Leadership Development in Local Church Revitalization: A Review of the Literature and Suggestions for Further Research

by Bart L. Denny This article identifies a gap in the existing literature concerning leadership development in the context of local church revitalization. The article further suggests how existing leadership and leadership development theories could be applied to church revitalization and proposes further investigation and research areas. Observers and practitioners in the field of church revitalization unequivocally make the case that for a local church to reverse its decline, the pastor must develop a new generation of leaders (Clifton, 2016; Davis, 2017; Henard, 2021; Rainer, 2020; Stetzer & Dodson, 2021). The extant literature links the decline of churches to a lack of leadership and identifies renewed leadership as a vital component of church revitalization. However, little has been written, theoretically or practically, about the process of leadership development as it applies to local church revitalization. Moreover, little empirical verification supports church revitalizat

10 Critical Barriers to Church Revitalization

 Below are ten critical barriers to church revitalization, with a generalized remedy for overcoming them. I would add that the primary cause of all these problems is a lack of Gospel focus. The path forward includes a prayer-filled, repentant, and singular focus on putting Christ and His Great Commission and Great Commandment front and center in the church’s life.

1.      Resistance to change: Many congregants may resist change, particularly if they have long-standing traditions or practices they are unwilling to let go of. The path to overcoming this resistance involves communicating the need for change and involving congregants in the process as much as possible. Further, the church—as a body—must learn to be flexible and open to new ideas and be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances.

2.      Lack of vision and leadership: Without a clear vision and strong leadership, it can be challenging to bring about change and revitalization in a congregation. The church must develop a clear vision and plan for revitalization, with strong leadership to guide the process and encourage member participation and active role in the church.

3.      Limited resources: Revitalization often requires significant financial and human resources, which may be in short supply. Church leaders must seek out help from within and outside the congregation, be creative and resourceful, and find ways to maximize the use of existing resources.

4.      Inability to attract and retain new members: If a congregation cannot attract and retain new members, it will be difficult to grow and revitalize the church. The church must focus on outreach and evangelism to attract new members, build a diverse community, and create a welcoming and inclusive environment. A clear discipleship pathway is also critical to developing Christians who possess a mature understanding of church membership.

5.      Poor communication: Poor communication, including lack of communication, can hinder revitalization efforts. Church leaders must develop clear and effective communication channels, involving members in decision-making and fostering transparency and trust.

6.      Inadequate training and development: Without proper training and development, members may lack the skills and knowledge needed to help revitalize the church. Church revitalization pastors must find ways to provide training and development opportunities for members. They must further encourage personal and spiritual growth. Again, having a clear discipleship pathway is foundational.

7.      Demographics: Age and ethnic diversity, as well as socio-economic factors, can play a role in the success of church revitalization. This can be overcome by being aware of the demographics of the congregation and community, and tailoring outreach and programs to be inclusive and relevant to different groups.

8.      Location and facilities: A church’s physical location and facilities can play a role in attracting and retaining members. Often, there is little a church can do about its location. However, I believe the church’s address is no accident. The church must be aware of the condition and accessibility of the facilities and make necessary improvements—or at least the ones it can afford.

9.      Outdated programs and practices: Outdated programs and practices serve as obstacles to attracting new members and retaining existing ones. I’ve certainly seen this in the case of parents of young children. They often leave churches with poor kids’ programming for those with vibrant children’s ministries. Church leadership must by regularly evaluate and update programs and practices and remain open to new ideas and ways of doing things.

10.  Infighting and conflict: Infighting and conflict can undermine revitalization efforts and create a toxic environment. This can be overcome by fostering a culture of unity, respect, and forgiveness and by addressing conflicts and issues promptly and constructively.

Overcoming these obstacles to church revitalization will not be easy, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every church must determine how to implement these steps in its particular context. The change-resistant within most congregations will often fight tooth and nail. They will seek to disguise their preferences with the cloak of doctrinal orthodoxy. But the truth is, none of the needed changes involve abandoning sound biblical doctrine. Indeed, I argue that implementing the required changes often requires a return to doctrinal orthodoxy over a preference-driven ministry model.

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