By Aaron Wilson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Lifeway CEO and President Thom S. Rainer may run one of the world’s largest Christian resource companies, but in high school, he spent Friday nights running footballs into opposing teams’ end zones.
Back then, Rainer played tailback for what he calls a scrappy football team. They weren’t the biggest, fastest or most athletic players, but because of the team’s grit and determination, they overcame a bad season to make it into the quarterfinals of the state playoffs the following year.
In his new book, “Scrappy Church: God’s Not Done Yet,” Rainer calls on churches to bring a similar mentality to revitalization—something he believes is attainable if churches are willing to roll up their sleeves and get a little scrappy.
“I have seen many so-called hopeless churches become turnaround churches,” Rainer said. “I have seen congregations defy all the doom-and-gloom prognosticators. I have seen churches spit in the face of the objective facts that say it can’t be done.
“I call these turnaround churches ‘scrappy churches.’” he said. “While scrappy church leaders are not blind to the difficulties around them and in their congregations, they remain certain God is still at work.”
Rainer believes many churches in North America resemble the state of an overwhelmed team when they say things like:
- “We can’t reach young families; they go to the big church that has all the children’s and student stuff.”
- “We don’t have the money or the people the other churches have.”
- “We can’t compete with the megachurch in our town.”
But in “Scrappy Church,” Rainer tells stories of real churches that are in a new mode of revitalization and that—for the first time in years, maybe decades—are experiencing hope.
“I see the beginning of a movement of profound church revitalization in so many congregations,” Rainer said. “And if the pattern continues, we could see as many as 100,000 churches move from decline to growth, ineffectiveness to effectiveness, divisiveness to unity, and hopelessness to hope.”
Rainer said the past few years have been a season in which he felt a deep burden to help churches define reality—insisting that many struggling churches must change or die. However, in the coming season, Rainer says his emphasis will shift to communicating more about what God is doing in churches that are truly revitalizing.
“My first step of hope will not only be sharing stories but discerning how God is specifically working in scrappy churches,” Rainer said. “And though I will never suggest we can discover some formulaic or programmatic answer to church revitalization, we can observe the work of God and discern how that work might apply to our church and our context.”
“Scrappy Church” is currently available exclusively at Lifeway Christian Stores and LifeWay.com. A free secret guest survey is available at ThomRainer.com/ScrappyQuiz to help leaders identify just how scrappy their church is and what low-hanging fruit can be tackled to improve ministry to the community.
Aaron Wilson is a writer for Lifeway Christian Resources.