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- Ministry Renewal In The
Dr. Glenn Daman
Before we arrived, the church had dwindled down to a handful of people. Although the
church had been in existence over 100 years, they were faced with the possibility of
closure. They no longer had the people or the funds to run any programs and it was
doubtful if they could obtain any pastor who would be willing to come. Through a
series of events we were asked to become their pastor along with the church we already
- After we arrived in the church, a new excitement captured the people.
The fact that we were willing to come brought renewed hope to a downcast
congregation. They began inviting their neighbors to attend. People who had
previously left the church came back to see what was new. It wasn't long until the
attendance moved from twenty to thirty and then passed forty. The budget that was
once a struggle to maintain became healthy. People were enthused about what the
church was doing and new people were attracted to the church.
Congregational Renewal: A Matter of the Heart
- Ministry renewal involves more than getting an increasing number of
people to attend a declining congregation. It involves spiritual renewal.
Renewal comes when people become passionate about God's Word, when they are burdened for
those who are spiritually lost, when they manifest mutual love and care, when they
wholeheartedly commit themselves to be obedient to Christ and his commands.
- When the leadership merely takes an organizational approach to renewal it
may gain short-term success, but lasting results that bring long-term health to the
congregation require inward transformation as well as outward organization. While
organizational restructuring is important and beneficial, the final determination of the
church's future is the sovereign plan of God. Neither the congregation nor leadership
resurrects the dying church. That remains the responsibility of God.
- The task of the leadership is to carefully seek the direction and will of
God, making sure they are fulfilling God's purpose for the church. Congregational
renewal is not a matter of numbers and rolls; it is a matter of the heart. It is not
an event, but an inward process conducted by the Holy Spirit within the life of each
individual involved in the ministry of the church. The task of leadership is to
develop an environment where the heart may be transformed.
- Congregational Renewal:
Developing a Transforming Environment
While the renewing process ultimately stems from the work of the Holy Spirit within the
community, he does use the leadership and congregation to develop right setting. In
accomplishing this task, there are ten steps the church can follow to help create the
atmosphere for congregational renewal.
Step One: Refocus upon the nature and activity of God.
- Revitalization begins when people understand the nature and activity of
God. When Nehemiah set about the task of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem, his
confidence came from the promise and activity of God. It was because God was at work
that he could face the insurmountable odds. He was not only convinced of this, but
whenever he addressed the people, he carefully reminded them that God was the one working
through them, giving success to their task (2:20; 4:9, 14, 20, etc.).
As people set about the process of renewal, they need to be reminded of God's
inexhaustible empowerment. They need to be able to view the ministry as God's work
through them rather than their work for God. God does not need us to accomplish his
ministry, but he does desire to use us. When this becomes their perspective, people
will have lasting enthusiasm for ministry.
Step Two: Focus upon prayer.
- Since the foundation of revitalizing a church is spiritual rather than
organizational, prayer becomes the cornerstone for action. The desire of God for
every church is that it will become a house of prayer (Isaiah 56:7), for prayer remains
the means through which God accomplishes his purpose. The prayer of the church
encompasses the need for inward righteousness and holiness within the congregation, the
desire to clearly understand God's will and purpose, and willingness to minister to the
needs of people within the community.
- Building the prayer base of the church can involve twenty-four hours of
prayer, prayer walks where people go through the community praying for each house, special
prayer services, and spending more time in prayer each time the church gathers together.
The importance of prayer to the revitalization process can never be overstated.
Step Three: Strengthen the fellowship of the church.
- The strength of the small church is the fellowship and mutual care
evident within the congregation. When a church declines, tensions and frustrations
arise which can fracture relationships within the church. Consequently, it is often
necessary first to build unity within the congregation before attempting to reach the
community. People are attracted to the small church because of the fellowship that
exists within the body of Christ. If the fellowship becomes strained, then it will
become difficult to attract new people.
- A second reason the fellowship of the congregation must be strong before
attempting to renew the ministry has to do with change. A declining church must
change for the simple reason that what it has been doing in the past has not been
effective. If the church is to be revitalized it must do things differently.
Previously ineffective ministry must either be altered or dropped altogether.
All this requires change.
- Critical before change can be effectively made is for trust to be built
up within the congregation and between the people affected by the change and those seeking
to implement the change. Trust hinges upon the strength of the relationships
existing between people. If there is conflict and tension, suspicion replaces trust.
Consequently, before the leadership can suggest and implement change it must first focus
upon the cohesion within the group.
Step Four: Identify and correct any cause of decline.
- When a specific reason is identified for the decline and if that reason
is within the control of the congregation, then steps should be taken to correct the
problems. Some of the causes of the decline reside outside the control of the church
(i.e. declining population within the community).
- The church needs to develop creative strategies to work within these
limitations. Others the church can address (i.e. loss of evangelistic vision,
conflicts within the church). If a church attempts to bring renewal without
addressing these issues, then the future success will be thwarted by the past mistakes of
Perhaps the most critical is sinful behavior that hinders the effectiveness and growth of
the congregation. The story of Achan in Joshua 7 illustrates that the actions of one
can have an adverse affect upon the whole community. When this happens, the whole
community must address the issue (see Matthew 18:15-17).
