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A Praying Police Officer and A Declining Church

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55:9 – KJV)

Police-CopSean was a law enforcement officer in Clovis New Mexico for 8 ½ years. Central Christian Church in Clovis was for many years the largest Christian Church in the State of New Mexico. However, even with its great buildings and dedication to spreading the Gospel, it declined to become a congregation of less than 50, mostly elderly members.

Over the years some of Sean’s patrols were during the lonely hours of midnight to 4:00 am. Occasionally he would find himself sitting in his patrol car in the large parking lot of Central Christian Church. Through his connections in the community, Sean became aware that Central Christian was a declining church, so he began praying (as he sat in his patrol car) that God would do something special in that place “for His glory!”

Little did Sean know at that time that God was going to lay the burden on his heart to meet with the leaders of Central Christian and propose a building sharing arrangement between Central Christian and the young church he was attending – but that’s exactly what happened. The result was an agreement between the two churches which resulted in the complete refurbishing of Central’s building.

There is new carpet in the sanctuary and new chairs have replaced the old pews. There is a new sound and lighting system. New air conditioning and heating units serve the sanctuary. And, even that parking lot where Sean prayed in his police car, in the dark of the night, has been refinished.

For more than a year the small group of faithful Central Christians met in the sanctuary at 9:00 am for their traditional worship service. Then, at 10:30 that same sanctuary was filled with more than 400 enthusiastic young adults and families praising God in their more contemporary fashion.

Then recently, the “young” church approached the older Central members with an offer to purchase the building, including an agreement to remodel the “fireside chapel” so Central would have a comfortable and beautiful place to continue worshipping each Lord’s-day.  And, the sale price was sufficiently generous to allow Central to establish a Church Planting Fund to assist in starting new Christian Churches in New Mexico for years to come.

Kairos Legacy Partners was pleased to assist in this Win-Win Kingdom story. Several years ago Central put its property in Trust with Kairos to protect the property and its value for future Kingdom benefit. When this “young” church approached Central, these mutually beneficial arrangements could be made without fear of any “takeover” or mishandling of assets – because the property was safely “in-trust.”

Today, there is a vibrant, thriving, dynamic congregation worshiping in the Central building. There is a blessed group of “older” Central Christians worshiping each Sunday in the fireside chapel. There are funds available for new church planting in New Mexico, and a gift was made by Central to the Kairos Benevolence Fund for use in meeting health and/or financial crises faced by aging Christian Church ministers and missionaries.

Yes, God had a plan for a police officer, a declining church, and His Kingdom – and God has a plan for your church too!

If your church is struggling and perhaps in doubt about its future, please contact us.

Kairos Legacy Partners is the voice of legacy serving Christ’s Kingdom by safeguarding church properties, re-deploying declining church assets, and empowering benevolence for faithful Kingdom servants.

5 Ways to Incentivize Church Revitalization

tug of war between the same man

We need some sharp people to move from one Kingdom-building opportunity to another Kingdom-building opportunity.

We need some sharp church planters to become church revitalizers.

I’ve been in some conversations recently concerning the need to get younger leaders interested in church revitalization. The need is huge.

The fact is it is “cooler” to be in church planting. Having been in both worlds, (Just for clarity, I was cool in neither world) I could make the case that church planting is easier. You get to make the rules rather than wrestle through rules which make no sense or man-made traditions which have no clear Biblical basis but people will fight to keep.

But, we need church revitalization. Continue reading

Central CC – Clovis, NM

 

Clovis NMIt really is an amazing story of an elder and his church in Clovis. For many years Central Christian Church was the largest Christian Church and had the largest building of our churches in New Mexico. With its great building it still declined to become a congregation of less than 50. A few years ago most of the elders were abandoning ship.

