This series on church revitalization entitled "Kick-Starting the Plateaued and Declining Church" is being adapted from an article that I co-wrote with Mike Dodson (who was also my co-author for Comeback Churches) for the Spring 2010 Journal of Evangelism and Missions.
Part One focused on the idea that in church revitalization, we are called to love, serve, and lead people. Part Two was on Cultivating a Heart for the People and Place. Today's post looks at Contemplating the State of the Situation.
Nehemiah already had a pretty deep comprehension of the people, the community, and its history. In addition, he was a Jew. Those components enabled him to move pretty quickly in the process. His learning curve wasn't very steep. But even though he had those things going for him, he still inspected things carefully once he arrived on the scene. Then, he took his time unpacking the vision. Inspecting or assessing the situation needs to happen on at least two levels. One level is general assessment of the situation. The second level is grasping the state of the people, identifying their attitude and mindset.
Once Nehemiah received permission from King Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem, he proceeded to inspect or evaluate the situation in a very discreet way. He described it this way:
After I arrived in Jerusalem and had been there three days. I got up at night and [took] a few men with me. I didn't tell anyone what my God had laid on my heart to do for Jerusalem . . . The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, for I had not yet told the Jews, priests, nobles, officials, or the rest of those who would be doing the work. (Neh. 2:11-12, 16, HCSB)
He surveyed the situation with little fanfare and only brought a few men along with him. And it's always intriguing that he didn't tell anyone what God was putting on his heart to do. He wasn't concerned about understanding some huge vision right away, and even once he started unpacking what God put on his heart, he didn't do it all at once. Things happened in stages.
In Comeback Churches, we discuss these two levels of evaluation. In most situations, the first level should probably be discerned before engaging in the context or soon after engaging. Hopefully, key leaders in the association, convention, or network of churches that are involved can help identify this level and work with an incoming leader to set the stage. This is the basic framework that we lay out in the book for the first level assessment:
Basically, if a church is in a pattern of plateau, it can likely be kick-started more quickly and won't need as much priming. If a church is in decline, it will take longer to change things, and more things will need to be changed, depending on how steep and long the decline is. Moreover, some churches (there's no easy way to say this) need to die. Whether no one is left, the community has changed drastically, or those who are left are a self-defeating core, some churches have fulfilled their life cycle. The good side is that some dying churches have resources and assets that can be utilized to start something new (see www.legacychurches.com).On the second level of assessment, the leader seeks to identify the morale, attitude, or mindset of the people within a congregation. If you go to www.comebackchurches.com, you will find that "Evaluating Church Attitudes" is a document that anyone can download and use to help in this area. In that document and the book, we discuss the "Dirty Baker's Dozen"--13 attitudes that people often display in plateaued or declining churches. Prayerfully identify these issues, and prayerfully decide how and when to confront these issues. As the Bible instructs also, identify some wise counselors who can give advice on when and how to address these kinds of things.
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. Ed is Visiting Professor of Research and Missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and Visiting Research Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Ed blogs daily at EdStetzer.com.