A few months ago I wrote about St. John’s Syndrome. St John’s syndrome is described as “the tendency of churches to become less effective the longer they are in existence.” The two keys to overcoming St. John’s Syndrome are to rediscover the original values of the church (“do the things you did at first/ going back to your first love” Revelation 2:3-4) and make changes that will revitalize the church for another generation.
Having a discussion with a congregation that has plateaued, or is starting in a downward trend, about what may need to change in order to become effective again can be threatening if not done prayerfully and skillfully.
People who have invested in the church for years have pride in what was accomplished in the past. They may remind you about the ‘glory years.’ You will sometimes hear comments like, “This is the way we have always done it. We are not about to change now.” Such attitudes can create an environment that is resistant to change.
How can you turn a church around that is making the turn toward decline?
1. By slowly but deliberately LISTENING rather than having all the answers (especially at first).
2. UNDERSTAND people’s feelings about the past and emotions about possible changes.
3. Don’t look at the past as irrelevant, but celebrate and HONOR the Gospel successes of the past. This does not mean that you have to go backwards toward the old days. Rather use the past values as foundation stones upon which to build the future.
4. Gain the TRUST of people by letting them know that you understand their feelings, honor the past successes and want what is best for the future of the congregation. Most church members want what is best for the church. They especially want to know the church will be healthy for their children and grandchildren.
5. In HUMILITY, listen to what others think can happen to assure a future that will reach yet another generation. Trust what others can bring to the table to help shape the future, and invite them to become advocates of change.
Is this challenging? Of course it is. But a slow and steady leadership of revitalization will go much farther in turning a church around than a quick change that pushes the past away, ignoring the core values that started the church.
For an interesting read on paying attention to these and other intangibles, read the CEO of Leadership Network, Ron Edmonson’s article 7 Intangibles of Church Revitalization.
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