Who Decides Which Churches Live?

No matter where you look you’re likely to see distressing trends concerning the decline of churches in the United States.

We see attendance dropping and churches even closing.  There are movements afoot trying to turn the tide. “Church Revitalization” is one of the catch phrases that permeates the church world right now. It is something that is needed. That’s not the question. Many believe a majority of existing churches need revitalization. The question is – who decides which churches get to be “revitalized”?

American denominations are offering “revitalization training”. There are blogs and podcasts and books dedicated to finding ways to turn declining churches around. Much of what is being written and taught is good – but we’re not seeing the results we want. Why? What’s the problem?

I believe the crux of the issue lies with the vetting process for deciding which churches receive revitalization assistance. Most churches I’ve worked with agree they want things to change. They all say they’re willing to do “whatever it takes” to reach those far from God. The problem, in my experience, is that most of these churches aren’t being completely truthful. Change is very painful for many churches and though they express a desire to change and to grow and to reach people far from God – it just proves too much of an adjustment for them. And so they continue to languish.

That’s why I advocate a much tougher vetting process for churches who seek revitalization. While I would love to see great effort and resources put into every single church that says they want to stop their slide – I know we have limited resources. So it is incredibly important for us to ask the right questions and carefully consider the responses.

If we don’t do a better job of vetting – we will continue to waste precious resources on churches who will never turn their fortunes around. We must do better.

Three Cs that Kill the Church

While church-planting continues in earnest all across the country – there are thousands of older churches closing their doors every year.  In my observation of struggling churches I am beginning to see a pattern that slows ministry progress – and sometimes brings it to a grinding halt.

I’m talking about the “3 C’s” that kill churches.

C#1 – Comfort

Whenever you take a quick “hands up” survey at churches and ask how many people don’t like change – typically it is a vast majority of the congregation.  While I understand that we say we don’t like change – we actually adapt fairly well – with the exception of church.

Most of Americans have been able to move from a rotary phone to a push-button phone to a cell phone.  We’ve also been able to adjust from big ol’ console TVs to table top TVs to flat screen TVs.  We’ve also dealt pretty well with the change from cooking with gas to cooking with electric – to heating food in the microwave.

But for some reason many people struggle with change in their church.  When you walk into some churches it could easily be 2006, 1996, or even 1976. And the reason change is so difficult for us is because we crave comfort.  But God didn’t call us to comfort – He called us to deny ourselves and die to ourselves for the sake of the Gospel.

C#2 – Committees

The idea is noble.  Serve on a church committee.  And while I’m sure there are some wonderful committees out there – my experience has been that committees tend to plan what *other* people are going to do.  Too often church members have exchanged ministry for meetings.  And that is not what we’re called to do.  Jesus told us to “go” and “make” disciples.  Action over talking.

Meetings for planning and strategy are a necessary part of church work – but I contend the best way to do things is:  fewer meetings with fewer teams – and then get up and get something done!

C#3 – Constitutions

Writing a church constitution is a laborious activity.  The local church needs one.  However, in my experience, far too many constitutions end up inhibiting ministry rather than advancing it.

A constitution needs to be document designed to give working parameters to leaders in the church.  It should not be so complicated that you need an attorney to understand it or that in order to move ministry forward it takes 3-4 committee meetings and multiple church votes.

There are any number of issues that plague the average church today – but comfort, committees and constitutions are the three things I see most often slowing ministry down.

My prayer is that church leaders will begin to understand and make the necessary adjustments to move past these church growth roadblocks.

Formula for the Death of a Church

images-1

I have been asked a number of times what the formula is for a church that wants to turn around a decline.  There are any number of things a church can – and should do – to make things new and to spur growth.  But I don’t believe there is one singular formula that will turn every church around.

However, I do believe there is a simple formula that will spur on the death of a church. I call it the “D3 Formula”.

It goes like this:  Denial + Delay = Death

Thousands of churches close their doors for good every year in the United States.  Dozens every single week.  And typically they didn’t end up in critical condition overnight.  For years they denied they had a problem.  Even as attendance lagged and the congregation demographic rose – the church believed “everything was okay”.

Then after years of denial, someone noticed their church was in trouble, and decided something needed to be done.  However, after so many years of denial – delaying action just seemed natural.  Instead of doing something – anything – to try to reverse the slide – the congregation waited to do what needed to be done.  Think about it.  If you know you’re facing pain – don’t you attempt to put that off as long as possible.  The same thing happens in the local church.

My hope and prayer for the local church in America is they break out of denial and stop delaying.  That local congregations across the nation realize their reality and move in an intense, intentional way to turn their church around – and begin to once again have a Kingdom Impact on their local community.

The Mission of the local church is far too important to wait any longer.

Don’t Deny.  Don’t Delay.  Do Something Now.

Hope for Your Church

Sometimes it can be difficult working toward church revitalization – simply because there are so many American churches plateaued or in decline. Occasionally, though, research comes along that gives me some hope.

A couple of years ago the Fuller Youth Institute completed research as to “why Millennials leave church and what makes them stick”.  The results were encouraging.

The research indicated that success in reaching younger people does not necessarily depend on a church’s size, location, denomination, being cool, or even having a lot of money.

Fuller found there were 6 Core Commitments that helped turn churches around –

  • Allowing Millennials to lead
  • Having empathy for the Millennial mindset
  • Focus on Jesus more than Christianity
  • Cultivate warm relationships
  • Prioritize everything toward reaching young people
  • Be the Best Neighbors locally and beyond

The encouraging thing about the survey is that churches CAN turnaround and begin to grow again.  Plus, many of the adjustments in the church involves a change in attitude.  So money and music may not be the most important things.  It appears mindset is.

So churches – what do you say?  You ready to change your mindset – so you can change the world?

Church Planting vs Church Revitalization

I am a church planter.

We live in a post-Christian world now – and sadly – thousands of churches close every year. Thankfully the church planting movement is active and growing. My family was a part of the church planting movement and we were successful.  The Ridge Church is now more than 20 years old and hundreds of lives have been changed through that ministry.

I am a preacher’s kid.

My Dad – a graduate of Clear Creek Bible College in Pineville, Kentucky – spent a good part of his life as pastor at a series of small churches in Ohio.  Whenever I spoke with him about planting another church – he inevitably would say – “what about all the small churches, who is going to help them?”

I want to help.

Now nearly 8 years after the passing of my father, I am feeling a strong sense that I should be helping some of those small churches.  Far too many churches are struggling to reach their community – or even worse – fighting to just keep the doors open.  My goal is to use my background, education, and experience to assist some of those churches my Dad spoke of.

I need to hear from you.

While I don’t claim to have all the answers – I believe I do have some of the answers that could help your church.  I want to humbly offer my services to churches.  To give them a set of “fresh eyes” to help them become a healthy, vibrant, relevant church that is “seeking to save that which is lost”.