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Category Archives: Ministry Assessment-

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

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.

 

Does Your Church Need Resurrection or Revitalization?

061814.n.wct.church3All of us know that 80% of the churches in the U.S. are either in decline or on a plateau, with the congregation getting older each year. This trend has been going on since the mid 1960’s in every denomination with nothing in sight to suggest it will change. At this pace traditional Christianity is on course to become a minor spiritual player in the West within the next two or three decades.

At the same time every denomination I know has spent tons of money on trying to revitalize the church. But that is part of the problem – you can’t revitalize a corpse. You have to resurrect it!
My twenty-four years as a consultant have taught me there are two kinds of declining and/or stalled churches- “Spiritually dead” or “Not-Yet-Dead but Not-Yet Alive”- with the vast majority of the 80% of declining or stalled churches being in the “Spiritually dead” category.

That is why I wrote the book, A Second Resurrection. If your church isn’t growing, you probably ought to get a copy and see which category your church fits into because the way transformation takes place is different for both categories. What I’ve also learned is that these categories have nothing to do with the size of a church. Let me share two examples. I’ll start by describing the “spiritually dead” church.

Several years ago I consulted with a 5,000 member congregation that was spiritually dead. It had:

  • A two million dollar budget, 80% of which was spent on the congregation, 800 in worship
  • Worship that had declined for more than 20 years but membership was still growing
  • Not one adult baptism in more than ten years.

The church had leaders who were mildly concerned about the decline of the church but not the fact that it wasn’t fulfilling the Great Commission. They felt secure in the fact that they had 5,000 members even though they literally couldn’t find two-thirds of them.

Now let’s look at a “Not Yet Dead but Not-Yet alive church. I had the privilege several years ago of working with a small church of 200 members. It had:

  • A $90,000 budget, 85% of which was spent on the congregation.
  • 140 in worship.
  • Worship that had been stalled out for decades. The sanctuary was over a hundred years old
    with outdoor plumbing.
  • Not one adult baptism in twenty years.

Leaders began to worry about the future and dreamed of better things. Over the next few years the church became multi-site and now runs well over a thousand in worship.

80% of Church Consultations fail . One of the reasons most church consultations fail is because the leaders and or the consultant underestimates the seriousness of the condition. They may feel something is wrong, but it’s really not fatal. So they try to revitalize the church instead of resurrecting it. Failure to accurately assess the reality is usually fatal because the two different realities require two different approaches to transformation.

How to determine the difference? One of the reasons I wrote the book, A Second Resurrection, was to give leaders a way to determine the difference. Let me share a few “reality testers” with you. Here are some of the usual responses to reality in the Spiritually Dead church.

  • When faced with a decision our leaders always ask “can we pay for it rather than will it
    introduce more people to Jesus Christ?”
  • Our leaders care more for the survival of their church than the fulfillment of the Great
    Commission.
  • Our leaders get more satisfaction over a balanced budget than the baptism of one person.
  • If our denomination wanted to plant a church down the street from our church, we would feel threatened and try to stop it rather than rejoice and ask how to help.
  • Our leaders think it’s the duty of the pastor to visit everyone in the hospital.
  • This is my church and don’t you try to change it or move it!
  • Our people seldom consider the lost when designing a program.
  • If we add a second worship service we won’t know everyone anymore.
  • Shouldn’t we take better care of who we’ve got instead of going after new people?
  • We want more young people as long as they act like old people.

Now let’s contrast those reality testers to the Not-Yet-Dead but Not-Yet-Alive church.

  • When faced with a decision our leaders usually ask if it will grow the church rather than fulfill the Great Commission.
  • Our leaders know the church needs to grow and change as long as it doesn’t affect them.
  • Our leaders feel good but not ecstatic when a person is baptized.
  • If our denomination wanted to plant a church down the street from our church, we would feel threatened but would not try to stop it.
  • We know the pastor has a lot to do and we think we should help out by doing some of the
    hospital visitation.
  • We know we need to reach out but they are so different than we are.We still think of the
    church as a place.
  • We know we need this new worship service but we do want to stay connected.

