Collie Jr is the children’s pastor at First Christian Church in Santa Maria, CA, and my grandson. He and his wife Dana have been wonderful additions to that church for several years. Although Collie is young, he wrote these wise and thoughtful words of encouragement in several recent blog posts. I’ve condensed them into one post.
How to Thrive in a Struggling Church
Collie Coburn Jr
When working in a struggling church, it can be hard to be optimistic. Sometimes it seems like good news is hard to come by, or that everyone is just in a rut. And while serving in a struggling church has challenges, there also comes with it a great opportunity – the chance to create something great. After all, when things are going well, people are all the more averse to change. Nobody wants to mess with a good thing. That’s why sometimes successful churches (and organizations) struggle with being innovative. But when you’re in a struggling environment, you’re in a position to look for and try new ideas. You may not need to work as hard to sell the idea of change because it’s evident that change is required! Of course, turning around momentum is difficult, so the challenge is to create something that will really make your congregation get excited and jump in.
If you find yourself serving in an environment of stagnation, don’t give in. Prayerfully look for an opportunity for God to do something new and big, and then chase the dream. After all, a struggling church often gives you the best chance to create something great.
Never Stop Planning for Growth
It’s really easy to assume things will stay the way they’ve been. When you’re growing, you think you’ll always grow. When you’re on the decline, you assume there are no changing things. But there is! At some point, the opportunity to grow will present itself, and when you are working in a declining church you need to be ready to change direction. Never stop planning for growth. It will keep you hunting for new ideas, provide encouragement, and lay the groundwork for good things ahead.
Talk to Someone
The need to have friends who can guide, admonish, and hold you accountable is present in every ministry context. However, when you are working in a struggling church, the need to find people to talk through ministry takes on a different tenor. Find people who you can be entirely open with, and that often means going outside the body of your church. Talk to people with expertise; people who understand the unique challenges that come with ministry.
Find people who can speak truth into your life. We need people who can tell us when we’re wrong, misguided, or plain dumb. After all, the pain of being corrected by a friend is far more bearable than the pain of realizing you’ve been on the wrong path for weeks.
Ask Hard Questions
Looking back, I feel that I could have avoided an immense amount of frustration if I had simply asked, “Why do we do this thing?” Sometimes you’ll find there are great reasons, but often you’ll find the reason you need a change of direction.
Actively Fight Discouragement
Discouragement will happen. It will happen in thriving churches as well, but it can be especially insidious in hurting ones. You need to know when discouragement is having an effect on your ministry, and you also need to know what will help you fight through it.
Remind Yourself that God’s Work Isn’t Finished
When you serve in a declining church, it’s easy to think that the future is fait accompli. It’s not! Even in struggling churches, there are opportunities for growth and for God to turn things around. It may be difficult, but it’s certainly possible.
Take Holy Spirit-Inspired Risks
God wants to do great things in your community, but often our desire to hold on to what we know prevents us from chasing these opportunities. If you feel the Holy Spirit leading you somewhere surprising, go for it. After all, God wants to use your church to grow His kingdom, so don’t be afraid to try something new.
In conclusion, hold on to hope! God can do great things. He wants to do great things in your church, so keep listening and chasing the dream. Know that I’m praying for all of you who serve in struggling congregations. I know God will move in powerful ways.