I have observed over the years two essential needs for church revitalization: a capable pastor and a willing congregation. Below you will discover two accounts of this truth.
Trial to Triumph – One Pastor’s Revitalization Story
Pastor “Buckman” (not his real name) accepted a call to his first church after graduating from Bible college, a humble congregation of twenty-nine. He was the eighteenth pastor. His predecessors lasted an average of three years and three months.
He soon discovered the church did not want a servant-leader but just a servant. They thought they were calling a pastor who would "call on the elderly and sick, preach Sunday morning and evening, and lead a Bible study on Wednesday night." They wanted a hired gun to "do the work of the ministry."
In sharp contrast, Pastor Buckman wanted to reach people for Christ. An avid bow hunter, he launched a ministry called "Bulls Eye" to connect with others who shared his passion. He anticipated developing relationships with unbelievers with whom he could share Christ. He also instituted an annual wild game dinner at the church.
This pastor was a prime candidate for a Turnaround Pastor Boot Camp©. In the midst of his second year of frustration, he jumped at the opportunity to learn ministry best practices, tools not furnished by his formal training. He returned to his church, developed an action plan, and began to execute it.
- He showed the church where it was headed by plotting the last 25 years' attendance and membership.
- Buckman worked with a vision team on Sunday evenings to create a ministry map that included core beliefs, core values, and a vision statement.
- He developed a blended/contemporary morning worship service.
- As pastor, he dressed more appropriately for the community, dropping the suit coat.
- He attempted to developed a strong emphasis on winning the lost.
- Buckman labored tirelessly to transformed the focus from inward to outward.
Unfortunately, his frustration grew as the church refused his guidance. In his third year, his college classmate who recommended him to the church took two significant steps. She apologized for not submitting to his leadership. Then, two weeks later, she asked to become the associate pastor. He rejected her request because the church could not support another employee. Her mother, the treasurer, drily asked him, "How do you know if you're going to get a pay check next week?" The girl's father and uncle also sat on the Board.
Pastor Buckman knew his goose was cooked.
The Assistant District Superintendent visited the church to assess and intervene. He happened to ask the church secretary, "What would you do if you walked in one Sunday and you saw five new families in your church?" She placed her head in the palms of her hands and bemoaned, "I would say, 'I just lost my church.'"
On the day Pastor Buckman resigned, he realized his tenure had lasted three years and three months. He made the average.
Gordon asked him, "What lessons from the Turnaround Pastor Boot Camp© did you find most helpful?"
In Bible college we were taught to pray, preach, fast, and be faithful. The Turnaround Pastor Boot Camp© jarred my thinking and whetted my appetite for a turnaround. My focus shifted to disciple-making. I also learned from the other pastors from my denomination who wrestled with membership issues. Their struggles helped me identify important issues related to membership in the churches I serve. Finally, I discovered that a change of venue helped me see that I can engage in fruitful ministry.
Gordon's final question was, "Would you recommend a Turnaround Pastor Boot Camp© to others?"
Yes. Most of us from college or seminary will go into a declining church (emphasis ours). When I attended the Turnaround Pastor Boot Camp©, I got a kick in the pants!
Church Revitalization: A Fresh Start
On opening day of hunting season at his new church, Pastor Buckman's sermon title was "Opening Day." A mounted deer, khaki pants, a camouflage shirt, and a blaze orange tie provided the backdrop for the message.
"If I sight in my shotgun, lay out my clothes, and then go and sit in the truck all day and wonder why I never got a buck, the answer would be obvious. In the church, we often do the same thing. We talk about reaching people, but we never get out and do what needs to be done. In ministry, as in hunting, we must prepare, participate and then celebrate the harvest. We have the trophies we want in life. However, reaching lost people is the greatest goal and celebration of all. Whose story can you be a part of in sharing Christ. Today is opening day!"
Linking the pastor and the people around mission, vision, and values propels them toward celebration when they bring in the harvest together! For Pastor Buckman's church, it was a new Opening Day! Pastor Buckman is leading this church in right direction, and they are following.
Although there are numerous differences between the two churches, one of the most important differences is in Pastor Buckman himself. As a result of the training he received in one of our Turnaround Pastor Boot Camps©, he knows what he needs to do, he has a plan on how to do it, and he is successfully leading the church to buy into it!
Pastor Buckman's experience illustrates four important truths about leading turnaround churches. First, it illustrates an unpleasant truth: turnaround ministry is exceptionally difficult, and success is not guaranteed. Second, it highlights the unpleasant truth that many a church has no desire to do and be what Christ desires. Third, it encourages us to move and try again – with proper training – when we fail. Fourth and finally, it demonstrates that training in best practices coupled with personalized mentoring may be an important factor in successful turnaround leadership.
A Church Stuck in the Mud
Pastor Buckman recently sent me an email with the title, “A Church Stuck in the Mud.” As you read, you will see how appropriate the title is. Here is his email.
"A friend of mine in a nearby town was voted out of his church today. He was really making some changes, too. They had purchased a home and everything. Only there two years. Please join me in prayer."
The pastor, himself, added the following note:
"Many of you know that today the church I serve was voting on whether or not to extend our call as the pastor. The vote was 28, 'No' and 20 'Yes.' Though I don’t feel this outcome expresses the will of God, we are at peace with the fact that God is good and we will continue to trust Him. Please pray for my wife, the boys, and I as we seek His will for the next chapter in our lives and please pray for the Church that God will bring healing there and for its next chapter of ministry as well."
The pastor is out. Yet his heart shows deep passion and concern for the church that spurned his love and devotion. His heart is typical of a turnaround pastor seeking to bring spiritual refreshing in a church turned south. Unfortunately, one of the vital components is missing from the equation: a willing church.
Revitalization: A Simple Lesson in Arithmetic
The final lesson we can draw from these accounts is a simple mathematical principle:
1 + 1 = Church Revitalization
One capable pastor + one willing congregation will result in church revitalization! If you miss either part of the equation, church renewal will be difficult, if not impossible.
As a pastor, you may need to hone your skills in order to become a more capable pastor. At the same time, many churches must face the stark reality that they are in danger of extinction! Two prescriptions for the patient:
Pastor, sharpen your skills. Become an effective turnaround leader. Our boot camps are designed for this very purpose.
Congregation, take a hard look at your condition. Bring in a church consultant to perform a spiritual physical on your church body. Listen to the prescriptions and apply them. This may prove to be the catalyst for church renewal.
Is it time for church revitalization for you? Is it a time for a new "Opening Day?"