Churches can experience spiritual renovation if its leaders are committed to helping the congregation become healthy. It is however not an easy process. Here are 11 steps to the process of confronting problematic DNA in a congregation.
Remember that crisis can be a friend.
Spiritual renovation for congregations, like individuals, often starts in crisis. Pain is a friend for those who will listen - a wake-up call that not all is well. Rather than run, wise leaders use a crisis to ask important questions about the health of the church, about the past and about the future. Crisis often reveals spiritual fault lines in a congregation - unhealthy DNA - that need to be addressed. Wise leaders know that you never waste the opportunity that a crisis presents.
Start to lead more intentionally
Spiritual renovation of a congregation requires courageous leaders who are not afraid to face brutal facts, who are willing to admit sin or dysfunction and make commitments to change, and who will lead their congregation in a healthy spiritual direction. This never happens by accident but rather by charting an intentional process toward renovation.
Wise leaders face reality rather than run from it, no matter how painful or unpleasant. Facing reality is a necessary prerequisite to healing and wholeness. Leaders in troubled congregations must first clearly understand the issues that have contributed to where they find themselves. Often these issues are long standing and may even go back to the founding of the church. Crisis can bring them to the surface and give leaders an opportunity to deal with them if we are willing to face reality rather than run from it or ignore it. This takes courage because there will always be pressure to ignore or cover up problems that have been longstanding. In fact, that is why they are longstanding problems in the first place
Confess sinful practices or unhealthy practices
Where there are significant areas of sin (often the root of unhealthy genetics), those sins need to be confessed and renounced by church leaders. The naming of the sin along with its confession is a powerful step for church leaders. Or, it may simply be unhealthy practices. Again, those unhealthy practices need to be named and a commitment made to better practices.
Covenant to new practices
Unhealthy and sinful practices need to be replaced by healthy and godly practices. If a new genetic code is going to be planted in a congregation, it needs to be specified and articulated, and leaders need to commit to it first. A written document can become a reminder of your commitment to renovation - one that articulates both what has been confessed and what new practices have been embraced.
Recruit a guiding coalition
Significant change across a congregation takes more than the influence of the leadership board. Bring into your process other leaders in the church who can embrace and model with you the changes that need to be made. And those who can lend their influence to the process.
Model, teach and establish new practices
At this point you will need to be proactive in teaching, modeling and establishing new, godly or healthy practices at every level of ministry. Talk frankly with the congregation from the pulpit, in small and large group settings, in membership classes and wherever you can, to remind them of 'who you are' as a congregation and commitments you have made to be the authentic body of Jesus Christ. At all costs, keep the issues in front of the leadership community so that you model that to which you have called the congregation.
Establish a prayer coalition
Things happen when people pray. The Holy Spirit starts to remind us of positive behaviors and convict us of sinful behaviors. Engage a prayer team to specifically pray that God would bring change to the congregation.
Don't be surprised if things get worse before they get better
That may surprise you, but it is often the case. Exposing sinful, unhealthy or long accepted practices and calling people to new and healthier practices is not going to make everyone happy. Often you will face deep resistance from a segment of the congregation even though you are calling the congregation to healthier and more godly practices. In many cases this resistance comes from those who may have created those practices in the past and are therefore threatened by change. This is where many leaders cave to the pressure. Don't! It is a natural part of the process.
Realize that it's OK when people leave during renovation - expect it
If you have walked through significant crisis and change in a church-leadership setting, you know how discouraging it is to come to meeting after meeting and hear the latest list of those who have left the church. Spiritual renovation in a church will often leave some people cold - people who have no desire or intention to renovate their attitudes or change their behavior. We cannot force others to change. Leaders need to know that it is OK when people leave. Don't let this intimidate you.
When leaders start to lead well, they help the congregation clarify who they are as a church and what their future is. Clarification causes some to say, I don't want to be on this bus anymore. It's going in a direction I don't want to go.' Often, those who leave your church disgruntled find another church where they can fit and minister productively.
Hang in, trust God, keep praying and lead wisely
Spiritual renovation of congregations is not easy and is rarely fast. However, God wants to bring renewal. If leaders are patient, stay the course, do what is right and keep praying, chances are good that renovation will come.