Is your church in need of a turnaround? Last week Church Central, in partnership with the Society for Church Consulting hosted the Turnaround 20/20 conference. During this innovative conference, speakers gave their absolute best advice and ideas in 20 minutes or less. As a result, we gained a wealth of powerful, biblically based strategies.
Elmer Towns, co-founder of Liberty University, pointed out that churches, just like people, are prone to drift away from God. It is only through a constant, conscious, and continuous effort that churches maintain their relevance and vitality. Our communities are shifting demographically and culturally; many are struggling financially. What are we doing to engage them? Many American churches flounder in their effort to stay relevant, solvent, and vital.
The following five steps to turn around your church and regain relevance in your community come from Gary L. McIntosh, a church growth leader and Professor at Talbot School of Theology.
First, redefine reality for the congregation.
This involves honest conversation about the current state of the church, attendance numbers, the needs of the community, and other factors. Be proactive in getting a complete and clear picture of the current state of affairs and use wisdom in communicating the new reality.
Second, create a sense of urgency.
The congregation is much more likely to support dramatic efforts and big changes if the need to change is urgent. At the same time, do not create such a bleak picture that members lose hope that a recovery is possible. Members need to know that things can and will turn around when and if corrective actions are taken.
Third, make the hard decisions.
Often a church will attempt a turnaround while still leaving structures and staff in places where they clearly are ineffective. Hard decisions may mean letting go of staff, removing volunteers, closing programs, redirecting funds, and even asking the pastor to step down.
Fourth, focus externally, on the community
Focus on the needs of the community and how you can meet these needs. Conduct a needs assessment so that you are not guessing or assuming. Melissa Pratt, Senior Pastor of the Teays Valley Church of God in West Virginia, illustrated how she partnered with other organizations to meet needs within the community. By getting involved with partners, a stagnant church can look busy even if funds and programs are limited. Appearing to be a vibrant and active faith community can be one step toward becoming vibrant and active.
Lastly, start something new: a new worship service, new classes, a new ministry area.
Promote this newness through press releases to local newspapers and through social media. Often new activities can be implemented with volunteer efforts. Combined with outreach efforts and community partnerships, it will be clear that something is happening and more people will want to be part of this something.
Change is not fun; no one likes to change, and few change without assistant, support, and encouragement. According to Rich Frazer, President of Spiritual Overseers Service International, most churches wait far too long before acknowledging the difficulties and trying to make changes. On average, 63% of dwindling and dying churches are in moderate to severe crisis for over three years before they begin a turnaround effort. We must acknowledge the problem in order to begin fixing it.
Rich summed it up well: congregations change only when they hurt enough to have to change, hope enough to want to change, and learn enough to be able to change. These five steps can help provide a new perspective, renewed hope, and new energy in loving and serving your community while also having a profound impact on the growth and vitality of the church.
Dr. Jeffrey J. Rodman is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) and a Certified Grants Specialist (CGS). He founded Here-4-You Christian Grant Consulting in 2000. Jeffrey received his BS in Chemical Dependency Counseling, his M.Ed. in Counseling and Development from George Mason University, as well as his PhD in Religion.
Gary McIntosh says the first two commonalities among all turnarounds are 1) someone in authority defines reality, and 2) a sense of urgency is created, painting the potential of the church vs. its current, painful reality.
Rich Frazer says a declining church should ask itself questions like these: "What part of our purpose and vision is not working anymore that either needs to be thrown out or revised? What could be transformed and realigned?" …
In 1 Cor. 9, Paul gives advice to church leaders on how to merge into the community. What are you willing to give up in your cultural heritage in order to reach people? (Aubrey Malphurs in the Society for Church Consulting's Level 3 training …