3700 U.S. churches closed in the most recent year studied (2017), and over 4000 were started. More churches started than closed… all the while the culture grew more secular. We live in interesting (and challenging) times.
by Bob Whitesel D.Min. Ph.D., Church Revitalizer Magazine, 7/1/19.
Younger people today are discovering churches best grow when focused upon creating community.
So rather than trying to be as good a preacher as a famous mega-pastor, spend your time developing community and commonality within the church. Create church-wide unity building events. And create a vision that all segments of your church can embrace and get behind. Research has found (Bruno Dyck and Fredricks Stark, Administrative Science Quarterly) that pastors who held unity events that united church around a common purpose, created a “community” that was attractive rather than a program or a pastor. So work on finding that mission that everybody in the church can get behind. And, spend as much time working on it as you do your sermons.
I can’t turn around a church because I’ve never done it before.
This may be the second most common negative mindset. And, this stands to reason, because we are always intimated by what we have not yet experienced. But Paul, who had his own series of challenges, states, “And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there.” (1 Corinthians 7:17 MSG).
Today there is a growing number of good resources that can equip the pastor to turn around a church, so that prior experience, while helpful, is not mandatory.
Magazines like “Church Revitalizer” magazine and resources like Renovate Conferences offer church leaders the opportunity to learn from and be mentored by successful church turnaround leaders.
I allow each year a handful of potential turnaround coaches to shadow me and learn the turnaround coaching insights I’ve gained from doing this for 30 years and earning two doctorates on the subject (Fuller Theological Seminary). The shadowing program is called MissionalCoaches.com and dozens have graduated from this program and gone on to help turn around churches.
So while prior experience is helpful, the proliferation of good resources like this magazine and other sources means that having experience turning around a church is not a requisite to doing an effective job.
I can’t turn around a church because I don’t like the traditional way of doing things; and I want to do things in a new way.
There is nothing wrong with innovative and contemporary forms of worship and ministry. But traditional forms of worship and ministry are also valid for the people who connect through those aesthetic forms. Because you don’t like their styles doesn’t mean God doesn’t use their traditional liturgical aesthetics to connect them to God.
I learned this firsthand, growing up in a mega-church with traditional Gospel Quartet music. The Bill Gaither Trio were often guests at our church meetings. I grew up to associate their country-influenced Gospel music with my parents’ church. But that wasn’t my style. My parents loved it. And I love my parents and the Good News they instilled in me. But I yearned for a younger musical style, to which I and my friends could relate. African-American rhythm and blues and the resultant rock ‘n’ roll music resonated with me. But it also led me to see the church as culturally different from the aesthetics I enjoyed. Subsequently, I found little relevance in the church and into the world of rock ‘n’ roll I journeyed. Yet in that world, I found other young people who loved rock ‘n’ roll and also loved Jesus even more. As a result of their culturally relevant presentation of the Good News to me, I gave my life to Jesus and set upon a path of writing and leading contemporary worship.
However, because I saw the church as captive to traditional and Gospel music, I developed an unhealthy aversion for older forms of music. That was until I met a beautiful Lutheran girl, who was much more spiritual than me. Yet to her the Lutheran hymns of her church had provided a spiritual strength and wisdom during her youth. She showed me that her music was just a different style than mine, but which for her was still relevant. She gave me an appreciation and love for classical music to this day. Subsequently I became a connoisseur of Charles Wesley and his great hymns.
Our family appreciates a healthy mix of both traditional music and contemporary music. My wife’s loving example of aesthetic flexibility led me to a more holistic life and allowed me to write several books on how to have both traditional and contemporary music in the same church.
Turnaround church leaders learn how to bring unity out of diversity.
Often a dying church will have one form of music and worship aesthetic. It may be a traditional form, it could be a gospel music form, or it could even be a contemporary form. What happens is a church offers only one liturgical aesthetic. And because people have come to connect with God through that particular style, they strongly resist any changes. Change means interfering with their communication with God.
But usually another generation or demographic will emerge that has a different musical appreciation and aesthetic style. And, they will usually go to a new church down the street that offers their liturgical aesthetic. The problem is that this new church down the street usually winds up being as homogeneous as the church that was left behind. What results is that our churches tend to focus on one liturgical aesthetic. Then they rise and die with that aesthetic.
Many turnaround church pastors undertake a strategy I call “1+1 +1 = 1” (“A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church” Abingdon Press). This means allowing traditional congregants to keep their historical way of worship while adding a new worship opportunity. This can be done by hosting a 20-minute pre-glow (pre-service) with a different style of music. Or it can be accomplished by hosting a post-glow (post-service) with 20 minutes of a different style of music. Eventually this can emerge into two worship opportunities. I’ve helped churches do this even when they were small, just a couple dozen people.
