Ian Altman was the team leader for Gen1K Health at the Baptist Association of NSW & ACT, where part of his role was to go into churches that are dying and help them either die or be reborn. Before finishing up in this role, Ian shared with us some wisdom on how to keep things healthy before it’s too late. Below is a paraphrased transcript of what he shared on our Forming Church podcast…
Healthy and unhealthy churches:
If our churches aren’t healthy, we are never going to achieve our vision of 1000 churches in a generation. A healthy church is engaged in reproduction with the sending out of disciples and leaders, is committed to mission, and is a place where people actually want to be. An unhealthy church is not engaged with the community, is stuck in the past rather than for the future, has lost its sense of unity, there hasn’t been change occuring in a long time, and has a continual decline.
End of life for a church:
A church will go from life to death: this is their life cycle. This is normal. Sometimes a church no longer has the resources or ability to bring about necessary change, say after 50 years, and simply reach the end of their cycle. But some of these churches, such as Eastwood Baptist, go on to have new life and are vibrant because a group of their people decided to leave a legacy.
When help is needed:
In the Church Health team, we have tools to help you understand and examine where you’re at and then dictate the right response for the right situation. If you’ve got a cut finger you don’t need it to be amputated – but if you’ve got gangrene, a bandaid’s not going to cut it! I once tried to help a church that needed the treatment of rebirth, but they thought I was coming to simply give them a pastor and some money, so they left. Thankfully two years later they realised their reality and came back for help. They ended up becoming part of another church, and now can’t believe the place they’re now at.
I also remember a few years ago I tried to help a church understand who they were by asking how they began. There were two core couples there who said that they started the church because they didn’t want to go to the big church up the road – they “wanted a church for themselves”. A penny dropped. This had been a prevailing thought that underlined their identity. So they had conflict with every pastor who wanted to lead them to be a church for the community. God showed up that day. They started repenting, sorry that they’d not seen anyone come to faith in ten years. That was a long and sad journey, but it was important for them to let go of the prevailing thought that was dictating their behaviour that they weren’t even aware of.
Tips for your church:
- It’s important to build in a regular pattern of review and checking-in: Are we all okay? Who are we? What are we doing? What are our priorities, values and vision?
- Take good rest. We can be so busy trying to run everything that we just get worn out. But Jesus is actually pro rest. He had a good rhythm that’s worth following. We need to do less – but do those few things better!
- Don’t fear upsetting people. It’s tough being a leader in a church with so many people to “please” – the parents of a youth group, etc. But ministry is actually an audience of one. We’re only here to please one person, and that person is God!
- Have good self-understanding. We reproduce who we are. If we’re not happy with the results, we need to look in the mirror. Change needs to start with ourselves. Are we really healthy?
- Ask: Where is the ‘Christ-likeness’ here? The more mature in Christ a person is, the less conflict they have. Encourage your leaders to work out who they are in Christ.
Ian Altman has now resigned as our GEN1K Church Health Team Leader. Ian served in this area for the last 6 years. His role in shaping our church health and revitalisation resources, raising up and training church consultants, working with regional leaders and engaging with churches has been a great blessing and will leave a lasting legacy. If you’d like to chat to our existing Church Health team, email firstname.lastname@example.org