A need for revitalization does not necessarily mean an entire church is unhealthy. Even the healthiest of established churches have at least one area requiring work, if not several. Sometimes the entire church needs revitalization. In other cases, a particular area of the church needs revitalization.
In fact, the majority of established churches could use some degree of revitalization. Around 65% of churches are in plateau or decline. This one statistic reveals close to 7 out of 10 churches are in need of revitalization. Granted, a lack of growth does not mean the entire church is failing, but it does indicate something is missing—somewhere the church is deficient.
What happens to cause this problem? The reasons are numerous, and each church’s story is different. However, one key theme is simply the patterns a church develops over time. Established churches have established patterns. These congregations have a consistent (or established) schedule. They keep doing the same established programs year after year. Annual events become embedded into the culture. Such is the nature of an established church. But these patterns can create either a healthy movement or an unhealthy movement in the church.
Healthy established patterns create healthy churches. Unhealthy established patterns create unhealthy churches. Clearly, more churches have unhealthy patterns as compared with healthy patterns. The stats are undeniable. But I’ll dig deeper. There is more beneath the surface. Numerical declines are merely a symptom, not the root problem.
Pastors become comfortable. Status quo pastors have status quo churches. Once a church has accepted a pastor, it’s easy for that pastor to cruise. Change always comes with a level of risk. Shepherding is impossible detached from risk-taking. When pastors stop taking risks, churches become complacent.
Budgets get messy. Churches can go years without a budget strategy, creating a jumbled mess of operating line items and an endless list of designated accounts. I recently saw a church budget with a designated account for a cassette tape ministry. Church budgets are often the most common area in need of revitalization.
Ministries linger without purpose. Established patterns of programs are wonderful, until they stop working. Unfortunately, churches are guilty of hanging on to programs instead of desiring the fruit they produce. When the program itself is more important than the results, a church loses the purpose of ministry.
Facilities become cluttered and dated. Deferred maintenance has killed numerous ministers with good intentions. Neglected facilities become an albatross around the neck of many pastors. Even the best established churches often have closets full of junk—old trophies, dusty puppets, and binders of music from the 1970s. In severe cases, the entire campus has not been touched in decades.
Technology outpaces staff. When a church has established patterns and rhythms, the temptation is to neglect technology. In a lot of churches, a decade can pass before it becomes necessary to adopt new technology. Unfortunately, by then it’s often too late and staff are too far behind.
A church needing revitalization in one of these areas is not necessarily unhealthy. However, most established churches need help with at least one. When multiple areas of the church fall behind, the effects are compounded.