Thinking Beyond Easter

Josh Ellis, Union Baptist Association, Houston, TX


Better to have a plan and not need it, than to need a plan and not have it. 

Being a leader can be hard. Leaders have to model the way for others to follow, inspire a shared vision, challenge processes, enable others to act, and care for those they lead. If that doesn’t sound familiar, you should definitely read The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations by Kouzes & Posner.

Being a leader is also hard because you have to live in two times simultaneously. Leading means being present with people in the now, while also thinking further down the road. It means that in some sense, the present has already happened for you and you’re already thinking about what’s coming. 

Friends, Easter has happened in my mind, and it happened online with streaming services while people were still under stay-at-home orders. Those leaders who took the original eight-week estimate the CDC issued two weeks ago to heart knew this as a foregone conclusion. 

So what are we to do now? How are we to think, plan, and prepare for the future, especially in a world when predictions seem tenuous at best? 


Since we don’t know the specific details of God’s plan, we must regard the future as an array of possibilities rather than a singular outcome. Most of us tend to spend time thinking only about the most likely scenarios in our lives, but if you widen the cone of plausibility just a little, the options can be stunning. Scenarios are stories of diverging futures, different stories about the way the world might turn out tomorrow. 

Scenarios are forecasts, not predictions. Predictions are linear; they describe the only future the predictor believes can happen. We often assume that the future will be a simple, linear extension of the present. But the expected, linear future rarely takes place.


Scenarios help us plan for alternate futures so there is less likelihood that we will be taken by surprise. Think about a scary movie—would it still be scary if I turned the sound off (removing the creepy noises and the building soundtrack)? What if I told you exactly when the monster was going to appear? Would it still be disturbing? Probably. But by giving you tools to eliminate the surprise of the monster appearing, the effect on you as a prepared viewer are vastly diminished. 

Two resources came out last week that I highly recommend for church leaders. One is Ed Stetzer’s article and downloadable presentation “Leadership in Times of Crisis” and another is “Leading Beyond the Blizzard: Why Every Organization Is Now a Startup” by Andy Crouch, Kurt Keilhacker, and Dave Blanchard. Both of these resources call our attention to the distinct possibility–a scenario that must be considered–that COVID-19 has fundamentally altered the landscape of ministry moving forward even after we as a society emerge from the current crisis. 

Consider the possibilities they present, evaluate the practical guides that Ed offers on how churches can adapt over time, and allow yourself as a leader to rest and wrestle in the question that Praxis posits: is COVID-19 a storm (a moment in time even if horrendous), a season (requiring temporary norms for a prolonged but defined period of time), or a shift in the status quo?


As leaders, it can feel overwhelming to always need to see around the corner and over the next hill, especially if a dense fog seems to have set in. And when in fact, a fog has shrouded some key variables, how then are we to proceed? We begin with tools that will help us eliminate future surprises. Be careful with the language here- the goal is not to be all-knowing. The goal is to not be caught without the considerations and preparations for future events. 

1. Ask “What If…” Questions

“Asking ‘What if?’ in a disciplined way allows you to rehearse the possibilities of tomorrow, and then to take action today empowered by those provocations and insights” (“What If? The Art of Scenario Planning for Nonprofits- GBN). The discipline of these questions comes in what you choose to inquire about. Choose critical uncertainties (these usually range from short term events or wild card events like 9/11 to changes in fads) or predetermined factors that are typically megatrends like increasing ethnic diversity in Houston. 

Now propose a critical uncertainty into the status quo, like COVID-19 shutting down in-person worship services until June, and simply follow the trail of answers. What does that do to the summer plans? How long before people feel safe coming to the church building? What if we’ve established new norms through our online groups and devalued physical Sunday school? Allowing yourself to “play” in the future will make the scenarios more robust and thereby eliminate more surprises if you ever need to act on them.  

2. Identify Leading Indicators

Leading indicators are signals that point toward one scenario over another.  “Leading indicators are signs of potentially significant change. A leading indicator may be something obvious like the passing of a debated piece of legislation, or it may be a subtle sign of a larger societal shift, like a rise in volunteerism. If the leading indicators are selected carefully and imaginatively, they will serve as powerful signals that you need to adapt your strategy to the changing environment. As leading indicators are identified, strategies can be put in place to respond to the emerging reality” (GBN, p.33). 

