You’re stuck. The church you once loved is now sliding downhill. Some are disgruntled, leadership is faltering, attendance is low, fellowship is almost non-existent, and interest in improvement is weak. Even the building reflects the neglect of dispassionate saints. What should you do?
I realize the problem is systemic, but there are some things that may yet be done to revitalize the church. I’m not going to give you the main things (restoring regenerate membership, establishing church discipline, promoting forgiveness, reshaping the leadership team, igniting biblical vision, church repentance, etc.), but the kind of things that almost any church (or even church member) can do immediately. The best thing is this: you can get busy doing them without much pain or major church decision-making.
1. Begin a reading group. God has often used books to turn lives around. Consider a book club where small, but potent books can be read and discussed. Pick out a life-changing book, provide plenty of coffee and snacks, and meet every week, every two weeks, or once a month, to discuss the book (or assigned chapters). Ask for comments about specific issues in the book or allow people to read various sections that impressed them. Don’t expect people to be profound. It is about fellowship and insights gained, simple or complex. Enjoy it. Then watch how people’s lives are changed by good books. An excellent beginning book might be Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle, or All of Grace by Spurgeon. You can grow the size and complexity of the books you choose as you go along, depending on the group you have. Let each person buy their own copy, but designate someone to order the books for the group from a discount Christian bookseller.
2. Eat together more often. Many believe that the New Testament shows that the early church ate meals together every week. I’ve been in several churches that have had this wonderful practice and I recommended it highly. Nothing brings together people like eating together. If you cannot do it every week, do it at least once a month. But I’m still going to push for a weekly meal. Don’t try to outdo each other with your cooking. You don’t want this to become a burden. And don’t plan your menu. Eat whatever shows up.
If your church cannot practice regular mealtimes together, your family can be a source of real fellowship by providing Sunday meals for members. Perhaps you can team up with another family each week to provide food for yourselves and a third church family in one of your homes. Maybe you can invite a single person or two to round it out. Squeeze them into your house and have a great time getting to know each other better. Soon you will have had every member family over and can start the process over again.
3. Freshen up the building. When you weren’t paying attention your church building went into disrepair. This is almost invisible to members who come in and out week-by-week. But it invariably happens. The paint on the sign is flaking, the lawn and shrubs are unkempt or have disappeared, the nursery is World War II era and is totally uninviting, the carpet is worn out, the walls are still “institutional green,” the bathrooms are utilitarian and a bit smelly, the kitchen is out-of-date and has broken appliances, the parking lot is crumbling, the sound system squawks, the lighting is poor quality, etc. If you choose to use a building, you must keep it up. It’s a reflection of your church health. You may not notice that things have gotten bad, but the neighborhood people do.
Note that the corporate worship area in most older buildings is dark at night, even when the lights are on. As a rule, much more light needs to be put on the speaker than on the rest of the building. If this is not done, the audience will have “tired eyes” looking up front. Also add extra lights for use below the pulpit also when the pastor speaks more informally. Small spotlights on the ceiling or side walls are best. If you don’t have budgeted money for freshening up the building, try asking for an offering. People may like the idea.
4. Put prayer meetings in the home. Here’s what I mean. Spend part of the year praying in the homes. It’s a simple plan. Divide the membership up by geography or by the alphabet, get a prayer leader, have the leader offer a personal invitation to his group, and prepare the leader to lead. You can do this for the summer or for another ten-twelve week period. You might even decide to do it both for summer and for a winter period. Always have coffee and tea available and encourage people to visit after the meeting.
Keep the plan simple: read Scripture, explain the prayer method for the evening, and get to praying. I suggest that prayers be made “one request at a time.” If you do otherwise, somebody will pray about everything and the rest will feel that there is nothing left to say. That’s not true, of course, but really is the way people think. You may make a list of the top ten things people are “actually praying about personally and regularly” on a white board. Then ask the group to pray; one thought at a time, for one aspect related to one item they are burdened about. They can come back in to pray several times, of course. Or, you may have the group write down on a card one to three items they are really praying about, along with their name. Then exchange the cards around the room. Then let people pray about one item at a time on the list they have. Well, you get the idea.
5. Set up “prayer stops.” Make a big poster board list of days and times available for the pastors to pray with member families. The people are all encouraged to write their name in a space that works for them. The pastor may work out a time with those who failed to get their name on the board. Perhaps this could be set up for one or two nights a week for several weeks. The pastor(s) will drop over and meet with the family, read some Scripture, perhaps ask a few questions about needs and spiritual condition, and pray with the family. Then, off he goes to the next stop. This can be set up for one hour or 45 minute intervals, depending on the typical distances to be traveled. A pastor can do a few of these each evening designated. The objective is to pray with every family of the church.
6. Use more people. Consider using more people for various jobs in the church week. For instance, use somebody besides a pastor to make announcements, welcome guests, read Scripture, share testimony, etc. Variety is the spice of life, and the exercise will stimulate growth.
7. Take a missions trip. You may have avoided doing this because your church is not large enough to plan your own trip, but you can certainly join in with others who are going. You might be surprised to find out that most missions agencies can find a good way to use you overseas if you can cover your expense. It just takes a little checking. Do it. Your church may never be the same.
8. Have a Feast of Redemption. Our church joined with another smaller church in town to have a special two days of conversion testimonies and meals together. It was a wonderful experience we will not soon forget. Here’s what you can do. Begin on Saturday evening with a covered dish meal and an evening of testimonies from people of both churches. Add some good music. On Sunday morning, have the men and boys meet for breakfast and more testimonies. During the Bible study hour and church service have even more testimonies from both churches. End the day with a catered meal for everyone. Of course, you will need to line up the testimonies (usually 5 minutes each) beforehand, so everyone will be ready.
Okay, I know that these ideas aren’t earth shattering, but I’ve written about many of the big concepts before. I just wanted to stimulate your thinking. Something can be done in that church of yours that will make things better. So get with it! Instead of complaining, do something. And if your pastor has not gotten this list, run it off for him and see what he thinks. Tell him, “I’ll help.”