Bringing about change in a congregation is not easy. Most churches today are struggling to pay the bills, take in a few new members, and maintain a fruitful relationship between clergy and people. If a congregation is in decline, what should the leadership do first?
I offer the following:
First - Address issues related to Transition and healing: Some churches need help transitioning from old leadership to new. Others have experienced some specific trauma or failure of leadership and need healing. Still others are in changing neighborhoods. Every church needs to be intentional about how it adapts to Postmodern culture. Neither dynamic preaching nor fresh programs nor massive infusions of cash will help a congregation that has failed to do the therapeutic work of transition when needed.
Second - Recover Authenticity: (see Acts 2) In order to be authentic, a church must occupy three dimensions: It needs height or Spiritual Passion, breadth or an outward spiraling involvement in Mission, and depth, that is, the ability to propagate a genuine Community of love. Another way to say this is to speak about congregational health. A church isn’t healthy unless it has passionate faith, active outreach, and winsome fellowship. Outsiders can tell when a church looks flat, or narrow, or shallow. Authentic churches do well even when their denominations or neighborhoods are in decline.
Third - Reassign Assets to support current mission: The grand edifice that once was dedicated to the glory of God, in time becomes an unsightly albatross limiting a congregations growth. The funds that once went to mission and ministry are swallowed up by maintenance. Even the pastoral office, that once channeled dedicated Christians into meaningful service, has become a dead-end job focused on institutional survival. I like to call church assets ‘rabbits.’ We need to learn how to slaughter a few of our dearest rabbits, in order to make soup to feed hungry people.
Be mindful of the above Order: Congregations dealing with trauma tend to be anxious and risk adverse. New leaders who skip transitional process and quickly make major changes often encounter stiff resistance. Similarly, if a congregation lacks some dimension of authenticity, such as, Spiritual Passion or a Mission driven vision, then modernizing their facility will do little to improve their ministry. Understanding where your church is in the circle of change is as important as knowing what to do.