Six Reasons Why Some Churches Choose Death Over Revitalization

Some of you might not know, but Parkland Community Church is my first lead pastoral job. So, when my wife and I made the decision to come, I knew that I needed some resources and mentorship to help me on my way. Phil Gunther, who is the Director of the Saskatchewan Mennonite Brethren Churches, and Blair Allen and Luke Etelamaki, who are the pastors of Compass Church in Regina, have been wonderful mentors and have helped me navigate the road of pastoral ministry.

I also get significant help from podcasts dedicated to teaching pastors how to manage different aspects of the church. One of the podcasts I listen to is Revitalize & Replant with Thom Rainer. This podcast has been very helpful in understanding declining churches and tools on how to help turn that church around.

In the latest episode, Rainer along with his cohost, Jonathan Howe, talk about the reasons churches chose death over revitalization. Here’s the link if you want to listen along for yourselves! Below is my take on a short summary of the six reasons they mention.

1.We didn’t know we were dying

So many churches are in denial about dying, that they just don’t realize
it and the worst cases are those churches that are gradually dying…and if you’re still there and your friends are still there, that’s key, as long as your friends are there, you’re okay, because we’re all going to die together.

Sometimes, declining doesn’t seem like dying. We don’t want to use such harsh language. We don’t want to offend anyone. Churches can sometimes die because we’re unwilling to face the reality of the situation and call a square a square. I’ve been told that the step before declining is plateauing. Putting that another way, if you’ve plateaued, you are one step away from dying.

2.We didn’t know how to revitalize.

This is legit…Steps to revitalization can seem to be self evident, but to some they’re not… Why does that not work, today?

Revitalization is hard work. Growing churches is hard work. The way we used to do it may no longer work. We must do our best to continue to build in best practices and learn from those who have gone before us and adapt to what is before us in healthy ways, keeping the gospel and following Jesus at the forefront of our minds. Are you empowering yourself to revitalize your church?

3.We thought that we had the silver bullet for revitalization

And you know what that silver bullet typically is? A young pastor. If we get a young pastor, that young pastor will attract young families. Sometimes a silver bullet is a program. Sometimes a silver bullet is the way we do church. Sometimes it’s a facility.

There are no silver bullets for church revitalization or church growth. There is the day-in and day-out work of preaching the gospel, loving Jesus and serving others. There is no one thing that is going to save your church from dying, but putting your faith in a silver bullet is a good way to kill your church. Are you looking at every aspect of your church and bringing it up to snuff?

4.We were just uncomfortable with the change we would have to endure.

I was just talking about change and somebody raised their hand… ‘Well you talk about change does that mean we have to put the words on the screen when we sing?’ and I just paused for a moment.

Culture is shifting so rapidly that people will look to the pillars of their lives to stabilize them. One of those pillars may be the church. But instead of using the gospel to stabilize them, they look to the method of how church is done. They begin to grasp hold to the neck of the church and they squeeze hold with all their might, eventually strangling the church they hope will save them. Are you holding onto the gospel or to your church practices?

5.We are angry.

Sometimes you’re just so angry, you refuse to change…Even if Jesus came and said, ‘do you want to follow me’, you will be so angry you’ll vote no.

With times comes the threat of bitterness. Bitterness can take root in a person’s life and utterly destroy everything that tries to grow in that garden. Are you seeing with God’s eyes of what God wants to do in your community? Or are you so bitter, you can no longer see the work of God in the world, transforming it? 

6.We are tired.

They’re at a point where they’ve done it all and now, they have it in their minds, “it’s time to rest”. Rainer and Howe didn’t mention it but I can only imagine it’s a loss of urgency for the mission of the church. People are dying without the message of the cross and we’re too tired to do anything about it. This group of people are experiencing missional drift. Maybe it’s because it seems hopeless, maybe it’s age or maybe it’s just apathy. Whatever the reason, we’re done being apart of what God is doing. The question is, are you still willing to be used by God?

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