I offer the following four MUSTS for a declining or stagnant church to rebound and become a healthy church again. Depending on your location and your local circumstances becoming healthy could mean modest or rapid growth. I believe getting healthy may actually begin with some decline as hard decisions are made and a new course is charted, which some may not like. In other words, revitalization is not going to look the same everywhere; however, I do believe there are a few common denominators in truly healthy churches (I said healthy not big). Healthy churches are God focused and God honoring in their worship and activities, possess unity that comes through a proper focus, and are sharing the Gospel and ministering in its community.
The following four MUSTS have emerged in my mind and heart after much reading, listening, and a few years of experience in attempting to lead a church to revitalization. I'll admit that, as a pastor, I am still a work in progress, just like the church I serve. However, I believe this is what I've learned so far.
Four MUSTS for church revitalization.
1. A Healthy Organization
A church must be free from organizational dysfunction. It needs strong pastoral and lay leadership and congregational participation and buy in. It must be free from power groups that resist change and exert control. There needs to be good lines of communication and transparency. The leadership within the church needs to be intentionally developed continually. Leaders need to be allowed to lead, trusted with the jobs the congregation has entrusted to them. Above all the organization must have embedded key biblical principles, even if details of organization are negotiable. These principles are the Lordship of Christ over the church, the importance of pastoral leadership, and the presence of congregational authority and responsibility.
2. Clearly Communicated Core Values
A church must know what is important and why. I believe the best way to communicate this is through a set of core values that are officially adopted by the congregation. These core values serve multiple purposes. First, they define the church's commitments. Second, they shape the church's ministry to those commitments. Third, they serve to guide the leadership to constantly evaluate if the church's activities are truly serving the desired commitments. Fourth, they communicate to the congregation and the community what is important to the church and what it is striving to accomplish. Again, these core values must be biblical and communicated to the congregation repeatedly in every way you can think of.
3. Spiritually Committed People
Let's be honest, not everyone who attends church is deeply spiritually minded. And that's okay. However, within the leadership of the church and those who are serving, a critical mass of truly spiritually committed people must occur. Of course, the pastor and staff must possess this quality, but so do many others if the church is to be revitalized. Enough people have to be committed to a genuine spiritual lifestyle guided by God's Word and prayer. Their lives will be evidence by their commitment to worship and service. They will not be shy about their church having a prophetic role based upon the clear teachings of God's Word, and they will never be ashamed of the Gospel. They understand the expectations of church membership and have a passion for the Gospel and for making God's name great in their lives. Not everyone will be this, but when enough are, the scale will begin to tip and the difference will be undeniable. I believe, however, one of the consequences is that the cultural Christians among the congregation may feel less and less inclined to participate as new people come in and leadership begins to change and become more spiritually committed. They simply won't find church comfortable anymore.
4. Leadership Perseverance
Lastly, It seems clear that revitalization does not happen overnight. Every study based on real research proves this. My own experience is teaching me that healthy change is slow, with its ups and downs along the way. A pastor must be willing to stay the course and stick it out. He must have a long-term mentality. Of course, no pastor can presume that he will stay in a certain place for ten, fifteen, or twenty years or not. However, his default setting should always be on long-term, continuing to cast vision, planning for the future, working hard, leading others, and continuing to grow and learn himself. And when the difficult and challenging times come - and they will - he must persevere and inspire the spiritually committed people to persevere with him.
Of course, these four MUSTS are encapsulated within the absolute necessity of devotion to God's Word and a desire to always place God center stage. In the end, God does the real work of revitalization in his people as they submit to Him and get His house in order. Pastor, read, plan, seek counsel, work and lead like revitalization depends on you. But know that ultimately it is God who is at work in you to do His good pleasure.