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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

07 Jul '11

church renovation

On a regular basis some of the most read blogs on this site have to do with dysfunctional boards and unhealthy churches. I am sure that this comes out of the deep frustration of leaders who want to see greater health and congregants who are tired of the lack of leadership, health, intentionality and missionality of their church. 

There is a deep yearning among people I meet to see the church live up to its Biblical expectations where life change takes place, people find Jesus, there is safe and supportive community and the power of the gospel of Christ is found in a grace and love filled environment. But such churches don't just happen: they are led by leaders who have charted an intentional course toward congregational health and missionality.

So what does it take to see an unhealthy church become healthy and vibrant? 

First it takes leaders who have the courage to face the reality in humility that there is a problem. This is not easy. It takes a large dose of humility to admit (if you are a leader) that a problem exists in your church and that change is deeply needed. But until leaders are willing to name the elephant in the room (dishealth) and articulate what needs to change, renovation cannot come.

Spiritual pride is the foremost issue that keeps leaders of unhealthy churches (the vast majority in the United States) from moving toward health. We simply don't want to admit that we have a problem even in the face of intractable evidence. There is no chance for greater health in a sick church until leaders set aside their own pride and humbly admit that there is a problem, that they are part of the problem and that they need God's help in solving the problem. I cannot say this strongly enough: Until leaders humbly admit their need, there will not be change.

In cases where there is deep dysfunction on the board and the board has faced reality and wants to get its act together I strongly suggest that they ask for outside help: a coach to walk them through a process toward health. An outside voice can speak truth, sometimes painful that insiders often cannot. Further, an outside voice can hold board members accountable for their own health as a board.

Second, leaders change first. Generally, unhealthy churches are simply a reflection of unhealthy leadership - staff or boards. So, divided boards generally yield a divided congregation. Lack of spiritual passion among leaders yields a congregation with a lack of passion. Lack of intentionality in leading yields a lack of intentionality of the congregation as a whole. Congregations do follow the example of their leaders so until leaders choose to change and to get their act together spiritually, relationally and in their intentionality, the congregation won't. When they do, the congregation takes notice. 

Third, realize that this is a spiritual issue. The church is the bride of Christ. Unhealthy churches, churches in decline or that are plateaued, churches with conflict and a spirit of criticism or simply malaise are not just unhealthy, they lack spiritual vitality. There needs to be both recognition of this and a deep sense of repentance on the part of leaders. God immediately pays attention to the humble repentance of His people and His leaders. He resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.


Fourth, talk publicly, openly and candidly to your congregation about the spiritual issues in the church, the need for change and the commitments that the board has made spiritually, relationally and missionally. Naming the issues and calling a congregation to a higher level of spiritual citizenship is a powerful move. Some will naturally resist because they are used to the status quo but if leaders are together and committed, the vast majority of folks will agree and follow their lead. 


Fifth, call the congregation to prayer, repentance and humble obedience. It is amazing what happens when we simply humble ourselves before God and ask Him to show up in power as we commit to healthy relationships and focus on becoming a healthy body of believers.


Sixth, chart a clear course of intentional ministry. Health and missional effectiveness does not happen by accident but as leaders intentionally help the church do what God intended it to do: introduce people to Christ and help them experience the full transformation that Jesus wants to bring - impacting then their community and the world. 

Seven, realize that people are used to living in an unhealthy church environment and some will resist moving toward health because it means they need to change their behavior. When sick churches become healthy, some folks actually leave because they don't want to live in a healthy environment. For leaders charting a course of change, chapter twelve of my book, High Impact Church Boards, Negotiating the Whitewater of Change can be helpful. In fact, the book is all about healthy, intentional and empowered church leaders.

Want renovation in your church? It starts with leaders and it starts with humility. It starts with hearts that are willing to humble themselves before God.