3. Build in Triggers 

Triggers are responses to leading indicators and unfolding events that have been planned ahead of time in the relative peacefulness that exists before a crisis happens. Having these triggers prevents second-guessing and losing valuable time to discussions that usually start with, “There has to be another way…” because you know that those ways have already been sought out and dismissed. 

Triggers are designed to make decisions easier, but they do not remove the emotions and consequences of those decisions. No one complains when a trigger for seeing smoke is to yell, “FIRE”—even though it creates a stir of wild activity—because the end result is the saving of lives. However, when the trigger is downsizing staff or selling assets, there will be plenty of complaints from those affected by the changes, and the leader will bear the weight of making those tough calls. 

4. Build Scenarios With a Group

Some of the best work that comes from developing alternative futures comes from considering multiple perspectives on the same event. It is far easier for a group to challenge each other’s assumptions about the future than it is for a single leader to try and imagine a pantheon of plausible outcomes individually. Beyond the quality of the product that is produced, others will take comfort from the fact that others were given the opportunity to speak into and shape the future actions of the group well before they happen—if indeed they are ever needed. 

Leader, I understand the stress of having people in your care, an organization to lead, and a future that is uncertain. In some ways, this is just a typical day because all the dynamics I just mentioned are true every day. But it feels different now, with paradigms possibly changing and mental models being questioned. So now is the time to be proactive, reach out to a group that you trust, and start playing with what the future may hold in order that we may better lead when the future actually unfolds. 


Josh Ellis is Executive Director of Union Baptist Association. He has a PhD in Leadership Studies and has served on the UBA staff since 2005. With both practical and scholarly knowledge, he leads the association into innovative collaboration for the sake of strategic gospel advancement.


COVID-19 and the Church

Jeff Clark, Rural Matter Institute of the Billy Graham Center

The Crisis

During this time of crisis, it seems that everyone has an opinion about what the church should or should not be doing. You can go online to hear Zoom calls, Webinars, and FB videos give you advice. “Experts” have popped up overnight to guide you through this time. Websites have pages dedicated to providing you with the resources you need.  

I am not saying that this information is bad. In fact, I continue to put resources on a web page for Rural Matters Institute. However, knowing who to listen to and what resources to use can be daunting. If we are not careful, this flood of information can lead to a “paralysis of analysis.” We can become overwhelmed and wind up doing nothing. For example, I texted an interim pastor this last week to see how his little church of 20 was coping with things. His response was, “I don’t know how the people in the church are doing because the church is closed.” The truth is, the church is NOT closed, only the building is closed.

In order to wade through all this information and to counter the temptation to throw up our hands in resignation, we need to return to one source for our instruction for how to handle trying times. We need to renew our commitment to the Bible and its teachings.

Returning to the Bible

So, what does the Bible have to say about COVID-19? Well, nothing specific about this particular virus, but it has lots to say about times of trial and anxiety.

The first and foremost thing to remember is that God is still on His throne and has not abdicated His authority to Satan, to a virus, or to any government. Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 (CSB) “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” This means that we are not given the responsibility to protect the church, make sure it stays open, or worry about the finances. The church belongs to God and to Him alone. He will keep it open until He wants it shut. We cannot kill a church or keep one alive one day longer than God wills. This does not mean we are to act foolishly concerning the church. It means that our focus is not on preserving the church, but in obeying what God has called the church to be and do.

If our job is not to protect the church, then what are we supposed to be doing during these trying times? The answer to that question remains the same no matter our situation. We find the New Testament church doing three basic things whether they were enjoying peace and prosperity or whether they were dealing with severe persecution.

Three Basic Tasks of the Church

The three things the New Testament church was focused on were evangelism, worship, and care for those in need. I know the first question that comes to mind in our unique situation today is how can we do these things while we cannot meet together, while we try to maintain social distancing, and while we encourage our elderly and most vulnerable to stay inside? The answer is that it is not easy, but it can still be done.

Evangelism can be done many different ways. One way is by making phone calls to neighbors to see how they are doing and offering spiritual support during this time of crisis. I read about a pastor who made a simple post card that provided the church’s name, email address, and phone number. If people would contact the church, they would help people in their community run errands and provide counselling for anyone in need. That pastor went through town and placed that card on every door in the town. What were the results of this project? We do not know yet. The thing is, he was trying something to be a witness in his town, and I would think the town appreciated the effort. I know God must have been honored by his willingness to witness!

