Leading a Turnaround Church

Leading a Turnaround Church

by Dr. Donald E. Ross – Author and Presenter at the 2017 Summit

What is a Turnaround Church? Turnaround Churches experience a decline nearly impossible to reverse, but somehow they do. Most churches in similar situations simply go out of business. What are the critical aspects of a church and pastor that see terminal decline turned into growth?

Let’s begin by defining a turnaround church. A turnaround church has recognized that, due to consistent decline, within a generation it will be out of business. This church has courageously decided to face the truth and make a series of extremely difficult and painful decisions to reverse that trend.


I’d like to say that “Everything rises or falls on mission” but I think someone has already captured that sentiment. Regardless, mission is critical. Understanding that both the leader and the church are part of the mission of Christ gives the needed elements to embrace a turnaround.

Mission says, “This is not about me, it’s about Jesus”. When we understand that nearly 4,000 churches a year go out of business, and we are not planting nearly enough to replace them, we can understand that turning around declining churches as well as planting new ones is very much a part of Christ’s mission.

In many ways, the challenge of a turnaround church was written for us 2,000 years ago in Revelation, 3:1-3. The letter to the church of Sardis says:  “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.”

In a very real sense, a declining church may have had a reputation of being alive, but it is not alive now. It is on life support and needs help.

Both the pastor and church leaders need to work together to “strengthen what remains and is about to die.” This is hard work, but possible and needed, if the leaders and church are willing to pay the price to not only survive, but also learn to thrive.


This turnaround is usually led by a visionary leader, often brought in from outside the church’s current culture. The value of bringing in new leaders is that they are not stuck in the current thinking trends or bogged down by the church’s history. Continue reading

7 Suggestions to Help Make Easter a Big Day!

by Franklin Dumond – Director of Congregational Ministries

Make Easter a Big Dat!1— Start Early!

At the beginning of every calendar year pastors can look ahead to predict the most likely higher attended and lower attended days of the year. By planning ahead to accentuate the high days and mitigate the low days the overall average attendance may be increased and more and more people won to faith in Jesus Christ. What are my most likely higher attendance days? Look at the attendance records from last year on a line graph. When does your attendance spike? Why? Take a hard look at your current programming. There must be something in your congregational culture that brings these high points.

2 — Add A Special Feature.

How many people are usually involved in leading worship on a given Sunday? Add a special feature whereby more people can be involved in meaningful participation and watch the visitors arrive…especially if you use the Children’s Choir and its members rehearse for a few weeks in advance! For Easter a wise pastor can plan for a Spring Baptism. Easter celebrates the new life of the risen Christ, which is also the Christian symbol of Baptism. The now secular tradition of new clothes for Easter can be traced back to the ancient church when Easter Sunday was Baptism Sunday and each baptismal candidate was given a new white robe. Make Easter a fabulous family celebration with an Egg Hunt on the church lawn following Morning Worship. The beauty of the modern hen is that she lays plastic eggs so you don’t have to worry so much about the eggs spoiling by being outdoors for a while. (Note: While plastic eggs are undisturbed by warm temperatures, chocolate will melt if left in the warm sunshine for any length of time.) Is an added worship service needed? If Easter already brings the church to capacity should the plan include doubling seating capacity by adding another service? The church already offering a 10:30 a.m. Morning Worship may be well served to offer 9:00 a.m. Easter Worship, too. Always ask the key question, “What will I need to do to make sure that these special features work well?”

3 — Develop specialized promotion.

How will everyone know of the special day if you don’t tell them? How will they realize what’s going on if they only hear it once? Newspaper ads and yellow pages listings do little to attract the unchurched. Consider a saturation mailing. You can develop your own material, but you may want to bring in the professionals for the first time or two. Always be sure you have proper contact and location and schedule information included in your promotional piece. Continue reading

Jumpstart Your Ministry: Start With The Basics – A 2020 Resource

Turnaround 2020Successful 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 relocate 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.

Continue reading

An Unclosed Church

A Church Unclosed!

An Interview with Pastor Jerry Crowley of the Harmony Church in Ellsinore, MO.

Every year an estimated 1% of the churches in the United States close their doors. This means that about 4,000 churches annually cease to exist. Many times a new church will restart in the same site but only rarely does a congregation that closed its doors unclose those doors. In spite of National trends, the Harmony General Baptist Church in rural Carter County, Missouri is now unclosed!

We asked Pastor Jerry Crowley to tell part of the Harmony Church story as we celebrate with this UnClosed church.

