Revitalization. Seems there is always a new buzz word that’s coming down the pike, but this one is long overdue. Revival is a word that may be worn out by time and history, so revitalization is taking its place.
Maybe it’s for good reason. With so much mission drift, churches today know that it’s going to take more than a week of meetings to fix the systemic problems that plague us. Some estimate 1000 days and major course adjustments are required to truly turn a church around.
Someone once said the longest journey begins with the first step. Believe me when I say if we intend to follow Christ in this generation everyone has a next step to take. Vision, obedience and faith will be required. So, what is the next step to church revitalization?
To answer that question let’s start with the why. According to a study by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, only 6.8% of churches are growing because of conversions, and the SBC is in decline. No matter the size and success (or lack of success) in drawing a crowd, the bottom line is we are not reaching the lost as much as we are shuffling sheep. We need to ask the question, “Is this really what Christ came and died for?” I do not believe the church is dying – however I do believe that on our watch, many are in retreat or coasting.
One could point to the large crowds, buildings and budgets, but that’s not what the commission is all about. Setting up shop and being the best religious show in town is not the measure of success Christ instituted. Churches need to take a long, hard look at how they are growing and what percentage of those are through salvation. With these alarming numbers, it’s apparent that 93% are not moving the mission forward.
In our own region, one quarter of BCNE churches baptized no one in 2017, and another quarter baptized three or less. If you’re a small church in a rural community that number may be significant, but that’s not the norm for most churches in the BCNE. We live in a target-rich environment.
The truth about revitalization is 9 out of 10 churches – new and old – need it. Pastors and church leaders need to do some real soul-searching to redefine success. We can no longer look around and say we are doing better than the church down the street. It’s time we all get on our face and ask God to forgive us and to demolish strongholds through the power of the Gospel, then seek where Christ is at work in our communities. Let’s pray God will allow us to see revitalization in our generation.
Bruce James serves as director of church growth and evangelism at the Baptist Convention of New England.