As for worship, there are 10,000 websites, blogs, and other things online to help with how to get your sermon online. You need no advice from me on how to do this. What we may need to think about is how to help families lead their own worship times in their own homes. Helping people in your church worship may involve you sending out each week a worship guide that could include things such as suggested songs, scripture, a Bible study, and prayer points. One of the first steps of discipleship is helping people feed themselves and their family spiritually.

Care for those in need involves being willing to make visits by phone, going to the store to purchase food for shut ins, counselling people who are afraid, walking with people who are sick, (Yes, you may have a member of our church or your community that becomes infected with COVID-19. They will need your support as they are sick, afraid, and vulnerable.) and you may even have to provide support for people who lose a family member to COVID-19.


Much has been written about revitalization. There are many good programs dedicated to helping churches revitalize. I still believe that the best way for a church to experience revitalization is to recommit to fulfilling these three basic Biblical mandates; worship, witness, and care for the people. By so doing, the church returns to its original task, God is glorified, and people in the community see your church as a church that cares. I believe God will honor such simple obedience.


Recognizing When a Church Is Off Target

Or: Recognizing God’s Target For His Church

Brandon Moore, MBC Church Revitalization Specialist

God has made the target for His church clear:

  1. Healthy Identities – Worshipers, Family, and Missionaries
  2. Healthy Foundations – Gospel, Scripture, and Prayer
  3. Healthy Structures – Leadership, Membership, and Discipleship

But how do we recognize when a church is off target?

Decline in a church is like an iceberg. There are clear indicators of decline from the surface, but most of the problems and concerns that need to be addressed are below the surface. The following list is not intended to be exhaustive, but it highlights a few indicators identified by network leaders based upon God’s target for the church.

Surface Indicators

  1. Mismatched Membership & Community
    1. High number/percentage of people/families commuting to church.
    2. Vast difference in average age in community and church members.
    3. People in church do not look like those outside the church. 
  2. Dated or Dilapidated Facilities (Old facilities and no updates in 5-7 years)
  3. Numerical Decline (Attendance, Baptisms, Giving, or Volunteers)
  4. Short Pastoral Tenures
  5. Budget
    1. Disproportionate – Weighted more to care for members than outreach to the community.
    2. Significant Shortfall – Not meeting the budget on a regular basis
    3. Non-Existent – There is simply no plan for how the church will spend money. Remember Jesus emphasizes that our use of money exposes where our heart is (Matt. 6:21).

Under-the-Surface Indicators

  1. Identities
    1. Worshippers
      1. Lack of an awe-inspiring view of God
      2. Lack of heart-engaging Gospel-centered worship gatherings
    2. Family
      1. Lack of trust and avoidance of conflict
      2. Lack of holistic care for one another
    3. Missionaries
      1. Lack of intentional strategies to take the Gospel to neighbors and the nations
      2. Lack of concern for the community
  2. Foundations
    1. Gospel
      1. Lack of passion for and ability to communicate the simple Gospel message
      2. Lack of ongoing application of the Gospel to every area of life
    2. Scripture
      1. Lack of Biblical literacy, regular Bible reading, and personal application
      2. Lack of expository preaching (not an issue of the style of preaching but the source of preaching)
    3. Prayer
      1. Lack of prayer in worship gatherings beyond a mere transition tool
      2. Lack of vibrant prayer gatherings of leaders and members
  3. Structures
    1. Leadership
      1. Lack of purpose, intentionality, or alignment in programs/ministries
      2. Lack of intentional leader development
    2. Membership
      1. Lack of structures to provide accountability or care for members
      2. Lack of understanding or commitment to Biblical church membership
    3. Discipleship
      1. Lack of a clear plan or pathway for discipling new disciples to mature and multiplying disciples.
      2. Lack of vision for and understanding of the Great Commission

*Next post, we will share key insights and tools for helping a church recognize they are off target, and much of this we will develop collaboratively at a workshop portion of the DOM Conference on March 18th.


Are Relational Proficiencies Biblical?

by Glenn Davis

In my last article, I asked the question, “Are Relational Proficiencies necessary?”

I believe that they are necessary.  They are the conduit through which we are able to bless others.

Relational proficiencies are being taught and practiced with success in the business world.  But are they Biblical?  I believe the answer is “Yes”.

What I want to do in this article is identify each of these five relational proficiencies and then look to the Bible to see what is taught.

