Everybody needs encouragement. This is especially true for struggling churches. Encouragement means to be filled with courage. Struggling churches need to have courage to face the challenging opportunities before them.
Both of my children were high school and college athletes. That means I got to watch a lot of sports when they were younger. Their high school football team had some good athletes. They had good coaches. But the team could not seem to figure out how to win. There were so many times that they came within a few points of winning games. The offense would have the ball inside the opponent’s ten yard line. They were ready to score the go ahead touchdown. And someone would jump offsides. They just couldn’t seem to get over the hump. They did not know how to win.
I was the chaplain for most of those teams, so I got to spend time with the boys in the locker room. It was often a depressing place. Heads hanging. Lockers slamming. Lots of muttering. Not much hope. I have seen churches like that, too.
The best leaders know how to encourage their team when the future looks bleak. Here are four ways to encourage a struggling church:
Get Some Easy Wins
Nothing creates momentum and encouragement like winning. But when a team has not experienced the thrill of victory in a long time, they forget what winning feels like. They face every challenge with the foregone conclusion that it doesn’t matter what we do. We are not going to be successful. Good football coaches help their teams to get some easy wins. They build confidence. They give encouragement.
One of the easiest wins a church can experience is to hold a successful Vacation Bible School. I don’t mean to insinuate that VBS isn’t hard work. It is. But even the smallest church can be successful. I know this because I have seen a church that averages 20 attenders on Sunday morning have a successful Vacation Bible School. The teachers went door-to-door in the community before VBS and invited the children to come. And they came. At the end of the week the church averaged more children attending Bible School than total attenders on Sunday mornings. And one child decided to follow Jesus. Now, that’s a win!
Once a church gets one victory, the next one will likely come easier. Get some easy wins, and…
Be Generous with Praise
My son was one of those athletes who was easy to coach. He wanted to learn. He worked hard in the weight room. He wanted to make his coach happy. And if a coach would give him even a little bit of praise, Robert would not disappoint.
A former church member once described me as “a good news pastor.” I like bragging on church members, especially when they are critical of themselves. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Many of our church members have crushed spirits. Their bones are dried up. They need a good word of praise. They need encouragement.
Last night I had the opportunity to praise a small gathering of church members. I simply told them, “You are good people.” And I meant it. They love Jesus. They love their church. They love their community. They are good people. They deserve to hear it!
A genuine word of praise can bring great encouragement. Be generous with praise, and…
Celebrate the Past
I am not suggesting that the church develop a preoccupation with the good old days. Most of our churches don’t need any help in that category. But I do believe it’s a good thing for a church to see its legacy through the eyes of Jesus. Not look what we did, why can’t we do it again? But look what Jesus did, what does he want to do next?
Sam Rainer is the pastor of West Bradenton Baptist Church in Bradenton, Florida. He was my mentor through the process of becoming a certified church consultant. Sam is also leading his neighborhood church through a revitalization process. I recently heard him tell the story of bringing out the old, historic pulpit that had been replaced a few years earlier. He used the pulpit as a way to connect the church’s future with its past. I think that’s brilliant.
Celebrate the past. Remember what Jesus did in days gone by. Then…
Join God’s Global Mission
Living out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission should bring encouragement to God’s people. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are not just doing church work. We are doing the work of the Kingdom of God. And that changes everything.
In my denominational tribe we partner with other churches to support seminary students and church planters and missionaries… We partner through our finances and our prayers. But we also live our lives as those who are sent. We are all missionaries in our spheres of influence. We are part of God’s global mission.
Churches that join God’s global mission find encouragement in knowing they are making a Kingdom impact.
Helping a struggling church is hard work. There will be many setbacks on the road to revitalization. There will be much discouragement along the way. “So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it” (1 Thessalonians 5:11 The Message).