Change or die. That was the message my mom received from her physician. Change or die. You see, my mother had been a smoker for all of her adult life. She had tried to quit before. But the addiction to nicotine was too strong. In her older years she developed lung disease. And her doctor would say, “Bobbie, you need to quit smoking.” Again, she tried. Then one day her physician said, “Bobbie, if you don’t quit, you are going to die.” I’m fairly certain that he gave her a timeline. Change or die. She put down the cigarettes, and to my knowledge never picked up one again. The pain of imminent death outweighed the pain of change.
Change or die is the message that many churches need to hear and heed. As many as 90% of Southern Baptist churches are in need of some level of revitalization. Some are stuck. Others are struggling. And approximately 800 of them are already spiraling towards death within the next twelve months! All of these churches need to experience some level of change in order to avoid the ultimate pain of death.
A Formula for Growth
Several years ago I posted this on social media:
Change. Conflict. Growth. A classic church growth formula. Most never get beyond the pain of conflict.
The truth is that most never get to the pain of conflict because they don’t embrace change. And they don’t embrace change because of the fear of conflict. But without the pain there can be little or no real growth.
Henry Blackaby said that God’s invitation to join him in what he is doing (change) always leads to a crisis of faith (conflict). But when we adjust our lives to join God then we experience God as we obey him and he accomplishes his work through us (growth). That formula is true for individual believers. It is also true for churches.
One of the joys of my ministry is being able to help churches to embrace this formula for growth through church revitalization. But I also experience the heartache of watching the churches that choose to die. I met with the leadership of one church about an opportunity for them to live. Some of their leaders had been members for as many as 65 of the 130 years the church had been in existence. As they shared their stories, my heart broke. And it broke because they were not willing to embrace the pain of change. As one of them said, “I guess we will just die.”
Death is Disobedience
I know this heading sounds harsh. But I have a theological conviction of its truth. The only time the death of a church is mentioned in the New Testament is in Revelation 2 where Jesus says that he will remove the church’s lamp stand if they don’t remember, repent, and return to their first love.
A church that does not remember, repent and return to its first love is choosing to be disobedient. To be clear, I’m not talking about a church that refuses to change the color of the carpet. There are churches that refuse to make any changes even for the sake of the gospel! And their disobedience leads to their death. So, when a church leader says, “I guess we will just die,” he or she is really saying, “I guess we will be disobedient.”
Revitalization & Replanting
Thankfully, there has been a huge emphasis in recent years on creating pathways for revitalization and/or replanting.
Revitalization refers to a protracted process of bringing life and vitality to a church that is stuck or struggling.
Typically a church that needs revitalization has a longer life expectancy. There may be urgency in their need to change, but they are not facing imminent death. Replanting is a path for churches that have a shorter life-expectancy.
Replanting is a way for dying churches to continue the legacy of the church through ongoing Kingdom ministry.
Churches that embrace revitalization or replanting have the opportunity to reclaim God’s glory and continue the church’s legacy. If you are a leader or a member of a stuck, struggling or spiraling towards death church, decide to change before it’s too late. Contact the North American Mission Board, your local association, or your state convention. Or let me know how I can help.
Rob Paul is a church revitalization strategist with over three decades of experience serving established Southern Baptist churches in pastoral ministry. He has helped churches in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia to experience revival and revitalization by God’s grace and for His glory. He is currently serving as the senior pastor of Huffman Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. To find out more about Rob Paul Ministries and the work of church revitalization, visit https://robpaul.net