Lewis Heisch was ready to do the same and had written out his resignation. He was
ready to turn it in that night when that afternoon, by God’s grace I, Errol Stepp, “happened by.” Lewis and I talked for most of an hour. I did not know his plan, but encouraged him as a leader in God’s church. Just a few months ago Lewis told me for the first time that he went home that afternoon and tore up his resignation.

God had plans and a calling on Lewis which he beautifully followed out. Through challenging times, including a ministerial change, he never lost hope. He learned that the church property could be put in trust with Kairos Legacy Partners, a division of Provision. With the other leaders they worked with David Pace, President to determine how this would work for them.

When the trust was approved by the congregation the church’s assets were secured for the use of Central Christian Church or their selected missions. They were secured from take over by any outside church group or their assets being mishandled by anyone.

The Lord has provided some continuing encouragement from the Christian Church Starters. Most of all, God brought Lanny Hemmings as their part-time minister. Lanny is gifted by the Lord in both worship and preaching, The congregation has found ways to minister to the James Bickley Elementary School down the street and host about 150 home schoolers once a week.

Meanwhile, God was growing an independent congregation in Clovis named The Vine. They were planning a building on land in NW Clovis, for further growth, and they needed a better facility than they were meeting in. They reached an agreement with Central which resulted in the complete refurbishing of Central’s building.

Now the parking lot is striped. There is new carpet in the sanctuary and new chairs have replaced pews for four hundred people. There are new sound and lighting systems. New air conditioning and heating units serve the sanctuary. For the future all improvements stay with the building. In addition Central receives a nice rental payment every month.

The Central people rejoice that the building is their place of worship. But they also
rejoice that The Vine fills the building with Christians every Lord’s day and is used by them
through the week. They also rejoice that a Spanish congregation meets there every Sunday
afternoon.

Lewis and the congregation have found that their building being in trust with Kairos has
enabled them to retain ownership as a Christian Church while allowing them to serve the
Kingdom of God in a larger way. Lewis Heisch will travel with me to meet with any
congregation who will consider placing their property in trust. A congregation really may deal
with their building and long term assets in kingdom advancing ways.

Article by Errol Stepp, Executive Director for Christian Church Starters

This article first appeared in a newsletter published by Christian Church Starters on July 6, 2015.

Better Together

CreswellCreswell Christian Church a 55-year-old congregation in Bel Air, Maryland, had struggled with finances as about 50 committed members tried to cover debt payments for the church building as well as maintenance and insurance on the church and a parsonage. But in 2013, two families—both of which gave significantly to the church—moved away and the septic system at the parsonage failed.

“On top of that, another leader who gave generously to the church told me he also planned to move away after his retirement,” says Eric Stangland, who served as minister at the Creswell church. “I knew we weren’t going to be able to make it to the end of the year.”

Fortunately, Creswell also enjoyed a good relationship with Mountain Christian Church, which averages around 5,000 people at three locations, all of them just a few miles away. Mountain had helped with worship and music leadership in the past and filled in to preach and teach when Eric was away, and Eric considered Ben Cachiaras, senior pastor at Mountain, a friend. Although the two churches were very different, they were also just two highway exits from each other, and they had developed a connection over the years.

“During this time, I read Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud and began to differentiate between hope and wishful thinking,” Stangland says. “It became obvious to me that this chapter in Creswell’s history was coming to an end. We wanted to end in a way that would maximize kingdom impact. I met with our elders and we decided to talk to Ben.”

“Creswell approaching us is key in terms of process, I think,” says Cachiaras. “We had built a friendship with Eric and the church without motive, but the meeting could have been perceived much more negatively if we had tried to start the discussion ourselves.”

While Stangland was reading about endings, the leadership team at Mountain was working through Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work by Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird.

“Ironically, we had just had an elder’s retreat that included significant prayer about the potential for multisite options or other types of collaboration,” Cachiaras says. “When I heard from Eric, it felt like the hand of God was on it.”

Collaboration07_Johnson_Better_JN

As the two churches talked, they quickly realized each group had something to offer.

