EPISODE #99 – WHAT KEEPS A CHURCH FROM REVITALIZING?
We’re one EP away from #100! But, before then the guys take a TXT message from the Bootcamp Batphone and break it down.
Here’s the question in summary: “What are the issues that keep churches from Revitalizing?”
- Most often churches refuse to face their true condition (denial)
- They ignore reality or explain it away
- They grow accustomed to their condition and are comfortable
- They tried and failed – so they quit
In many cases churches are resistant to change because they are fundamentally afraid of losing something. We need to understand how the fear of loss keeps a church from resisting change.
Don’t underestimate the need congregants have for stability and security-the real discipleship issue trusting God regardless of what might happen in the future.
Here are some other reasons why churches resist revitalization:
- The founding families of the church don’t want the church to change
- Embedded dysfunctional leadership, generations of controllers keep things the same
- A previous bad pastorate and a reaction to abusive leadership make a church resistant to change
Fundamentally, change in a church is always a spiritual issue. There will be no change until there is change in the lives and hearts of the congregation. Spiritual problems require spiritual solutions.
What are your thoughts? Have a question or comment? We’d love to hear from you.
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Show notes are powered by Descript and are an approximation of the content. Consult podcast audio for accuracy.
JimBo Stewart: [00:00:00] Here we are back at the boot. Partying like it’s 1999, an episode 99 drove here in my 19 99, 4 runner. And, off of 99 days of quarantine, from COVID can not 99, but, we, we just, my family just made it through, with very minimal impact. Praise God, that’s not been the story for a lot of people. but for us it’s been very minimal impact is.
COVID hit our oldest son very lightly. And, me and my, me and my wife, the rest of the family somehow made it. Yeah. Without getting COVID which we could not socially distance. Our house is about the size of your living room, Bob and I. So social distance is not an option in our house, but we made it, we survived on that.
Out of jail, I’ve taken four tests to, to prove that I don’t have the COVID cooties any at all. And so here we are,
Bob Bickford: Do they know you by first name at the testing center at this point? [00:01:00] Not that that’s a
good thing. Yeah.
JimBo Stewart: although man, we had our worst experience ever. At one point we went to the health department, waited in line for over three hours. Florida heat outside. One lady literally passed out from the heat like the ambulance came and I looked at Adria and I said, I mean, that’s one way to skip the line and get your test early, I guess, but,
Bob Bickford: I should be trying to get her to faint or something. I’m with her test us both. We got to go to the hospital.
You know, we’re laughing
about COVID, but man,
it’s, it’s serious deals, Jim, but I mean, you’ve got friends, you’ve had pastor friends and passed away and been in ICU and have lat long haulers, you know, symptoms and, I mean, it’s, it’s no joke. And I think what we’re seeing, and maybe this is a future episode, we’re seeing a lot of normative sized replants.
Are hid been hit hard with COVID in. Uh, and so we, you know, I just wanted to say to our pastor [00:02:00] friends out there and our association leaders and our moms who are listening and it’s like, this is no joke. And, and, it’s hard and we, we, we we’re concerned for you and we were praying for you. And, um, and so may get the help you need, take a break,
JimBo Stewart: Yeah.
Bob Bickford: you know, we’ve got COVID.
Conflict and try the churches still again. we just, I think we all need to be sensitive to one another and, and care for one another. And it’s really tender time.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s been, it is taking a toll. Here in Florida, it really has gotten serious. I mean, I have several pastor friends right now, at this moment that we record either in very critical condition or in the hospital, or just coming out of the hospital, and some may not make it out of the hospital.
and so praying for all of those guys and really grateful that it was such a light impact for our family, and praying for so many right now. For episode 99 today, Bob, we, One of our favorite things is when we are reached out to you by some of our [00:03:00] bootcampers our listeners and we received a text message.
And just so you know, listeners, that’s one of the ways you can get us on our website. We’ve got a phone number there and you can reach us on that phone number. and so we got a text message on the bootcamp bat phone, and it says. Hey replant team. I am, I’m assumed to be seminary graduate moved my family from Louisville back back to Alabama in search of a church revitalization.
I quickly found that the sentiment regarding revitalization is not the same as it was in Louisville. I’ve attended a name revitalization event in Atlanta, and I know about the idea of keep having the first conversation until they are ready to. That they need to be revitalized, but I’m looking for a past or future podcast where you all might address the issues that keep churches from revitalizing in our context.
