Dying churches are often churches with low self-esteem. Your task as a leader is not to build up the church’s self-esteem but to build up its God-esteem — its sense that God is guiding them and is a big stakeholder and participant in its life and future, their sense that God loves them and is hard at work, and visibly at work, among them.
Celebrate every win, no matter how small. For example: “Breaking news: we sent 50 jars of peanut butter to the food pantry this week, and there are only 30 of us in worship! God is good!” Preach using real-life examples of good discipleship and radical welcome among the people in your church, to build up their God-esteem and make them feel confident about their faith community and its potential.
There is a difference between celebrating and gloating. Celebrating gives God the glory!
Generate short-term wins and then relentlessly communicate that win so everybody knows it! There is a difference between celebrating and gloating. Celebrating gives God the glory.
If you feel icky about celebrating, remember that you are not doing it to be self-congratulating, but so people who need a church like yours can find it, and so people who have found your community can feel proud of it and stay motivated to do good, hard, radical ministry.
One way people in my church often celebrate is in the prayers of thanksgiving. They spontaneously give positive, specific feedback about the way their church has helped them, and it generates a virtuous cycle of blessing and God-esteem in our congregation.
Celebrating does not mean you don’t acknowledge what’s hard and broken in your church. It doesn’t mean you don’t name your growing edges or how you have failed. Celebrating and truth-telling are not mutually exclusive. There are plenty of churches that can’t acknowledge their frailties, and this unwillingness to be honest just further hollows out the church.
This article is an excerpt from Molly’s book Real Good Church: How Our Church Came Back from the Dead, and Yours Can, Too, © 2014, used by permission from The Pilgrim Press. It is available from Cokesbury and Amazon.