7 Words of Wisdom for Church Planters – and Other Ministry Leaders

St John Church

While meeting with a potential church planter some of the words of wisdom spoken to me over the years flooded my mind. I think they are valuable for all leaders, but especially my friends in ministry.

Some of these were given to me by others. Some were learned firsthand by experience.

Here are 7 words of wisdom for church planters and leaders:

Seek approval among the people to whom God sent you to minister

Obviously, we work for the approval of God, not man, but all of us need assurance at times from other people what we are doing matters. Church planting is unpopular among some established churches. There may be days when you feel like the “church’ community is working against you. When you lead an established church to grow your critics will be inside the building and those who resist change. Either way there will be critics.

A seasoned church planter gave me this advice. Most likely God didn’t call you to your assignment so you could be popular – or even to simply satisfy people who already love their church the way it is. He sent you to reach hurting, broken people – to be His witness to a dark world. My guess is those whom you are reaching are happy with your efforts.

Love God and you’ll love the people wherever God sends you

This happened to me when I just knew I was supposed to plant a church in New York City. I wanted to. I felt “led” to, at times. But, still, there wasn’t the peace or opportunity to do so. While walking the streets of NYC, I asked God to give me a clear heart for the people of New York if it was where He wanted me to be.

This line was one of the clearest words from God to me I’ve ever heard. If I truly love God, I will love the people and have a heart to make disciples among them, wherever I go. This is true in church planting and in church revitalization.

Don’t ignore churched people

When I was a new church planter, we ran from anyone who had any church affiliation. They weren’t our target. We didn’t want to offend other churches. We felt it was the “best” thing to do. In doing so, we robbed ourselves of potential leaders and kept some people from following the ministry God had laid on their heart.

The same is true in the established church. It can’t be all about the “new” people. You have to love the people who are already there. They are your best resource and partners to reach the lost and hurting. Learning to embrace them – even in the difficult days of change – is part of your Kingdom work.

Your wife may have to trust you

My wife has often known we were supposed to do something, but her heart has often been more tender when it comes to leaving the people we love. Her faith follows quickly, but her heart often lingers with the previous church.

At times, I have had to ask her to trust me, and my walk with Christ, when she can’t seem to force her heart to shift. (You actually can’t force a heart to change.) Unless she has a conviction against moving forward, if she’s willing, it is often helpful if she relies on my logic more than her emotions. Her emotional commitment always follows in time.

Peace comes through obedience

Sometimes the complete peace in a decision doesn’t come until I’ve said “Yes Lord” to what I sense He’s calling me to do. Saying yes, before I have all the assignment or all my questions are answered, seems to open the door for God to bring peace about the move. And, His blessing and glory.

God stirs the nest

Deuteronomy references God and the eagle stirring its nest. I’ve been told (and read) eagles build their nest with the roughest products they can find. Then they cover the structure with the softest, most comfortable material available. A baby eaglet never wants to leave the comfort of home, so to teach them to fly, a mother eagle stirs up the nest, uncovering the roughest part.

If things become real uncomfortable where you are it could be a God thing. He could be “stirring the nest”. Don’t be afraid of those times – they lead to His best for you.

Build DNA slowly

Once DNA is set, it’s very hard to change it. (My friends in the established church know this one well.) Secure senior leaders slowly. Add staff slowly. Add rules and structure slowly. What you repeat very many times will become tradition quickly and when you try to change it there will be resistance. Make sure it’s something you want in your DNA, before you allow it to get there.

To all my ministry leader friends – I’m pulling for you.

10 Common Complaints about Leaders

Complaint Concept on Red Puzzle.

As a result of this blog, I receive emails regularly from staff members of other churches or non-profit organizations. There is usually a question they have about leadership, but along with the question often comes a complaint about their leader. And there are many.

I’ve been in a leadership position for near 30 years so I know complaints are common in leadership. If you’re in leadership you will receive complaints – about the organization you lead, the people in it, and about you. Period.

