turnaround churches, part one

By August 8, 2011Church, Leadership

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about how small, struggling churches often search for that one change that will stop the hemorrhaging and allow them to grow again.  That search is most often futile — there is no silver bullet waiting to be discovered.

According to the Barna Group, the average church in America has 90 people in attendance.  While “mega churches” get most of the attention, only 2% of churches in America average over 1,000 in weekend attendance.  I serve one of those large churches and I need to be reminded there are more of “them” than there are of “us.”

The average church of 90 (which includes men, women, and children) will struggle to employ a full-time pastor and still have enough money left for outreach, missions, and ministry.  If the ultimate goal is to simply exist, most will succeed.  If the goal is to impact their community for the cause of Christ, something new will need to happen.

So, what are the options?  I’ll start with the “easiest” and work from there.

Rebrand, retool, and relaunch.  In some cases, the potential of a church is thwarted by its past.  Events that happened five or ten years are still used to define the church, even though many of those involved may no longer attend.  Using the guidance of an outside consultant or local pastoral team, a church may decided to rebrand (choose a new name that breaks from the past), retool (gather the resources to head in a new direction — music, leadership, etc), and relaunch (a grand opening!).  This process may take any where from 3-6 months but it certainly doesn’t happen over night.  It also requires a solid financial base from which to operate.

Become a campus of a larger, healthier church.  The multisite approach to church life is not only popular, it’s effective.  It allows larger churches to extend their ministry reach without the cost of expanding an existing facility.  Having a small church join a larger church is becoming increasingly common.  It brings the resources of the main campus to the small church.  It’s more of a church absorption than a merger; the larger church is absorbing the smaller church and providing the leadership for the campus.  In certain locations, this is not only a viable solution — it may be the best solution.  A church of 50 people will have access to the resources of a 1,000 member church … and it will not stay at 50 people for long.

Sell the property and use the money to start new churches.  Many of the “average” churches in America are gathering each Sunday in a building that is paid for and which represents a tremendous kingdom asset.  Our task is to be stewards of what God has given us.  In some cases, the best stewardship of assets is to liquidate them and put them back into circulation.  In many regions of the country, a healthy church can be planted for approximately $150,000.  If a debt-free property can be sold for $600,000, that money can be used to start up to four new churches.  If those churches only grow to the average size, they will represent a four-fold increase to the kingdom.  (As a church planter, I’m convinced they will not only grow to the average size but far exceed it!).

Tomorrow I’ll write about the challenges built-in to each of these options.