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Revitalization in the Anglican Church in North America

Revitalization in the Anglican Church in North America

By David W. Virtue, DD
December 10, 2018

An interview with Canon Mark Eldredge Director of Church Revitalization and Coaching for the American Anglican Council.

VOL: Mark, you're relatively young in leadership and the energy seems to go with church planting--WHY did you choose the hard climb of church revitalization?

ELDREDGE: When I was in seminary in my mid-twenties, everyone was talking about church planting. I started to get excited about it too and one day I was praying about it and believed I heard the Lord tell me he wanted me to be a "transitioner." I took that to mean that I was to focus on turning around an existing congregation instead of planting. I accepted that as my call in that moment and have spent my nearly 19 years of ordained ministry focused on what is now called revitalization. It is hard work but God didn't say serving him would be easy. I'm sure dying on the cross was harder!

VOL: With so many aging congregations, why should we invest in church revitalization? Why not just focus all of our resources on planting new churches?

ELDREDGE: As Anglicans, we should be the champions of "Both/And." We should both invest heavily in church planting and church revitalization. As to why, God is a God of life and nothing is impossible with him. I believe any existing congregation, even one that's close to death, can be revitalized and have an impact for God's Kingdom in the community it is placed. Some congregations may very well close as they have been for nearly 2000 years. However, I believe we should do everything we can to help as many as possible turn around and thrive while we plant new ones.

VOL: According to the American Anglican Council's survey of clergy and laity, one of the biggest factors identified by leaders as an obstacle to church revitalization is the fatigue and weariness of leaders and volunteers? That sounds like a deal breaker for developing vision and revitalization. How do you respond to that?

ELDREDGE: There is no revitalization without renewal. Vision and revitalization will flow out of a personal passionate love for Jesus. Jesus said, "Apart from me you can do nothing but if you remain in me you will bear much fruit." (John 15:5) The remaining in him must come first. Fatigue and weariness come when we are trying to grow our churches on our own power. In Matthew 11 Jesus famously said something like, "Come to me all who are weary...and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me...my way is easy and my burden is light." When we first love Jesus and with the power of the Holy Spirit we work on growing our churches with Jesus (yoked) it is not a burden. Hard, yes. But you won't grow weary. If you're wearied, spend more time with Jesus.

Much of the hard work of church revitalization is in leading the church through changes. As I've often written, there is no revitalization without pain, because revitalization means change, change means loss, and whenever there is loss there is pain. And since none of us like pain, it is natural to avoid making the necessary changes that will lead the church to be healthier and grow.

VOL: You wrote that much of the hard work of church revitalization is in leading the church through changes. As I've often written, there is no revitalization without pain, because revitalization means change, change means loss, and whenever there is loss there is pain. And since none of us like pain, it is natural to avoid making the necessary changes that will lead the church to be healthier and grow.

ELDREDGE: Yes. It takes unselfish people to revitalize a church. We tend to like what we like and don't want to change even when we see the church dying. It takes mature Christians to become a missional church because you must constantly put the needs of people who don't yet know Jesus ahead of your own. Love for them demands it. Yet often we put our own wants and desires over their eternal salvation. It's just true.

VOL: Stetzer says it is important that we don't abandon stagnant or plateaued churches prematurely. God is a God of resurrection and he is certainly powerful enough to breathe new life into his churches. Would you agree with that assessment?

ELDREDGE: Absolutely! God created the entire universe from nothing, loves us deeply, and wants all people saved. The local church is his primary plan to spread his Kingdom on earth so not only can he breathe new life into any congregation he wants to! The real question is, will we let him?

VOL: The reality is that church revitalization almost always requires resources. But where should those resources come from and how should the ACNA resource church revitalization for its churches?

ELDREDGE: The American Anglican Council has committed to be a champion of church revitalization for the ACNA. They stretched to create a fulltime position, the one I fill, to focus exclusively on this for the ACNA. After one year in the role we are seeing churches reviving and in many ways we're just getting started. Individuals, parishes, or diocese that want to resource church revitalization in the ACNA can certainly give to the American Anglican Council. There is much work to do be done yet.

VOL: I am told that resourcing isn't always monetary. In your mind is that true, if not what is it?

ELDREDGE: Certainly. Intercessory Prayer is an essential resource. Without prayer we won't get very far -- even with a lot of money.

VOL: According to Stetzer the reality is that most attempts at church revitalization fail. Funding church revitalization by sending money to churches needing revitalization simply has not worked. Every denomination that has tried that path has regretted (and reversed) that strategy. Many have poured huge amounts of money into revitalization and not seen any progress. Do you agree?