And, let’s be fair – some of them are valid. Some of them are not, but some are, because leaders aren’t perfect. None of them. Definitely including this one. There is validity in many of the complaints we receive.

I once decided I would compile a list of some of the most common complaints I hear. After grouping them together for brevity, I  went with the top 10 most repeated.

Why is this important? It’s not to lump more hot coal on a burdened leader. I love leaders. Investing in them is part of my calling. But, I also have a conviction. I believe I am less likely to improve where I don’t know I need to improve. Compiling this list became an awareness exercise for me as much as anything.

Here are 10 common complaints about leaders:

Controlling – All the decisions are decided and announced. No one gets to provide input. The final decision must come from the leader.

Defensive – The leader challenges every challenge. You can’t talk to him or her about a problem. They refuse to be wrong or admit anything is wrong. (As if we can refuse to be wrong, right?)

Stuck – Some leaders love routines and structure so much they never attempt to move things forward until they are forced into change. They are always playing defense – never offense.

Fearful – Whether because of people pleasing or lack of faith, the leader suffers from risk aversion to the point of crippling the team.

Lazy – It’s not do as I do – it’s do as I say – because I’m not going to do anything.

Unpredictable – There’s never a dull moment, but not in a fun kind of way. The leader is inconsistent and causes people to always be on edge.

Never satisfied – It doesn’t matter how large the win, instead of lingering in celebration, this leader is always asking “What’s next?”

Unclear – When they give direction or cast a vision it’s never understood by the one supposed to implement. Confusion leads to frustration.

Prideful – They take all the glory. Enough said.

Indecisive – These leaders can’t make a decision. And everyone waits. And waits. And everything stalls.

Distracted – Sometimes leaders appear so busy those trying to follow don’t believe they ever have their full attention.

Phony – This leader’s personal life, and the one seen by those closest to the leader, doesn’t match the public persona the leader displays.

There is the list. I think it could be good for all leaders to read through them – and ask some tough questions of yourself. Which of these would be most said about you?

You may be wondering, if you were to hear from someone on our team – which of these would be complaints about my leadership? Probably many of them at different times. If I had to guess, however, they would probably point to three intially.

Never satisfied, unclear and distracted.

Often, though I have no problem making decisions, I can easily get locked into minutia if presented with too many options and appear indecisive.

I am aware of these areas and continually attempt to address them in my leadership, but it is an ongoing process.

Now, on behalf of leaders, as a word to those trying to follow, let me say many times the leader is totally unaware they are perceived in these negative ways. And, most, if they knew, would make some attempts to improve in that area of their leadership.

Leaders, the word for us is we must continually work to become more aware of what is being preceived which often isn’t being spoken. It might not even be reality, but perceived reality is often just as damaging. (Some of the complaints I listed about me would fall into the perception category – not the reality. But, perception is someone else’s reality.)

If you are uncertain, the best thing to do is ask. Hand this list to some on your team and ask them to identify one or two they think you could work to improve. You’re not asking them to complain – just to give you honest, helpful feedback.

So, leader, be honest, which of these would most likely be the complaints said about you?

7 Dangers of Leading in Isolation

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I sat with a new pastor not long ago trying to hold a church together long enough to help it build again. The previous pastor left town – after a series of bad decisions – some decisions the church is still finding out about each new day.

I am happy to help the new pastor acclimate, but my greater concern was for the pastor who flamed out too early. The one who didn’t finish well. The one who left a church in a state of disarray and struggling to recover. 

And, sadly, I see it all the time. This pastor suffered from the same temptation any pastor faces. His number one problem in my opinion – he was leading in isolation.
He had no one on the inside of his life who knew him well enough to know when something was wrong and could confront him when necessary.

Leading in isolation is displayed in numerous ways to the detriment of the church or organization.

There are so many clear dangers I see in leading in isolation.

Here are 7 dangers of leading in isolation:

Moral failure

Without accountability in place many people will make bad decisions, because no one appears to be looking. We are more susceptible to temptation when we are alone.

