Saturday, April 17, 2010


It is Saturday morning, and I am catching my breath after a very full week. The aroma of spring is felt in the blossoms of this community called Southlands@thegallery. The perfume of heaven pervades her daily challenges of life in LA. Laughter is once again being heard in the corridors of God life in this passionate group of Jesus lovers. I am so proud of them.

It is now one year since we replanted the church. The move which crossed county lines as well as city boundaries also had to cross the lines of comfort, convenience and above all, obedience to a very surprising God word. For some the call to replant was a moment of fun, adventure, faith and obedience. For others, it was not part of their life story and they quietly disengaged to walk a different path. Then, there were those who have fought us tooth and nail. I am saddened by their decisions but it is never about how I am treated down here, as much as it is about the 'great audience of one' that we will all have to face. The true truth will be seen, fear of the Father will be revealed, theology and the text will be the yardstick for our obedience. Nothing else will be the true measure - not prophecy, not perspective, not opinions...

Back to Saturday morning... I look to grab a moment for reflection and pull a book from my shelf that grabs my eye. It is an old George Barna book called ; Turnaround Churches". All the statistics point to a weakening church in the USA. Those that are around 25 to 30 years old are very vulnerably poised as they slip into decline or have plateaued. In an age that was driven by celebrities, so few churches truly sought to be seedbeds of leaders, so many churches are now leaderless, as stagnation creeps in. The future will require us to raise up many who will do more replanting of churches, possibly, even than planting churches. [Alan Hirsch has a very good chapter on the sociology of movements in his book 'The shape of things to come']

Here are helpful quotes from a very simple book:

"Most memorable about the Chrysler story was the fact that a dead company was resuscitated under a dynamic leader who had a defined, well articulated vision for his organization and had the drive and skills to bring that future to pass. In a nation starved for strong and effective leadership, people forgave the idiosyncrasies of the man in the light of his ability to perform as a strong leader" pg 10

"turnaround pastors are rare" pg 15

"The typical experience seems that, once a church loses its momentum, the most probable outcome is either death or stabilization at a much smaller size" pg 17

"Four Organizational Phases;
  • Plant / childlike phase-full of zeal, energy and those with a pioneering spirit,
  • Developmental phase-loses some of the entrepreneurial innocence and starts to get set in her ways-discernible traditions, predictable series of programs, and policies, confronts the perplexities of facilities and infrastructure,
  • Mature phase-when a mature church accepts change, it tends to be incremental rather than revolutionary... those who reign as the 'pillars' and systems that were developed to allow the ministry, but simultaneously serve to limit, if not to prevent, innovation and rapid responses to opportunities,
  • Plateau phase- the dominant motivation that undergirded the initiation of the ministry has dissipated-often gradual decline... not fully aware that they have begun the slow slide into ministry oblivion-the zealous people who initially carried the church-those represented the ministry heart and passion-lose their aggressiveness for Christ and his purposes or depart for new churches... pg 20 -22

Eight Symptoms to watch:
  • Demographic changes-every year nearly one fifth of the nations population moves;
  • Inadequate leadership-churches to turnaround require strong visionary leadership;
  • Poor management-ineffective organization and operational management;
  • Old blood-relies exclusively on the "old guard";
  • Building campaigns-the roadside is littered with the debris of churches that have entered into major building campaigns;
  • The ingrown family-inward rather than outward focus;
  • Resistance to change-lack vision, leadership and a commitment to remaining relevant to their ministry context;
  • Spiritual health-lack of passion for ministry. pg 33 - 38
Isn't this helpful? Your and my church is not the first to go through this journey. Let us learn from those who have walked before us, to prevent us from having to make the same mistakes again. However may I state rather simply-it is very rare to encounter no pain, no misunderstanding, no anger, no false accusations, no false rumors, no broken relationships. If Jesus had these stats- 1 in 12 betrayed him to death, 1 in 12 denied him to loneliness, 1 in 12 doubted him, then I guess we will have to learn to journey with some of this pain too.


  1. Although Barna's study was useful, I think that he was overly negative in his assessment. At the time, he claimed that there were only 30 turnaround churches that he could find and with much difficulty. But at the same time I had received a major grant and was preparing to do a study myself on churches that had turned around. It wasn't that hard to find other churches that he had not studied.

    Books on the topic were very rare then, but since that time, many people have written them. Praise God. Churches that want to turn around now have many resources at hand to help them in their quest. The process is not easy, but there's hope for a real turnaround of many churches if they just have enough examples to show them that it's possible, so they will have courage to try.