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Revitalizing your church: 5 crucial steps to changing DNA

June 1, 2016 | by Matthew Fretwell

The term revitalization has become a buzzword. It’s now synonymous with church growth, planting, and disciple-making—and rightfully so—with 80–85 percent of Western churches in decline or plateauing, the need is imminent.

But revitalization is not revival. Revitalization requires intentional change, not programs. Revitalization is a systemic DNA change—a transformation. If revitalization is needed, something is broken, failing, or worse—hemorrhaging.

DNA relates to molecules that transport genetic instructions used in the growth, development, and function in living organisms. Dying churches are lacking healthy DNA. Here are five crucial steps to church DNA change.

Prayer

I’m not a fan of prayer—I’m dependent upon it. As A. W. Pink avowed, “Prayer is not so much an act as it is an attitude—an attitude of dependency, dependency upon God.” The church can do nothing without prayer. Sadly, prayer is neglected, yet God’s power is expected.

The leaders of the church must be unified—prayerfully seeking the power of God to change their hearts, minds, and souls. Billy Sunday declared, “If you are strangers to prayer you are strangers to power.”

There is not a move of God that has occurred without prayer and repentance. For a DNA change to occur, a church must bend its knee in repentant soulful prayer. Prayer is a dialogue with God, with an expectation of hearing from the Spirit of God—yielding everything to His will. 

Vision

Gads of books and articles have been written about vision. I’m not for jumping on bandwagons. Yet, vision is imperative for DNA change. Vision informs the people where they are going. Like Moses leading Israel to the Promised Land—the people had a vision. DNA vision is the instruction for growth, development, and function.

Vision begins with prayer and results in hearing from God. Vision should not be complicated—on the contrary—it should be simple, understood. God reveals the vision of His church.

Adopters

Church leaders are visionaries—innovators. They relay and expound the vision to early adopters.  Based upon the innovation adoption curve, less than 20% of the church will initially understand the vision—but early adopters will. The leaders shouldn’t expect all of the people to “get it,” but should seek respectable and godly people who will.

Systemically changing a church’s DNA takes time. I would confess anywhere from 18–20 months (some say that’s fast—but think, turning an aircraft carrier). The adopters’ role is essential; they will help skeptics and fear-based traditionalists to be at ease and see God’s power at work.

Basically, early adopters “sell” the vision. Biblically speaking, Nehemiah is a good example of how he received the vision and implemented it through other leaders (early adopters)—to propel God’s mission.

Proclamation

This is where I differ from most revitalizers. I’m not a seeker sensitive guy. I’m sold out for the gospel. While many revitalizers will push the repetition of the vision (and I agree), the focal point is not the vision, but the gospel.

If the gospel is not central to the vision—you have the wrong vision. The church is here to proclaim the good news of Christ and make disciples (Matt 29:18–20; Jn. 20:19–21). The church doesn’t share the gospel—we proclaim it.

Before a body of Christ can engage mission, it must intrinsically understand the gospel. The very DNA breath of the church must be the gospel: a transformative and comprehensive reconciliation of rebellious people turning back and submitting to God—for His glory.

Engagement

Jesus asserted, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). DNA change is evident when the fruit of Christ is demonstrated in community, corporate worship, and the home. The church’s goal must be about making disciples to engage the culture.

The church is not designed for isolation, but public exhortation and exhibition. The mission of God fulfills God’s will. All earthly treasures are mere tools to glorify God. Church savings accounts are to be spent on God’s mission—not idolized.

The church is here to engage culture, to proclaim the love of God, through Christ. Systemic DNA change can transform an isolated dying church into a missional-attractional church devoted to Christ.


Matthew Fretwell

Matt Fretwell is married, has three daughters, is an author, revitalization pastor, national director of operations for New Breed Network, and leadership coach. Matt holds a doctorate from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Great Commission reproducible disciple-making strategies. Matt also writes for Church Planter Magazine and interviews well-known evangelical leaders on his discipleship podcast, The Wretched & The Wrecked.



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