Burnout

We are made for community. There is an energy we gain from sharing life with other people. When the leader feels he or she is alone the likelihood of burning out, emotional stress and even depression increases.

Leadership Vacuum

The leader is clueless to the real problems in the organization and is fooled into believing everything (including the leader) is wonderful.

Control Freak

The leader panics when others question him or her. He or she tries to control every decision. They don’t want to be found out for not knowing all the answers.

Limits other people

The leader in isolation fails to communicate, invest, and release, which keeps other leaders from developing on the team. And, therefore, the organization isn’t prepared when the leader does exit. 

Limits leader

The isolated leader never reaches his or her full potential as a leader, because they shut out influences, which would actually help them grow.

Limits the organization

In the end, the leader who leads in isolation keeps the organization from being all it can be. The leader sets the bar of how far an organization can go. If the leader is in isolation the organization will stifle.

Leader, are you living in isolation? Be honest.

Do you need to get out of the protective shell you’ve made for yourself?

The health and future success of your organization depends on it.

(I realize many pastors of smaller churches feel they have no option, but to lead in isolation. You feel you have no one you can truly trust in your church and you have isolated yourself, for various reasons, from others in the community. As hard as it may seem, and as great as the risk may appear, you must find a few people to share your struggles with to avoid these dangers.)

Sometimes It’s Not a Systems Problem – Identifying the Real Issue

Full body isolated portrait of young business man

In one of my first vocational leadership roles, I managed a large retail division of a major department store. The division had several departments within it and each department had a separate department manager. Most of the departments were efficient, profitable, and easy to manage. One department, however, continued to fall behind the others. It was frustrating, because I couldn’t seem to get them to improve.

I was young and inexperienced, so I innocently thought the problem was me. If I could implement the right strategy in working with this department – find the right system – I could improve performance. I tested numerous systems to try to increase their productivity, but nothing seemed to work.

I was wrong in my assessment and the experience taught me a valuable lesson. 

You can have the best systems – the best strategies – the best programs – and still struggle with the performance of a team.

Sometimes it’s not a systems problem.

Sometimes it’s strictly a people problem.

I realized the problem was the leader in this department. This person always said what I wanted to hear. She was nice to me personally. She talked a good game, but she was grossly under-performing and bringing her department down with her. Through due process, and after months of trying to coach and encourage this leader to improve, I eventually had to replace her leadership and the department dramatically improved, almost instantly.

Since then I’ve always tried to remember to never try to handle a people problem with a systems approach.

Handle people problems, with people.

This doesn’t mean you’ll always need to replace the people, but you seldom improve people problems with better systems. You improve people problems by improving people.

Many times, in my experience, we try to create systems when the problem isn’t a systems problem, it’s a people problem.

Churches are notorious for this, by the way. We try to solve problems in people’s lives, for example, by creating rules, systems, programs, etc, designed to help make them better people. The problem is it’s not a systems problem. It’s not a program or committee problem. It’s a people problem. If their heart doesn’t change, the problems in their life will continue.

Knowing the difference between a systems problem and a people problem, and being mature enough to handle it, will make you a better leader.

Have you seen organizations and leaders create systems, instead of handling the real problem? 

7 of the Hardest People to Lead

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Someone once asked me, “Who has been the most difficult person you’ve had to lead?” It’s a great reflection question. You learn a lot about yourself answering it. As a leader for over 30 years (wow, sounds old), I’ve experienced just about everything you can imagine in leading people.

I once had an employee call in sick because her snake was peeling. And the snake got depressed when he shed. She needed to be home to comfort the snake. That was a new one – and a story for another time – but I’ve learned not to be surprised at what people you are trying to lead may say or do.

I’ve also learned some people are easier to lead than others. Often personalities, experiences and preferences negatively impact a person’s ability to be led effectively.

But, I thought through the years and made a list.

