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Five Ministry Models for At-risk Churches

It is difficult for congregational leaders to acknowledge their churches are declining. As challenging as it is to look in the mirror, I’m seeing one blessing come from such reality checks. Once they face the decline, leaders are more willing to consider partnerships with other churches.

Such partnerships can refocus churches on their calling and purpose, leading to revitalization.

Leaders need to consider partnerships with their eyes wide open. Each model of partnership requires significant change and presents unique challenges. The benefits can be transformational. Churches can shift from focusing on survival to discipleship; from keeping the doors open to opening the doors for new people.

Motivation is the key indicator of whether a church will successfully make any of these transitions. The future is more hopeful if the church is motivated by a conviction that God is not done fulfilling His mission through the church. If the church is solely motivated by the desire to keep the doors open for members, the future is not nearly as bright.

Here are five partnerships that can breathe new life into at-risk churches.

Merger Model

In a merger, two or more congregations come together to start a new church with a new name. It is most effective when all the churches sell their facilities and find a new location. Pastors who serve merged congregations have the same skill sets and traits as church planters. What usually prevents churches from merging is the loss of congregational identities.

Campus Model

In this model, a declining church approaches a healthy congregation about becoming a campus of the healthy church. One agreement is reached, the healthy church sends leaders to relaunch the at-risk congregation. The struggling church is renamed in the process. The greatest challenge is the high level of change for members of the declining church who stay with the new campus.

Dual Parish Model

A dual parish is two autonomous churches served by one pastor. The churches reach agreement on worship times, offices hours for the pastor and how much each will contribute towards salary and benefits for a pastor. One church issues the call, although both churches may interview candidates. The primary difficulty is both churches are now functionally served by a part-time pastor.

Multi-site Model 

Originally, growing churches created the multi-site model by offering a full slate of ministries in more than one geographic location. Today some merging congregations keep both church buildings, forming a multisite church. The new congregation saves resources in shared staffing and production of materials such as worship bulletins. The focal point is finding a pastor who want to develop one church in multiple locations.

Circuit Rider Model

During the eras of western expansion pioneers would form new churches in farming or mining communities, but have no pastor. One pastor would become a circuit rider, serving as many as 15 churches, visiting a few a week on a rotating basis. Today circuit riders are reappearing in rural and urban areas where churches can’t afford full or part-time pastors. The model places a great deal of responsibility on churches for member care and discipleship, since a pastor is only available once a month.

What is your experience with church partnerships? If your church is at-risk, which model would work best for your congregation? Share your thoughts in the comments section or or shoot me an email.

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