4 Ways to Tackle Deferred Maintenance in the Church

The American church has a problem. It is aging. Not only is the attendance of members aging but so are its buildings. Any revitalizer who has gone to a church faces the obstacle of deferred maintenance. With an aging population and facilities, the one-two-punch of deferred maintenance is killing the church. So, what should a church leadership team do if they find themselves in a situation where the deferred maintenance issues are swallowing up the church’s budget? The easy answer would be to run, but in all reality, God did not plant the church or call you to lead it to run from the responsibility of turning around a struggling church. 

There are four critical areas for evaluating the next steps as you begin to tackle deferred maintenance issues inside the church.

1. Review the facility from an inspector’s perspective.

When updating, there is a tendency to review the facility from a guest’s perspective. However, when a church deals with deferred maintenance, the church must not move towards patching ‘jobs’ with too little money or expertise. It should begin investing in the long-term viability of the buildings and ministry on the grounds. Many churches find themselves where they are today because the church set about solving matters with in-house expertise that, at times, did not have the resources or understanding of how to solve the problem for the long term. The patchwork of maintenance inevitably delayed the real fix to the problem that must be dealt with today. 

If you do not know what to do, bring in a general contractor or even a real estate inspector to review the facility and provide an overview of suggestions that the church board can review with real-time costs. The assessment will help get the board to review the same data points simultaneously rather than what they might feel should be done. By taking out feelings and focusing on facts, the board can devise a plan of action to help the church begin to tackle the crises they find themselves in.

2. Develop a plan to begin to solve the problems.

Once the church knows what they are facing, the leadership team needs to rank the needs from critical to commonplace, with the major issues being dealt with immediately. The vital problems found in the inspection of the building might be hidden from most of the church, as it is a lot of behind the wall’s issues, such as wiring or even a new roof, and it will take all the leadership to speak about why the needs must be addressed and how it will help the church in the long term. As the church team begins to lay forth a plan, the plan should be incremental as it assists the church in progressing forward one project at a time. It will take tactical patience and foresight for a church revitalizer to see the larger picture when others only see the project or the momentous challenges.

As you rank each item and begin championing the plan, know there will be those questioning why one project is starting before another. Your role will be to explain the why behind the what, proclaim the project’s value and virtues to the larger church, and reclaim the plan if it gets off track by lay leaders.

3. Stay focused and do not chase the fire.

As the maintenance projects from the list begin to see completion, other unanswered questions or projects will come to view, and well-intentioned people will try to pull the vision away from the project list and rank order to what most people are talking about. This mission creep will destroy any positive momentum and derail future plans. I encourage you to stay focused. Do not allow the fire (the loudest voices) to get in the way of God’s plan for the local church. Sadly, too many churches fail, not because they do not have a plan but because they do not work it. 

There will always be projects that could take the number one spot on the work order list, but when you work the plan and not the program working the church, the project list will be completed, and the people will see the results and be willing to invest in future projects. Staying calm in the fire and directing the team (board or members) to maintain the course while you field the church’s concerns will enable the church to see better days through a solid structural and financial footing. Your goal as a leader should be to put out the fires and not help spread them.

4. Review where you can cut to invest.

With the project list developed and ranking of what projects will go first, the issue of ‘how do we pay for these projects?’ will come up in conversation. As a leader, you must help the church board see the broader picture by walking them through the current realities of where the church finds itself. At this stage, they must know the cost of deferred maintenance, the cost of repairing them, and where they find themselves financially. This stage is the death stage. The people must die to the image of who they thought the church was and where it is today to rise in Christ vision for the church. As part of this stage, the budget has to be updated with adjustments to prepare to increase ministry in the future. Painful cuts might have to be made to staffing, programs, or other ministries so the church can invest in the future by fixing deferred maintenance issues. 

By evaluating today, you create a new opportunity to minister in a new way tomorrow. Once the church board or leadership team backs this plan, this must be explained over and over again to church members as the shock wave of change reverberates. This is not an easy stage because some members will leave, and others will disagree loudly at the differences they have with the plan, but hold steady as you help the church right-size from the deferred maintenance nightmare and watch how God restores what could have closed the church. 

Deferred maintenance does not have to kill the church if the leadership is willing to address the issues head-on by reviewing the facility with fresh eyes, developing a plan of action, staying focused during the process, and investing in the future.

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.