Here are 7 of the hardest people to lead:

Know it all

It’s difficult to lead someone who won’t listen, because they don’t think they have a need for what you have to say. They think they know more than you – and everyone else. They may or may not, but it makes them very hard to lead.

Gifted leader

Don’t misunderstand this one. I don’t mean they try to be difficult. They just bring higher expectations for those who try to lead them. I have had some very successful retired pastors in my churches and on our staff. Our staff is full of seasoned ministers with more experience in ministry than me. I love having them, but they keep me on my toes! (And, this is a good thing.)

Hyper-critical

When someone is always negative it becomes difficult to lead them, mostly because they zap the motivation from you to do so. They never have anything positive to add to the team, the glass is always have empty, and the sky is always about to fall. Draining.

Wounded

Wounded people are more resistant to being led to something new until they heal. I’ve had a number staff members who came to our church injured. I actually love this as a Kingdom ministry. I knew before I could effectively lead them I had to help them heal from their past.

Insecure

Those who lack self-confidence are harder to lead, because they are hesitant to take a risk. The best leadership involves delegation. It’s people who assume responsibility for a task. Insecure people will usually only move when they are given specific tasks to complete. And, while good leaders encourage followers, insecure people need constant feedback and assurance, which can be exceptionally time demanding for leaders.

Change Resistant

Leadership always involve change. Always. Without change there is no need for leadership. So, those who cling so tightly to the past are harder to lead to something new. There is nothing wrong with tradition or with enjoying the memories of the past. It’s when someone’s love of our history prevents them from embracing their future it becomes difficult leading them.

Myself

The hardest person to lead is almost always the leaders. If leaders could always perform as we’d have others perform, we’d be better leaders. In fact, most of us would be excellent leaders.

I’m sure I missed some. The fact is everyone can be difficult to lead at times and during seasons. It’s what makes leadership fun, right? Seriously, all of these scenarios and types of people serve a role. Whether or not they prove to be a good fit for your team, they sharpen our skills of leadership.

What type person have you found hardest for you to lead?

10 Ways To Create More Margin in Your Time

Time is Money

How do you fit more into an already busy schedule?

Isn’t this a great question?

Because, aren’t you being asked to do so all the time? Isn’t your standard reply to the question “how are you?” – BUSY? Aren’t we all?

HOw do you creat more margin in your schedule – to do the things you want to do and the things you need to do?

Here are a 10 tips to help create more time margin:

Start your day with God.

Of course a pastor would say this, but it is amazing if I start the day talking to God about my day how much better my day flows. If I ask God for margin in my time and to help me complete my “to do” list, He actually seems to listen and help me. (Try it!)

Prioritize your life.

It is important to have a life purpose. What do you value most? Without knowing this we find ourselves chasing after many things that have little value. Have you discovered why you are here and what God has most for you in life and in this season of life? If not, start here.

Make sure your priorities line up with your desires.

This sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it is not. Many times, we say our purpose is one thing, but what we actually do is something entirely different. This is often because people are going to do what people want to do. We may need to ask God to change our heart and plant in us His desires.

Stop unnecessary time-wasters.

If you “veg” out every night on three plus hours of television or browsing Facebook, don’t be surprised you didn’t get to spend a lot of quality time with your children or friends. Most of us form bad habits or have unorganized methods of doing something that waste bulks of our time. Make a list of what you spend the most time doing and see if there are places you can cut. (I suspect there will be.)

Work smarter.

I can’t imagine being successful and leading a team without some system of calendaring your week or keeping a planner, yet I know so many pastors and other ministers who simply handle things as they come up rather than work with a plan. The benefit of organization is that you can do what you need to do more efficiently and faster and be more productive. Give a shoutout to the checklist people! 

Schedule times to organize.

This is so important, but most people don’t do it. Spending an hour or two actually planning the week will make the whole week more productive. Usually for me this is the first part of my week. If I know where I’m headed and my work space is organized for efficiency, it’s much easier to get everything done and still handle distractions, which are sure to come.

