Where to Start? Biblical and Theological Foundations for Church Revitalization

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from Church Revitalization: A Pastoral Guide to Church Renewal 
by Russell N. Small

Where to Start? Biblical and Theological Foundations for Church Revitalization

Welcome to the journey of church revitalization! What a joy to overview a process for church renewal. This book is not merely a book of tips or quick fixes. The content of this book will need to be processed slowly and implemented strategically. There are unique challenges in every church revitalization situation. Pastors and church leadership will know the specifics of a particular church situation better than anyone else.[1] However, there are key areas of competency required to negotiate church revitalization. Many pastors and church leaders are daunted by the task ahead. Churches often have deeply rooted habits, limited resources, and a lack of vision and strategy. Church leadership must aid in the development of a series of strategic steps that push the church to become healthy. This must be done at a pace that is doable for the church, and it requires wisdom and insight that can only be gleaned by pastors and church leadership who have the competencies for this task. This chapter will set the stage for the journey ahead, setting forth initial steps on how pastors and church leadership can ready themselves for this journey. By taking this deliberative journey to survey the terrain of church revitalization before fully embarking on the journey, pastors and church leadership can avoid missteps and achieve greater resiliency in the revitalization process.


What New Testament concepts relate to the process of church revitalization? While the New Testament gives us valuable information regarding the life of the early church, the early church dealt more with efforts to plant churches than to revitalize them. Paul’s establishment of new churches is different from church revitalization. Some parts of the New Testament, however, do relate to church revitalization. In his third missionary journey, Paul returns to existing churches to strengthen and develop them (Acts 19–21). But in a general sense, Paul wrestles in his letters with issues of doctrinal purity, church unity, internal disorder, and moral issues. The churches he wrote to were young and in need of basic instruction, not revitalization. The Pastoral Epistles (1–2 Timothy, Titus), Paul’s latest letters, show greater church development. He describes elder and deacon ministry at length (1 Tim. 3:1–13), and gives evidence that ministry to widows has already been developed (1 Tim. 5:3–16). However, even these ministries would be implemented in a contemporary church plant from the beginning. It is certainly possible in church revitalization that foundational realities about church life might be missed from its inception and that the initial instruction Paul gave to these early churches would need to be established late in the development of a contemporary church.[2] Even so, directly relating the early churches in Acts and Paul’s letters to church revitalization fails to recognize that church revitalization typically occurs in churches older than those described in the New Testament.

The closest parallel to church revitalization in the New Testament is found in the opening chapters of the book of Revelation (Rev. 2–3). Since the dating of the book of Revelation is around AD 95–96,3 the churches described there have already experienced birth, growth, and decline. These letters that Jesus sends to the churches reveal a complex evaluation of each church situation. Without intervention a church could cease to exist (Rev. 2:5). Yet each church is called to see its strengths and repent of its weaknesses. This concept of leaning into strengths and ridding the church of critical weaknesses is more akin to the process of church revitalization. The call to the church in the book of Revelation is not a complete restart, but a serious adjustment so that obedience to Christ and revitalization can be attained.

[1] The intended readership will primarily be in a pastoral role. The content of the book, however, applies most directly to pastors or church leaders who have a primary role in leading a church through revitalization. Therefore, the terms pastors and church leaders are used throughout the book to denote the group of people who are primary in leading the church revitalization effort. Some sections of the book are more squarely focused on the pastoral office. Other sections of the book are broader in their application to pastors and church leadership because church revitalization is a team effort. Additionally, my personal belief is that the pastoral office is reserved for men, so I will utilize masculine pronouns to refer to pastoral roles throughout this book.

[2] Douglas Moo, A Theology of Paul and His Letters: The Gift of the New Realm in Christ, Biblical Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2021), 43–52.

This post is adapted from Church Revitalization: A Pastoral Guide to Church Renewal by Russell N. Small. This title was released on April 11th, 2023. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.

There are more churches needing revitalization than there are leaders skilled for the work

Church Revitalization guides current and future leaders through the often-complex process of bringing a church to a place of vibrancy. This book demonstrates how the overarching goal of seeing people come to faith in Christ and develop into Christlikeness can and must inform the most foundational to the most fleeting aspects of revitalizing a struggling church.

Church Revitalization Strategist Rusty Small systematically walks readers through the many considerations of leading a church out of a decline. He helps identify the best approach for addressing what a particular church’s revitalization need may be:

    • Refresh — often most fitting after a difficult season in the church’s life
    • Renovate — needed when a decline has lasted five to ten years
    • Restore — appropriate for churches with generational patterns focused on survival
    • Replant — best for a church facing imminent closure

Few joys compare to seeing God’s life and power realized for the local church when believers begin to think and serve as Jesus did. Small will encourage pastors and church leaders engaged in this critical task.

If God is calling you to church revitalization, take and read!


About Author

Russell N. Small (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary)is a church revitalization strategist with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia and lead pastor at Liberty Baptist Church in Appomattox, VA, which he led through a revitalization more than a decade ago. He is also an associate professor at the Liberty University John W. Rawlings School of Divinity.

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