The average church in the U.S. has fewer than a hundred in worship. Churches with fewer than 50 people in worship make up 40% of all churches in the U.S. The average age in these churches with fewer than 50 people in worship is over 65. Add to that the fact that less than 2% of these churches are growing and you have a formula for major disaster over the next fifteen years for 40% of all the churches in the U.S.

A Hail Mary Strategy for Turnaround


If there is to be any hope for the vast majority of these churches, radical action must be taken within the next few years or most of them will go out of existence. So, I am suggesting a “hail Mary strategy” for these churches.  You get the picture. It’s the last five seconds of the football game, your team is down by six points, and you are on your own 45-yard line.  Only a touchdown will allow you to win the game. So you call the play and launch the ball as high and as far as you can hoping beyond hope the ball will come to rest in the arms of your receiver somewhere over the goal line.

So the question is this – will the leaders of your church wake up to the fact that the church is in serious trouble and the only way to move it from survival to thriving is by starting over?

Starting over means the following based on the hail Mary strategy.

  • Find a way to have a full time pastor/planter who will commit for three years. I know you can’t afford this at the moment but you must find a way or you will continue to decline. A part-time pastor does not have the time to do all that is necessary to restart a church.
  • Suspend all of the present ways/policies/hidden agendas/system stories regarding decision making and day-to-day running the church and allow the pastor and a launch team to give direction to the church during the three years. This also means disbanding all of the existing committees and the administrative council.
  • Do away with the present mission statement and come up with one that a six year old can remember – one that is short enough to be written on a t-shirt.
  • Allow the pastor to bring together and disciple/equip a re-launch team of about seven people and give them full authority to make all of the decisions for the next three years.  These people need to have four faith characteristics: one, a renewed belief in Jesus Christ and the mission of the church; two, a servant’s heart; three a deep compassion for the lost; and four, a more focused prayer effort.
  • The pastor should be personally responsible for spending 80% of his or her time in the community, dreaming up ways to reach the unchurched, and responding to the visitors to worship. I’ve never seen a church this size grow without the pastor being the direct cause of the growth. Just think how it would change the church if the pastor personally brought in fifty new members over the next eighteen months?
  • Begin an indigenous worship service designed specifically for people from ages 25 to 50, which means rock music and tons of visuals.
  • The pastor must find a musician who believes in the church’s mission and is willing to give his or her time to developing the music and musicians for this service. I know you don’t have a clue how to do this, but you get what you look for. If part of the 80% of the time the pastor is spending on the unchurched is devoted to finding this person the pastor will find them.  These people are out there waiting to be asked to play in worship rather than in the bar scene.
  • Send out six off-the-wall direct mail pieces to all the households within five miles of the church announcing the start of the new worship service.  These mail-out pieces will focus on two things: a new service and a new sermon series designed to catch the imagination of the people under 50 years of age. It must not look churchy.
  • Develop one or two signature ministries.  Churches with less than 300 in worship can only do one or two key ministries. I suggest one of these be a children’s ministry fashioned after Promiseland from Willow Creek. You will not be able to afford to purchase it, but you can easily put your own program together once you understand the basics.
  • Keep the present worship service intact for the present members. These folks have kept the church open all these years and need to be honored for their commitment. What I am suggesting in no way diminishes their past or future contributions to the God’s Kingdom.
  • Have a capital fund drive to raise enough money to accomplish the above. One of the roles of the present members will be to “pray and pay” for what needs to be done to reach young adults for Christ and cause your church to thrive once again. With a solid plan in place you can probably borrow more from your bank.  This should be more than enough money to do what is necessary.  Now you see why I call this a “hail Mary” strategy. But it works if you have the right planter/restart/pastor.

The one thing you know for sure; if you keep doing what you’ve been doing you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting. Surely you’re not satisfied with that.  So roll the dice; spend everything you have; and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, it just means you’ll close the doors a few years sooner and with a lot less grief.

Question: How have you seen this “hail Mary strategy” succeed in churches? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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