In recent years, many churches have steadily declined in health due to an overall trend toward declining attendance, aging membership, and a steady decrease in giving. As of 2010, more than 25% of churches have average weekly attendance of less than 50 and nearly 50% have less than 100 people in weekly services. More than 80% of congregations note that the current recession had a negative impact on finances. Overall, only 3 to 5 percent of those who donate money to a church tithe (give 10 percent of) their incomes. Changing His followers’ perception of His mission forever, Jesus once asserted, “Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”; yet, clearly, many American churches have floundered in their effort to stay relevant, solvent, and vital as communities shift culturally and struggle financially.

At the same time, many other churches are thriving. They are not only growing in size and resources, but in relevance and importance to the communities in which they serve. Over the past 10 years, the number of mega churches, congregations with 2,000 or more attending each week, increased by nearly 100%. Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, noted clear trends in America’s healthiest churches. One trend was an inclination toward a missional community presence where the congregation looks at their community not as simply a pool for prospects. “Rather, they love their community. They serve their community. They live in their community. They have deep relationships in their community,” stated Mr. Rainer. Mr. Rainer also noted that “healthy churches are high expectation churches” where “church members are expected to serve, to give, to be in small groups, and to be accountable to others.”

In short, churches that thrive are churches that serve. They understand the needs of their congregation and also the needs of their community. These are churches that identify priorities in the community and congregation, set goals focused on outreach and evangelism, and implement a plan to reach these goals.

Let’s compare these trends to the actions of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 with the understanding that obeying Jesus’ admonition to “go and do likewise” leads to a three-step process of discovery, engagement, and action.

Churches of Service:
First, the Good Samaritan ascertained the needs of the brutally beaten man. He knew that getting off of his donkey entailed a long-term process. This man needed more than spare change and a “God bless you.” What are the needs in your community?

Many churches implement programs and services without first knowing the need in the community. If yours is to be a thriving, visible church, it is important to first conduct a Community Needs Assessment to identify priority areas of need (tutoring, child care, education, etc). Then, a congregation should make itself aware of existing resources to address the specific issues identified. The church can then focus energies and resources where the gaps in services exist rather than in the duplication of services that place you in competition with other churches or community nonprofits. The data from a Community Needs Assessment can be synthesized and expounded upon to identify the best outreach opportunities and the best opportunities to collaborate and support existing services.

Understanding Your Congregation:
Simultaneously, the Good Samaritan took stock of his available resources to meet this man’s needs. Congregational surveys help to assess the needs, attitudes, priorities, giving habits, social leanings, or any other factors of interest to help in determining the direction for the church. There are established standardized surveys, but, with the increased diversity of denominations and congregations, it is often best to custom develop each survey to the needs of each individual congregation. Similarly, a Leadership Survey analyzes a smaller subset of the congregation serving in leadership. In conjunction with these surveys, a resource assessment helps identify the resources within the congregation that may be useful in implementing new programs, projects, and services. Resources identified include financial resources, occupational abilities, spiritual gifts, time available, and willingness to serve.

These efforts all lead to the identification and prioritization of goals and objectives that can best serve the community that the congregation seeks to serve. This process can help assess where there are actual needs as well as where congregation feels there are needs within the church, what gaps exist, and potential goals that the congregation and leadership are likely to support and champion. Here-4-You Consulting offers these diagnostic services as a tremendous vehicle to get your church thriving again. Once identified, we can help prioritize identified goals based on feasibility, willingness to serve, and resources available.

Visible Churches:
There are churches that stay visible, that appeal to young adults and young families and use effective strategies to educate the community about the congregation, programs offered, and openness to new members. Though religious groups often shy away from the term, this is often classified as marketing. Marketing activities include Logo Development, Mission & Vision development, print materials, website development, and the use and implementation of social media.

A strong and vibrant logo can help in providing a graphic identity to the church as a whole or to individual programs, projects, services, and campaigns. An effective logo will easily be identified with the church.

It is even more important to have an effective Mission and Vision for the church and for individual projects or campaigns. This can also be translated into a tagline, slogan, or other language that helps give identity to the project and is coordinated with the logo and other materials. Likewise, complementary print materials using the logo, tagline, slogan, and other information further support the identity of the church as a whole as well as its individual programs, projects, services, and campaigns.

Finally, it is important for churches to communicate using the language spoken by the people they wish to attract. A LifeWay Research study sponsored by Axletree Media found that, although 78% of churches have a website, the vast majority of these websites are poorly designed, not well maintained, and serve mostly as a static ad for the congregation. At the same time, nearly 90% of new church members report first visiting a church website before attending. Integrated into the website should be the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, etc. These strategies are critical to modern churches.

Taking Care of Business:
The church is not a business. However, it still needs to be well organized, have an effective mission and vision, have administrative policies and procedure in place that help the church fulfill its mission, and have a process in place for developing and implementing new programs.

As ministries, churches often are remiss in addressing the administrative and business needs of the organization. It is important to seek to implement policies and procedures to support the administration of church business. This may include Personnel Policies, Facility Use Policies, Job Descriptions, and other policies or procedures addressing the specific needs of the church. Further, in addition to identifying what services to implement, the church must also know how to implement the services. Program Development implements a strategy to assist with program design, implementation, and management.

Effective Stewardship:
We have all heard that Jesus spoke five times as much about money and possessions as he did prayer and faith. Yet many churches still neglect implementing effective stewardship campaigns and strategies. Churches with strong and effective stewardship ministries have an understanding of stewardship that requires the implementation of a response based stewardship program EVERY year and an understanding that stewardship is not a once-a-year process but an ongoing attitude throughout the year.

Stewardship strategies are designed to assist the church in implementing stewardship and giving campaigns. This will usually include an annual stewardship campaign in addition to one-time or project specific campaigns such as a capital campaign, building campaign, or implementing a strategy to increase general giving and tithing.

Most churches are funded almost exclusively through tithes and offerings from the congregation. Oftentimes, regular and special offerings do not meet the needs of the church, much less the community’s needs. Too many churches are neglecting other funding opportunities. Perhaps a tutoring program is active that could secure grant funds or a food pantry exists that could be supported by a regional food distribution program. A comprehensive and effective stewardship strategy will look at these nonconventional opportunities as a means to increase the impact and effectiveness of the church’s programs, meet the needs within the community and fulfill Christ’s purpose for the church.

Success is a Decision:
Successful churches do not just happen. Successful churches implement a conscious and deliberate strategy that leads to the kind of success experienced within the Early Church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer… They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need… They ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. “

Churches don’t plan to fail… they often simply fail to plan and thereby fail to serve their congregation and their community. The threat of a church losing its way missionally is real. Sadly, 2011 saw a record number of churches closed due to foreclosure. They were not Visible Churches, Thriving Churches, Churches of Service. Somewhere along the line, they stopped meeting the needs within their community and became irrelevant.

Many pastors and church leaders, particularly those in smaller churches, have neglected to objectively assess the unmet needs within their community and are ill-prepared to collect data, prioritize goals, and develop a plan to meet those needs. Some churches simply lack leadership that is gifted in the area of administration. It is important for them, and the lay leadership surrounding them, to realize when this is the case and get outside support.

Is it time for your church to make a decision to succeed? To make a decision to grow? To make a decision to increase giving? To make a decision to serve the community? Or will your church continue to simply exist or, more likely decline?

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