5 Steps to Church Vitality and Turnaround


Baltimore Pastor C. Anthony Hunt outlines a five-part process helpful to churches or non-profits looking to renew their vitality. He shares how this process helped his church reorganize for mission and develop new worship and service initiatives to reach new people.

Working as a consultant with new church starts, I became familiar with a visioning process that draws on the agrarian image of sowing and reaping in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8. This five-part process (identified by the acronym SOWwithPH: See it. Own it. Work it. Pray it. Help it.) helps church leaders and stakeholders engage in ministry discernment and implementation. Originally designed to help new church pastors and leaders, I have also found the process helpful to those leading churches and religious non-profit organizations through processes of turnaround and revitalization.

To actualize, sustain and grow a vision, it is critical to discern what help you need at various stages in a church’s lifecycle.

1. See It

Vision is critical to any church’s or ministry’s vitality and growth. From a Christian perspective, vision is the picture of God’s preferred future. The late Bishop Rueben P. Job defined vision as “a gift from God. It is the reward of disciplined, faithful, and patient listening to God. Vision allows us to see beyond the visible, beyond the barriers and obstacles to our mission. Vision ‘catches us up,’ captivates and compels us to act.” Dr. Lovett Weems intimates that vision shapes our orientation towards reality as well as our sense of being in the world. It is the gift of eyes of faith to see the invisible, to know the unknowable, to think the unthinkable, to experience the “not yet.” It is our vision that draws us forward.

2. Own It

“Owning it” speaks to the way that vision is shared across the organization. It also speaks to awareness of the current realities of the church or organization in light of its hopes for the future. Leaders and stakeholders can use tools — such as ministry charting, community or church diagnostics, demographic data such as U.S. Census and Mission Insight data, asset mapping, community assessments, and ministry-by-walking-around — to help in the process of ministry ownership.

3. Work It

This speaks to ways that ministry is activated and implemented. “Working it” is effectively ministry in action. This should be aligned with the stated mission, vision, and purpose of the church or ministry and should include strategies for marketing, community engagement, outreach and evangelism, use of social media and technology, and creative programming including worship, Christian Education and small groups.

4. Pray It

“Praying it” involves the use of spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation in the process of ongoing ministry discernment and implementation. Intentionally encouraging leaders and stakeholders to practice inward, outward, and corporate spiritual disciplines and then celebrating the visible impact on the lives of people moves the church towards greater vitality. At Epworth Chapel, we have found Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline, to be a helpful spiritual resource in our ongoing turnaround efforts.

5. Help It

To actualize, sustain, and grow a vision, it is critical to discern what help you need at various stages in a church’s lifecycle. What denominational support, consultants, coaches, technical assistance, and resources are needed to continue to move the vision forward?

Epworth Chapel: A Case in Point

After I was appointed pastor of Epworth Chapel United Methodist Church in Baltimore in 2011, our Church Council engaged this visioning process to discern God’s vision and plan for the church. Information gleaned from Mission Insight data pertaining to the current and projected demographic makeup within our zip code was particularly helpful in clarifying our mission, vision, and purpose and in embracing our stated mission — “to make disciples of Jesus Christ and make a difference for the transformation for our community and the world.”

We developed a strategic plan, “Epworth 2020,” that included an organizational restructuring plan which led to the formation of five program teams based on Acts 2:41–47: the Worship and Faith Celebration Team; the Discipleship and Faith Development Team; the Fellowship and Faith Connecting Team; the Mission, Outreach, and Faith in Action Team; and the Evangelism and Faith Sharing Team.

To help to move this mission and vision forward, Epworth Chapel holds an annual churchwide leadership retreat, facilitated by denominational consultants, that has been designed to build leadership capacity around issues like community change, multicultural competence, and stewardship development.

Some of the outcomes of these efforts have included the development of Friday Night Fire, an alternative worship experience designed to attract young adults; the SOUL Café, a weekly community meal where on average 200 persons are served each Sunday; It Takes a Village, an ongoing partnership with our local elementary school; and the development of several new Bible studies and small groups.

Engaging in a process like SOWwithPH can be helpful to churches that seek to clearly discern and implement its mission, vision, and purpose over the life-cycle of its ministry.

Related Resources


About Author

Tony Hunt

Dr. C. Anthony Hunt is pastor of Epworth United Methodist Chapel in Baltimore, Maryland. He is the Supervising Pastor of the Beloved Community Cooperative Parish and the founder and project director for Hope for the City: Transforming Urban Leaders, both in Baltimore. He is also Professor of Systematic, Moral and Practical Theology, and Dunning Permanent Distinguished Lecturer at St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Baltimore. Dr. Hunt also teaches on the adjunct faculties at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, and United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

Cover of Discovering God's Future for Your Church showing a blank wooden signpostLewis Center video tool kit resource
Discovering God’s Future for Your Church

Discovering God’s Future for Your Church is a turn-key tool kit to help your congregation discern and implement God’s vision for its future. The resource guides your church in discovering clues to your vision in your history and culture, your current congregational strengths and weaknesses, and the needs of your surrounding community. The tool kit features videos, leader’s guides, discussion exercises, planning tools, handouts, diagrams, worksheets, and more. Learn more and watch an introductory video now.