Five Reasons a Wave of Revitalization of Churches Is Likely

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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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  • Craig Giddens says on

    If a church stays focused on believing Bible study, teaching, and preaching, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), they won’t be swept away or swept under.

    • Robin G Jordan says on

      As the folks attending the church act on what they are learning from the Bible study, teaching, and preaching, you are right, are doers of the Word and not just hearers only. In Hot Tub Religion J. I.Packer describes a phenomena that afflicts some churches and which helps to explain why these churches are stagnant or declining. The members of these churches are like sponges. They absorb, absorb, and absorb but they never let go of the moisture that they absorbing. They flock to Bible studies, sermons, and other forms of teaching in pursuit of more knowledge but the knowledge they acquire makes very little difference in their lives or the lives of others because they never act on it

      • Craig Giddens says on

        Sponges absorbing what? There are a lot of classes, seminars and such held at churches that teach lessons on how to handle your finances, how to how have a happy marriage, how to do this and that. These are all fine and well, but that is not the same thing as expository Bible study, teaching and preaching which will grow and mature believers in the faith. The word of God will change people’s lives, not make them stagnant. Bible teaching and preaching is not an option. It’s not just another ministry among many others. It should be the central focus of a church.

        “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32)

  • Please define “revitalize” and “replant”. I thought they were interchangeable words/concepts, but perhaps not….

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    Social movements gain momentum gradually until they reach a critical mass after which there is no stopping them. The church revitalization movement is a social movement as well as a movement of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is also the driving force behind the church revitalization movement not just a growing concern for stagnant and declining churches. It may appear to be moving slowly in some places but once it reaches that critical mass WOW!

    A wave gains momentum in much the same way. It begins just as a simple ripple on the ocean and then it gets bigger and bigger and moves faster and faster. Folks can either catch the wave or be sweeps before it.

    It is also about mental attitude. If you don’t believe church revitalization is going to happen in your church or church network, it won’t happen. But if you believe that it is going to happen, it will.

  • Tom, I believe you are spot on. As a denominational leader on a state level, we are striving hard to plant new churches. But we are realizing that most of our established churches need to be revitalized. It has occurred to us that both planting and revitalizing are necessary but that revitalizing can produce quicker results than planting. Once again, both are important. But our experience is showing that established churches that come alive again have big impact – now. Thanks for you insight. As always, I appreciate your work.

  • I hope you are correct about revitalization. However I don’t see it. A couple of the reasons you give are questionable. I don’t see the urgency and the acceptance of reality you describe. Church planting and multi sites, although they are on the increase, are still the exception among mainline churches. Most mainliners still have one of two things on their minds- growth by addition and survival. Neither of these will stem the tide- especially in 5-10 years. So my prediction still stands- mainline denominations will continue declining, merging and closing till the reach irrelevancy in 20 years. However, those churches in the multiple church planting mode will continue to increase into a new loosely associated tribe.

  • I belong to Hope City in Houston, Texas, which is fastest growing church in America and I have heard ever in American history. The church has no brick and mortar and relies on its Dream Team to setup and tear down “church” at each of the schools it uses on the weekend.

    Three campuses launched within 3 years with 2 Saturday night services and 4 on Sunday. Revitalized to say the least. What’s the secret?

    In my opinion, Jeremy Foster taps into how early Christian church was done in the beginning: no brick and mortar, driving connection through small groups, prayer, focus on mission, empowering the people. We have an incredibly diverse congregation in age and ethnicity.

    Sometimes the answers are the simple things that made you successful in the beginning and the winning formula is not to change but to scale it so you don’t lose it.

    • Thom S Rainer says on

      Thanks, Sandra.

    • D a vi d Tr o ub lef i el d, DM i n says on

      Experience Life Church-Lubbock, TX did the same; reached 3000+ attending 2 Saturday and 3 Sunday worship services in an active skating rink on W 82nd Street (would baptize hundreds at a time in an in-ground swimming pool behind the skating rink building). Now has built its first owned building (a few years ago). Experience Life Church did this because: (1) it could (the potential was there, in Lubbock); and, (2) it would (one of its goals from the start: baptize 10,000 people in ten years).

    • Mark Smith says on

      OK, where I live schools won’t let you rent them out. We’ve tried many times. Community centers won’t rent to churches either. They aren’t staffed until Sunday afternoon and won’t move on the idea of opening up earlier. Here you have to have your own facility in some way.

  • Pastor Tim says on

    I have experienced a whole new purpose, energy and drive over the past year and a half. The concept of revitalization and replanting has taken hold of me. I could write a book about all the ways it has changed me and my church and opened up new opportunities to spread the Gospel in our county. Every day I’m amazed at what God is doing…and why He would use me. When unbelievers walk up to me at a coffee shop and say, “I don’t know what God is doing here in our community, but something is happening.” a flood of joy comes over me and I am grateful that my hope and faith is in the Almighty, All-sufficient One. I believe God has placed me here “for such a time as this.” Thank you for your guidance, Thom.