  1. Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence has many soft skills wrapped into it.  This includes things like empathy, self-awareness, and the ability to read the room.

Emotional Intelligence may not help you know what to say, but it does help you know when to respond, and how to respond.

Proverbs 23:1–3 (ESV)

“When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you,

and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite.

Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food.”

Proverbs 23:6–9 (ESV)

“Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies,

for he is like one who is inwardly calculating. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you.

You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten, and waste your pleasant words.

Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words.”

Both of these passages teach us the importance of knowing who you are talking to, and knowing how to respond to the situation.

Do you know the 9-8-9 Rule?

Proverbs 9:8–9 (ESV)

“Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.”

Or what would have happened to Nathan the prophet if he was lacking in Emotional Intelligence when addressing King David and his sin?

  • Active Listener

Again, Proverbs has much to teach us.

Proverbs 29:20 says, Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

James teaches us that we should be, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.”

When we do not listen well, we often only get half of the story and we miss diagnose.  Consider Proverbs 18:17.  When we only hear part of the story, we often miss out on the whole truth.

  • Supportive Coach

Becoming a supportive coach has to do with moving from being a teller, to becoming a listener who can help others find their own answers.  As pastors, we have been trained as tellers.  As associational leaders, we need to work on learning to listen, and to ask good questions.  Supportive coaches ask questions. 

Who was better at asking good questions than Jesus?

John 3:10 (ESV)

“Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?””

Matthew 16:15 (ESV)

“He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” “

Luke 24:26 (ESV)

“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”

The Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders is working right now to train men in Gospel Coaching so that they will be able to provide coaching training to any associational leaders who want the training.

As I write this article, I am sitting in the Atlanta airport, returning home from the first part of Gospel Coaching training.

  • Authentically Vulnerable

Any time we give the impression that we are always right, or we are without sin, we fail in following the example of men like the Apostle Paul.  Paul called himself, “chief of sinners.”

  • Vocal Encourager

The Bible reminds us again and again that our words are to be used to bless and encourage and build others up. 

Consider Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

We need to work on developing relational proficiencies because they are Biblical.  This is the way that God intends us to relate to one another.


Why Revitalize the Church?

Brandon Moore, Church Revitalization Specialist, Missouri Baptist Convention

Last post, we focused on God’s target for His church: what we are shooting for in church revitalization. Before we get into specifics on how to work with churches in need of revitalization, one more key element remains: why should we revitalize churches?

Our why will shape and fuel our methods. Our purpose must be aligned with who God has created us to be, or we will become discouraged and distorted. So how do our God-given identities, foundations, and structures as a church align and fuel our pursuit of church revitalization?

  1. Our identities as Worshipers, Family, and Missionaries give us our motivation.
    • Because churches are created to reflect God to the world
      • If they lack holiness and devotion as worshipers, they tell the world that God is not holy, sin isn’t a big deal, and God is not worthy
      • If they lack unity as family, they tell the world that God’s love doesn’t have the power to overcome our differences.
      • If they lack urgency as missionaries, they tell the world that embracing the Gospel is just not all that important and his saving grace just isn’t that amazing.
    • Dying churches send these kinds of messages & more to the world, if that doesn’t motivate you to revitalize, I don’t know what will. We must pursue revitalization that God would be glorified and the Gospel would transform communities.
  2. Our foundations of the Gospel, Scripture, and Prayer give us our confidence.
    • It’s often been said that it’s easier to give birth than raise the dead. But here’s the truth of the matter: we can’t do either without God, and He’s given us everything we need in these foundations to revitalize healthy churches.
    • With Scripture as our guide, the Gospel as our hope of transformation, and the power of the Spirit through prayer, we have every reason to be confident that God intends to bring churches back to life.
  3. Our structures of Leadership, Membership, and Discipleship give us our mandates.
    • Leadership as God intends reminds us that he has gifted his people with pastors to shepherd them toward health and vitality on an ongoing basis by knowing, feeding, leading, and protecting his flock with the patience, love, and truth of the Chief Shepherd. 
    • Membership as God intends reminds us that every member matters even those that are malnourished. Jesus’s heart is for everyone single one of his people, his sheep, not just those easy to get along with but even those who bite the shepherd.
    • Discipleship as God intends reminds us that our job is not just to win souls, though vital and important, but also to teach them to obey all Jesus commanded. This means if we are going to be faithful to the great commission, we must revitalize churches that are full of disciples who have yet to learn to obey all that Jesus commands. We must make whole disciples.
    • Our structures mandate that we shepherd like the Chief Shepherd, care for every member, and make whole disciples. We cannot faithfully do this unless we pursue the revitalization of churches.

