I love hearing stories of hope. Instead of waiting for the stories to come to me, I recently interviewed 19 pastors whose churches had moved from struggling to breakout. All of the pastors had been in the church at least four years, and all of them had reached points of frustrations.
Then their churches began to reverse their declines and stagnations.
None of the pastors I interviewed were new at their churches. None of the churches had relocated in recent years. And none of the communities in which the churches were located had grown dramatically.
So what happened at these churches?
All of the pastors were careful to give glory to God. Most of them articulated that their stories were not ones of mere methodological devices. But they did have six common themes worth noting.
- They led the church to become highly intentional about starting new groups. The fewest groups started by any one of the churches were four in a one-year period. These churches were serious about new groups, and most of them saw that, at least from a human perspective, as the primary source of turnaround growth.
- They led the church to a culture of inviting people. These pastors expressed amazement at how many people started coming to their churches simply because they were invited. To be clear, this type of invitation was personal, from a member to someone else. It was not some type of major commercial marketing initiative. Some of the churches had a big event, “invite-a-friend-day,” to kickoff this new culture of inviting.
- They began new member classes. These classes set the tone for new members. They established the expectations for new members. After a few months of these classes, many of the pastors begin to notice an attitudinal change toward the positive among the members.
- They began a major community ministry. Some of the churches “adopted” local schools. Some of the leaders made appointments with key civic leaders to find out how their churches could best help the community. In all cases, church members got out of the comfort of the church buildings and went into the community to serve others.
- They began to pray for the lost and unchurched by name. For many of the churches, this type of praying was a first. Most of them attested that it seemed awkward at first, but it later became a part of their Great Commission culture.
- The leaders began to focus less on negative people and circumstances and more on God’s possibilities. The leaders became, in God’s power, people of faith instead of people of fear. This spirit of faith became pervasive in the churches. Many of the churches saw a negative and unbelieving church culture become a positive and faith-believing culture.
Nine out of ten churches in America are either declining or growing more slowly than the communities in which they are located. In other words, most churches are losing ground in their communities.
But, in the midst of all the bad news about churches, we do see more and more beacons of light. I was delighted and encouraged to hear these stories of turnaround churches and what they are doing. I plan to report on other churches in the future.
So what do you think of these turnaround factors? Have you seen them at work in other churches? Do you have any similar stories from your church? What is God using most effectively in your church to reach people with the love and the power of the gospel?