Have you noticed attendance is significantly down in your local church? You aren’t alone. In fact, according to research by eAdventist membership services, church attendance in the pandemic era (virtual and in-person) is down 72 percent in North America. It’s time, church leaders say, to take a refreshed look at the local church’s ministry, mission, and purpose.
The North American Division Ministerial Association hosted an inaugural church revitalization bootcamp on November 4–7, 2021, in Washington state to begin unpacking best practices for churches to evaluate their current status, pray through a new vision, and find renewed growth.
“Every church in the North America Division needs some type of revitalization,” said Ivan Williams, NAD Ministerial Association director. “Some churches love their history but don’t have much to look forward to with their future. We are really focusing on revitalizing churches—not just in attendance, not just in tithe, but also in multiplication growth of people because Jesus loves people.”
The difference between a declining and growing church is often a slight shift in thinking from the “what” of ministry to “why.” This thought process—examining why we do specific aspects of ministry—helps church leaders refocus on their God-given mission, realign ministries based on the church’s purpose, and engage in growth-driven ministries such as evangelism, first impressions, worship services, children’s ministry, prayer, and Bible study.
“We will never be pre-COVID again,” acknowledged Buster Swoopes, a pastor and presenter from the Texas Conference. “Every church will have to go through a micro or macro revitalization.”
Jerome Hurst, a pastor with the Allegheny West Conference, started at Ethnan Temple Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, two weeks before COVID-19 shut down in-person church services. Like many churches across North America, the congregation pivoted to new levels of community service and outdoor ministries.
“We’ve been using the term that we’re ‘replanting the church,’” said Hurst, who shared that the congregation is targeting an Easter 2022 restart date. “I didn’t know the vocabulary for revitalization until now. This bootcamp gave me formal training and validated that the Spirit is leading.”
Francisco Brito and his Spanish-speaking congregation planted Triumph, an English-speaking church in Auburn, Washington, before the pandemic. “We’re finding that we need to revitalize our core leadership team,” said Brito, who brought four of his leaders to the bootcamp. “We need to work on our commitment to intentional ministry again.”
“At the end of the day, mission, vision, plans, and strategies are just tools,” said Paulo Macena, a pastor and leader in the Chesapeake Conference. “The Bible is clear that the early church turned the world upside down because they had the Holy Spirit.”
The Ministerial Association is launching a new website, nadmultiply.org, to provide long-term support to churches with revitalization. They are also making the bootcamp curriculum for revitalization and church planting available through the Adventist Learning Community.
“We are encouraging every church to do [a church health] checkup… to see what the [current] vitality of a church is and work on improving our condition,” said Jose Cortes Jr., NAD Ministerial Association associate director.
“In the heart of every Adventist is a desire to see our church grow,” said Bill McClendon, North Pacific Union Conference vice president and boot camp presenter who has experience in applying church-planting techniques to church revitalization. “Great things can be accomplished by people who believe God will do great things.”