Yesterday’s post dealt with the options available to struggling churches that want to turn things around. Today, I’ll address the challenge inherent in each approach.
Rebrand, retool, and relaunch. Just as every person has a certain DNA, so do churches. The DNA of a church represents their values and philosophies, often dating back to the earliest days of the church. Unlike humans, I don’t believe a church’s DNA is set-in-stone. That being said, I also don’t believe it is easily modified. To modify a history of division or myopic vision requires deliberate, intentional action. In some cases, it may mean that the existing leadership (pastor, elders, staff) must move on in order for new leadership DNA to be installed.
Retooling an existing church may turn out to be a painful process. Many small churches remain small because they have ceased existing for those who aren’t there. In short, they exist for themselves … the style of music they like, the times of service that are convenient for them. To buy into a turnaround requires an admission that they are headed in the wrong direction. That’s a tough admission for most of us to make, regardless of the situation.
Become a campus of a larger, healthier church. While it seems like being absorbed by a larger church wouldn’t have too many problems, it does require a change in mindset. As a campus of a larger church, new language will be learned, new styles adopted. Existing leaders will often be asked to relinquish that leadership. The “identity” of the church changes. It is no longer “Main Street Baptist Church” but a campus of a different church. New people will arrive. While growth is exciting, it is also threatening. Learning to celebrate what God is doing is essential to thriving.
Sell the property and use the money to start new churches. On the one hand, this option seems like the most radical. In my opinion, it may represent the most logical decision to make. Yet it doesn’t happen without a fair amount of grieving and discouragement. Although the end result will be a multiplication of new churches, to get there requires ending a chapter in one’s own faith journey. Selling a church building is much like selling a house: you’re not just selling brick and mortar, you are selling memories. The walls of a church building can tell stories of baptisms and wedding, funerals and fellowship.
The other challenge to selling a property is what to do with the money. This is where working with a reputable church planting organization is absolutely critical. Not only can they walk you through the process, they will help you get excited about the possibilities.
In the end, the key question is this: what will be most pleasing to God? Every church must answer that question and every church may answer differently.