I moved to Goldsboro, North Carolina in 2012 to become the pastor of Goldsboro Wesleyan Church. My wife, Anita, and I had tried to be clear about the kind of leaders we were. The church thought they were ready for change and we thought we knew what we were getting into in Goldsboro. We were both wrong.
After a year of figuring out just how wrong we were, we came to a crossroads. It is the same crossroads that many churches are standing at right now. One path continues us down a road of comfort; doing what we already know how to do. It is the path that most of our churches will choose as we attempt to go back to “normal” after the pandemic wanes. We will hold on to the same methods, even as a painful reality dawns on us a little more each Sunday.
The other path is a more adventurous and riskier road. Taking this path will cost you more than you can imagine, but the rewards for the traveler are eternal.
This new path is the path of rethinking church.
Those who walk this path are deeply rooted in the Gospel, yet bravely branch out into the world with a fresh expression of the message of hope, love and redemption. To walk this path requires more questions than answers, a high tolerance for uncertainty, a good measure of grit and—most of all—the willingness to die.
We chose to rethink church in Goldsboro and it has been a wild adventure for our small church. We laid down the life of the church we had known in order to become Hydrant Church.
Thankfully, death never has the last word in the Kingdom of God. Since leading our church through death to new life, Hydrant has averaged nearly 20 new baptisms a year, grown into multiple services, and quadrupled in attendance. What is more, in a community that struggles to attract young adults, nearly 80 percent of our congregation is under 40.
Conservatively measuring, at least 65 percent of churches in America are stuck or declining, most of those small churches. Thousands of small churches in America will close this year, not because of Covid-19 or because the Gospel has lost relevance, but because they are unwilling to die. Every church that hopes to see something new come to life must walk through death. We have to let our assumptions, preferences and pride die. Many of our favorite programs or methods will need to die too. It is ok; the path to new life goes through the grave.
In Rethinking Church: Leading the Struggling Church through Death to New Life I tell the story of our journey with brutal honesty. I share victories and defeats, as well as the path through death to new life. Rethinking Church is intensely practical as it invites you to find God’s pathway for your church. This book will challenge you as a pastor or leader to think differently and walk boldly into a new reality, into new life.
Rethinking Church: Leading the Struggling Church through Death to New Life is now available at wphstore.com.