Connections: Mike Clarensau
Building Healthy Churches
Mike Clarensau, senior director of the Assemblies of God Healthy Church Network, visited recently with Pentecostal Evangel Editor Ken Horn.
evangel: Healthy Church Network launched in July 2011. Tell us what it is.
CLARENSAU: A couple of years ago our Fellowship established an effort to invest in and assist plateaued or declining churches. Initially it was called Church Transformation Network; this summer we relaunched with a new name and a new focus. We’re excited to help existing churches find their way to greater effectiveness.
CLARENSAU: We work with churches to connect and assist as consultants, but our main initiative is what we call the Acts 2 journey. This is where a member of our team meets with six, seven or even 10 different churches simultaneously. We help them plot out a path, working through their vision and their values to build a strategic plan to assist them in becoming effective and strong again.
CLARENSAU: I want to be careful not to imply that planting a church is easy. It’s very difficult work. But I do know that many times in our established churches, particularly a struggling church, there might be a culture that is difficult to overcome — hardships of the past or conflicts — that get in the way of turning the church around.
We often hear great testimonies of churches where a lot is happening and leaders are enthusiastic and excited. But, quite honestly, the majority of our churches have either plateaued or have begun to experience decline. These churches need encouragement. They need to believe again for a better day. And Healthy Church Network is here to help them.
CLARENSAU: The first major reason is loss of vision. I don’t mean that the pastor has lost the vision, but rather that what’s pounding in his heart hasn’t translated to the person in the pew. In a sense, then, it’s the person in the pew losing track of why the church exists. Loss of vision is when the people begin to think the church is about them. They begin to like the church because of what it gives them rather than realize that Jesus’ purpose is to bring believers together to reach those who have not been reached.
That inward focus, then, becomes the second major reason for decline. The church loses track of what’s outside its walls.
When you can answer those two issues, reformulate that vision, and begin to rally around a sense of mission — when you begin to aim the church’s strengths outside the church toward its community — then plateaus and declines can be turned around.
CLARENSAU: A church must first look honestly at the situation and realize that change is needed if the church is going to experience a new day. That’s hard because change isn’t easy. With the world changing so fast, a lot of us would like our churches to stay the same.
The next step is to begin creating an embracing environment where the outsider is welcomed, where people are loved when they walk in the door. When the people of the church begin to really love people and welcome guests, it is a big step toward helping the church turn things around.
CLARENSAU: First I would say that this stage, quite honestly, is normal. It’s what happens to a congregation that has been in existence for some time. It’s normal to get a bit off track and begin to plateau and decline.
But I would also stress that this is not where God intends us to stay. God has a plan to bring every church to a place of greater effectiveness. He’s ready to equip us. We’re not alone in this.
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