Caution: These are challenging but necessary questions to ask of yourself and your church
Have you ever considered embarking on a long trip? If you have, you know the importance of asking important questions before committing to the journey. You might ask things like, “Can I afford this trip? “Am I physically able to make the journey? Will everything at home be taken care of when I’m away?” There is much to consider before committing to start a long trip. Just as you wouldn’t embark on a long trip without serious consideration, before embarking on the long journey of church revitalization as a congregation, it is important to count the cost and decide if your church should start the process. It’s like what Jesus taught in Luke 14:28-30 about the cost of being his disciple, “But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’” (NLT)
In this article I want to suggest some questions to ask in order to count the cost before committing to embarking on the Church Revitalization journey.
Three Aspects to Consider
Is you church in the right place for growth? Does the makeup of the existing membership match the surrounding community? If not, can the members connect with the surrounding community? Is the church’s physical location highly visible and easily accessible or is it hidden and hard to find? A difficult but important question to ask is, “does this church need to die and then be reborn?”
I’ve often written about the church I led in Jacksonville, Fl, where the neighborhood changed around the church over several decades before I arrived. The location was good, highly visible and easily accessible, and there was a large enough unchurched population to support potential growth. But since the existing members didn’t match the surrounding, unchurched population, a fair question was, “should we move to another part of town with a growing population that better matches our membership?” Or, “can we adapt and learn how to reach our neighbors for Christ?” For us it was an easy decision. We stayed, did the hard work of adapting, and experienced revitalization with lives transformed by Jesus. We were actually forced to relocate due to leaving The Episcopal Church however we stayed in the same general area for the sake of the mission. For us, staying made sense but it is a question worth asking and answering for a congregation looking to revitalize.
Healthy and committed leadership, both clergy and lay, is essential to a church being revitalized. Some important questions for priests to ask themselves are: “am I the right person to lead this change? Could I be more effective somewhere else? Is this the kind of church I should be pastoring? Do I match the congregation and the community?” Every rector is in a leadership role but not every rector is called to lead the change required for revitalization. The AAC has just recently created, in partnership with Asbury Seminary, a Church Revitalizer Assessment that will be available on our website soon. It is a simple assessment tool to help clergy answer the question, “Should I try to lead a church through revitalization or not?” All clergy aren’t called to the same ministries and that’s okay. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12: 29-30, “Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not!” (NLT) And that’s okay! If the Sr. Clergy is called to church revitalization it is hard work, if they are not called to it, it makes it even harder. Better to ask questions before starting the journey.
Some lay leadership questions are: are the laity willing to adapt and change as needed? Do the laity have the energy and commitment to make those changes? Are the laity ready to “roll up their sleeves” and get involved in the revitalization or do they expect the priest to do it all since they are the “professional”? 1 Corinthians 12 tells us that ministry in the church, including church revitalization, is an “all hands-on deck” event. Lay leaders must share in the adaptive leadership process and not just expect the clergy do it.
Church revitalization takes time. There are no silver bullets of quick fixes. As we say in our ReVive! Church Revitalization seminar, “We can teach you how to grow your church, we just can’t teach you how to do it quickly.” So, the question to consider about longevity is this: is the leadership, both clergy and lay, willing to give the rest of their lives to this church? If the answer is no, you probably shouldn’t embark on the journey. Now to be clear, lay people move away and clergy will be called by God to serve other ministries sometimes; however, the attitude while there should be that you’d be willing to help this church fulfill the Great Commission and Great Commandment until death do us part. Be all in!
Longevity also helps with trust between the clergy and the laity. Trust allows for you to take risks. Taking risks is necessary for revitalization. High turn over in clergy can create extra resistance to change in the congregation. Long time church members might think or say, “Why should we try that change? You’re just going to leave and someone else will come in and make new changes anyway.” The knowledge that you are all in this together for the long haul will allow for some of the resistance to come down.
So, count the cost by asking tough questions and seeking honest answers about church revitalization before you start the journey. No matter how hard things look, remember God is for you and not against you. He is with you. There is always hope and a future with Him so as you count the cost: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (ESV) Oh and one more thing. Ask yourself, “have I contacted Canon Mark Eldredge at the American Anglican Council?” I’m here to support and help you and not just step on your toes. MEldredge@AmericanAnglican.org
The Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization and Coaching with the American Anglican Council.