Before I came to my current church, they had been on a 15-year plateau followed by a near-death experience due to a leadership conflict. What was left was a building with about 100 seats, four Sunday school rooms, and an average attendance of about 35. It was a real fixer-upper, if you know what I mean. I started as a bi-vocational pastor, which they really liked since they couldn’t actually afford a full-time pastor. I had a head full of dreams and a heart burning to make a difference. The only things I lacked were skill and knowledge!
Ours is not a story of overnight success. We didn’t rocket to thousands by dressing cool and throwing in a band. We were a very traditional congregation that longed to see God come to life in our church. The only problem was we didn’t know how to do this.
As I reflect and try to understand how our church was transformed, I never land on any specific programs, events, or silver bullets that were the secret. I have found that it was a culmination of several factors over time.
Here are a few of my suggestions for resurrecting a plateaued or dying church.
1. Renew your first love.
One of the first things I did was gather the core couples together on a weekend retreat. We went to a small bed-and-breakfast, and there we dreamed, prayed, and bound our hearts together. I remember that Saturday morning as we talked about reaching new people, with tears in my eyes, saying, “Guys, I have no idea how we will reach them, but if we focus on the what, God will show us the how.”
2. Rediscover the purposes of the church.
The second thing I did was I loaded up a van with my core leaders (there were about 12 of us) and took them to a one-day seminar on building a healthy, disciple-making church.
We felt like we were drinking from a fire hydrant, but at least the water was refreshing! We huddled up right after the seminar, and I told them, “I don’t know how to do everything we just heard in that seminar, but I’m willing to give my life to learn it. Who’s with me?” They unanimously agreed to do whatever it takes to become a healthy, outreach-oriented church.
Too often, plateaued churches focus on growing the church numerically before they correct the drift philosophically. If you focus on growth before depth, you’ll be tempted to adopt gimmicks, quick fixes, and copycat tactics.
Don’t change anything until your core leaders are thoroughly committed to the biblical model of the church.
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails” (Prov. 19:21).
3. Reassess your target.
Our church was hidden in the woods at the end of a dead-end road surrounded by an upper-income housing development.
Our congregation was comprised of medium-income families.
We tried for months to reach the families in the homes surrounding our church. It was a complete failure.
Finally, we decided to try reaching people like us. We learned the hard way that you reach who you are, not who you want.
The good news is that when you decide to become laser-focused on your target, you get better at reaching them. We finally put a stake in the ground and declared that we would focus on reaching middle-income young families with children.
Twenty-two years and 2,288 baptisms later, God has truly transformed our church!
We are not a megachurch, and we are certainly not the coolest church, but we are a healthy church.
Our DREAM is to see every church revived and revitalized so that together we can reach this world for Jesus.
Join us at the DREAM Church Conference and see what God can do in your church!