I arrived at the meeting early. I wanted time to collect my thoughts and to pray. I knew it was possible the meeting would go poorly, as the subject to be discussed was a very challenging one. The group was deciding if it was time for their ministry to come to an end.
I wish I could say I've only been in one or two such meetings, but in my role as a denominational leader, I've been in many of them. Sometimes the situation could be managed and was turned around in positive ways. Most often, the group had waited too long to change.
Many churches and ministry organizations across our nation are struggling to survive. There are many reasons for this struggle, but most often it happens because somewhere along the way the group declined to make the changes that were needed to remain vibrant. Because of the deep commitment level that most Christians have toward their church and other related ministries, a small group can keep a ministry going long after the ministry's peak effectiveness has passed. But they enter into a period of long slow decline, often expending greater and greater energy but seeing less and less results. They hope something will change, even though they do everything possible to keep change from happening. What they often look for is a young vibrant leader who will enthusiastically lead them to remain exactly the same. Rarely does that plan work and even when it does, it often only temporarily delays the inevitable.
When churches, or other ministry organizations are in decline, but refuse to change, the rate of decline often accelerates at the same time that the number of viable options for change are reduced. Though there are many points along the way when they could have made the decision to change, those points become farther and father apart and the options available to them become fewer and fewer. There finally comes a point when nothing can be done to reverse the decline and closure is inevitable. That is always a sad point to arrive at for those who are left to clean up what little remains.
How do we avoid seeing a once vibrant ministry end? The key is to change early enough in the process to actually improve the situation while there is still energy and resources available for an effective shift in direction. This requires leaders who are brave enough to do something different. This requires leaders willing to release control. Most of all, this requires leaders who are willing to ask Christ, the Master and Savior of All, to help them re-envision what it means to follow Him and help them return to their first love. When that happens, change comes quickly. It is not without pain or a sense of loss. But it is a necessary part of the process and will produce amazing results.
While many churches and other ministries are unable to make the shift, those that do experience a glorious rebirth. Churches can be revived. Ministries can refocus. But it will look different than it did in the past. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, if we are brave enough to try something different.
Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at: