By Dr. Donald Lynn Hardaway
Revitalizing a congregation or a business is not a task to be tackled alone. “First, you need a few really good partners who have the skills, values and credibility required,” Carlson says. “People who know what to do and who have the perspectives and skills that you are missing. You must have at least one partner; you just aren’t smart enough by yourself.”[i]
Translating that into a church setting means we must enlist the most credible people in the congregation to help us facilitate change. The wise revitalizer will also find an experienced mentor or organization to give him a balanced perspective and help him strengthen his skillset. This is one of the primary purposes of The Bridge Network of Churches.
“Second,” says Carlson, “change happens in logical steps. There must first be agreement on the need to change. When you initially go into an enterprise suffering from challenges, people say, ‘What’s the need for change?’ Until you have established the need, they are not ready to move. When people see the need, they then ask, ‘What’s the vision?’”
I believe the need for change is found by looking first upward, then outward and then inward; that was the path Nehemiah followed in getting the dispirited people of Jerusalem to rise up and build the walls of the city. It is a mistake for a congregation to look for God’s vision by looking at themselves first. Too much focus on themselves may be one of the contributing factors to their decline! Spend time in our Father’s presence until He gives you an idea of His burden for the congregation and community. Do your homework and exegete the community surrounding the church. Then focus the people’s attention on God and the community; ask them to adjust internally to answer His call and commission.
“Third,” Carlson shares, “once you have a shared vision, people start asking, ‘Okay, I get the need and the vision — what’s the plan?’ It’s need, vision and plan, in that order.”
A plan can be as simple as a next step. Five-year plans are no longer practical, given the fast-changing culture around us; a two-year plan is more credible and doable (and will have to be adjusted). What specific ideas will you suggest for the next 24 months that will help the vision come to fruition and meet the need around you?
“Fourth, focus on early adopters. Even if people generally agree with you, most are naturally cautious. You need to find the 5 to 10 percent who will be your early champions to help you establish the principles and prove them out.”
“Fifth, the language you use is critical,” Carlson says. He recommends staying away from demoralizing statements; in the church world, reminding a church they are dying will eventually take the life out of even the staunchest of saints. Instead, focus on the positive progress being made. Talk about the specific things that need to be done to move the church forward and outward. Find an actionable theme that verbalizes the vision, like, “More people following Jesus;” without a portable, simple theme, people will not hear or understand you.
Few church turnarounds look like a megachurch when they become healthy, but you will see positive indicators replace negative ones. Attendance, baptisms, new members and offerings will begin to grow. The spirit of the congregation will change from one of self-pity and survival to enthusiasm and anticipation. Word will get out in the community that God is working in your church. Carlson’s counsel can help you and your church get to the place of revitalization.
[i] Stephen Denning, The Age of Agile: How Smart Companies Are Transforming the Way Work Gets Done, 2018. Soundview Executive Book Summaries