Rebuilding the Local Church After a Decline

For the last several years, leaders have allowed the pandemic to be the bogeyman of the church. Leaders have named it, claimed it and discussed it as the significant effect of decline within the local church. However, there comes a time when the church must move from the negative feelings of leading a church in decline to focusing on rebuilding. 

Rebuilding after a pandemic, moral failure, neighborhood decline, etc., is difficult. For the longest time, decline was seen as the pastor’s fault, but today it should be seen as a microcosm of a significant societal shift. Instead of ignoring the decline, the church has an opportunity to look at ways to rebuild from the loss.

Evaluate where the church finds itself. 

Instead of seeing decline as a negative, a rebuilding leader sees it as an opportunity to reimagine the local church into a missional enterprise, not just a Sunday morning attractional model. By not placing blame on past decisions but placing faith in each other and God, the rebuilding leader invites members to discuss openly where they feel the church should go. It should not be a negative session where one member disparages another, but a time of true reflection on where the church has been, is now, and where it can go well into the future. 

In the evaluation stage, focus on the church’s spiritual health, what keeps current members, what is stopping the retention of visitors, what the communities’ needs are, and how the church can partner. This process is slow but should be deliberate in finding a new way forward. A rebuilding leader understands that sometimes a little prodding can help the mission.

Elevate the programs and people that are helping the church move forward. 

In every church, there is always something that can be celebrated when reviewing the workings of the local church. As a rebuilder, you must find it, praise it and relay where God works. Even if there is pushback, stay positive as your work is not easy but desperately needed, even if the church does not realize it just yet. 

As you evaluate programs, positions, etc., some will need to be retired, and others need to be elevated to a new level. Help the church see the positive aspects of programs and people that you currently have by reviewing with your church leadership items that may have been left unaddressed in the past, and reimagine the space and its uses while seeking a new way forward. Help the church rethink how programs impact inside and outside the church walls. Use the church’s decline to the church’s advantage to become nimbler in making decisions and directing forward. 

God has a great plan for your local church, but it will take prayer and a dedicated capacity to see what others might see to help the church rebound as the church rebuilds.

Experiment with ideas and programs that might have felt risky in the past. 

Think of decline not as a negative but an exciting opportunity to rebirth the local church. When your local church was built, it was the right church for the community it was born into. Over time, it might not have adapted to the community’s changing neighborhood or cultural norms. Instead of ebbing with the community’s needs, many churches circled the spiritual wagons and hoped the outside world would not intrude on what they were trying to accomplish. It left the church unprepared for what was to come. But what an opportunity to rebound by rebranding how the church interacts with the community. 

Experiment with ideas and programs that might have challenged the church’s footprint in the past and see what sticks. Far too many churches have a fear and faith problem, which has frozen them in a state of decline. Help the church move past fear into a new spiritual awakening of their faith and try something. Think creatively. Think strategically using the assets you have to minister to the people you want to reach. God is not done with your church yet.

Execute the vision and plan that God has placed on the church’s heart. 

Inside the church today is a plan that needs your leadership and vision to accomplish. It is not by accident but by divine appointment that you serve where you serve today. God has a plan for the local church, and he will use you to help resurrect the church. There is a tendency for rebuilders to start from scratch when they lead from a station of decline. Instead of starting over, begin where the church is. Build off of the church’s legacy. Highlight past accomplishments. Celebrate what God has done and what he will do again. 

Spend time praying, seeking God’s will for the church. Listen with an attentive ear as you speak with current and former members of the church. Learn what worked in the past and what could work in the future. If you slow down, the plan is right before you, in the people you serve. Allow God to lead and watch what happens.

As the plan comes to fruition, you might need to lay it out in phases, as one big thing might be too much of a change out of the gate. Instead, staggering the phases will help current members process the change and vision while creating momentum for the Lord’s work to come.

Be an optimistic church leader, as the best days for the local church are bright. Keep rebuilding from decline by staying centered on the Word, living out a missional vision, and finding creative ways to keep Jesus at the forefront of the local church’s work.

Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett is the lead pastor at Winter Haven First Church of the Nazarene in Winter Haven, Florida. He is the author of several books and most recently the co-author with Charlotte P. Holter of Missional Reset: Capturing the Heart for Local Missions in the Established Church (Resource Publications) and has done extensive research in the area of church revitalization and serves as church revitalizer, consultant, coach, podcast host and mentor to revitalizing pastors and churches.