At Cornerstone Church Network, we work with numerous congregations from multiple denominations and with significant demographic differences. A common thread that runs through our experience is that a church's perception of itself is directly related to its health as a congregation.
A church that suffers from an inward focus expresses itself in negative actions, often self-destructive, language, emotion, and self-image. There is negative self-talk like, "Yeah Pastor, I remember how that last project went," or, "Why doesn't our church do those things?" Another phrase often heard is, "We don't have those kinds of resources." Inward-focused churches are pessimistic about the future, have frequent pastoral turnover, and are easily impacted by their circumstances. Apathy permeates these congregations.
Some of the causes for this negative self-perception are a declining attendance (particularly if the church is program-driven), the inability to fund necessary staff, decline of their community, repeated failures, or the stressing of success over effectiveness. As a result, any vision they once held is lost. Many of these churches have a history of pastors with low self-esteem.
So how do you turn around an inward-focused congregation? You begin by creating a culture that builds confidence and self-esteem in the people. Words mean everything. Begin to talk about how special the church is. A common error is to try to be all things to all people. Narrow your options and find the two or three things that the church does really well, and focus on those things. Smaller churches have too many voices that weigh in on what the church should be doing. The key to focus is to eliminate ministries that do not help you achieve your vision and goals. Celebrate how members take care of each other. Praise the worship team if that is a strength. Always exude positive energy and affirmation. Keep reporting on progress that is being made.
Leaders have to believe in the potential and possibilities of their congregations. Celebrate the good things. Look for ways your congregation is having an impact on individuals and in the community, and share them each week. Play together and pray together. Clean up your building and keep it that way. Never trash-talk your congregation or berate them. Identify and transition out any staff or leaders who are hurtful rather than helpful and who immobilize rather than empower people.
Finally, make it personal. You are the leader; own it. One of the best things you can do is to continually and consistently communicate with your congregation. Years ago I started sending five short notes a week to let people in our congregation know that I was praying for them. I began at the beginning of the alphabet in our church directory and sent everyone a card. I told them that I was praying for them the next week and asked them to let me know via e-mail, phone, or registration card what they wanted me to pray about concerning them. I also sent another five cards per week thanking, praising, and noticing good deeds by members. Sometimes I would just send them a card because they came across my mind. I thanked them for their faithfulness or some other trait they exhibited that was biblical and honoring to God.
What we do as leaders is often more caught than taught. Our deeds speak for us, too! If you are not experiencing your own transformation, how can you can expect it from your congregation? What next steps will you do take to create a positive, God honoring culture and vibrant life giving church?
—Bill Nicoson serves as the executive director of Cornerstone Church Network, a ministry providing, guidance, counseling, and support for pastors; adapted from an article appearing on Cornerstone Church Network, ©2011 by Cornerstone Church Network. Used by permission.
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