Saturday, July 1, 2017

Questioning your church

Thom Rainer receives thousands of questions from pastors and church leaders each year.  A few days ago he released a list of the top ten questions pastors ask him.  Topping the list was this question:   Where do I begin to lead my church toward revitalization? 

With 70%-80% of congregations nationwide either plateaued or declining it’s no wonder churches would be concerned about revitalization.  (Interestingly, the UBA video on “The Hard Work of Church Revitalization” is one of the most watched videos on our website.)

How can you know if your church is plateaued or declining?

Start with the numbers.  Review the last ten years of your church’s attendance and membership records.  Notice any trends?  Do you have about the same number attending that you did ten years ago?  Less?  To be considered a growing church your attendance should be up at least 5-10% over ten years ago.

Then ask yourself these questions.  (Better yet, get with a group of people and ask these questions of your church.  It might help to involve someone from outside your church in the conversation.  They might be more objective.)

     Do we value the process of decision making more than the outcome of our decisions?  Dying churches are long on discussion and debate and short on doing things that reach their communities.  I was once interim pastor of a church that spent months deciding whether or not to use a different kind of light bulb in their gymnasium while they did little to use the gym to reach the kids in their neighborhood.

     Do we value our own preferences over the needs of the unreached?  Dying churches tend to do things that their members like (e.g., music style, programming) whether it meets the needs of those in the community who don’t know Jesus or not.

     Are we passing on leadership to the next generation?  Dying churches often want young people in the congregation, but they have no strategic plan to identify and place them into positions of real and meaningful leadership.  Worse yet, they tend to fight any attempt to put young leaders in charge of ministry efforts.

     Is the church well-integrated into the community?  Members of dying churches may once have lived in the community but have since moved to another part of town.  Now they drive in on Sundays.  What was once a community church is now a commuter church.  As a result, the church is often out of touch with the community the church pays little attention to its needs.

     Is your church dependent upon programs or personalities for growth or stability?  Declining churches think all they need is the right leader or program to become healthy again.  It is true that leadership is important, but even with good leaders and good programs the congregation must be willing to adapt and change in order to grow.

     Does your church tend to blame the community for its decline?  Declining churches do things—throw block parties, distribute food and clothing to needy families, hold revivals and special events, hold VBS--but those approaches don’t work as well as they once did.  Rather than looking critically at why these programs are failing, they blame outsiders for not responding to their efforts.

     Do you focus on caring for the building more than ministering to the community?  Keeping the doors of the church open becomes the mission of declining churches. And as long as they can keep the lights on and the building open they think they are doing a good job … even if the church that was designed to accommodate hundreds of folks now only has a handful.

What did you discover?  If you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions, take that as a warning sign!

Mark Clifton in his book Reclaiming Glory:  Revitalizing Dying Churches says dying churches:
  •  tend to value the decision making process or the decisions they make
  •  value their own preferences over the needs of the unreached
  •  fail to pass on leadership to the next generation
  •  over time cease to become part of the fabric of their community
  •  depend upon programs or personalities to grow
  •  blame the community around them for their decline
  •  confuse caring for the building with caring for the church and community.  
If your church is part of the 70-80% that would be considered plateaued or declining, then know this:  the work of revitalizing a congregation is some of the hardest work there is in church life, but it is also some of the most needful.  Not just anyone can do it.  Being called to pastor doesn’t mean you have the gifts, skills or mindset to lead a church to be revitalized.

But you can learn.   UBA can help.

This October we will co-host a proven training program for those who want to become turnaround pastors.  It is not open for everyone.  Only a very limited and select group of pastors will be permitted to attend.  If you are interested, contact me ( and I can tell you more about it._


If you want to read Thom Rainer’s blog “The Top Ten Questions Pastors Ask Me” [click here].

You may want to read Mark Clifton’s book Reclaiming Glory:  Revitalizing Dying Churches (click here).

For Pastor Unique:  Becoming a Turnaround Leader by Laverne Brown and Gordon Penfold  (click here).

To watch the UBA video on church revitalization:  [click here].

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