And so this is something I have heard, uh, from a lot of guys. Bob is, we are honestly seeing a bit of a movement happen and more and more people are [00:04:00] feeling a call to church revitalization and replanting. But a difficult piece in this whole thing is getting a church to agree, to submit itself, to be revitalized or replanted I would just venture a guess that maybe around Louisville, because it’s around a seminary, you, you can kind of, so a little bit of that in more into the culture of churches of, Hey, we, we need to keep changing. We need to keep growing and keep adjusting. but man deepen the Bible belt far away from the seminary.
It, it is not easy. and, and really in, in other communities in most communities, it is not easy to convince a church to go through what is necessary for revitalization or replanting.
Bob Bickford: absolutely most of the AMS leaders that I talked to here in our state and Missouri, one of the first things they’ll bring up is just denial the sheer denial of the true condition of the church. Right. And, and so when a church is in denial, it, obviously it two things, it [00:05:00] doesn’t see itself as. And it ignores reality in some ways.
Right? So, those are kind of both the same, but they’re a little different in that, in that regard. So I think one of the struggles for most churches is really just kind of understanding how they’re truly doing. And, and so one of the things we do Jimbo and you’ve seen this is we will go and do some survey questions and we’ll ask churches questions will about their condition.
You know their history and if they filled out or kept track of their attendance in any shape or form, one of the things that we do is we’ll chart that out and we’ll put it in a visual graph that will actually kind of show them, right? Like, so 10 years ago, here’s where you were, five years ago. Here’s where you are and here’s who you are presently.
Right? And most for most churches, I would say 80%. Plus there’s a trend in the wrong direction.
JimBo Stewart: Hm.
Bob Bickford: You don’t stay on plateau
forever and you lead towards decline. And so if there’s a traumatic event like a split or forced termination,[00:06:00]some kind of crisis, you see a giant dip, but oftentimes what will happen is a church will level out at some low point in attendance and they can stay there for a long time.
And so for them, They go, they grow accustomed to it. Right. It’s kinda like the squeaky door. Right. in our bedroom, our bedroom door, there’s a, it squeaks when we open it. And every time it squeaks, I think, man, I’ve got to put some WD 40 on that. Right. Like, and so, you know, cause if I get up early in the morning, cause I’m coming here to study or do some work or something like that.
And my study Adoral squeak and. You know, Barb will kind of wrestle and she’ll ask me at breakfast, when are you gonna put some deputy 40 on it? And I just, oh man, I, you know, I’ll get around to it. Churches are the same way. They just grow accustomed to their condition. Right. And they just don’t do anything about it.
I think churches just really, or here’s what they do. They blame it on something else, right. Their conditions, not, it’s not their responsibility. It’s something.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah. Yeah. The, the community changed. They’re no longer receptive to [00:07:00] what we do. They don’t want to hear about Jesus. they, we were preaching the gospel every Sunday, but the community is, is not the same community anymore and they’re not open or receptive to us. I think another reason is, they have made attempts prior that backfired, And I’m not saying that they made great attempts or strategic attempts, but they did things that they felt were going to do it, right. They, they hired the young pastor with, with six kids, straight out of seminary thinking, well, that means we’ll get young families and we’ll get a children’s ministry and all those things.
And it didn’t work out the way that they wanted, or they hired the guy that said he knew how to do church revitalization. And he came in and he made changes way too fast and just made everybody mad or whatever. They tried, the, whatever their network or denomination told them to do. And they tried some version of that and it just didn’t work in their mind.
And so they’d go, we’re not going to [00:08:00] do any of that anymore. We’ve already tried all that. And. We’re done trying. we’re just going to preach the gospel and we’re just going to pray. The Jesus comes back before we run out of money.
Bob Bickford: Yes. Yeah. And if you think about it, a church that’s been in decades of decline. Trying themselves to figure out how to extricate themselves from that decline or resisting somebody who’s actually moving them forward out of that decline. It just it’s all too commonplace and it doesn’t make sense. Right.
And so there’s a strong versus this strong, you know, Inertia that you have to overcome and let’s not discount the fact that it’s a spiritual issue as well. Right? It’s, it’s real easy just to kind of grow comfortable. I can I go to church and I can catch up on the gossip in my Sunday school class, and somebody can read me the quarterly.
