What is revitalization, anyway?

A few years ago, my wife and I did something crazy. We bought a house, gutted a good chunk of it, and started over. What we realized was that the basic foundation was good—the walls, the subfloor, the electrical even, but most everything else needed to be changed. With the help of some handymen, we removed walls, replaced plumbing, built cabinets, and changed the house into a home. It was tough work, but a labor of love, so much that when we moved back to Cincinnati, we bought a house that needed the same work, even more!

When it comes to the church, pastors and leaders are often in a labor of love. And yet, because the conditions of the church, the approach to transforming a church to health can look much, much different. In other words, there’s no one size fits all.

That said, there’s a difference between the terms restart (or replant) and revitalization. The term restart, for example, is just that: it is a process of completely removing existing structures in the church and starting over. The founding documents are redrawn, new leadership is brought in, the building is transferred, and the church reexists, yet completely different than the existing one. Often, the new church is considered a plant or a replant, with the exception being that the new church has ownership and possession of the existing building and assets.

Revitalization is much, much different. It is the process of keeping much of the existing church, making major changes in the structure, focus, and methodologies, and clearing a pathway so that disciplemaking can begin again. It’s plowing the field to allow the scattered seeds of the gospel to flourish and grow. This is painful, and church leaders need to know that revitalization is not a matter of rebranding…it’s a return to gospel centeredness.

Philippians 2:3–4 (ESV), “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

When we are talking about making such major changes, the passage above is so appropriate. Both methods, whether replanting and revitalization, have their challenges, but humility is key. With the right heart, breakthroughs in the attitudes and motivations can be made within the congregation. Honest conversations can occur. And with these breakthroughs and conversations, a spirit of deference such as in Phil 2:3-4 can permeate in the church!

After working with churches to grow in their leader and disciplemaking efforts, I’m now pastoring a small church that has been going through the process of revitalization. Like our work in renovating our houses, church revitalization is truly a labor of love. Our breakthroughs have come and more are to come. Yet, we are seeing progress in the gospel! In just a little under three months, people are coming to Jesus, lives are being changed, and gospel centeredness is ruling the day. The church feels alive, the members are encouraged and active, and though we have far to go, we can see our church being a light for the community through the lives of real people. May God use us to reach the West Side of Cincinnati and beyond!

Pastor Fran

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