Yes, I tend to be an optimist.
I am not, however, that type of optimist who refuses to face reality. If you have been a reader of my blog or listener to my podcasts, you know I am not hesitant to face harsh realities head on.
So, when I say a revitalization wave is about to come to our churches, I am serious about it. Indeed, I am obnoxiously optimistic about the future of congregations. In this post, I will address how churches will be impacted from a high-level perspective. In my post on Wednesday, I will share why I see this major trend on the horizon.
First, let’s agree there are 350,000 churches in North America. You can quibble with our estimates. Some say less; some say more. The exact number is not that important.
Second, let’s also agree there are 300,000, or 85%, of all churches needing some level of revitalization, from modest to radical revitalization. Bear with me until my Wednesday post where I make my case for these numbers.
So, how will these 300,000 churches in need of revitalization be impacted by the wave that is coming? Let’s look at three major categories.
- About one-third of these churches will revitalize organically. I wish you could see what I am seeing. Never in my life or ministry have I seen church leaders seeking a path of revitalization for their churches as much as I am now. I wish you could see on a smaller scale how many of these churches are using the Church Health Report™ for their congregations. I wish you could see the hunger, the desire, and the willingness to pay the price to revitalize. About 100,000 congregations will likely revitalize organically. In other words, their revitalization will take place from within, rather than from a merger or being acquired.
- About one-third of these churches will revitalize through replanting and/or being acquired. Another 100,000 churches will not be able to revitalize organically, but they will have the faith and sacrificial attitude to give their facilities and other assets to another church for a church replant or acquisition or both. Frankly, this new attitude and willingness was largely unheard of just a few years ago.
- About one-third of these churches will decline and die. Unfortunately, 100,000 of the churches will not revitalize organically, nor will they be willing to give away their assets to another church. Some of these church leaders and members are in denial. Others have just given up. They give new meaning to the hymn, “I Surrender All.”
I get it. The near-term closure of 100,000 churches is not good news. But look at the other side. Two of three churches, around 200,000, will revitalize organically or through replanting. That’s incredible news!
If you want to see what many churches are using as first-step tools for revitalization, see the Church Health Report™ or join us at Church Answers™ where we are growing healthy churches together.
It’s an exciting time. It’s a hopeful time. It is my prayer God will use many of us as His instruments for a mighty wave of revival and revitalization in our churches.
Let me hear your thoughts.
Posted on July 9, 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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Thom, those churches that cannot turn around organically, or who don’t find a suitable partner to merge with, do have options still to allow their assets to revert to their denominational partners. In our context this is part of how we fund church plants and revitalization, reinvesting reverted assets into startups and restarts. In many cases a merger simply reduces mission impact, concentrating capital into a single church as an acquisition. A church that closes well can allow her resources to be leveraged to plant multiple new churches if there is resolve, capacity, and intention to do so by a network or denomination.
I recently came across your book, “Autopsy of a Deceased Church”, and found it exceptional and so true. I shared briefly our churches story (The Storehouse) on your page and appreciate you adding it to your prayer alert. We are in a county (Franklin Co. Pennsylvania) that is said to have the most churches per population, than any county in our country. A friend of mine who has a business that has churches as some of his clientele, and who also serves the Gideon’s in our area, told me that 49 churches in the small area he has been assigned within our county, are declining, splitting or about to die.
Most of the churches in our county are difficult to wake up, due to old traditions and an inward focus. As I shared in my prayer request, the church I’m at went from around 375 members (2009) to around 40 when I arrived in 2015. After reading some of you recent articles, I believe we are best suited to be part of a multisite or campus church. We have a pretty large facility (needing updates) with acreage, which is one of the problems that hinders us now. Please continue to pray for us and how we might impact this county in a real way. I would love to see us numbered in one of the optimistic “100,000”. Thanks! ~John Bartlett, pastor
. . . However, a caution: church revitalization and biblical growth are matters not only of reaching people for Christ, but also of keeping people for Christ (sustained over consecutive subsequent years so that maturing of and ministry by each participating person results, to the glory of God and the good of others).
