7 Things TO DO When a Church Is In Decline

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I recently posted 7 things NOT to do when the church is in decline. This is a companion post.

What should you do when a church is in decline?

There are no cookie-cutter solutions for reversing a church in decline. Churches have unique characteristics, because they have different people. They are different reasons which cause decline. It could be anything from poor leadership, to being locked into the traditions of men or simply a change in population in the community.

I would be considered arrogant and even hurtful to pretend to have all the answers for a church I do not know.

When I’ve worked with a church in decline I almost always give at least some of these same suggestions.

7 things TO DO when the church is in decline:

Evaluate

What went wrong or is going wrong? Why are less people attending? Why are new people not? Ask the hard questions. Is it programmatic, a people problem, or a Biblical issue? Perhaps your church is just plain boring?

If nothing has changed in the programs you offer in the last 10 years – I may already have your answer. But ask questions.

Ask for inside and outside opinions. This takes guts, but is critically necessary. You can’t address problems until you know them. There may be a need for an outside perspective. Recruit a “secret shopper” attendee to give you an objective look at the church. You must evaluate even if you are afraid to know the answers.

Own it

The problems are real. Don’t pretend they are not. Cause or blame is not important. Quit denying. Start owning the issues. I see too many churches avoid the issues because they are difficult – or unpopular – to address.

Find a Bible story where people of God were called to do something which didn’t involve a certain level if risk, hard work, fear or the necessity of faith.

Address major, obvious issues

If the church has “forgotten your first love” – repent. When the church holds on to bitterness and anger from the past – forgive. If walking by faith has been replaced by an abundance of structure – step out boldly. When disunity is an issue it must come together first.

If you love the traditions of men more than the commands of God – turn from sin. And if the problems involve people, don’t set out to please people- address them. Yes, this requires leadership.

Church leaders lead. And leadership takes us through the hard places to get to the best places.

Find alignment

Where does the church best find unity? What will everyone get excited about doing? This is many times a vision, or a moment in history that was special to everyone, or a common thread within the DNA. Find and focus attention on it.

In my experience, God will not bless a church in disunity, but churches have issues, causes or programs that everyone can get excited about and support. Working together builds enthusiasm, momentum and unity.

Regroup

At some point, regardless of how drained you feel from the decline, you’ve got to come to a strategy of what to do next. It needs to be written. You need a road map of where you are going in the next season.

I’ve never personally been able to plan in great detail more than twelve months out and sometimes, especially in times of less clarity, only a few months, but you need a plan. Start with your overall vision and explore ideas of how to accomplish it again. Put some measurable goals in place to make progress – things you’ll do next week, next month, and in a few months down the road. It will hold you accountable if you have an action-oriented strategy.

Reignite

Put your energy and resources where it matters most. This often involves getting back to the basics of what it takes to achieve your vision. If you are a church with a heart for missions, for example, amp up your mission efforts.

It may mean not doing things that aren’t working. They tend to drain energy and resources. Look for what is working, or has the potential to work again – the fastest, and begin to stir energy around that program or ministry. You need quick wins so the church can feel a sense of progress again.

Celebrate

There will be wins. You may have to look for them some days, but when they occur celebrate. Celebrate big. Remind people that God is still moving among you. Now, it should be noted, for the overly celebratory types, that you can’t celebrate everything.

If everything is wonderful – or amazing – then wonderful and amazing is really average. They need to be legitimate wins. If you celebrate mediocrity you’ll set a precedent of mediocrity. But when you see signs of heading in the right direction, make a big deal out of it.

Those are seven suggestions.

I strongly encourage you, if you want to see the church growing again – if the church yearns for health again – be intentional. Be willing to ask for help. Raise the white flag and invite honest dialogue.

The harvest is ready – the workers are few – we need you! We are losing too many churches and not planting and reviving enough. Do the hard work. Pray without ceasing. And, trust your labor will not be in vain. Praying for you.

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7 Things NOT to Do When the Church is In Decline

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Often when I hear from a pastor the church has been plateaued or in a season of decline for several years. They are often looking for answers of how they can turnaround.

I love helping churches, but there truly are no standard answers. It’s unique for every church and every situation.

The hardest lesson a church needs to learn in a period of decline, however, is often not what they should do, but what they shouldn’t. I’ve seen churches make, at least what appears to me, to be an abundance of wrong decisions towards growing again.

In a future post, I’ll share some suggestions of what a church in decline should do.

