Bill Easum in his book “A Second Resurrection,” (Abingdon, 2007) lists eight steps to reverse spiritual decline in churches. He says that spiritual death doesn’t have to happen in the life of a church. Even in churches that seem to not have a chance at surviving there is still hope of revitalization. In order to reverse a dying church, he suggests the following eight steps be implemented. See if these don’t ring true in your experience and context.
Someone (usually the pastor) begins to cast a vision of a different future and gathers together a group of like-minded members to be the leaders of the future. These people may or may not presently be in leadership. Please note: this action is never the result of a committee or board; it will always be one person who decides to become a change agent.
The new vision disrupts the comfort level of the church leaders-a positive step because people are open to change in direct proportion to their level of discontent. The more discontent, the more open to change people are. Rather than trying to smooth over the waters, the leader fans the discontentment of the gathered leaders in whom the Spirit is growing. This is a critical point in the turnaround. If the change agent blinks here, it’s all over. The old guard gains strength and those who hope for change lose their last ounce of courage.
It’s not unusual in this stage for the pastor to create one or two quick victories. Many spiritually bankrupt churches have not had a victory in years, and even the slightest victory challenges the belief that “we’re just a small church and could never do that!” It doesn’t matter how simple these victories might be as long as it is something the church has not been able to do for some time.
Spiritually alive leaders begin to realize time is of the essence as people live and die without Christ. The new vision instills a passion and urgency that was present in the beginning years of the church. This passion always stems from how the pastor and the growing group of gathered leaders model the Great Commission. Pastors need to know one thing: in the early stages of turnaround if you are not spending most of your time with the unchurched, your church doesn’t have a chance of becoming spiritually alive again.
The second year of turnaround, one of two things must happen: either the old guard leadership has been transformed or they are replaced by the new guard the pastor has been training for the past year. Then the growing number of spiritual leaders initiates a major change that rocks the status quo and leads to growth. This type of change is strategically important to the success of turnaround. To see what this change might be in your situation, I refer you to my book “Unfreezing Moves.”
Excitement about the future
Spiritual leaders begin listening to God and are becoming more comfortable with taking risks. It’s not uncommon at this point that major changes are made in the way the church is organized so that form follows function and people are allowed more freedom in beginning new ministries. But keep in mind that changing the structure without first changing the hearts of the people doesn’t work.
A culture of courage
Leaders realize that in Christ they can do all things, and the pace of the turnaround hastens and worship attendance begins to increase. The leaders become living proof that perfect love does cast out all fear. New people are encouraged and nurtured by being around the leaders and the church becomes an incubator of faith-that is, a place where strangers are welcomed and nurtured in a loving environment. Decisions begin to be made on a much faster basis, and congregational or representative rule slowly shifts back to the staff making the day-to-day decisions and the board holding them accountable.
All through the process the pastor has been increasing the numbers of spiritual leaders till the number reaches the tipping point where they outnumber the old guard who are not willing to grow in Christ, and it becomes impossible to stop the turnaround.
Explosion of growth
Growth feeds on growth, the minds of church leaders shift from addition to multiplication, the church moves forward on momentum alone, and the turnaround is complete.
Easum says this entire process can take as long as three to five years depending on how spiritually dead the church is in the beginning. And the process usually begins in the first year of a new pastor. Either the church has received a new pastor, or the present pastor has a transforming change.
If churches are going to have a comeback, these steps must be experienced. Churches in Kentucky and all over the world can experience a resurrection of growth and vitality as the Holy Spirit breathes new life into our people. It begins with prayer as we trust the Lord to do a great work in and through His church. Remember 1 Corinthians 3:6 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.”