10 Things I Learned About Revitalizing Churches (Part 1)

It’s appointment season in the United Methodist Church, which means many pastors are finding themselves in new churches, and they are hoping to revitalize their congregations. While I am passionate about it, I’m by no means an expert on the subject. So I took the outline from a recent workshop I attended, lead by Ron Edmonson. He happens to be a guru on the subject (my words, not his) who has demonstrated how to effectively add new life to established churches.

So, here are five things he shared as important to know, with my insight added. Part two will come next week. 

Manage your time – No one else will do it for you.

Limit how much time you waste – It’s okay to give yourself time to relax, but you need to control how much time you spend on ‘nothing’. I’m a firm believer that there is benefit in relaxing, and watching stupid YouTube videos, browsing Facebook, or some other random thing. But you cannot earn more time, so use what you have wisely. Think of it as ‘spending’ time, like you would money.

You will have to ignore some good things in order to accomplish the best things. Not every good idea you think of or are presented with is a God-given idea. You will need to focus your efforts to the few things God has called you to oversee.

Limit yourself to 3-4 projects at a time. This was an arbitrary number that Ron gave, but it seems to be a good guide. My temptation is to try and change four things a day. I don’t have the stamina, nor focus to maintain that pace. He talked about doing 3-4 projects, even ones that take the entire year, and just sticking with them.

Build healthy staff and teams

Surround yourself with healthy people – The chemistry and health of your team will determine the pace of change and revitalization experienced. If it remains dependent on you, then once again, the growth will be slow and limited. If, however, you surround yourself with healthy people, you can create a healthy culture of leadership.

Make the necessary, hard decision for the sake of healthy people – Unhealthy people behave like tumors. At best their benign obstructions. At worse, they’re cancerous.

Develop a lean structure – You may inherit a bulky or clunky organizational structure. You’ve got to work to thin it out a bit. Trimming the fat removes places where unhealthy people can hide as well as helping the church be more adaptive.

Embrace the community you’re a part of

Put the church on the community’s radar – It’s remarkably easy for an established church to fall off the community’s radar. It becomes the building that people pass each day and forget about. Without intentional activity, the church will fall out of the communities’ attention. This is a challenge for me and my personality, as it requires me to do things that feel like pandering and “playing church”, but in the end, it is a means of building relationships and getting people in the door. My personal feelings must be put aside.

If we want the city to know us, we need to help them feel welcomed to the church – What are you doing to help the community feel welcomed? Do they know what events your church is putting on? Do they even want to attend them? Do you follow up with visitors and guests? How do you tell the community what’s going on at your church? These are a few questions to ask yourself as you start to go beyond the walls.

Know the highest level of community leaders possible

Mayor, police chief, city council members, prominent business leaders. Every community has different leaders within it, and it’s important to get to know them. These leaders have the ability to help you and your church do some incredible ministry. More than that, these leaders have the ability to help you readily identify the issues that most immediately need the churches attention. Your church may have a great ministry at the local library, but the community may need help dealing with addiction recovery or financial management. These community leaders will know the big issues weighing on the community as a whole.

Embrace change, encourage innovation

Cast the vision, but let others lead – The church may have a dozen things that need to change right away. And you may know what you need to do to make those changes. But you can’t do it alone. You need leaders within the congregation to step up and support different ministries and changes along the way. You can paint the picture, and help people see the shifts that need to happen, but you can’t do it all. It’s not healthy for you or the church.

Others in the congregation may know a number of potential solutions to the problems you identify. They might even know about problems you might not. You need them to take ownership over these problems and their solution. It gets buy-in from the congregation, which increases the chances of the changes sticking.

There you have it; five things to know about revitalizing a church. As I said, part 2 is coming next week. And once again, I am grateful to Ron Edmonson for allowing me to use his outline for this article. You can check him out here. He’s got a lot of good stuff there.

What else would you add to the list? Let me know.

And remember, I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Let me know your thoughts down below.

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