Difficult decisions: Letting go of biased thinking

By Bob Bickford

While it is true that many churches are finding new life through replanting and revitalizing, there are countless others who continue to struggle. These struggling churches can be found in any context: rural, town, suburban and urban. Churches like this — with a faithful remnant of 20 or so people who were the founders, givers, and faithful servants of years past — gather weekly but, honestly, are not sure how much longer they can keep this up.

Often churches like these hold fast to a survival mentality that begins to shape the way they view their community, other churches, and even the denominational partners who wish to help them.

1. The surrounding community is categorized.

The residents who live nearby but do not attend the church are sometimes viewed, at worst, as adversaries, rather than people who God loves and for whom Christ died and, at best, as apathetic to spiritual things like church programs and ministries. This view is never challenged because the members no longer live in or interact with their community.

2. Other churches are criticized.

Unfortunately, healthy, growing churches whose locations are near declining and dying churches are, at times, disparaged for their effectiveness in reaching people with the gospel. Some members, leaders, and attenders of dying churches spiritualize their decline, attributing it to “faithfulness” while bolstering their position by unfairly assuming that a sister church’s growth is due to some sort of compromise.

3. Denominational partners are cut off.

A declining and dying church can be a fearful place. Decades of loss can create a culture of tight control with the primary goal being survival. This attitude might create a climate of distrust toward those who truly wish to help. “They just want our building” is a common refrain lobbed at denominational entities who are there to help. What’s true is that the partners long for a healthy vibrant church in that facility.

How do you lead a church like this toward a better future?

Pray and repent: If solving church decline was a resource, strategy, or programming problem, we would have had solved that years ago. We have an abundance of each of those things. Church decline and death is always a spiritual problem. It is only when the leaders and members of a church pray for God’s way and repent of their pride, doubt, fear, and sin that the church can move forward.

Partner for ministry: The kind of partnership I’m speaking of is not simply asking a healthy church to send young families while the unhealthy church retains leadership and decision-making control. What is needed is a partnership that acknowledges reality. A church that says; “What we’ve been doing, how we’ve been going about ministry isn’t working. We can’t do it on our own. We need help and we need new leaders.” This is a church that is ready for partnership. Area churches are open to sending people and resources where they can be part of the decision-making process and truly help lead.

Request and receive help: Many dying and declining churches have completed surveys and have had consultations with recommendations given. Often, they either rejected them or never followed them. Local associations, state conventions, and NAMB have qualified and competent leaders who can help a struggling church consider steps toward its future. Invite them in, hear them out, and allow them to walk with you through the difficult decisions needing to be made as your church seeks its future under the leadership of Jesus.

Churches won’t and can’t change when they are in bondage to bad thinking.,

Published March 30, 2019

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Bob Bickford

Bob Bickford is a Replant Pastor in suburban St. Louis, serves as the Associate Director of Replant for the North American Mission Board and is the co-author of Am I a Replanter,  Pathways to Partnership and the Associational Replanting Guide. Follow Bob on twitter @bobick