The rate of churches closing is unable to keep up with the rate of churches being planted in the West. Consider that reality. When churches close, a witness, a lampstand is removed from a community, leaving behind only darkness. Effort, sweat, toil, tears and sometimes blood brought that church into existence, and now where the Kingdom once had an outpost, darkness is left unchecked.
By God’s grace many church members resolve to hold the line and see life surge back into their fellowship. Pastor’s are often called to go in and lead the charge in bringing the church back to a place of effectivity for the kingdom alongside those faithful members. This is what revitalization is all about.
Brian Croft’s book “Biblical Church Revitalization” is about this work. What makes the book especially helpful is that Croft is not just an academic thinking about the task of revitalization, but one who has done the deed.
The goal of Croft’s book is to give a framework for why and how to go about the task of purposefully revitalizing a church. The subtitle, “Biblical Church Revitalization: Solutions for Dying and Divided Churches” puts that aim in the fore.
Croft writes with an easy style. The book is made up of three section, church revitalization defined, diagnosed and done.
In the section of Revitalization defined, Croft lays the foundation of the task as being the Word of God. That is the only true source of power for this kind of task. The pastor who leads this kind of effort needs to focus on prayer, preaching and perseverance. He warns against extremes that can exist in this kind of work, “both the purist and pragmatist approaches are not enough to sustain true revitalization”, and expands on both those approaches giving what I find to be extremely helpful paradigms to think in. I also appreciated his commitment to Biblical health of local churches, he writes, “Whether it is church planting or church revitalization, the objective is not statistical growth. The objective is church health. Certainly statistical growth is a desired consequence—more churches, more conversions, more disciple-makers, etc” and “a biblical objective would be a church ‘body’ that is spiritually healthy and increasingly marked as both ‘deep and wide’.”
His engagement with the text of Scripture in laying the values for a local church which help in assessing its health was something I appreciated, “The objective of church revitalization is simply yet profoundly a God-glorifying, Christ-centered, Holy-Spirit empowered, Gospel-driven and Bible-shaped church expanding, not by church growth techniques but, by an intentional commitment to a Gospel disciple-making ministry as profiled in the church of Jerusalem in Acts 2:42-47”
I found Croft’s qualifications for a revitilization pastor interesting. Following on from the standard characteristics mentioned in 1 Timothy 3, Croft from his experience suggest the following in addition, “Visionary shepherd, High tolerance for pain Respect and passion for the church’s legacy, Passion for multi-generational ministry, A resourceful generalist Tactical patience, Emotional awareness, Spousal perseverance”. It would be useful for call committees of church in need of revitalization consider these characteristics when looking for a pastor.
Croft then asks important questions as one undertakes the task. This is the diagnoses. Where should the effort be put, what are the causes of decline in the church. It is foolish to go into a work of revitalization, not knowing what one needs to throw their weight behind, what are the strategic areas.
Revitalization Done, is the final section. Here Croft shares his story of being part of the revitalization of Auburndale Baptist Church (Kentucky, USA). What did revitalization defined and diagnosed look like in his experience.
I love that the book is practical without being pragmatic, Biblical without pandering to tradition for its own sake.
It is a book I believe is more suited to a pastor than it is to lay people in the church. This is not to say that they cannot benefit, but the way it is written and some of the material will be uniquely suited to a lead pastor in that type of work. The average Christian serving in a church can benefit from the biblical ecclesiology reflected in the book, as well as the motivation for the goal of revitalization itself.