Storms will come. They come for all of us. We don’t escape the storms.
The time to be prepared is before the storm comes.
I was coaching a group of pastors recently and asked a question I’ve encountered but never really answered. It’s a question which seems to come up frequently these days. It’s actually a great and relevant question for our times. In fact, I think it’s one many churches need to consider. It’s a common dilemma churches face today.
In church revitalization, I often encourage churches to consider whether the church can be revived. Frankly some churches cannot. Some churches have a culture which works against them. The energy, in my opinion, would be better spent elsewhere.
And, some churches have had their community leave them. The community has changed and they no longer look like their community demographically.
Now, to avoid confusion, I’m not talking spiritually. The church never reflects the community there. The church usually is counter-cultural in terms of how we reflect God’s standards In our communities. I’m strictly talking demographically.
That’s the one scenario which triggered this question.
Background. This church had for years been overwhelmingly a white, middle class church. The community is presently less than 20% white. The dominant demographic is Hispanic.
The question was: How can we grow now that we don’t represent the demographics of our community?
Great question. I’m not sure my answer was what he expected, but I think it’s a good answer. (If I can be bold and say that.) Before I share my answer you need to know I’m a realistic, bluntly honest person. Plus, I don’t think I can tell him or the church what to do. I can only help them consider the options.
I think he’s asking the wrong question — at least the wrong initial question.
I think the question a church in this situation has to ask is what they are going to do — not how they are going to do whatever they do. More importantly, the why behind what you do will ultimately fuel the church to achieve it.
Furthermore, I went on to advise him that I believe the church needs to answer this question collectively — or at least more lay leadership needs to be involved in the answer. Whatever the church decides to do will determine the future of the church. Pastors may come and go, but those in the church will likely have to live with the answer for the remaining life of the church.
Become like the community.
You can strive to represent your community again. This may require staffing and programming changes. You’ll have to ask a lot more questions such as what the community needs and how best to address them. You’ll need to engage current community leaders — and this is not just elected leaders but community activists and people who know the community. It won’t be easy and it will challenge your people, but it’s a noble goal. It’s likely the community reds more churches which do reflect the community. But, getting there won’t be easy.
Leave the community.
You can relocate. You can relocate to a demographic that better represents who the churches now. Some will disagree, but i don’t believe this decision would mean you don’t care for the community which is here now. The church is just different. You should know this can be an expensive option, because you likely will not be able to sell your current facilities for what it will take to relocate. Possibly you can. Or, you could be very kingdom-minded and help a church who does represent the community establish in your existing facility by gifting it to them or significantly discounting the price them.
Slowly die in the community.
This is an option. It wouldn’t be my favorite, but it is an option. It could actually be a viable option if at the end of your time you realize your building is going to be better used by a church that does represent the community. You could begin to share your facility with a church like that now and coexist for the for seeable future, then when your church officially closes its doors the new church inherits the building.
I realize there are strong opinions with each one of these answers. And, none of the answers come easy. Frankly, to me it doesn’t matter as much which you choose — as much as it does that you do. We need churches of all kinds in all kinds of communities. I firmly believe, however, that answering the question of which choice you are committed to make will ultimately determine what you do next.
As an organizational guy, I can tell you that trying to address the how before you determine the what and why is almost always wasted energy. With so much Kingdom-building needed who has time for that?
There is no doubt the impact of social media on our society. It’s huge.
It seemed strange the first time I heard a news story refer to a Twitter feed as a “source” of information. Now it’s commonplace. Employers often review a person’s social media prior to hiring them. Friendships are made and lost through what’s posted online. Who would have thought that just a few years ago? We now “follow” those we are most interested in and “unfollow” those we aren’t — yet we remain “friends”. The number of “likes” and “favorites” determines some people’s sense of well-being or worth for a day. Crazy.
But, it’s the culture in which we live.
More than likely, most of those who are reading this post will make a post of their own today. It could be on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any of the other dozens of forms of social media. And, if not posting for yourself — you’ll be reading the post of another.
With so much activity it seems harder to know what to post and when. One thing I do frequently in my profession is help people think through making the right decisions in life. I don’t want to make decisions for people, so many times I use questions to help them process on their own. I thought I’d provide some questions to think through your social media posts.
Who is going to read this?
Think through future employees, friends of friends, family members, etc. It’s amazing how many times I didn’t know someone was even keeping up with me comments on something I have posted.
How will it impact the reader?
How would it impact you if you were to read something like this? Would it hurt your feelings, make you angry, or would it motivate or encourage you? There’s nothing wrong with simply being funny or sharing something of interest — even helping to shape public opinion. But, a mature person (certainly a believer) thinks through how others will be impacted by what we post.
Will they understand my intent?
It’s more difficult to communicate intent in a written format. In person you would have more opportunity to explain yourself, use hand and facial gestures to help clarify, etc. Read it back to yourself and think like someone else who may be reading it — maybe someone who doesn’t know you well.
Can it easily be misconstrued or taken out of context?
Remember, you only have what’s written. There’s no “background” to the story or supplemental information. Will they “get” what you’re intending to be “got”?
