A Proposal for the Process of Church Revitalization: Part 1

Post Icon

I’ll be honest. When God called me to pastoral ministry, I didn’t sign up for church revitalization. I had never even heard that term when I became a pastor. Now, twelve years into pastoral ministry, revitalization is all I’ve ever known. Many pastors can say the same.

I now know that revitalization is the process by which God moves a spiritually unhealthy church toward spiritual vitality. A church needs revitalization when it is plateaued, declining, dying, or dead. From 1996 to 2016, there was an average net loss of 3,500 churches per year in the US. [1] More recently, that number has climbed to 7,000. [2] And 800-900 of these 7,000 are SBC churches. [3] These statistics are staggering and prove that the need for revitalization is great.

In revitalization, God uses pastors to lead spiritually unhealthy churches to acknowledge, accept, and act on their need to regain spiritual life through a strategic process rooted in God’s Word and saturated with humble prayer. From my study of Scripture and from twelve years on the frontlines of revitalization, I have developed a process to help churches heal from spiritual sickness and grow toward biblical health. [4] What follows in this post and the next two is by no means a magic formula. Remember that the ultimate revitalizer is the Holy Spirit (John 6:63), while we are simply God’s servants, stewards, and co-laborers (1 Corinthians 3:9; 4:1). Neither is this plan exhaustive. A book could be written for each of the following points; I merely highlight each here. This is a big picture of the revitalization process which you can utilize to help your church move toward spiritual health.

The process consists of six steps, which can be easily remembered through 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?

You should also know that these steps are not merely linear with beginning and ending points. Instead, you should view the process as circular and ongoing. In other words, when you lead your church to reach the last step, you have not arrived at a destination where you can rest from your revitalization efforts. Instead, you have reached a marker where you can pause to observe growth and evaluate how to continue moving toward biblical health before continuing to work through the process again and again.

You cannot lead a church where it needs to go without first discovering where it’s been and where it is.

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

As a pastor, your first step in leading a church through revitalization is prayerfully learning your church’s history and current condition, as well as the past and present of the community in which they are located. You cannot lead a church where it needs to go without first discovering where it’s been and where it is. And your church cannot move forward to a solution for its condition unless they first learn and accept the problem of its condition.

When Jesus spoke to the dying church at Sardis, before he called them to repent, he exposed their past and present: “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead (present reality) … Remember, then, what you received and heard (past history)” (Revelation 3:1-2). So, you must not prematurely lean into the future before you know well the past and current condition of your flock. If you do, you may end up getting where you want to go only to turn around and discover that no one came with you. Meet them where they are and learn who they are.

During this phase, take a posture of listening and learning to become acquainted with your church’s identity. Establish relationships with long-time members to ask what the church was like decades ago. Also form friendships with newer members to learn the present reality of the church. Ask questions like, What are the strengths and weaknesses? What is the biblical and theological literacy of the membership? How many are evangelizing? What is the source of unity here? How frequently does the church see people saved and baptized? What does the small group ministry look like? Is there a discipleship pathway? Of the community, ask similar questions: What are the demographics, religious affiliations, population growth, etc.? These questions will help you discover not (yet) what the church should be or could be, but who the church has been and is in the community in which God has placed them.

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

Once you have an accurate understanding of reality within the church, you are ready to define biblically what a church is. In this second phase, you are prayerfully moving from asking what was and is to asking what should be. The only place this question is answered is the Bible. The answer does not come by popular opinion or consensus from the congregation. The answer is discovered ultimately in the Scriptures. Lead the church to the Bible to show them what God says they ought to be.

To define a biblical church, you must answer from the Scriptures questions like, What is the Gospel? What is the church? Why does the church exist? What is the church’s mission, structure and functions? While answers to questions in step one will vary from church to church, the answers to questions in step two will never change. Whether a church existed in 1223 or 2023, or whether a church exists in Charlotte or Chicago, the answers in this step do not change. The biblical doctrine of the church transcends time and space. It has been the same since Jesus declared, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Teach the church what the Bible says a church should be within the various realms of relationships and responsibilities God has entrusted to you (from the pulpit, among leadership, in small groups, within individual relationships, etc.). Then, as we will see in the next post, once your church has begun to embrace the biblical idea of a healthy church, you will be ready to move from defining a biblical church to developing a vision for the church’s future.

These two first steps are the most important in the revitalization process. Without laying a solid foundation that is based on the reality of the past and present as well as the biblical truth of what a church ought to be, your church simply will not experience spiritual health once again. Whether we signed up for revitalization when God called us to ministry or not, with 7,000 churches closing their doors every year, we cannot afford to get these first two steps wrong for the next 7,000 churches that are on the brink of closing.


[1] Harry L. Reeder, in Brian Croft, Biblical Church Revitalization: Solutions for Dying & Divided Churches (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2016), 8.

[2] Thom Rainer, Anatomy of a Revived Church: Seven Findings of How Congregations Avoided Death (Spring Hill, TN: Rainer Publishing, 2020), 14.

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

[4] I am indebted to Dr. John Ewart’s course at SEBTS, “Church Revitalization,” in which he introduced me to the concept of church revitalization. More concise information from Dr. Ewart’s course can be found at

  • 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.

CGCS Newsletter Coming Soon!

Sign Up Now!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.