As we align with and are fueled by God’s complete target for his church, we avoid the trappings of a search for a silver bullet solution. We’re forced to recognize that we cannot focus merely upon one aspect of who the church is supposed to be and expect revitalization. We must be holistic in our treatment, and we must persevere through the trials that revitalization brings by remembering the motivation, confidence, and mandates God embeds in His vision for His people.


Are Relational Proficiencies Necessary?

by Glenn Davis, AMS Heart of Kansas Southern Baptist Association

The Water Tower Analogy

I have talked some in the previous article about the need for relational proficiencies.

We all have quoted the adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  Relational proficiencies are the language that allows you to speak love AND truth in a way that is received and understood by others.

Allow me to use a water tower for my analogy. 

Think of three parts to a water tower; the structure, the water, and the downspout.

The structure that supports that water tower is like the Foundational Proficiencies.  This structure includes the legs and the tank itself.  In my analogy this structure reflects the character and calling that are foundational to our role as associational leaders. 

The character and calling in our lives are the structure of the water tower. The tower and the tank are absolutely necessary if you are going to contain water in a useful way.  

If you don’t have this structure, you are not a water tower.  If you have water without the tank, you don’t have a water tower, you have a mud puddle. 

As an associational leader, if you have gifted-ness without character, the result will always be a mess.  The higher the competency the bigger the mess.

Those who have served in the ministry world for years have seen the tragedy of a gifted pastor coming to a church and attracting people.  Yet because of a lack of character in that man’s life, all his gifted-ness did was attract more people who were then hurt when the character failure happened.

The tower and the tank of the water tower are the Foundational Proficiencies which focus on character.

Strategic Proficiencies are the water in the tower.  These are the skills that you have developed as a leader by which you can help others.  These are things like Seeing and Casting Vision, Strategic Thinking, and the Word gifts required to communicate the vision and motivate people.

The water in the tower represents the competencies in our lives.  Many of us have spent years developing the ability to skillfully handle the Word of God, to skillfully communicate the Word, and to think strategically about how to lead in effective ways.
When people see a water tower, they rightly expect there to be water in the tower.  When people hear us profess “calling from God” but find us dry, they see us like the “clouds without rain” spoken of in the book of Jude.

Without these strategic proficiencies, you have a water tower that promises something that it can’t deliver.  People will look to you for help because of your position, but without these competencies, your position will promise more than it can deliver.  Pastors and churches will come to you for wisdom, or for help with vision, and they go away thirsty.

Relational Proficiencies are the downspout, or the conduit through which the water passes

Relational Proficiencies are the pipes that allow the flow of the strategic proficiencies you have developed over the years.  

A water tower with water is of no use if there is no pipe to allow the water to come from the tower to those in need.  Relational Proficiency is the conduit which allows the competencies we have developed to flow into the lives of others.

These Relational Proficiencies are the soft skills used by high level leaders in almost all organizations.
These relational skills involve self-awareness, situational awareness, listening skills, the ability to ask good questions and the practice of giving encouragement to others.  

When Relational Proficiencies are lived out, it often feels like love to those around us.

As associational leaders, many of us have spent a lifetime developing character and competency in ministry.  We hinder our effectiveness by failing to develop relational proficiencies.  Without relational proficiencies your pipe is plugged or broken, and life-giving water is not made available to those in need.


Developing Relational Skills

Glenn Davis

Glenn serves as Associational Mission Strategist, for the Heart of Kansas Southern Baptist Association. He has focused on several of the proficiencies DOMs should build as they work toward moving their Associations forward in God’s work.

In 2018, the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders met just prior to the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas.  The SBCAL had put together a study team who brought a report to our meeting.  That report was a “fresh look at the time-honored work of associations within SBC life.”

One part of that report dealt with proficiencies which are needed by those of us serving in Associational Leadership positions.  The word Competencies has been used in the past.  This study team chose the word “Proficiencies”.

They broke those proficiencies into 3 categories: Foundational, Relational, and Strategic.  (More can be found on these proficiencies by looking for the Study Team Report at sbcal.org.  You can also watch for a new book on Southern Baptist Associations which is scheduled to be released this summer.)

