Church Leadership

How To Revitalize Your Church: One Possible Plan

August 17, 2015

A while back, I wrote an article on how to prepare for a church revitalization effort. Granted, there has been quite a gap between then and now (sorry if you were waiting on this for months). Before you read this post thinking that here is the silver bullet for your church, stop.

There is no silver bullet.

Like the title suggests, this is only one possible plan for church revitalization. This is actually the process that I’ll be using in one of my churches as we go through this together. The material presented is good information but, the application is different in every context. It may be that this may not work in one place but it will in another. Who knows, I will probably do a follow up post in a few months and share how progress is coming along. With that disclaimer given, here we go.

After you and your church are convinced that you need a change and after you are ready for the challenges that lie ahead, what’s the next step?  As mentioned earlier, remember that you are better off not expecting a quick fix. Some researchers on the topic suggest setting aside a minimum investment of a thousand days for this effort.  While you could probably see significant progress before then, the point is to not come in expecting significant change to happen from one week to the next.

As you’re beginning this effort, another worthy idea is to combine this process with some reading for your team. I would recommend two short books with highly relevant material in this area:

Autopsy of a Deceased Church by Thom Rainer
Everyone Welcome: Reaching the Ones God Misses the Most by Roger Hernandez

Here is the gist of the process.  On a consistent basis (bi-weekly or weekly), you and your church team need to meet until you get a clear answer to the following questions:

1. What are we doing? Mission
2. Why are we doing it? Values
3. When do we know that we are making Disciples? Growth
4. How do we intend to accomplish the “what”? Strategy

From these four areas, you will build your church’s vision.

Now, we’ll explore each section in detail.

1. What are we doing? MISSION:
Every church must have a mission; mission is the bottom-line reason why a congregation exists.  The mission provides the church with its direction and function.  The direction spells out where the church is going and the function addresses what it is supposed to accomplish.  Thankfully, Jesus already gave us a clear mission back in the first century.  The mission is to make disciples (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; and Luke 24:45-49).

The controversy over the term “Spiritual Formation” in some churches has made some people shy away from using the word discipleship (that is to say, the process of making disciples) to describe their mission.  The problem, however, does not lie in the word itself; the problem is determining what the word means in the usage.

Biblically speaking, the term “discipleship” includes both evangelism in particular (Mark 16:15; Luke 24:45-49) and edification on the church body in general (Matt. 28:20; 10:34-39).  As Adventists, we also have an apocalyptic mission given to us in Revelation 14 in the Three Angels Messages that is important to take into consideration.

There is currently a mission emphasis within every church.  The mission is either to minister primarily to those within the body, minister primarily to those not yet within the body, or to do both.   If the last option is chosen, then the congregation must put those outside the body as the group that will receive priority status when it comes to the overall ministry of the congregation.  This then focuses the congregation outward.  Congregations on a downward life cycle do not change their life cycle until they become outward focused.

While a church is thinking through its own particular mission emphasis, it’s important to consider a key question.

Who are you trying to reach?

An Adventist relief worker carrying aid through floodwaters in the isolated village of Tone-Eain-Tan, Myanmar, on Aug. 13. (Myanmar Union Mission). Credit: Adventist Review

An Adventist relief worker carrying aid through floodwaters in the isolated village of Tone-Eain-Tan, Myanmar, on Aug. 13. (Myanmar Union Mission). Credit: Adventist Review

 

Your church can’t reach everybody, even if it wants to.  Let’s say that in your community there are young families, immigrants, college students, committed Christians, seekers, non-believers (we really don’t have to assume because this mix is found in most places).  Even though you may want to reach everybody, you have limited people and limited resources (especially if you’re a smaller church).  To divide your efforts means to divide your resources and minimize your maximum effectiveness.  That’s the reality.

So decide on your church’s borders or geographical boundaries and decide who lives within your Jerusalem.

  1. Why are we doing it? VALUES

Values are the boundaries that guide the mission and form the parameters for the vision.  All congregations have values.  The question is whether the values reflect an outward or inward focus.  New mission and vision initiatives are not accomplished without the adoption of new values consistent with those initiatives.

The way to figure out the values for an individual congregation is to ask the right questions.  If you simply ask “what’s important you as a church?”  There’s a high probability that you’ll get answers along the lines of: Community, Evangelism, Compassion, Worship, Hope, Bible Teaching, Healing, etc.

While these are all excellent answers, there is usually a difference between a church’s stated values and their lived out values.

Therefore, instead of asking “what’s important to you, it would be good to go through an exercise that will give you a clearer idea of your local values actually are.  See the Values Assessment Exercise at the end for this resource. However starter questions to consider in this area are the following

  • How comfortable are you with innovation or change?
  • Do you expect our community to look and act like us before we fellowship with them?
  • How do you deal with conflict in your church?

These are the kinds of questions you need to be asking to find out what is really the culture and values that your church presently has.

3. When do we know that we are making Disciples? GROWTH

When we study how Jesus ministered to people and built disciples, it’s interesting to see that he primarily focused on improving a key element that fueled the entire equation: Relationships.

The ability for people to develop relationships with other people is crucial for changing the life cycle of a congregation.  We must remember that people are not looking for friendly congregations.  Rather they are looking for a congregation where they can make friends.  If people cannot develop meaningful and sustained relationships quickly, they will not stay or be attracted to congregations.

