Saturday, May 22, 2010

Reaching for the future

Declining churches need to rediscover the hope that the founders had when they first established the church. When a group of people gather to form a church they are willing to take risks to make it happen. They take out loans, give sacrificially and make big plans for the future. In some cases members take small personal loans to cover initial expenses.

In the early years of the church everything will be new, many things will be innovative and a spirit of hope in the future drives growth. New churches account for more baptisms per member than established churches.

At some point the new church becomes an established church and goes into preservation mode. Fear of losing what one has replaces hope in what God will bring. The new way of thinking leads to a plateau in growth and, eventually a decline.

Fewer members means fewer dollars. The church begins to start saving money just in case. Eventually the church will disband and turn over its assets to the local association (if it is Baptist). The assets will include a surprising amount of money in the bank and a valuable piece of real estate.

People like me will wonder why it never occurred to them to use the money in the bank to fund an innovative ministry or hire some staff. Why didn’t they sell the building and start over?

Churches go through a bell curve of growth, a long plateau, and inevitable decline. The decline begins when the church starts trying to conserve its gains. Leaders are now more concerned about keeping the people inside happy than reaching the people outside.

One church in Chicago continues to grow by thinking ahead. After 10 years of meeting in rented spaces, they built their first building. Some thought it too big but they soon filled it. Most churches would stop here but this church decided to fund three satellite campuses within a few years. Critics believed that they over-reached but, again, they continued to grow. Two more satellite campuses were established before the 10th anniversary of their building’s completion.

Declining churches can turn things around when they recapture the desire to stretch beyond their own capacity and trust God for the results. Declining churches can turn things around when they realize that the worst thing that can happen is they close their doors a few years earlier than expected. On the other hand, God’s blessings could result in a revival.

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