Part 1 – The Trauma Situation
Just recently, I had another pastor discuss with me a terrible situation he was facing. His church was dying. He was heartbroken. He had served that church faithfully for the past several years, doing all he could to lead the people to reach their community. Unfortunately, the congregation had given up on reaching out to the community, and when the pastor did something to bring the church into the present, the people were quickly frustrated. The situation felt hopeless, and he feared there was no helping the church. It seemed as if the church was going to die.
The Church Was In A Trauma State
The church was slowly decreasing because of natural attrition, and new people were not joining the congregation. Because attendance was declining, the finances were too. The church had some financial reserves but not enough to carry them through with the debt accrued from the previous building project left by the former pastor. The church was bleeding out. People and resources were going out faster than they were coming in. Without intervention, the church would die soon. The church was in a trauma state.
Something had to be done. But what?
The pastor began changing things. He updated the service, started to meet with people in the community, and worked to improve the children’s and student ministries of the church. Sadly, the updates and improvements were met with opposition from existing church members. The service updates were met with criticism, new people were not welcomed, and he seemed to be the only person willing to do anything for the ministries.
The church was not only bleeding out; It had a heart issue too. The church was in a trauma state.
When a church is in a trauma state, you must act quickly. In the same way that a Doctor must work quickly in the trauma room with a patient that is bleeding profusely and having significant issues with their heart, a pastor must work in a church that is in a trauma state.
Before the pastor can address the issues, he must assess the issues.
For Churches That Are In Trauma State, We Must Examine The Heart
Do You Want To Change?
The first question is tricky for some congregations to answer, while the answer is fundamental in moving toward new life.
I have seen the situation time and time again. Pastors who are eager, called, and equipped leave the seminary ready to serve in the church with visions of reaching the lost and serving faithfully. They meet with personnel committees to discuss the future, preach before enthusiastic congregations, and move their families across the country to help where they are called—all with the expectation that they are going to join God’s people who are ready to reach their community.
But then they soon realize that things are not exactly what they seem. Fast forward four to twelve months, and the situation has changed. The people have moved past enthusiasm into frustration, and the church that was ready to reach the lost a few months ago has lost its vision entirely.
What went wrong?
The people did not want to change. If the people are so consumed with the past that they cannot move into the current, then the church will remain stagnant until it fades into death.
The simple fact is that there are many people in churches that do not want the church to change. They emotionally hold onto the past.
They do not care for the future. The congregation does not want to bother with making disciples or reaching the lost.
This church has a heart problem.
Are You Willing To Change?
The second question is just as tricky as the first, and it, too, must be answered before moving forward.
While many people will say, “Yes, I want my church to change and grow to reach the lost,” the truth is they are not willing to change.
Change in the church comes with a price. Some could find an issue with the new faces that have changed and the fact that they do not know everyone’s name. Others find change hard when it affects the way a ministry looks or works for them. Others are not seeing changes in the ways that they would like.
Let’s face it. Change is hard. Pastors would do well to understand that when implementing changes in their churches.
However, change is also a necessary part of life. We do not continue to use horse and buggy, and we do not continue to listen to eight tracks. The world has changed, and the church has to change with it. The church cannot continue to work in the nineteenth century when we are in the twenty-first century.
The point is that we, as the church, must be willing to change how we do things. If we are not willing to adapt to share the gospel with an ever-changing world, we have a significant heart problem.
Can You Trust Your Pastor Through The Change?
In my first pastorate, I once had an older man tell me, “Son, you have to earn my trust.” While I understood the sentiment, I had to ask the man, “exactly how can I earn that trust?”
I had been the man’s pastor for a little over a year, and he was frustrated over a few minor changes that the staff had made to the service. While I knew that the church services had not changed for decades and that this small change was a hard change for him, I also knew that he needed to trust me if we were going to start moving to reach the next generation in our community.
Church members must be willing to extend trust to their church leadership.
There is no secret here. The church cannot function if the members are constantly questioning the method or integrity of the leadership. Therefore, something must be done. If a person cannot trust their pastor to seek God’s vision and implement that vision for the church, they shouldn’t be a part of that church.
When a pastor goes to a church, they are brought in by a group of church leaders who have prayed over that decision, they are confirmed by the church body who have prayed over that decision, they have prayed for that decision, and finally, they are voted in because the congregation believes that the pastor is God’s answer to those prayers. If a person cannot trust their pastor and his leadership, then ultimately, they are not trusting in God’s direction.
I understand that pastors are not perfect and that some have done immoral things. However, God has a plan, and He places His servants in positions to fulfill His purposes. The pastor is God’s under-shepherd, leading His people according to His plan. Churches must respect God’s will and plan for His church.
If a congregation cannot trust their pastor, there is a heart problem there.
What to do when faced with a dying church is not a fun or popular topic to discuss, but it is a topic that needs to be discussed. We must be willing and ready to ask the necessary questions, assess the situation, and make the changes to reach our communities.
In the future, I will be discussing more questions to ask your church to promote church health. Please subscribe to receive future articles.