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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  • What an insightful message. Keep it up, sir.

  • David George says on

    The search committee told me, “We do inreach well, but we need someone to lead us to do outreach so we can reach new people.” A few months after arriving, I changed the bulletin cover from a stock one to a custom one. I went to all the adult SS classes and encouraged them to not only teach but to do evangelism and gave them ways to do that. We made small changes along and along. The church eventually grew by 75% with baptism numbers they had never seen before. The excitement waned, however, after a year with the older leadership pushing back, saying I had changed everything. A comment was, “You came in here as if we didn’t know how to do church!” I was even called a predator! The church had experienced decline in their past but now were experiencing rapid growth! The criticisms continued, and after seven years of constant pushback, God moved me on to a different ministry. The same church today is 1/4 of what it was then, but the old guard continues to resist any significant change. Perhaps in my revitalization efforts, I moved too fast without bringing the old guard on board?

    • David George says on

      My advice after 34 years of ministry, make sure what the search committee members want is what the church wants. Ask questions, “What are the non-negotiables?”
      “Where would you like to see the church in five years, in ten years?”
      “Are the power brokers in church willing to change and see significant growth?”

  • Jason E Newsome says on

    This was appropriate for today. The 93 year-old Davis Creek Church of God is changing its name to Connection Point Church of God. Yesterday evening (Sunday) I published a video on social media announcing the name change, the rationale for it, and how the new name reflects our mission and purpose. The church voted for the change in a 100% unanimous vote 3 weeks ago. Criticism from some folks who “grew up in” the church has begun, as expected.

  • Good article and timely. Taking risks is an idea you put towards changing leadership. I agree, but what other risks are necessary to take risks upon in the revitalization process? Financial, Spiritual, Organizational? I’m faced with questions like should i take a loan out to invest in the Church? Change the name of the Church? Bring in guest speakers to bring people in? Etc…. This is on top of increased focus on prayer and seeking the Lord church wide, staying strong in the Word and increasing outreach.

  • Good analysis by Thom. You’re going to be criticized and truth is: They might push you out even if things are going well. Some pastors walk away after a while. Brian Croft has written an excellent short book on revitalization and what’s really involved. If you’re in a church like this (And most churches are in this shape.), get the book, read it, and understand what’s involved. It’s a harsh, often difficult pastoral world out there. One thing I would say: If possible, try to set aside a portion of your income so if you’re out of a pastorate, you have a little something to draw from for a few months. Also have another skill that you can go to if let go abruptly. Pastors and their families are often the casualties of unregenerate power groups who are in control in the church. Some churches can move towards a better day if they’re willing to change, move forward, grow and reach out. Other churches are stuck in the “we’ve always done it that way” mode and they’re not going to do anything different. They’re going to resist the pastor at every turn and battle him, regardless. I think after a period of maybe 3-4 years, a pastor has to assess this and decide: Do I need to continue here or move to somewhere else that will follow some leadership and is truly wanting revitalization? If you’re spinning your wheels, I think you have to move on.

    • Mark Smith says on

      And, to be clear, some things “that have always been done this way” are the right way to do them and do not need to be changed!

  • Thank you for this post. i have been working for revitalization for 11 years in the church i am at as pastor. it is still dying i have been praying to God that He would move me for 5 years so someone who could get it going could come in but He hasn’t allowed that. i am ready to just quit but i feel i would be walking out on God. just don’t know what to do

  • Craig Giddens says on

    I think it is important that congregations be assured that the doctrinal beliefs and the mission of their church are not being revitalized. Paul tells us the church is the pillar and ground of the truth. Revitalization should be enhancing the church’s preaching and teaching ministry.

    • Mark Smith says on

      Exactly. Revitalization if poorly done implies that the way people have done things for decades was wrong… that is a bad move. Add, do not subtract.

  • Sherman Barnette says on


    Do u think there comes a time when Matt. 10:14 applies in a church?


    • Craig Giddens says on

      The context of Matthew 10 is Jesus sending His disciples specifically to the Jews with the gospel of the kingdom. You would be hard-pressed to find church doctrine in the passage.

      Matthew 10
      5. These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:
      6. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

  • Gary from Southern NH, USA says on

    Great post!


  • Thanks for this post. This is who I am; I step in after a church has suffered a fracture or a split. It’s a very difficult ministry, at least for me. You see, once I spend time rebuilding the foundation of the church and getting them refocused on the work of the Lord, the Savior calls me away to another congregation. It is difficult because just when we are starting to see the fruit of revitalization, I am called away; I never get to reap the harvest. That can be a little frustrating. I guess I would add a number 6 to the list; willing to let someone else reap the harvest that you have planted.

  • People resist change because they become comfortable with the “status quo.” Add the tendency to make doctrine out of “tradition” and you have a potentially explosive situation. My experience as a pastor in struggling churches has taught me that affecting change in a church is a lot more like turning a battleship than a jet ski. Patience and persistence are vital in addition to risk taking. Pastors need to take risks to revitalize their church, but they need to do so calculatedly or they risk hurting their flock as well. It is indeed an excruciatingly delicate balance to maintain.

    • Mark Smith says on

      Often revitalizers attempt the change in foolish ways. For example, if you have a church of say 100 people over 50, and you desire to reach younger people, DO NOT SCRAP all of the programs for the older adults! Add things to reach younger people. Dropping things for the established core of the church will surely kill the church. Also, if you think a change in music is needed, add a new service with the different music style rather than telling people they are selfish for the way they have done church all their lives. Adding programs works a lot better than cutting first.

  • Thank you for this post. I needed this today. I overheard criticism yesterday, not of me specifically, but of the vision that I have been leading the church to complete. The vision that I am leading the church to carry out was birthed under my predecessor, and that vision was criticized privately back then but privately and never in a business meeting. The comments discouraged me more than hurt me. The vision, if it was to be rightly criticized should have been criticized during the birthing stage of the vision, because then it could have been constructive rather than destructive. But then again, it was believed that the vision would never materialize, because change rarely happened, and if it did happen, it took a very long time. I didn’t know that I was going to a revitalization situation, and the church didn’t know they needed one. But here we are. Anyway, this article and the one on 8 Rookie Pastor Mistakes have been a God-send.