I've been thinking about the situation many of our churches are in today. We are told that 75-80 percent of our churches are plateaued or declining. In my opinion, the majority of those churches are in decline. On a life-cycle, the plateau area is a very small section so I believe most of these churches would be on the decline side of that life-cycle. Depending on who you read, between 4,000-5,000 churches close their doors each year in the United States. Most, but not all, of these troubled churches are smaller churches.
Each of these churches began as a vision someone had of starting a church in that location. That vision was shared with others until a church was formed. People's lives in those communities were changed because of the ministries these churches offered. Perhaps those ministries are no longer needed in some of those communities as people have left, but in the vast majority of cases there is still a need for these churches.
That need is compounded even more when one looks at the spiritual condition of our nation. We are a nation that has turned its back on biblical values and the historic teaching of the church. We are a nation that values diversity over truth. Every philosophy and religious belief is given equal status and respect...except Christianity. The moral teachings of Scripture are ridiculed and ignored, and the result has been tragic to our nation and to our families. We are in desperate need of a spiritual revival in America, and that revival cannot happen unless it first happens in our churches.
Revitalization cannot occur in a church until it first sees its need for such revitalization, and that begins with the church understanding why it is there in the first place. Church leaders must capture a fresh vision from God for its future purpose and how it can begin to impact its community again. It doesn't matter what the original vision was 50 years ago or 200 years ago when the church began. What matters is what is God wanting to do in and through your church in 2014 and beyond. If you can discern that you can then determine if you are willing to make whatever changes will be required to fulfill that purpose.
Do not be naive at this point...changes will have to be made. If your church has been in a plateaued or declining state changes will have to occur if your church is to be revitalized. If what you've been doing hasn't been working, what makes you think it will work in the future? Change will have to occur. You may not like some of those changes, but it's not about you...is it? If any needed changes has to pass your litmus test before you can approve them then accept the fact that your church will continue to decline as long as you live or until it decides that it would rather please God than you.
Revitalization will require courage and sacrifice from both the pastoral and lay leadership. It will force the church to go into uncharted territory and begin to live out a new story, but it will be a story of God at work in new ways through the ministries of your church. It may require changes in how your church is structured. It may require new alliances between your church and other churches and/or organizations. It may require changes that cannot even be contemplated right now, but if they bring us into the place where God can begin to use us once again, those changes will be worth it.
A number of denominations and judicatories have persons on staff to assist their churches with revitalization efforts. You may want to contact them to ask for their assistance. Other organizations such as Acts 29 are working with churches as they begin to look at renewing themselves. There is help out there for your church so you do not have to do this by yourself.
If your church is one of the 75-80 percent, it's time to stop hoping things will turn around and get better. Hope is not a strategy. It's time to become intentional about revitalizing your church. Pray about what God would have you to do. Invite a partner to help you through the process. Begin to take the hard steps to bring renewal to your church, and when such renewal comes you will then be able to bring renewal to your community.