Church Revitalization Plan (Part 1)

Note: This is the first of two brief articles on church revitalization plans. This one maps out a revitalization strategy for an incoming pastor while the second one will explain how to do the same as an established pastor.

So the candidating experience went well and the church just called you to be next pastor. Yes, there’s a rush of excitement but there’s also apprehension because the church you’ve been called to has been in decline for some time, and now it’s up to you to lead this struggling congregation. Do you know what to do next?

Church revitalization is what we call it when a plateaued or dying church begins to grow once again by receiving new believers into its membership. What must an incoming pastor do beyond caring for his own spiritual health in order to lead the church in this kind of renewal?

1. Begin as a Humble Learner

An incoming pastor seeking to bring revitalization to a struggling church must begin as a student of the history, people, values, and culture of the church as well as the cultural values of the surrounding community. The pastor can begin this process in conversation with any former pastors of the church who are willing to share their experiences. He should also spend significant time building relationships with staff members, elders, and committed congregants. These people will be more than willing to tell the stories of the church both good and bad. In addition to building initial pastoral relationships, these conversations will also reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the church and yield clues to the potential opportunities for spiritual impact in the surrounding community.

2: Build Credibility through Genuine Care

It has been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. This is where pastoral care comes into the equation. Work hard at genuinely loving your people. Care about their lives, families, and spiritual journeys. This is important in itself but it will also build credibility and trust with the people you are called to lead.

3. Catalyze Missional Prayer

The next priority is to organize and train the church to pray for church health and gospel impact as no substantive revitalization ever occurs without significant and sustained prayer. A realistic goal would be to recruit and train 10% of the congregation in how to pray for the evangelistic heart and impact of the church as well as to intercede on behalf of the residents in the surrounding community. This is about a church learning how to pray biblically grounded, evangelistically focused, strategic prayers. This could include a church-wide call to a monthly prayer gathering or an annual 24-7 prayer project.

4. Preach and Teach Christ’s Mission

The Great Commission of Jesus is recorded in all four Gospels as well as the book of Acts. Getting the church back on mission with Jesus is at the heart of true church revitalization! The pastor must not only inspire the congregation to embrace the mission of making disciples through the preaching of the Word; he must model it in his own life, ensure deeper training in evangelism and discipleship, and then celebrate it publicly when he sees it demonstrated in the lives of congregants.

5. Break Something… Strategically

Churches in decline typically have many worn out and ineffective ministries that have run their course. Some of them can be reimagined, realigned, or repurposed but others are ready to be celebrated and buried. Not only is this wise stewardship of limited resources, it also signals to the congregation that the pastor is a leader who is serious about the mission of making disciples for Jesus. But be careful not to break too many things too quickly! Too much too soon will burn limited leadership capital and can lead to a short-term pastorate.

6. See the community with missionary eyes

Most churches support cross-cultural missionaries oversees but rarely apply missiological best practices to their own local ministries. The pastor should organize and train a research team how to do demographic and culture research on the surrounding community in order to understand the mindset of the people and uncover any strategic opportunities that exist for a gospel witness in the community. The discoveries of this research should shape the vision, preaching schedule, and discipleship plan for the church.

7. Toil and Time

It is critical for the pastor to understand the long-range nature of church revitalization. Very few pastors have the grit to stay in place long enough to lead substantive and lasting revitalization. While it’s possible to see evidence of church revitalization in the first year, it takes five to seven years on average for substantive revitalization to occur so work hard and hang in there over time.

This plan should be intentional yet flexible. It must be a dynamic process of monitoring and adjusting based on how things unfold for pastor and congregation. The combined impact of these initiatives, however, will result in the refocusing of the church on the fields white for harvest and bring about church revitalization.

Going into a church turnaround situation is no walk in the park but somebody’s got to do it, and we simply don’t have enough turnaround specialists to handle all of the churches that are currently in crisis. As part of your plan you need to include a personal growth plan. Consider further training, a rigorous reading plan, hiring a consultant, retaining a church leadership coach, or taking an assessment and attending a Turnaround Pastors Inc. Bootcamp.

Recommended Resources

  • There’s Hope for Your Church: First Steps to Restoring Health and Growth by Gary L. McIntosh.
  • Make or Break Your Church in 365 Days: A Daily Guide to Leading Effective Change by Paul D. Borden.