REVITALIZATION: Stay away from these avoidable mistakes!

By: Rev Ed Schneider, M.P.Th.
First things first.  Let’s take a quick look at what a successful revitalization project looks like.  Here are the desired results of a local congregation who has committed to the 2 year process of reinventing itself to better serve the cause of Christ in their existing communities.  After the revitalization project has been successfully completed the local congregation can be generally described as being;
  • financially independent,
  • a vital representation of weekly worship that thoroughly reflects the actual demographics surrounding the local church site,
  • an active membership that represents 25% or more new adult converts,
  • 200 in regular worship, growing and having sustainable community engagements, and
  • at least 3 new visible, viable, and active missional ministries being led by laity.
Because revitalizing a local congregation is extremely rare, and because far too many good intended believers correctly assess that “something” needs to happen or eventual congregational death will be guaranteed, TWO COMMON MISTAKES HAPPEN ALL THE TIME!
  • The first is….Let’s just do what we used to do, except with more energy, and God will surely open the doors to success….WRONG!
  • The second is….Let’s just go get back all those who have left and convince them to recommit themselves to “their church” and we can get back on track….WRONG!

Revitalization does not equate to “tweaking” or “enhancing” what a local congregation is already doing!  It is first and foremost an awakened and informed decision that what is being done, has been done, and if continued to be done will eventually result in the certain death of the local congregation’s viability to effectively represent the cause of Christ in any tangible and sustainable way within their local community.

start againThe need to REVITALIZE is not a goal to hope for.  It is rather a complete realization that a rebranding of….NOT WHAT YOU STAND FOR….but rather how your local congregation will go forward in proclaiming and demonstrating what you believe.  With the exception of less than a handful of absolute foundational beliefs and a few distinct practices….EVERY ASPECT of how a local congregation DOES CHURCH will change, because it has to.

The reality is there are good intended and even greatly enthusiastic people who desire to revitalize and reanimate their local church and still fail in their efforts.  Under the best circumstances only 30-40% of revitalization project will succeed.  One of the major reason for the failures is that those wanting to prompt real and sustainable transformation are incredible uninformed of the common mistakes to avoid.  

The following list will highlight a short listing of FOUNDATIONAL MISTAKES TO AVOID.

Through many sources, over decades of verifiable research, the following represent WHAT NOT TO DO.   Again, can a church plant or a revitalization project get-away-with making a mistake or two and still be successful? Sure they can. However, if you knew before you began WHAT NOT TO DO….would you then make a concerted effort to avoid those things that will….the vast majority of time….guarantee failure?  Of course you would.

Here is a list of mistakes to avoid.

