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Your struggling church can turn around this year.

This month.

This weekend.

Because turnarounds can happen in an instant.

If you’re in a church that needs a turnaround, that’s the good news.

Now here’s some hard news. Good, but hard.

Turnarounds can happen fast. But greatness – the kind of greatness that comes from community- and kingdom-shaking impact – takes time.

After you’ve seen a turnaround, it’s tempting to expect that health and effectiveness will come quickly, too.

That may be the greatest challenge for the pastor of a turnaround church. After you’ve seen a turnaround, it’s tempting to expect that health and effectiveness will come quickly, too.

But it seldom, if ever, happens that way.

(Click here for some starter ideas about how to get a church turned around.)

A Turnaround Church

I’ve been in my current church for 24 years. It had been through tough times in the decade prior to my arrival. There had even been discussions about closing the church’s doors.

The day I arrived was a turnaround moment for them. New blood will do that.

But it took 7 years to become a healthy church. It took a dozen or more years to become a good church. And I haven’t even dared to refer to it as a great church until the last 6 or 7 years.

Yes, it took over 15 years to become a great church. I’m sure you’ll do better than I did. But don’t expect to shave more than a couple years off my timeline.

A great church takes time. And prayer. And patience. And a whole lot of consistency over a long period of time.

There is no shortcut.

A Turnaround Life

Imagine someone’s life as a graph. If it’s been heading downhill for years, it might get into negative territory, until the combination of finances, marriage, spiritual damage and emotional turmoil combine to be a negative 10.

You give your life to Christ and, in that instant, your life turns around.

But your marriage is still a mess, your job still stinks and you’re still in bankruptcy.

“Wait a minute!” you may wonder. “I thought turnarounds could happen in an instant! And what instant is a greater turnaround than salvation? So why am I still at a negative 10? What happened?”

What happened was that your life turned around. You were heading down, now you’re heading up.

What didn’t happen is that your life didn’t jump from negative 10 to positive 10. Your exterior circumstances are still where they were.

The good news is, now you’re facing a different direction. And the direction you’re facing changes everything – as long as you keep walking. A consistent walk in a new direction is where a turnaround becomes greatness.

Now, apply that to your struggling church.

An attitude shift can happen in a relatively short period of time if people are open to it. (Sometimes “if” is the biggest word in the world, isn’t it?)

You’ll now be facing in the right direction, which means the energy that was wasted dragging the church down will now be invested building the church up.

But that investment takes time.

The Greatness Marathon

Building a great church is a marathon, not a sprint.

It takes hard work, prayer, teamwork, assessment, trial-and-error, leadership, consistency, faith, trust-building, love and, above all, time. Lots of time.

There’s no shortcut to a great church.

But it is possible.

So keep at it.

Because once you get there, it’s so worth it.

 

Karl Vaters is the author of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking That Divides Us. He’s been in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and has been the lead pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California for over 20 years. He’s also the founder of NewSmallChurch.com, a blog that encourages, connects and equips innovative Small Church pastors.

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