“Mountain wanted to continue growing and launching new campuses, but we were struggling to get that done because we lacked resources,” Cachiaras says. “Creswell couldn’t stay open on their own. The idea of joining forces and using Creswell’s assets for something new was exciting to both of us, and the real contribution they could make to our ministry gave a sense of dignity and mission to their decision. It wasn’t about us ‘rescuing’ them or them feeling like second-class citizens. We needed each other.”

Stangland and the elders worked hard to help the Creswell contingent feel a sense of “win” about the process. In addition to talking and praying as a leadership team, Stangland and the elders took seriously their obligation to “define reality” and communicate it to the people.

“If this was the end of Creswell, we wanted the Lord to be honored with it,” Stangland says. “And when you start talking about solutions that honor God and bring people to God, it changes the conversation.”

Although Stangland was only 35 and Creswell was his first ministry, he demonstrated strong leadership, coaching his flock to focus on how to make the maximum kingdom impact—not just how to keep the doors open.

“Sometimes God brings you to a point of desperation because he wants you to do something different,” Stangland says. “We believe there will be more people in Heaven as a result of this merger than there would have been otherwise; that vision helped us move forward.”

Meanwhile, groups from the two churches continued their own conversations, with a task force formed at each church.

“The idea was to keep pressing in as long as the doors seemed open,” Cachiaras says. “We used a dating analogy; if we got to the point where it wasn’t going to work, we weren’t ‘married’ to each other. We could all walk away and still be for each other.”

The two leaders are quick to praise each other’s role in the process, and each other’s humility.

“They allowed us to drive the process,” Stangland says. “They set boundaries and let us lead our people toward a decision, so we felt like partners. Mountain’s team also took a learning posture, asking us for feedback and input.”

“The irony is there’s often a stereotype of a large church pastor with a big ego and small church pastor who can’t lead,” Cachiaras says. “But Eric and his elders showed amazing leadership, and I’m not saying that to be kind. The way they pulled their folks into this vision was remarkable.”

Combining

By June 2014, the groups had decided to move toward “marriage” and began planning the logistics of closing Creswell, welcoming its people to Mountain, and moving forward together.

“We decided four or five weeks was enough time for people to process the decision and for the elders and leaders of each congregation to meet with the people,” Cachiaras says. “We didn’t want to go too slow or too fast.”

Cachiaras preached at Creswell a few weeks before the church’s final service, sharing the history of friendship between the two churches, the cohesion of both groups’ mission statements, and extending a welcome to Creswell members. Other leaders from Mountain attended the last service at Creswell on August 31.

“A Christian funeral is both sad and celebratory,” Stangland says. “We wanted people to be able to grieve the loss they might feel, while also feeling excited about what’s to come. And Mountain bent over backwards to welcome us.”

These efforts at Mountain included a welcome weekend on September 7 with pictures and video sharing Creswell’s journey and the mission work they’d been involved in.

“We encouraged all the Creswell members to attend the same service that weekend,” Cachiaras says. “When the lights came up after the video, we asked them to stand and everyone burst into applause, cheering their vision and communicating our welcome.”

Beyond that first Sunday, the leadership team encouraged the new members from Creswell to connect in small groups and attend a “Welcome to Mountain” class.

“We didn’t want a Creswell church within Mountain,” Stangland says. “We wanted them to join existing groups and ministries and become part of the larger body.”

Community

Today, about 60 percent of the former Creswell members are now attending one of Mountain’s three locations. Stangland, Cachiaras, the Mountain eldership, and other church leaders continue to be intentional about helping people assimilate and move forward.

Progress on the shared vision for a new campus has helped the process. Mountain’s team prepared the Creswell property for sale, and in February they sold it and designated the assets for the launch of a new campus.

“The folks from Creswell will get the special joy of knowing they made that happen,” Cachiaras says. “And another sister church nearby bought their old property—another kingdom win.”

