“Have you thought about revitalization?”
My missions professor asked me this question one day as I lamented my lack of clarity regarding God’s leadership in my life.
“What’s that,” I said in reply.
He proceeded to explain that revitalization was the process by which a dead or dying church is nurtured back to health and life. His words, coupled with God’s leading, resulted in a clear conviction that this was the path God had for me. Eventually this path would lead me to Sachse, Texas (that’s Sax-ee).
Three and half years ago Sachse’s First Baptist Church called me to be their sixth pastor. I was 28 years old. The church had experienced several years of decline and was not in a good position. The finances were bleak and the debt was stifling. The facilities were in disrepair and the church had a dismal reputation in the community. When I asked the search team what the church was like they told me they were “100 bald heads and gray hairs.”
Perfect. This is exactly the sort of church my wife and I were praying for. We knew that church planting was far more attractive to most. We were, however, praying for something different. We longed for a small remnant of people who needed to be loved, shepherded, cared for and nurtured back to health and mission. These years have taught me one undeniable lesson: revitalization is hard.
First, revitalization is hard because Satan does not give up ground easily.
Dead churches didn’t start out that way. They were once vibrant, thriving congregations. But, over time, Satan has taken ground, robbing the church of both joy and hope. He has hidden the light of the church under a basket and staked his claim to the property, the people and the witness. When you revitalize you move in on what he thinks he owns and the fruit of this process will be combative.
Second, it’s hard because you have to demo and clean up before you can rebuild.
Like any renovation you have to remove some of the old things before you can put new things in their place You can’t build a new house on the debris from an old one. In a church this may include programs, staff, events and traditions. With this will come emotional turmoil for those who have grown accustomed to the normal stagnation of the church. They often do not understand that their programs and structures can be barriers to effective mission.
Finally, it’s hard because the battle is worth fighting.
You’ve heard that everything good comes with a price. If it doesn’t cost you anything, it’s not worth anything. Revitalization often rescues millions of dollars worth of facilities for kingdom use. It saves resources that may be squandered. But that is not the reason I have worked so hard and pushed through the pain. At least it’s not the main reason. The people of Sachse and the glory of God are worth the struggle.
A dying church robs God of glory in the community. It cheapens His grace, promise and plan in the eyes of those who drive by and live by the place where that church gathers. When the church is alive again it declares to the community that God is not dead. Every soul that gathers is worth the effort. Even the difficult ones. Christ died to redeem all types of fallen humanity and broken churches and it is an honor to serve him in caring for them.
Today Sachse’s Church is an increasingly healthy congregation of about 400 people who are known for their Christ-honoring love in the community. We have seen God redeem souls and we have experienced real Christian community around the Word.
We’ve seen God move and restore and bring back lost family members. We have joined Him in the work He is doing with the less fortunate, the fatherless and the foreigner. We have raised our eyes and caught a glimpse of a future that is filled with missional opportunity. It is crazy how, for me, it all began with a simple question— have you thought about revitalization?
So what about you? Have you ever thought about revitalization?
Published January 29, 2015