Church leaders face a big struggle when it comes to revitalization of their congregations. 90% of churches are either in decline or stagnant, which means only 10% of churches are growing. Many churches (and, if we’re being honest, church leaders too) want simple solutions to make the process of turning around a decline quick and painless. But the reality is that revitalizing a church will take time. It may be helpful to think about the process of revitalization as the process of “eating an elephant”.
When I was in ROTC, I remember an instructor asking our class of cadets (who had noticeably become frustrated by our perceived lack of progress) a seemingly absurd question: How do you eat an elephant?
“One bite at a time”
The average elephant weighs between 3 and 4 tons (according to a brief Google search and rough math). The average American consumes about 145 lbs of meat per year (according to the Wall Street Journal). That means that if you ONLY eat elephant meat, it’ll take you, on average, 41 YEARS before you’re done eating one elephant.
It’s easy to get discouraged with those numbers. So here are a few thoughts that should help you out:
- Many hands make light work – The process of revitalizing a church depends largely on the focus of the congregation. If the pastor is the only one eating the elephant, it will take a much longer time than if even one third of the body is determined to do the work.
- It’s one bite, not one elephant – It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you see how big the needed changes are. Often times, I’ll get so overwhelmed, it’s easier to do nothing. There are so many things to do, I don’t know where to start. So I don’t. It’s important to remember that it’s one step at a time, and not one elephant at a time. No matter how small the bite may be, it’s still helpful.
- Trust the snowball effect – As you begin to complete some tasks, and see some fruit from changes and transitions, you’ll be building momentum. Momentum creates new energy, a renewed vigor for the work ahead, and often times that momentum can help you plow through the tasks in front of you faster than you thought. The ‘snowball effect’ may not be consistent or sustainable, but it will happen. Trust that as you keep pushing forward, eventually you’ll get some traction.
Revitalizing and renewing churches is tough work. It require fortitude, vision, and courage. It requires grace, wisdom, and stubbornness. It requires so much because it is changing the culture of an established congregation.
Keep eating, church leaders.