Renewing the Small Church With the Kintsugi Model

Legend has it that in 15th-century Japan, a military leader sent away a piece of precious pottery to be fixed after it had been broken accidentally. It came back with what looked like staples and inferior metals piecing it back together. Within the next two centuries, Kintsugi model was developed into a significant art form, which took broken things and made them more valuable. The practice melded broken pieces of pottery with gold, silver and platinum, making the pieces even more beneficial to the owner.

In the church today, we seemingly discard “broken” churches and close their doors. What if, instead of closing churches, we began repairing them to make them more valuable for the community? It will take a dedicated leader and maybe even denominational officials to see value in what was and is before them—to find or develop a leader who captures the congregation’s imagination for what could be in and out of the church and going about the work in which honors God but respects the past. It embraces the community to reach its neighbors like never before with a future-forward focus that brings new life to the local church and neighborhood.

Repairing the Cracks with Christ. 

Legacy churches carry forward a rich history of positive and negative ministry. Far too many focus on the negative and miss the opportunities to build off the rich history of the past with the promise of tomorrow. When a church is hemorrhaging people and resources, there is a tendency to close ranks, blame others, and seek shelter from the storm. What if the local church turns this equation on its head and invests more in people, programs, and partnerships to reach others? Instead of hiding, they march forward in a limited way, sharing Jesus and fighting against the darkness. 

They evaluate the cracks (the negative issues in the church) and repair them through focused prayer times, seeking forgiveness and direction from the Lord, reviewing programs, and resourcing that reach others while pausing more inward-focused programs, and seeing the value in the people currently a part of the fellowship and the buildings that make up the church’s campus. By repairing cracks, members begin to see the beauty in what was pain and begin to capture the new promise that Christ has for the local church in this season of ministry.

Restoring Visionary Leadership.

Turning around a declining church will take godly direction, leadership, prayer, and skill in navigating the rough waters of the past to progress the church forward into the promise of a new season of renewal. In denominational life, closing a church, seizing the assets, and turning them over to a new start or church plant are far more manageable; however, God did not plant the church decades before for it to be dismembered because someone wants to take the easy way out. 

Denominational officials and local church leaders need to fight to keep the neighborhood church open by prayerfully selecting the next visionary leader that God has for it. When a struggling church is without a pastor, there is a tendency to put any warm body in the office of an undershepherd. That one instance dooms a church to sure death instead of possible growth. 

Just because the church has cracks does not mean there is no value to the community or members who attend. The idea that new is always better needs to be corrected. Better is better. Better leadership, compassion, and vision for the lost are required. Finding the right godly leader to shepherd the church is not an easy undertaking, but if done well, it can help the church have a new lease on life. Many churches lack visionary leadership that draws from the well of the past with a futuristic eye toward the future and melds these two ideas together. It takes a diligent leader with a passion for the small church and a heart to love the people they have and the guests that will come in the future.

Reminding Others of the Value of the Neighborhood.

It was not a mistake when God planted the local church where it is today. Sure, the neighborhood has changed; look in the mirror, and you too have changed over the years. The church has an excellent opportunity to review the community’s needs and begin to capture one element that it could do to help the community become healthier. Instead of worrying about how many are in the pew, focus on how many lives the church could touch through a feeding program, afterschool program, or offering GED classes. 

While many remaining members drive into the church and no longer live in the neighborhood, they begin to see the neighborhood with God’s eyes and love it again. See the value in the children playing in the yard or people walking their dogs. Don’t judge them because of their disheveled looks or ramshackle homes; value them as cracks that will be mended through a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ will help your local church and the community. There is value in these broken areas of society, and the church could help be the mending agent to restore new life and hope in the neighborhood. 

While the church was once a community center for the neighborhood, it can be again if the church maintains its space and resources and is willing to see the community as a partner and not an enemy. Leading a revitalization effort is challenging. God has given your local church all the resources it needs, but the members and leaders have to do their part to see the community around them as ministry opportunities for future partnerships to share Jesus and encourage others that renewal has come. It will take a tenacious leader to lead through the decline and into a new season that will not look like the past but have some familiarities with it.

If a broken piece of pottery can be repaired with gold, silver and platinum and come out more valuable, think about what a declining church renewed through Christ can be worth.

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, most recently, Helping the Small Church Win Guests: Preparing To Increase Attendance (Wipf & Stock 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.