Monday, August 6, 2012

Transforming Churches

I am convinced that the greatest opportunity for the advancement of the Gospel in America is the transformation of the existing church.  In most cases, we don’t need another church anymore than Myrtle Beach needs another golf course.

Today I played golf on a golf course that was all but closed just a couple months ago.  Its greens had weeds growing on them and the fairways were hard and unfriendly.  It came from neglect and a focus on the bottom line instead of the original purpose.  This resulted in fewer golfers, which depleted revenue.  Management blamed the employees and the employees felt management had let them down.  The owners struggled to stay open, but without a major transformation they were doomed to continue to struggle and ultimately close their doors.  Their reputation had gotten so bad that we had to almost drag two of our foursome there because they didn’t believe the course could be good.

New management came in a couple months ago and refocused on the purpose for the existence of the course.  It was there to create an environment for golfers to enjoy and participate in a sport they had chosen to play.  It wasn’t about the money or the notoriety.  Those were both the byproducts of a great vision (purpose) and environment. 

The new management company evaluated everything from the focal point of the course’s purpose.  Fairways were irrigated, aerated and re-seeded.  They chose to re-sod the greens because it would take too long to nurse the existing greens back to health.  They lowered their price per round to encourage people to come and try a course that had a reputation of being a waste of money. 

This course is now the talk of the town.  The management company is forecasting even more improvements and is seeing the original vision of establishing a successful golf course that advances the sport of golf become a reality.  There are many factors that led to the course declining and nearly closing, but drifting from the core purpose of the course and the importance of serving golfers was key.

I know the church is different from a golf course, but vision drift and a failure to maintain a serving environment will erode a church.  The drift is subtle and often the attempts to fix it are frustrating and futile.  Most churches today have fallen into ritual and routine.  New programs are tried, styles of worship are tweaked and facilities are updated with little or no effect. 

In fact, statistical data shows that most existing churches are either stagnant or declining.  Here’s a reality check reported by Drew Goodmanson at

·      In America, 3500 – 4000 churches close their doors each year
·      Half of all churches last year did not add one new member through conversion growth

I recently read a statement that seems to sum up the problem: “Our dilemma is that we love change and we hate it at the same time.  What we really want is for things to stay the same, but get better.” 

Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer, from Lifeway Resources, took a very strong look at why some churches seem to be transforming lives and communities while others are struggling to grow.  They found that there are seven elements that are common in all transformational churches.  These same elements can be seen in the church at Antioch.  The results of their study of over 7,000 churches and hundreds of onsite interviews can be found in the book, TheTransformational Church.  Lifeway has also created an assessment that allows a church to evaluate how it aligns with each of these seven areas.  It’s an opportunity for reestablishing  God’s purpose and plan for His Church.

Pastors are burning out and leaving the ministry at an alarming rate.  Many churches only have ten to twenty years remaining until the current attendees pass away or become too old to carry on.  The answer is deeper than dress codes, music and technology.  The answer is found in refocusing on why the church exists.  The church is a lighthouse, a transformational element on the earth.  The church is God’s means of sharing His grace, presenting His gospel and advancing His kingdom.  

The good news is that many churches are at a critical point that allows them to address hard issues.  Churches all across America are refocusing on God’s purpose and becoming the transformational agents God intended them to be when He commissioned them to go into all the world and proclaim the disciple making gospel. 

If your church is ready to refocus, give me a call.  Check us out at  What do you think about the condition of the church in America.  I'd love to hear from you.