Healing Troubled Churches

Eight core principles to apply in your context

As part of his DMin, George Ray Cannon tested the eight areas that kept appearing in literature as critical to helping congregations that had been through some kind of significant, repeated trauma. He called these "troubled churches". He found all of them are barriers that must be overcome. There is no one program or process you can go through. Rather there is wisdom to be gained so that core principles can be applied in specific contexts. The kind of trauma the congregation experienced will dictate the realitive importance of the following factors.

1. Need for Corporate forgiveness: this can be a small group that apologizes to each other or the whole congregation that identifies and admits its sin. This must be based on biblical principle of forgiveness. It was necessary for all congregations.

2. Regaining credibility of the pastorate – this is especially required if trauma was caused by previous pastor’s screw ups. It takes about 7+ years to rebuild this office.

3. Spiritual renewal/revival. This means caring about mission and becoming a body of relievers not just an institution. It must be the primary focus of the congregation’s energy.

4. Long Term Tenure of new pastor: the new pastor must be there over 4 years for anything to work. Interims may be helpful in that they can affect change faster but they are also limited in how much they can do. To earn trust and really build up the credibility of the office the new pastor must be there for the long haul.

5. Shift in power structure: This can mean a restructuring of boards, revising governing documents or removing power brokers. Often some folks must leave and it helps in the long run.

6. Conflict Resolution: Learn to listen and work through problems in healthy ways.

7. Settle financial problems: this may include money management or facilities management. It is especially important if the trauma was financial in nature (crisis, embezzlement, etc.)

8. Break up dysfunctional behavior patterns. This may be present in formal and informal leaders. It often requires changing structural things (meeting times, agenda order, etc.)

Often these patterns developed to deal with trauma but now they are harmful. While any one of the these factors is sufficient to break a congregation, all of them may be necessary to rebuild a congregation. It's just a lot harder to fix something than to break it. The key to implementing change is the change agent (often a new pastor) who partners with lay leaders to make these changes.

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