Updated: Jun 7, 2022
Thom Rainer has provided valuable insight regarding churches in the USA. Before the pandemic hit, he was focusing on revitalization, challenging Christians across the country to consider the change yet ahead. Perhaps Rainer’s wisdom relates to your current context.
A Way of Life
To begin with, Rainer believes most churches need some kind of revitalization and most leaders should lead towards it. To be truthful, our team at DCA can’t think of a single church that we’ve worked with that ought to sit still.
We can’t imagine ever telling a church to keep doing things the exact same way they are currently doing them. Even if they are doing an awesome job, they need to be looking ahead, evaluating, shifting, and digging deeper.
Really, shouldn’t we consider church revitalization as a constant way of life? Treading water is not leadership, and is probably even more exhausting than swimming against the current. Rather, we need to be undergoing the revitalization process as part of our daily, weekly, and monthly life as a faith community. And perhaps even in our own lives. But what would that look like?
Keys to Successful Church Revitalization
In considering “8 Common Characteristics of Successful Church Revitalizations,” Rainer brings up the importance of pastors forming an alliance with key influencers in their churches. While this is certainly a strong idea, if church revitalization is to be a constant Christian practice, the whole congregation needs to be involved.
Practically speaking, it may be beneficial for pastors to bring together small groups of folks on a monthly basis for prayer, communal discernment, and evaluation of how changes are going. And before you say “hey we already do that,” a monthly board or session meeting doesn’t count; this meeting needs to be completely focused on the future of the church.
In addition, we would also challenge pastors to involve their entire congregation in this continued discernment. Ask for their prayers, extend invitations for them to share ideas (not just via email or a town hall meeting, but in creative ways too), and engage them in putting some of these ideas into practice!
Changing Church Culture
We need to cultivate a culture where congregants will feel able to try anything once, feeling safe to ask questions, provide honest feedback, and think creatively. Church revitalization is an opportunity for discipleship and one that is seldom contemplated or accomplished properly!
Rainer also notes that successful churches are willing to let go of sacred cows, lose members, and experience conflict. While none of this sounds very fun, it’s definitely better than walking on eggshells.
Over the years, we have talked with many pastors who were hesitant to bring up a potentially controversial topic or address a problem, for fear of the potential ramifications. When they’ve finally stood up, the most common result has been congregants thanking them!
Remember, if you are seeing an issue or experiencing some sort of problem, the chances are many more people are feeling the same way, and are hoping you’ll step in! If you don’t, they will most likely stay silent about it and drift away, to another church or perhaps none at all.
Change or Die?
Finally, Rainer discusses the urgency leaders need to communicate to their churches when trying to promote church revitalization. He writes, “One of the simplest yet most powerful communications of urgency I’ve heard is: ‘We change or we die.’”
While this would certainly be a frightening and motivating thing to hear, it isn’t inspiring. Besides, if we were to step out anxiously into our communities, acting out of fear, wouldn’t the surrounding community notice?
Rather, let’s double down on our commitment to the church and the community, as we are inspired by Paul’s perseverance in the face of great persecution and Christ’s victory in the face of death itself. This kind of hope will inspire others to join in on what we are doing.
Take the Challenge
All of this in mind, let us consider the following questions together:
What if church revitalization were a way of life? How would that impact your congregation’s perception of change?
What leaders, or “key influencers,” in your congregation could set a pattern for others to follow when it comes to revitalization? Who can you talk to about this, this week?
What issues have you been nervous to bring up for fear that it might disrupt a sacred cow or scare people away? Do you think not bringing it up could actually be scaring other people away (i.e. first timers)?
What inspires you to be a Christian? Do others know your answer? If not, who can you tell this week?