The key is to move toward offering two or more liturgical expressions that can relate to both the existing church culture and the emerging culture of a neighborhood or community. Yet people often say, “You’re spitting the church part.” But you’re only allowing them to self-select the cultural expression of worship that they enjoy. And, the running of the church (e.g. its administration, mission, focus and health) should still be conducted by committees and boards made up of people from different cultures. I’ve often said, you learn more about a different culture by working on a committee with them, than by warming a pew next to them. It has been my experience as a missiologist that you gain more cultural understanding by strategizing, compromising, sharing and dialoguing in a committee setting than you do by simply sitting adjacent to them in chruch.
So though a turnaround church leader will usually prefer their own worship style, they must be careful to not inadvertently prioritize their preferences over those of others. Instead, multiple worship expressions can be valid means to connect the different cultures in a church to God. Even if you don’t enjoy their music, it doesn’t mean you can’t learn about it, understand it and help others connect with God through it. Subsequently, alongside a traditional worship expression you can create a second culturally distinct liturgical expression, that another generation or culture can connect with as well. Though everyone has their own preferred style of worship, a church turnaround leader will usually be the principle connector between the the different cultures God is sending to a church.
Download the entire article here: ARTICLE ©Whitesel Church Revitalizer Magazine July:Aug 2019 Overcome a Negative Mindset
You will find more about Church Revitalizer Magazine and how to subscribe here: http://renovateconference.org/magazine
BIO: Bob Whitesel DMIN PhD teaches “Church Revitalization” for Fuller Theo. Seminary’s DMin, which can be audited this fall (see the ad in this issue). Bob is an award-winning author/consultant on church health and growth. He been called “the key spokesperson on change theory in the church today” by a national magazine, co-founded an accredited seminary and leads one of the nation’s most respected church health consulting/coaching firms: www.ChurchHealth.net
It’s called a turnaround for a reason. It’s more about the direction you’re heading than the speed you’re going.
By Karl Vaters, Christianity Today, 8/25/17.
…Almost 25 years ago, I was called to help a church turn around from a decade of numerical, emotional, spiritual and missional decline.
There were about 30 very discouraged people when I arrived and, while I wasn’t expecting to go “from 30 to 3,000 in three years!” I did expect a lot more than we got. The church is situated on a busy street in a very populated area, after all. Onward and upward, right?
If you had told me that the church would still be under 100 and worshiping in the same small building after ten years of pastoring, I probably would not have taken the assignment.
And if you’d told me that we’d be under 200 and in the same building 25 years later (as in, today) I’d have been out the door so fast there’d be a Roadrunner cartoon trail of smoke behind me.
But here I am. In exactly that spot. And I’m so profoundly grateful to be here…
grit consistency tenure
This is first (1st) in a series of articles by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D. (5/17/17) introducing the 7SYSTEMS.CHURCH and which first appeared in Church Revitalizer Magazine.
The “7 systems” of a healthy church (www.7System.church) is based upon an analysis of 35,000 church combined with 25+ years of consulting research and practice. An introduction to the “7 Systems” of a healthy church (www.7System.church) can be found here: www.7systems.church
You can read the original article in The Church Revitalizer magazine here. Or scroll down further for the entire updated article.
Download the article here … ARTICLE Church Revitalizer Magazine – Turning Around An Invisible Church 16.4
COMMUNICATION SYSTEM & How It Results in Visibility (The 1st in the “7Systems.church of a Growing Church” Series)
by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 4/1/16 (words 1,100)
Before we begin to turnaround or grow into a healthy church, we need to know what we are turning or growing it toward.
The best source for what a healthy and growing church looks like is Hartford Seminary’s exhaustive and reliable: “American Congregations Study” (available free at http://www.FaithCommunitiesToday.org). I will explain how to address each of what I call “The 7Systems.church of a Growing Church” in this series.
The First is Visibility – The Result of a healthy COMMUNICATION SYSTEM.
We must first understand how to overcome the average church’s invisibility. Plateaued churches don’t change very much and as a result they often get ignored and overlooked by non-churchgoers. I found that even newly planted churches start becoming invisible to the community after about 18 months. Visibility can be remedied by being in a visible location in a growing community. But, what if you aren’t in a growing community? What if you aren’t in a visible location?
I have helped hundreds of churches become visible again, even when they were not in a growing community. To make a church visible again in any community involves three areas: physical visibility, social media visibility, member visibility.
Physical visibility means the community sees the physical assets and structures of the church. We have long known that churches in visible locations grow faster and larger than churches in less visible locales. When people over and over again notice a church structure, signage, steeple, etc. it can remind them of their spiritual need. And, when a spiritual need pulls them towards a church, they are most likely to attend the one they’ve noticed. This can be challenging in a turnaround scenario. However, I have helped many, many churches increase their physical visibility and here are some options to consider.
Merging with a more visible church. By joining together with a church in a more visible location you can address the invisibility threat. Read Jim Tomberlin and Warren Bird’s book “Better Together” to see how to make mergers work. Moving to a different location and selling your current facility. My experience has been that this often results in the church having a less usable facility. There may be fewer Sunday School rooms, less sanctuary space and even less parking. But if the trade-off is that the church has a greater visibility in the community, then the church can begin to grow toward health.
