Helping Churches Respond to "Change or Die"
Partners with the President with Brent Kompelien and Brian Farone
Every month, EFCA President Kevin Kompelien highlights stories, vision and leadership from around the EFCA in his monthly e-newsletter, "Partners with the President." This month, Kevin sat down with Brent Kompelien, Kevin's son and lead pastor at New Life EFC in Hastings, Minnesota, and Brian Farone, North Central District superintendent (featured in the video below), to discuss how and why the EFCA prioritizes church revitalization.
If we’re serious about multiplying disciplemakers, extending gospel ministries and planting churches, we need strong, healthy, vibrant existing churches.
From the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s, New Life EFC in Hastings, Minnesota, had a vibrant ministry. About 10 years ago, though, New Life experienced a leadership crisis and saw its congregation decline from 200 down to 30 in just 18 months. Many people were hurt and left the church, and those who remained needed healing.
When the New Life elders faced the reality of their declining congregation, they didn’t just continue business as usual—they showed intentionality. They acknowledged their situation and focused on developing a healthy leadership structure. For nine years, three bivocational pastors filled the role of lead pastor—keeping the doors open and the ministry alive.
During a time of prayer in 2018, God made it clear to the New Life elders that they needed to take a leap of faith to hire a full-time pastor. So, about a year and a half ago, the elders called in my son, Brent, to pastor the congregation through this process and reshape a fresh mission and vision for their church.
Now, Brent—along with the leaders at New Life—is amid this church revitalization process, and Brian Farone (superintendent of the North Central District), who has an incredible heart for seeing struggling churches built up, has provided wisdom and guidance in the process. This month, I sat down with Brent and Brian (in the video below) to discuss the New Life story and the broader topic of church revitalization.
The reality of our current cultural context
A March 2019 study from Exponential by Lifeway Research found that “6 in 10 Protestant churches are plateaued or declining in attendance.” In the past 12 months (from when Lifeway conducted the study), more than half of Protestant churches “saw fewer than 10 people become new Christians.” This is the current cultural context in which the EFCA is striving to “glorify God by multiplying transformational churches among all people.”
Some EFCA churches today face the same reality New Life EFC faced in recent years—change or die. This story, among others around the EFCA, is a tangible example of the final element of the EFCA Missional Diagram: revitalizing churches.
Revitalization involves taking a church that is struggling and seeing health restored in three areas: leadership, relationships, and mission and vision. A revitalized church is a healthy church, and a healthy church has 1) leaders focused on stewarding the people and mission of God, 2) God-honoring relationships within the congregation, and 3) a clear, established mission and vision.
True revitalization and true health require all three of these elements. Your church may have a sound mission and vision, but if relationships are broken or leadership doesn’t know where they’re going, the church will struggle.
Look at Jesus’ letter to the Church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:
“You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Revelation 2:3-5)
The Ephesians were doing things well. They persevered. They endured hardships in Christ’s name. Verse 6 talks about their sound theology. Yet still, they neglected the vision of their church. They’d forgotten their first love—the love for Jesus and His gospel that united them from the beginning.
And this is the part that really stands out to me: “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” Change or die.
Until a church realizes it’s struggling, it will continue to plateau and decline. If there are issues, churches need to acknowledge them and reach out for help. Sometimes it’s help from the outside—from the district or national office—sometimes, it’s internal. Either way, it’s recognizing that “just continuing to do the same thing isn’t going to lead to renewal and growth.”
An encouraging example
This is what the leaders of Park EFC in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, realized in 2015. They had an established, Spirit-led, 70-plus-year history with St. Louis Park, but after several years of dysfunction and decline, the church no longer felt connected to their surrounding community. They knew they needed revitalization.
By the grace of God, in August 2015, Park EFC merged with a young, vibrant church plant a few miles away, CityVision Church, and a new church was born—Park Community Church. Now, Park Community is thriving—they even helped revitalize another church last year, Elmwood Church (EFCA) in St. Anthony.
A call to partnership
So, what can you do, as a local church, to 1) promote church growth and 2) recognize when you may need help?
- Pay attention to the health of your leadership, relationships and clarity of mission. Stay vigilant, making sure you continue to grow in all three of these areas.
- If you sense your church is struggling, reach out for help. Call your district superintendent, ask for coaching, contact the EFCA national office. Connect with someone who can help and provide perspective.
- If you’re a pastor, look for relationships with other pastors in your area. If someone is struggling, come alongside them, pray for them, ask how you can encourage them. You may be a wonderfully healthy church—and praise God for that—but look around. There may be others you can help.
- In everything, let’s remember to pray. Pray for your own congregation and other nearby congregations—that the church would have healthy leaders, uplifting relationships, and clarity of mission and vision.
Let’s work together to strengthen, revitalize and plant transformational churches across the EFCA and among all people—all for the glory of God.
This content and video conversation appeared in the November edition of Partners with the President. To receive future updates, you can subscribe here.