Currently, my elders and I are working through Comeback Churches by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson. The first post is here. These are my notes on chapter 1.
Chapter 1:“Why Consider Becoming a Comeback Church”
In this chapter we read “Over time, most churches platau and most eventually decline. Typically, they start strong or experience periods of growth, but then they stagnate” (p.17). In a helpful chart on page 18, they outline the needs of a church depending upon where it is. As one proceeds down the chart more change is required.
A church needs.... -- If it is...
Refocusing-- stagnant in size (needs clearer focus on outreach and evangelism)
Reenergizing-- declining in size. (needs to deal with some internal issues and begin to reach its community again.
Restructuring-- a church that has experienced substantial decline
Restarting-- near death
Stetzer and Dodson goes on to likst there “Dirty Baker’s Dozen”-- which is 13 reasons that Churches get stuck (pp.19-23).
- Institutional Church-- a church more committed to forms and programs and is no longer doing what the church should be doing.
- Voluntary Association Church-- a church that is more democratic than built on the principles laid out in the New Testament. In this kind of church “[w]henever one group seeks to make a positive change in the church in one direction, the oppossing factions begin to while, complain and gossip” (p.20). This kind of church will always maintain the status quo.
- Unintentional Church-- a church that has good intentions but never realizes them. They always “hope” but they never “do.” There is no intentional discipleship making in this type of church.
- “Us Four and No More” Church-- a church that determines ‘fellowship’ will be lost if it grows any larger.
- “We Can’t Compete” Church-- a church that has bought into the idea that “the unchurched are only interested in program-rich megachurches.” Quite the opposite Stetzer and Dodson show that that data is that churches of all sizes can turn around and reach the unchurched around them.
- “Decently and in Order” Church --this kind of church has an emphasis on process but little passion. Detail oriented, and everything down to the minutia is approved by committee.
- “Square Peg in a Round Hole” Church-- People are enlisted to serve but not according to their gifting.
- “Time-Warp” Church-- a church that has grown comfortable to what it has always done. Style and form remains trapped in the past.
- “Tidy” Church --Everything functions smoothly but when ever children or young people come and “upset” things, there is a reaction. New growth thus becomes a threat to the neat and orderly building, equipment, furnishings, etc.
- “My Way or the Highway” Church --A number of members in this church know how things should be and they are good at telling everyone else. People don’t like little changes because their way is right.
- “Chaplaincy” Church --The church “hired its minister and expects the “chaplain” to be busy meeting needs and making the church grow” (22). Every needs is passed through the pastor and he is expected to meet them.
- The “Company” Church --Church is focussed on what is handed down from the denomination and not reaching the community.
- “Play it Safe” Church --There is a lack of trust and faith that God will provide.
All these churches have in the final evaluation “lost the passion for making disciples and the focus of God’s glory in His church.”
In the next section, the question becomes “How do you Change It?” Change is difficult. Most churches do not admit how bad things have become. And most churches will not “make the needed changes” (23). Of course, Stetzer and Dodson are going to focus on making the turn and changing things.
After briefly accounting the state of the American churches and denominational trends, we need to realize that there are growing numbers of unchurched in America today. So for example:
“Less than 20% of Americans regularly attend church--half of what pollsters report” (26). Most church growth than is transfer growth not actual growth by reaching the lost. Thus, most churches are not making an impact among the unchurched (27). Less than 1 in 20 church is actually growing from conversion growth (27).
So the chapter continues: “What can’t established churches stay focused and effective? How can established churches reignite their passion for outreach and refocus on their purpose?” (27). 70% of churches are stagnant, which means most churches will have to change if they are actually going to reach the lost.
In order to change a church has to confront the problems and acknowledge that there is stagnation or decline (28).
Here are some suggested evaluative questions:
- Do the names of several people who have come to Christ through your church in the last year immediately spring to mind?
- Is the community in which God has placed your church “brighter” and “saltier” because of your church’s influence?
- How many people living within driving distance of your church have received a clear presentation of the gospel? (pp.28-29).
“Being a good leader means being a godly person of influence. Comeback leaders influence their churches to strive for something more than the present stagnation...Comeback leaders use honest church evaluation and godly influence to motivate their congregation to change” (29).
Quoting a pastor, Stetzer and Dodson note: “People don’t want to work when the church is struggling. They let the pastor do the work; when he is succesful, they want to take over” (29). However, people who are serving together will ‘buy into’ the change.
“Most pastors reading this believe that the church exists, at least in part, to fulfill the Great Commission... But the average person in the church believes that the churches exists to meet his or her needs and the needs of the family” (30). In fact, people often show up to church telling it to do what they want much in the same way James and John said that to Jesus (Mark 10:35).
For the church, “usually that means solving all issues of relational strife within families, meeting each individual’s specific needs, having great youth and children’s ministries, teaching deep, powerful truths from God’s Word in fifteen minutes or less that answer all their questions about God, providing a vibrant, dynamic worship experience... and, of course, get it all done before the game begins at noon” (30).
But to be a Comeback Church, the leaders have to recognized “that the congregation must be part of the turnaround” (30). This means the entire church must recognize its current state and be willing to change. The congregation must be lead to recognize the problems and envision the necessary solutions.
Once a course of action is decided upon and the people begin to embrace it, it will then take hard work to actually implement. “Change sounds great until you start to experience it” (32).