10 reasons to consider church revitalization — even over church planting

March 16th, 2015

I meet with young church planters frequently. I hope that continues. We had great experiences in two successful church plants and it’s certainly in my heart. Currently we are working to plant churches in Chicago. I love the energy of planting. We need lots of new churches.

In this season of my life, God has called me into revitalization. We are positioning an older, established church that was once in decline to grow again. And, it’s been amazing — and challenging — and rewarding — and hard.

God began to encourage my heart towards revitalization when I considered my home church — the one where I served in lay leadership until I was called into ministry late in my 30s. That church introduced me to Christ and helped me grow. I wouldn’t be in ministry today without them.

But that church has seen better days. (Thankfully they are in revitalization now and a friend of mine pastors there.) What will become of the established church? That was a burning question on my heart and God lined my heart up with a church in need of revitalization.

Now, after the experience of the last few years, when I meet with church planters, I often encourage them to consider church revitalization. I realize church revitalization doesn’t have all the attraction of church planting. I left behind my skinny jeans to enter church revitalization. And all God’s people said amen. But, here’s the thing: The attraction in church revitalization is in the mission. And that’s hopefully the same reason anyone enters church planting.

Here are 10 reasons to consider church revitalization — even over church planting:

You love the thought of restoring history. Our church is over 100 years old. Wouldn’t it be a shame to see that history come to an end if we can't reverse the decline?

You are ready to go to work now. There are far more opportunities in church revitalization. I read that nearly 90% of established churches are in decline or plateaued. There’s work to be done immediately.

You like having an established base of financial support. The good thing about many established churches is that they have loyal supporters. Sometimes those are the ones holding out until the doors are closed — they never want to change — but many times those people are just waiting for leadership to take them somewhere better than where they are today.

You love intergenerational ministry. In an established church, if you start to reach younger people, you’ll see a blending of generations. That’s a beautiful experience. It’s been one of our favorites in ministry. And personally, I think it’s healthy and a very biblical model of church.

You like a challenge. I didn’t put this as my number one, but don’t be misled. You will face opposition if you try to change things from where people are comfortable. You don’t face that same challenge in a church plant. But you didn’t get into ministry expecting it to be easy did you? You agreed to walk by faith, right? And, you’ll have that opportunity in church revitalization. Every day.

You won’t run from every conflict. You mustn’t. You must stay the good course. The mission is too vital.

You enjoy healthy structure. Granted, it might not be healthy, but you’ll find structure. And, as long as you’re not doing away with structure completely — which isn’t healthy anyway — you can usually tweak structure to be healthy again.

You are kingdom-minded. You see the bigger picture. There are more kingdom dollars being underutilized in stagnant churches than may ever be invested in church planting. What are we going to do about it? If you’d like to know the answer, maybe you’re a candidate for revitalization.

You can endure a long-term approach. It likely won’t happen immediately. In church planting, we could change in a weekend. That’s not necessarily true in the established church. There are many things that can happen immediately. Certainly we saw some immediate, very positive changes and the church began to grow quickly. But the best changes have taken time, and they have paid off dramatically because of our more methodical approach.

You truly love the local church. I didn’t love everything about the church that I came to pastor — or the established church I attended all my life until surrendering to ministry. But I truly love the local church. Enough that I’d be willing to invest energies in trying to save one.

Let me be honest. Some churches can’t be — and may not need to be — saved. There, I said that. They’ve been toxic since they began — running off pastors so a few families can remain in control. They aren’t interested in reaching a lost world. They are looking for a comfortable place to hang out with people just like them.

But there are so many churches who are ready to grow again with the right pastoral leadership. And, I encourage some of our young, eager, pastors — even some who may be considering church planting — to consider allowing God to use you in revitalizing an established church.

Ron Edmondson blogs at RonEdmondson.com.

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