Three Keys To Leveraging Church Revitalization
By Jim Barber
Archimedes was a Greek mathematician who lived in the 2nd century BC. He made likely the most famous quote ever about the use of a lever. By doing so, he demonstrated the significant amount of power available to those who understand how to leverage something.
A church needing revitalization may seem to possess the weight of the world. But as church leaders, we can leverage church revitalization. Doing so requires knowledge of the most important levers available. From my ministry and consulting experience, there are three levers that are “long enough” that they can move a church weighted down by unhealth and stagnancy to a new season of health and growth. There are other components of health that are often associated with revitalization. But in combination, prayer, disciple-making, and strategic decision-making are “long enough” to lead to lasting, impactful change.
When Jesus said “… apart from Me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5), He told us how to make a lever long enough to change things. He could not have made it clearer that dependence on Him is essential for our personal lives and for the vitality of our churches.
We know that this is not an isolated or new teaching that came from Jesus’ ministry. We could quote many examples of prior revelation that encourages us to lean on Him through prayer. When a church is pursuing the idea of revitalization it is essential that they be reminded of this.
I have a devotional guide for church leaders called SEEK which begins with reflection on Psalm 63 in which David expressed his God dependence. Among other things, he says, “…earnestly will I seek You.” If we read the whole Psalm, he gives us some insight into the variety of ways that he was seeking God: thirsting for God like he does for water (vs. 1); remembering previous worship times (vs. 2); and making a commitment to worship God (vs. 4).
A church interested in revitalization should start by actively submitting all their revitalization efforts to God in prayer. As they continue the work, prayer should continue to be a priority.
However, we must remember that the mission of the church is to make disciples, not to merely make prayer warriors. When disciples are made, they will pray. But disciplemaking health is the kind of lever that can improve the health of a church’s fellowship, evangelism, ministry, prayer, community outreach, and the development of ministry resources. As we make disciples, we can build into each one these characteristics of a healthy church. Churches in need of revitalization, should prioritize the health-leveraging capacity of disciplemaking.
In the past few years, I have helped churches ensure that they have a written definition of the characteristics of a disciple. I take that a step further and then encourage them to define specifically in writing how they make disciples and what they need to do to improve their effectiveness at making disciples.
3. Strategic decision-making
Prayer and disciple making are essential levers for church revitalization. But there is one more thing that can significantly help move a church from today’s reality to a healthier future.
Strategic decision-making is the ability to look long-term, assess today’s reality, and initiate changes needed to move the church toward a preferable future. Jesus did this in his ministry. In Mark 1 we see him praying (Mk. 1:35). We also see him cancel the idea of staying in one place in favor of preaching in many areas (1:36-38). Then, In Mark 3:13-19, he appointed the twelve to be with him and to go out. This then led to the continuation of the church after Jesus’ ascension.
While disciplemaking leverages health in many areas, strategic planning allows a leadership team to think even broader about such things as staffing priorities, succession planning, governance structure, and readiness to plant or go multi-site.
Preparing to revitalize a church might seem overwhelming at first. Using the three levers of prayer, disciplemaking and strategic decision making can bring about both clarity and effectiveness.