“I’m afraid my church is going to die.”
It was the tearful confession of a leader who loved her church but didn’t know how to stop its 30-year decline.
For many pastors and church leaders, this story is all too familiar. A place once bustling with kids and young families now has an average age over 60. Thinned ranks have led to dwindling finances. Staff and ministries have been cut and hope for the future is in short supply.
To combat decline, church leaders often resort to something that worked in the past – a technical fix. They remodel the welcome area, put up a new sign, pave the parking lot, or create a new hospitality team in hopes such things will turn the tide.
But none of them do.
That’s because the biggest challenges churches face these days are not technical. They’re adaptive.
Adaptive challenges occur when the world changes. COVID is a recent example. Overnight churches, schools, businesses, and governments all had to adapt to a new reality or people would die. And at the time, no one knew how to fix the problem.
Do you have any adaptive challenges at your church? Here’s how you can tell: 1) No one knows how to fix it, and 2) there are no easy answers.
If so, there is good news. Even when we face a challenge with no known solution, it doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless. It simply means we haven’t found the solution yet.
When we have tried everything and don’t know what to do, it’s an invitation to adapt. If we know something is not right, and it cannot be fixed by already known solutions or outside experts, we need a new approach.
Adaptive challenges require us to let go of what has been, be humble enough to learn, discern new experiments, and allow ourselves and our congregations to be transformed from the inside out.
Humility and Hope
The entire process runs on humility and trust in God. But in the end, it produces new solutions that lead to a new day.
Over the last 19 months, I’ve had the joy of coaching pastors, non-profit leaders, Annual Conference leaders and their teams through an adaptive process. I’ve seen exciting new options emerge that have brought real hope for the first time in years.
It’s not easy, but thankfully, new life is possible!
In my experience, no church has to die, but every church must adapt if it hopes to share the Gospel well into the future.
If your church is struggling, and you don’t know what to do, here are a couple of questions to get started:
- What are you willing to let go to make room for transformation in your church?
- What are you willing to let go to make room in your heart?
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A native of Cambridge, Illinois, Roger has served as a pastor in Texas, the British Channel Island of Guernsey, and Illinois. While in Illinois, he led teams that planted two new churches and served for 10 years as senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Springfield. It was his privilege to serve as the Director of Congregational Excellence in the Missouri Conference before coming into his current role as an executive coach and specialist with Spiritual Leadership, Inc. (SLI). His passions include SCUBA diving in warm blue water, playing board games with family and friends, and teaching evangelism and church planting as an adjunct professor at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. He also has a weakness for golf.
Roger is the author of three books, “Meet The Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share Faith,” “Come Back: Returning to the Life You Were Made For,” and “Come Back Participant Guide,” all through Abingdon Press. Roger is married to Leanne Klein Ross, and they have two adult children, Zach and Jane (who’s married to Sam).