Imagine you and the rest of your congregation are on a boat. The boat may be large or small. It may be powered by wind or motor. You might know where you are headed or you may not. However, if your church is struggling and in need of revitalization, then your boat is certainly taking on water, sinking into the deep.
Chances are that, if your church has been struggling for any amount of time, you have several holes in your boat where water is entering. Signs of leaks in your boat may include:
- Your worship tastes like two-day-old fast-food fries.
- Your nursery and restrooms look like a truck stop.
- Your building has an odd musty church smell (you know the one).
- Your theology has some elements that are debatable or even errant.
- Your pastor retired ten years ago but told no one.
- You have a conflict rooted deep into the bedrock below.
- Some of your communication leaves people guessing rather than informed.
- A few difficult people have completely handcuffed your leaders.
- Your discipleship is stuck somewhere in the 1960s.
- Your community outreach is on life support.
Too often in struggling churches, our response to taking on water is to try to get more resources – particularly people and finances – to help bail water from the boat. There are two major problems with this response:
- It focuses on dealing with the results, not the causes, of the problems we have created, so it is very likely to fail.
- It doesn’t attract new people, because no one wants to jump onto a sinking ship, so it weighs down the existing congregation.
Instead of focusing on the getting more resources to help manage the result of your problems, you must now identify the actual problems that have led to your church’s decline. What is making your church take on water and sink? Where are the holes? Where are the leaks?
Don’t go at this task alone, as your perspective is too limited! Seek the help of the most spiritual and/or influential in your church, enlist help from outsiders, and look to God’s Word prayerfully. Read through Jesus’ letters to the churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2-3. What kind of letter would Jesus write to your church today, and why? Be sure to guard your heart, as this task can easily lead to despair.
After you’ve made a master list of your church’s needs, the next task is to categorize these “leaks”. Try three categories based on the difficulty of fixing the leaks.
Some leaks are easy to fix. Rooms can be painted in a day or two. Church communication can be improved immediately. Denominational resources may be readily available. Your building can be cleaned well in a week. Begin by fixing these areas as quickly as you can, creating momentum. This momentum will be helpful as you address more challenging leaks.
Some leaks are harder to fix. They require significant change to the church’s culture. They necessitate the church’s influencers to be on board. They require funding that may not be available. Prayerfully begin taking small steps in the direction of addressing these issues, preparing yourself for when the opportunity is right to fully address them. I can tell you of the times when the right family moved to our church at the right moment. I can tell you of the times that God dropped thousands of unexpected dollars into our offering plate at the right time. I can tell you of the time that difficult person approach me to complete the very task I thought he would be the hurdle to complete.
Some leaks seem impossible to fix. They require major change in the church’s structure. They require new staff that you cannot afford. They may require a significant property upgrade. Instead of letting these issues constantly eat at you and consume your emotional energy, make these issues your top prayer priority, turning them over to God. Apply the truths of Philippians 4:4-9 to these leaks. Trust in Christ and ask for his peace. After all, he walked on water and can keep your church afloat!