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hope for churches in stress

Free Fall

In the extreme sport of skydiving, exhilaration (or terror) is increased in free fall—the time, however long, before skydivers deploy their parachute.

For ten years, Newburg (Pa.) Church of God was in free fall. A beloved, soul-winning pastor had retired, and three successive pastors were unable to stop the attrition as two thirds of the congregation fell alway.

The next pastor, Dale Miller, deployed the congregation in ways that stopped the plunge and created lift for the beleaguered church. Three emphases were especially important in the church’s recovery over the next fourteen years.

Respect. Though his predecessors could all be faulted for mistakes, Pastor Miller refused to criticize them. Nor would he validate any disparagement by others. He adopted an unbreakable rule to speak only with respect.

Love. Pastor Miller helped the church to focus on loving people. He was active in talking with people in church and community, listening for their needs, and mobilizing the church to address their hurts and hopes.

Training. Taking a cue from the soul-winning proficiency of the beloved pastor, Pastor Miller worked to restore and spread evangelistic fervor. He refocused existing ministries, introduced new initiatives, and trained an enlarging cadre of workers in building relationships and sharing their faith.

Both pastor and church understood that recovery is a process, not an event. They were persistent and patient. Now, as Pastor Miller leaves for another pastorate, the church is on an upward trajectory, gaining altitude in spiritual vitality, overall health, and attendance.

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