list — it’s not going to work.

You can make all the lists you want. Read every list out there. There are a few on this blog. I think some of them are pretty good. But one thing I know for sure:

You can’t succeed at what you don’t begin.

Ideas don’t lead to success. Making lists doesn’t lead to success. Reading lists won’t produce success. They may help. But, actions lead to success. Taking positive steps forward — that leads to success.

Do nothing and you get no results. If you don’t work the list — the list is of no value.

The very best list can’t solve the problem of inactivity.

Do you need a list to understand this post? Be honest.

Encouragement to Take a Leap of Faith and Continue the Journey

leaping

If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp. Judges 7:10-11 NIV

God looked into Gideon’s heart and saw that he needed some encouragement for the task ahead.

Gideon had already agreed to obey God. He had kept the three hundred men God had ordained for battle and sent the rest of the men home.

Still, God must have seen fear in Gideon’s heart, so God allowed Gideon to hear something, which gave him encouragement.

I deal with a lot of people on the brink of greatness for God. They are often pastors and church planters, missionaries, ministers or believers who know God is calling them to something, but one thing stands in the way — FEAR. I understand. Been there. Have several t-shirts.

Here’s a word of encouragement for you.

If uncertainty is causing you to fear your next move or to act upon what you believe God is calling you to do — learn a lesson from Gideon’s story.

Understand that God knows your strengths and your weaknesses. He knows where you most need encouragement. God ultimately wants you to trust Him completely, without having to depend on anything or anyone else, but He also knows you are still a work in progress. You’re still growing your faith. He will be patient. He is fully prepared to see you through your doubts to His glory. However long that takes.

Keep in mind that God’s ultimate goal is the complete control of your heart. Therefore, God often sends people your way to encourage you in your walk. He wants you to fully and completely trust in Him, so He will kindly allow you at times to see the good you are doing in ministry. God wants your complete obedience, so He occasionally allows you the privilege of seeing the direction He is taking you.

Many times, however, you and I are left to walk with God simply by faith.

I hope God sends you the encouragement you need today to allow you to move forward in obedience to Him, but if He allows you to wrestle with your own doubts today, may I be a voice of encouragement to tell you God is trustworthy? He proves faithful. Every time.

Step big into the awesomeness found in a life that is fully obedient to God’s will!

I wonder if Gideon could have read his story in reverse if he would have lived it all over again. Somehow I suspect He would!

5 Reasons a Church or Organization Stops Growing

Typical Rural Icelandic Church under a blue summer sky

I was talking with a church recently that had explosive growth, but things have slowed. They wanted to know why they were not growing any longer.

Honestly, I do t know. There are probably different reasons for every church that stops growing.

But, this church is seeking answers. So, I decided to share Some thoughts to consider. And, I’m sharing them here.

Obviously, God is ultimately in charge of a churches growth. There are times where God is giving a season of rest and preparation for a church for something to come. In some situations, God may have even taken His hand from the church.

God is into church growth, however. I’m convinced He likes it when a church grows.

It’s our mission as believers to produce disciples and our model example of the first century church was a growing church, so outside the God factor, there are usually reasons for stagnation in a church. Because the church is an organization made up of people, these reasons are often similar to those you may find true as to why growth stalls in the life of an organization also.

In my experience, the are some common variables when growth stalls.

Here are 5 suggestions:

You get comfortable

It’s okay to be comfortable, but when you hang out there too long, it can be dangerous, because you stop trying new things to spur growth and excitement.

You quit dreaming

Dreams inspire, challenge, and grow people and organizations. What could the church accomplish to reach its community? You’ll never dream bigger than the dreams God has for you or your church.

You stop taking risks

You can’t succeed at anything without a measure of risk. Playing it safe never grows anything. The call of God always involves risk-taking.

You start maintaining

When you fall into the mode of protecting what you have, you’ll be less likely to encourage growth for fear of losing ground.

You fail to walk by faith.

Especially for the church — we are a faith-based organization. If you aren’t walking by faith in what you are doing it is impossible to please God. (That’s Biblical. Look it up!)

Those are my quick thoughts.

Obviously, there is so much more to this issue and to each one of these answers. These are general responses and there are specific issues with every church or organization. Hopefully thinking through each of these as a paradigm for brainstorming may help trigger thoughts towards actions which can spur future growth.

But, I’ve also learned that activity leads to activity. Maybe just having the discussions will begin to stir new momentum. Pray hard and ask God to stir big.

What would you add?