Five Reasons Why Church Revitalization Leaders Must Be Risk Takers

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
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  • Victor close says on

    I am the lay person who sees the need for change. Beyond giving the pastor your book on becoming a welcoming church (which I did) praying and recommending a committee to look for ways to be welcoming and praying for our pastor and other leaders what else can I do?

  • You have said many times that a pastor leading revitalization needs to make sure that his/her family, especially spouse must be in agreement or on board. Point #3 drives that home, the risk of losing income. That risk begins when you accept the position at a church which you already know needs revitalization.

    Before you accept the position be sure you and your family can and are willing to take the risks.

  • One of the most honest and practical articles regarding leading a church revitalization that I have ever read. Thank you Dr. Rainer for your leadership and insight!

  • Larry McGee says on

    Mr. Rainer, I am a lay person. Specifically, how
    does a church realize that
    it needs revitalization?

    • Larry –

      My little book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, addresses what churches did or did not do that led to their death. It should answer your question directly.

      • Walter Woodall says on

        Excellent book. Basis of our beginning at revitalization at 1st. Baptist LaFayette, Al.
        Being led by Pastor Scott Ferguson.

      • Greg Aery says on

        And its a great read. I highly recommend that book. Just gave it to my board in this new church ive been assigned for the purpose of revitalization.

    • Larry McGee says on

      Thank you. I will order the

  • Mike G. says on

    Good article. I was encouraged.

    I guess this is part of point #1: My experience is that churches often don’t realize that change is needed in order to move forward. I remember being told that “our church is poised and ready for our new pastor to lead us to new growth” (i.e. we’re right on the verge, and if you can just keep it up we’ll really take off!) When in reality, they were declining, in financial crisis, and had an ineffective staff. It is an especially hard calling when the congregation (and staff!) expect new growth (numerical, depth, etc.) without the expectation that anything will actually need to change.

  • William Secrest says on

    In point three you say “not to foolishly lead change.” What do you mean? Most people in our churches thing that we are crazy already for suggesting that we need change? “Our church is perfect already” is the attitude that I see from most of my people. When I started in ministry in December 2001 all I was hearing from Christian leaders is that we needed “deep change or prepare for a slow death.” I have served my current church for ten years and the numbers continue to dwindle. We are not making budget and the church is $500,000 plus in debt. We have a beautiful facility but I am emotionally worn out. While we have some positive ministries like Upward and Good News Club, that has not translated into new adult Christians bringing their children to church. Having said all of this, I guess my question is “when do you acknowledge that maybe you need to step aside as the pastor?”

  • Thank you for this great reminder.

  • We’d better be sure we know “the will of God” for our particular situation before taking that risk. Many a well-intentioned soul has gone out on a limb alone only to have it break off with him. Lives, careers and ministries can be forfeited in an instant by rushing ahead of God. If you’ve heard His voice, follow Him wherever He leads. If you haven’t heard the voice of God, or aren’t entirely sure, stand pat until you do for sure.

  • Todd Rawson says on

    Revitalization will truly happen when our churches fully grasp who Jesus is and what He accomplished on the cross!

  • The revitalizer will face heavy opposition on many fronts from publications to unknown people to family members of people who attend there. Too often changing anything is a guaranteed ticket to hell.

  • One point I would add to this article is that a church leader who is taking risks should not be walking the plank by himself. He needs to have a leadership team that is willing to take risks too, and stand behind the pastor, totally willing to take some of the criticism themselves, when the inevitable criticism comes.

    • Excellent point, Ronald. Thank you.

    • D avi d Tro ub lefi eld, DM in says on

      Some related thoughts:

      1. 987,000,000 x 0 x 0 = __

      0 x 987,000,000 x 0 = __

      0 x 0 x 987,000,000 = __

      The product of each equation above : 0. These days, “leadership” is like the 987,000,000 in the sense that it gets all the air time–when, in the real world, everything does not (cannot) rise or fall on leadership alone; instead, in organizations of all sorts and sizes, everything either rises or falls on the work of a person/group functioning like a manager (problem-finder), a leader (solution-offered), AND an administrator (one who brings to bear on the problems found the solutions offered so that resistance is overcome and a self-sustaining new condition [change] results). If one or more–management, leadership, and/or administration–is missing, then change cannot happen. Frustration will continue, needlessly.

      2. Another way to view it: (Diagnosis x Prescription x Treatment) > Dysfunction = Health

      During your next trip to a hospital’s ER, you will be glad that the physician called upon to help you there functioned like a manager (diagnosed your health problem) BEFORE he functioned as a leader (prescribed chemotherapy–for a kidney stone–and then wrote orders for that treatment to be started by his staff)! 🙂

      3. The price people/groups are willing to pay NOT to change can be insanely high (e.g., a smoker will sacrifice one of his two lungs in order to keep smoking–“But not both! How crazy would that be?!” The same thing with a diabetic, his donuts, and one–but not two!–amputations). Culture DOES eat strategy for breakfast, but personal latency and group status quo snack on culture ALL DAY LONG. If the latency/status quo issue could be solved to stay solved, then the person solving it once-for-all would become a zillionaire on that same day!

      4. Another view of the same: (Dissatisfaction x Vision of preferred future x Knowledge of first steps) > Resistance = Change.

      This change equation has been used successfully in the U.S. by professional change management consultants working with for-profits and nonprofits–especially for big problems within them–since the 1960s. Try to find one page of either the Old Testament or the New Testament where use of the same equation by God’s people ISN’T being described directly or indirectly.

      5. All of our local churches can experience each of the brighter tomorrows for which they have the potential in their settings–but not by accident. Instead, those tomorrows must be captured via the intentional, strategic, and relational efforts of their memberships working under the watchful guidance of their ministry staffers (who are equipping those congregations for that work of service, not enabling them to die).

      6. Your CP contributions already pay for that kind of help on state- and national-levels–so, go get it when it’s needed (or, keep the CP contributions at home to provide the help directly to yourself).

      7. No local church surrounded by a growing or even stable population must die. But all churches will either change or be changed.

  • Brian Lane says on

    I’ve been in a church revitalization for a little over 3 years and the criticism is no joke. It is literally daily, it wears you out, and brings your doubts and insecurities to the surface. You have to make sure that you have a healthy way to deal with it or it can lead down a dark path.

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