Do the most necessary things first.

You may have tried the A/B/C list of scheduling priorities. It doesn’t matter what system you use, but the important thing is you have one and use it to help your rate of completion. (And, this may be rest, it might be family, or it could be the project you have to complete today.)

Don’t say yes to everything.

Be picky with your time allotment based again on your end priorities and goals.

Schedule down time.

Especially when my boys were younger, I would write on my calendar time for them. This may sound mechanical, but it allows you to be there and keeps things and others from filling up your schedule. (I still schedule this time for Cheryl – and, it sounds counterproductive, but we get away even more frequently during busier seasons.)

Evaluate your schedule often.

Plans should not be implemented and then ignored. Develop your plan to create margin in your life, then periodically review the plan to see how you are doing and what needs to be changed.

For some people just reading this is laborsome. I especially encourage those of you geared this way to push through the difficult part of this and give it a try. You will be surprised what a positive difference it will have on your life.

5 Common Struggles Among Young Pastors

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A couple years ago, I spent several hours with a group of young pastors. It was a cross representation of church planters and pastors of established churches. Healthy churches and unhealthy. Growing, plateauing and declining. Most were new in their positions and I expected to see all these churches will be growing soon. It was a sharp group of people.

We talked about a lot of issues, but one of our longer discussions was when I asked them what their greatest struggle in ministry was at the current time. There were some incredible consistencies – actually more than I anticipated. Very different churches and very different pastors – very similar struggles.

I thought it was worthy of sharing here. A large majority of my readers are pastors. And, here is my word to you – You may not be as alone as you think. The title says “young” pastors, and I chose it because this group was, but I suspect these aware shared by pastors of all ages.

Here are the 5 most common struggles among pastors:

Personnel issues. 

If the church has any paid staff other than the pastor there will be issues for the pastor. I’m finding this portion of our work more demanding than ever. The longer I lead the more complex this issue becomes, simply because of the changing laws and regulations placed on places of employment – including the church. 

I always advise younger leaders, especially those without a background in this issue, to seek professional help in this area, even if it has to be from outside the church.

Navigating bureaucracy.

I think this is a particularly heavy burden on younger pastors. The generation entering the ministry is much like the generation entering the secular workforce. They want to do something, not meet about doing something. I share their heart, but granted this is one of the hardest ones to address. (Of course, the church planters weren’t the ones with this struggle as much.) 

I often advise young pastors in established churches to write some of their best sermons around casting vision of how we should spend our time as pastors. Jesus seemed to teach and model quite extensively about our need to reach the lost. The Bible doesn’t record a lot of His time in committee. Acts gives good models of leadership and serving the people. People in the first century seemed to do a lot of the work we’ve placed on professional staff.

Balancing ministry and family time.

This has always been a struggle. And, frankly, it should be. We need to work hard – it’s a good Biblical principle – and we need to protect our family. There’s another great Biblical principle. It requires a healthy art of balancing our time. This younger generation of ministers, however, and I think it’s a good thing, won’t automatically let the ministry trump their family. Ministers from my generation and older generations sometimes did. And, many from these generations have told me they wish they hadn’t after it was too late. 

My advise to the younger pastor is to keep the heart for the balance, be very intentional with their schedule and use of time and cast vision to the church continually of why they’re not at everything and why they’re family is so important. The church needs this message too – as they are equally in the struggle.

Developing leaders.

This one seemed true regardless of the style of church. And, in my experience, it’s true in most organizations. We are always in need of new leaders. You can’t grow or even maintain without consistently developing new leaders. In a practical sense, leaders come and go, die or burnout. But it’s also difficult to grow and develop as a body without growth in the number of leaders. 

I advised them to start systematically and strategically developing new leaders now. In fact, I think it’s more important you have a system – even if it’s not perfect – than to do nothing. People typically learn best by doing. So, at the least, in the absence of a formal leadership development program, start giving people you see with potential assignments to lead – and let them develop with on-the-job training.

