Church planters as risk takers. They start churches — often with little funding. They typically have no building when they start out, and many have no members. Church planting is inherently risky.

But I would argue that church revitalization must be risky as well. Indeed, I believe church revitalization leaders should be consummate students of risk-taking. Let me offer five reasons why:

1. There is no such thing as a status quo church.

Here is the harsh reality of revitalization: Churches are either headed toward greater health or they are declining in health. Many of the declining churches are dying. There are no churches “holding their own” or “hanging in there.” We need risk-taking leaders to lead church revitalization because the alternative is death.

2. Churches that need revitalizing must be led by change agents.

That path is risky and change can be painful. Change is often resisted. Change can be three steps forward followed by two steps backwards. But if the revitalization leader does not lead change, the church will not become healthier.

3. Leaders of revitalization must be willing to risk their jobs.

Leaders of revitalization know the harsh reality of job insecurity. Thousands and thousands of change leaders have been fired because they upset the status quo or threatened the power group. While leaders should not lead change foolishly, even wise changes could result in their ouster.

4. Criticism is constant for risk-taking leaders of revitalization.

Many leaders in these churches revert risk aversion once things get tough. To use a sports metaphor, they play defense instead of offense. Church revitalization leaders must be willing to endure the almost daily doses of criticisms that will come their way.

5. Revitalization will take place when a leader points to the discomfort of an untraveled future path rather than remaining in the comfort of a well-worn present.

It takes a leader willing to take risks to look to the future. It is not fully known. It is not the way we’ve always done it. It is downright uncomfortable for most people.

In the past, we often saw the established church as a place where leaders could move so slowly that progress was imperceptible. And that was okay, because the churches of the past offered stability. This is not the case today. Leading a church toward revitalization is risky business. But it is a necessary business. And risk is really the path all leaders should take. There is a word in the Bible that reflects this leadership disposition more clearly. The word is faith.


Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Rainer received both a master of divinity and Ph.D. from Southern Seminary and was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism from 1994 to 2005. He is the author of many books and served as a pastor for several years.