Redevelopment. Revitalization. Renewal.

I often hear those terms from people who call to inquire about Alban’s consulting services. At times, individuals are clear about the process that is needed in their congregations. At other times, they simply know that something needs to be different.

Redevelopment, revitalization, and renewal all require change. To help congregations get a sense of the level of change that will be needed, the authors of Alban’s Redeveloping the Congregation: A How-to for Lasting Change offer the following definitions:

  • Renewal is when the bulk of the congregation’s focus is still outward and the congregation shifts back to being more connected to its surrounding community and adapts its ministries in response to the changes in that community.
  • Revitalization is what the journey is called when the church’s disconnect with the surrounding community increases and the energy has turned more towards maintenance and preservation. Revitalization requires more time and more energy than renewal.
  • Redevelopment is what the journey is called when the congregation has fundamentally congealed. The church now has become primarily focused on preserving the status quo. The congregation’s God-given energy flows almost totally towards its own survival. When the faith community walls itself off from its community rather than living to serve, death is inevitable. . . . Redevelopment is the journey from life-threatening disease to life-giving vitality.

Another help for congregations considering change comes from Alban consultant Terry Foland. He has concluded that twelve areas of congregational life are significant in determining a congregation’s health. Within each category are the challenging questions that he suggests church leaders ask themselves as they embark on the process of congregational change.

History and Heritage

  • How do we value our past?
  • What have we incorporated into our story of being a congregation from our successes and crises and from our failures?
  • How did we evolve into our current set of norms and values, which primarily set the boundaries and determine our way of being a faithful community?
  • Have we been enriched by or imprisoned by the events of our history?
  • When there have been bad experiences, have we had sufficient closure so that we are not limited by our shame about those experiences and our fear of repeat failures?
  • How well do we value our past without letting it determine our present and future life together?

Christian Community

  • Who are we as a corporate “body of Christ”?
  • What is our culture or ethos?
  • What kind of climate do we provide for people when they come together?
  • Is there an atmosphere of caring and support?
  • Is this a place where people can feel they belong and are accepted, regardless of their current or past circumstances?
  • Are all people welcome here?
  • Do we present an openness that invites strangers into the community of gatherings?


  • How do we seek to be open to God’s call to us as a faith community?
  • What distinguishes us from any other human organization?
  • Do our efforts to worship help us to discern God’s word and call to us as faithful disciples?
  • How well do we employ our spiritual disciplines of prayer, study of Scripture, meditation, worship, and stewardship?

Shared Vision

  • What is our way of “being the gospel”?
  • Do we regularly engage in efforts to rethink our vision of how we fulfill our mission as a faith community?
  • Do we regularly collect information from our setting and look to understand the needs of people around us?
  • Do we engage in prayer, meditation, and study of Scripture to help us develop our vision?
  • How do we determine priorities for using our limited resources?

Making Disciples

  • How well do we perform the continuing task of helping people grow in their religious life?
  • Do we help individuals discover and claim their particular gifts, skills, and talents?
  • Do we help them connect with the faith in ways that contribute to the mission and ministries of the faith?
  • How well do we prepare our members to engage in conversion efforts with people who are not part of a faith/belief community?

Ministries in the Community

  • What will we accept as our rules and responsibilities to the people who inhabit our geographic space?
  • What services do we provide as part of our discernment of what God is calling us to be and do?
  • Does our vision include ways in which we can be engaged both corporately and as individual members in mission endeavors?
  • How well do we make use of our resources (facilities, wealth, time, and members) to respond to the needs of those in our “defined mission area”?


  • How big is our world going to be?
  • How well do we raise awareness of the concerns and needs in the world and of our interdependence and responsibilities?
  • Do we offer members opportunities to respond in a variety of ways to the myriad needs in the world?
  • Has our vision included concerns that reach beyond our natural day-to-day interactions?


  • How do we value differences and deal with conflicts in congregational life?
  • Do we engage individuals to articulate their own opinions and beliefs and to respect those of others?
  • Do we seek to provide ways for people to get their interests and needs cared for without denying others that same privilege?
  • Do we intentionally teach ways of framing conflict in win/win rather than win/lose strategies?

Facing Daily Life

  • How does the congregation help people in their daily routines of work, family, and community activities?
  • Does the congregation help provide moral and ethical codes by which members are expected to relate to others?
  • How does the congregation provide guidelines in the areas of health, finances, life transitions, and mundane routines?


  • How do we teach responsible use of resources by individuals and by the community of faith?
  • Do we provide help for our members to understand how money and other financial resources are a gift from God?


  • How well is the congregation developing mutual support and ministry in a partnership between clergy and laity?
  • How do we share authority and responsibility?
  • Do we provide effective ways to define relationships and roles?
  • How do we work together to fulfill our vision of being a faith community?

Connection to Faith Community

  • How do we both contribute to and receive support from the structures of our larger denomination, or faith family?
  • What does our connection to such a family contribute to our sense of identity and mission?

The Marks of a Healthy Church
From Congregations, November/December 2002


Featured Resources

AL260_SMRedeveloping the Congregation: A How-to for Lasting Change by Mary K. Sellon, Daniel P. Smith, and Gail F. Grossman

What makes it possible for a church to reverse course from decline or stagnation into longlasting vitality? How can a church immigrate from a congealing present into a compelling future? What can a congregation do to experience continuous, deep change rather than just temporary, surface improvement? How does a person lead redevelopment? Click here to read a chapter.

AL217_SM Can Our Church Live? Redeveloping Congregations in Decline by Alice Mann

Nothing on earth lives forever–not even congregations. Alban Institute senior consultant Alice Mann explains how the natural life cycle of a congregation, as well as other internal and external factors, can produce a congregation that is in real trouble. She then offers hope for congregations that want to change.