I just spent a weekend with a church that is facing one of the most difficult decisions a church will ever have to face. To be or not to be: That is their question. This church has just lost their interim  pastor and only has six months of financial resources left. It sounds pretty hopeless, but the church does have some things going for it.

First, they have a building that’s in pretty good shape. And although they only average around fifty in worship, they’ve managed to attract and retain a bevy of professional musicians, so their blended worship service has great music. The church is located on a fairly busy street and they’re surrounded by neighborhoods with scads of families with kids and households with means. On top of that, they have a committed core of talented, well-educated, intelligent, faith-filled, and life-savvy leaders.

And so they’re between a rock and a hard place. On the other hand, it’s not like their hemorrhaging membership and funding sneaked up, leapt from cover, and caught them by surprise. Far from it. They’ve seen this day coming for some time, but they simply haven’t been able to make a decision… be faithful by trying to beat the long odds that are against them by investing in making the changes it will take to grow, or to be faithful in pulling the plug before they have nothing left to leave as a legacy for a new church start somewhere.

There’s a thing or two to learn from all this.

  • First, let’s be honest.  Making a decision can be daunting. At worst there will be winners and losers … or at best there will be those who are relieved and those who are disappointed. Many decisions will be difficult, but putting it off won’t make it any easier to make. On the other hand, putting it off long enough will ultimately mean you’ll lose the ability of making a decision. Circumstances will make it for you. That’s not leadership, that’s cowardice.
  • Second, some decisions are more difficult that others and it can be difficult to discern what is faithful and what isn’t. If every decision was black and white, it would be pretty easy to discern right and wrong, faithful and unfaithful, good and evil. But most difficult decisions are choices between good and better or bad and worse … and often the choices are separated only by degrees.

In the end, in many circumstances the most faithful thing that can be done is to simply to make a prayerful decision and move on. Faithful is as faithful does. All that’s important. But the most important learning from this situation is this: Get help before it’s too late. When the end is in sight, it’s generally too late to reach out for help. Turning a church around takes time. Research has shown that most turnarounds take a minimum of three years, but more often require five to seven. If you have less time than that, it’s not just the clock that’s ticking. It’s your congregation’s heart monitor.

Question: Have you ever been part of a successful church turnaround? What about an unsuccessful one? What do you think were the factors contributing to its success or failure? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.