7 things NOT to do when in decline:

Blame others

It’s easy to blame the decline on a former pastor – or the deacons – or the senior adults – or even on the culture. I continually hear phrases such as, “If it weren’t for a few people we could probably grow again.” But the reality is, when you are in decline, this matters less than what you are going to do about it. As long as you are blaming someone or something you won’t address the real issues.

Make excuses

There are a multiple reasons we could probably discover – many of them true – of why a church begins to decline. You should know them, but at some point excuses only cloud our ability to move forward.

Pretend

I’ve seen so many churches pretend there isn’t a problem when everyone knows there is one. If you want to grow again, you’ll have to admit there is a problem which needs addressing. (And this likely involves implementing some change.)

Lower expectations

It seems natural when the church is in decline to expect less, but this never works. You are trying to attract new people. There is a need for more excellence, not more mediocrity to do it. You may need to lower the number of programs you offer, but never lower expectations of the ones you do.

Cut expenses

This one has dual meanings, of course, because reducing expenses may be exactly what you need to do. The point here is to make sure you lower the right expenses. Don’t cut things which got you where you are or will get you where you need to go. You shouldn’t cut promotional or community investment dollars. The fact here is many times the expenses you may need to cut are difficult – unpopular decisions.

Overreact

Too much change during a period of decline can be deadly. Too little change can be equally damaging. Panic of leadership almost always leads to panic in people trying to follow. Strive not to react too strongly either way. Don’t change everything and don’t clamp down and refuse to change anything. Renew the vision God called you to – set good, clear goals and objectives to chart a course forward – and then trust God will see you through this period.

Give up

There may be a time to quit. The fact is the church, as in the Body of Christ, is here to stay. Jesus promised that. He didn’t make the promise to every local church. Local churches close every year. But before you give up, or before you resolve church growth is for other churches – but not this one – make sure you haven’t given up too soon. In my experience, we often quit just before the breakthrough. Do all you know to do, then stay close to the heart of God, waiting for Him to bring the increase again or lead you in making harder decisions.

Check out my new Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast.

RELP – Episode 2 – Where to Find New Leaders

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In this episode of The Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast, Ron and Nate discuss where to find new leaders.

Finding leaders is critical to the success of any nonprofit organization. Therefore, the church should have the greatest volunteer pool among all organizations. Sadly, many churches overlook some of their best volunteers.

In both church planting and church revitalization, I discovered one secret to our success was going to be the quality of leaders we could attract. Many times in church planting we had to recruit people who never had experience leading in a ministry context. While I do not believe it is that much different from other contexts of leadership, it was often intimidating to them.

In the established church, we often had plenty of people in leadership positions. Many of them, however, had been in those positions for years. We need new leaders with new approaches to realize needed change.

Where do you find new leaders? Where are some places to look?

So, in this episode, Ron and Nate get practical about finding new volunteers – who do not simply do what they are told to do – they lead. For any church to grow, volunteers need to take leadership roles in the church.

I hope these podcasts are helpful. They really are an extension of years of blogging, but this puts a little more personal touch to this. I hope as you listen to Nate and me discuss practical leadership issues, you will feel the comfortable tone of a conversation between father and son. That is our desire.

Please take a minute to review, share, and subscribe to this podcast.

This podcast is a part of the Lifeway Leadership Network of podcasts. Check out the other great podcasts.

3 Reasons I’m Launching a Leadership Podcast

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I’ve sent a few teasers out via social media, but I can officially say I’m launching a podcast. I couldn’t come up with a creative name, so it’s officially The Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast. Catchy, huh?

I’ll be posting new episodes on this blog and I am also excited to be a part of the Lifeway Leadership Podcast Network. So, you’ll see some publicity about it there also.

Here are 3 Reasons I’m Launching a Leadership Podcast:

A new way to share my existing content. If you have followed this blog, you know I have lots of intellectual property here. People can usually ask me any leadership question and I have written something close to addressing the issue. Podcasting will allow me a way to further use what I have learned and am experience in leadership, but in a different format.

Practical help for leaders. People tell me they like my stuff, because I make it easy to apply. I hope so. I realize some people like longer posts (and would prefer longer podcasts – this one will not be long), but some like the quick, to the point ideas I provide. That’s the way I think and apparently others think so too.

Every episode we will address a specific problem and we will talk practically about how I would approach the issue. I’ll use tons of real life examples.

