Aubrey Malphurs affirmed that 80–85% of churches in America are either plateauing or in decline and barely 10–15% of pastors are equipped to turn them around.David Olson identified that only 26% of Americans are evangelical.
It is obvious that American Christianity is hemorrhaging. Revitalization is essential. While I am a huge proponent of church planting, I believe we drastically need to revitalize our churches. It’s not easy and there are many variables, but, as someone who was a revitalizing pastor, here are three must-haves to turnaround churches.
The Apostle Paul declared, “For necessity is laid upon me. Woeto me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). The pulpit is not for politics, social agendas, or movements, but the expounding of God’s Word—the proclamation of the gospel. Preachers who teach five reasons why you’re awesome, or four ways to overcome depression, are not gospel-centered.
Transformation can only occur when the convicting power of the Holy Spirit begins work and repentance is set forth. “Churches” presenting a false gospel may be growing in size, but they are not growing in spiritual formation and discipleship. Revitalization is not about how big a church gets, but how many disciples it makes and sends.
The captivating call of the gospel will bring a fire to a gospel-centered pastor’s bones—not to be confused with yelling or screaming—but experienced passion. John Wesley once declared, “Catch on fire for the gospel with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.”
Leadership, innovation,& change
All of these go together. While it should be obvious that lazy leaders cannot bring revitalization, the big issues are a lack of innovation and change. In my assessment, innovation and change are key factors of church revitalization. The greatest roadblock that halts innovation is the fear of change.
We need to remember that God never does what we expect him to do. Effective church leaders are visionaries, risk-takers, and faithful to God. Look at the plans that God delivered to Joshua (Josh. 6:3–7). Marching around a city and blowing trumpets doesn’t exactly sound like a great military strategy. Revitalizing churches must let Holy Spirit innovation guide their leaders.
While some statistics show that new pastors spur revitalization, I don’t believe it’s altogether necessary. Church revitalization comes from the Holy Spirit and the people, not one person. The problem is that most pastors of tenure will not receivethe ability to lead through change, or may not be innovative. It’s also possible that there isgood leadership, but the church refuses change—in which case, death is certain. Effective leadership, innovation, and change will stimulate revitalization.
I don’t care how big a church becomes; community impact is important and expressive because God has called His people to be the light of the world. Let’s be clear: The gospel and serving community should never be separated—they belong together. It’s not one or the other—it’s both.
Community impact is importantbecause Christians are “ambassadors of Christ” who bring the ministry of reconciliation to the world (2 Cor. 5:18–20). Christians have a duty to serve one another and others (Gal. 6:10). Addiction, poverty, homelessness, and orphans—these are all biblical calls to serve.
The call of the gospel compels us to go into our community and serve with love. As Charles Spurgeon asserted, “I will not believe that thou hast tasted of the honey of the gospel if thou can eat it all to thyself.”
Community impact is expressive. In other words, a church’s impact on its community reveals an outward focus of an inward heart. The way that a church shows love to its neighbors shows the way it loves Christ. Jesus said that if you serve the “least of these,” you have served Me (Matt. 25:40).
Here’s the big question: if your church were to close its doors tomorrow, would anyone in the community care, notice, or react?
For more information on revitalization, contact me.
Aubrey Malphurs, Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 200.
David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis: Groundbreaking Research Based On a National Database of Over 200,000 Churches (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 181.