In my early years of ministry I was involved in several church planting efforts. I had embraced the axiom, “It is easier to give birth than to raise the dead.” I still believe in church planting and am a passionate proponent of starting new churches. But if 80-85% of the churches in America are plateauing or declining, then we not only must focus on church planting but also on church revitalization. I have much to learn about church revitalization, but I have discovered a few truths over the years.

First, church revitalization is kingdom work. While church planting receives much focus today (and rightly so!), church revitalization is no less kingdom work than church planting. Christ loves His church. He loves all of His church; not just the healthy parts, but also the sick parts. Christ loves churches that need revitalization – and we should love what Christ loves.

Related: Earn your Master of Divinity degree in the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry

Second, church revitalization begins with personal revitalization. We too easily can make excuses for ourselves and our churches, can’t we? We have too little parking, a bad location, poor signage, and an archaic sound system. We convince ourselves that if only we had what other churches have, we would be at the top of the growth curve!
Puritan pastor Richard Baxter, in his classic work on pastoral ministry, The Reformed Pastor, notes the God-given sequence in Acts 20:28: “take heed to yourself, AND THEN to the flock of God.” Church revitalization begins with personal revitalization. Where do we as church leaders need a fresh touch from God? Where do we need to repent and pursue God in a new way?

Third, church revitalization is hard work. It involves God’s inspiration but our perspiration. The adage is true, it is easier to give birth than to raise the dead. If church revitalization were easy, everyone would be doing it! If it were easy, 80-85 percent of our churches would not be plateauing or declining. Why is it hard work? In part, it is because we face the opposition of the world, the flesh and the devil. This poem highlights the reality we face in church life:

To dwell above with saints we love,
That will be grace and glory.
But to live below, with folks we know,
Now that’s a different story!

Revitalization is hard work, because church revitalization is really people revitalization. While outdated buildings might need a fresh coat of paint, redecorating is not revitalization.

Fourth, church revitalization demands persistence. It is a process, not an event. It takes time. Events can help facilitate the process, but they can’t circumvent the process. Revitalization is a process, not a program. There is not a “one size that fits all.” Lest we think that we are alone in our revitalization struggles, have you ever considered that out of the seven churches referenced in Revelation, four needed revitalization? Church revitalization demands persistence.

Fifth, church revitalization requires God’s blessing. It is a spiritual work! Revitalization is a supernatural work, and therefore needs supernatural power to make it happen. Only God brings revival and revitalization. The observation of G. Campbell Morgan applies, “We cannot cause the wind of the Spirit to blow, but we can set our sails to catch the wind when it does blow.” We need to employ the God-ordained means of prayer, preaching the Word, and sharing the gospel in our revitalization efforts.
Paul’s exhortation in I Corinthians 15:58 is a good reminder for those involved in church revitalization: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because you know that your work is NOT in vain in the Lord.”

Timothy K. Beougher is Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism at Southern Seminary. This article originally appeared in the summer 2014 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine.