Turnaround 2020 - 7 Steps to Turnaround in a Rural or Small Town Setting

Turnaround 2020 – 7 Steps to Turnaround in a Rural or Small Town Setting

1. Bloom where you are planted.

Understand your community and your potential.  This potential may be defined by seating capacity or parking capacity but is most often defined by relational capacity.  The potential in many rural, small town settings is tied to relationships not to geographic location.

2. Teach and model relentlessly inviting people to church.

Capitalize on the relationships folks already have with friends, family members or co-workers by teaching and encouraging them to invite.  The key to developing a culture of invitation is relentless, on-going, never-ending, personal invitations to “come with me.”

3. Improve your hospitality.

More than offering coffee and pastries, learn to welcome people.  Avoid the holy huddles of close friends who carry on animated conversations among themselves but who exclude newcomers.  The greatest strength of a smaller church is the depth of friendship and relationship that is shared.  The greatest weakness of a smaller church is that we are so close to one another that we unintentionally exclude new folks from our circle of friendship.

4. Review your worship services from the perspective of the first-time guest.

Can a first-time guest understand what we are doing and why?  Be user-friendly.  In one congregation the keyboardist was excellent and the worship leader had a clear baritone voice that was easy to follow.  Nevertheless worship was frustrated by his habit of only announcing page numbers just as he began the first line leaving little time to find the page before the first lines were already past.  In another setting with hymnals in use but with no printed order of service, the worship leader only announced page numbers once.  This did encourage congregational interaction, however, since everyone who missed the number turned to the people around them for follow up information.

5. Review sermon content and communication idiosyncrasies.

Sermon content should be developed so that the first-time, unchurched guest can clearly comprehend the message.  Avoid church code language and theological terms that are not defined in simple, conversational terms.  Deal with real life application of the Scripture.  First time guests are ready to deal with the deep, hard questions of life if they are developed with real life language and illustration.

Have someone you trust help you find consistent grammar errors, nuisance habits that detract from the message and any tendencies to stray from the message to explore tangents that come from stream of consciousness not from the discipline of Spirit led study and preparation.

6. Proof read everything and update/correct regularly.

The most notorious offenders here are bulletin files and PowerPoint slides that are saved and reused.  Often once an error makes it into these templates it is never corrected but is instead copied forward.

Printed communication must give attention to spelling names correctly, presenting locations accurately and using code language rarely.  For example you could write:

VBS planning at Linda’s on Monday

Or you could re-write:

Vacation Bible School planning will meet at Linda Jones’ home (123 Any Street) at 7 p.m. on Monday the 15th.

7. Invest in missionary causes out of commitment to the Great Commission not out of tradition or denominational loyalty.

Partner with the Lord to reach people in other settings as well as reaching people in your own setting.

Jumpstart Turnaround 2020JUMPSTART YOUR MINISTRY:  Identify one of these steps that warrants attention first.

Establish a timeline to work on it in the next 4-6 weeks.
I will address step number______ and will begin to work on it _______________, 2017.

Turnaround 2020 – Four Key Steps in Turnaround

First Step in Turnaround—the most evangelistic task you can undertake

Identify your attendance baseline with a chart/graph of weekly worship attendance. Overlay 2-3 years with a different colored line for each year on the same graph to identify trends.

A General Observation—There will be Highs and Lows.  Not everyone attends every week so there will be fluctuations from week to week and from season to season.

Another Observation—Spring and Fall Spikes are likely.  This remains a tendency in most churches where Easter/Mother’s Day traditions likely generate a larger attendance.  In the same way often in the Fall there will be a higher attendance pattern prior to the Holidays.

When you establish your multi-year chart you will discover your church’s attendance culture indicated by the trend lines on the chart.

Second Step in Turnaround—making your record keeping more personal.

List all those people who attend worship at least once every 6-8 weeks.
Be sure to collect:  Name, Address, Cell phone, E-mail, Facebook

This identifies the crowd and prepares you to evangelize and disciple them.

  • COMMUNITY – A Community person is committed to NOT ATTENDING church.
  • CROWD – A Crowd person is committed to ATTENDING church—at least once in awhile.
  • CONGREGATION – A Congregation person is committed to a SMALL GROUP
  • COMMITTED – A Committed person is committed to HABITS necessary for spiritual growth.
  • CORE – A Core person is committed to MINISTRY

Third Step in Turnaround

Consider total weekly participation if you offer more than Sunday Morning Worship. Check Class Rosters, Program Attendance (Wednesday night, etc.) and Worship Attendance to compile an overall weekly attendance. This is not cumulative weekly where one person is counted for every event they attend.  Overall weekly attendance counts each person only one time only even if they attend 10-12 different events per week.

Fourth Step in Turnaround

Connecting with the Crowd — Everyone needs to be invited to some all-church entry point function frequently enough so that you stay on their radar but not so frequently as to become a nuisance.

The power of a generic post card.  They told me about it 5 years after I left the church.  A 30-something young lady came to the church traumatized by a cancer diagnosis that was grim.  She returned to the church because “they sent me a personal invitation”.  She explained that she had moved a couple of times in the previous few years but that she always returned that invitation to her refrigerator. The pastors lead her to faith in Christ and comforted her in her last months. They showed be that personal invitation.  It was a simple card stock post card invitation we had printed on our copier and mailed bulk rate but it was part of a plan that worked.

Crowd Connections by using a Communication Plan

  1. Develop a mailing list/contact list
  2. Use that mailing/contact list to connect with everyone on a regular schedule.
  3. Social Media Platforms assist here.
  4. Special Occasion Connections that can bolster high attendance trends need special attention.
  5. Make Guest Connections a priority by considering Nelson Searcy’s Fusion or Tyler Smith’s TextinChurch.

JUMPSTART YOUR MINISTRY:  Develop a Comprehensive List of all Attenders and Use it!

Jumpstart Turnaround 2020Phone Tree—my mother-in-law was part of the largest Sunday School class that weekly produced the largest offering for the church budget in a large Southern Baptist church.  Every Saturday class leaders took turns connecting with everyone by a simple phone call “Have you had a good week?”  “Will you be in class tomorrow?”  When will it be your turn next to help with refreshments?”

What if a monthly phone tree process was used so that 10 or 12 volunteers could make 6-8 calls each to encourage everyone to attend on a particular Sunday?

Turnaround 2020 - Invite, connect, disciple, send

Turnaround 2020 – Invite, Connect, Disciple, Send!

Connecting with those who attend as guests is crucial for effective Turnaround.  These connections must be meaningful and personal but they must also be effective and institutional.

Meaningful and personal connections probably begin long before the guest arrives on the parking lot.  To reach unchurched people in the 21st century the first meaningful and personal connection they experience will generally be in the invitation they receive from a friend or family member.

This meaningful and personal connection will be reinforced on the parking lot if outdoor greeters are in place on a well-marked, properly maintained parking area.

Meaningful and personal connections extend to the interior greeters and hosts/hostesses who cheerfully welcome those who attend while also assisting guests to find essential features such as the nursery, children’s ministry, the elevator, the worship center, etc.

Meaningful and personal connections also extend to the atmosphere of the worship center.  This atmosphere will be enhanced by cleanliness, appropriate lighting and contemporary color schemes.  Many established churches have beautiful wood work, attractive stained glass and other architectural features that can enhance the worship setting.  Sometimes something as simple as the ministry of cords management can de-clutter the platform and thus give a more pleasant atmosphere.

Connections, however, must also be effective and institutional.  Three broad areas of connection involve the greeting time, church music and the sermon.

Many established churches thrive on a prolonged greeting time built into the worship experience.  It is not uncommon for this greeting time to last for several minutes.  In this time regular attenders carry on animated, friendly conversations with most everyone who attends.  Guests, however, are generally at a loss in this time frame since they have no history with the larger congregation.  This can leave them isolated and alone.  Many church guests find this prolonged greeting time one of the most awkward, even distasteful, parts of the worship experience.

Since most people who come to church wish to feel welcome it may be wise to use a greeting time approach of “Just say Hi!”  One pastor routinely uses this line, “Don’t sit down until you greet the folks around you.  Shake a hand and say ‘I’m glad you came today!’”  When the next feature of the worship service begins promptly the greeting time stays focused and guests feel welcomed not isolated.

Church music also provides a connecting point.  Music style is not nearly as important as singability of the songs selected.  Traditional music still works as do a number of contemporary music styles.  The key to effective music is not the style of music but the singability of the songs selected, the quality of the musicians who accompany and the absence of extended monologues by worship leaders.

Singability Questions

  • Will people go away singing to themselves one or more of the songs selected?
  • Are the songs in a lower key that is within range of most untrained voices?
  • Is the language in the songs understandable to the uninitiated?

Quality of Music Questions

  • Do musicians rehearse in advance of the service?
  • Do rehearsals include the folks running the projection system?
  • Can participants clearly follow the melody line of the music so the untrained singer can sing along with the instrument and the leader?

Absence of Monologues by Worship Leaders Questions

  • Does the worship leader give essential information to guide the worshippers?  This particularly includes standing and sitting instructions.  In a hymnal driven setting it may include announcing page numbers if those have not been printed in the worship guide.
  • Do the platform leaders lead worship or use their platform time to provide unnecessary detail about their personal lives or other current events?

Connecting to people with the sermon.  The average worship service in the United States last approximately 75 minutes.  In this time frame the largest portion of time is given to preaching.  A few questions may clarify how well the sermon connects to the sermon hearers, especially to the unchurched who attend as guests.

  • The preacher’s voice:  Is it so quiet and subdued that it becomes a monotone easily ignored?  Is it so loud and animated that it is unintelligible?  The voice of the preacher is controlled by the preacher according to I Corinthians 14:9-11.
  • References to the Bible:  Are key Bible passages identified by page number in the Pew Bible, printed in the sermon outline or included in the projected slides?
  • Clarity of Thought:  Is the main thought clearly demonstrated in the content of the message?  Can the preacher avoid rambling additions that do not advance the central thought?
  • Application to Life:  Does the message address real life issues with a clear call for a next step or follow-up actions?


JUMPSTART YOUR MINISTRY:  The Mystery Worshipper

Jumpstart Turnaround 2020One means to gain insight on how well worship connects to guests is to use a Mystery Worshipper.  This person is recruited in advance to attend a worship service and then to offer a reaction to the experience.  For more details see the Mystery Worshipper checklist found at www.Turnaround2020.net.

Turnaround 2020 A New Effort

Turnaround 2020 – A New Kind of Effort

By it’s very definition, Turnaround requires a new kind of effort.  Turnaround implies a new direction and thus requires, at the very least, a new intensity of effort.  Most often, however, Turnaround will require new efforts that depart significantly from the plans and processes of the past.

Turnaround for a church, like assembling modular furniture, is easier if there is a plan to follow.  The old, old adage really applies well here:  Plan your work and work your plan.

  • What sort of plan is needed?
  • How can the faithful church leader evaluate current plans?
  • How can the innovative leader introduce new plans and programs?

What sort of plan is needed?  The plans for turnaround need to be those that work today rather than the plans we have always used because we have always used them.  This is not to say that Turnaround Leaders will automatically discard all past methods.  It is to say that plans must be evaluated based on effectiveness, ease of operation and the ability to be part of a system for consistent repetition.

Effectiveness must be a major criteria to evaluate all current plans for Turnaround.  Jesus, himself, advocated that kings who plan for battle evaluate the size of the defending force compared to the invading force before making their final battle plans (see Luke 14:31).

The core efforts toward Turnaround involve four essential processes of inviting, connecting, discipling and sending.  Plans that are developed must therefore address these essential processes as they relate to people not yet connected to the church.

If we start with inviting, answering these types of questions will go a long way toward formulating a plan.

  • Who will be invited?  How will they be invited?  What will they be invited to attend?
  • How will contact information be gathered when they do attend?
  • What next steps will lead to a second or third visit?
  • Are new member and new believer classes ready?
  • How will people, new and old, from my congregation be challenged, equipped and resourced to go out into the community?

Weekly Invitations

The larger church or the church at the height of its Turnaround will be able to encourage frequent, even weekly, invites.  A pastor in such a setting would be well served to include as part of his closing remarks at worship the challenge “Who will you invite to attend with you next week?”

Cautions and Conundrums

The law of diminishing returns cautions us to remember that frequency of exposure to a message may diminish responses to that message.  “There he goes again” may be the response from folks who have heard but not acted on the end-of-service-plea to invite people.

Opportunity To See has a residual impact.  In its early days of marketing McDonald’s was said to have had two week cycles in its advertising.  Ads ran for two weeks then disappeared for two weeks since the Opportunity To See had a residual impact.  This means that the preacher doesn’t have to say it every week for people to assume they hear it every week.

When we forget that people forget we fall prey to the conundrum that encouraging people to invite their friends must be done with enough scarcity that each motivating message is heard as fresh, new and important while being done with enough frequency that people have just enough Opportunity To See to prepare them act rather than to irritate them to point that they ignore both the message and the messenger.

Seasonal Invitations

The smaller church or the church not at the peak of its Turnaround will do well to identify two or three periods of focus in the course of the year to highlight invitations.  Many churches find that an emphasis on invitations in the Spring and again in the Fall work well.

These all-out efforts with a Big Day strategy allow intentional, high-energy invite efforts to be paired with a follow-up period of contact and discipleship.

For example, suppose a Fall date in October is determined to be an effective date for Big Day efforts.  Promotional materials, worship plans, sermon series prep, and volunteer training all have to be addressed in July and August to be implemented in September and October.  Then follow-up and assimilation of new attenders will require on-going efforts in November and December.  Efforts to prepare for the Fall Big Day must begin well in advance of the date and efforts to conserve the results must continue well after the Big Day.

For the church in need of Turnaround this activity level alone may stretch the volunteer base, the outreach budget and the ability to conserve the results.  Focused energies are necessary to accomplish these tasks so don’t try to do everything but do try to be effective.

JUMPSTART YOUR MINISTRY: Develop a Culture of Invitation

Jumpstart Turnaround 2020Include two invite cards in each worship folder.  At the conclusion of the service ask everyone to put one card in each hand.  As they hold up those cards in the right hand instruct them to pray “Lord place in my path this week one person with whom I can share this invitation.”

Repeat with the second card held in the left hand.

Invitational Witness

Turnaround 2020 – An Invitational Witness

While it is often the case that the smaller the church the more pastor must do, it is not the case that the pastor of a larger church has lots of free time.  Wise pastors whether they pastor small or large churches learn the value of partnership, delegation, and raising up new leaders.  Churches that wish to engage in Turnaround so that they are once again seeing conversions, baptisms and new members will be served by pastors who are engaged in personal outreach.  They will also be served by pastors who find creative, effective means of sharing the load.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact if each one simply reached one.  If this were repeated for a few short years the entire world could be won to faith in Christ.  If each person attending your church reached one new person in the next five years your church would double or triple in size.  It doubles by having everyone reach one.  It triples by teaching those who are reached to reach one and by equipping those who reach one to go ahead and reach two or three.

Why doesn’t something like this happen?

Not everyone is equipped to share their faith.  This leaves many unwilling to offer an Instructional Witness where they argue apologetics with a skeptic.  It also leaves many unprepared to share an Informational Witness where they tell their story.  Nevertheless, everyone is capable of extending an Invitational Witness like the Woman at the Well who simply said, “Come and see”.

Often we do not present a workable strategy to prepare people to extend an Invitational Witness.  What is everybody’s business is nobody’s business so motivational challenges to “invite everyone in town” fall on deaf ears.

Here’s a strategy to equip the folks in your congregation to offer an Invitational Witness.

First, offer Invite Cards for your people to use.

Be sure these carry the proper date, time and location of the service you are promoting.  Several online printing companies can produce these cheaper than you can buy toner for your copier.  Business card sized invites are easy for folks to keep handy.  Consider coordinating your Invite Card with your bulletin cover, banner, and projection background.

Second, distribute the cards in a just-in-time fashion.

For example, Easter Invite Cards could be distributed on Sunday, April 2 and again on April 9.  Consider two cards per attendee that could be stuffed in the weekly bulletin, distributed at the door or otherwise handed to the worshippers.

Third, make this a spiritual experience not just an advertising gimmick.

At the conclusion of the service ask everyone to take out one Invite Card and place it in their left hand.  Then ask them to hold up that card.  Pray “Lord place in our paths those people who need to receive these cards.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”  Repeat for the second card held up in the right hand.

Fourth, consider making Invites to targeted groups and link these invites with specific prayers for those who will be invited.

The Turnaround Plan Book (available at www.Turnaround2020.net) suggests several target groups.  These include targeted groups include

  • the people on my street,
  • relatives,
  • friends,
  • those I speak with on the phone,
  • people I come in contact with in my daily schedule.

Don’t include all the groups in one blanket appeal.  Spread these out over several weeks or several months and focus on them one at a time.

Remember there are only four core processes that will result in Turnaround:

  • Inviting people to Christ and the Church,
  • Connecting with those who show up so they return,
  • Discipling those who stay, and
  • Sending them back out into the world to be neighborhood missionaries.


Jumpstart Turnaround 2020Equip your people to share the faith with a tried and tested resource like Four Spiritual Laws.  Hand out copies to everyone and even use the content to guide your sermon while they follow along.

Four Spiritual Laws

Many folks are not as comfortable sharing their faith because they have never organized their thinking to present a clear gospel message.


Specialized training and illustrations on how to use this resource may be found at www.crustore.org.

Not comfortable with this approach?  Then find another pre-printed booklet or tract that you can use in the same fashion.

Turnaround 2020 – Share Your Story

Since people win people any pastor who intends to lead a turnaround will of necessity have to teach people how to share their faith.  In these days of reality TV the power of story cannot be overstated.  How can believers learn to tell their stories?  Here’s an outline that has been around for a while but one that still works.  Where and when can you teach this strategy?

Four Parts of Your Testimony

Part 1. What my life was like before I met Christ.

  • What common circumstances would an unbeliever identify with?
  • What were your attitudes that an unbeliever would identify with?
  • What was most important to you?
  • What substitute for God did you use to find meaning in your life?  (success at school, sex, drugs/alcohol, having fun, entertainment, popularity, hobbies, etc.)

Part 2. How I realized I needed Christ.

  • What significant steps led to your decision for Christ?
  • What made you dissatisfied with the way you were living without God?
  • How did God get your attention? What motivated you?

Part 3. How I committed my life to Christ.

  • What specifically did you do?
  • Where did it happen?
  • What did you say in your prayer? Be specific.

Part 4. The difference it has made in my life.

  • What benefits have you experienced or felt?
  • What problems have been resolved?
  • How has Jesus helped you change for the better?
  • How has it helped your relationships?
  • Give a current example.

Telling Your Story Resource, The Difference Maker, by Nelson Searcy

This short book not only challenges readers to make a difference but also provides helpful guides for telling personal stories.  Specific illustrations of classic evangelism tools are also included such as The Bridge and The Roman Road.  Available through Amazon or by direct order from Church Leader Insights.


Worship is the primary product of the church.  Here’s a simple survey to help improve your product.


Worship Service Survey

This survey is being sent to several members of the congregation to gain helpful, positive feedback from today’s worship service.  Please be gentle but honest and specific and return your completed survey before you leave church today.  Thanks in advance for your help and for your positive service in the life and ministry of our church.

1. What do you appreciate most about today’s worship service? What were its strengths? Please list three or four items.

2. What are one or two aspects of today’s worship service that need improvement?  Where are we weak?  Please list one or two items.

3. Where should we focus as we seek to improve the worship experience?  Please list one or two items.

4. On a scale of           1—2—3—4—5—6—7—8—9—10


How would you rate the worship services…?

Now ________                       One year ago ________

For additional comments or feedback, use the back of this form.