Small congregations are generally only friendly (friendly is different than being nice or cordial) to those who are already a part of the congregation.  Large congregations grow large because people can make friends easily on their terms.  George Bullard, president of the Columbia Partnership, shares that there are at least five key concepts that are crucial to keep in mind.[i]

  1. SATURATED AND UNSATURATED RELATIONSHIPS: People are like “LEGOS” in that they only have so many pegs to connect with other people.  Therefore, they can only have a limited number of meaningful relationships.  That is why new people must constantly be connected with people who are relatively new to the congregation.
  2. THIRD PLACES: Everyone needs a place where they are accepted or valued as a person for who they are, not what they do.
  3. GROUP DYNAMICS: Different size groups meet for different purposes.  These purposes cannot be interchanged.
    1. Large groups –  Unity for worship and mission
    2. Mid-size groups – Fellowship and teaching
    3. Small groups – Intimacy and accountability
  4. TRANSITIONS: People resist the loss of what was comfortable, provided status and influence, and made them feel significant.  Understanding transitions enables change agents to identify that loss, develop plans to deal with the loss, and validate the grief that goes with the loss.  Transition plans often enable change to occur with a minimum of resistance.
  5. UNDERSTANDING YOUR NICHE: As mentioned earlier, local congregations do not minister to all the variety of groups of people in the community.  That is why God has placed a number of congregations in one community.  His Body is comprised of numerous bodies to reach a variety of people.  Therefore, each congregation must understand the (gifts, talents, abilities, backgrounds, etc.) mix that God has provided to reach different kinds of people.  It also means that each congregation must study the people groups God has prepared it to reach in order to maximize its effectiveness.  Growing congregations think like missionaries.  Healthy congregations are always removing cultural barriers and building cultural bridges to people in order to reach them.

What does this all mean in a practical sense?

The local church here needs to make a fearless inventory of its ministries and activities and see if they line up with their values.  One way to do this is by making what Aubrey Malphurs calls a Discipleship or Maturity Matrix.  He first creates a horizontal line across the top of a four-by-eight-foot white board.  On the top line, he writes what are he believes are a congregations characteristics of maturity.  These characteristics are, incidentally, the very same church values that the church would have agreed upon in the previous step!

Let’s say that a congregation values the following five areas the most: worship, fellowship, biblical instruction, evangelism, and service or ministry.

Then, on the left-hand side of the board, he would draw a vertical line.  Next to it, he would write the church’s activities.  Some examples are a church’s worship service, prayer meeting, Sabbath school, small group, and other specific ministries or activities.  A chart would look something along these lines:

  Worship Fellowship Biblical Instruction Evangelism Service or Ministry
Worship Service     X
Prayer Meeting      X  
Sabbath School      X        X
Small Groups      X      X
Other areas

The goal would be to see if the ministry falls under any area.  If it does fall into one of the areas, it would be helpful for the ministry leader to do complete a ministry assessment form (included in the appendix) to see how they can improve their area even more.  If the area or activity doesn’t fall under any of the values or doesn’t help to advance the mission of the local church in their stated area of ministry, it needs to be revaluated to see if it can’t be reworked to make it line up with the mission and goals of the church.  If not, it needs to be eliminated.

Are outsiders welcomed? Are seekers given answers? Are members challenged to engage in meaningful ways? Are leaders trained for continued service? Is your church committed to long-term growth or short-term success?

The purpose of a ministry in a congregation is to help disciples mature and to aid disciples in the making of more disciples.  Therefore, ministry must meet needs people have and contribute to the growth and health of both individuals and the entire congregation.

Adventist youth and young adults participate in compassion projects. Credit: Atlantic Union News

Adventist youth and young adults participate in compassion projects. Credit: Atlantic Union News

  1. How do we intend to accomplish the “what”? STRATEGY

Now that most of the heavy work has been done, this area looks at big picture ideas for “How” the “What” will get done.  Many of the points may come back from previous answers.  Here you can explore question of, why would your community want to attend your church?  With everything that happens over the weekend and all it has to offer – sports, movies, outdoor activities, etc. why would people attend your church?

I don’t have much more to say on this area because this will be contextual based on your ministry setting.  However, you should consider things like marketing, facility upkeep, greeters, program flow, guest follow up, and other peripheral factors here.  This is all part of the strategy of strategy!

With all of this work done, the final step in the process is to formulate a clear and compelling vision for your church.

Vision describes the results when the mission is successfully implemented.  The vision must always be bigger than the congregation describing how the congregation will change the community in which it exists.  Vision produces passion for ministry.  A compelling vision often motivates a congregation to make the changes needed to move from a downward life cycle to an upward one reflecting new health.

Think of your vision like an art canvass.  I used to love watching Bob Ross paint his nature canvasses (and still do if there is a rerun on and I have some free time).  Although a good 90% of his paintings were bushes and sticks, the way he painted can give us a good idea of what a good vision has.

Go watch some "Joy of Painting" with Bob Ross. Your ears will thank you.

Go watch some “Joy of Painting” with Bob Ross. Your ears will thank you.

Background: These are the pretty mountains in the distance (5-10 year goals)

Midground: These are the hills that are not too far away but still not in the front (3-5 year goals)

Foreground: Here we find the happy little trees that are in our faces but a little ways away (1 year goal)

Front: Here is that bush that is right in your face (90-day goal)

A growing church will have both short-term and long-term views of what must be done in order to move it to the next level. By doing this, the church will ensure that it isn’t only thinking about what needs to be done next week. Instead, it engages its imagination to dream for what God has in store for it!

In conclusion, this is isn’t easy.  This process isn’t something that should be done autocratically by the pastor.  There is saying that people will rarely take responsibility some something which they don’t help create themselves.  Therefore, this process must really have buy in from those who will hopefully be invested in seeing the church move forward.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you about this plan and any suggestions or advice you can offer. Comment and share below!

[i] http://www.stpaulsgb.org/filerequest/2448

Worksheets:

Values Assessment Exercise

Ministry Audit

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