Handling critics.

Again, this one was shared less by the church planters, but the interesting twist is the criticism church planters received was typically from outside the church. Pastors in established churches seemed to receive most of their criticism from inside the church. (There’s a whole blog post needed on my thoughts on this one.) But, either way, one thing all leaders have in common is criticism. Lead anything and critics will find you. You don’t have to go looking for them. (I love the passage in Exodus 24 where, as Moses was going to the mountain to spend time with God, he made a plan for how to handle disputes among the people.) Because leadership involves change. And change always changes things. (You got that, right?) People often respond to change with an emotion — it could be anger, frustration or sadness — but it comes to us as what we’ve labeled criticism. I’ve learned sometimes it isn’t as much against the leader as it is against their sense of loss, but either way it hurts. 

I always remind young pastors and leaders that we must find our strength in our calling, our purpose and in the pursuit of the vision God has placed in our hearts. We shouldn’t ignore criticism. We should filter it. (And I’ve written on the right and wrong ways to respond to criticism.) But, we should not let criticism control us – in our leadership or in our emotional state – even though that is sometimes the intent of the critic. Part of leading is learning how to stay healthy even in the midst of criticism.

I loved my time with this group and repeated it several times.

Let me ask, was anything surprising about the list?

I also wondered, are seminaries addressing these issues? Should they?

Your Life Can Change In One Day

shepherd

One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro… (Exodus 3:1)

It apparently began as a normal day for Moses. In the morning, Moses set out, as he had many years, to tend to his father-in-law’s flock of sheep. Shepherding was a dirty, thankless job, but it was Moses’ livelihood and so in typical fashion, he began another day’s work. As the story goes, however, it was not a normal day for Moses. This particular day would change the course of Moses’ life forever.

If you know the story in Exodus 3, this was the day Moses met God in the burning bush.

This was the day God recruited Moses for Kingdom service. This was the day Moses became the chief representative for God to the Israelites. Beginning this day, Moses led the people out of Egypt towards the Promise Land. Along the way, God used Moses to lead the people through a parted sea, deliver the 10 Commandments, and feed the people with manna and quail.

Oh yea, and Moses got to speak to a rock and watch as water poured out also. Moses life was never the same from this one day forward.

The story of Moses is a great reminder to me of the power contained within a day.

In one day, a life can be changed. One change of direction can alter a person’s future for good or bad. One new resolve, one decision to do the right thing (or the wrong thing), or one personal conviction can alter the outcome of a person’s life in positive or negative ways.

This thought really leaves me with one question for you:

How are you allowing your “one days” to shape your life?

Is there something in your life you know you need to be doing, some change of direction you need to make, some new commitment, but so far, you have not been obedient to what you know to do?

Could this be a day you surrender to the will of God for your life?

Will this be the day you begin to head your life in the direction you actually want it to end?

Will the resolve you make today carry you towards the vision you have for your life?

Life altering decisions usually begin “one day”.

Is this your day?

7 Suggestions TO DO When the Church is in Decline

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I recently posted 7 suggestions NOT to do when the church is in decline. I promised a companion post.

What should you do when a church is in decline?

It should be noted this is a more difficult post to write. There are no cookie-cutter solutions for reversing a church in decline. Churches have unique characteristics, because they have different people. They are different reasons which cause decline. It could be anything from poor leadership, to being locked into the traditions of men or simply a change in population in the community. It’s difficult to copy what someone else has done, because the causes are so different.

I would be considered arrogant and even hurtful to pretend to have all the answers for a church I do not know.

I do have a few suggestions. When I’ve worked with a church in decline I almost always give at least some of these same suggestions.

(Now in any post like this I explain – I don’t know what I have to other than I’ve been blogging long enough to know some of the responses I will get. GOD IS IN CHARGE. Period. Listen to my preaching – pick any Sunday – and you won’t hear otherwise. I have a philosophical and even Biblical mindset, however, God has given us responsibility to lead His church well. We are under His direction and work by His strength, but He gave us minds and creativity to use for His glory.)