Harmony GB Church - Unclosed!1 . Harmony Church is an older church. can you tell us about its early history?

The church actually started on Cane Creek about two miles away from its current location in July, 1927. This is actually the third church building that has been there. To find the church from Elsinore take Highway A to County Road 354 follow it about 2 miles, go through a wet weather creek and if the creek’s not too high (occasionally we have to postpone services due to high water), you’ll drive right up to the church.

2. Harmony Church closed its doors. About how long was the church closed?

The church closed for a few months. It wasn’t closed very long. Some folks moved away and others just quit coming.

3. What motivated you and others to reopen the church?

Well this was my old home church. I just couldn’t stand to see it closed. It’s been an old-time General Baptist church for a long time. I just couldn’t see it closed. Some people went there the Sunday before we started and Josh Francis actually got started and 4 or 5 others of us came along to help.

4. The church is located in a very rural area, in a sparsely populated county. Where did you find people to reopen the church?

Continue reading

Christmas on Sunday

Christmas Is On Sunday This Year

By Franklin Dumond – Director of Congregational Ministries

It happens only infrequently in the life of the church and the professional career of the pastor but Christmas does come on Sunday once in awhile. When this happens special plans should be made to keep the spiritual impact of the season and to support the witness of the church as expressed in its worship schedule.

This infrequent event occurs once again Sunday, December 25, 2016.

Many Christian churches have established traditions for Christmas Eve services, yet only a few offer Christmas Day services. In our culture Christmas Day is a secular celebration of surprise gifts and family celebrations very distant from most religious traditions.

Across the years, as a local church pastor, I tried many approaches to Christmas on Sunday and then I found one approach that worked best.

Early in my tenure as pastor, I took the approach that Sunday was a sacred day of worship no matter if Christmas or other holidays happened to arrive on that day of the week.

My approach in those days was one of denial, something like: “If I don’t admit it is a holiday we can have ‘church’ as usual.” With a generous amount of guilt along with some promotion of the schedule I found I could gather a little less than ½ of my congregation on Christmas Day if we kept our ‘usual’ schedule.

I have since come to believe that the attitude I held then was one of “They know where the church is so there’s no excuse for not coming.” I have also come to realize that this attitude is not conducive to church growth!

A second approach I took to Christmas on Sunday was one of adjusting the morning schedule. By working with/ through the Church Council we arranged a morning fellowship 30 minutes before the morning worship service. This adjusted schedule resulted in a little more than ½ of the regular attendance on this special day.

Then the next time Christmas came on Sunday I found an approach that worked best. We arranged and promoted two options for Christmas Worship. The first option was a Christmas Eve Service. The second was a Christmas Day Service. By offering these two options I found about ½ of the congregation came on Saturday evening and about ½ came on Sunday morning so that our combined attendance was the ‘usual’ number. With two options family and church celebrations were balanced and everyone felt good about the holiday being both a religious and a family celebration.

To fully reap the benefits of this approach the Christmas Eve Service must become more than the Candlelight Communion so often offered then. When elements of morning worship like special music, the Advent Wreath, tithes and offerings, Christmas sermon, etc. are combined with Christmas Eve communion a meaningful service of worship is offered for the church family and for the community.

Christmas worship on Sunday morning may need a bit different schedule. Perhaps the church that offers multiple services will offer “One Grand Celebration” or perhaps Christmas worship will be scheduled at the Sunday School hour to accommodate family gatherings at midday.

By finding a schedule that will work and by effectively communicating it to the church family and to the community, Christmas worship can be a celebration with a large crowd rather than the depressed assembling of a few faithful saints.

SantaNow about the guy in the red suit coming to church on Christmas…

  1. If he does come, let him come to the fellowship hall or to a location outside the building and make sure he comes after, not during, worship celebrations. Remember Jesus is the Reason for the Season.

  2. If he comes on Christmas weekend have him come after the Christmas Eve Service in the fellowship hall or on the church lawn. Let him go back to the North Pole for Christmas Day!

Heavenly Highway Church History, Growth, and Vision

By Rev. Phillip Pusey

To God be the glory for the things He has done. The power and presence of the Lord has always been clear at Heavenly Highway.

