9 Reasons Why Church Revitalization is Hard

It’s tough work to lead a church in revitalization. In fact, it’s hard enough that some leaders aren’t cut out to do it. Knowing, though, why it’s hard can help us press on through the tough moments. Here are some reasons why revitalization is difficult:

  1. The process usually starts years after the church has been in decline. That is, leaders are trying to turn around a ship that’s been floating aimlessly in the wrong direction for a long time. The ship might even seem to be sinking already.
  2. The issues are often numerous, and they can be overwhelming. At a minimum, the vast number of issues to address makes it difficult to know where to begin. Hopelessness can quickly take control of a revitalization leader.
  3. Many leaders in revitalization settings have little training in this task. They’re serving where the Lord has placed them, but they struggle to develop strategies and plans for revitalization. That’s one of the reasons Church Answers exists, in fact: “to help churches move from flatlined to flourishing through coaching, online courses, daily content, and much more.”
  4. Many of the remaining attendees have often lost their energy. They themselves need personal revitalization, and church revitalization won’t happen without it. Leading weary people is never easy.
  5. Some of the leaders think they’ve “tried everything already.” No matter what ideas you bring up, they remember when they tried something similar and failed. Even if that attempt took place decades ago, they still remember it.
  6. Congregations often want revitalization, but without change. They want to see increased numbers and dollars – so they talk the language of revitalization – but they don’t want anything to change in the process.
  7. Revitalization leaders tend to lead from a hopeful vision with a sense of urgency—but the process usually takes a long time. The leader sees seemingly obvious needs and necessary solutions, but it takes time to help the congregation see the same things. Patience is important.
  8. Sometimes, the same lay leaders who led the church into plateau and decline in the first place are still in positions of influence. Change likely means they would lose some of their power—and they didn’t bargain for that when they started talking about revitalization.
  9. Leaders often have a big-picture vision of what revitalization looks like, and they miss the little changes and growth the Lord produces in their church. Seeing just glimpses of what God’s doing among our congregation ought to encourage us to press on – but we sometimes overlook those glimpses.

What reasons would you add to this list?

Posted on February 16, 2021

Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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  • Our people, generally, don’t think they need to be revitalized they “just need young people to start coming”. I’m not the pastor but I think it’s got to be difficult to tell your people “you’re not doing well, we need a complete turn around, that’s why your search committee hired me”. Maybe there needs to be a “Tell the people they’re not up to snuff” how-to guide on how to word that talk. Or maybe a group-wide talk isn’t necessary, as long as some of the key leaders know. (?)

  • Chuck,
    I agree with all of your reasons but I have discovered that perhaps a couple more reasons are definitely an overall trend.
    10. Churches are unclear about the true nature of the church. They have faulty ecclesiology.
    11. Churches are no longer engaged in regular times of prayer corporately and individually.
    12. Discipleship is non-existent.

    I serve with a mission agency that is actively facilitating 3 church revitalizations and I have personally assisted in more than 11 revitalizations and personally pastored 3 of those over the last 12 years.

  • Your 9 points are on target. I’ve pastored a turn around church for the past 27 years. Church was 100 years old and declining in every area of ministry. Average attendance was 80 with a membership of 300. Today attendance is around 2,500 with a membership of 5,000. One key point I would add, we had to get the church to begin to look outward, instead of always looking inward. Instead of asking, “How’s this change your asking us to make going to help us?”Instead we began to ask, “How’s this change going to reach the folks out there?

  • My question is how we get people past number 5? I heard that loud and clear one day from a leader in my church. We tried that and it did not work. . In fairness to him and others, they made changes before I arrived and they were the correct changes. They went from a traditional to a blended service with the hope that younger faces would attend. That did not happen and the church is back to its core group of people. We are currently involved in the Pray and Go process and we let the community know that we are praying for them.

  • When I’ve talked to pastors about change, especially pastors of small, fragile congregations, I usually hear this fear…

    “The fear that you can make it worse.” or “The fear that it will close the church.”

    • As a mission leader who lives and breathes revitalization all the time – I have discovered that in some circumstances ‘closing’ is the best solution for the spiritual well-being of the flock that is struggling to survive. Not all situations warrant this radical solution. The churches in Rev. 3 – each were church plants in the first century but today no longer exist.