Here are 7 suggestions TO DO when the church is in decline:

Evaluate

What went wrong? What is going wrong? Why are less people attending? Why are new people not? Ask the hard questions. Is it programmatic? Is it a people problem? Is it a Biblical issue? Is your church just plain boring? If nothing has changed in the programs you offer in the last 10 years – I may already have your answer. But, ask questions. Ask for inside and outside opinions. This takes guts, but is critically necessary. You can’t address problems until you know them. You may need an outside perspective. You could trade with another church, by letting them evaluate you and you evaluate them. Ask visitors. Recruit a “secret shopper” attendee to give you an objective look at the church. You must evaluate even if you are afraid to know the answers.

Own it

The problems are real. Don’t pretend they are not. At this step, cause or blame is not as important. They were important in the first step, because they may alter your response, but now the problems are yours. They are not going away without intentionality. Quit denying. Start owning the issues. I see too many churches avoid the issues because they are difficult – or unpopular – to address. Find a Bible story where people of God were called to do something which didn’t involve a certain level if risk, hard work, fear or the necessity of faith. I suggest if you find one example you can refuse to own (and address) the problems.

Address major, obvious issues

This is hard. Perhaps the hardest one. If the church has “forgotten your first love” – repent. If the church holds on to bitterness and anger from the past – forgive. If walking by faith has been replaced by an abundance of structure – step out boldly. If the church is in disunity it must come together first. If you love the traditions of men more than the commands of God – turn from sin. Now. And, if the problems involve people, don’t be a people pleaser, address them. (I told you this is hard.) Yes, this requires leadership. All we like sheep have gone astray. Church leaders lead. And, leadership takes us through the hard places to get to the best places. But, if there are obvious issues that need addressing, you can try hundreds of special programs or events and nothing is going to work, because there’s a roadblock to address first. (Side note here. Not every church can be saved, in my opinion. God promises the Church will prevail, but the promise is not given necessarily to Third Street Baptist – or Broad Street Methodist – or the church at Laodicea. If these issues can’t be solved it will be very difficult to move the church forward.)

Find alignment

Where does the church best find unity? What will everyone get excited about doing? This is many times a vision, or a moment in history that was special to everyone, or a common thread within the DNA. Find and focus attention on it. In my experience, God will not bless a church in disunity, but churches have issues, causes or programs that everyone can get excited about and support. Working together builds enthusiasm, momentum and unity.

Regroup

At some point, regardless of how drained you feel from the decline, you’ve got to come to a strategy of what to do next. It needs to be written. You need a road map of where you are going in the next season. (It is Biblical to think ahead. Consider Luke 14:28) I’ve never personally been able to plan in great detail more than twelve months out and sometimes, especially in times of less clarity, only a few months, but you need a plan. Start with your overall vision and explore ideas of how to accomplish it again. Put some measurable goals in place to make progress – things you’ll do next week, next month, and in a few months down the road. It will hold you accountable if you have an action-oriented strategy. It will build momentum as people have something to look forward to doing.

Reignite

Put your energy and resources where it matters most. This often involves getting back to the basics of what it takes to achieve your vision. If you are a church with a heart for missions, for example, amp up your mission efforts. If special events are your wheelhouse – do them. It may mean not doing things that aren’t working. They tend to drain energy and resources. (And yes, this is difficult and often unpopular.) Look for what is working, or has the potential to work again – the fastest, and begin to stir energy around that program or ministry. You need quick wins so the church can feel a sense of progress again.

Celebrate

There will be wins. You may have to look for them some days, but when they occur celebrate. Celebrate big. Remind people that God is still moving among you. Now, it should be noted, for the overly celebratory types, that you can’t celebrate everything. If everything is wonderful – or amazing – then wonderful and amazing is really average. They need to be legitimate wins. If you celebrate mediocrity you’ll set a precedent of mediocrity. But, when you see signs of heading in the right direction, make a big deal out of it.

