Church revitalization is a hot topic these days. And for good reason. As many as 90% of churches need some level of revitalization. A few of these face death. They are not heading for trouble. They are in trouble. But most of the churches needing revitalization do not face eminent death. Indeed, many of them do not even realize they are heading for trouble. They appear healthy. A few of them are even growing. They may have a lot of activity and plenty of money. Yet, they need church revitalization.
Here are eight warning signs that your church may need some level of revitalization. Some of these come from churches I have consulted or worked with over the years. Others come from conversations with colleagues in ministry. In order to make the final list, the sign had to have been present in multiple churches.
1. Plateaued or declining attendance.
This should be the most obvious indicator. Sometimes it is not. I am aware of one church that had experienced a fifty-year decline in attendance. Because the decline had come a little bit at the time, most members didn’t notice it. Some leaders refused to believe it, even when confronted with the data.
2. Lack of evangelistic fruit.
Among my denominational tribe we measure evangelistic fruit by baptisms. When I look at baptism numbers I want to know more than just how many total baptisms. I want to know how many are adults. I want to know how many are children of adult church members. We celebrate every baptism, but without evangelistic fruit from the community a church is heading for trouble.
3. Church does not reflect the community.
Without evangelistic fruit from the community there will come a day when the church no longer reflects the community. That is a major sign of impending trouble. God has placed each church in its community for such a time as this. The church should reflect the community ethnically, generationally, culturally, and economically.
4. Missing generations in attendance and/or leadership.
In the past I have worked with multiple churches that had no participating adults under the age of 50. In other churches where only one generation is missing, the situation may be less dramatic but no less significant. It is important for these churches to seek an honest answer to the question, “Why?” and take the necessary steps to fix the problem.
5. Idealized vision of the past.
Often when a church is heading for or experiencing trouble, the members will be struck with extreme cases of nostalgia. Believing their best days are in the past, they will long for the good old days. The healthy church will see its past through the eyes of Jesus. There will be celebration of past victories. There will be repentance for past corporate sin. And there will be hope for the future. I grew up hearing my mother reminisce about the good old days when she was a child. My mother was born on October 29, 1929 – the day the stock market crashed. She grew up in the Great Depression. The past is rarely as glamorous as we remember it!
6. Preoccupation with other churches.
This indicator is most prominent in churches who may have been “The First Baptist Church of What’s Happening Now” in the past but some other church has taken their place. I have seen this so many times. Rather than celebrating the kingdom impact, the members are jealous of the sister church’s success. They may be exceedingly critical. Or they may inundate their own leadership with statements like, “Why can’t we do what they are doing?” When a church is overly focused on what other churches are doing it is heading for trouble.
7. Competing agendas within the church.
Competing agendas make a pastor feel like he is playing a never-ending game of whack-a-mole. He is constantly having to intervene and redirect. This member wants the church to have contemporary worship services. This member laments that the church no longer uses the handbell choir in worship. This church member wants more money spent on the members instead of sending it off to the missionaries. Everyone wants to do what is right in their own eyes. Too often the loudest voice or the voice with the most support wins the day and sends the church heading for trouble.
8. Allowing a person or group to exercise power and control.
Bullies exist in churches. I have seen churches where someone attempted to be a bully or a group acted as a cabal, but the church stood up to the bully and confronted the cabal. But I have also seen churches where members stood by wringing their collective hands. They allowed the bully to exercise power. They allowed the cabal to be in control. Those churches were heading for trouble. Some sooner than later.
If your church is showing any of the signs of heading for trouble, don’t wait. Church revitalization is possible. You can have a healthy church. But you have to act. As Jesus said to the church at Ephesus, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:5).
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. To find out more about Rob Paul Ministries or to financially support the work of church revitalization, visit https://robpaul.net