And for those of you who don’t know what a quarterly is, it’s the Sunday school that comes out every Sunday school lesson material that comes out every quarter. And in, I would say a good number of churches. The teacher doesn’t teach it, they just [00:09:00] read it. Right. So they read it and then ask the questions at the end.
I don’t teach the lesson. And so they read that and they show up to church and it’s, you know, couple of songs, maybe special music. If you go to that kind of church, which is the song, the solo before the sermon and offering, and then the sermon. And then, then the stare-down right. The invitation at the end of the service that nobody is ever going to come forward to.
And so the pastors down there. Well, you’re playing just as I am, and then it’s a staring match. And, you know, everybody’s just kind of not going to make eye contact with the pastor and they’re going to try to wait him out and get a hope he’s only going to do two verses and then it’s go home, have roasted potatoes and fall asleep in the La-Z-Boy recliner, right? Yeah.
JimBo Stewart: Man, that sounds like a good Sunday. And I think that’s the point, right? Is that we, we have created. Comfort zones for ourselves. And part of being internally minded is as we’ve built a routine for ourselves, [00:10:00]that that helps us feel connected to the Lord, connected to community. And, and here’s the thing that we have to understand as revitalizes re planters.
What people are scared of is losing that. They’re scared of the loss there. They’re not necessarily scared of change. They’re scared of loss. My, one of my mentors that we brought on here early Joe McKeever, told me years ago that there’s a myth that old people are afraid of change. And he said, that’s not true if it were true, there’d be nothing but Studebakers in the parking lot. he said people old people aren’t afraid of change. They are afraid of change. They don’t understand and they’re afraid of loss. And so part of what we’ve got to realize is. When we come in talking about revitalization, replanting to a dying church, what they hear is everything I’m doing is wrong and you’re going to change it all so that it’s geared towards somebody else’s preferences instead of mine.
And it will no longer [00:11:00] be a church I enjoy going to on Sunday mornings and we can over spiritualize our reaction or response to that kind of thing. But here’s the deal. You get established in some routine for 40 years and see how you like when somebody comes in and tells you that it’s wrong and tries to change all of it immediately growing up. For Christmas, always for me, meant going to my grandmother’s house in Arkansas. And I mean, no matter what, we never missed it. We drove through an ice storm to get there because we would never miss being at my grandmother’s house on Christmas day. And, years ago that house burned down. And we ended up having to move the location to my uncle’s house, which is a much larger house, the much larger living room, much better suited for as many people as we have gathering really every reason, everything about moving the Christmas event to my uncle’s house made [00:12:00] strategic sense.
Everything. But I hated it. I didn’t want to be at my uncle’s house, man. I wanted to be at my grandma’s house. That’s where I wanted to be, because that’s what Christmas day meant to me was being there. And I think back on that often when I’m working with churches to go, man, I was a pretty young guy when that happened.
I was in my twenties when that happened. And so it’s not like I even had multiple, multiple decades of experience in that, but I had around 20 something years of memories. In one house and just changing that, even though all the reasons made sense. Every we ship, we probably should have moved there when my uncle built that house, but I just didn’t want to, because I had a way that I was used to doing things and our boss, mark Clifton points out all the time.
If we’re senior adults, especially man so much in the world is changing around them right now that it feels like a whirlwind, everything does. And so there’s this one place of stability. On Sunday morning [00:13:00] where their friends are the same, the service is the same. It connects them to the Lord. And so I’m not saying that they’re a hundred percent right in that, but I think, I think we do have to have some empathy and some understanding that this is a big ask to say, Hey, we’re going to, we’re going to kind of lay everything at the feet of Jesus and we’re gonna let him figure it.
What we get to keep and what needs to change. And that’s not an easy ask of somebody, how do we, how do we get a church to come to that recognition? And, and while understanding empathetically, the difficulty of what we’re asking.
Bob Bickford: Man. I wish I had an answer. Cause then I could write it in a book or do a webinar and be on an island somewhere with my feet.
JimBo Stewart: Man you can just claim to, And
probably still sell the webinar.
Bob Bickford: good. What in the world have I done wrong with my life?
