Have you ever wondered why revitalization happens in some churches but not in others? Why does life seem to spring forth only in some churches? What does it take for a church to be revitalized? Let’s take a look at some factors that block revitalization in some churches.
It’s all about where we lay the blame
Did you know that growing churches commonly credit internal factors for their growth? You’ll hear people who go to these churches say something like:
It’s the children’s program, that’s why we grow.
It’s what we do in our small groups, that’s why we grow.
It’s the worship, that’s why we grow.
It’s the preaching, that’s why they grow.
It’s all the community events we do, that’s why we grow.
It’s our children’s activities, that’s why we grow.
However, declining churches commonly blame external factors for their decline. You may hear people in these churches say something like:
People don’t want to come to church anymore, that’s why we are in decline.
The shopping malls are open, that’s why we’re in decline.
People are watching sports, that’s why we’re in decline.
What you either credit—or blame—internal or external factors, can indicate whether you are a growing church or a church in decline.
Declining churches will usually think that spending more money on themselves will make people want to come to church. So, they’ll spend increasing amounts of money on renovations, furniture and maintenance. These things are important, but when they become the priority it is usually at the expense of real connections with the community around them. Trying to relive the “golden days” is an unrealistic expectation that can only leave the church feeling even more lost and disconnected. Connecting with the community need not be complicated or expensive; take a look at these 100 ideas.
When unrealistic expectations are not met, the declining church can easily slide into unrelenting disappointment. In a situation where growth does not happen as quickly as expected, disappointment can cause the church to settle for the lowest common denominator. When they fail to attempt new things (for fear of disappointment), they become disappointed that nothing new seems to be happening. It’s a vicious circle. The best remedy to overcome disappointment is for the declining church to rediscover the call of God. This call will always contain a reappointment to take risky steps of faith in mission.
Lack of prayer
Prayer meetings seem to have gone out of fashion in our churches, but the church that fails to make prayer a priority is vulnerable to slowly sliding into decline. Churches that see prayer, fasting and waiting on the Lord as essential continually discover that they are part of a global family and they focus their prayers on that as well as the needs of the community all around them. These prayers will lead them to activities that are the answer to their own prayers. A praying church will stick together.
When a church declines, at some point along the way it will have forgotten that it is in a spiritual battle. Members will become prone to seeing each other as the enemy, which gives way to all kinds of unhelpful behaviour. This can further exacerbate the decline of the church. A rediscovery of what Ephesians 6:12 says we are wrestling with will help any church seeking to recover lost ground here.
Declining churches are usually overly inward-focused, with a keen nostalgic memory. Sadly, too much looking backwards can prevent the church from stepping forwards. Any church seeking to reverse decline must seek to be faithful to the past—not by repeating it, but by re-imagining how to apply the principles in a new future.
We have looked at a few reasons why revitalization does not happen in some churches and there’s probably many more reasons. As you have read these, you may have been reminded of elements of decline in your own church. So, what can we do next?
We must recognize that revitalization is not an automatic by-product of church meetings, but rather requires us to take intentional steps to avert decline. We must look circumspectly at our past, while seeking to be honest about our present reality, so that we can take the vital steps towards revitalization today. There will be no quick fix, “shake and bake”-type activity, but a journey filled with good conversations that lead to the right kind of actions.
If your church needs revitalizing, we encourage you to find out more about the new CBOQ initiative “Revitalization For Small Churches.” You can find out more here.
Let’s start the conversation about church revitalization now (I’d love to connect with you to talk more) and if you have any stories of how God is revitalizing your church, let’s share those too. We’ll do this journey together.
Congregational Development Associate