I heard it again on Sunday, described a little more eloquently this time than in the past.
The homeowner and contractor told me how he had remodeled several homes, each time living in them during the process. He was grateful to have had the same wife with him throughout the whole adventure.
As I had heard before, the veteran remodeler emphasized that it’s wise to begin a remodeling project with a plan, a “scope and sequence” based on an expert’s inspection instead of just starting with the most obvious need or want.
The painful lesson which he and so many others have learned, is that without a process and a plan, it’s easy to put first things last and last things first and it’s easy to put your time and effort into the wrong projects entirely. I’m talking about mistakes like:
- Putting new roofing materials on top of a deteriorating roof.
- Carefully painting a wall or walls which disguise seriously flawed wiring or plumbing beneath them.
- Investing your funds in superficial, cosmetic changes while leaving substantial, underlying issues (HVAC, plumbing, foundations, roofing) untouched.
I wish I knew who said it first: “Revitalizing your church is like remodeling your house. It will take more time, cost more money, create more hassle and make a bigger mess than you ever could have imagined. But in the end, it’s worth it.”
True. But remodeling your house can be done with more or less wisdom; more or less planning; more or less hassle. Not all messes are created equal.
Which brings us to the long-running television show, This Old House.
In the classic This Old House episodes, the expert crew would sit down with the homeowners and hear about their dreams for their home. Then they would go to work inspecting the premises, from bottom to top. After some figuring, the This Old House guys would sit down again with the homeowners and tell them the actual condition of their domicile and what they would actually need to spend their money on to make the house livable, if not beautiful.
After some grappling with the brutal facts and nail-biting negotiating, the homeowners and outside experts would hammer out a plan.
The completed project was often costly, but always beautiful. Happy ending every time.
This is where church assessments come in: Sixty-five to ninety percent of American protestant churches are in need of some degree of revitalization. They are surviving, not thriving.
Most pastors know that their congregations are supposed to be making disciples of Jesus out of the “raw material” of lost, unchurched people. Most, sadly, are not.
We know that something needs to change and we don’t know where to start.
But we didn’t necessarily do the most important things. I put a lot of time into writing a child protection policy, from scratch. I wrote a middle school Sunday School curriculum. I worked hard at teaching classes which hardly anyone actually wanted to attend. I “putzed” around the church building doing things which other people should have been doing.
Not only did we not do the most important things, but we also did some good things in the wrong order. We focused on the above items when I should have been modeling personal evangelism. I trained people for various ministries but omitted training future board members.
In short, we would have benefited greatly by beginning the revitalization process with an assessment done by an objective, outside consultant. A good assessment process identifies a congregation’s strengths, weaknesses, blind-spots and opportunities. It helps churches discern whether they need a major remodeling project or some minor tweaking. It helps the pastor and other leaders to get the right projects scheduled and in the right order.
A great corollary to the assessment process is to contract with a ministry coach – either the consultant who did the assessment or some other pastor’s coach – to help the pastor to guide the church through the process.
In America in 2022, we are blessed with a variety of consultants, consulting groups, denominational resources and coaches. You are welcome to contact me for suggestions.