We have rightly described church planters as risk takers.
They start churches. They often have little funding. They typically have no building to begin. Many have no members at the onset.
So, church planting is indeed inherently risky.
But I would argue that church revitalization must be risky as well. Indeed, I believe church revitalization leaders should be consummate students of risk taking and change leadership. Let me offer five reasons why:
- There is no such thing as a status quo church. Here is the harsh reality in today’s culture. Churches are either headed toward greater health or they are declining in health. Many of the declining churches are dying. There are no churches “holding their own” or “hanging in there.” We need risk-taking leaders to lead church revitalization because the alternative is dying and death.
- Churches that need revitalizing must be led by change agents. That path is risky. Change can be painful. Change is often resisted. Change can be three steps forward and two steps backwards. But if the revitalization leader does not lead change, the church will not become healthier.
- Leaders of revitalization must be willing to risk their jobs. Leaders of revitalization know the harsh reality of job insecurity. Thousands and thousands of change leaders have been fired because they upset the status quo or threatened the power group. While leaders should not foolishly lead change, any change they lead could result in their ouster.
- Criticism is a constant for risk-taking leaders of revitalization. Thus, many leaders in these churches revert back to behaviors of risk aversion. To use a sports metaphor, they play defense instead of offense. Church revitalization leaders must be willing to endure the almost daily doses of criticisms that will come their way.
- Revitalization will take place when a leader points to the discomfort of an untraveled future path rather than remaining in the comfort of a well-worn present. It takes a leader willing to take risks to look to the future. It is not fully known. It is not the way we’ve always done it. It is downright uncomfortable for most people.
In the past, we often saw the established church as a place where leaders could move so slowly that progress was imperceptible. And that was okay, because the churches of the past offered stability and sustainability. Such is not the case today. Leading a church toward revitalization is risky business. But it is a necessary business. And risk is really the path all leaders should take. There is a word in the Bible that reflects this leadership disposition more clearly.
The word is faith.
Let me hear from you.
Posted on July 23, 2018
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom
From what I have seen in the churches of which I am familiar, risk-taking is the major factor for not moving forward on any major challenge for the church. Perhaps the best way to help a pastor move through this initial step is to first pray for him and then ask to pray with him for a season. During these prayer session, use encouraging words from Dr. Rainer and others to help him move through this fear factor.
Autopsy of a Deceased Church helped us to see the importance of making changes before it’s too late.
I’ve been attending a small Baptist Church (about 45 attend on any given Sunday) for a year. The Pastor has been there about 5 years, everyone loves him. The core members are from families that started the Church over a hundred years ago. Many there now have been there all their lives. The average age is well over 6o, with many in the 70-81 group, with no teenagers and about 8 children under 8 years of age. Standard old style of service.
The Church is in the country with many excellent larger Bible teaching Churches within 10 miles with excellent children ministries. The Pastor is has and is trying different outreaches and most of Church is supportive, but no success. There some tweaking that should be done on the service that might help bring visitors back. The Pastor is 52 and would like to finish his pastorate at this Church and I agree. However looking at the history, location, the average age, the surrounding competition from a business stand point, I told the Pastor at some point he might need to move on to a larger congregation, (not what we want)as I can’t see away to attract younger families with children. Our income is about a $130,000 a year.
Is there a point when you have to look at all the factors in a business manner and say this is a situation that has little growth potential.(But say God)?
If I am a student Pastor and I am the new guy on the block; it’s painfully obvious the church is at a crossroads of decline or incline. How can I lead change? The want is there by a few but just enough resistance to stonewall from just a few more. The rest are just pue warmers.
If you are the student minister, then create a robust student ministry! Your should not need permission from the congregation unless you need funding. There are so many things you can do without funding! BTW, children and youth are the link to parents!
Timely reminder for me. We’re having a special called business meeting after church on Sunday on the question of calling for my resignation. The motion to call for my resignation was soundly defeated at our business meeting last Wednesday. The faction who is against me clearly understand neither our bylaws nor parliamentary procedure, so I had to inform them that they could make another motion to have a called business meeting on a Sunday morning if they wanted to. They so moved, and some of my biggest supporters voted in favor of it to (hopefully) put the issue to rest.
Truth be told, I’m far from perfect and could give you a long list of shortcomings in my 4 years here. That said, our church has been in decline for 30+ years, and the divisiveness would be here even if I wasn’t.
Side note: It’s weird announcing the vote to potentially call for your resignation moments after welcoming the guests you have in the service. …not to mention the young family that is in the process to join the church who was at your house the night before.????
I hurt for you and your family. God’s grace must be sufficient for you. I am pausing to pray for you right now.
Paul, I’m sorry. I’ve been there. Was at a church in which probably two thirds were in support of me continuing as the pastor. But I had a small faction of people who were critical and difficult and gave me problems the last several months of my tenure. I could have brought it to a vote, but I was tired of their incessant negative attitudes. Like you, I certainly wasn’t perfect (Still am not) in my time there, but they had given previous pastors a lot of trouble so I wasn’t the first. It was “par for the course.” I moved on and am now pastoring another church. It felt like a huge burden lifted. My former church has a “known rep” in the town and it’s not a good one. I am praying for you, Paul. Seminary professors like to say, “There’s no easy pastoral field.” But truth is: Some churches are much more healthy than others and they work with their pastor instead of working against him.
I would add that God will either move you or move them. When God is in it, it will be good even If it doesn’t feel like it at the time. If the church votes for you to stay, you should definitely confront this group with a few good respected deacons. I, as a member, had to deal with a particular family power group who were in high level positions in the church who were very malicious toward me because I was a single mom for years not to mention a couple of other families. Made it clear I wasn’t welcome there. It was abusive for sure. Yet, after tearfully praying that God move me or them, suddenly the two other families moved. The power family remained much longer until I left. I never spoke to anyone about what was going on, I regret that. But, a new pastor came in and I kept in touch with him and his wife. Turns out that a couple of other single moms who joined the church after shortly went MIA. So, the pastor called them and they told him how they were treated by this power family. The pastor confronted the main people in this power family and guess what? They retired there positions and left to other church! God answered my prayers both right away and some years later! The church is adding new members, and I might become one of them again.
So, do not fret! Pray for exactly what your request is…God DOES answer prayers! During this time, I pray for peace in your hearts and minds.
Btw, some members left with them, but then came back. There will probably be a little shakeup. But, God’s Will, will be done.