The Mountain team has also worked closely with Stangland to help him figure out his own next steps.

“We didn’t want to put the Creswell leadership in a difficult position where they felt moving forward with us was going to harm their pastor,” Cachiaras says. “At the same time, neither of us wanted to make long-term commitments. We decided the best thing in this situation was to make sure Eric had a safe place to land and time to rest while processing what God was calling him and his wife, Suzanne, to next. We brought him on our staff in a provisional role (but with real work!) and promised him at least six months of a steady paycheck.”

Mountain also gave Stangland and his family a one-month sabbatical for renewal and reflection, including a week at Blessing Ranch for Stangland and his wife. Stangland returned with clarity about remaining in ministry, and the two leaders continue to move forward one step at a time.

“We gave him a healthy place to get his feet under him,” Cachiaras says. “And we’re still figuring it out together.”

In the end, the partnership between Mountain and Creswell worked for many reasons—the humility and leadership of both pastors, the commitment to kingdom over personal agendas, the connection to strong elders and church leaders, and the willingness of both groups to learn and study.

“The ending of one church’s life cycle doesn’t have to signify some sort of failure, and it’s not necessarily a leadership issue,” Cachiaras says. “Leading a church into a new identity might actually be the greatest and most fulfilling leadership challenge you can have.”

“If I could say one thing to another pastor in a similar situation, I would say it’s God’s church, and he is responsible for its fate, and he will take great care of you regardless of how things turn out,” Cachiaras says. “This was definitely difficult. But in the end, God was glorified, his kingdom was expanded, and we all look forward to serving him in new ways.”

Article by Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson is a freelance editor and writer living outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Article first appeared in the July 15, 2105 addition of the Christian Standard under the title “Better Together.” Click Here to go to the article.

 

Even McDonalds Is Gone?

mcdonald-s-psd-457848I travel by air quite regularly, and frequently my trips take me through the ‘B’ Terminal of Houston’s Intercontinental Airport. In fact, I go through that ‘B” Terminal so often that I usually make my breakfast, lunch, or dinner plans based on a quick stop at the McDonald’s in that terminal’s food court.

Recently I made such a trip on Friday, grabbed a breakfast sandwich at that McDonald’s, then boarded another plane for my next flight. On Sunday, just 2 days later, I flew back through Houston and was looking forward to a Quarter Pounder with cheese for dinner, but – NO, – it couldn’t be – in just 2 days my BFF McDonald’s was gone!

In Ecclesiastes 3 Solomon wrote, “There is a time for everything under heaven … a time to be born and a time to die; a time to build and a time to tear down…” In other words, CHANGE HAPPENS!

Do you remember:

  • Dressing up to fly on an airplane, because it was a special event to fly?
  • Being served a real meal on the plane, and even having silverware?
  • Service stations where they checked your car’s oil, washed the windshield, filled the tires with air … all while putting gas in the tank?
  • Stores like Service Merchandise, Rexall Pharmacy, Woolworth’s, and Western Auto?
  • S&H green stamps, or Gold Bond stamps?

Indeed, change happens, and most of the time change is for the better – and we learn to make the adjustments to new ways.

Sometimes, however, change can be disturbing because it affects things we held in high regard, and perhaps thought were unchangeable.

Let’s take the local church, for instance. During our lifetime the local church has been a solid member of our community. Most everyone went to church on Sunday morning. You’d drop your kids off at the nursery, grab a cup of coffee and head to your Sunday School class. Remember the crowded halls and the buzz of conversation as people headed into the Sanctuary. Remember the organ prelude, singing hymns from a book, the Doxology, and the preacher wearing a suit and tie?

Today, church researchers report that 80% of the churches in America are plateaued or declining, and as many as 5,000 to 10,000 churches will close their doors and DIE every year.

Yes, change happens to churches too. Like all living things churches have life-cycles. Some may view change within the church as a failure of leadership or vision, when in fact, even the first churches planted by the apostles were born, grew and multiplied, declined, and died.

