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The Lazarus Endeavor: A Basic Introduction for those Considering Church Revitalization and Renewal

In this edition of GOBAs E-magazine I want to provide you and your church with a basic introduction for considering church revitalization and renewal. Your association has helped and is helping many churches across central Florida and want to provide you some basic information regarding the need for revitalization and renewal.

Do you remember the popular breakfast cereal of your childhood? It may not sound all that mature hearing that your Executive Director and missionary strategist loves the sound of the Kellogg cereal Rice Krispys. But it has an amazing sound and one that if you listen carefully actually fits the promotional plan behind the popular cereal. It was popularized by three gnomic elves designed by Vernon Grant the illustrator in the 1930s.

The names are onomatopoeia and originated from the radio ad promoting the product. Onomatopoeia is a word that phonetically imitates or suggests the source of the sound that it describes. The first character appeared on the product's packaging in 1933, Grant then added two more and named the threesomeSnap, Crackle and Pop. Snap is always portrayed with a baker's hat and Pop with the military cap of a marching bandleader. Crackle's red or striped stocking cap leaves his occupation ambiguous. Corporate promotional material describes their personalities as resembling brothers. Snap is the oldest and a problem solver, Crackle is an unsure "middle child" and Pop is a mischievous youngster. Churches today need a little of the old-fashioned snap, crackle and pop to get them going again.

Here in central Florida we have 34 churches in GOBA, which are currently in a state of plateau neither growing nor declining. Additionally we have 30 other churches that are facing either rapid decline or are have been in a state of decline for many years now. A bit of good news is that we have 84 churches that are experiencing growth at this point in time. The others are not at this point in time able to be determined if they are healthy or facing a plateau. If you are not acquainted with our Church Revitalization Assistance Team here in our association we invite you to inquirer more about it from our website or the office.

What Does Church Revitalization Mean?

With that in mind lets start with the questionwhat doesChurch Revitalization actually mean?

Every place I go people ask me for a definition of church revitalization. Church Revitalization is a movement within protestant evangelicalism, which emphasizes the missional work of turning a plateau or rapidly declining church around and moving it back towards growth. It is lead through a Church Revitalization Initiative, which is when a local church begins to work on the renewal of the church with a concerted effort to see the ministry revitalized and the church become healthy.Church Revitalization means that the local church knew how, at one time previously, to renew, revitalize, and re- establish the health and vitality of the ministry. One of the challenges for the laity in the day in which we live is that they have lost the knowledge of church renewal and no longer wish to cultivate the skill sets necessary to see their church experience revitalization. Even sadder is when a congregation does not have the corporate memory that there was a day when the local church was reaching people for Christ Jesus and active as evangelistic witnesses into their community.

The Need for Church Revitalization and Renewal Has Never Been Greater!

The hard reality in North America is that most churches and most if not all denominations are in a state of decline. The membership within these churches and denominations are plateauing and what used to pass for involvement and activity within churches is deteriorating. While all of this is happening, the rank and file of the church appears powerless to assemble the strength that is needed to get the churches growing again. Kevin Ezell, President of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention declares, We must keep our denominations focused on the ministry of rebirth and redemption, not on the business of enforcing rules and rituals.[footnoteRef:1] In 1990 an editor for the Wall Street Journal Wade Clark Roof published an editorial article entitled, The Episcopalian Goes the Way of the Dodo, where he argued the decline of mainline denominationalism and its effect on Christianity.[footnoteRef:2] With the turn of the twenty-first century sustained growth within our churches is an intermittent exception while decline seems to be more of the pronouncement. The mainline denominations, which Roof referred, are still in the midst of severe decline and serious deterioration. Stuck in the status quo, new wine cannot be poured into the same old wine skins of outdated mindsets. A new sense of urgency is required for lasting change. Change is required and the church, which is in the need of revitalization and renewal, cannot escape making changes. Will we allow the church of America to become mirrors of the churches all across Europe that find themselves empty urns holding the obvious, we must not. [1: David S. Dockery, Ray Van Neste, and Jerry Tidwell, Southern Baptists, Evangelicals and the Future of Denominationalism, (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2011), i.] [2: Wade Clark Roof, The Episcopalian Goes the Way of the Dodo, Wall Street Journal, July 20, 1990.]

According to Leadership Journal, 340,000 churches are in need of church revitalization today.[footnoteRef:3] Ninety-five percent (95%) of churches in North America average 100 or less. Over eighty percent (80%) of American Churches are in decline or on a plateau. Each year approximately 3,500 churches die in North America.[footnoteRef:4] Within our own Southern Baptist Convention the annual death rate averages between seven and nine hundred![footnoteRef:5] Studies have shown that churches typically plateau in attendance by their fifteenth year, and by year 35 they begin having trouble replacing the members they lose.[footnoteRef:6] In North America, fifty to sixty churches close their doors every week. Among churches of all sizes, growing churches are rare! In fact, they only make up about 20 percent of our churches today. The other 80 percent have reached a plateau or are declining.[footnoteRef:7] [3: Accessed 3/20/11.] [4: Warren Bird, More Churches Opened Than Closed in 2006,Rev Magazine, July-August 2007, 68.] [5: Annual Change in the Number of Southern Baptist Churches 1973-2009 Center for Missional Research, North American Mission Board, SBC. Alpharetta, Georgia. ] [6: Churches Die with DignityChristianity Today Jan. 1991, Vol. 36.] [7: Stetzer, Ed and Warren Bird, Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 60.]

In a study of more than two thousand churches, David Olson exposed that 69 percent of our churches in America have reached a plateau or even worse are declining.[footnoteRef:8] Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird declare that 80 percent of the three hundred thousand Protestant churches in the United States have plateaued or are declining, and many of them are in desperate need of a vibrant ministry.[footnoteRef:9] The majority of these churches have fewer than two hundred people in attendance and a large portion have fewer than seventy-five weekly.[footnoteRef:10]Our Southern Baptist research arm within the denomination; LifeWay Christian Resources, in cooperation with the Center for Missional Research from the North American Mission Board conducted a study based on churches five-year change in total membership. This study reports that 28.1 percent of our Southern Baptist Convention churches are growing, 43.9 percent are in a state of plateau, and 28 percent are in decline.[footnoteRef:11] [8: David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 2008), 132.] [9: Tomberlin, Jim and Warren Bird, Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), xvi.] [10: Fast Facts. Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Retrieved from ] [11: Annual Church Profile data, LifeWay Christian Resources, Nashville, TN.Compiled by: Center for Missional Research, North American Mission Board, Alpharetta, GA.]

A more recent series of studies were conducted by Bill Day; Associate Director of the Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health, who serves the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary as the Gurney Professor of Evangelism and Church Health in his sequential studies on church health and growth of 2003, 2007, and 2010 where he reports that currently there are less than seven percent (6.8) of our SBC churches which are healthy growing churches. That means 3,087 of our 45,727 SBC churches are healthy.[footnoteRef:12] Leonard Sweet states that the declining mainline church has faced a double whammy of postmodernity and post-Christendom.[footnoteRef:13] [12: Bill Day. The State of the Church in the S.B.C. (New Orleans: Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health, 1/3/2012). C.f. Appendix Two.] [13: Leonard Sweet. So Beautiful: Divine Design for Life and the Church (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2009) 20.]

The Lost Population of North America

The estimated population of the United States and Canada was over 341 million at the last Census. Of these, an estimated 255 million are considered unsaved.[footnoteRef:14] This means that nearly 75 percent of the North American population is without a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. These are extremely conservative estimates. George Barna says: A church cannot be turned around until a contingent of people is so firmly com