Building a new facility. Though challenging in revitalization situations, new facilities are cheaper to build than their traditional and Medieval-looking forerunners. When turnaround churches have money to build they usually consider erecting a gymnasium or a fellowship hall to reach out. But, it may be better to build a smaller multipurpose facility in a more visible location.
Social Media Visibility.
In 25+ years consulting churches, I have found that in all churches there are positive things going on that only people going to the church know about. Thus, you want to create social media opportunities for congregants to share with their friends, acquaintances and non-churchgoers some of the exciting things going on.
In the past, churches advertised largely in the Yellow Pages and newspapers. Though Yellow Pages have disappeared (and newspapers may not be far behind) in their place have risen other media channels through which you should be advertising.
Website: It doesn’t need to be professional, but it does need to be informative and geared toward non-churchgoers. WordPress and others offer free templates through which an inexperienced creator can make an informative website. Previously the church secretary was in charge of the weekly bulletins and perhaps a regular newsletter. In the turnaround church, that person learns new skills to communicate via a web presence.
Facebook page: Another requisite media presence, your members can share about the positive things going on in the church. Twitter, etc: Telling about positive things going on in a church via a Twitter account with “hash tags” (#) identifying your church, allows people to easily find postings about the life of a congregation. A church Instagram account can give opportunities for members to share pictures about the positive things happening at congregational life. Other media avenues are sure to arise and mature Christian leaders should pray about and discuss the usefulness of each.
Email: Because there’s so much spam filling email boxes today, it’s best to steer away from emailing people in the community. Emailing congregants to keep them aware of what is going on is fine, but a general blast to the community doesn’t work.
Get the Church a Personalized Web Address, _____(church
name)_____.church: A little-known fact is that you can purchase the extension “.church” and add your church name for an easy to remember web address. The extension “.church” can be purchased through any online Domain Service (but once they’re gone, it’s forever gone so check today).
Member Visibility: Encourage congregants to be proud of what God has accomplished through their church and let people know they are a member. When your congregants are cited in community events, awards, etc. be sure to ask them to include that they are a member of the church. Explain that this is a way to let their light shine, because the community of Christ is a part of their spiritual formation and community impact. Shirts with the church’s name on them, bumper stickers, vinyl
decals, etc. have always been a way to increase congregant visibility. However, it’s always important to remind congregants they should at all times be Christlike, forgiving and humble (and never more so than when displaying something that boldly mentions Christ’s family).
Let the community see the church in worship, praise and service. A YouTube channel of church events can help non-churchgoers see the community of Christ in action. And, a video of worship and ministry should be a primary feature on your website, giving a 30-second glimpse of the excitement of being part of Christ’s community.
Invite the community to participate in praise/worship and food in a neutral location. This can be in a park or in a neutral auditorium. When we take our worship and praise to neutral locations, we give non-churchgoers an opportunity to see the life and anointing of Christ’s body in a familiar environment. While being careful not to invade their space, we also foster communication when a meal is open to all. Jesus’ example of table fellowship broke down walls between his detractors and his disciples, and serves as a model for increasing church visibility today.
Yes, there are ways to help make a church visible again. And, these suggestions are just the tip-of-the-iceberg. For more on the “7Systems.church of a Growing Church” and how to make churches visible again, attend my once-a-year consultant training at the Nov. 1, Renovate ‘16 Pre-conference in Orlando.
In the next article in this series, I will delve into ideas that foster the second mark of a growing church as revealed in Hartford Seminary’s “American Congregations 2015” survey.
Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., is a award-winning writer and sought-after consultant on church growth. Founding professor of Wesley Seminary at IWU, he has held his “Annual 1-Day Church Consultant Training” as a Pre-Conference to Renovate in Orlando.
Speaking hashtags: #CaribbeanGraduateSchoolofTheology #Renovate16 #StLiz #Renovate16 #7Systems.church
QUOTE: “Small groups are one of the most important structures in the church for discipleship.” Bob Whitesel.
VIDEO of Bob Whitesel Ph.D., Oct. 2012 at the Turnaround2020.com Conference, Nashville, TN. Published by ChurchCentral.com. For more info see Cure for the Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health (Wesleyan Publishing House).
Speaking hashtags: #PowellChurch #DWC
Mass mobs fill pews, lift prayers at NY churches
by Carolyn Thompson, 2/1/14
Maybe not the way to permanently turn around a church, but perhaps a step towards reconciling emerging and exodus cultures. Email the curator bob1 if you have application ideas to include in this wiki.
Bob Whitesel, Oct. 2012, Turnaround2020.com Conference, Nashville, TN
Professor Whitesel summarizes a simple “need-based” strategy for growing your church through outreach. (From Church Central’s Turnaround 20/20 summit in 2012.)