Kick-Starting Your Plateaued or Declining Church

Anyone who has had to start a push mower, chainsaw or anything with a cord knows how frustrating it can be at times to get things started. (Pixabay)

Anyone who has had to start a push mower, chainsaw or anything with a cord knows how frustrating it can be at times to get things started, especially when the machine is older and colder. You can pump, pull, and prime and kick, but sometimes it's really hard to get things started. Obviously, if you prime the engine, a better chance exists that the engine will fire up and start running. In the early summer when the family push mower needs to get started for the first time, and that mower is colder and older, it needs to be primed a lot more than normal.

In some ways, churches can be the same way, especially ones that are plateaued and declining. If they are going to turn around, they often need to be primed. And, it can be done. When kick-starting a plateaued or declining church, several things will help to prime the pump and begin the process of revitalization.

Before talking more specifically about how leaders get things going, let's touch on an important foundational aspect of leadership. In Christian leadership circles, we talk a lot about being called. Are you called by God? Does that person have the call of God on his life? How does a person know when they're called? These, and other questions like them, are good questions; they are vital questions. A person must have a clear sense of being called by God, serving at His pleasure wherever that may lead.

In addition, the leader who is going to get things going has to understand that the call of God is to minister to people—often broken, hurting demoralized people. Ministry is not about creating or building some fantasy land of happy people who enjoy gathering in a church building. Ministry is about loving people the way Jesus did, even when they don't get things the leader thinks they should get. Ministry is about sticking with it because things didn't get the way they are overnight and probably won't change overnight.

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Think about the call that God placed on Moses' life. It was an exciting opportunity. He was going to be the lead guy for the whole nation. As soon as Moses stepped up and showed up to rescue everybody, one would think the people would just fall in love with Moses—parades and parties. Of course, that's not what happened.

Moses didn't want the job, and the people didn't want to be rescued. Not to mention the opposition from the Pharaoh. Beyond that, even after God performed miracles, many of the people still acted like idiots. And what did Moses do? He continued to love them and intercede for them, even when they didn't deserve it (Ex. 32:7-14, 30-32; Num. 21:6-7).

Of course that is exactly what Jesus does on our behalf over and over again. He was constantly trying to help the disciples understand the nature of their calling and what kind of attitude leaders were to have serving in His kingdom. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus had to instruct them about this after spending many days and hours pouring into their lives, and they still didn't get it. In fact, this was after they had just shared the first Lord's Supper together and discussed His sacrificial death, as well as the certainty that Jesus was going to be betrayed:

There was also rivalry among them concerning which of them was to be counted the greatest. He said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called benefactors. But you are not so. Instead, let him who is greatest among you be as the younger, and he who rules as he who serves. For who is greater: he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? But I am among you as He who serves (Luke 22:24-27).

Having discussed the foundation of God-called, servant-hearted leadership, I want to write more specifically in the coming posts about some principles and practices of kick-starting leadership. What will it take to prime the engine of church revitalization so that things can be kick-started?

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as executive director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two master's degrees and two doctorates and has written dozens of articles and books. Read more about Ed at

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