by: Rev. Ed Schneider, M.P.Th.
This written offering will be difficult for some to read because it will directly address issues of practical viability of a local congregation and their likelihood of regaining a thriving sustainability for the cause of Jesus Christ. I will not pull any punches. I will not “play nice” to make you feel better while trying to share some potentially harsh realities concerning the future of a particular local church body.
We need to establish very quickly that not all local congregations should or even CAN BE revitalized to the point of being sustainably vital or in some mode of Gospel expansion. Some local churches have been so neglected by the lack of spiritual passion, competent leadership, long range financial stewardship and a practical intentionality for reaching out and including new people and leadership that there is no way they will eventually survive. It’s an absolute shame but that’s the truth. Some local congregations are dying and seem to be oblivious to what is actually happening until their building is falling in around them or the 400 seat auditorium has 36 people left and they are all over 70 years of age and haven’t had a returning visitor in a decade.
I shouldn’t have to tell any of you that it takes ACTUAL SUSTAINED EFFORT to keep a local congregation (regardless of location, current demographics, or former history) alive, thriving, and vibrantly expanding for the cause of Christ. Passionate and competent leadership both in and out of the pulpit is REQUIRED to have any hope of revitalizing any church. That is a fact! The reality is it is a whole lot easier to say that than to find it. If your local congregation has a honest interest in investigating the possibility of dramatically reinvesting in the PRACTICAL MISSION of local Christian engagement that is open and effective they will need to fully grasp what “revitalization” actually means.
There are two categories of REVITALIZATION we need to establish.
- The first is a major “from the ground up” COMPLETE REBRANDING and RESTRUCTURING of theological expressions (not what you believe but how it is expressed), practical programmatic offerings, staffing philosophies, community interactions, worship design, property presentation as well as the implementation and mechanisms of communications. This process generally takes 24-36 months to fully deploy and integrate into the life, language and leadership (both current or future) of the local church.
- The second is a PARTIAL REVITALIZATION or an ENHANCED REBRANDING. This second option ONLY APPLIES if the local congregation is still vibrant and noticeably active in a few programmatic ministries, BOTH INSIDE AND OUTSIDE of the local active membership, have a recognizable name and location….but little else. Examples of this would be a formerly successful local church with a large endowment established 20-30 years ago who has had a large decline in both active membership and weekly attendance for more than a decade AND YET still has a great “feeding ministry” or counseling service or overseas missionary presence. This church has got the physical plant, historical placement in the community BUT does little else to practically justify the qualification of an ACTIVE and VIBRANT membership.
Unfortunately, there is an excessive amount of both of these examples throughout the United States. There are plenty of churches that would be well served to go through a “complete revitalization” but they may lack the (1) critical mass of working adults, (2) financial assets or (3) the actual “will” to fully commit to a 2-3 year effort in rebirthing a dying congregation back to life.
Typically, a partial REBRANDING will include signage, a tweaking of the name(s) of the church of its existing ministries, a major commitment to social media presentation and communications efforts, a few staffing issues and how they go about practically interacting with the community they are actually placed within. For a lot of local congregations that alone would be a major undertaking. Conservatively there may be 20,000-30,000 congregations that would benefit from this process. The success rate of this process, assuming it is fully supported and deployed, will approach tangible enhancements that will be sustainable at the rate of 70-80%.
Unfortunately, for those congregations that are in obvious need (and that assumes the local leadership and majority of the active membership agrees with that assessment and have committed to support the effort) to completely re-establish a foundational shift in how they approach and express Christian ministry within their local context…the successful outcome of thriving sustainability after 3 years of HARD WORK maybe 40%….and that’s assuming everything goes as planned. The reason for this is that by the time the local congregation and its leadership has found the willingness to entertain the necessity of a COMPLETE REVITALIZATION it’s probably 5-7 years too late. Yet, I would still urge willing and passionate congregations to try. I thoroughly support and believe in the huge benefits, both spiritually and practically, of publicly and privately proclaiming the ABSOLUTE POWER of God’s ability to RESURRECT any faltering life or failing circumstance.
For those congregations who actually succeed in the TOTAL REBRANDING process they then provide further evidence in the resurrecting power of a loving God. That breathes hope in other churches who find themselves in what seems to be a hopeless situation. Under God’s grace there is always hope! If we as a Christian church don’t believe that then we should profoundly reassess our own faith in a transcendent and transformational deity that we claim to know personally.
Another strong benefit in either PARTIAL or COMPLETE REVITALIZATION commitments lay at the feet of collaborative teamwork. There is something quite special experiencing God working through the minds, hearts, and spiritual connection to each other as the arduous process moves forward. Learning how to work together, accepting and encouraging new people, while finding great hope in the anticipation of the journey of congregational transformation is special….when it works. It is NEVER EASY!
However, if a congregation can truly awaken to need of earnest revitalization, having clearly established their collective willingness and either sufficient financial and adult working adult leadership to finish the journey it is remarkable rewarding. Even if the church, after giving their best of efforts, ultimately fails by worldly standards….the value to others who have interacted in any tangible way in the rebirthing process is ALWAYS immeasurable.
If I can be supportive in the evaluation and implementation of either “partial” or “complete” revitalization efforts please do not hesitate in contacting me at Revitalizeyourchurch@gmail.com or through the reply or messenger mechanism on this site.