Those are seven suggestions. I strongly encourage you, if you want to see the church growing again – if the church yearns for health again – be intentional. Be willing to ask for help. Raise the white flag and invite honest dialogue. The harvest is ready – the workers are few – we need you! We are losing too many churches and not planting and reviving enough. Do the hard work. Pray without ceasing. And, trust your labor will not be in vain. Praying for you.

What suggestions do you have for a church in decline?

7 Suggestions NOT To Do When the Church is in Decline

Downtrend chart and red pencil. Selective focus

Part of my ministry involves working with other churches. Sometimes when I hear from a church they have been plateaued or in a season of decline for several years. They are often looking for answers of how they can turnaround.

I love helping churches, but there truly are no standard answers. It’s unique for every church and every situation. I do know, however, if a local church never adds new people – eventually it will cease to exist. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

The hardest lesson a church needs to learn in a period of decline, however, is often not what they should do, but what they shouldn’t. I’ve seen churches make, at least what appears to me, to be an abundance of wrong decisions towards growing again. The purpose of this post is to help churches who may find themselves in a declining period avoid mistakes I’ve seen some churches make.

In a future post I’ll share some suggestions of what a church in decline should do.

Here are 7 suggestions NOT to do when in decline:

Blame others

It’s easy to blame the decline on a former pastor – or one the deacons – or one the seniors – or even on the culture. I continually hear phrases such as, “If it weren’t for a few people we could probably grow again.” But, the reality is, when you are in decline, this matters less than what you are going to do about it. And, as long as you are blaming someone or something you won’t address the real issues.

Make excuses

There are a multiple reasons we could probably discover – many of them true – of why a church begins to decline. You should know them, but at some point, excuses only cloud our ability to move forward. We tend to live in them rather than move past them.

Pretend

I’ve seen so many churches pretend there isn’t a problem – when everyone knows there is one. (Or many.) If you want to grow again, you’ll have to admit there is a problem which needs addressing. (And, this is the subject of another post, but, in full disclosure – just so you know – this likely involves implementing some change. No, actually, it WILL involve some change.)

Lower expectations

It seems natural when the church is in decline to expect less, but this never works. You are trying to attract new people. You need more excellence, not more mediocrity to do it. You may need to lower the number of programs you offer, but never lower expectations of the ones you do.

Cut expenses

This one has dual meanings, of course, because reducing expenses may be exactly what you need to do. The point here is to make sure you lower the right expenses. Don’t cut the things which got you where you are or will get you where you need to go. Don’t cut promotional or community investment dollars, for example, just because they are intangibles or an easy decisions to make. The fact here is many times the expenses you may need to cut are difficult decisions – unpopular decisions. So we often avoid them and cut the things that we should be doing to spur growth.

Overreact

Too much change during a period of decline can be deadly. Too little change can be equally damaging. Panic of leadership almost always leads to panic in people trying to follow. Strive not to react too strongly either way. Don’t change everything and don’t clamp down and refuse to change anything. Renew the vision God called you to – set good, clear goals and objectives to chart a course forward – and then trust God will see you through this period.

Give up

There may be a time to quit. The fact is the church, as in the Body of Christ, is here to stay. Jesus promised that. He didn’t make the promise to every local church. Local churches close every year. But, before you give up, or before you resolve church growth is for other churches – but not this one – make sure you haven’t given up too soon. In my experience, we often quit just before the breakthrough. Do all you know to do, then stay close to the heart of God, waiting for Him to bring the increase again or lead you in making harder decisions.

(Let me address the pushback I often receive on posts like this – many times from well-meaning people who think I’m too strategic to be Biblical. God is in charge. He sets the rules and adds the increase. But, this does not leave us without responsibility. Read the parable of the talents – or the story of Nehemiah – or multiple others. God has given us minds to be used for His glory.)

Have you pastored a church in decline? What mistakes did you make?