  • Mr. Thom …
    I’m from Brazil. I am Minister of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPB).
    Here there is also one where all of this is mentioned by the brother.

    But there is only one way to do it effectively here, whether in the Presbyterian or in any other historical denomination.


    There is no way to plant new churches with people with no vision of the Kingdom and “owners of the local church.”
    These people, “leaders” in 90% of the cases: 1) They are not fit for the function that they were elected; 2) He has no vision of the Kingdom of God; 3) Do not treat the Minister with dignity and respect; 4) See the Minister as his employees and 5) They are not even there for the people, only with their ‘status quo’.

    Here we come to the absurdity of non-church pastors being prevented by presbyteries from starting / planting a new church. The councils prefer to leave the Minister and his family out of work on a “license” imposed by the High Clergy to pay him the minimum to plant a church.

    And when they do, that is, allowing the Minister to start planting a new church, they give time for it to be organized … For example: 12 months. As if the Minister were the man who convoked the man of sin, justice and judgment.

    Therefore, it is extremely necessary to end the ‘ecclesiastical establishment’ existing in denominations.

    “Where there is no new water, old water rots”

    God bless the brothers …

    • Mark Smith says on

      Then, Anderson, don’t be a member of such a controlled denomination! There are many, brother.

    • D a vi d Tr o ub lef i el d, DM i n says on


      Do you know American Baptist church leader Darrell Robinson, who travels to Brazil often to lead evangelism training, and to help Brazilian Baptists reach their communities with the Lord?

  • I have one question for every leader involved in revitalization; when was the last time you went out on outreach with the local Church, led someone to Christ, encouraged someone to commit to the body, encouraged believers Baptism, sit with them in a Connection Group, discipled them to do what you did?
    REVITALIZATION NEEDS TO BE ABOUT THE GOSPEL, Acts 1:8, Making Disciples, but it comes from the leaders down.
    If Leaders do not make Disciples, the Church is already dying.
    “Let’s not tell people how, Let’s Show Them”

    Thanks for all you do, just had to share a view from a Growing Rural Church.

    • Hi. I did this for 3 years in the last church I worked for, on weekly meetings and people became church members.
      But then I was thrown out by the ‘owner of the church’ on vacation.
      This is the church and the established clergy. Kill the prophets …

      • Keep doing what you are doing. Apostle Paul had many similar experiences. Thank You for your desire to serve the Lord. I’m sure you impacted many lives in 3 years for the Kingdom of God.

      • Good word Joey….I will add that, while I haven’t seen the “Church Health Report”, I have seen many such tools over the past 15 years. Candidly, most of these instrument attempt to revitalize the church systemically as opposed to working from the ‘root issue’. I know that Joey has done a tremendous job (with the Lord’s help) of Revitalizing UB3, but whether it is done just like he did it or not is irrelevant – this is an personal commitment issue. If we don’t approach our issue from a fundamental “Discipleship” (Disciples making Disciples) – the numbers may go up briefly, but just as quickly they may go down.

      • Good Word

  • Jeff Scheibenpflug says on

    Are there any organizations that connect pastors who desire to enter into revitalization ministry with churches that need revitalization?

  • No one wanted to go first. As long as someone else goes first, it’s fine. Now that some have done it, the rest will follow.

  • Thom…I am incredibly burdened by what we are seeing and if there is not a revitalization as well as a facing of fiscal responsibility, we will be faced with the same issues of Europe….with large church buildings sitting empty. We have way too many clients right now with oversized and under maintained facilities to the point that they can not keep up with maintenance. Couple that with declining income, these church face a grave future.

    • Tim –

      No one is more qualified than Cool Solutions Group to assess this reality, especially from the perspective of church facilities.

      • D a vi d Tr o ub lef i el d, DM i n says on


        For your stats, did you dialogue with NAMB’s Richie Stanley, whose office otherwise has done the research upon which the “72% declining/plateaued” stat has been based?

        Presently, there are 30+ change management models proffered by consultants; 16 get most attention–and all boil down to what your post describes: (Dissatisfaction x Vision x First Steps) > Resistence = Change.

        The New Testament seems to say: God is committed 110% to His part for local church grow–and also 110% not to do the part for which He has made believers responsible (cf. Matthew 28; Acts 1; etc.–along with 2000-3000 church closings annually).

    • This is Billy Graham’s prediction about the future Christian landscape. He made it in 1965, and it’s come to pass in our day:

      Multitudes of Christians within the church are moving toward the point where they may reject the institution that we call the church. They are beginning to turn to more simplified forms of worship. They are hungry for a personal and vital experience with Jesus Christ. They want a heartwarming personal faith. Unless the church quickly recovers its authoritative Biblical message, we may witness the spectacle of millions of Christians going outside the institutional church to find spiritual food.

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