By Sharon Mager
Based on sheer statistics, today’s churches in America thirst for revitalization. Nationwide, some researchers estimate up to 80% are plateaued or declining. Some churches are very aware and others are asleep.
The Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D), in partnership with the National Church Renovate Conference, is sponsoring a regional conference on March 20 and 21 at Faith Baptist Church in Glen Burnie, Maryland. The event, which begins at 7 p.m. on Friday, and concludes at 4 p.m. on Saturday, includes worship, keynote speakers, and breakout sessions for pastors, staff, and lay leaders.
BCM/D Church Services Consultant Randy Millwood says, “What makes the “Renovate” effort different is that it has been around for a bit, it is multi-denominational, and it is focused on equipping people to be revitalizers. The national convocation event has multiplied to include some regional events each year – so it is wide-spread, it is a prolific provider of resources in the field of revitalization, and they are committed to collaborative partnerships. Renovate’s (founder) Tom Cheyney, himself, is one of the most published authors in the field as well.”
Millwood emphasizes that there’s a difference between church replanting and church revitalization. The Southern Baptist Convention’s revitalization network defines these terms.
“Replanting is the process in which members of a church discern God’s leadership to dissolve their current ministry and work with other churches or denominational bodies to begin a new church for a new season of ministry in their community.
“Revitalization is the supernatural work of God that restores health in a church, evidenced by submission to God’s Word, right relationships among members, and a renewed commitment to Great Commission ministry.”
“When churches wait until decline has set in, they often become understandably stressed, protective/defensive, and more focused on ‘surviving’ than on ‘thriving,'” Millwood observes. “This is, in part, why events such as the one we have planned are so important – to inspire a church to be proactive, to take steps when they are entering into or are early on a plateau, rather than reactive once they are on a long plateau or already in decline,” he adds.
Dennis Gray, the pastor of Riva Trace Baptist Church (RTBC) in Davidsonville, Maryland, says they’re on the “backside of 25,” referring to Robert Dale’s book, “Dream Again.” Dale, illustrating with a bell curve ,says churches hit their peak between 20 and 30 years of age, plateau, and then must re-dream the dream to prevent the almost inevitable downward trend. Gray says trying to “re-dream” before you get to that plateau is “incredibly hard to do.”
Gray registered himself and ten staff members and key leaders for “Renovate.” He says he usually takes a team to conferences.
“Different people hear different ways, and so sometimes it’s very helpful to have God’s voice coming through different voice boxes other than the pastor’s. Other people express different points of view,” says Gray.
He also points out that conferences allow church members to understand that other churches face many of the same challenges that RTBC does. In addition, they can learn how other churches handled those challenges.
Often, Gray sends his team members to different breakout sessions. “Then, we come back and evaluate. A team together can talk about what to do next. Instead of from the top-down, change rises from key leadership,” he shares.
Many things have changed over the years at RTBC and Gray says that’s inevitable. “The church needs to stay up to speed and learn new techniques to more effectively lead people around us,” he suggests.
Millwood says the BCM/D plans to use the conference to prioritize revitalization initiatives and to ramp up the dialog about revitalization.
One breakout session will address assessment. “We hope that some churches will seek to enter into a season of assessment and that some pastors will assess to see if they are ‘wired’ for the revitalization journey,” says Millwood.
Another breakout will review the reasons for a cohort approach to revitalization, such as BCM/D’s AWAKEN strategy. A new AWAKEN cohort is tentatively planned to launch in April with an orientation and discernment retreat at Skycroft Conference Center.
Millwood shares, “We hope to change the culture around revitalization from one of ‘this is a last-ditch effort’ to one of ‘this is a way of staying connected to the Vine of Christ who is the Head of the Church.'”