Researchers studying church health and growth state that efforts to alter the orientation of “nongrowing churches often result in actions that produce short-term growth . . . More growth results, but the growth will not last unless growth-producing actions are . . . intentionally structured into the daily organizational life of the church. Unfortunately, this does not happen in many cases . . . efforts settle back into previous patterns . . .” (Hadaway and Roozen in Church and Denominational Growth: What Does [and Does Not] Cause Growth or Decline, 1993; page 134). What researchers describe actually is not a “culture thing” but a personal latency and status quo thing–unless organizational health-related structures are set in place (hardwired) and members are integrated to the need/use of them so that dysfunction is overcome and congregations are healthy enough to keep over time the people they have reached (i.e., “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”–but latency/status quo snacks on culture all day long!).
Sustained church growth indeed is a spiritual matter–but it also is a church administration matter (e.g., a size 10 foot cannot be placed inside a size 7 shoe–forcing the situation will hurt both the shoe and the foot). That’s why some have recommended a Bible study ministry like Andy Anderson’s Growth Spiral; congregations that used it to sustain growth experienced after beginning to implement it; they replaced what did not work before (their traditional approach to Sunday School, for example) with the Spiral approach instead. Comparing the results of the Spiral’s use, it is clear to see that–for those hundreds and hundreds of churches (SBC and other denominations), at least–there was nothing else like Anderson’s Growth Spiral before its time, during its time, or since its time for increasing attendance, baptisms, annual revenues, and numbers of members directly involved in ministry each year (i.e., churches sustained their growth when they used it; they did not grow before or after using it). LIfeWay still has Anderson’s Growth Spiral materials, though they are long out of print . . .
Revitalisation or revival? Here in South Africa the church is, as I am sure elsewhere, in serious trouble. Sometimes to trust God for revitalisation or revival requires a major rethink and much prayer. I trust God for revival and the church will be revitalised.
I am praying for this wave of revitalization. Last year I tried contacting you but you were in the middle of moving Lifeway. I had sent you a copy of a book I had written; Church Forward: Understanding a Few Things about the Heart of Revitalization to see if you would be willing to endorse it. I believe it can be useful in leading the church forward in revitalization.
Being an optimist, I believe, is essential in church revitalization whether you are engaged in revitalizing or replanting a church or encouraging and supporting the efforts of others. In stagnant and declining churches it is pessimism about the future of the church that keep people from seeing the way forward. We often forget that we are engaged in spiritual warfare and the enemy wants us to become discouraged and to give up. The enemy will exploit the weaknesses of the members of the congregation to throw obstructions in our way. We are also our own worst enemy as the saying goes. The fields are ripe for harvest but we may, due to a negative, defeatist attitude, see a barren wasteland. Helping our church develop a more positive outlook is a major step forward.
Well said, Robin.
The “wave” hit me over a year ago, Thom. The church I pastor has begun to experience some wonderful change–too many blessings to describe in this post. Also, the Lord has used me to begin a new ministry in a nearby town, another incredible blessing. I’m doing double-duty preaching and teaching, but have never experienced more energy, fulfillment of purpose, joy, or divine power of God in my 20 years of ministry. It’s been an incredible ride! Thank you for your encouragement. Also, I’m thankful for SBC missionary, John M. He is a wise, godly man. Someday–perhaps this side of heaven–God will allow me to share with you the details of what He has accomplished here through your ministry.
I would be honored to hear it, Timothy.
Potential Important Typo: “Never in my life or ministry have I seen church leaders seeking a path of revitalization for their churches. ” I think you left out the word “more”.
Pearl Baptist Church in New Albany, Indiana is located in a 97% poverty area. We do a lot of mission work in our area to reach the lost. We started revitalizing our church about six months go. We started with prayer and changing the way we do our soup kitchen, Bible study and prayer meeting. We are seeing that people not only make Jesus their Savior, but Lord also by putting Jesus first in their lives. God is blessing us. Two weeks ago we had two baby dedications, five children and two adults baptized. Children are flowing in for Sunday School and church. Our people are now hungry to reach the unchurched.
God is GOOD, all the time!
Rejoicing with you! God is good!
Thanks for sharing such great news, Bruce.
Praise the Lord
It is always amazing that when the people go out to reach the lost and help the needy, how God revitalizes the hearts of His faithful followers! It is such a blessing to us that all you want to do is MORE of reaching and helping the lost!