Turning around a church is not for the fainthearted or the impatient. Churches that have been experiencing decline also tend to experience rapid leader turnover.
In business, the fault of this rapid turnover tends to be laid at the feet of the leaders who get frustrated and move on. In churches, however, the turnover can often be attributed to church boards that relieve innovative leaders before they can achieve lasting results. My experience has been that three out of four pastors who attempt to turn around a church lose their job. After all, the church leaders might have to do something they’ve never done before.
The church leader who willingly faces a turnaround should recognize they face a number of “Naysayer” paradigms that are common to most declining organizations.
- “We’ve never done it that way before so why should we now?” Yet this same church went looking for a young pastor who could help them grow once again.
- “We don’t mind change as long as we aren’t the ones who have to change.” As in “We want more young people as long as they act like old people.”
- “Our decline isn’t that bad. In time it will turn around by itself.” Such an attitude is in the face of having to cut the budget the past few years or be subsidized by the endowment.
- “We’ve heard those promises before but the pastor never delivers.” No one seems to realize the inhumane, much less non-Christian, acts that were perpetrated on the last pastor.
- “If we are just more faithful doing what we’ve been doing things will turn around on their own.” The Ostrich Principle at its best.
- “The problem doesn’t lie within our church; the problem lies within society.” How many times have I heard elderly people say, “When the baby boomers grow up they will learn to love Lawrence Welk.”
- “We’re saving our money for a rainy day.” No one ever seems to notice the ark floating by each day.
- “As long as the church survives long enough to bury me I’m happy.” And these same people think they are following Jesus?
- “We love our church.” Sounds good but wouldn’t it be better if they loved Jesus?
- “This isn’t the church I grew up in anymore.” Thank goodness some progress has been made.
The difference between the leader who stays long enough to effect lasting change and the one who is sent packing is the confidence the leader has in themselves and those few who will not give in to the naysayers listed above. These leaders have a clarity of calling that can’t be challenged, a faith that can’t be discouraged, principles that aren’t negotiable, and the constitution of a bull.