You know, leading people to change is so challenging because you have to take into account the history of the [00:14:00] church, the embedded, what I would call the relational or functional DNA of the church. Right. So you might be, you might be in a particular church where, you know, three decades ago they had a pastor who just ran everybody over.
Right. Right. And he was wrong in the way he lived. And so in response, they swung the pendulum the other way, where the pastor can’t do anything. there’s a structural problem there. Well, that’s one instance, right? You also have another instance where you might have a group of, family members who donated the land for the church who support the church financially.
And they determine what happens in there because of that, their generosity that has turned into control. Right? So that’s an issue that we see and then jumbo, here’s the sad thing. You have people that are part of the church that either because of fear or, idolatry on their heart, they just don’t want to see the church change and they’re okay with it.
Right. And in another sense, you might have a person who gets bossed around at work all the time and who is a, a person who’s not, uh, A leader in the sense of a manager, maybe they’re a [00:15:00] laborer, right. And they’re not a, uh, an executive. And so the church, they get to be an executive and they don’t know how to right.
Rightly steward that leadership. And so I’ve just, I’ve just given you a set of instances for each one of those things. You have to have a different approach. Right. And you have to attack it differently. And so I think one of the things. aside from a church being in denial and not being aware of its true condition, you really have to, for church to be revitalized, you have to get to the underlying facts.
So imagine having being a pastor like this guy who texted us, he wants to go help a church. He can clearly see because he’s been educated. the lifecycle of a church and the health of a church, he can clearly see that this church is in trouble. He can look at the train lines and make him walk in and just go, man, this, this smells like a church that needs to be revitalized.
Right. And so he rolls in there and then he’s got a w he’s got to figure out which of these things that I just named or which of the ones that I haven’t named. Am I dealing with here? And then what is the path to overcome? we can say some generic things like, [00:16:00] you know, prayer and loving the people and pastoring them and preaching the gospel and praying that God would warm their hearts to the gospel, getting them out on mission and all of those sorts of things.
Those are all the right answers and all those still apply in every situation, regardless of what your roadblocks are. But. the, the strongest holds within a church and the personalities within a church and the history and the DNA of a church all play a factor into the practical, logical steps that you need to take.
And so I think most churches are like most people, they get to a place where they grow to a sense of, of, uh, ease and equilibrium and comfort. And they don’t want that district. Right. So like if I go to a fast food restaurant and they changed the menu, like in the number one is no longer the number one, it’s like the number seven I’m in a crisis for a moment.
I’m like, what is happening here? Right. I go into our quick trip, you know, and they’ve just been remodeling it. So it looks [00:17:00] completely different. All right. So Nam who I, we both work. Sends me a thing. You have to change your password. I’m like, I just changed it 60 days ago. Like, why are the Chinese trying to hack into my church revitalization account?
Like I don’t want to change it. Right. so I mean, we’re, we just all have this thing about us or you just like, man, I just want stability. And, and then here’s the part that I think most church revitalization materials don’t apply. Satan uses that natural desire that we have for security and stability, which is supposed to be trusting in Christ and what God has done for us.
That’s where we find our security. That’s where we find our stability. He’s our rock. He’s our refuge, regardless of what all the craziness is happening around us. Right. We turn it in. We turn for. Uh, we seek those things in, in staff and in process and in style and, and all these things. And so I [00:18:00] think we, we can’t dismiss the fact that church revitalization and replanting is always a spiritual work first and foremost, and too many times, I don’t hear that in the webinars, you know, and the materials and the books, or if they say it, it’s kind of.
We S we said it in an introductory sentence, and now we’re moving on to all the strategy, right? So I think if you’re looking in and hoping and wanting God to revitalize a church, you have to have a strategy that finds its roots in scripture and in the spiritual work of what God does in a person’s life, more than strategy.
Right. Because I think we’ve said this before. Don’t we say there’s a culture eats strategy all the time. Then we say that is that. There our
strategy. Yeah. So, I mean,
JimBo Stewart: Okay. Culture, culture, eats strategy
Bob Bickford: Yeah. So, um, I think the spiritual health of a church will, will, uh, be [00:19:00] the most important part of helping the church move forward.
