Successful Revitalization of Small Evangelical Churches Hinges on Leadership Development

My doctoral dissertation, focused on how successful church revitalization pastors act to develop and empower next-generation leaders.

A Phenomenological Study of Pastoral Leadership Development Behaviors in the Revitalization of Small Evangelical Churches

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Church revitalization has received renewed interest in the last several years. Rainer (2014) says that a congregation’s failure to develop and empower next-generation leaders is one of the leading contributors to church closure. Likewise, Clifton (2016) and Stetzer (2007) highlight the importance of developing next-generation leaders during church revitalization. 

The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand the leadership development behaviors of senior or solo pastors who successfully led revitalization in a small evangelical church. This study defined a small church as one averaging 65 or fewer in attendance at the beginning of the pastor participant’s tenure (Rainer, 2022). Leadership development behaviors were defined as those intentional practices the pastor undertook to develop male leaders from within the congregation. The theories guiding this study were transformational leadership (Bass & Riggio, 2006), authentic leadership (George, 2003), and servant leadership (Greenleaf, 1977), which encourage empowering and developing leaders and comport well with a biblical view of leadership. Further, a view of leadership development as discipleship espoused by Geiger and Peck (2016) informed the study. 

This study involved semi-structured interviews with eleven small church revitalization pastors, developing overarching themes in revitalization leadership development for small evangelical churches. This study found that developing male next-generation leaders was critical to successfully revitalizing small, evangelical churches. In the early years of revitalization, pastors should be prepared to serve as the sole leader developer, undertaking development through deep and authentic personal relationships. Further, revitalization pastors must empower next-generation leaders to act in substantive roles.


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