Hope for Struggling Churches has now been published. For now, it’s still available both as a download or as individual chapters on the pages that follow. Please give feedback as appropriate.
If you’d like a hard copy of the book, go to Lulu.com/deknmike. You can order one (or 100!) from there.
For the past several years I’ve been studying effective church governance and organizations. The question on my mind was why some churches seem to struggle, eventually to wither, while others nearby are vibrant members of the faith community. I wanted to know if there were small changes that were common across regions, across denominations, that would restore a struggling congregation to effective operation, even if it didn’t grow beyond the limits of the current facility.
In hundreds of churches, the membership doesn’t know why they aren’t successful as a church, why they can’t seem to get ahead, can’t grow. They don’t know that what they experience week to week isn’t normal.
The problem, of course, is that even though most pastors say they want to be well, to grow, to be effective congregations for the Kingdom of God, a number of them don’t know how to begin.
2 – Self-Assessment
Before you start, you have to see what there is to fix. So how do you know what needs doing? To begin the process of restoring a church to health, start with a checkup of what you have available.
3 – Passion
Passion is the fuel of a living church. In the Revelation letter to Laodicea, it wasn’t the lack of knowledge, or funding, or the wrong music style or even a small congregation that earned them such long-lasting rebuke. It was their lack of passion. Without that clear understanding of why they were gathered as a congregation of believers, they were doing more harm than good, and deserved the rebuke given them.
If a failing church is to recover its purpose and return to spiritual health, the first task is for those who are willing to live the purpose-filled passionate life.
There is not “one best organizational model” for being the perfect church, or that one style is necessarily better than another. (That mentality is left over from the time and motion studies to improve industrial production.) Whatever model you choose, you will need to be intentional about maintaining a structure that supports the core spiritual function.
The church’s leaders must teach the members how to walk God’s path, to “choose this and every day” whom they will serve. They must begin again to honor the core practices of personal and corporate faith. And, as Paul told Timothy in the second letter, the leaders of each disciple must teach what they know to others, which implies a knowing.
5 – Notice
Within your own congregation, consider who might have drifted away in the past few months. Do you know who left and why? If you miss someone from your midst, but don’t do anything to find them, do you miss them for the loss of them, or do you miss them for the selfish reason, such as how special you feel that they recognize you? The problem is in how we recognize when someone goes missing
If you want to do great things in your church, you are going to have to get ready to give away some of the jobs you’re already doing. Then you are going to have to ask for help. You have to believe that ordinary people can make an impact for the Gospel, if they are allowed to work within their gifts, abilities and passions.
The building is not the church. The church is the people who meet in a particular place as. Theologically, we know that “the church” is really an identified community of faith who meet in a particular location. But by common understanding, that meeting house is a building that represents the church. In a sense, the church building is an integral part of the congregation. It is the first thing the visitor sees, and the visitor will usually have a number of first impressions before they see very many people in the congregation.
Leaders need to be “mindful” not just of volunteers within the church. Especially in a small church, leaders need to be open to partnering with others outside the organization, banding together to accomplish a greater purpose.
9 – Getting Started
Getting started – and keeping at it – is where much of the problem resides. I’ve read hundreds of books and even more articles on the subjects presented in this volume, but not one did anything to restore a struggling church, class or fellowship. It is not the book that does the work, but the activity that the book produces. If there is anything of value in this volume, it will be made worthless if you, the reader, don’t put these truths and suggestions into active practice.