A Proposal for the Process of Church Revitalization: Part 3

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Every year, 800-900 SBC churches close their doors. [1] Beyond the SBC, Andy Davis points out that “while the US adult population has grown 15 percent over the last fifteen years, the number of unchurched adults has grown by 92 percent.” [2] While the population is on the rise, churches are on the decline. As Davis puts it, “The church scene of the West in the twenty-first century is not encouraging. Christianity is in a decaying orbit … The steep decline in the health and fruitfulness of many local churches is both a cause and an effect of this decaying orbit.” [3]

We must not look at these statistics and pretend that a great challenge does not lie ahead for plateaued, declining, dying, and dead churches. We must readily admit and be prepared to act on the need for revitalization—the process by which God moves spiritually unhealthy churches to experience new life again. The task will be difficult, but not impossible. For we are serving the God who glorifies himself by leading his people out of seemingly impossible situations.

Based on my understanding of Scripture and after twelve years of pastoring in revitalization contexts, I have produced a process to aid churches in recovering their spiritual vitality. That circular and ongoing process is easily remembered in the acronym R-E-L-I-V-E:

Realize What Is: Discover Reality—What Has Been and What Is?

Exposit What Ought to Be: Define a Biblical Church—What Should Be and Why?

Look to What Could Be: Develop Vision—How Could the Future Be Different?

Identify What Should Be: Determine Adjustments—What Must Change?

View How It Could Be: Detail Strategy—How Can It Change?

Enact What Must Be: Deploy Change—Will We Be Hearers or Doers?


With steps one through four detailed in previous posts, we will now move on to the fifth and sixth steps.

5. View How It Could Be: Detail Strategy—How Can It Change?

Before implementing the changes that must take place to actualize the church’s vision for the future, a strategy that details how the changes should occur will be helpful. In other words, it is not enough to explain to your church what must change, but you also must detail how it can change.

To illustrate, think of it this way: I love mowing my lawn. But if the day comes when I’m unable to mow and I need my wife to do it instead, I could be in big trouble. I could tell my wife I want her to mow. I could tell her why it’s important to mow. I could enlighten her to the consequences of not mowing. I could articulate the great value of mowing. I could explain to her where to find the lawnmower and weed-eater. I could even prepare everything for her. But there’s one problem: my wife has never mowed grass! All my energy in telling her what to do and why to do it will be pointless if I don’t show her how to do it.

Similarly, as a pastor, I can tell my church from Scripture what they need to do, as well as why and when they need to do it. But if I don’t explain to them how to do it, then I’m doing them a disservice. Under the guidance of God’s Spirit, develop a strategy for adjustments and clearly articulate this strategy to the church. Communicate this strategy to the church in as many ways as possible and as many times as is necessary before enacting changes.

While change doesn’t come naturally for us, the good news is that it does come supernaturally by the ultimate revitalizer, the Holy Spirit.

6. Enact What Must Be: Deploy Change—Will We Be Hearers or Doers?

Finally, we come to the sixth step. Admittedly, the last step is the most difficult, and sadly one many dying churches do not pass. Without acting on the strategy for change that is designed to help a church experience revitalization, the strategy remains theoretical and therefore powerless. It can be easy to talk about change, but actual change is what God is after.

Change is not something that comes easy to anyone, and Christ-followers are no exception. Yet, the Christian life begins, continues, and ends in change. The Bible says the beginning of the Christian life starts with change: we are born again (John 3:3, 5) and become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). As we follow Christ, the Christian life continues with change: we are transformed from one degree of glory to another into Christ’s image (2 Corinthians 3:18). And at the end of it all, at the return of Christ, the Christian life will end in change: “we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” when “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall all be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). Clearly, our God is all about changing us to become more like Christ. We must join him in this pursuit, especially when we are seeking to experience churchwide revitalization.

While change doesn’t come naturally for us, the good news is that it does come supernaturally by the ultimate revitalizer, the Holy Spirit. For a church to experience revitalization, it must change by the supernatural power of Christ. Once we know who we are, what and why we ought to be, what we could be, and how to get there, we must change. We must move forward. In the power of Christ’s Spirit, we must be doers of the Word, not mere hearers (James 1:22).

I didn’t sign up for revitalization when God called me to pastoral ministry twelve years ago. Quite frankly, he didn’t ask me! But I’m thankful to be numbered among those pastors who are called to lead in humble dependence upon God through prayer and in submission to God’s Word to help churches experience new life again. My prayer is that God would raise up thousands more to help plateaued, declining, dying, and dead churches to R-E-L-I-V-E, so that we will one day be able to report not that 800-900 SBC churches are closing each year, but, by God’s grace, zero.


[1] Mark Clifton, “Replanting from 35,000 Feet,” 3:42, NAMB,

[2] Andy Davis, Revitalize: Biblical Keys to Helping Your Church Come Alive Again (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017), 17-18.

[3] Ibid., 17.


  • Revitalization
Jordon Willard

Born and raised in Mt. Airy, NC, Jordon came to faith in Christ in his late teenage years. He is married to Veronica and the father of their two children, Karis and Josiah. He has pastored for twelve years and currently serves as Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Weddington. Jordon is serving as the President of the 2023 NC Baptist Pastors’ Conference. And he is a Teaching Fellow for the Institute for Theology and Mission. He is a three-time graduate of Southeastern, most recently earning a Doctor of Ministry in Expository Preaching. Favorite activities include spending time with family, reading, collecting sports cards, and playing/watching sports.

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