Pastor, City United Church
Every new leader wants to make things better. The problem with dying churches is change is often needed quickly. But changing too much too fast can be dangerous. How can a leader walk into a dying church and effect change without killing the congregation? Start with small shifts and not sweeping changes. Focus on low-hanging fruit—the adjustments that speak loudly but don’t break the budget or the people. Here are four small steps that can help restart your church and begin the change process.
1. Schedule simple evaluations
Schedule a time to bring all of your leaders together to do some simple evaluation and assessment of the church. You don’t need a sophisticated system to accomplish this, but you do have to create an authentic environment where people have the freedom to speak their minds. Ask your leaders these simple questions: What is going right? What are the challenges? What is missing? What is confusing? And my personal favorite, what do we need to stop doing? Let the people who know the church well provide the feedback needed to initiate change. This evaluation process was one of the first things I did when I took over as lead pastor of a church in bankruptcy.
2. Build and strengthen systems
Systems help build strong organizations They are the blueprints necessary to achieve goals. Do you have systems in place at your church for greeting and following up with first time guests, on-boarding volunteers, community outreach, and evangelism? If the system is developed well, the structure and pathway will become strong and clear. Working on systems entails behind-the-scenes and administrative work and doesn’t typically ruffle as many feathers as changes like removing the organ, stopping a dying service, doing away with a dying choir, switching from pews to chairs, or dimming the lights during the music on Sunday mornings. Focusing on building and strengthening systems is often a great place to begin the change process in your church.
3. Define the W.I.N.
Teams have goals, and if you are going to build strong teams you have to show them the W.I.N. (what’s important now). Rally your volunteers and divide them into teams by ministry position, give them an identity and a role, and define what their W.I.N. is for that day. Then celebrate when it is accomplished. Once you have teams in place, the focus on individuals and lone rangers won’t last. What area in your church needs attention right now? For our church it was the parking lot. We needed a team to help guide guests to our worship area. We created and empowered a parking team, shared the vision of why they were essential to a first-time guest’s experience, and gave them their W.I.N. for the day. Now they consistently receive compliments for their service.
4. Build valued leaders, not just followers
Cultural change can start with one person. When your leaders embrace the mission and vision, they will begin to change the culture of the organization. Pour into your leaders and help them develop and grow. Intentionally give them things to read. Start conversations by saying, “I would really love your input on this since you are leader here.” A great resource to use when starting your church revitalization is Thom Rainer’s, Autopsy of a Deceased Church. I bought a case of these books and gave them out as gifts to key leaders and influencers in my church. The only thing I asked of them was to provide me feedback after they read it. Most of them came back and said, “What can we do pastor? This is us.” I did not have to rock the boat because the book opened their eyes to the reality of the situation. These members were then open and ready to be the change agents for the future.
Let’s face it, change is difficult for all of us, and change can be particularly hard in the church. So start by making small shifts, not sweeping changes. Start with small steps, let people see the progress, celebrate each victory, and watch God do big things through your leadership.