A successful U-turn

A couple of years a young, brand-new pastor starting attending our stewardship training.  Not some of them, all of them.  It looked like she was a stewardship junkie.  I like stewardship junkies.

Hers was a church all too typical in our conference.  Located in a blue-collar Cleveland suburb the congregation was aging and declining.  The goal, it seemed, was for the church to be open long enough for the funerals of the current members then it could close.  And it probably would.

The pastor was appointed there in mid-year and was surprised to find that the budget showed a deficit of $40,000, about a fourth of the total budget.  And they only planned to pay about half of their apportionments.

I started to understand why she was a stewardship junkie.

She called me last week and was pleased to report that her church ended 2010 with a balanced the budget, apportionments were fully paid and they were even giving an extra $750 per year to support missionaries.

I asked her what the key was.  She gave me two words:

Hope and purpose.

Hope that the church wasn’t about to close and that the church had a purpose beyond worship and the post-worship coffee hour.

It seemed the church had once again decided to be a church.

I have written before about hope for the future of the church and the need for a concrete vision that your members can support.  Last weekend I did some stewardship training for the folks in the Three Rivers District and one of my basic tenets was that giving follows vision.  When this church was in hospice there was no need for anyone to give significantly.  Afterall, the church wasn’t going to be around much longer.

But when the members started to see some hope, they responded financially.

But I think purpose is every bit as important.  In the church’s renaissance they shifted their focus from internal to external, looking to see how God is using their church.  She told me that building is now so busy that they have to put in a process for reserving space because the rooms are filled so often.

I will admit that when I first walked into that church a couple of years ago, just a few weeks after this pastor started there, I had no reason to believe it would make it.  It was one of those places where the rundown appearance and negative vibe from everyone I saw told me that its days were numbered.

But it has come back, and done so not because someone in the congregation won the lottery, but with hope and vision.

Does your church have hopes?  What is its vision?  What lessons can you learn from this phoenix-like church?

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