Because of this reality, Kairos Legacy Partners was established!

Our mission is to come alongside the leaders of these declining churches, assist in evaluating the future of their church, and provide a network of support and resources. If it is possible for their church to make the changes necessary to remain a vibrant functioning fellowship of disciple-making believers, then Kairos wants to help make that possible. However, if that local congregation has reached the end of its life-cycle, Kairos wants to help the church celebrate its legacy, assist in the liquidation of the church’s assets, and insure that those Kingdom assets are re-purposed into church planting, missions, and other Kingdom impacting ministries.

I’m not sure what will replace McDonald’s in Terminal ‘B’ at the Houston airport – maybe something actually serving healthy food? Whatever they replace it with, I know it won’t be the reliable, steadfast, traditional McDonald’s I know and love – but it will likely appeal more to all of the younger generations.

And I do know that when change happens to a church in partnership with Kairos – very positive results can be expected for the Kingdom of Christ and its mission to reach lost souls with the Good News of the Gospel!

Article by David T. Pace, Kairos Legacy Partners

Kairos Legacy Partners is the Voice of Legacy serving Christ’s Kingdom by safeguarding church properties, re-deploying declining church assets, and empowering benevolence for faithful Kingdom servants.

Is Your Church Dying?

crumbling churchPlease forgive me for the morbid and depressing title and content. I don’t think posts such as these encourage many of you. I guess the impetus for writing such an article is the work I am doing to finish my next book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church. I have dealt a lot with the death of churches in my research and writing for that book.

The Research

Before I go further, let me define a dying church. A dying church is a congregation that will close its doors within 20 years if it continues its current trajectory. “Trajectory” includes many variables such as attendance, financial giving, demographic trends, and age of members.
Why would I include such a long period of 20 years in the definition? Simply put, churches hang on to life tenaciously. The members, despite how few remain, are highly reticent to close the doors of the church.
According to my estimates, about one in four American churches, or around 100,000 churches, fit the definition of a dying church. My estimates seem to have been confirmed with a recent study by LifeWay Research. The research team conducted telephone interviews with 1,007 Protestant pastors.* One of the response statements the team asked the pastors was: “I am concerned that the church where I am serving is dying.” Here are the responses:

  • Strongly agree: 7%
  • Somewhat agree: 15%
  • Somewhat disagree: 19%
  • Strongly disagree: 58%

So 22% of the pastors either strongly or somewhat agree that their churches are dying. That number is close to my own estimates of 25 percent. I would further postulate that another 25 percent of churches are struggling, and could move to the “dying” category easily.

The Questions

If one-fourth of churches are dying, and if another one-fourth of the churches are struggling, how can we discern signs of these problems before it’s too late? May I suggest five questions you can ask?

  1. Has worship attendance declined in at least seven of the past ten years?
  2. Has budget giving declined in at least seven of the past ten years?
  3. Does my church look more like the community or less like the community than ten years ago?
  4.  Are church conflicts significantly more frequent today than past years?
  5.  Is your church’s budget decreasing its focus on reaching and ministering to others beyond the church?

Of course, these questions are not infallible indicators. They should, however, give a good indication if your church is directionally headed toward dying or not.

The Solution

The good news is that a number of churches, tens of thousand, are moving from death or decline to growth and life. I would love to hear from people in those churches.
What will it take to reverse the trends in dying churches? What has your church done to reverse that trend, or is your church firmly set to close its doors within the next several years?
*LifeWay Research conducted telephone interviews with 1,007 Protestant pastors from September 4, 2013 to September 9, 2013. The calling list was a stratified random sample drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor or minister. Responses were weighted to reflect the geographic distribution and denominational groups of Protestant churches. The completed sample provides a 95% confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +/- 3.1%

Used with Permission: This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on October 30, 2013. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

 

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