In my post on Monday, I asserted that a revitalization wave is about to come to our churches, and I am really serious and optimistic about it. In that article, I shared how churches will be impacted from a high-level perspective. In this post, I will explain why I see this major trend on the horizon.
I began with the total number of churches in North America, about 350,000. For many reasons, we can’t get a precise number, but I believe our estimates are close.
In the article Monday, I also stated that 300,000, or 85%, of all churches needed some level of revitalization, from modest to radical revitalization. In our research we released a year ago, we found that 65% of churches were declining or plateaued. Based upon our interactions with other congregational leaders, we see about another 20% of churches with modest but declining growth rates. The sum of those two is thus 85%.
Here is where I take a contrarian position compared to many others, including positions I have held in the past: Of the 300,000 churches in need of revitalization, 100,000 will revitalize organically or internally, and another 100,000 will be revitalized through replanting. It’s a bold assertion, but something that could very well unfold over the next five to ten years.
Why I am optimistic? Am I in a state of denial? Bear with me as I share five reasons for the likelihood of a wave of revitalization.
- Thousands of church leaders are facing reality. They are not denying the difficult state of their churches. This awareness is the first step toward revitalization. Admittedly, some of these leaders are at the stage of desperation, but even that stage is a major step toward facing reality. As I shared on Monday, I have been amazed how church leaders are utilizing our Church Health Report™ to help them understand reality.
- Revitalization has become a prominent topic among church leaders. It is openly discussed among church leaders and members, denominational leaders, and network leaders. This discussion and openness is moving these organizations to action and solutions. We will be announcing in two months the launch of a new nonprofit network, Revitalize Network, for the purpose of bringing churches to work together toward revitalization.
- Church replanting has become accepted, even normative. I can remember just a few years ago when no one mentioned church replanting. I have been grateful for the huge emphasis on church planting for many years. Now I am equally grateful to see a wave of interest and action toward church replanting.
- The multisite movement is instrumental in the revitalization and replanting movement. Multisite churches are key to this movement. They have been the primary vehicles for church replanting. We are years ahead of where we would be otherwise without multisite churches.
- We are seeing more and more a movement of prayer in our churches. If this revitalization continues on its current trajectory, it will not be powered by the latest methodologies and acts of men and women. It will be because God has chosen to revitalize our churches. He is the power of revitalization. There is a growing movement of prayer in our congregations, an indication of the work of God. As the prayer movement grows, church revitalization grows.
These are paradoxically the most challenging days and the most hopeful days for many of our congregations. Let us know if we can do anything for you and your churches as we move toward a movement of revitalization. It is my honor and joy to serve you.
Let me hear from you.
By the way, if you would like more information about Revitalize Network in the future, be sure to subscribe to the email list. Our email subscribers will get the information first when we announce it.
Posted on July 11, 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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My name is James McLeod. I am working on my dissertation prospectus at Dallas Baptist University. I am trying to access as much quantitative data as I can find in two areas:
1) Church Revitalization
2) Biblical Servant Leadership (Which I recognize would involve more qualitative data)
My calling, having pastored local churches since 1991, is now leading me into researching, writing, consulting, and coaching in the areas of organizational & ministry leadership and revitalization. My dissertation is specifically on church revitalization and biblical servant leadership from a humanities (theological/historical) perspective.
Any information toward obtaining published statistical data in these two areas would be greatly appreciated.
What we have experienced: (your mileage may vary)
Replant = take a non Calvinist church building away from the current congregation and turn it over to younger, hipper, more Calvinist people.
Revitalize = move the deck chairs on the Titanic. Get the folks at neighboring churches to leave them and come for your cooler band, better light show, newer music, nicer facilities.
Revival = something only God can do. Usually preceded by much prayer, personal repentance, soul winning. Doesn’t depend on music, lights, facilities, programs, seminars, big name Christians, or new anything. Happens only when God sends it.
That might be a bit harsh and facetious I know. But how do we define replant, revitalize, and revival for real? How much is just us rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, and how much is a move of God? Are we seeing souls saved under replant and revitalize? More or fewer than with revival? Is it our job to build churches or to see folks saved?
I mean no offense to anyone, as I firmly believe most in what is being termed the church growth movement desire nothing more than seeing folks saved. Case closed. BUT that movement has brought metrics to the forefront. We count number of backsides on the bench, dollars in the plate, programs offered, spending budgets. All those appear to being quite well for churches willing to hop on board.
And yet, the aggravating metric of souls saved (if counted by baptisms) is declining. Is it possible God is not impressed with our ways? Remember in the OT when the altar could not be hewn, as human hands would taint and ruin it?
Are we seeing God refuse to honor our man made means and ways?
Rather than planning to replant or revitalize, should we be spending our energies praying, repenting, and witnessing instead that perhaps God might decide to send a revival?
Just some questions and musings of a “senior saint”.
Revitalization of what? Changes in methods are taking place, multiple campus churches are experiencing great attendance, but according to Southern Baptist record keeping for this past year, baptisms are DECREASING in contrast to church locations increasing. The reality shows, unfortunately, that our Southern Baptist Churches are experiencing impotency in their attempts to “do church”.
Always appreciate Thom’s insights. 20 years from now, I think there will be a small percentage of churches who will have experienced revitalization. But I think the vast majority are going to continue to decline and even possibly close. There is a church down the road from me that has just around 5-7 people attending. 10 years ago, they had 30-40 going. There are far too many churches who are stuck in “doing it the way we’ve always done it” and they listen to no leadership or pleas for change and outreach at all. They don’t listen to their DOM and don’t listen to any pastor. It’s like they’ve resigned themselves to decline and eventual death. I’m not trying to be negative, just honest. A refusal to change, a refusal to reach out, frequently engaged in petty arguments, carnal, unregenerate ppl in leadership positions. The church, today, in America has many problems and is headed towards less and less relevance in the next 20 years. Like the state of it currently in Europe. That’s what I see coming. I like being a pastor, but between the cultural changes we’ve seen (cultural war against Christianity in the U.S., gay marriage being passed, not caring about the moral quality of our leaders) and also the fact that many churches have unprogressive leaders, the future is bleak. Do we keep trying? Absolutely. But I see a major decline continuing to unfold over the next 20-30 years. I think Thom does a great job on here, but don’t necessarily agree with the original statement of his analysis.
Great article, Thom! Ten years ago, I received training in intentional interim ministry. I shortly afterward agreed to come to a small, struggling church in New England as IIM. It wasn’t long until I discovered what I was bringing to that church was a system of revitalization more than intentional interim. Over the last ten years, I have developed that system while ministering to four churches I contracted with for two year terms. The common denominator in each of these churches was their immediate, overriding desire for their “next” pastor that always got in the way of what God was doing “now.” I have a growing passion to put the conprehensive system I’ve developed (by God’s guidance, of course) into a format that a current pastor may implement in his church. Part of that system includes your findings from your book, “Breakout Churches.” Blessings, Thom!