To answer this question we have to define "revitalize." You can go with a fancy definition if you want. There are plenty out there. But I like to keep the simple definition of “bringing new energy to an old church.” So really the question we’re asking here is how will we know that we’ve brought enough new energy to our old church?
New energy is rolled out in phases. When you’re past the last phase and "new energy" becomes "normal energy" you’re back into healthy church life and out of the revitalization process.
Phase One: Deciding Something New is Needed
Phase one can actually be the hardest phase, as it may take some brutal honesty for your church. It’s kind of like the age old saying, "the first step is admitting you have a problem."
A church is revitalizing the second the leader has some sort of a meeting or discussion about its current state and declares that the goal is to revitalize.
Phase two: Trying Something New
This phase will tell you whether or not phase one is actually done, and if the next several phases are doable.
Before crafting a new mission statement, website, bylaws or any of that, simply do something new. You can start small to get folks used to the idea if that helps. Something small like singing a new song or inviting a guest speaker even though you never do that.
The goal, however, is to change something mildly significant. To do this you need to figure out the things that will never change and things you could deal with changing. For us at Griggs, for example, we did not touch our system of government. But we saw that we were able to change the Sunday School hour from a time of teaching to a time of fellowship.
Try something new and see what people do. If you have a group that is willing to adapt, change, and try something (whether it works or not) you’re ready to move to phase three.
Phase Three: A New Plan
Call it a vision, a mission, or whatever you want. The big idea is that you’ve got aim for something new and go in a different direction. You need a plan for how your church will regain it’s strength and re-reach its potential.
This doesn’t have to be a complicated plan. Honestly, my plan was simply to hold church-wide dinners once a month. Yes, like potlucks. We're Baptist, what do you expect?
I knocked on the doors of the neighborhood and invited everyone I could to these dinners. The plan was that the folks from the neighborhood would come to a dinner, then to a few services, then get saved and join our church. This would happen until our 200 seats were full.
That’s what I did and I’m still doing that.
A couple things to note here: The plan I came up with would make perfect sense to you if you knew the area I was ministering in. I’m in the South, in a city where even most non-Christians know they’re supposed to be involved in church. Additionally, in the particular neighborhood my church is in, there isn’t much need for anything flashy. Simple works. Your version of simple may look radically different since you’re ministering in a different place.
Also, the plan doesn’t need to be complicated at first because it is going to complicate itself. Once some of the plan is implemented, your eyes will be opened to opportunities and ideas that you’ll jump on. Just start with a simple plan and follow through with it. It won’t be long before things naturally evolve and get more technical. Anyway, once the plan is clearly communicated and implemented Phase three has been accomplished and you’re well on your way.
Phase Four: Finding New Help
One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is asking for help. It’s amazing what can happen when you tell friends, family, neighbors and especially other local churches that you’re trying to revitalize your church. I think you'll find they're ready to cheer you on.
I asked about 13 of my friends to come and help me revitalize Griggs. Some came for six weeks, some for six months and other are still with me. I asked a local businessman for help with repainting and carpeting our church and he donated five thousand dollars worth of work to us.
You don’t want to take sheep from other folds to be sure. But there are many people out there nominally sitting in the back of megachurches who don’t know how to get involved. Inviting them to a revitalizing church gives them a wide open door to get involved. Speaking of megachurches, there are even some bigger churches out there who would be willing to have a conversation about sending a few families your way for a period of time or even indefinitely. That can be very catalytic by giving you a strong community to invite non-Christians into.
Phase Five: Installing New Leaders
Trying something new, implementing a new plan, and embracing new helpers means more work and thus you’re going to need more leaders. It’s tricky to call this phase five. Don’t take that all too literally. This may need to be done earlier due to the nature of how you must now define “leader.”
I’m not talking about defining "leader" as in pastor, deacon, volunteer, or any other title. I’m talking about defining what a leader is and does.
I used to think that we would get people in and then install leaders to take care of them. That’s part of what should go on in a revitalizing church. But there’s another scenario to look for as well. And that is installing leaders to do the work which brings new people into the body. That’s why you may need to install new leaders in the first four phases.
To be clear, when I say “Install new leaders" I don’t mean clear out the old ones. But adding new leaders is key. You cannot skip this stage. Revitalization is about bringing new energy to an old church, and new leaders are mainly where new energy comes from. At Griggs, we installed new leaders from the nursery to the deacon board over the course of our first two years of revitalization.
Phase Six: New Becoming Normal
Revitalization is not completed upon any certain goal being accomplished as the church should never get to a place where one goal is big enough to stop pouring out energy.
Eventually, however, the "new energy" in our old churches will simply be "energy." And when a church is back to a place where pouring out energy is normal, as in it’s once again the culture of the church, a church has revitalized.