Churches that Make a Comeback
Pulling into the gravel parking lot, I saw the church for the first time. And I thought I was in a time warp. The building had been constructed in the early 1920s. The sign on the front said “Established in 1856.” Not much had changed in the community since that time. The church had no A/C, no phone, and a karaoke machine for a sound system. It had taken me two hours to get to the church. Given that some of the roads in the area were unpaved, I figured my ETA to be a minor victory.
I said a short prayer before I met the six congregants. Being a supply preacher at the time, I had been preaching off and on at a few churches. But there was something different about this church, and it wasn’t that they had no air conditioning. The church had fallen on hard times; the doors had been closed for weeks. I learned that I was their first person to agree to come preach in quite some time. But the people had a desire for God to work in the rural community. The church wanted to make a comeback.
For two years I was their pastor. Two years in which the people of the church taught the pastor more than he taught them. Two years where God worked something amazing at the small country church on a road that even lifelong residents had never heard of. The people dug in. They made phone calls. They knocked door-to-door. They shared their faith.
The church looked outward and grew. We put in A/C. New hymnals and pew Bibles were ordered. The inside of the church redone. At their homecoming last year, almost 100 people attended. After a transition plan to another minister in the area who was not a “city boy” (at term of endearment the congregation gave me), the church had begun a comeback – from a rotting building to a thriving centerpiece of the community.
I tell this story only because I firmly believe that any church can make a difference. Style, venue, size, or age have nothing to do with success. God will use anyone who wants to put in the time, effort, and faith to see a church make a turnaround. And a new book is out that shares how churches accomplish this comeback. Authored by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, Comeback Churches tells the story of over 300 churches and how they made a dramatic turnaround. The book is one of the most encouraging I have ever read as a pastor.
The story of my church was simple. The success was certainly not due to some new strategy from a hotshot pastor. I had about 20 sermons under my belt; I had no idea what I was doing. Rather, the church just decided to start working for the Lord. We prayed a lot. We asked the community what their needs were. We incessantly invited people to our church. We celebrated when people joined. We loved God’s children. We kept expectations high, and we held the Living Word high.
Do any of you have any success stories that you want to share? I know that there are a lot of dying churches out there. But I also know that there are many who have made dramatic turnarounds.