by Ed Stetzer
I fell in love with church revitalization early in my ministry when I led a church of 35 senior adults during a brief stint teaching at a seminary.
The median age of the people was 68. It seemed like there was an oxygen tank or a walker at the end of most pews. They came to me and said, “Dr. Stetzer, help us reach the young people.”
Leading a church in revitalization has taught me some invaluable lessons. While the process is often difficult and slow moving, if approached correctly it can reinvigorate and empower God’s people to produce lasting fruit.
You Will Meet Resistance
Leadership, especially with church revitalization, is a long and slow labor of love in the face of resistance. Not every member will be on your side during revitalization.
No matter how difficult, look past the resistance remembering that revitalization is like basic physics. Momentum results from movement against the inertia.
Love Your People
In revitalization, you need to love, not drive people. Talk to them. Listen to them. Get them excited about God’s mission for their life and their church. Love your people, and not just as a means of getting them to do what you want.
When I set out to love and empower a group of 34 mostly senior adults (one left soon after we started our journey), they became excited and ready to go on mission.
They wanted to love their neighbors and engage the community around them. And that all-white congregation got out from behind their church walls and began effectively reaching their multi-cultural, lower-middle to poor working-class neighborhood.
On my last day at the church, Harold, the over 80-year-old deacon chairman poked me in the chest, and said, “Preacher, I still don’t like the music. And the kids are breaking everything.”
And he was right. The more activity you have in a church, the more likely things are going to be broken.
Any disconnected church that seeks to reengage with their community will find the experience to be messy. There may be mud on the carpet, smudges on the walls, dirty bathrooms, or broken vases.
The way of church life to which your people had grown accustomed will suddenly change.
So there we were, Harold with his finger in my chest and me looking at him trying to figure out this confrontation. Still making eye contact, he teared up and said, “I still don’t like the music, and the kids are breaking everything, but it was worth it all.”
In revitalization, it’s hard to transition to a missional mindset. Kids will break things. Life will change. But in the end, it’s worth it all.
During our two years together, we saw the church grow from 34 to 175 people in weekly attendance. Neighborhood people were now coming to the church.
We were serving the poor. We had begun a program for single moms. We repaired the rarely used baptistery. These changes represented lasting fruit.
Church revitalization is an opportunity to lead God’s people to a renewed focus on God’s mission. Such an endeavor will undoubtedly change lives, communities, and have a gospel impact on generations to come.
In that first experience, I fell in love with church revitalization. The church recalibrated its sense of mission and reengaged in the growingly diverse community.
I also learned that strong leadership was not driving but loving and empowering my people to make the necessary decisions to live on mission in their community.
Revitalization may be difficult, but Harold said it best—it’s worth it all.