by Ed Stetzer, President of LifeWay Research
Many churches stuck on a plateau or spiraling into decline can discover the joy of reaching the peak of revitalization. In many ways, the North American church has forgotten the joy of climbing the mountain peaks of ministry. It has become overweight with modern techniques and methodologies and lost sight of its true mission and purpose to simply make more and better followers of Jesus christ.
Why not plant new churches? It's a fair question. I've often said, "It's easier to birth a baby than raise one from the dead." Neither is easy, but one is far more common. While I have spent much of my life planting new churches and mentoring church planters, I realize the kingdom of God needs both church planting and church revitilization.
In my book Comeback Churches I co-wrote with Mike Dodson, we sought to identify principles that could guide pastors and churches down the path of revitalization. Many of the conclusions drawn in our book resonate with what you will find in the pages ahead.
Like any resurrection, a spiritually dead church requires the power of God to live again. Often pastors have failed in ministry because they have cut their churches off from the power of God through prayer, either by failing to lead in prayer or by neglecting prayer as a priority.
Respondents to a survey for Comeback Churches were asked to identify the top three factors leading to their churches being revitalized. Their responses clearly revealed prayer as the number one factor inhibiting their churches from shifting from sickness to health.
The book you are about to read is designed to facilitate the kind of shift God wants for your church, the shift from sickness to health, spiritual death to spiritual life, spiritual apathy to spiritual energy. Pastoring a church in need of revitalization can be personally taxing. Pastors seldom burn out at healthy churches. And the situation seems hopeless when all of the factors inhibiting the shift God desires for your church seem out of your control. But the reality of your situation, of my situation, is we serve a God who delights to work in relationship with us toward a common mission. Only when we turn God-ward in prayer and focus on His mission are we able to make the shifts our churches so desperately need.
We can discover the joy of reaching the peak of revitalization because of God's omnipresence. The same God who heals the sick, restores sight to the blind, and raises His Son to new life is inviting you on his mission. Your response to His invitation holds the key to unlock the glorious gospel revitalization awaiting all those who seek God.
You hold in your hand the product of years of study and research by people under the conviction of the Holy Spirit that nothing will overcome Christ's church (Matthew 16:18). Though my Nazarene brothers and i are separated by denominational affiliation, we are unified by God's mission (28:19-20). It's both personally challenging and encouraging to see the five key strategies highlighted by Bill Wiesman, particularly the "vibrant church renewal" initiative. May you find what you seek, and may God breathe new life into missional communities in North America, to the ends of the earth.
President of LifeWay Research
by Bill Weisman, Evangelism Ministries Director
The Church of the Nazarene has a rich heritage of making Christlike disciples in the nations. From our earliest days we have multiplied churches and disciples across the United States and Canada and out to the "uttermost parts" (Psalm 2:8, KJV) of the world. Today we have over twenty-seven thousand churches in almost one hundred sixty countries around the world. Growth has been rapid and dynamic in recent years in world areas, but here in the USA/Canada Region our growth has slowed and plateaued. In 2009 and 2010 USA/Canada Regional Director Bob Broadbooks sought input from hundreds of pastors, superintendents, laypeople, and denominational leaders in leading the region to identify five key strategies for the future:
- Intentional Leadership Development - Recognize, develop, train, and release passionate leaders with a Wesleyan-Arminian focus.
- Vibrant Church Renewal - Help each local church discover new missional life.
- Clear and Coherent Theological Identity - Facilitate communication and collaboration between the Global Ministry Center, educational regions, educational institutions, ministers and laity through print, electronic media, civil conversation, and clear preaching.
- Passionate Missional Outreach - Release and encourage our people to embrace with open arms and hearts both the needy and the new people groups among us.
- Multifaceted New Church Development - Foster an environment and enthusiasm for starting new churches through districts and local churches.
This book is the result of an ongoing initiative to develop Strategy Number 2, Vibrant Church Renewal. Recognizing that we could not study all "vibrant churches," we did our best to locate churches that positively fit the following characteristics.
- Turnaround churches, previously plateaued or declining but have since turned around
- Breakout churches, which have suddenly taken off
We further identified four major factors:
- Internal institutional factors, such as programs, ministries, emphasis, staff, and so on - this is the area that local leaders have the most control over.
- Internal contextual factors, such as aging congregation, poor location, deferred maintenance, historical precedents - less control by local leaders.
- External institutional factors, such as the positive or negative impact of being part of a connectional system or denomination, with almost no control by local leaders.
- External contextual factors - for example, the town is dying or changing - with no control by local leaders
To narrow the scope of our study, we chose to look at only the first two factors, internal institutional factors and internal contextual factors. These are those over which local leaders have the most control. We narrowed the scope of our study even further by looking at only the seventy percent of our Nazarene churches that had fewer than one hundred in average attendance prior to shifting to a higher level of health and effectiveness.
When these are analyzed statistically, we see that groups of churches go through a life cycle similar to that of other organizations: birth, growth, maturity, plateau, decline, dropout, and death. Because of the dynamic presence of the Holy spirit, though, there is hope for many of our aging churches. Anecdotally we know that all churches do not go through this life cycle. Some continue to refocus and reinvent and redevelop and make Christlike disciples in ongoing cycle of health and vibrancy. Why does God seem to bless in some places and not in others? Are there commonalities in churches that are experiencing renewal? We wanted to find out.
So with the help of the Nazarene Research Department, the over five thousand USA/Canada churches were put through more and more stringent filters until only a handful were left. Nine pastors met, presented papers, answered survey questions, and allowed their ministries to be subjected to in-depth analysis to discover helpful commonalities. These pastors and churches generally fit the following criteria:
- The church has existed since at least 1990.
- The pastor has served at least five years.
- At the beginning of the pastorate, the church had fewer than one hundred members and fewer than one hundred in average worship attendance.
- Since the beginning of the pastorate, average annual membership growth has at least doubled the average population growth during the decade.
- Since the beginning of the pastorate, average annual worship attendance growth has at least doubled the average population growth during the decade.
- Since the beginning of the pastorate, new Nazarenes have been received each year.
- Since the beginning of the pastorate, the average total of annual new Nazarenes has at least equaled one-third of that of the beginning membership.
The nine churches that form this study are listed here:
- Massilon Church, Massilon, OH. John Stallings, Pastor. East Ohio District.
- Latin American First Church, Owings Mills, MD. Walter Argueta, Pastor. Mid-Atlantic District.
- New Hope Church, Princeton, IL. Laura Root, Pastor. Northwestern Illinois District.
- The Core Church, Winchester, VA. James Asberry, Former Pastor. Virginia District.
- Waynesboro Community Fellowship, Waynesboro, VA. Jeff Griffith, Former Pastor. Virginia District.
- Clarksville Grace Church, Clarksville, TN. Tony Miller, Former Pastor. Tennessee District.
- London First Church, London, ON. Junior Sorzano, Former Pastor. Canada Central District.
- Farmington Crossroads Community Church, Farmington, NM. David West, Pastor. New Mexico District.
- Waverly Church, Waverly, TN. Daron Brown, Pastor. Tennessee District.
*Pastors listed as "former pastors" have since relocated to another church.
Finally, we must celebrate and recognize Pastor Daron Brown of the Waverly, Tennessee, Church of the Nazarene, one of the churches that formed a part of this study. When asked, Daron willingly stepped into the role of facilitator and leader of the study. He is the author of this book. Thank you, Daron, for your contribution for our Lord and His kingdom.
Evangelism Ministries Direct