Five Marks of Turnaround Churches

location for worship

With north of 80 percent of churches plateaued or declining, it’s no surprise I’m consistently asked what I see in “turnaround churches.” I’m curious as to whether readers are surprised by any of the five marks I see in turnaround churches.

The pastor supports the turnaround effort.

I’ve watched pastors both succeed and fail at initiating congregational turnaround arounds. What I’ve never seen is a church turnaround when the pastor didn’t support the effort. Pastors understand there is a price to pay in participating in a turnaround. They must publicly and privately support congregational changes. Sometimes they must personally invest in ministries that do not fit their strengths. Pastoral leadership in a turnaround is not easy, but is necessary.

The congregation launches new ministries in the local community.

When a church loves its neighborhood, great things can happen. Most turnaround churches today start by serving in their community. Maybe members regularly volunteer at local schools or social agencies. Maybe members hold block parties. The key is to form relationships with new people who are not yet part of the church. The recognition the church receives in the community can bear fruit as well.

The congregation makes changes to embrace and integrate new people.

It doesn’t matter how many new people walk through the doors if they are not welcomed into the church. In declining churches unfamiliar people can be seen as potential problems or threats. If new people are acknowledged at all. Turnaround churches become intentional in greeting new people, especially in worship and Bible studies. Such congregations develop systems to gather contact information from guests and visitors. They find ways to celebrate new people.

The church abandons some established ministries.

One of the challenges for turnaround churches is finding resources to launch new ministries. Discontinuing long established programs that are not bearing fruit is one way to free up leaders and funds. This is challenging. Programs have staying power because members have an emotional investment in the ministries. Nevertheless, turnaround churches learn how to end longtime programs and start new ministries.

The congregation sees God change the lives of members in powerful ways.

It is not unusual in turnaround churches to find three to five participants who have recently experienced God’s grace is powerful ways. These members can’t help but share what God is doing in their lives through the church. They tell their friends and neighbors. They tell people at work and school. They tell total strangers and even people with whom they’re conflicted. Such members also inspire longtime members to start telling others about what God is doing in the congregation.

What else have you seen in turnaround churches? Share your observations in the comment section or shoot me an email.

7 thoughts on “Five Marks of Turnaround Churches

  1. My Brother, I agree with all that you have written. I would like to see you (maybe in another blog post) spend a little more time on “The congregation makes changes to embrace and integrate new people.” I think in the paragraph you stopped a little short of the title you gave the paragraph. It is vital that new people get greeted as they walk in the door for the first time. However it has been my experience that for a church to turn around the existing members must be willing to allow new folks some ownership and leadership and even tolerate a different approach to things. I jokingly say, it is one thing for a congregation member to say good morning to someone new, it is another to give them the keys to cupboard where the coffee is stored! 🙂


    1. Insightful, Eric. I should have included integrating new people into leadership. The future post solely on welcoming and integrating new people also will have thoughts on churches that go too far in their new found love for new people, such as emotionally smothering guests.


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