JimBo Stewart: I so appreciate that. You talk about the spiritual aspect of it, because so often when people finally do reach out for help, they reach out on. Struggles with the symptoms, right? The we’re out of money. We need more young people. and they fail to recognize that what’s going on is a spiritual problem, not a financial problem.
and. A spiritual problem requires a spiritual solution. And that’s why we always point to holy discontent, right? That, that more than even a sense of urgency, but a sense of urgency, we believe that a sense of urgency has to come out of a holy discontent because we can be urgent about not being able to pay the bills, but that may lead us to make financial decisions that don’t benefit spiritually, the kingdom, or even the church.
and we will, we’ll be able to squelch that urgency without dealing [00:20:00] with things that are spiritual. And the spiritual aspect of it is, is that we are called to evangelize the lost at a fire at the body and exalt the glory of God. That’s what we’re called to do. That’s what our church needs to do. and, We have to shepherd churches to that point. So spiritual problem requires a spiritual solution and we believe that that spiritual solution is a shepherding solution, but there is some strategy involved and there is some strategic thinking and planning that is helpful in the process, but it has to be a spiritual movement.
It has to be a holy discontent. There has to be a conviction of the holy spirit to understand. We’ve got to follow what God has called us to follow. Leave the harvest in his hands, be obedient to the assignment and the moment at the place that he has given us and understand that it’s not going to be easy.
It’s not going to be. As it, and it may never be what it is in our [00:21:00] minds, but what we need to do is be faithful to what God’s called us to. And so how do you deal with that, man? That’s, it’s a hard deal. This is where replanting and revitalization, uh, is so drastically different than church planting. Right?
with church planting. If Bob, if you, and I decide we want to go plant a church in Colorado, cause we like the mountains. Well, we can just go pick up a neighborhood. Start the process immediately. but if you feel called to, uh, revitalization or replanting, man, there’s so much of a dependency on the holy shit. in the Lord to provide that opportunity. We have to wait. We have to, we have to wait for God to open that right door. And the best thing we can do is spend some time in prayer work with local associations and their local associations like ours, and so many others that I know of and state conventions that are working with churches to help them come to that point of holy discontent.
But it’s not a quick, easy process. and that doesn’t [00:22:00] guarantee success, but that has to be the piece is we have to care more about the purpose that God has given us than our preferences. And that man, that’s easy to say. It’s alliterated and it sounds Clippy and it tweets well. but that is a hard reality to accomplish.
Bob Bickford: Yeah. And so the pastor has to lead his people to understand who they are in Christ. He has to lead them to understand the mission of the church. And he asked to lead them to understand the power of Christ to accomplish that mission. Right. So that takes time and if it were a program and if it were, you know, uh, just three steps to achieving and breaking the 200 barrier, then all of us would be doing that.
Right. But there’s a lot more involved in that. And the, and this is the thing is like, I was talking with. One of my church members and he’s a really, really sharp guy. He has a, his family has a pool business and he has, um, [00:23:00] uh, he, uh, he’s been buying and selling gyms and, and set up fitness centers. And he, he, we were talking about the church and we were talking about the challenges that, um, the church faces and particularly our church.
And he said, you know, he said, I, he goes, in essence, he said this. He said, you’ve got a whole lot more difficult job than I do. Right. Because I can just tell people what to do and right. And I was like, you’re exactly right. Right. You have the power of the paycheck. I don’t have that power. I have the power of influence and relationship and I have to point them to Jesus.
And, you know, every level of every relationship has levels of complexity and challenge to it. And so one of the things I think is imperative. And you mentioned that. Because we got to take the role of a pastor and be among the people and proclaim the gospel, promote the vision and continually do that over and over and over again.
And as we’re doing that, be dependent upon God to make it happen. And so I think I’m just want to encourage guys, man, if God has given [00:24:00] you a vision. Get with the people, talk about it, pray together with them about it, move towards it as best you can and just wait and see where God’s working and run with that.
And that’s your strategy. and if, if, uh, the Lord is gracious and he moves and people will respond in obedience, then, you know, celebrate
JimBo Stewart: Praise God. Hey guys, we’re so glad that you joined us for episode 99. We are so excited coming up episode 100, and we are excited to see what God does even from there. we’d love to see in person, at the replant summit at the end of this month in Atlanta. we’d love to hear from you hear your questions, and your concerns.
Just like the one we got on the bat phone today. So in the meantime, get out there, keep at it, trust the Lord and be obedient and faithful.