It’s often hard to separate the fluff from the substance when discussing church revitalization. Much of what one reads in articles and blog posts is anecdotal, based on a particular situation, described from a determined point of view. And even the best sources are often in conflict as to how best proceed in strengthening congregations today. Despite this, I’d like to share two observations I believe are most clear about the need for revitalization today.

First, the vast majority of congregations are struggling. While the oft quoted statistic that 80% of SBC congregations are plateaued or in decline has proven untrue, Thom Rainer with Lifeway reports that 65% do indeed fit this description. The good news in this report is that 35% of SBC churches are growing! But further research indicates that only about 6% of growing churches are growing by conversion. Most simply “shift the sheep.” What does this mean? In terms of reaching unbelievers for Christ, most churches are in need of some level of revitalization.

Second, most congregations are late to see this need. I have no fresh Rainer quote for you on this point, just my experience as a missionary and congregational coach. I’ve visited churches that have not baptized anyone in years and today serve a quarter of those reached at their peak, but still believe they are healthy. Why? Many believe that, so long as they are meeting their budget and have a comfortable number of attenders, they are ok. Few see the need for significant change until they face the pressure of financial insolvency.

As I share these thoughts I am not at all pessimistic about ministry today. I believe God still reigns and continues to work through His church. But for any local congregation to share in this work, they cannot conduct business as usual. Something must change. Actually, several things! And yet this isn’t as much about learning new tactics as it is returning to the simple process taught in scripture. The Great Commission, after all, is summed up in two words: make disciples.

In future posts I’ll share about the shifts that I believe must take place for our congregations to be up front and center in our Lord’s ongoing work. Along the way I’d love to hear your thoughts.