I have been asked to write a series of articles to address the Relational Proficiency component for Missouri DOMs.

Before we jump into that topic, let’s try to put Relational Proficiency in its place.

Here is the way that I think about it.

Foundational Proficiencies

When I talk to a church about calling a pastor, I tell them that foundational is that selection process, there must be an assessment of character.  These are the character traits that we see in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

When I look at the Foundational Proficiencies component, I see a focus on Character and Calling.

Strategic Proficiencies

When I look at Strategic Proficiencies, I see a focus on Competencies.  What are the hard skills that are needed to do the work of the associational leader?

This includes skills such as preaching/teaching, seeing the vision and casting vision, and strategic leadership.

Relational Proficiencies
When I think about Relational Proficiencies, I think about the soft skills required to work well with people who are not obligated to work with us.

As associational leaders in Southern Baptist life, we do not operate with authority, but only with influence.

This role of associational leader is a unique leadership role, and I believe the uniqueness of the role calls for greater development of these relational skills.

As a local church pastor, I engaged those I led multiple times a week.  They would see me at meetings throughout the week.  They would see me in ministry settings such as hospital visits or counseling situations.  On Sunday morning, and throughout the week, they would see me preach the Word of God.  Preaching the Word of God in a way that recognizes the complexity and challenges of life builds high trust with those you lead.

But as an associational leader, I don’t see the people I lead every week.  I may not encounter them even once a month.

And, as an associational leader, my primary customers are not just people, they are pastors.  Influencing pastors is often more difficult than influencing people.

So, when you interact with the people you lead less often, and when you are leading leaders, relational proficiencies become even more important.

The third component involves the ability to understand and relate well to people.  These Relational Proficiencies include Emotional Intelligence, Active Listening, Supportive Coach, Authentically Vulnerable, and Vocal Encourager.  Competency in this area is needed if we are going to shepherd people well.  
We must love the people the Lord gives us to shepherd, but we must also act in ways that make them know that they are loved.  Paul told the Thessalonians that he cared for them like a nursing mother taking care of her child.  He related to them in a way that made them know that he cared.

In the articles that follow I want to address these Relational Proficiencies by considering five questions.

  1. How important are relational proficiencies?
  2. What does the Bible teach in regard to relational proficiencies?
  3. How can I evaluate my relational proficiencies?
  4. How can I develop my relational proficiencies?
  5. What are some things that undermine relational proficiencies?

Shooting for God’s Target

Brandon Moore, Church Revitalization Specialist, Missouri Baptist Convention

My son has come to love one of my favorite childhood movies: Robin Hood. The legend surrounding his feats of archery are amazing. He always hit his target! No one could top him, but imagine Robin Hood was traveling through the countryside and came across a barn painted with targets each with an arrow directly in the bullseye, some in nearly impossible spots to hit. Stunned by a possible rival archer present in the middle of nowhere, he asks a boy nearby who the archer was? Sheepishly, the boy responds, “It was me.” Now he had to see this kid in action. So the boy grabs his bow, fires his arrow, and—BAM—hits the side of the barn far away from any targets. Then he runs up to the barn, grabs some paint, and paints his target right around that latest arrow. Robin Hood would have been simultaneously disappointed and relieved that no true rival existed.

What does this story have to do with church revitalization and replanting? Quite simply, if we don’t identify God’s target for our churches, then we’ll have no real way to measure whether churches need revitalization or are experiencing true revitalization. We’ll jump from fad to fad wherever success seems to be, circle it, and declare that this must be revitalization. Churches can convince themselves to continue with ineffective ministries or assume they are OK because, as results change, they simply change the target. Thus, if we aren’t clear about the target, we can’t come alongside our churches to pursue revitalization/replanting.

Over the next several posts, we will talk about what the target is (see below), how the target fuels our pursuit of revitalization, and how to recognize and facilitate conversations with churches that are missing the target.

What’s the Target?