The history of the Heavenly Highway General Baptist church is one that is rich and changing. Its history dates back to the time of Reverend Albert Russell and his wife, First Lady Louise Russell, in the year 1965. Initially the church started out with a small congregation. The physical structure was that of wooden walls with a thatch roof and small board benches. Rev. Russell lived on the church grounds with his wife. He was a skilled baker who specialized in baking spice buns, ginger bulla and ‘kuup kuup’. These he sold from time to time by a place called Pen Gate in the community. The community people gave him their support.

Heavenly Highway Church buildingHowever, as time passed on, a transition was made and Reverend Lloyd Hall was sent to continue on the foundation that was laid by Rev. Russell. Rev. Hall with the help of his wife, First Lady Donna Hall, Deacon Wendell Ford, sister Gloria Campbell secretary and sister Sonia Mignott treasurer, the church was led into another phase. Mention must also be made of the involvement of the missionaries such as Brother John Hibbs, his wife, and Brother Terry Howser as well as other missionaries from America that were pivotal in further establishing and assisting this denomination here in Jamaica.

The ministry continued to build and grow, and its membership grew from the thirties to the sixties. The church was also re-roofed courtesy of Brother Terry and his team. This was a huge blessing for which the congregants were extremely grateful and appreciative. As time advanced Rev. Hall was called upon to pastor another General Baptist church and so he handed over the reins to Rev. Phillip Pusey.

Rev. Phillip Pusey and First Lady Sis. Pusey were given the mandate to lead Heavenly Highway into the 21st century. Rev. Pusey’s first stint began in the year 2003 as Minister Pusey, when he was under the tutelage of Rev. Hall. Then in the year 2006 he became the pastor of Heavenly Highway General Baptist. They took over when the church was in transition mode from having a pastor of over twenty years and when the world itself was shifting from the nineteenth century into a new dispensation-the 21st century. As they embarked on their new responsibilities they sought to build on the foundation that was laid spiritually, numerically, structurally and socially. Continue reading

Strong Tower

Strong Tower, Lafayette Campus – GO! Project News

By Travis Stephens, Executive Pastor

Two years ago we at Strong Tower Church got really serious about the idea of going multi-site. When you’re in a town of 2,200 people (like our town of Westmoreland, TN), at some point your growth is going to max out. We felt like we were nearing that point. We also had a large group of people who were coming to our church from a town about twenty minutes away from us. It was time to get started.

We started doing as much research as possible about multi-site, but there wasn’t much information about churches our size that were also in a rural community. So, for the most part we just had to wing it.

The biggest question we wrestled with was whether to do video teaching or live. After many months of preparing to do video, we ultimately decided it wasn’t going to work at the level we desired, so we completely changed directions. Now, our lead pastor, David Mitchell, and campus pastor, Jeremy Meador (pictured above), work together each week to prepare a message that will be delivered at each location. Scriptures and main points are the same; then each adds his own personal stories and touch.

We’re only a few months in, but it looks like we made a good decision.

If you’re thinking of taking your small town church multi-site, here are a few things we’ve learned so far.


The success of any type of church launch is largely dependent upon the size of the “launch team.” Churches who launch campuses often have a huge advantage over church plants because the launch team is largely made up of people already attending the central campus. Our launch team was around 80 people who had mostly been attending and serving at the central campus. They already knew our vision, culture, and DNA.


I’ve heard of churches that launch campuses on a shoestring budget, but for us that wasn’t the case. We wanted to do our best to make sure that the experience at the new campus was as close to the experience at the central campus as possible. This meant spending over $100k to make the worship experience the best it could be in a portable facility.


Lots of volunteers. You’re not only filling positions for a new campus, you’re also replacing volunteers who are leaving to go to that campus. We handled this a couple of different ways. We went from offering three services to two services at our central campus. This cut down on the number of positions we needed to fill, and it ensured that we had critical mass in those two services. We also went on a recruiting blitz a few months before launch asking everyone and anyone to step up and volunteer.


Don’t underestimate the amount of work, time, and sacrifice multi-site is going to take. Portable facilities mean arriving early for set up and staying after services for tear down. Most of us will be launching with one service which means volunteers in the kids’ ministry will be missing service so that someone else can experience it. Just remember we sacrifice so someone else can be blessed.
Since we began the Lafayette campus, we’ve seen fifteen people give their lives to Christ and follow through in baptism. In August attendance reached 200+.

We believe no matter how much money it takes, how early we have to get out of bed in the morning, how many services we have to miss because we’re changing diapers, the sacrifice is worth it.

We would like to thank all of our ministry partners who have helped us along the way, especially the GO! Project and General Baptist Ministries.