Colette M. Jenkins

HUDSON: Chris Bolinger has a passion for resuscitating struggling and dying churches.

His determination was born out of his desire to see churches fulfill the gospel mission to make disciples and his personal experience of grief when his church home of 10 years closed its doors.

“We went from a thriving church that attracted 250 to 300 people and had an active youth ministry and preschool. It went from being a very active church to one that couldn’t even pay its bills,” said Bolinger, of Hudson. “It was a gut-wrenching experience. My wife, Tris, and I felt called there. We were part of the family there.”

Five years after the congregation at the Evangelical Covenant Church of Hudson gathered for its final service [on Oct. 11, 2009], Bolinger is using his grief and love of the Christian Church as the catalyst for a new ministry that aims to provide service and resources to struggling congregations. The focus of his venture — Revitalize Ministries — is on small and mid-sized churches that attract less than 500 people.

Bolinger cites research that shows about 100 churches close in the United States every week and that 80 to 85 percent of those that are open have attendance that is flat or declining. His mission is to help turn that around and find ways to bring people who have left the church back into the fold.

The ministry is made up of a team of pastors and lay people who want to use their skills to strengthen churches to fulfill their mission. Its services include help with website creation and management, video and sound systems, finances and accounting, human resources and facility maintenance.

The Rev. Mark Lile, campus pastor at Christ Community Chapel in Aurora, is one of the people Bolinger relies on for guidance and considers part of his team. Lile said he supports the goal of Revitalize.

“I think many smaller churches are terrific and desperately needed to complete the body of Christ,” Lile said. “However, so many pastors of small churches get caught up having to do things other than what they are good at — administrative stuff mostly. I think that is where Chris and RM are hoping to come along and partner with them. I tell Chris periodically that I think great churches come in small and large varieties!”

Revitalize is hosting its first Vital Church Conference on August 29 and 30 at Christ Community Chapel, 750 W. Streetsboro Rd. in Hudson. The conference aims to rejuvenate pastors by providing them with inspirational messages from speakers, helping them build relationships and partnerships with other pastors, and sharing with them information about a variety of topics including preaching tips, evangelism tools, best business practices for churches, and utilizing websites, social media and video.

The featured speaker for the conference is Kyle Idleman, author of “Not a Fan,” (Zondervan, 2011) and teaching pastor at Louisville, Kentucky-based Southeast Christian Church, one of the nation’s largest churches, which attracts nearly 21,000 people every weekend. Workshop facilitators and panelists will include David Murrow, founder of Church for Men and author of “Why Men Hate Going to Church,” (Thomas Nelson, 2004) and Dr. Charles Arn, president of the American Society of Church Growth and author of “Side Door: How to Open Your Church to Reach More People,” (Wesleyan, 2013).

The conference will also include a screening of The Song, which opens in theaters on Sept. 26. The music-driven romantic drama is inspired by the biblical Song of Solomon.

“I’m not an expert on anything, but I love small churches and I feel called to try to do something to help,” Bolinger said. “There is no formula — what works at one church might not work at another. I don’t have the answers but I want to get the ball rolling by bringing people together for conversations, helping rejuvenate pastors who are at risk of burnout and giving those pastors the services and resources they need to help strengthen there churches.

“Revitalize is here because what happened at my family’s church home is happening too frequently. I feel called to do something to stop the trend,” Bolinger said.

The cost of registration for the Vital Church Conference is $79 before July 1. After that, its is $99. To register, go to www.vitalconf.com or call 844-848-2524. More information about Revitalize Ministries can be found at www.revitalizeministries.com.

Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or cjenkins@thebeaconjournal.com.