Hang-time with my son. In every episode, my youngest son Nate will be the host and interviewer. He provides the technical ability to record that I simply don’t have. He understands me, knows many of the stories, and can bring out of me what I may have forgotten. But Nate also brings his own level of expertise. He’s served in some really good leadership roles for his age and done some really hard things. I personally think he’s one of the best leaders I know. (And yes, I’m biased.)

We are working out some of the technical issues, but we have a good backlog already recorded. Stay tuned! And please listen, like, review (positively) and share.

7 Results When I’m Tired – 7 Remedies

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership | One Comment

I have learned over the years – many times when I’m not up to par in my leadership or life – it’s simply because I’m tired. Recognizing this is paramount to maintaining productivity and for preventing burnout.

This has been truer in 2020 than any time in my career.

When I’m tired:

I become irrational about the flaws in others,

There is difficulty concentrating.

I display less patience and get frustrated easily.

My work is less effective.

Leadership suffers.

Our team suffers.

Here are 7 remedies I’ve discovered:

Take a nap (Some think you should take one everyday.)

Exercise (My adrenaline and energy grows when I sweat.)

Change perspective – Read a book, watch or listen to something other than where I’m currently working. (It can even simply be entertaining.)

Engage with motivating people. (There are people who naturally fuel others by their presence.)

Take extended time away from my work. (The busier the season the more I need to discipline myself to get away and rest.)

Evaluate my priorities – freeing myself for what’s most important. (We can easily get captivated by things of lesser importance which drain our energy.)

Call it a day and prepare for another day. (There have been days it is just best to go home and start over the next day.)

Sometimes things, which at the time seem unproductive, actually end up being among the most productive. I’ve learned I’m not very helpful to the team when I’m extremely tired. Addressing it quickly makes me a better leader. Things aren’t likely to improve until I improve.

Many leaders try to operate from an exhausted position and never realize they are the problem on the team.

Leader, be aware when you are the problem.

Don’t be afraid to admit you’re tired, leader. Most likely the team already knows it.

10 Opinions I Have About Meetings – Leaders, Pay Attention

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I have lots of meetings. Over the years of business, government, and ministry – serving on dozens of non-profit boards, I’ve probably attended several thousand meetings. Along the way, I’ve developed some strong opinions about meetings.

I thought I’d share a few.

Here are 10 strong opinions I have about meetings:

If all the decisions are already determined – then don’t call a meeting – send me an email. Don’t waste my time.

When the meeting is at a time when people are naturally hungry – please feed us. And pay for it.

Where there is no agenda – if we are simply meeting because it is on the calendar, but there is really nothing to discuss – well, I don’t mean to seem rude, but what are we doing here?

If every new idea is going to be shot down – then would skeet-shooting be a better use of our time?

When the meeting flow is done the same way every time, won’t someone  – some creative like me – eventually get bored?

If we are only going to talk about it – but never really do anything about it – isn’t this really just a social event?

When one person dominates all the conversation – let’s skip the meeting and schedule a speech.

If everyone is invited – nothing is getting accomplished today – let’s have a party.

When it is past time for most people to go home – let’s postpone – you’ve lost our full attention.

If no one is taking notes – will we even remember any of this tomorrow?

Just a few of my thoughts about meetings.

I’m not opposed to meetings at all. They are vital to healthy organizations and I even like a good meeting. Let’s just keep getting better at them. 

Do you have your strong opinions about meetings?

10 Clues to Find New Volunteer Leaders

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If a church or organization is to grow it must find new volunteer leaders

Of course, equally vital is the quality of leaders being discovered. Good leaders learn to look for qualities in people which are conducive to good leadership. If you want to have a culture which reproduces leaders, read THIS POST first.

But where do you find these people who can be future servant leaders?

I find it helps to look for certain qualities, which all good leaders need or qualities which, consistently over time, seem to make good leaders. Of course, in context of the church, the Bible gives us clear guidance in selecting senior leaders. But my church is always in need of new leaders – from the parking lot to the hallways every Sunday.

Where do we find a continual pool of new leaders?

The following are traits I look for in leaders I hope to develop or with whom I want to work.

10 valuable traits when looking to find new volunteer leaders:

Concern/Love for others 

You can’t lead people effectively if you don’t genuinely love them. I’ve seen people in positions who have great power, but they don’t appear to love others. These leaders often produce followers, but they never reproduce leaders.

