If you’ve been in a church long enough, you’ve observed that it goes through life stages just like anything else. However, every congregation belongs to a living Savior. Churches don’t need to die—but sometimes they need to be resurrected. That’s where this book comes in.
Terry D. Smith. Changing Course: Leading Older Churches in a New Direction. 216p., $12.00, ChurchSmart Resources.
Regardless of the reasons for decline (and it’s usually many reasons working hand in hand), Terry Smith makes it clear that reviving an older church begins with God, in prayer, and is manifested by leadership that is will to embrace, then promote, then facilitate change. It doesn’t “just happen” (as the much of the entropy/”historical drift” that put the church in this position in the first place did).
The second half of the book does a better job of dealing with the particulars of being a course-change church. Chapter 7, “Keeping the Remnant Connected,” is particularly useful, as it recognizes 1) that there can be spiritually vital people within a dying church, and 2) because they’ve stuck it out, these are the people who are critical to turning a church around. By caring for these people and getting them to embrace the change that needs to happen, change can truly begin.
Likewise, the chapter on interim pastors (often a critical piece for a turnaround church) was enlightening, as it points out the irony of utilizing retired pastors to help old churches to transition: “So they implemented their 1960s ministry philosophy in a 1990s setting. And many people loved it.” (He does hasten to add that not all interim pastors fit this mold, and that there are many more, better-trained, and sometimes even vocationally called “intentional interim pastors” these days.)
Smith has been involved with his share of “course-change churches,” including two separate stints at his current church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. “I suppose this book is a memoir and a manual,” he says. “[I]f God can do it for a 110+ year old church in precipitous decline, a dying church if we are honest, He can do it for your church as well.”