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  • Mark Hallock

Determining the readiness of a church to be revitalized: Key questions to ask

Here is the reality:

Many declining churches recognize they are struggling and in need of help. They know things are not looking up and that something needs to be done. They know things can’t stay exactly the same.

The question is, how does a potential pastor and leader distinguish between a church that is truly ready to do what it takes to turn things around, and a church that isn’t ready? In other words, how do you determine whether a church is actually ready to be revitalized?

One of the keys in this assessment of readiness pertains to giving up control and trusting the Lord to lead them in a new direction. This will involve asking very specific questions that will help you get to this congregation’s heart. These questions will help determine whether the time is right to help revitalize this church.

There are three primary types of questions that need to be asked to those inside the church when assessing its readiness for revitalization. The first is what I’m calling questions that lead to joyful celebration. These are the easiest questions to ask. These five questions help the remaining folks celebrate the good of their church – of what God has done and is doing in their congregation. We start with this type of question in order to encourage them and begin to build trust with them.

Questions that lead to joyful celebration (Easy)

  1. In your opinion, what are the three best things about the church?

  2. What do you think the average person in the church would say is the best thing about the church?

  3. What is your dream for how the church might 10 years from now?

  4. Who is the favorite pastor in the history of the church and why?

  5. What is your fondest memory of the church?

At this point, we begin to push in a little bit more. With these questions, we are moving from easy to moderate in terms of comfort level for those answering. These 13 questions will be a bit more difficult and uncomfortable to answer. They’re not quite as hard as we’ll get to in a moment, but these questions lovingly force individuals to reflect honestly on where they are as a church.

Questions that lead to honest reflection (Moderate)

  1.  How are decisions made in the church (both formally and informally)?

  2. If a big decision needs to be made, to whom do the members look for the blessing or approval?

  3. What was the biggest mistake made by any of your previous pastors?

  4. What is something I might say from the pulpit that would cause a number of members to cringe? In other words, what are some of the “hot button” issues for this congregation?

  5. How does church membership work in this church? What are the expectations laid upon church members?

  6. Do church members generally (and happily) follow the lead of their pastors and leaders?

  7. What items in the current services are non-negotiable? What other items are acceptable and have been featured in the past?

  8. Would the congregation have any objection to the pastor working on sermons from outside the church? A coffee shop? My home study?

  9. What is the policy and general understanding regarding the pastor’s days off and holidays?

  10. Do you think it would be relatively easy for a young family to settle into the church/town? What challenges might my wife and the children face?

  11. Does this church network with other churches? Who? How?

  12. What are the spoken and unspoken expectations for the pastor in this church?

  13. What are the spoken and unspoken expectations for the pastor’s wife and children in this church?

This third and final group of questions are the most difficult and uncomfortable questions to both ask and answer, but they are the most important. Each of these questions will probably have follow up questions needed to press in further. As you will see, these 15 questions shed light on the culture of the congregation, as well as some of the sacred cows that may exist.

Questions that help produce necessary evaluation (Difficult)

  1. In your opinion, what are the three biggest challenges in the church right now?

  2. What would the average person say is the biggest problem in the church right now?

  3. How would you sum up the spiritual health of the congregation in regard to prayer, a heart for evangelism, love for one another, etc.?

  4. What portion of the church is most happy with direction the church has been going and why? What portion of the church is least happy with the direction the church has been going and why?

  5.  In your opinion, what was the best quality of the former pastor? What was the most difficult or challenging quality?

  6. Why did your previous pastor leave? How long did he serve the church?

  7. How long have pastors typically stayed in this congregation? Over the past 30 years, how long is the pastor’s average tenure?

  8. What do you think he would say was the biggest difficulty in pastoring this church?

  9. What are some of the “sacred cows” I need to be aware of?

  10. How well does this congregation do with change? Can you share some of the changes that have been made (big or small) in this congregation in the past few years? How has that been received?

  11. If I was your pastor, what advice would you give me in order to most effectively lead some kind of change for everyone? What would be the appropriate process to do so, in your opinion?

  12. What has been the biggest conflict in the church in the past five, 10, 20 years? What was the biggest conflict in the history of the church? Has there ever been a church split? What were the issues involved?

  13. What was the topic of your last contentious business meeting? What was the disagreement about? How was the issue settled?

  14. How well does this church handle conflict? Can you share an example of a conflict in the past two years and how it was handled?

  15. What is potentially the most divisive issue in the church (practical, doctrinal, personal)?

Ask good questions … listen humbly and carefully

I’ve heard it said that the No. 1 job of a leader is always to name reality. What we must do when we’re assessing a church’s readiness for revitalization is to identify where the church really is, now. What are the real strengths? What are the real challenges? What are the potential pitfalls? What does this church need to become healthy again? These are the types of questions that must be wrestled with in order to clearly see the reality of the situation.

This post originally appeared at Mark’s blog.


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