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hope for churches in stress

Hard Questions

A flourishing church in southern Lancaster County (Pa.) hit a rough patch. In quick succession, the church lost three pastors, each time with disheartening decreases in attendance, finances, and confidence.

The residual strength of the “core” congregation provided a foundation for recovery. The governing board mobilized a capable team of lay preachers and leaders. The board also engaged with a consultant to double-check their actions and, wherever necessary, to detect missteps.

Several key insights emerged from the assessment:

Church culture. Churches have a distinct culture—a “mix” of behaviors, beliefs, values, and unspoken assumptions. The worship style, ways people interact, things they care about, and shared convictions comprise the culture. Pastors and programs come and go, but culture is deeply imbedded and hard to change.

Redundant Communication. In times of distress it is essential to communicate more than is normally needed. Misunderstandings and mistrust can be diffused by using all possible means to share vital information—email blasts, bulletins, announcements, website, and one-to-one conversations.

Due Diligence. In selecting a new pastor, the search committee sought to learn from earlier miscues. They expanded the committee, added human resources expertise, and saturated the search with prayer. In assessing candidates, they factored in church culture, wrote out expectations, and diligently called all references.

This church asked the hard question: What will we do differently next time? Facing up to honest answers, they made corrections in order to regain momentum. Now the church, once again, is surging forward in attendance, finances, and enthusiasm.

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