As part of my doctoral work, I interviewed rural pastors about their turnaround experiences. All these pastors faced significant crises early in the turnaround journey. Some inherited massive debt and unpaid bills. Others were on the verge of losing their church property. Not to mention the declining attendance, faltering ministry programs, and a lack of energy and vibrancy in worship.
So, what did I learn from listening to these pastors? Here it is - never waste a crisis! These pastors used the worst of moments as opportunities to build trust with their congregations. How did they do that?
Demonstrated Strong Leadership: instead of cowering and blaming, these leaders stepped into the crisis. They confronted the problems head-on, made decisions, and acted in faith. They did not shy away from having tough conversations with those causing contentions. Strong leadership by the pastor created an environment where church members felt safe.
Communicated Change Through Key Relationships: while every pastor had a different way of communicating, each saw relationships as the vehicle for communicating change. As such, they spent an enormous time getting to know their people and their communities. Building those relationships with key people in the church helped them introduce change in small ways. Conversations over coffee, in a truck, or on the combine during harvest helped build momentum for change.
Committed to Staying: these pastors did not walk away from the challenges. Instead, they made the decision to stay. Even in moments when most people would choose to walk away. These pastors made it clear they were committed to seeing God bring new life and vitality to their churches.
These three decisions opened doors of trust between pastor and congregation. Making decisions, communicating change, and sticking around helped pave the way for much larger and more significant cultural changes.
Danny Davis is a rural pastor, Bible college professor, and rural church revitalization coach. He has planted and revitalized churches in South Africa and the USA. Dr. Danny Davis is available to help pastors and lay-leaders in small-town and rural churches. Through common sense and honest assessment, Davis empowers leaders to move their declining churches forward for Kingdom impact. To contact Danny please visit his website.