Last week, I took a course in church revitalization. As the name suggests, it was about restoring to life to churches that have lost their vitality. Over four days, four pastors shared lessons and insights they had learned in leading their churches through renewal. What was so refreshing was that none of them pointed to gimmicks or novel ideas. The course focused on the fundamentals but with clear strategies on how to grow in them. Whereas 20 years ago churches were talking about shorter sermons, skits, interpretive dance and avoiding words like sin or hell, today growing churches are focused on prayer, evangelism, discipleship and glorifying God. The conversation has changed – for the better! Let me share one of their stories.
Over the last seven years, Temple Baptist Church in Cambridge has had 86 baptisms, added 246 members, eliminated their $400,000 debt, doubled their budget and planted a church. They recognize that this is God’s work and there is no formula for replicating it, but they do point to a number of the fundamentals that God has used in their growth.
1. Begin with prayer.
For a number of years, it seemed like the North American church was too busy to pray. There was lots of activity but little reliance on God. The culture’s opposition to biblical Christianity has driven many churches to prayer. Temple has not only grown the number of people in prayer meetings but has also infused prayer in rhythms of all their ministries.
2. Move from an inward to an outward focus.
There are so many needs inside the four walls of the church that it’s easy to forget the lost world that God has called us to reach. Temple made a conscious decision to prioritize outreach in its budget, programming and focus. They take risks to connect with their community and refuse to let the preferences of insiders create walls to outsiders.
3. Prioritize discipleship.
It used to be that churches were content to see all the seats filled up. That resulted in churches that were a mile wide and an inch deep. But Jesus has called us to make disciples. Temple has developed a clear path of discipleship that they post on the wall and lead their people through. Every year, the entire congregation indicates where they are at in the eight steps of discipleship and classes are held to lead people through the next chapter of growth.
4. Stay to produce lasting change.
Revitalization takes time and challenges usually precede growth. When obstacles appear, the temptation is to look for greener pastures and bigger opportunities. Thirteen days after Temple’s new pastor arrived, they were served with a lawsuit. It revealed an ugly chapter of the church’s history that needed to be addressed. It would have been so easy for the pastor to back out and move somewhere easier. Staying however cemented his bond with the congregation and led to powerful lessons in forgiveness and reconciliation.
5. Kill what is killing you.
When Temple was founded, the Christian school was envisioned first and the church second. The academy had been foundational to the church’s life and had enjoyed a 35-year history. As the pastor looked at the school’s finances and attendance records, however, it was clear that it had waned in its effectiveness. It was running an annual deficit of $80,000 per year and few of the church’s families enrolled their children in it. Despite the history, they had to make the painful decision to close the school, but it freed up leadership focus and precious finances to devote to more relevant strategies to reach the community and disciple the next generation.
I came away from my week of study clearer about what’s needed to lead our church forward than I’ve ever been. And I pray that God will guide our effectiveness as we rely on Him and partner with what He’s doing in our generation.
In awe of Him,