“Camping out” on the path to church revitalization
by Shawn Keener
When we come to the subject of church revitalization, there is a natural tendency to camp out. This is less than optimal because revitalization is all about continually driving forward with indomitable courage and iconoclastic temperament. Camping out is the opposite. Camping out on a path toward revitalization is the equivalent of attempting turn-by-turn board game strategy in a live online game. It ends up being hopelessly artificial.
Camping out wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, except for the place we tend to camp out. On a path toward authentic church revitalization, we tend to camp out on analysis. We analyze what went wrong, or what is going wrong, or what ticking time bomb is just waiting to blow it all up. We call in consulting crews. We read books on the ingredients of a healthy church and compare them to our church. We take church profile tests. We read books on how it has all gone wrong historically. We strengthen all these arguments with a host of statistics.
All of this is good. It is crucial. We are fools to set a course for revitalization in our churches before we have first analyzed our present predicament, how we got here, and what factors brought about our decline. But Mater only gets it half right when he quips in the Cars movie to Lightning McQueen, “Ain’t no need to know where I’m goin’; just need to know where I’ve been.” Obviously, Mater’s plan is ill-advised.
The problem is not with exhaustive analysis. The problem is that we camp out there. In fact, very often, we think we’ve done all we can do simply by completing the exhaustive analysis. This is a grave, and pervasive, error. In fact, I think it is a worse crime to analyze without converting to a plan than it is to make a plan without first having analyzed!
“The problem is not with exhaustive analysis. The problem is that we camp out there.”
If my church is struggling or dying, it’s doing so for good reason. It’s never struggling because of forces inherent to the outside culture—it’s always because of problems in our internal church culture. And a very necessary, careful analysis will always reveal that the things that need changing are not little tweaks but big things that are exceedingly difficult to change. Big, systemic changes like these won’t ever happen without a soberly realistic plan.
And here is my fear for church revitalization, both at the conferences and talks, and inside the churches that need it: I’m afraid it’s far too easy to analyze and discuss and identify and clarify, but then never take actual steps to make certain the supremely-difficult, high-risk changes that need to happen actually do happen.
“I’m afraid it’s far too easy to analyze and discuss and identify and clarify, but then never take actual steps to make certain the supremely-difficult, high-risk changes that need to happen actually do happen.”
So where are you on the path toward church revitalization? If your church is doing well, you might be at the most dangerous stage of all where your growth masks underlying off-course ministry philosophy or even theology. If you realize your need for church revitalization and are somewhere in the fact-finding stage … that’s good. You recognize you have a problem and you’re figuring out the “why.” But refuse to be content there. Be all-fired determined to convert your findings into action—the more difficult and risky this action is, the greater the chance that you’ve truly isolated one of your church’s fundamental revitalization needs. Demand a holistic, coordinated plan and strategy for effecting these difficult, risky changes at your church. Because at the end of that path is authentic church revitalization.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shawn Keener is the pastor of Brookville Bible Church in Holbrook, MA and is the author of Nimble Church.