Not a complainer 

Candidly, leadership encounters complainers regardless of what we do. I certainly don’t want to add complainers to my team of leaders. A positive attitude will get my attention every time.

Teachable and open to suggestions 

A person who thinks they have all the answers will repel other leaders. People with no desire to keep learning rarely find their place on my team of leaders.

Excellence in following 

This is a biggie for me. I try to follow people I lead, because there are times they know more than I do. Someone who isn’t willing to follow is seldom ready to lead.

Reliability 

Leadership is about trust. Trust is developed over time and consistency by doing what you said you would do. I look for people with this quality.

Interest 

The people with a burning passion for the church often make great leaders. You can train someone to lead others, but you can’t train them to have interest.

Good character 

Character counts. Not perfection. Not flawless. But good character is necessary to be trusted on a team. A humble desire to always be improving as a person of integrity – this kind of character.

Potential 

God always saw potential in others they themselves couldn’t see. I try to have eyes to see potential in people.

Confidence 

Leaders have to move forward when others are ready to retreat. This takes confidence. Not being prideful, but a genuine willingness to lead through the hard times – to do what others aren’t willing to do.

People skills 

This goes without saying, but you can’t lead people if you can’t communicate with people. You don’t have to be the life of the party (I’m a strong Introvert), but you do have to be able to engage people and make them feel a part of things.

Those are some traits I look for to find new volunteer leaders. Do you have other traits you look for in recruiting leaders?

7 Ways To Create More Time Margin in Your Week

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How do you create more time margin in your week – with an already packed schedule?

Isn’t this a great question?

How do you create more margin – to do the things you want to do and the things you need to do?

Here are a 7 tips to help create more time margin:

Start your day with God.

Of course a pastor would say this, but it is amazing if I start the day talking to God how much it helps me all day. Something about pausing long enough to center my day helps me start in a more productive way.

Prioritize your life.

What do you value most? Without knowing this we find ourselves chasing after many things that have lesser value.

Work smarter.

Most of us form bad habits or have unorganized methods of doing something that waste bulks of our time. Make a list of what you spend the most time doing and see if there are places you can cut.

Schedule times to organize.

Spending an hour or two planning the week will make the whole week more productive. Develop some system of calendaring your week. Usually for me this is the first part of my week. As a result I know where I’m headed and my work space is organized for efficiency. That makes it much easier to handle distractions, which are sure to come.

Don’t say yes to everything and carefully use your no.

Be picky with your time allotment based again on your end priorities and goals. And no is not a bad word.

Schedule down time.

Especially when my boys were younger, I would write time on my calendar for them. This allows you to be there and keeps things and others from filling up your schedule. (I still schedule this time with Cheryl – and, it sounds counterproductive, but we get away even more frequently during busier seasons.)

Evaluate your schedule often.

Plans should not be implemented and then ignored. Develop your plan to create margin in your life, then periodically review the plan to see how you are doing and what needs to be changed.

For some people just reading this is laborsome. I especially encourage those of you geared this way to push through the difficult part of this and give it a try. You will be surprised what a positive difference it will have on your life.

One Shared Habit Is the Downfall of Many Pastors

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There is one shared habit pastors seem to face. I often hear it on Mondays – even after a great Sunday. I’ve been guilty of this one – many times. It was true in church planting and in church revitalization.

Many times, if left unchecked, it can led to the downfall of the pastor.

And it could be a common struggle for every leader, regardless of the context of where they are leading.

The struggle –

We let a few negative voices overshadow the many positives.

Things can be going great, but we can get one negative email and our whole day is ruined.

We can have one season of struggle and we forget all the seasons of triumph – or all the promises for future reward.

God may be providing blessings all around us, but we focus on the distraction of a few critics. Frankly, these are often people we may never please – regardless of what we do.

We can live in gloom and doom about a present situation, forgetting how God has blessed us and how He has promised to bless us in days to come.

Are you ever guilty of this? Am I alone here?

The Bible is not silent about this struggle. Elijah, who the book of James tells us was a person just like us – fell apart with one threat from Jezebel. This was just after he had had tremendous success in ministry. (1 Kings 19)

A common temptation to see the negative immediate reality, over the bigger picture positives of what God has done and is doing.

I don’t know, this is speculation on my part, but I think this struggle may have existed throughout the Bible with God’s people. For example, consider a favorite verses of encouragement.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord , plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Put it in the context in which it was delivered. Notice Vs. 10

For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” (Emphasis mine.)

