Reversing Our Church Health Crisis

Reversing Our Church Health Crisis

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Eighty-five to ninety percent of churches in North America are either declining, plateaued or growing at a rate slower than the community in which they are located. Ten percent of the churches in North America are at imminent risk of closing.

From annual church reports received at our office, we know that over the course of the last 10 years, the Advent Christian denomination has lost an average of 3.2 churches per year due to church closures and disassociations. This represents the loss of more than one percent of our churches each year. However, this rate of loss is likely to accelerate over the course of the next decade given the average age and current trajectory of many of our congregations.

One objective data point we have access to that portends this accelerated decline is average worship attendance. While worship attendance is not a comprehensive metric for evaluation, it can be a useful tool for making some preliminary diagnoses and future projections. For instance, total church attendance has decreased by 17% in the past 10 years (including lost churches). Using only worship attendance as a metric, approximately 48% of Advent Christian churches in the United States and Canada are in a state of decline.

The primary role of the Department of Church Health is to reverse this trend in the Advent Christian denomination. We strive to serve declining and dying churches so they will be renewed and revitalized and move from surviving to thriving.

Our vision is to see a constant increase in healthy, fruit-bearing and reproducing churches in the United States and Canada.

The mission of the department is to provide relevant and high-quality resources, services and partnerships that will strengthen healthy churches, revitalize declining churches and resurrect dead churches. As Director of Church Health, I will strive to achieve this mission by working in four key areas: consultation, coaching, curation and community-building.

Consultation can be defined broadly as offering advice or an outside perspective to churches regarding church health and revitalization issues. These services will typically be single instances or short-term in nature.

Coaching will be longer term (one to two years) in length and more involved. Initially much of the coaching work will be done in service to churches involved in a comprehensive church health process

Curation will be an ongoing effort to identify, recommend and promote high-quality resources related to church health.

Community-building will be a critical component related to the ultimate scope and sustainability of the Department of Church Health. It is unlikely that I will be able to support a large number of churches alone, especially in consultative and coaching relationships. Therefore I will seek to establish, resource, coordinate and connect a denomination-wide network of church health coaches that can offer consultative and coaching services based on a normative benchmark and a standard set of church health tools.

All of our churches can be categorized in three broad categories: growth, plateau or decline. Determining which category a church is in begins with a “triage” conversation. As the name implies, this is a decision point regarding the future care of the congregation.

The triage tool will use three tools to gain insights into the congregation:

  • Worship Attendance History
    • According to the data for average worship attendance over the last 10 years, is the church in a state of:
      • Growth? (Approximately 20% of AC Churches since 2013)
      • Plateau? (Approximately 32% of AC churches since 2013)
      • Decline? (Approximately 48% of AC churches since 2013)    
  • Natural Church Development (NCD) Survey
    • What is the average score on the NCD survey?
      • Average scores of 35 and below represent a congregation that is in decline or survival mode. Approximately 15% of all churches find themselves in this stage.
      • Average scores of 35-55 represent a congregation that is most likely in plateau. Approximately 70% of churches will find themselves at this stage.
      • Average scores of 55 an above indicate congregations that are growing and capable of new and adaptive work. 
  • Discovery Questions
    • This is a set of questions to be answered by church leaders to help better understand the history of the church, its current kingdom vision, kingdom impact and readiness for change.

The ideal pathway will be to begin the triage process when a church contacts me regarding church health issues. This will help to more accurately determine the current condition of the church and the urgency of a revitalization effort. 

The success of this ministry will hinge upon partnerships with churches, conferences and regions. First, I must find churches dedicated to improving the health of their ministries, and who are ready to utilize the services that are being offered. I would especially like to connect with churches who would be committed to working through the entire comprehensive church health process.  But I am eager for the opportunity to serve churches across the spectrum of church health in any way I can.

I would be especially interested in having a number of churches engage in the comprehensive church health process. These churches should be willing to commit to one full cycle of the process, have commitment to the process from the church leadership team, commit to work with a coach, and commit to the change process where it is needed.

The cooperation of the conferences and regions is also important. We must always seek ways for the regions, conferences and ACGC to collaborate in health improvement efforts with local churches. There are a number of ways conferences, regions and ACGC can partner together. The conferences and regions can be a part of the triage conversation to help identify the churches who may have interest in utilizing available church health services. I would like to explore the possibilities of conferences and regions subsidizing the cost of the NCD survey. It would also be ideal if conferences and regions would act as advocates for this initiative to improve church health. Finally, I would be interested in identifying conferences who would be willing to have all or a significant portion of their churches work through the comprehensive church health process together.

It is the desire of the staff of ACGC to see Advent Christian churches in the United States and Canada grow healthier and more vibrant. This is a new department and will be a work in progress for some time to come. However, as we continue to learn and grow in our knowledge, understanding and skill in the area of church health, we believe we can be a valuable resource to the local church. In the end, the success of this ministry will rest in the sovereign will of God and His power. Please pray with us that The Lord will choose to use and bless this new ministry.

 

If your church would be interested in learning more about the church health services offered by ACGC, please e-mail me at jnash@acgc.us or call me at 1-880-676-0694.

 

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