Eighty percent of the churches in America are either plateaued or declining. Some put that number even higher.
It is estimated that 4,000 to 5,000 churches close their doors each year. The number of churches per capita continues to shrink, meaning our churches are growing at less than the rate of population.
Many denominations are focused on planting new churches, which are greatly needed, but we are not starting enough new churches to make up for those that are closing.
While it is critical that new church planting continues, we also need to find ways to bring new life into our existing churches.
Church revitalization is not easy work because it requires that churches are willing to change, and change does not come easy for many churches.
Their primary focus can remain on themselves no longer; it must shift to those not yet reached with the gospel.
A few years ago, I talked with a church about some changes it needed to consider making in order to bring new life into their congregation.
I cautioned them that if they began making some of those changes, they might lose some of their existing membership.
One person responded that she didn’t see anyone in their church she was willing to give up, and the rest of the congregation agreed.
What these folks failed to realize is the impact that decision will make on future generations, their children and grandchildren.
Change is not easy, but neither is seeing a church lock its doors for the last time.
Church revitalization is also difficult because it demands courage from its leadership. Everything rises and falls on leadership.
One of the statements in a book I read years ago on church turnarounds was that every church turnaround was prefaced by a change in pastoral leadership.
The church I pastored at that time needed to change. I didn’t feel led to leave the church, but I also didn’t want to be a stumbling block to its needed transformation.
So I decided that I needed to change how I led the church.
The church would have a new pastor because I became committed to changing my ministry.
As my ministry changed, so did our church, and many positive things began to happen.
Unfortunately, too many pastors are not leaders. Some have admitted to me that they don’t really know how to lead; they have never been taught how to lead and really don’t want to be a leader.
Instead, they are managers who are comfortable maintaining the status quo. Such pastors are unlikely to ever bring new life into a church.
Often, they are little more than hospice chaplains tending to a dying patient.
Unless a pastor is willing to lead the effort, church revitalization will not happen. He or she must have the courage to challenge the tunnel vision that has led the church into its current situation and be able to offer a compelling vision for how to lead the church in a different direction.
The lay leaders of the church also need to be people of courage willing to follow the pastor’s lead.
Only when the pastor and lay leaders demonstrate their commitment to turning the church around will it experience new life.
We cannot afford to lose any more churches. There is so much spiritual confusion today in our nation and world, and they need a healthy, revitalized church that can bring them the clear message of hope found only in the gospel.
Our children and grandchildren need to hear that message, and where will they hear it if not from the church?
Dennis Bickers served as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years before accepting his current position as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Bivocational Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.
Dennis Bickers is a church consultant and author. He served previously as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years followed by a 14-year ministry as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky.