The year was 520 BC. The temple in Jerusalem remained in ruins. God had provided the resources for the people to rebuild the temple, but they used them for their own selfish desires (Haggai 1:4).
God addressed the issue in two primary ways. First, He spoke to three key leaders for them to be His catalysts for rebuilding (Haggai 1:1-2). Second, God commanded the people of Judah to change their behaviors, to move from selfish behavior to selfless behavior. They obeyed (Haggai 1:12). They rebuilt the house of God (Haggai 1:14).
Two Foundational Issues
Like the rebuilding of the temple, there are two foundational issues that must be addressed in church revitalization. First, the church must have the right leaders on board. Second, the behavioral patterns of the church members must change.
No infusion of methodologies or innovations can take place until these two issues are addressed. Such is the reason most revitalizations fail, and only a few succeed. Let’s look at that reality in light of three approaches.
Three Types of Church Revitalization
Most church revitalization attempts use the least effective approach. There, of course, are good reasons for that reality. That will be apparent in the descriptions below.
- Acquisitional revitalization. This approach is both radical and largely successful. Another church acquires the existing church in need of revitalization. Sometimes the doors of the existing church are closed for a season. The church then reopens, possibly with a new name, but definitely with new leaders. The success rate is high because both foundational issues are addressed: leaders and behaviors. Estimated success rate: 90%.
- Covenantal revitalization. The second approach is relatively new, but one for which I am becoming a strong advocate. The existing church, led by an objective person (often an outsider), agrees to make some significant changes. The leadership actually signs a covenant, and the congregation affirms the covenant. In other words, the existing members and leaders agree to behavioral changes. Success is somewhat high because one of the two foundational issues is addressed: behaviors. Estimated success rate: 40%.
- Organic revitalization. This approach is the most common taken today. The church may try new methodologies and approaches. But resistance is common because most of the members really don’t want change. The church addresses symptoms rather than causes. Some members would rather see the church die than change. Failure rates are high because neither of the two foundational issues is addressed. Estimated success rate: 2%.
Looking for Church Answers
Over 300,000 churches in America need significant revitalization. We cannot afford to do nothing. The most successful approach, revitalization by acquisition, will go forward, but the numbers will continue to be relatively small. Many churches will continue to attempt organic revitalization, but addressing symptoms alone is really a formula for failure.
This issue and hundreds more will be addressed in our new subscription ministry called Church Answers Monthly. I am so excited to introduce it to you today. If you are looking to take your church to the next level, I invite you to become a part of our inaugural Church Answers group.
Let me hear from you.
Posted on May 18, 2015
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
Are these three models for church revitalization written in one of your books? If yes, can you tell me name of the particular book?
Do you have research on how many of the former members remain in the acquisitional model? Also curious what percentage of new growth is from transfers from the acquiring church vs. new believers? Love your work.