As you can see from the responses, neither type of church is on fire for the Great Commission but one is spiritually dead and the other not-yet-dead but not-yet-alive. How Does Church Transformation Differ in Both Realities? Spiritually dead churches must be resurrected and require that:

  • Everything must be new – programs, leaders, worship, budget, ministries, everything.
  • A radical break from the past. As Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the
    same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
  • No tinkering is allowed in any area of the church.
  • The pastor must become the turnaround.
  • Most, if not all, structure should be eliminated immediately.
  • Spend as much money as it takes over a two year period to increase the number of first time visitors even if you have to gut the budget and postpone mortgage payments and let some staff go.
  • You show the controllers the door.

Not-Yet-Dead churches must be revived. To accomplish this you:

  • Work with the dreamers and ignore the whiners.
  • Change things incrementally and grandfather old ways into the new ways.
  • Drop structure as soon as t becomes possible.
  • Evaluate present staff to see if they are the problem.
  • Spend as much money on increasing the first time guests as you can redirect in the budget.
  • Gradually remove the controllers from office.

Keep in mind that church transformation is a combination of doing what is strategically necessary in a timely fashion as well as relying on the miracle of divine intervention. When transformation happens it is because Christians partner with God in becoming faithful to the Great Commission. You can do everything right and the transformation fail because the  leaders didn’t invite God into the process. So bring your prayer life up to date, roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Article written by Bill Easum. Used with permission.

 

Reboot

Rebootq-300x168I love technology.  I don’t always understand it, but I have always been fascinated by and appreciate the capabilities it brings me.  You can call my office phone, leave a voicemail, and I’ll receive it as a digital recording on my email.  I can be sitting in a park and receive a video chat from my children.  I can take a picture with my phone and within seconds post it to social media or send it to friends and family.  I love technology . . . when it works.

When my laptop freezes, runs slow, won’t run a program, cannot download emails, or just seems to be broken, I have to call campus technology.  The first thing the technician says to me is, “Reboot your computer.  Just turn it off and then back on.  See if that fixes it.” How does that work?  Computers are complex.  It’s relatively easy for something to go wrong, and cascade through the whole machine.  Rebooting causes the computer to “rethink” everything it’s doing.  It stops all it’s doing and starts again from scratch.  Most of the time this is all it takes.  The programs open, the corruptions causing the problems have been purged, and it’s able to function correctly.

I love churches, too.  I don’t always understand them, but I embrace the mission of the church and the fellowship with brothers and sisters within the body of Christ.  The church was designed to reach the lost, introducing broken people to Jesus Christ. It upholds God’s truth, like a lamp upon a pillar.  It nurtures and disciples the saints.   The church equips and appoints gifted people to minister and lead.

It is the people of God, the fellowship of the saved, reaching out with the transforming message of God’s grace.  I love the church . . . even when it falls short of this image.  What do we need to do?  I’m not the technology help desk, but perhaps a “reboot” is in order.  What do I mean?  We need to challenge and examine our assumptions, presumed limitations, uncritically accepted practices, and even the comfort of traditions.  We need to step-by-step re-engineer our ministry from scratch.  How?  Where do we start?

  • Read the Scriptures:  Study God’s Word to understand firsthand what the church is supposed to be and what the church is supposed to do.
  • Review your mission:  We need to articulate for ourselves in a short statement what God has called us to do.
  • Assess your mission:  Are we really accomplishing what Jesus has called us to do?  This may be difficult, and requires brutal honesty . . . but is essential to reboot the congregation’s ministry.
  • Rethink your vision:  How should we be fulfilling our mission?  What are the broad-stroke directions and initiatives we should be doing to fulfill the mission?
  • Embrace your values:  Based on all this, what does our church value?  Who are we as the church?  This is not a doctrinal statement, but the practical expression of doctrine, such as “We value God’s truth” or “We value lost people as being important to God.”
  • Strategize your ministry:  How does our current ministry model advance our mission, vision, and values?  This too requires a very firm, factual, hard examination.  If something isn’t working, then do something else.  Reboot!
  • Keep Assessing!  If what you’re doing isn’t working . . . try something else.  If that doesn’t work . . . then try something else again.

Rebooting is never easy, but it is often times the one “fix” that is required.  It may require a consultant, assistance from others in the Christian community to come along side you and your congregation, or the counsel of other church leaders. Is it time to “reboot”?

This article first appeared on April 27, 2015 in a newsletter published by e2 effective elders, written by Jim Estep. Used by permission.

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