Turnaround 2020 - Conversional Growth

Turnaround 2020 – Conversion Growth

Successful Turnaround efforts in a local church will add new people to the fellowship.  Some will be transfers from other churches.  Many times those already committed to Christ and His church move to new communities while others may leave a church environment they view as uncomfortable or even toxic.  Growth by transfer is important to conserve the overall impact of The Church.  Nevertheless, when the church receives transfer members the local church grows but The Church does not.

Real Turnaround then must focus on conversion growth rather than transfer growth.  Conversion growth means that those who come to personal faith in Christ will also come into the fellowship of the church that won them.

In the not too distant past, churches relied on the visibility of their buildings or on a simple advertising campaign to attract new participants.  Bill Easum describes an early effort to attract people to church by borrowing a piece of earth moving equipment and pushing piles of dirt across the church lawn.  The visibility of apparent construction activity helped gain a crowd.  (See Go Big!).  This was in a day, however, when people routinely went to church so the main goal was to gain recognition of location.  An early mentor of mine pointed out three criteria for church growth:  location, location, location!  Many suburban housing developments in the 60s and 70s routinely allowed for a few lots to be sold to churches.  The church growth strategy in those days was that people from the immediate locale of the building would simply show up because everybody went to church.

In the 21st century buildings do not win people, nor do programs guarantee church growth.  For example, in recent generations young families would be attracted to church about the time the children entered public school.  In those days an effective children’s program guaranteed the growth of a church since religious education was the driving motive in a family’s return to church.

In the 21st century neither programs nor buildings guarantee church growth.

How then does a church experience turnaround?  Only when church leaders understand that people win people will a church be ready to take the first steps in turnaround. When it comes right down to it only four processes grow a church and anything else has little to no impact. These four core processes are:

  • Inviting people to Christ and the Church,
  • Connecting with those who show up so they return,
  • Discipling those who stay, and
  • Sending them back out into the world to be neighborhood missionaries.

This basic premise of the Turnaround 2020 initiative is that people win people.  Thus, we must teach, train and motivate people in our congregations to share their faith with people in their spheres of influence so that folks may be won to Christ and to the local church.

The starting point for this faith sharing process should never be an attempt to guilt or shame folks into sharing their faith.  Rather, the starting point is simply the beginning point of a pastor leading by example.  Pastors who are soul-winners will lead churches that are soul-winning churches.  Pastors would do well to ask some significant questions:

Pastors must also focus on a disciple making process for new believers.  When people new to the faith are encouraged to share their faith, accelerated conversion growth can be realized.  This means that the most important person to reach is the next one.  Winning the next person to faith in Christ sets the stage to connect with a whole range of friends, relatives, and neighbors of the newly converted, properly discipled believer.

A discouraged pastor recently reported, “We’ve surveyed all the homes around the church.  We’ve knocked on all the doors but they still won’t come.”  Door-to-door work produces fewer results these days.  The key to winning people is not cold-calling but the development of a warm, friendly relationship.


Jumpstart Turnaround 2020So where does a pastor who wants to reach people start the process?

  1. Connect with guests who have attended your church recently.  Use the information gained from their connection cards to establish personal relationships that extend over several weeks/months.  For some specific strategies see Fusion by Nelson Searcy go to www.textinchurch.com for suggestions.
  2. Cultivate people/families for whom you have provided needed pastoral services such as funerals and weddings.  Find a way to support connections with them for at least 3-6 months as you get acquainted and as you invite them to share your faith in a natural setting.
  3. Track your movements throughout the week.  Who is it that regularly comes into your sphere of influence?  Bi-vocational pastors have the edge here since they are vocationally connected to people in their business or professional capacities.  Some studies I have read suggest that bi-vocational pastors, overall, perform better at winning people than do vocational pastors.
  4. Commit yourself to a minimum number of witnessing efforts every week.  Keep a written record and hold yourself accountable.

The goal is rather simple.  You are to move people from the prospect list to the guest list to the membership list.  You cannot teach others until you have mastered the process yourself.  You can’t wait for others to get started first.  This urgent task needs your immediate attention so Turnaround may begin!