Approaching a struggling church about revitalization is tricky. Often, leaders are unable to accept the reality that their church is struggling or unwilling to take the necessary steps to adapt. Even once a church realizes that it’s in decline, the leadership can still resist revitalization for a few reasons:
- They are suspicious of “carpet baggers” – a stronger church exploiting and capitalizing on their resources.
- They love who they are.
- They treasure their traditions.
It’s Not a Takeover
Revitalization is best achieved through a partnership, not a takeover. We aren’t trying to gain more campuses and resources for ourselves here at Family Church. We want to prevent local churches from declining and help them thrive again. It’s the only way to combat the growing lost population – as I said before, just planting churches is not enough. We have to plant and revitalize. In some cases, we have the resources that a struggling church doesn’t, and I’m not just talking about money. We have a church planting residency program that helps us raise up leaders, many of whom are bivocational. We have systems to share and encouragement to offer.
A declining church is often unwilling to adapt to the rapidly changing community and culture. They love who they are and treasure their traditions – things that are constant and stable in our shaky culture. In our own church family, I have experienced the difficulty of uprooting treasured traditions. There is backlash! But change was, and is, necessary for growth.
The Rack or the Guillotine
Perhaps the greatest influence on my thinking during our times of transition is Seth Godin’s book “Survival Is Not Enough.” He says that nobody likes change, but there comes a point when you know death is inevitable and now you just have to choose death by the rack or the guillotine. People fear the guillotine because it’s quick and decisive so they avoid the change. The rack is slower and ultimately more painful, but somehow seems more tolerable. Organizations (and churches) think, “If we can only hold on a little longer, we might just make it.”
Some people still aren’t on board with changes I’ve made at Family Church, but the fact is we didn’t just survive, we have thrived. We are reaching more people with the Gospel than ever. Traditions are great, but when they hinder the Gospel it’s time for them to go.
The bottom line is this – struggling churches may resist revitalization. It’s a process that takes time and requires us to build relationships with other leaders in the community. As difficult as it is, we are dedicated to revitalizing as well as planting local churches to further the Gospel!
Watch for Part 3: Success Stories