Step one to a turnaround is to acknowledge there’s a problem…and diagnose it accurately. At one
level, all churches have problems. At another, some have more acute problems
than others which lead to big-time trouble over time if the issues aren’t

Some time ago I was at a gathering of ministers. Many of
us were in churches that were in decline—some that had been so for some time. Others
of us were in more stable or growing congregations. We were discussing the
difficulty churches were having reaching younger people. The problems (abridged
for brevity’s sake), ranked in order of agreement, were put forth as following:

  • Culture has changed, and today, people are
    less willing to listen to the truth.

  • Young people just want to be entertained and
    are not interested in substance.

  •   Young people aren’t parented as well as they
    used to be. So, they just aren’t interested in spiritual things.

True, culture has changed. Some (but not all) young
people are more concerned with entertainment than substance (the same could be
said of adults). One could certainly argue that parenting ain’t what it used to
be. Also, to be fair, there was a bit of locker-room camaraderie among preachers
that may facilitated the discussion heading the way it did. However, as I
listened, I thought two things,

1)    “No
one here seems to like the community very much…or think very highly of them.”
This, it seemed to me, was part of the problem. It’s difficult to do what it
necessary and healthy to reach people when you think they are the problem. If a
church can’t understand that at least some of the problem lies with them,
turnaround is nearly impossible—because the church will lack both the humility
and pain threshold necessary to change.

2)    No
one thought the church needed to change in any way. It was all someone else’s
fault. Thus, they weren’t open to altering course…in their eyes, nothing needed

The beginning of turning around is acknowledging that
everything isn’t going the way the Lord might want it to, and understanding why
it’s so–accurately. Some churches
are being held back by ungodly attitudes—but they think it’s the facility. For
others, it’s division—they think it’s location. For others, it’s pride. For
others, it’s the inability to deal with viral people within the Body—but they
think they are in decline because they don’t use instruments. It may be that many
of the church’s ministries indeed need a freshening up—but they see the “liberalism”
of the small changes they’ve already made as the problem.

Whatever it is, turnaround churches look themselves in
the mirror and acknowledge that, indeed, figuratively speaking, they have added
a second chin since they last noticed…and
they then determine to do something about it.
Missing the extra chin and
thinking it’s the clothes you’re wearing will keep a church chasing its tail
for years.

Turnarounds begin with the Spirit-induced recognition that
you are in fact going in the wrong direction. From there, it’s a matter of
figuring out where you got off-course, and which direction you need to go. If
you are a minister interviewing for a position at a church that’s in troubled
waters, look for humility. Look for some recognition that everything isn’t
perfect. People often think that humility and decline go together. That is often
not the case at all. Some of the most humble churches and humble leaders I know
are wildly “successful.” And, some of the most arrogant churches and leaders
around have no earthly reason to be so. Until the congregation is willing to
humble themselves before the Lord, turnaround will be long in coming—if
coming at all. Why? First, because God won’t bless it. Second, what’s to change
when you already think everything’s fantastic or completely not your fault?

Through prayer, spiritual discernment, searching the
Scriptures, learning opportunities, congregational input and the counsel of
others, diagnosis is possible and desirable. Sometimes fresh eyes are needed to
diagnose the problem. Do not fear outside help. Embrace it as a possible source
of insight. If you need to, get a second opinion. But, get the problem diagnosed correctly. Then, we must humble ourselves
by admitting the problem(s) exist—and admitting that we have been a part of the
problem. When His people are humble before Him, God’s ready to heal. God has a incurable
bias toward growing the Church to be vibrant, healthy, and a force against
which the gates of hell cannot prevail. This is good news for those of us in what
feels like ministerial quicksand. Fear not, the Lord is with you.

A more upbeat post is coming in the next installment, I