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So You Think Your Church is Failing…What Can You Do?

80% of U.S. churches…

  • Worship less than 100.
  • Face steady to rapid decline.
  • Possess collective memories of being 2 times or 10 times larger.

Leaders and members are taunted with the whisper that they’re failing. Usually today’s realities were set in motion years earlier by…

  • A stubborn refusal or inability to make necessary changes for the sake of Mission.
  • A disregard for the shifting community around them.
  • A scarcity mentality that believed that God could not provide what’s needed to carry out His mission.

(I understand oh so well that many congregations are always at risk of being overwhelmed by external threats and forces beyond their control.)

You’ll see more and more pastors and ministry staff joining the world of freelancing to secure a portion of their income as we move forward.

I suppose for half of these churches it’s just too late…too far gone…for their future to be different. But, I wonder about all the rest. I wonder if a different future could be cast. Could they still become vital communities of faith with significant Gospel influence in their communities?

So, here are three choices for churches in that 80% group!

Relaunch/Reboot

Members choose to shutdown and restart with a new vision and new ministry program usually with a new missionary-type leader. Members may or may not stay but they give themselves fully to the support of this mission work. They become like the kernel of wheat that falls to the ground… to produce many seeds. (John 12:24)

reboot definition

Merge

They find a congregation that’s healthy with a strong mission focus that possesses a vision for multiplication of sites and the multiplication of leaders within those sites. They surrender control and invite the larger congregation to infuse their vision and leadership. (Not to be confused with congregational mergers simply to cut costs or combine resources that typically result in the mathematical equivalent of 2 + 2 = 2.)

Invest in Discipling Leaders

Slower. Less radical. Churches escape the sense of powerlessness and begin to create leaders who can invest in others. Rather than waiting for the community to “come to church,” members become the joy-filled shepherd/missionaries where they live, work and play. They begin to build an engine that powers the ministry. It starts with a couple of leaders who are willing to look at their own lives and see what needs to change and then invite some others to come along and imitate them as they imitate Jesus. (1 Corinthians 4:14-17)

Most churches would not need to be scurrying toward their death if leaders were willing to covenant together and seek God both for His blessing and His direction. Most of us aren’t keen on asking for God’s direction when we prefer simply more and better of the direction we’ve already chosen. Each of the choices above requires some level of sacrifice and risk. Most churches refuse because they grieve too heavily what will be lost or they fear too much the uncertainty of an unfamiliar future.

So, share this with a couple of peers or a couple of leaders.

In PLI, we see leaders bravely and boldly charting new futures with each of the choices above. And we’re here to offer help and support.

Leadership and ministry is not particularly fun when we hear the whispers of failing. There’s a freedom found in remembering that we are loved not because of the performance of our ministries but as a result of the sacrifice Jesus performed on the cross.

Jock Ficken
Rev. Dr. Jock Ficken

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