Realities for Revitalizing Churches

Cliff notes from a talk by Dr. Sam Rainer #BCMDunited Nov 11, 2019 with summary personal reflections.

◦ 65+% churches need revitalization; ~900 SBC churches are dying each year; ~4,000 churches nationally dying each year.

◦ Conversion (baptism) growth is slowing. Most growth is coming from higher birth rates or transfer growth from mainline and/or declining churches. Ultimately, evangelism efforts have declined. That’s right, sadly churches are fading due to low effort, yet the overwhelming majority of declining/dying churches exist in growing population communities. The call for the church is simply to wake up (Revelation 3:2).

◦ Bigger churches are getting bigger at faster rates. Crowds often follow momentum and a spiritual gravitational pull. So, smaller churches need to fully think through and elevate their “first impressions,” along with their ministry niche.

NOTE: Bigger churches often have a ~25 year life cycle, while smaller churches tend to stay same over multiple generations. That doesn’t mean big churches cannot expand or go beyond their life cycle OR that smaller churches never die; it’s a general observation for churches to understand their context and consider their future legacy.

◦ Generational gaps are longer. Life expectancies have grown with churches previously having maybe 2 generations now have 4-5. Bridging these gaps present greater challenges to meet and serve needs. Meeting generational needs is important with one of the keys being intergenerational ministry.

◦ Diversity is becoming normative. ~2040 US will be “minority white.” Interracial marriages are 1 in 6 (more than 5x amount since 1960’s) / 1 in 7 infants are multi-racial (more than double since 1980’s). Diversity should not be ignored or avoided, and is actually an opportunity for the church to shine with a gospel welcoming to every person and nation.

Attendance frequency is declining. The average is around 1x a month. Attendance drift is the #1 reason churches decline. People unfortunately become fringe familiar. A starting point for every church is to reach people on its own membership roll and guest prospects to encourage and nurture renewed connection and involvement.

◦ Measuring the right numbers is important. Measuring must go beyond ABC (attendance, buildings, and cash collected) to the D – disciplemaking. Indeed, measure thee former, but also consider additional measurements of spiritual health in your church. Here are some additional items each church should measure:

  • # of first time guests each week.
  • % of return guests each week / guests who become members.
  • # of members vs # of baptisms; create ratio
  • # of giving units from year to year, with average annual giving amount.
  • # of members involved in a small group.
  • # of members / attenders serving in a ministry (per week/overall).
  • # of members becoming volunteers and leaders.
  • # of missional moments by persons each week (ex. invited person to church, shared gospel, served explicitly in the name of Jesus, prayed for/with an unbeliever, etc.)
  • # of people committed to regular prayer for the church’s efforts.
  • Outcomes for specific ministries and outreach events related to attendance, salvation, membership, etc. Each ministry/program and event should not just be on the calendar each year unless it serves the mission of the church and is an effective means toward spiritual fruit.
  • How are ministry teams and leaders overcoming dysfunction tendencies?
  • Do the elders/pastors have biblical priorities or worldly aims?
  • Addition and expansion of ministries, and new missions (church plants, mission partnerships, etc.).
  • Stats matter but so do stories. Stories can have an immeasurable impact on your church. Find ways to capture stories and have them regularly shared.

    In all, recognize what you want repeated because we often become what we celebrate.

◦ Charismatic leaders & musicians are socially popular. So the average churches (pastors/worship) deal with frequent comparisons and often letdowns for congregants. It is hard to overcome this reality, but each church should value excellence to God’s glory, and they should also value authenticity, not attempting to be someone or somewhere they are not.

◦ Multi-everything is the new growth paradigm. The option for options is no longer optional. One-size fits all programming misses the diversity of people and their needs in today’s world. Identify what you do well and then consider ways for various levels/options with that emphasis.

◦ Denominational loyalty is declining. Institutions have become somewhat suspect. People are more loyal to individual mission. Therefore, the church cannot rely on the tradition for its present relevance. Promoting networks and denominational associations are fine only as far as they pertain to the church’s mission.

◦ We are in an era of leadership compression. Expectations for results are high. Instant gratification is normal. Yet, while the desire to produce is normal, the desire for change is often very low, much more patience for the process. Managing expectations is key to forward momentum and eventual success.

◦ Attention is the new commodity. We don’t have an information issue but an interpretation problem. Busyness, distraction, and vying for focus are an extreme challenge. Consider ways to communicate important elements (announcements, message clips, etc.) in smaller sound bites but more frequently rather than all at once.

◦ A promise from Jesus is for the church to persevere in faith and laboring for the Lord. Jesus is building His church and promises its future success. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12

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