One of the greatest promises – a promise God is in control and has a masterful future planned. This promise fits well on coffee mugs and desk plaques. We love it so much.

But what do you think the people heard when this great promise was revealed by the prophet?

Again, it’s speculation on my part, but don’t you think the “seventy years” of captivity they were about to face would have jumped out more than the “future and hope“?

Yet, which do you think was God’s intent – to encourage or discourage?

Again, everything can be going according to plan. God can be working in your life, but one setback – one season of decline in church attendance – one negative email – can destroy your perception of reality.

It is a shared habit pastors struggle to overcome.

This is why, as pastors – as leaders – as people of God – we must keep our mind and focus on the bigger picture. Rather than the voices of the negative minority, we must focus on what God has called us to do, what He’s doing – and ultimately, what He‘s promised to do.

Paul said it like this, “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Corinthians 4:17)

Who is brave and honest enough to admit I’m not alone here in this struggle?

7 Wisdom Nuggets for Church Planters and Ministry Leaders

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I was meeting with a potential church planter and some wisdom nuggets spoken to me or learned over the years flooded my mind. I think they are valuable for all leaders, but especially my friends in ministry.

Some of these were given to me by others. Others were learned firsthand by experience.

7 words for church planters and leaders:

Seek approval among the people to whom God sent you to minister.

All of us need assurance at times from other people what we are doing matters. Church planting is often unpopular among established churches. In a growing established church your critics will be those who resist change inside the building. Either way there will be critics.

This nugget of wisdom was spoken to me by a seasoned church planter. Most likely God didn’t call you so you could be popular – or even to simply satisfy people who already love their church the way it is. He sent you to reach hurting, broken people – to be His witness to a dark world.

My guess is those whom you are reaching are happy with your efforts.

Love God and you’ll love people wherever God sends you.

I just knew Cheryl and I were supposed to plant a church in New York City. It was something I wanted to do and even felt “led” to, at times. But still, there never seemed to be the peace or an opportunity to do so. While walking the streets of NYC one morning, I asked God to give me a clear heart for the people of New York if it was where He wanted us to be.

Then came one of the clearest words from God I’ve ever heard. If I truly love God, I will love the people and have a heart to make disciples among them, wherever I go. I felt released from the burden and freer to serve wherever God placed us next.

Don’t ignore churched people when planting a church.

When I was a new church planter, we ran from anyone who had any church affiliation. They weren’t our target. We didn’t want to offend other churches. In doing so, we robbed ourselves of potential leaders and kept some people from following the ministry God had laid on their heart.

The same is true in the established church. It can’t be all about the “new” people. You have to love the people who are already there. They are your best resource and partners to reach the lost and hurting.

Your spouse may have to trust you even more.

My wife has often known we were supposed to do something, but her heart has often been more tender when it comes to leaving the people we love. Her faith follows quickly, but her heart often lingers with the previous church.

At times, I have had to ask her to trust me, and my walk with Christ, when she can’t seem to force her heart to shift. (You actually can’t force a heart to change.) Unless she has a conviction against moving forward, if she’s willing, it is often helpful if she relies on my logic more than her emotions. Her emotional commitment always follows in time.

Peace often only comes through obedience.

Sometimes the complete peace in a decision doesn’t come until I’ve said “Yes Lord” to what I sense He’s calling me to do. Saying yes, before I have all the assignment or all my questions are answered, seems to open the door for God to bring peace about the move. And, His blessing and glory.

God is not afraid to stir the nest.

Deuteronomy references God and the eagle stirring its nest. I’ve been told (and read) eagles build their nest with the roughest products they can find. Then they cover the structure with the softest, most comfortable material available. A baby eaglet never wants to leave the comfort of home, so to teach them to fly, a mother eagle stirs up the nest, uncovering the roughest part.

Here’s one of my wisdom nuggets I’ve learned the hard way: Don’t be afraid of those times God stirs your nest – they lead to His best for you.

Build/alter DNA slowly.

Once DNA is set, it’s very hard to change it. (My friends in the established church know this one well.) Secure senior leaders slowly. Add staff slowly. Add rules and structure slowly. What you repeat very many times will become tradition quickly and when you try to change it there will be resistance. Make sure it’s something you want in your DNA, before you allow it to get there.

Do you have some wisdom nuggets you’ve learned in ministry leadership?