God has created His people with purposeful identities grounded on vital foundations and built through key structures. These will manifest in different ways in different contexts, but these identities, foundations, and structures are what define God’s creation of the church and the target for which we must aim in church revitalization/replanting. Below is a short summary (not intended to be an exhaustive list) of each core identity, foundation, and structure. Check out the summary and learn more about markers of these by checking out the Missouri Baptist Revitalization Network (MBRN) Health Survey. (click for attachment)

Healthy Identities

  • Worshipers
    • Local churches are created as worshipers of God to reflect His character, gather to worship Him together, and serve Him above all else. They must be centered upon Jesus and the Gospel in all they do, and they are to find their power in the Spirit.
    • Family
      • Local churches are created as family with one another. The community of believers is called to sacrificially love and serve one another, bear one another’s burdens, forgive one another, encourage one another, and even rebuke one another.
    • Missionaries
      • Local churches are created as missionaries to the world. Every church is called to make disciples faithfully and boldly in her local context and to partner in missions efforts to make disciples of all nations.

Healthy Foundations

  • Gospel
    • The good news about Jesus must be the center of every local church. Believing and applying the Gospel is our only hope for salvation and church revitalization. Churches must never move on from the Gospel but be saturated by it.
    • Scripture
      • Scripture is the inerrant, inspired Word of God. The Bible is the sufficient source for life and godliness as well as for the revitalization and replanting of churches. Thus, the faithful, clear preaching of God’s Word is essential.
    • Prayer
      • God intends to do greater works through us than Jesus did (John 14:12-14), and prayer is the primary means by which He keeps us reliant upon Him and enables us to do His works in power. The Spirit empowers revitalization through prayer.

Healthy Structures

  • Leadership
    • While every church member is a minister, God gifts the church with pastors as servant leaders who provide oversight of souls, sound preaching, godly examples, and overarching leadership and direction for the church. Also, God provides deacons as leading servants to care for the church’s unity and physical needs.
    • Membership
      • Every believer is called to covenant with a local church through membership in order to live out the one another commands of the New Testament, submit to specific pastors’ leadership, and be accountable to a particular congregation as they seek to persevere together in pursuing holiness and God’s mission.
    • Discipleship
      • From evangelizing the lost to building up the saints, churches are called to make disciples, and healthy churches will have intentional strategies and structures to involve people in discipleship no matter where they are on their spiritual journey.

Pathway Toward Revitalization

by John Vernon

As we consider revitalization of churches, one of the first questions we must address is how to determine if a church is in need of revitalization. Generally an outsider can see this much more clearly than a member of the church, given that local churches are autonomous congregations, the revitalization team comes alongside existing church leadership to determine the present state of the church. This will require church leaders to honestly assess the holistic state of the church and for the revitalization team to ask difficult questions.

The first meeting of the revitalization team and the church leadership will address the following topics:

  • Vision of MBC Revitalization Network (MBRN)
  • Initial Interview of Pastors and Leaders
  • Identify Church’s Stage in Its Lifecycle (see previous blog)
  • Decision regarding presenting to church a motion for beginning the Church Revitalization Explore Phase which is a series of assessments regarding leadership, the church, facilities, programs, and community around the church.

Share the MBRN Vision

  • Seeing that churches are in decline or have plateaued across our State;
  • Understanding the church has three fundamental identities: worshipers, family, missionaries;
  • We desire to glorify God by starting a movement of revitalized churches across Missouri.

The Initial Interview

Ask the following questions in order to determine the current state of the church:

1. What are you most excited about in your church?

2. What are you most concerned about in the life of your church?

3. What are the current obstacles your church is facing?

4. What are your core ministries? Why are these your core?

5. What is the average age of the community around the church?

6. Baptisms in past 10 years?

Identify Church’s Stage in Its Life Cycle

Explain the stages of a church’s life cycle, identifying key characteristics and ask “Where would you place your church on the Life Cycle of a Church graph?”


  1. Pray…for workers, that there is a positive attitude for the renewal of their first love.
  2. Present a motion to the church to vote to proceed to the first phase of the revitalization process which conducts the assessments; and, if there is a positive vote, then have the church vote to create a leadership team to work with the revitalization team.

Church Life Cycle Basics

Below is a presentation which Gary Mathes would present concerning church revitalization. Over the next few weeks we’ll feature posts which focus on this topic. I’ve asked John Vernon to help with this, and he suggested this would be a good starting point. It’s important to have this basic understanding before starting the conversation about revitalization – otherwise those involved will not understand where the church is in its life cycle nor why it’s time to get started with the revitalization process. The link directly below should also provide you a pdf of this document. As always, please feel free to leave comments or ask questions.

Church Life Cycle Basics


Primary Focus: Vision

Dream – Gives Birth to an organization

  • The Founder’s Dream: Maintenance or Mission? Defensive or Offensive? Reactive or Intentional?


