A couple months ago, I read this article about five signs of a declining church, or something like that. When I wrote my curation post, I said that I might write a post about five signs of a recovering church.
Your church has been through a difficult time. A split, a staff member is disciplined, core members dribble away for a couple years, a big fancy mega-church opens a campus down the street and half of your congregation is now “over there”, your senior pastor left to answer a call in Tucumcari, NM. Stuff happens, and it can take the wind out of your sails.
What are 5 signs of a recovering church?
1) Leadership is not in denial about the underlying problems that caused <whatever problem> and are actively forming a plan to correct them.
I have seen both in corporate America and in churches where the desire of leadership to put a shiny public face on their situation gets in the way of actual problem solving, because leaders (and those they lead) are hesitant to talk about the very real problems openly. In church, this even goes as far as inhibiting prayer for the problems, because we aren’t willing to recognize them. The thing is, it becomes like the elephant in the corner – it is obvious to everyone that there is a problem, but no one will openly discuss it. Problem solving requires open discussion, prayer, and in many situations changing the way we do things. This last thing is painful, and often people struggle with change. However, if we all understand the problem, it is easier to agree that change is necessary. If we won’t talk about the problem, then when leadership recommends a change – it appears arbitrary, unnecessary, or irrelevant.
Once a problem is recognized and socialized – then people will expect a plan to address it. Many times leadership is quietly struggling to form a plan to address the problem and is unwilling to talk about the problem because of this expectation. Opening the “floor” to discussion of possible solutions is a positive way to engage folks and gather ideas. Churches with a more executive leadership structure may be more hesitant to do this than others.
2) The congregation, those who have stayed, are willing to cut programs to stay/get the budget into the black, and are seeking God for His will for the church, instead of insisting on “their way”.
Often, in light of some major setbacks for a church, those who haven’t left are in an unusually open state. Once people are aware of the “gravity” of a situation, they are willing to entertain ideas for change that they formerly would have rejected out of hand. Leaders need to take advantage of this as an opportunity to introduce creative solutions to problems that involve resources and/or programming.
3) There is a focus on outreach and community involvement.
Problems often arise because a church has retreated from a former outreach focus and over time has focused increasingly inward toward its members. In times of crisis, a renewed focus on the mission of “The Church” is a way to bring an extremely positive and refreshing change. Focusing outward helps get people unstuck, and refocuses the energy of the body on the work of redemption and discipleship.
4) Leadership understands how their actions or inactions enabled <whatever problem> and are adjusting vision, strategy, and policy to help turn the church.
Once we admit that there is a problem, we have to get to the point where we, as leaders, recognize that the problem occured “on our watch”, and that our actions or inactions allowed the problem to happen. We need to humble ourselves and pray that God would expose whatever attitudes or opinions we held that led to this, and that He would excise them from our community. It may be neccessary to share this insight this with the congregation and ask their forgiveness to allow these same attitudes to be purged from the body as a whole.
As Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, “We need to think differently when solving problems, than we thought when we created them.” As leaders, we need to establish new vision, strategy, and policy that will help us steer out of our current situation, into a healthier, more blessed situation. While I am certainly not advocating doctrinal changes – it is usually what you find important (your values) that need to be adjusted. Your values drive your ministry, and lest you ask, I would value fruitfulness as a core part of any vision.
5) The word of God is preached with exhortation, conviction, blessing, and grace.
One of the best ways to communicate with the congregation that your vision has changed is through preaching. I believe that by exhorting the congregation to accept your core values, based on their biblical and traditional basis, as the center of the vision of the ministry. It is important that we build a strong basis for them to live out those values, both in their personal as well as their corporate Christian experience. I believe that we can explain how our former thinking and attitudes lead to the situation that developed, and with earnest conviction, ask the congregation to renounce that thinking and those attitudes and adopt the core values and new vision. I believe that the congregation will be blessed by new understanding, through personal transformation that allows them to participate in God’s mission through your new vision. Last, I believe that grace abounds when we release our hold on things past, and allow God’s spirit to carry us forward in fruitfulness. While this sounds (even to me) like a bunch of Christian jargon, and I really try to refrain from that on this blog, I haven’t been able to come up with anything that expresses this concept better. Feel free to take a shot at it in the comments.
I am sure that their are other signs of a recovering church, please feel free to add them in comments below.