I’m often asked how long it should take for a church to revitalize. This question is incredibly difficult to answer because there are many dynamics and elements in play. I’m tempted to answer, “It depends,” because there are so many variables, but, of course, such a response is not satisfactory and doesn’t help a church gain new vitality.
Given the need to start somewhere, I’ll begin by identifying three revitalization categories that might serve to frame the conversation. Are we talking revitalization as a program, as a process or as a culture? For the sake of clarity, I always ask, “what do you mean by revitalization?” The response helps me understand which of these three categories is in view.
The default position is to think of revitalization as a program, a methodology. Typically, there are principles, concepts and tools that are organized in a more or less step by step protocol that, when faithfully followed, guides church leaders down a linear pathway from beginning to end, thereby, completing the program. A program can be completed far quicker than a process or the establishment of a culture, so, in that sense, a program is first to the finish line. However, completion of a program in revitalization is the least effective and the least likely to garner long-term sustainability.
Revitalization as a process is of a different genre. Yes, there will still be principles, concepts and tools that will be leveraged in an organized manner through completing certain action steps. However, the objective is not the completion of these action steps but the reorientation of how church leaders think about ministry. It’s a shifting of priorities reflected in a shift of decision-making criteria and a shift in resource allocation. Church leaders are not striving to cross a finish line but are striving, by the grace of God, to align the church’s ministry with biblical mandates such as the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Revitalization as a process is not a programmatic homework assignment but might better be described as a change in world view, as in, “How do we reach our immediate world, our community, our domestic mission field, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Viewed in this context, revitalization as a process never ends. Yes, there can be markers along the way that indicate measurable progress, but there is no final finish line until Jesus returns.
That brings me to revitalization as a culture. When revitalization is embraced as a process, over time a new church culture is established that is a revitalization culture. Gaining in vitality becomes the air that church leaders breath. Health, growth and multiplication become embedded in the very fabric of the church, driving vision, strategy, structure, staffing, finances, facilities usage, etc., etc. etc.
Revitalization should be understood as a never-ending process that births a vital culture. True revitalization happens daily, that is, day by day by day, but it never happens overnight!