Four Ways to Build Bridges Not Walls

Hiking the Grand Canyon can be dangerous because tourists underestimate the challenge, despite signs posted along hiking trails that read, “WARNING: There are no easy trails into or out of the Grand Canyon!”

The way I see it…

This warning also applies to revitalization work in established churches that have a long, historic legacy. There is no easy way to turn around a church with a long past. But by God’s power and guidance, good lay and pastoral leadership, anything is possible. 

Here are 4 ways to build bridges from a church’s past to God’s desired future: 

  1. Looking Back: Celebrate God Stories

When a church has seen decline for many years, it loses hope and forgets the good things God has done. The first step is to look through historical documents to see where previous pastors documented the vision God had given them.

Look for the miracles in the archives. Where did God move unexpectedly? Where did God provide a way when there seemed to be no way? When did God provide workers and finances at just the right time?

God stories of the past can become testimonies of God’s provision and power to offer new hope to a discouraged or defeated congregation.

  1. Looking Back: Cite and Confess Sin

Churches can be torn apart by conflict, poor leadership decisions, moral and ethical misconduct and the temptation is to simply get through it and then never speak of it again. In order to move forward with God’s new vision, there must be confession and repentance of past sin.

Imagine the powerful statement it would send for the pastor and church leadership to stand together leading the entire congregation in a solemn assembly to confess the specific ways the church has led themselves rather than letting God lead them. Naming past sin and taking ownership of it can be redemptive, and then the church can move forward in what God wants to do in their future.

  1. Move Forward: Pray, Revision and Dream Again

A hopeless church will stop believing God will ever move again in their midst. A capable undershepherd will call the church back to a concentrated time of prayer to ask the Lord to reveal what He wants to do next. It’s a big step of faith when the church has been wandering in the desert for so long. But as you spend time in congregational prayer, God inspires hope and purpose into your church through Scriptures.

It does absolutely no good to look back (steps 1 and 2), if you’re not going to do what’s necessary to move forward. Pray. Revision. Dream again. God’s not finished with your church.

  1. Move Forward: Celebrate Cultural Wins

Change is painful and necessary. It takes a minimum of 1,000 days to see revitalization begin. One way to keep moving forward is to celebrate the cultural shifts.

Transforming power doesn’t just happen at rebirth it also happens along the way in sanctification. Transforming power is when a long time church member makes a value shift in their personal life to embrace the changes the church is making to reach new people.

These cultural shifts should be celebrated by highlighting those stories in the biggest gathering of the church. What you want repeated in your church, give prime time attention to it. If you want every believer sharing the good news with their neighbors, then tell the story when it happens in a big way. 

A popular sign on the Grand Canyon trails read, “Down is optional, up is mandatory.” Your church may have experienced the going down (declining), but now start the mandatory work of bringing the church out of the pit and fill them with the hope and calling of being the bride Jesus intends for her to be.

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