On the other end of the phone on this particular day was a state convention leader of a mainline denomination. He was calling to ask if I would speak with the leaders of a church in his state to possibly assist the church in a transition after the recent retirement of the senior pastor. Meeting with this group of leaders for about an hour, it was apparent to see this church had been making a series of injurious decisions for several years. The detriment of decisions is not always visible to those making the decisions.
However, just as success comes from making one good decision after another, likewise a series of bad decisions will lead a church through the phases of decline at an accelerated rate. This church had been in existence for many years and found itself in phase four decline. In their own words, one major decision the church had made within the previous twelve months was made on the presumption of being the “savior” decision for the church. It was an act of desperation. The expectations were built on a model and a hopeful desperation grasp to keep the church from falling into phase five of decline, relinquishment of the ministry.
I agreed to meet with a team of members from the church and met with them on several occasions over the next three to four months. Entering the third month I asked if I could share an observation. The agreed. Beginning with the decision made a little more than one year prior, I reiterated several decisions they had made over the previous five years. I stated, “You made that decision based on one you had made 18 months prior that caused more decline than before, and you made that one based on a previous decision 3 years ago, correct.” Again, they agreed. I walked them through four or five decisions that had been made in the past five years. I closed with this question, “It appears that you have been making (as a church) bad decisions for five years, doesn’t it?”
One lady who had been with the church for more than twenty years snapped back quickly, “Oh no, you’re wrong…” My mind immediately kicked into gear thinking, “I’m going to have to explain this a little more and walk them through this series of decisions again.” However, I was pleasantly surprised as she continued, “Oh no, you’re wrong, we’ve not been making bad decisions for five years. We’ve been making bad decisions for at least twenty years!” As I had walked them back through the decisions that had been made, she and others were able to relate and understand the detriment of the series of decisions – enough to realize it did not stop where I stopped.
We do not need to grasp for the latest and greatest technique or program. To dig out of phase four of decline, we do not need the newest methods. What is needed is to follow a methodical process that leads the church back to its first love and reaching people for Christ. Considering and implementing the concepts is only the beginning. Church leaders and the church body must be committed to following the designed course of action to effectively reverse the decline in the church. A church does not reach stage four in one week. Neither will you dig out in one week. Reversal comes one step, one good decision, at a time over a period of time. Each good decision is based on the previous good decisions.
How is your decision-making process? Do you use any outsiders, for a different perspective, an unbiased objective observation?