Step Five: Involve the laity in the process to gain
- The small church is a lay-run ministry where the people retain the power
and authority for operating the church. In contrast to the larger church where the
decision making process is top down, in the smaller church the congregation demands the
right to be involved in the decisions that are made.
- Consequently, it is crucial for renewal for the congregation to be
involved in the whole process. Without their involvement they will not gain
ownership to the renewal, and without ownership there will not be any commitment or
willingness to sacrifice their time and resources to bring about renewal.
Central to involvement remains clear communication. Communication is more than
sharing what is being done and what needs to be done. It involves constant
listening. To gain the trust and commitment of the people, the leadership needs to
carefully listen to what the people are thinking. It involves gaining their ideas
and input from the very beginning of the renewal process, not only on what they would like
to see happen but what would be the best method to achieve it.
- When people feel that they have been heard and their contribution valued,
they will develop trust for the leadership and a strong sense of identity with the
ministry. When that happens then they will devote their time and energy to the task.
Step Six: Develop a clear vision for the church.
- Long before the church actually dies, the vision for what God can do
through the church dies. Churches do not close their doors because of a lack of
finances or people, but because they no longer see what God desires to accomplish through
them. Vision is the awareness of the distinct and divinely ordained present and
future ministry of the church based upon its sociological, theological and cultural
setting that enables the congregation to accomplish their biblical purpose and mission.
The vision that the church develops must be based upon the needs and ministry
opportunities within the community.
- Dying churches can easily become inward focused. In order to
maintain the core ministries of the church (Sunday School, worship service, etc), as
resources decline, often the first ministries dropped are those directed towards the
community. Instead of preventing further decline, it contributes to the erosion of
- When renewing the ministry of a dying church, the congregation must
develop a church-planting mentality rather than a survivalist mentality. Church
planters are willing to risk the present to build the future, while survivalists risk the
future to maintain the present. Survivalists try to resurrect the past; church
planters try to build toward the future by ministering to the needs of the people within
the community. Survivalists appropriate all their finances to maintaining the present
structure (paying the preacher, buying the Sunday School program, etc.). Church
planters budget for ministries that reach into the community.
Step Seven: Reorganize to adapt a simplified organizational
- When a church has declined from a larger church to a smaller congregation
it can mistakenly maintain the past organizational structure. This hinders the
ministry as people spend their time keeping the structure running rather than spending
time reaching their neighbors and ministering to people in the community.
- One of the ways to assist people is to simplify the organizational
structure so that they spend less time running the church and more time being with
people. This may require restructuring committees and ministry teams. It may
involve dropping programs that no longer attract new people. It might entail
combining programs (such as combining the High School and Junior High groups
Step Eight: Establish short-term and medium range goals.
- Achieving goals gives people a sense of accomplishment and purpose. When
establishing goals it is important to plan and celebrate small victories (such as painting
the church sanctuary). When tangible goals are achieved, people have a greater sense
of God's blessing upon their life and ministry. The congregation gains a sense of
- People without hope are people who stop making goals. Because of
the decline within the church, people sense only the frustration of failure. Setting
and accomplishing easily attained short-term goals gives people a feeling of success, that
there is a future for the congregation. As these goals are attained, the
congregation develops greater confidence to set more challenging and long-term goals.
- Goals are necessary for the implementation of the vision set by the
church. They define what the church needs to do and how it will go about
accomplishing it. Goals enable people to measure their efforts and organize their
efforts into a coherent plan.
Step Nine: Develop a strategy for becoming visible within
- People in the community need to be aware of what the church is doing
differently and the new ministries being planned. When we set about revitalizing our
church, we sent letters into the whole community to let people know that we were beginning
a whole new work. Because of the 100-year history of the church in the community;
most people know of our existence, what they did not know was the new programs we were
- Consequently, we sent letters to everyone inviting them to come and see
our new beginning. We planned special services in the local community events, we
invited people to special events, and we allowed other groups such as the garden club to
use our building. In this way the people in the community were able to gain a fresh
look at our church and see what was going on.
Step Ten: Celebrate the past.
- For many people who have labored in a church for a number of years,
having ties to the church that span generations, the idea of change can be frightening.
For them, change is not just a departure from the previous methodology; it is a
break from the past generations that built the church.
- Change alters the symbols that define the church. Many of these
symbols are representatives of past family members. To alter the symbols is to break
a relational tie to the previous members. To overcome this fear, the leadership
needs to carefully build upon the past and celebrate the past contributions that people
- Recognizing the past contributions of people can give assurance that the
church is not breaking from the past but building upon it, that they are not rejecting
what others have done but continuing the long history of the church. Recognizing
what others have done in the past enables new people to learn the story of the church and
identify with that story so that new people are united with the older members in a common
history. It enables the new people to value the contributions of others.
- Dr. Glenn C. Daman
- * This article is reprinted by permission of the author and taken from a
two-part article "Ministry Renewal In The Small Church" in Mikros, a newsletter
for small church leaders, Volume 5,
March-April, 1999, Number 2. For further resources by Dr. Daman see
the Western Seminary WebSite http://www.westernseminary.edu/ichsmall.html
Permission is granted to copy the newsletter for distribution provided it
is furnished free of charge. All rights reserved.
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was revised on:
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:03:07 PM