Internet marketing trainer and ad copyrighter Ray Edwards has a great new year’s post titled “Begin Again in 2010.”  In it, he gives his readers encouragement to not only make resolutions, but actually keep them this year.  But to do that, it helps to write real goals that matter, and that you have motivation to keep.

Ray says his 2010 New Year’s Resolutions “represent hope and aspiration.”  His big 7 are:

1.Love God
2.Love others
3.Create value
4.Create happiness
5.Be here now
6.Clean up messes

Pretty good for you to emulate for you church.  Loving God and loving others ought to be your normal process, since God’s great command, as said by Jesus, is to

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.

Items 3 & 4 are related in you church; the purpose of the church is to give life-changing answers to meaning-hungry people.*  When people have solutions to the vexing problems of life, they gain joy, which is deeper than temporary happiness.

The idea for “Be here now” is what I addressed in my book Hope for Struggling Churches, chapter 5 (Notice).  It’s hard to love on people from a distance.  Instead, practice hospitality. Keep in touch.  Write letters – meaningful notes.

Do you know what it feels like when you’re struggling spiritually and get a hand-written note in the mail that says “You came to mind and you were in my prayers today?  I value your friendship / your insights / your dependability.”

6 & 7 are tougher in struggling churches, but probably most important.  One of the biggest problems in struggling churches is unresolved disagreements between members, and the worst solution is for one to leave over the matter, taking their spiritual gifts away from the congregation. The pastoral leadership team needs to help the resolution of any and all outstanding issues they identify, and to do so in love.

Item 7 is important if your expenses traditionally exceed income, or there isn’t enough left over from in-house expenses to be generous, especially to missions.**

The solution may be to stop doing ministries that don’t support the core mission of the congregation, and focus attention on those that are most important.  Jim Collins’s Good to Great says the difference between a great company (church) and one that is merely good is often that the great ones focus in on doing what they do very well, and let go of those things that get in the way of doing that one great thing.  

Bake sales are OK, but not if they take time and money away from ministry; if you only sell to yourselves, what have you gained, except discouraging against regular charitable giving without expecting a return?

This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start.  


*(Kelly, Why Conservative Churches are Growing)
** Estimates are that >70% of church offerings are spent on building operations, but less than 2% on world missions (and only 30% of that 2% to areas without an effective Gospel message.)

There’s a lot of duscussion about the failures of the institutional church.  However, most of the discussion is about why the church of the 1950s has failed, and why their approach is the new definitive way to turn around the church.

One model “proves” it’s point with a 3-column chart.  Column one is their description of the first thru third century church.  Column two is their assessment of “mid-twentieth century”  church.  Column three is their approach.  It should come as no surprise that their approach matches the early church description in column one, almost word-for-word.

I don’t buy it.  Neither should you.

It’s a false dichotamy.

Very few congregations have a “member benefit” mindset.  And by calling it “member benefit” they’ve used a loaded catch-phrase.  Didn’t Jesus define the standard of authentic faith as when the congregation loved one another in visible ways?  Didn’t the Jerusalem church in Acts 2 spend a lot of time feeding and teaching the church members?  Sounds like it was beneficial to be a member.

There’s been a lot of study about what the new church model ought to be.  I’m not convinced there’s anything wrong with the model, though there needs to be some adjustments.  The complaints in this model are valid in some cases.  There are some church leaders that act unbiblical in their dictatorial domination of the congregation.  But that’s not the norm.

Most congregations are led by men and women who love God and love His people.  Most congregations are filled with people doing church the best they know how.  They’re not resistent to change. Most of them have color TVs, microwaves, and cell phones.  They get new cars every few years, try new restaurants, even use the computer.   They faithfully take miracle medicines, read their Bibles and give their tithes.  Most pray for the lost and the missionaries.

The task for the 21st century church leader is not to make the modern church look like a 2d century congregation, but to organize culturally-relevant congregations to worship God, care for one another and spread the Gospel, updating the methods without compromising the core.  And without having to create a paper enemy to joust at.

One of the challenges in turning around a church is overcoming the community’s “bad feelings” about the church.  Some is that a church is by nature often at odds with the world. But in many cases it’s because of bad choices by previous pastors or members.  These need to be addressed.

Pastor Horst Bittner of Tubingen, Germany noticed a spirit of darkness in the town when he was first posted there to take over the church.  It was everywhere, even in the church.  During a period of prayer, it was revealed to him that Tubingen had a long history of anti-semitism, and many Nazis – even Gestapo – had attended Tubingen University. Some of his church memers were the children and grandchildren of concentration camp guards.  Since “the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children”,  pastor Bittner led his congregation to repent for the sin of oppression of the Jews.  They repented for their own families, and for their neighbors.  They took prayer walks around the community to fight against the spirits of darkness there.  When they did this, revival broke out.  He is now organizing marches of Germans from the cities out to the concentration camp sites and leading inprayers of repentance.  In some cases, the marches include former prisoners and former guards, and they are able to be reconciled.

Your church’s past is probably less dramatic.  But think of your own history.  Was the church started as a mission or church plant, or was it the remnant that left during a church split to form a new congregation?  In that case, the church should repent of the division.  There are times a division is necessary – the reformation involved disagreements between the established church heirarchy and the new congregations.  But when the honest theological differences give rise to anger and bitterness, the people slip into sin; that sin – however old – needs to be repented from.

Sometimes the issues are more recent.  Did the church allow sin to go unchecked and merely breathed a collective sigh of relief when the person(persons) involved left?  The stain of the sin remains, and should be dealt with.  Is there lingering anger between members?  Get over it and repent. 

