The Resilient Leader: Essential Characteristics for Leadership in Church Revitalization

The Resilient Leader: Essential Characteristics for Leadership in Church Revitalization. Photo by Alex Shute on Unsplash
There are small churches all over the country closing, dreaming, and even attempting to revitalize. Some of them have resilient leaders and others do not. Some of the revitalization work will succeed but many will fail. Those who succeed, I believe have learned to depend more on the church congregation's ability to partner with the Holy Spirit than anything else. Secondly, I think the biggest indicator of success or fruitfulness depends on the congregation's ability to commit to carrying the most responsibility of the revitalization work. In other words, they do not place all of their hope and trust in a new visionary leader. Church communities need resilient leaders and leadership with certain essential characteristics.

Though a leader or leadership team will not mostly or alone drive revitalization work (in my opinion and experience), it cannot be denied that fruitful church revitalization does depend on a visionary, humble, and communicative leadership team and pastoral leaders. Leaders in this work need resilient leaders, they need essential characteristics that serve this work well. There can be no question that most communities will need the right leaders to draw out vision, encourage commitment, and celebrate growth. Finding the right leaders means finding a unique set of characteristics and skills to navigate the complexities of revitalization.

In this post, I explore some essential traits that can empower a leadership team, lay leader, and/or pastor to lead with purpose and resilience in the pursuit of breathing new life into a church community. First and foremost is resilience. This list is from my experiences in this work. It is not an exclusive list. Additionally, other leaders certainly might make it work by not representing this list because of their unmatched dependence on the Holy Spirit.

As we look to breathe new life into church communities, I think leaders need a certain flexibility, communal investment, and personal character to achieve revitalization work. This sort of pastoral ministry, the call to revitalize a church, is both a challenging and rewarding journey. If you can do anything else, you probably should. Only proceed if you know Jesus has called you to this work. When a community experiences a new future, a community full of individuals with a life wish for their church community, it speaks hope to all individuals, organizations, and churches. It is a witness of a faith that is centered around a resurrection story. 

Now, the 12 essential characteristics for leadership in church revitalization.
  1. Visionary Leadership. A leader engaged in church revitalization must possess a clear and compelling vision for the future of the church. This vision serves as a guiding light, inspiring both the leader and the congregation to move forward with purpose. Effective communication of this vision is key to rallying the church community around common goals. This vision must not be the leaders, but also carried and defined by the church.

  2. Adaptability. Church revitalization often involves change—sometimes radical change. An adaptable leader can navigate the challenges of transitioning from old ways to new ones without losing sight of the core values that anchor the church. Even more, they develop relational equity they can use to help the church community understand and live into adaptability. For this reason, flexibility in leadership style and a willingness to embrace innovation are critical.

  3. Spiritual Discernment. Revitalization requires more than strategic planning; it demands spiritual discernment around what God is doing and what God is not doing. A leader with a deep connection to the Holy Spirit can discern the needs of the church community, seek divine guidance, and make decisions rooted in prayer and from the wisdom of scripture. However, they can also discern the difference between good things and God things.

  4. Effective Communication. Communication is the core of successful revitalization. Leaders must be adept at fostering open dialogue within the church community and its many personalities, convictions, and struggles. Active listening and empathy are essential to understanding the diverse perspectives within the church community. The why behind a move must always be communicated, communally and with individuals.

  5. Team Building. Revitalization is a collective effort that requires a cohesive team. A leader skilled in team building can identify and leverage the unique talents of individuals within the church community and bring them into the vision and mission. Creating a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility fosters a sense of ownership among the members of the church community. This is about seeing someone's capacity and building the platform for them to serve in that way.

  6. Patience and Perseverance. Church revitalization is seldom a quick fix. It demands patience and perseverance in the face of setbacks and challenges. It is stressful and ongoing. New challenges always arise. A resilient leader understands that transformation takes time and is committed to the long-term journey of revitalizing the church. Stay. Pray.

  7. Pastoral Care. The ability to provide compassionate pastoral care is crucial during times of change. A leader engaged in revitalization must be attuned to the emotional needs of the church community, offering support, encouragement, and a comforting presence. This includes hearing the concerns of the church community.

  8. Strategic Thinking. Strategic thinking involves discerning priorities, setting goals, and implementing plans to achieve them. A leader engaged in revitalization should be able to assess the church's strengths and weaknesses, identify opportunities, and strategically navigate the path toward revitalization. However, this thinking must also come from the community and the story of the community and so the leader must know how to engage these realities.

  9. Community Engagement. Revitalizing a church often involves engaging with the local and regional community. A leader with a heart for missional and incarnational outreach and neighborhood involvement can strengthen the church's impact beyond its walls, building bridges and fostering positive relationships. A good leader knows how to join the life and parties already happening in town, bringing the goodness and good news of God with them.

  10. Lifelong Learning. The landscape of society, life, and ministry is ever-evolving. A leader committed to continuous learning stays abreast of new trends, theories, and resources related to church revitalization. This commitment to growth ensures that the leader remains effective in leading the congregation through dynamic and changing times. They must be a lifelong learner, and invite the church community into lifelong learning.

  11. Co-Creation with the Church Community. The leader is not responsible for the vision alone. A good leader sees themself as a pastoral leader, a facilitator, and a partner. Among the best leaders are those who know how to pull the best out of the church community. This means the leader is finding vision, story, mission, purpose, and mission from the capabilities and capacities of the church community and then they create it with them in partnership.

  12. A Sense of Calling. If you can do anything, and I mean anything other than do church revitalization work, do it. This work needs you to know that you have been called to it. When the journey gets rough, you experience complaints, and the road looks bleak - you need to know that God called you to this work and that your identity is rooted in Jesus and God's calling for your life.
Church revitalization is an honorable but challenging endeavor that demands leaders who have a unique blend of spiritual depth, leadership acumen, and relational skills. I have been in a few of these contexts and have learned more by failure than success. However,  I believe that by embodying these essential characteristics, a leader can navigate the complexities of revitalization with grace, resilience, and a steadfast commitment to the flourishing of the church community. I am still figuring all of these out myself.

What would you add to this list, or expect to be on it?