Do I want this around for a very long time?
Because once it’s posted — it’s forever.
Am I acting in anger, frustration, or vengeance?
We seldom communicate most effectively when we act out of emotions. We usually say things we wouldn’t say under more “normal” circumstances. Do you need to hold the post until your emotions have calmed and see if you still feel the same way?
Is this the wisest way to express myself?
Or, is there a better way to accomplish what you hope to accomplish? For example, if it’s really aimed at only one person, would it be better to make a phone call? If it’s addressing a larger concern, is your post going to make things better — or further add negativity to an already tense situation?
Are there any questions you would add to help us discern better posts?
I’ve written frequently about church revitalization. As one who has planted a coupLe churches, I know the challenges are unique. One thing I’ve noticed is the number of pastors who enter revitalization thinking the church just needs new leadership. Or better sermons. Or them.
I’ve learned there is so much more.
Have a clear vision.
You have to clearly know where you are heading. What does a revitalized church look like? Specifically what does this church look like?
In my experience, unless you are starting over completely, people need to be able to “connect the dots”. It must make sense where you are going. That means whatever is next will likely have some similarity to the past. You can’t take people too far from the root DNA.
Keep in mind, vision doesn’t change frequently — if ever. For a church, a vision might be “to make disciples”. The next season after revitalization will still be to make disciples. There may have been some time since people experienced that in the church, but it’s likely still what can motivate them. If the church has a deep heritage in missions, the future will likely need to have a strong missional aspect.
Honor the history.
Hopefully this theme is clear from the previous point, because it’s paramount. I’m convinced you simply cannot be successful if you don’t at least attempt to honor the past. I frequently say rediscover don’t reinvent.
Unfortunately I hear so many pastors who go into a church as the champion of everything new. They alienate people who have given their heart and life to the church — making them think everything they have ever done is wrong. These pastors can never seem to get traction.
One of the single biggest days in the life of the church since we’ve been in revitalization was the day we had a “homecoming” type of day and invited the two former pastors to attend. It seemed to rally all aspects of the church. If there were “sides” they seem to come together this day. I knew we needed this to occur if we had any hopes of moving forward successfully.
What can you do new which will reach new people — without hijacking the church?
How can you build momentum?
Whatever you do it will almost always involves change. In fact, I’m not sure you can define revitalization without some form of change.
The end goal should be to create a healthy environment for sustained change and growth.
Ask questions such as:
What are we doing which requires more effort than the results produced? (Eliminating things gives you margin to do better things?)
What are people no longer excited about doing? (These usually zap energy from other things.)
What is something everyone gets excited about at this church? (You can usually build upon these. For example, our church gets excited about big events.)
What is one thing we can try next? (Keep a list and try several of them — not all at the same time.)
If money was no option, what would we do? (This question can often help build momentum for something you can do.)
This is where you get the best minds in the room and brainstorm. These people may or may not be the current leaders. I wouldn’t even be shy about inviting people from outside the church. They could be from other churches — in the community or outside the community. (We visit with another church every year to learn from them.) Or, what if you asked people in the community what they would look for in a church? You don’t have to implement their ideas, but you might just learn something. (I spent a lot of time the first year talking to community leaders.)
Attack your fears.
It can seem daunting to revitalize a church — especially once you actually start making hard decisions. People can be intimidating. In fact, when you change some things, you’ll find people can be mean. You will likely have to face some direct confrontations. People you thought were the sweetest Christians may smile at you on Sunday and give send you the nastiest email Monday morning. Some may grandstand at business meetings. Others will work behind your back. (All true for me — and more.)
You have to love the calling you have to revive a church more than you love popularity — or an absence of conflict. And, you have to have patience and tenacity.
It will take longer to realize change than in a church plant. Much longer. Usually the longer the church has needed revitalization the longer it will take to see improvement.
But, know this. There are usually those in the church desperate for change and solidly behind you. You have to look past the loud negative voices to find them. That requires faith and perseverance. (In my experience, God rewards those who faithfully serve.)
Forgiveness and repentance.
If things were done wrong in the past — lead people to recognize and admit them.
I felt the need to preach on forgiveness and unity — a lot — in the early days of church revitalization. And, I challenged people when I heard bitterness or anger.
Church revitalization is had. But it is so needed. And, there are so many Kingdom opportunities out there.
And, these aren’t “secrets”, even though I used that in the title. Yet, they aren’t always our natural reactions in church revitalization. We tend to want to do all new things. We ignore conflicts, rather than address them. We back away when things get too difficult.
Let me know other “secrets” you have learned or observed in church revitalization.
If you’re attempting revitalization now what has been your biggest struggle?
Four principles we explored from this parable:
1. Storms will come – they come to all of us.
2. The way you respond to storms depends on the strength of your foundation.
3. You won’t really know the strength of your foundation until it’s tested.
4. The time to build your foundation is now.
Sermon from 7.19.15
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. Psalm 33:12
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. Titus 3:1-2
For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Philippians 3:20
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. Matthew 18:20
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. 1 Timothy 2:1-3
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. Romans 10:1
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! Psalm 108:5