ELDREDGE: Money follows mission, not the other way around. Money doesn't create passion for lost people being saved and made into transformed disciples of Jesus. When a church has that passion and a commitment to doing whatever it takes to fulfill the Great Commission, the money will be there to get it done.

VOL: The cold reality says Stetzer is that most churches in need of revitalization will receive the funding offered, but not make the changes needed. They won't do what it takes to bring new life to their church. Some churches in need of revitalization may actually work less urgently to revitalize themselves if they have monetary funding from their denomination. Do you agree with this assessment?

ELDRIDGE: Again, yes. As I answered above, it comes down to commitment to the Great Commission. Without that commitment congregations will be internally focused and if there is enough money to keep things going there won't be any motivation to change. With that commitment, plenty of money or lack of money won't stop a congregation from growing.

VOL: The value lies in partnership. If revitalization is central to our mission and funding isn't the best path to take, what should the ACNA do? One good strategy is to partner with other organizations to help churches in your denomination with revitalization. A popular example of such a resource that has worked well for many people is refocusing.org Do you agree with this?

ELDREDGE: I'm a big believer in "not reinventing the wheel." We should learn from many resources and adapt and apply them in our Anglican context.

VOL: I am told that it is about helping churches help themselves-- they have investment in the process, but tools come from the denomination or elsewhere. Do you agree with this assessment?

ELDREDGE: The local church is the hope of the world. It's through the local church that God primarily impacts local communities with the Gospel and lives are transformed. Denominations don't do that. Denominations support the local church. So yes, the local church must to the work themselves if they want to be healthy and grow but receiving support, tools, encouragement, accountability, coaching, from outside sources is essential. Wise local church leaders understand that they don't have all the answers all the time and reach out for help to learn. The American Anglican Council is one of those resources for help in the ACNA.

VOL: It is said that partnering with a specific group that champions revitalization allows your denomination to have a specific church revitalization strategy. When churches struggle to overcome stagnation, you will have something to point them towards that can assist them. Do you agree? How does ACNA partner?

ELDREDGE: I can't really speak on behalf of how the ACNA partners specifically. I can say that the American Anglican Council is a partner with the ACNA and is championing revitalization within our denomination. One resource we have developed to serve local churches with revitalization is ReVive! It is a program designed on helping any congregation become healthy which in turn will lead to growth. The focus is on balancing five VITAL areas of ministry within the congregation. The program includes assessment, a weekend seminar and consultation, and a six month strategic follow-up with a trained coach to help with implementation. Both this process and content is consistent from what we've others doing successfully in other denominations. Ours is just uniquely Anglican.

VOL: If you don't partner with someone, and you are a denominational leader, you will need to develop your own path and process. IS that true?

ELDREDGE: I would say so, yes. Not having a plan is not a good plan!

VOL: So, how do you apply it? How do you get churches to engage in revitalization strategies to help them change?

ELDREDGE:The first step is admitting there is problem. When the pain not growing or even declining becomes greater than a churches resistance to making changes, then they may be open to learning new strategies that will lead to revitalization. We have simple assessment on our website www.americananglican.org that church leaders can take which if they determine that are on the "Recline" or "Decline" they can reach out to us engage in resources to get back to "Incline."

VOL:Missiologists say that you are never going to get 100% of your churches to engage in revitalization, some 60% of them just don't listen to anything that comes from outside their local church. They are focusing on getting to the next week, or they just have their own path and plans. Is this about finding a coalition of the willing?

ELDREDGE: I think those percentages are true. Revitalization is hard work. There are not quick fixes or "silver bullet" solutions to turn a church from maintenance to mission. Many won't want to do it so many churches will continue what they've always done and keep getting the same results. Many churches will eventual die. However it doesn't have to be the case and the AAC is commitment to and willing to work with as many of the 1000 ACNA churches that need it and are willing.

VOL: You have outlined five helpful strategies when introducing change: can you tell us what they are and can you point us to websites that would help clergy grow.

ELDREDGE: We believe there are five VITAL strategies that, if applied in a balanced way, will make a church healthy. Since the church is the body of Christ, it is a living thing -- an organism not just and organization -- and healthy living things grow! These VITAL strategies of reVITALization are: Vision for Evangelism, Intentional Worship, Transformation to Christlikeness, Authentic Community, and Life of Service. I would recommend first going to www.churchrevive.org to learn more about this for a start.

VOL: Thank you Canon Mark.

ELDREDGE: It is my pleasure. Thank you for bringing attention to this timely and important topic.


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