FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
1. What is the leading cause of plateau and decline in the church? The leading cause is the fact that, over time, a church tends to become more and more inwardly focused, centering on ministry to its congregation and leaving the community outside largely ignored. Added to this dynamic is the ever changing culture and demographic of the community while the culture and demographic of the congregation stays the same. The cultural and demographic gap between congregation and community widens until the congregation has completely lost touch with its community and has become irrelevant to the community. Often this widening gap is accompanied by a growing bias or prejudice from the congregation toward the community and blaming the community for the church’s decline since people from the community are not coming to the church as members think they should.
2. How long does it take for a church to revitalize? This ranges widely and is somewhat dependent on the health of a given church at the beginning of the process. Speaking generally, a church that is in long-term plateau or decline will require approximately two to three years of work to transition to a fully revitalized posture and another two to three years before revitalization is firmly rooted in the DNA of the church.
3. How is GO Center training material different from that of others? Our training material isn’t hugely different from that of others who are working in the field of revitalization. All of us who are called to do this are called for the same reason, believe in the same Bible, have the same concern for the church and end up focusing on Great Commission ministry. In that sense, one is about the same as the other. The issue is not over the choice of revitalization approaches but over the choice to revitalize or not. If you do nothing you will not revitalize. If you are committed to revitalization, pick one of the credible approaches available to you and go all in. We are not into trying to compete with our colleagues. The need for revitalization is so great that many more of us are needed. One thing I will say is that our approach is truly a training approach that takes the theology and philosophy of revitalization into actual practice.
4. How often should a church go through a renewal or revitalization process? Once revitalized, church leaders should keep constant tabs on how ministry is working through routine assessment, evaluation and adjustment. When this is done often, at least yearly, minor adjustments can be made to keep a church moving on the track of positive health, growth and multiplication. A formal revitalization should be conducted every three to four years, but, again, if continuous monitoring has been in place, only minor adjustments will be needed. The rule of thumb is to make subtle changes sooner because you choose to rather than having to make major changes later because you have to.
5. Since the word “revitalization” is offensive to some pastors and leaders, wouldn’t another title or word choice be better, something more positive? Churches in long-term plateau or decline need to revitalize and one of the first steps in that direction is for pastors and leaders to recognize and admit that they need to revitalize. Soft peddling this effort with more sensitive or more positive nomenclature can cloud the issue. For that reason, the word “revitalization” is placed front and center. Failing to do so would be similar to padding the need of an alcoholic by changing the name of Alcoholics Anonymous to something such as the Making Good Beverage Choices Club. (OK – fine – this answer is a bit over the top but you get the idea.)
6. Have you ever worked with a church with our unique circumstances? Yes. The truth is that whatever your circumstances are they are not unique. Whatever has happened in your church has happened in others. Many, many times a pastor or leader has said, “I know you’ve never seen anything like this before . . .” as he or she proceeds to paint a picture that we have seen multiple times. We get it. This circumstance is new to you and important to you, and you are unaware of this particular scenario occurring anywhere else in your church experience, but we have worked with dozens and dozens of pastors, leaders and congregations and most of the challenges and problems that pop up in one place pop up in many others. There might be variations on a theme and slight nuances here and there, but, for the most part, you are not alone.
7. Since our church is without a pastor, should we wait until we have a pastor to engage a revitalization process? No, don’t wait. God knows what He has in mind for your church and knows who your next pastor is going to be. If you need to revitalize, take action now, even without a pastor. This will help church leaders establish a sense of identity for the church and its vision for the future. Better understanding your identity and your vision will make you better able to select the right new pastor.
8. What books do you recommend for revitalization?
9. Is any of your material available in book, print or digital form? Yes, go to the homepage and click BOOKS/MEDIA, ETC.
10. What types of pastors/leaders/congregations do you work with? Our commitment is to work with pastors, leaders and congregations who hold to authentic evangelicalism, i.e. Authority of Scripture, Divinity of Christ, Trinity, etc. We subscribe to the Apostles Creed and the Westminster Confession of Faith. If Jesus is Savior and Lord to you, we should be able to work together. We are committed to doing all we can, by the grace of God, to help these churches back to health and strength, growing in number through conversion.
11. What percentage of increase in attendance and giving does a church experience when working through your process? This is the wrong question because it’s centered on superficial metrics, plus it would be impossible for us to make such a projection. Attendance and giving are by-products of more important considerations, so the objective should not be increased attendance and giving in and of themselves. The objective is to develop a healthy church that measures its ministry by growth in spiritual maturity and impact in the community through outreach and evangelism. The church that does so tends to grow in attendance and giving. Another important factor is to what degree a church commits to the revitalization process. In general, we see three responses to our training and consulting. The first is that some churches are proactive and faithful to the holistic process and tend to see positive results. The second is that some churches take the “Whitman’s Sampler” approach, picking through the process for a few “tasty” chocolates while leaving the rest in the box. Limited and selective commitment yields limited results. Third are those churches that send pastors and leaders through the training but with no commitment to consulting and implementation. Of course, these churches see no gains in vitality. Ironically, some of these leaders report that the process didn’t help them at all.