  • NOT GETTING AN OBJECTIVE LEADERSHIP ASSESSMENT: Just as there is a list of desired attributes for a church planter, there is also a list of desired characteristics of a successful leader fora revitalization effort.  Just because a minister may be a great preacher or teacher does not mean they will be a great leader for a revitalization project.  Even though one person CANNOT LEAD a revitalization effort it is still incredibly important to have the right person, in the right place, and under the right context to be able to effectively help to lead this effort.  Don’t short change or devalue getting an objective assessment of competencies and capacities for this work.
  • NOT RETAINING THE COMMITMENT OF & GREATLY VALUING THE GUIDANCE FROM A COACHING PARTNER:  The actual number of known and unexpected components of a revitalization process is large.  Revitalization is hard enough, don’t make it harder than it has to be by assuming your willingness and enthusiasm will be enough to attain the desired outcomes of a successful revitalization project.  Get help….the right kind of help….and work together.
  • GO SLOW TO RUN FAST LATER:  All successful revitalization projects were not only well thought-out they were strategically and incrementally accomplished.  Don’t buy a 30 foot outside banner, buy late-night cable ads, and announce over all social media….WE’RE STARTING OVER JUST FOR YOU!….before you have all aspects of your revitalization plan ready to go.  Unrestrained and impatient enthusiasm will kill any revitalization effort. Be intentional about every component’s implementation and effectiveness PRIOR TO any public announcement.  Most sustainable efforts happen more like a tsunami (quiet, spread over a wide area, and powerful in its affect) rather than a tidal wave (hugely obvious, tragically destructive and over as fast as it came).
  • CONFUSING ACTIVE LEADERSHIP WITH CORE GROUP MEMBERS:  I can’t begin to tell you how often a planting or revitalization leader confuses their CORE GROUP (those you can count on to be there and support the opening with their presence and a task or two) with their LAUNCH TEAM (assessed, trained, equipped, supported and deployed…job specific…leaders). Your launch team is without question THE MOST IMPORTANT aspect of success or failure. They are not only committed to accomplish the needed outcomes, they are openly and completely devoted to the cause of Christ with a can-do…will-do….no matter what…attitude AND A HISTORY TO DEMONSTRATE IT.
  • TRYING TO LEAD WITHOUT A FULLY ENGAGED, TRAINED, EQUIPPED, AND DEPLOYED TEAM OF LEADERS:  No revitalization will happen….at any sustainable level….without a TEAM APPROACH!  This one aspect that both Planting and Revitalization have in common.  Unfortunately, it is also one common mistake that both Planting and Revitalization projects continue to make.  The bible CLEARLY CALLS CHRISTIAN BELIEVERS INTO COMMUNITY. So why do we keep trying to lead alone, work alone, worry alone, pray alone, and plan alone?  There needs to be a Revitalization LAUNCH TEAM who have specific functions, with specific predetermined job descriptions, completely supported as well as held accountable to get the job done.
  • IF REVITALIZATION INCLUDES A NEW WORSHIP EXPERIENCE DO NOT LAUNCH THAT EFFORTS WITH TOO FEW PEOPLE TO SUSTAIN THE EFFORT: Do nothing if you are not in a position to completely internally support, externally engage, and systematically promote. New people will be required to positively effect change.  New attitudes, tools, and methods will be needed to sustain new efforts.  There are tried and true strategies to bring in new ideas, people and methods…trust that process.  Don’t start a new service without new leadership. Don’t start a new weekly worship experience without AT LEAST 50 (70+ is preferable) new people dedicated to supporting the new worship experience.  This of course includes what happens before, during and after the weekly event.  It is always good to have trial or multiple “demonstration services” prior to launching weekly experiences.  That way ALL ASPECTS of the before, during and after experiences can be fully supported and engaged.
  • DO NOT COUNT ON OUTSIDE REVENUES TO SUSTAIN THE EFFORT:  Learning how to be financially self-supportive is far better than relying on an eventually ending outside source. With all revitalization efforts it is a primary goal to be sustainable in all things….including finances.  Tithing is important for all leaders, (this includes both launch team and core group adults) however, it is only one of several areas that will need to be addressed relating to financial independence.  Make sure there is a concerted efforts to directly deal with this important reality PRIOR TO launching your revitalization effort.
  • IGNORING THE NEED TO ASSIMILATE:  There needs to be an effective way of tracking, engaging, contacting, and communicating to every single prospective member, family and organization represented within the revitalization project.  Whether you meet someone at a high school basketball game, the lobby of the church or have a moment with a visitor in the parking lot….there has to be strategies and the multiple methods to track, engage, contact and communicate (in multiple ways and multiple times) these people.  Every single business and organization within a 15 minute drive of the church’s physical location have to be identified, engaged, and invited to support and participate in the revitalization effort (in multiple ways over a two year period).  It is one thing to get people to visit. It is a wholly different goal to get them to return, commit, engage in the ministries of the local congregation and then positively share that experience with others.  Assimilation has to be taken seriously!  No revitalization effort has any hope of successfully achieving its goals without it.
  • REPLICATION OF NEW LEADERSHIP DONE TOO SLOWLY:  There has to be an agreed upon plan to identify, evaluate, engage, train, test and mentor NEW LEADERSHIP from the very beginning of the process.  Having an environment that promotes and authentically cherishes NEW LEADERS is remarkably important to sustainability.  It takes a significant amount of time to disciple potential leadership. Have designated “gurus” within your core or launch team to just be point persons to engage in the process of testing the areas of competence and capacity for generic leadership.  You can always get area-specific later.
  • WILLINGNESS TO HELP DOES NOT EQUATE TO AN EFFECTIVE LEADER:  Don’t assume someone who is passionate about a particular component of ministry ought to be leading it.  Character matters with leaders.  History matters with leaders. Preparation matters for leaders. Devotion to the cause of Christ ABSOLUTELY MATTERS.  Don’t rush the process of invitations to being a leader.
  • NOT EMBRACING THOSE WHO ARE NEW AND DIFFERENT:  Every revitalization efforts begins and ends with receiving believers and NON-BELIEVERS as they come.  Their brokenness and imperfections are a privilege to accept.  Every revitalization efforts relies upon this foundational theology.  During the first several years of the revitalization effort your new congregation will evolve and organically transform into a group that openly reflects the attributes of an accepting and empowering Jesus.  No revitalization effort can be successful without this core component.

 I want you to notice I did not mention worship styles and order of worship expression.  There is a reason for that.  All revitalization efforts HAVE TO BE in the context of the demographic surroundings of each church location.  Each effort will need to be in coordination and context of the potential pool of new members that are within a 15 minute drive of the front doors of the church building.

  • If your congregation sits in an area that has 50% single parent households with 2 children of school age and you have no active ministries that support and engage that portion of your parish…..your revitalization effort will fail.
  • If your congregation sits in an area that is in a predominantly rural area and you are determined to stick with 400 year old hymns as the musical foundation of your worship then pride and arrogance will be prompt failure.
  • If your congregation sits in an area with 30 socially active non-profits and none of your leadership team or core group belongs to any of them…..WOW!



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