This is not the only action needed to turn around a church, but will certainly hinder the restoration.

Everyone wants the secret to keeping their church vibrant and growing.  What one thing to add to their program that will amp up the return on time investment and send visitors crowding into the sanctuary?

Those whose congregations are dwindling will settle for a moment of triage to stop the bleeding, to stabilize the outflow of members and attract fresh members.

For both cases, one simple answer is to stop focusing on yourself.  Packing the pews or gaining a big donor is not the answer.  The answer lies in the geography of Israel.

There are two main lakes large enough to be called seas: Galilee and the Dead Sea.  The first is a vibrant body of water, with vital fishing and irrigation industry.  The second will not support life.  Both have an incoming source.  Only one has an exit.

What keeps Galilee productive is the constant outflow of water.    The outflow is not the result of water coming in; water leaving drops the level of the lake, creating an imbalance, an opening for new water to rush in from upstream to correct for the drop. 

What the church needs is a viable outflow.  Note I said viable.  This is spirit-filled activity that engages the congregation in ministry and evangelism in ways that expend physical, spiritual and financial energy, without having to sever membership ties. 

For some, it is taking on a social cause:  a soup kitchen, a thrift store, an after-school program, a kids’ athletic league.  While good to do, they will generally not achieve a level of spiritual return commensurate with the energy expended.  The Return on Investment isn’t strong enough.

I’d suggest more purely spiritual tasks.  If you want a spiritual – and not jsut social – return, you need a spiritual investment.  The easiest is prayer walking.  Walk through the neighborhood and pray for each household.  Go door to door and offer to pray about needs they might have. (Write the need down, but don’t leave without praying on the spot.)

Missions is also a good approach.  Adopt a missionary or unreached people group and commit to specific, focused prayers for a substantial time (daily for a month, weekly for a year, etc.)  Pray for spiritual victories, for salvation of the people, for protection of the missionary.  Make contact with a missions representative about the region and learn what to pray for, and then be super-specific.

In praying this way, you will model Jesus to them, the way His disciples asked to be taught to pray.  They will grow spiritually.  The congregation will grow in unity of purpose.  The church will develop spiritually mature leaders.  And the drop in available spiritual energy will allow God to refill the reservoir with fresh resources.

According to a Hartford Seminary study, churches that had been declining and have begun the turnaround have several key indicators in common:

1. more contemporary worship.  They see this as a cause, rather than an indicator of willingness to be adaptable.  I see it as the latter.  Many emergent congregations are moving to chants and hymns, which are not within the “contemporary christian” genre, and even some of the more popular worship songs within that genre are recast hymns.  It is not the use of drums and guitars, but a willingness to refresh the music to match the tastes and desires of the target audience.

2.  a strong sense of identity and mission – Dorothy Campbell writes of the need for a spiritual gate-keeper.  Maxwell writes of the need for a visioning leader.  Both indicate an organization that knows who it is and why it exists.  By regularly describing that identity and mission to all who attend, they are able to shape life solutions for what’s been called a “meaning-hungry culture.”

3.  do little things well – the attention to details matters.  Basic cleanliness and reduction of accumulated clutter adds a lot to the appearance of a vibrant church.  (3-year-old magazines on the give-away rack indicate a stale church.)

4.  recognizing volunteers  – the church is built on volunteers, but people get tired of doing the same thing over and over with no reward.  we hope God will one day say “well done” but we like to hear it from time to time here on earth. 

5.  contacting inactive members. Just because they don’t come to your church doesn’t mean they go somewhere else.  For some, they just drifted away.  For others, it’s a simple issue that needs addressing, or a disagreement with someone that no longer attends (or has died); with that issue resolved, they might be disposed to return and renew their activity.

This is not a definitive list.  There is a longer discussion in my book “From the Brink: Hope for Struggling Churches.”   But this is a good start.  Any congregation can do these with little or no injection of new cash, only a change in attitude.



Thom Rainer, currently President of Lifeway, the Baptist resource publishing house, took time this week to reflect on how to be a better pastor.  He’s pastored 4 churches, and is a student of what makes a healthy church.

In the post titled If I Were a Pastor Again, Rainer lists five thing he would do differently:

  1. Pray more
  2. More time reading the Bible
  3. More time loving the critics than worrrying about what they said
  4. More time “hanging out” with church members
  5. More time getting to know the unchurched

These look like no-brainers, but we need to remind ourselves of the basics our the job from time to time.  We forget that “prayer is the work” instead of a prelude to the job.  We get so pressured to prepare the sermons and do the rest of the job that we forget to take time to read the Bible for our own benefit.

The other 3 points deal with our relationships with others.  We are to be shepherd of the church, not just the hired help to speak and administrate.  We are to have our ears open to the hurt behind the accusations (think of the kids who “act out” jsut to get attention).  And we need to know people to witness to, and lead our people by example.

This is not an all-inclusive list, of course, but it’s a good start.  As I’ve said before, you start where you are and move forward, no matter where that starting place happens to be.

(See the article here.)

I watched a great video on “10 stupid things that keep churches from growing” with Geoff Surratt.  It includes many of the same simple ideas I identified in Chapter 7 of Hope for Struggling Churches.  However, in our visual culture, it sometimes helps to hear someone talk about it.

Geoff Surratt on THE SHOW from Todd Rhoades on Vimeo.

Geoff Surratt on THE SHOW

What do you think?  Is he right?

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