Churches seeking revitalization must embrace change


Phil Miller, associate director of the Texas Baptists Great Commission Team focused on the importance of prayer, symptoms of an unhealthy church, and the process the church revitalization team leads its churches through during a church revitalization workshop on Tuesday afternoon at the 2016 Annual Meeting.

Miller started by emphasizing that prayer is foundational to any church revitalization effort.

“You can go through all the steps a book tells you to do -- and there are tons of books out there on church revitalization -- but it’s going to be a waste of time,” he said. “You’ve got to do what God leads you to do.”

He drew from the book, “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” by Thom S. Rainer to share factors that contribute to the death of a church. 

The main themes in dying churches are resistance to change and neglect of the broader community the church is meant to serve. 

Dying churches often look nothing like the neighborhood they’re located in, Miller said. As demographics around them change, dying churches stay the same. During his assessments in the church revitalization process, Miller asks how far the church’s members drive to get to church. When no one in the congregation lives in the same area where they worship, it’s a sign that the church isn’t connecting with the local community.

These churches tend to live in the past. They can’t move beyond “the way we’ve always done it,” he said.

Members tend to make their personal preferences a priority over the good of the entire congregation. Changing church music is a classic example — the addition of a contemporary worship service has the potential to draw new members to a church, but the old guard who doesn’t see the value in new music might squelch the idea.

As they become inwardly-focused, dying churches tend to cut expenditures on missions or community outreach. Budget dollars for the items that keep current members comfortable and happy are maintained at all costs.

As dying churches focus their efforts on the already-saved, the Great Commission is forgotten. Dying churches stop making disciples and have no clear purpose, continuing rituals and traditions that may no longer be serving the church well.

“As believers, we believe that what was dead should be resurrected,” said Delvin Atchison, director of the Texas Baptists Great Commission Team. “It’s about the principles that we have learned from study to help resurrect churches in areas that are changing.”

Miller said he’s been pleased at how churches have embraced the revitalization process Texas Baptists offers. The process is customized, so no two churches make the same plan for revitalization.

His team guides churches through an evaluation of demographics, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats; reports back on the results of the evaluation and helps the church develop an action plan for change.

Churches interested in enlisting the services and expertise of the church revitalization program may contact Phil Miller at phil.miller@texasbaptists.org or call (214) 828-5203.

Lauren Sturdy is the prospect researcher for Buckner International and a freelance writer for the 131st Texas Baptists Annual Meeting.


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