CPR for Struggling Churches
by Arleah Waycaster
C

hurches typically experience a life cycle: growth, plateau, decline, and then, eventually, death. In 2016, according to LifeWay Research, 3,600 churches closed in America.

“Some people think we should plant churches and understand they will die, but I think it’s a mistake and a misnomer to think that God would want us to start something only to see it die,” said Michael Reynolds, lead pastor of New Life Celebration Church of God (Dolton, Ill.).

“Churches should be ‘replanted’ every three to five years to keep the momentum going. Reverse the process and do what you did to grow.”

The Replanting Process

Pastor Reynolds explained this process of replanting involves intercessory prayer, evangelism, assessment, strategic planning, and spiritual life.

Intercession. “Nothing scares people more than discussing change, so be careful how you address change to your church. Prayer needs to cover the ministry. There will be a spiritual fight because the devil has already set a death process over the ministry.”

Evangelism. Reynolds explained friendship is critical for a new convert to stick with a church; “If someone has a friend in the church, then he or she is 25 percent likely to stay long-term. That number doubles with each friend the person makes.”

Assessment. The congregation must assess and understand their community’s needs and offer a ministry to address them. Addiction, single families, poverty, and immigration are among the many issues a community might face.

Reynolds said, “Being revitalized doesn’t always mean numerical growth. It sometimes means being so important in serving people in the community that your church can never be erased from the community.”

Strategic planning involves having a clear vision, direction, and evaluation process.

Spiritual life is the power in a church. “We must prophesy over dead bones and speak life to the ministry of the church,” Reynolds said.

Staying on Mission

Many pastors and church members may wonder how their church started to decline in the first place. Rick Whitter, state administrative bishop for the Church of God in Illinois, told the Rewire participants, “It happens one little decision at a time, where you go astray by just a bit. We may be in the most danger when we don’t know that we are in danger.”

Whitter noted several indicators that a church might need revitalization:

  • No new people are coming and staying.
  • The congregation is not tracking with demographics.
  • The motivation for methodology is “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”
  • Maintenance is being deferred (building is run down, cleaning is inadequate, etc.).
  • The church is mono-generational (the kids aren’t staying).
  • There is more talk about the past than the future.
  • Leaders justify stagnation, blaming other sources.
  • The church is more concerned about themselves than the community.
  • There is no desire nor realistic expectation of progress.
  • The goal is simply to survive.

 

“Every church needs to be revitalized from time to time because every church gets off mission from time to time,” Whitter said. “If and when we get off mission, we begin to die as a church.”

Whitter said the mission of the church is the Great Commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mattt. 28:19-20 NIV).

“When mission begins to wane, the church begins to fail,” Whitter said. “When the church begins to fail, some will focus on alternative missions. Because we don’t know how to refocus on the Great Commission, we create a reactionary vision, such as finances, politics, survival, and et cetera.”

Whitter quoted Thom Rainer, author of Autopsy of a Deceased Church: “Thriving churches have the Great Commission as the centerpiece of their vision, while dying churches have forgotten the clear command of Christ.”

Whitter warned how easy it is for churches to drift off mission. “Because the commission is to save people from hell, it is perpetually under attack from the Enemy.

“Communicate mission, communicate mission, communicate mission. Teach it; preach it; discuss it at every meeting. Every department must embrace it. Mission is not a sideline, it must be more than an add-on.”

Once a church has refocused on the Great Commission, its leaders can work on getting new members to come inside the doors and stay.

Reaching and Retaining

Bishop Victor Artreche, lead pastor at Liberty Christian Center in Casselberry, Florida, spoke about how churches can reach and retain people.

“Create a relevant marketing strategy for your church. Never get happy with where you are. The goal should always be looking for people who are lost and saving them.”

Artreche gave several examples of how to market a church:

  • Mass media: social media, website, email, direct mail, and postcards
  • Advertisements: billboards, bus benches, pizza boxes, movie theaters
  • “Guerilla marketing”: flash mobs, inserts on windowsills
  • Sponsorships: local high school coaches and teams
  • Events: community events, small groups during televised sports at a person’s house, specialized tournaments
  • Promotional items: ink pens, water bottles, balloons.

“We won 12 people to Christ through a Pokémon Tournament alone,” Artreche said. “Ads on pizza boxes can reach an average of 600 to 800 people a day. An advertisement at the movie theater is not very expensive and it is very effective. Target your audience. Most young adults watch Marvel movies, so I put ads before those movies right before Easter,”

His church also uses an assimilation and visitor follow-up system. “It’s a simple process for people to get plugged into the life of our church. We use a software program to help track our visitors.”

Liberty Christian Center holds community events to reach new people. They then invite the event-goers to attend a church service for the first time and then a second time, working to make them regular attendees and, finally, active participants.

Pastor Artreche said from the moment people enter a church parking lot, they begin receiving impressions of the ministry.

“Some of the main reasons people report they don’t attend a church are because they think the services are boring, the church just wants their money, the church doesn’t care about their kids, or that the members are mean.

“Put energy and resources into praise and worship. Children’s ministry should be fun, clean, safe, and well-staffed. Deliver messages that are interesting, clear, relevant, and Biblical. Prayer teams should cover the services behind the scenes to provide a fertile atmosphere for the Holy Spirit to work in.”

He added: “Ask this critical question: What will people talk about when they leave your church? You want to under-promise and over-deliver.”

 

 

 

Rewire 2017 was a church-planting and revitalization conference held May 8-9 at the North Cleveland (Tenn.) Church of God. It was sponsored by USA Missions.

Arleah Waycaster is subscriptions manager for the Church of God Evangel.