Primary Focus: Vision and Relationships

Beliefs – Provides a values or doctrinal agreement for organizational skills

  • Doctrinal Stance, Core Values, and Distinctiveness of Founder/Church


Primary Focus: Vision, Relationships and Programs

Goals – Extend the organization’s shared dream and beliefs

  • Survivalistic versus evangelistic
  • Risk Taking – willingness to take on debt


Primary Focus: Vision, Relationships and Programs

Structure – Organize the organization for pursuing its goals and advancing its dream

  • Form Follows Function – Structure is determined by the goal
  • The Dream stands on the structure


Primary Focus: Vision, Relationships, Programs and Management

Ministry – Shows the congregation reaching out to others, developing its members, and living out its dream in Christian love

“The length of a congregation’s ministry is virtually endless, but when the ministry loses its focus on extending and expanding God’s Kingdom an organizational plateau occurs.”

Mid-Life Crisis

Primary Focus: Relationships, Programs and Management. Vision diminishes

Nostalgia – Reflects a wistful longing for a comfortable past — real or imagined — but the past tends to be more positive in memory than it was in reality

  • Homesickness
  • Lull before the storm
  • “Things ain’t what they used to be and probably never was.” Will Rogers

Primary Focus: Relationships, Management. Relationships are diminishing, no future vision

Questioning – Marks the point of no return for the congregation, organizationally speaking

  • Questioning is the now or never point of congregational health. Health or death are the choices.
  • What happens when the prayer warriors walk away from the church?

Old Age

Primary Focus: Programs that used to work become the renewed focus, Management. Relationships begin to wane, some are strained, no future vision

Polarization – Creates an organizational climate in which members mistake one another for the enemy and fall into conflict

  • Conflict is now open and may even grow nasty.
  • Energies will tend to focus on conflict rather than ministry – people stop being saved!

Primary Focus: Survival and managing what is left is the only focus.

Dropouts – Result when the dream of effective ministry in this organization dies, and members retreat into inactivity

Revitalization strategies

Renewal: Renewal is for churches that have slowed in their growth or become stagnant. This church needs the encouragement of setting new challenges by embracing new opportunities to expand their gospel witness into their target area.

  • The Renewal strategy works to help churches dream new dreams and accomplish new goals born out of a renewed vision of growing the kingdom of God.

Refocus: Refocusing is necessary when a church has stalled on a plateau or is experiencing decline after a phase of recent or initial expansion. The church begins to experience a high turn-over of lay leaders; with shorter duration of service. The congregation’s morale and momentum level drops as members begin to reflect on the days when things were good and the church was growing. This new normal is the first sign of a church becoming unhealthy.

  • The Refocusing strategy works to help churches walk through a process of self- assessment and redefining its purpose & vision resulting in new growth & ministry goals.

Watershed question: Do you believe that your best years are behind you, or do you believe that your best years are yet before you?

Re-engineering: This third level of church revitalization needs to occur when a church is unable to prevent a pattern of decline and the leaders and members begin to question their strategy, goals and their ability to turn the tide and see growth again. Often the church has failed to change in order to stay healthy and relevant in reaching its community.

  • The Re-engineering strategy works to help churches understand the need for and how to re-think, retool, reform, and reinvigorate itself to be more effective in accomplishing its God-given mission.

Revival: This level of Church Revitalization is necessary for churches that have lost their hope and have begun to polarize and cast blame on leadership or other members. Disillusionment sets in and the church begins to see a greater exodus of members. It has lost its’ spiritual dynamic and is unhealthy.

  • The Revival strategy works to help churches identify where it has lost its spiritual vitality and/or congregational sin and calls the people of God to repent and make changes in order to repair relationships and realign itself with the purposes and plan of God.

Restarting: The final level of church revitalization is the hardest and often only happens once the church’s remaining members have made every effort to maintain a viable ministry with no success. The church no longer has the energy or resources to continue functioning as a viable congregation.

  • The Restarting Strategy (Legacy strategy) helps a dying church to pass on a wonderful legacy by
    • allowing a stronger and healthy church come and begin a new work in its place
    • working with MBC & NAMB to send a church planter to restart a new church,
    • merging with another church to make one stronger church,
    • sell the property and passing on the assets for future church plants or revitalization efforts.

“The Gospel of Christ’s Kingdom hasn’t changed. We have only to dream it again.” – Robert Dale