12. Do you do church assessments and, if so, do you provide written reports? Yes, we “do” church assessments, but typically in the context of consulting with pastors and church leaders who have been through training with me. No, we do not write reports and here’s why. The conventional approach to assessment requires the assessor or consultant to go on-site for several days of interviews and observation. This is followed by the assessor/consultant’s putting his/her findings into a written report that is then delivered to the church’s leaders, either in written form only or accompanied by an on-site presentation of the report. In broad strokes the report unpacks the assessor’s process, findings and recommendations. We have found this to be expensive for the church and unproductive for all parties. When the assessor files the report from a “Here are my findings” platform, leaders often take a defensive posture accusing the assessor of not truly getting to the heart of who they are and what they do, followed by a rejection of his/her recommendations. Assessor and leaders are then in an adversarial relationship. Rather, we equip church leaders to conduct a self-assessment that we refer to as TRUPOINT. Leaders gather data about their congregation using four specific tools, three originally designed plus the Natural Church Development Survey. This data is then processed through the grid of a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) and a GRACE Analysis (Grief, Reconciliation, Alarm, Celebration, Excitement), producing a “report” that is then delivered to the assessor. In short, leaders are saying to us, “Here are our findings.” Their ownership of these findings is extremely high and leaders are then much more open to our recommendations. I’ve been using this self-discovery method for years and have found it to be far more productive than the conventional model.
13. Do you consult with churches regarding finances? No. A recommended resource is Jeremy Malick at 719-238-8004; firstname.lastname@example.org.
14. Do you consult with churches regarding building projects? No. Again, a recommended resource is Jeremy Malick at 719-238-8004; email@example.com, and take a look at a very intriguing book by Ray Bowman, Eddy Hall and Charles Arn titled, When Not to Build: An Architect’s Unconventional Wisdom for the Growing Church.
15. Should a declining church change its name? There are times when a name change is a good call, such as when the church has a name that is well out of touch with today or when a church has a very negative reputation in its community. However, a name change in and of itself will not spark revitalization or growth. It’s more important that a church change on the inside in how it goes about ministry, shifting from a self-absorbed ministry to itself to a sacrificial ministry to its community. If those inner changes don’t take place the outer change of the name will be pointless.
16. Are there times when a church should be closed and not revitalized? Yes, there are times when the ministry of a church is so deeply into decline that the wise course of action is to close. There are key viability issues to be considered. Is the church financially viable, meaning, can it sustain itself financially long enough for a revitalization initiative to take root and begin to bear fruit? Is the congregation viable, meaning, does the congregation have the vision, energy, stamina and spiritual maturity to sustain itself through difficult, sacrificial ministry for the long haul? Is the pastor viable, meaning, does the pastor have the vision, energy, stamina, wiring and gifts to lead a seriously declined church to new life? There are times when I encourage a church to close when a pastor or leader will chastise me for my lack of faith by reminding me that “all things are possible with God.” While that’s theologically correct, the fact that all things are possible with God does not mean that all things are probable. It’s not God’s fault that a church is declining, so trying to trump the scenario by playing the “all things are possible” card is usually a smoke screen for denial. There’s nothing particularly spiritual about not using our God-given common sense.
17. Are there times when a severely declined church has fulfilled its mission or calling and, therefore, should simply close? Yes, there are times when a declining church has indeed completed its mission, but these are few and far between. When it comes to a church’s cause of death, it’s extremely rare to find that its death was caused by a fulfilled mission. See Thom Rainer’s Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive.
18. Is it OK for a dying church to keep going until resources run dry if a small remnant congregation wants to stay as long as possible? No, absolutely not, though we understand the sentiment. The usual case is that a shrinking, aging congregation has dear people who have been with the church for decades, and who can’t imagine closing it and going to some other church. What’s the harm, then, in allowing them the joy of riding the church out until nothing is left? As one leader said to me, “I just hope that I die before this church does because I want to be buried here.” Here’s the problem: Allowing this to happen will bleed out God’s resources to the point that there is nothing left to invest in something vital, such as missions or a church plant. The honorable approach would be to help such a church die with dignity, celebrating the past but leaving a legacy for the future to the glory of God.
19. What does the GO Center charge for your ministry services? To date, funding for the ministry of the GO Center to EPC churches has been fully underwritten by the General Assembly. However, that model is ultimately not sustainable and alternative models are under review. We’ll need to discuss your particular financial need and/or capability on an individual basis. Go to the homepage and click COST.
20. How far in advance do we need to book the GO Center for on-site ministry? There is no hard and fast rule here. It’s more about availability than lead time. If you call today for ministry next week and one of us has an open calendar, we can make that happen. That said, lead time is a good thing; three, six, even twelve months in advance. This allows for thorough preparation and typically presents better travel options, especially when a flight is involved.