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. Be sure to go back and read parts one, two, and three.
After assessing the situation, it's time to start facing reality and helping people start making some changes. Obviously, this is where it can get really tough because there's a need to say some hard things firmly, while being gracious. In addition, you're going to ask demoralized people to reengage who may feel like losers, even if they're trying to put a good face on it. This is how Nehemiah approached things after his assessment:
So I said to them, "You see the trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned down. Come, let's rebuild Jerusalem's wall so that we will no longer be a disgrace." I told them how the gracious hand of my God had been on me, and also about the king had said to me. They said, "Let's start rebuilding," and they were encouraged to [do] this good work (Neh. 2:17-18, HCSB).
It makes it all sound pretty easy on the surface, but notice that Nehemiah didn't ask them to do everything all at once. He just asked them to do one thing--rebuild a wall. In your case, who knows what it might be? Maybe you need to ask people to do a major "spruce up" of the property or building; maybe you need to ask them to start a new group or class of some kind; or maybe you need to work with people to organize an outreach project. Do whatever activity that will begin to build a sense of accomplishment among the people.
In addition, Nehemiah did speak the truth. He stated the obvious, and then he turned that into a battle cry. And the reason for it was that God was at work in the situation. That goes back to the first two points--having a clear sense of calling from God to love, serve, and lead the people and allowing God to cultivate a love in your heart for the people and the place.
Notice also that Nehemiah made it about "we" and "us," not "me" and "them." He challenged people to join the team, and Nehemiah saw himself as one of the team. It wasn't Nehemiah against or above everybody else, and the people responded. Nehemiah didn't rub all of this in the face of the people or try to make them feel bad for letting things get to that point.
In leading Lee Park Church to experience significant revitalization, Pastor Chris Justice kept things pretty simple. The vision he cast for the church revolved around two obvious things--preach the Word and love people. That's it. He tried not to use the word "change" in the first year. What he did set out to do though, was highlight instances where he observed people loving others. Pastor Justice asserted, "The people were so used to hearing everything that was wrong and everything that they weren't, I wanted to preach to them who they were." Pastor Chris Justice and Nehemiah were working on building people up after being demoralized.
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.