TURNAROUND & My 4 Tools to Refocus a Turnaround #ChurchRevitalizerMagazine

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., Church Revitalizer Magazine, Oct. – Nov. 2015, pp. 44-45.

My latest magazine article in an overview of my 4 field-tested tools that can “refocus” a church from maintenance to mission. Download the article here: ARTICLE ©Whitesel – Ch. Revitalizer Mag Refocus- Focus On These 4 Things to a Turnaround. Read the entire magazine here (full article follows):

REFOCUS: 4 Tools to Refocus a Turnaround

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., Professor of Missional Leadership & Founding Professor, Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, Church Revitalizer Magazine, Oct. – Nov. 2015, pp. 44-45.

Joe was a local lawyer and his wife a stockbroker. They had attended our church for six months during which we had had experienced a rapid turnaround and growth. I knew he had been interested in joining the church but I was unprepared for his question. “What is the church’s focus?” Joe stated bluntly. “We’ve seen a lot of growth. We’ve seen a lot of programs. So what is the focus? Kathy and I want to know that before we decide if it’s our focus too.”

Joe’s question set me on a quest where I simplified this into four foci and four tools for keeping them central. Though I wrote an entire book about these foci titled, Cure for the Common Church: God’s Plan for Church Health below is a brief overview.

Focus 1: OUT. In Jesus’s ministry we see a ongoing emphasis on reaching out to nonreligious people and people in need (e.g. Luke 6:31-33). But churches quickly become inwardly focused, looking more after their own needs than the needs of those outside their church.

Tool 1 to Focus OUT: ASK. Get your administrative board and staff to go out on a Saturday morning walk through the church neighborhood and areas from which you draw your congregants. Tell them to ask people they meet this simple question: “What could a church like ours do to meet needs of people in this community?” Don’t ask them what you can do to meet their personal needs. That is too personal. Rather ask them to tell you about community needs. Usually they will tell you about their own needs. Then go back to the church and compile a list of needs. Pick out a couple needs that your church is equipped or is beginning to be equipped to address. Then reallocate funds and volunteers to meet those needs. I advise churches to do this twice a year. This keeps leaders listening for needs in the community. One church board member said, “I now work that question subtly into my conversations all year long. I find a lot of interesting needs in this community that way. And it helps me be a better board member because I can help the church focus on meeting needs outside the church.”

Focus 2: SMALL. It was in small gatherings that Jesus accomplished most of his discipleship (e.g. Matt., 4:18-22, Mark 3:13-19, Luke 6:13). Small groups are where people grow together in intimacy and reliance. Even when there is change in church leadership, small group attendees will remain with the church because their friends are still there. Yet most churches have only a token emphasis on and oversight of small groups. If we look at the “method” behind John Wesley and the Methodist Movement we see that getting people into small “Bible study groups” was the key.

Tool 2 to focus Small: BIBLE Studies w/ navigators, not teachers.  I will use the term “Bible study group” to distinguish them from “Bible teaching groups.” The latter oftentimes, but not of course always, emphasize “teaching” rather than study. They are where the teacher becomes the figurehead and is looked up to as the expert. These groups sometimes mimic church services, with an “expert” preaching the group. This works against dialogue and openness. It creates an audience not group dialogue and accountability. And, it reduplicates the legitimate teaching roles of the pastoral staff. No wonder so many church splits come from “teaching groups” where the teacher and not the Word of God is the focus. Therefore I encourage groups to carefully ensure the Word of God is the focus. I prefer, like John Wesley did, to let the Bible be the teacher. This still requires a mature Christian who serves as a sort of “Biblical navigator” for the group, bringing commentaries and Bible handbooks to help people dig into the Word. But these groups are groups that investigate biblical topics each week by everyone digging into the Bible and seeing what the Bible says. This makes people depended upon the Word rather than a novice-preacher.

Focus 3: LEARNERS. Often in church as we try to grow attendance, or we measure baptisms, finances and/or conversions. All of these are helpful metrics but not as important as the metric Jesus gave us, in Matthew 28:18-20. Here Jesus uses four verbs on His Great Commission: go, make disciples, teach and baptize. In the Greek it is clear that three of these are participles, which mean that they modify another more central verb. The central verb is “make disciples” and the Greek literally means “make learners.” Thus, the verse indicates that by going, teaching and baptizing we reach the goal of our commission: which is make learners.

Tool 3 to focus on Learners: Measure STUDENTS of the Word. Thus, in a turnaround our focus should be on helping people learn, rather than focusing on increasing attendance, money or even conversions. Acts 2:47 reminds us, “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” So conversion is God’s job. But, helping people become learners, according to Matthew 28:18-20 is our job. It follows that we should measure things like how many people are in the Sunday school and how many people go to regular Bible study in your church. These are a better indicators if people are becoming learners that by simply counting how many are sitting in the pew or writing a check.

Focus 4: NEW. By this I mean cultivating an environment in your church where people’s lives are changed into new lives. There’s an excitement in a church when people expect to be changed there. Today when people need to a changed from an abusive life, addiction, depraved habits and/or self-centeredness they usually go to a psychologist, self-help group or read a self-help book. All of these are helpful tools. But I believe the most helpful and God-ordained tool is the Church. The Church is the place in a community where people should know that you go if you need to be changed. This is because there is supernatural power to change people whenever two or three are gathered in His name (Matt. 18:20).

Tool 4 to focus on NEW: Everyone learns a GOSPEL presentation. Every attendee should be equipped with a tool to share the Good News. The Four Spiritual Laws, The Four Steps to Peace with God, The Romans Road or another plan of salvation are the most important tool with which you can equip each congregant. Attendees should be trained in their youth, in their Sunday schools and during a yearly preaching series. Then they will be “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, (1 Peter 3:15). A good tool to encourage this is a five-week sermon series every year, where each week focuses on one of The Four Spiritual Laws or The Four Steps to Peace with God. Then on the fifth week extend a call to meet Christ. If a yearly part of your preaching calendar, this sermon series can equip, reinforce and remind congregants how to share the wonderful opportunity and blessing of a new life in Christ.

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