This resource is divided into three parts: a reflection exercise, a few tips to help get you thinking about creative solutions, and some ways we can come alongside you to help further your mission.
First Things First
Before we jump into the reflection exercise, let’s be sure to bring God into the conversation. If we’re not bringing Him into our reflection, we will likely have difficulty identifying the problems in our church (and we may even perpetuate them). God wants you to partner with Him, especially in something as significant as shepherding His flock.
If we’re being fully honest, most (or all) of us would say we’ve sometimes missed what God was saying to us. We heard incorrectly, didn’t pay attention to that verse or person He brought our way, or were distracted by noise or busyness. He can handle that, and He gives grace in the midst of the whirlwinds of ministry life.
We know these things to be true, but sometimes even church leaders need a reminder that He has grace and mercy for us.
So with each of these action steps, let’s practice Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:16-18). Let’s ask God what He thinks every step of the way. Have honest conversations with Him; take time to listen to His promptings and watch for His response. When we practice prayer like this, we are humbled and reminded of our dependence on Him.
Life Action focuses on six responses to God as we move toward spiritual renewal: humility, honesty, repentance, forgiveness, obedience, and kingdom-first living. We will utilize all of these in guides and tips to help you navigate church apathy.
Start with Yourself
Create time for heart examination. As you humble yourself before the Lord, begin by reading James 4. Ask God to examine your heart and reveal any areas you need to be honest with Him about. As He directs you, humble yourself, repent, forgive, and obey. You may get everything you need right here in this extended time with Him. It can be uncomfortable and convicting, but His mercy and grace are with you here.
If you feel led, get insight from those who see what is going on within your church, and create a space where they can be honest with you without fear of repercussions. It could be your wife, trusted leaders in or connected to your church, etc. Ask them if there is any area in your life that they see is not in accordance with God’s Word or heart.
Talk with a trustworthy fellow leader or counselor outside your ministry, and honestly share the feedback you received and what the Lord showed you in your time with Him. Ask him to hold you accountable to the action plans you want to implement in your own life. For our ministry to be healthy, first we need to be healthy.
Examine Your Culture, Systems, and Practices
The systems, practices, and beliefs within a local church create its community and culture, and we as leaders and leadership teams set the tone. While acknowledging this fact, don’t look at this as a pass or fail, but as an opportunity for God’s heart and the process of maturing and restoration to continue within your church and leadership teams. Take time to acknowledge some basic truths we know but struggle to remember at times as leaders: God is with you and your church family, giving grace in this process. This is His church, the bride He loves.
Now write down the different elements of your church culture: the Christlike and the not-so (or far-from) Christlike. Take time to identify the various factors that could have led to each aspect of the culture. Ask questions like: Was this intentional, or was it due to a lack in some area? Is this due to a systematic policy or lack thereof? Was this caught or taught, or both? Honest questions like this help examine where the current culture stems from, so you can address or encourage these cultural elements.
Now that you have a pulse on how the church may have arrived here, what hopes do you have for the church’s future culture? What does Jesus reveal in Scripture is His hope is for your church? Ask Christ to give you His heart and perspective. What mission and values does He want for your church? Write those down.
Is Our Leadership Team Healthy?
Leadership teams, boards, and anyone else serving in any capacity in the church plays an active part in the culture of the congregation.
Jesus had many followers during His ministry, but twelve were the inner circle that walked through life with Him, experiencing the good and the hardships. This was His leadership team, and these apostles would further His mission and steward His church.
You may feel like you can only dream of a team with a sense of unity and collaboration. You’re not alone here, but God can use you to bring about that change.
As you start to unpack the state of your team, you can begin with a handful of questions similar to these: How is my inner circle of leaders? Are they healthy? How is God leading me to pray for them? In what ways can I invest in their well-being?
This may be the first step to strengthening a relationship with your leadership team. You will likely need to involve them in the process of learning what they need and how you can pray for them. Asking these questions may be a start toward team unity.
Tips to Help You Navigate Apathy
Commit to Pray
When the congregation is struggling, consider taking frequent times in your schedule to pray for your ministry. Invite leaders or prayer team members to meet with you to pray. This is important to bring a collective posturing of ourselves before God. There are many ways you can go about this, and it could be a catalyst toward unity as you pray together for His heart and His ways.
Cut the Excess
Sometimes we get caught up in the flashy and the peripheral but forget what’s most important in our programming. A small staff can get overwhelmed with all the to-do’s. If your staff and volunteers are feeling overwhelmed, you can ask: What is most important to helping our church foster our mission and cultural values? Pray for God’s leading in discerning the church’s priorities.
Disciple Your Leadership Team
We touched on this some already, but to go a bit further: In what ways can you foster team unity and build on the love and truth of Christ? How can you create an environment where you and your leadership team can be heard, welcomed to the table, invested in, understood, challenged, and free to make mistakes? Consider a practical “next step” toward something different. Here are some ideas:
- Host a monthly dinner at your house with the leaders and their spouses.
- Replace a weekly meeting with a time where you each discuss what God has been showing you in your personal time in the Word.
- Play a game of cornhole (or whatever sport you enjoy).
- Give your leadership teams regular time off, in rotation, for a sabbath day (this is especially important for bi-vocational leaders or working volunteers).
Create Contexts That Invite God to Move
Carve out special times or events for your congregation to pursue God together. This could be a conference, a retreat, or a Life Action church event (more on this later). Ultimately, invite your church to a special, consecrated time for the congregation to collectively and actively seek and respond to Him.
A Church Without Walls
We’ve wrestled with the question of how our churches can collectively pursue God outside the church walls (this was especially true during 2020–2021). This can still be difficult. But one way we can do this is to become intentional about community. How do we identify newcomers in our church and welcome them in? How can we find creative ways to connect outside of our normal weekly rhythm? Find your people who are gifted in hospitality to spearhead this effort. Work to create a culture where no one is insignificant, and a church-wide heart to welcome the newcomer.
The Bottom Line: Say YES to Him
As you seek God in addressing church apathy, these reflection questions and tips might be helpful, but He may also steer you in a different direction and/or ask you to do something specific.
Life Action has journeyed alongside pastors as God brings their churches from apathy toward heart transformation and revival. If you want to process some of these applications or thoughts with our Pastor Relations or Pastoral Care teams, we’d be happy to come alongside you.
How Life Action Can Serve You
Local Church Events
For over 50 years, Life Action teams have traveled to host conferences in churches across the U.S. and Canada. We create space for everyone (including the leadership) to set aside time to corporately seek and respond to God.
The Lodge provides a getaway for pastors and their spouses to energize their lives, marriage, and ministry. With a variety of retreat options, it’s ideal for renewal and rest for married couples in ministry or pastors needing a solo sabbatical. Experience a guided retreat with customized pastoral care, extraordinary hospitality, a beautiful waterfront estate, and gourmet cuisine at Life Action’s retreat for pastors in southwest Michigan.
Kingdom Man Men’s Retreat
Kingdom Man is designed specifically to challenge men against apathy. This weekend features 3 to 4 sessions that encourage men to respond to God’s call to stand up for Christ and lead, with our six core responses of humility, honesty, repentance, forgiveness, obedience, and kingdom-first living.
This monthly email is specifically for pastors and church leaders. Written by a seasoned pastor, the topics each month are designed to be practical, informational, encouraging, and relevant to today’s pastors and church leaders. We’ll note different ways Life Action can serve you as you navigate the challenges churches are commonly facing right now. Join the 3,500 pastors regularly reading and being energized by these emails!
The Coracle Readiness Program is designed to equip cross-cultural workers, pastors, and ministry teams with a practical Jesus way of self-development and holistic thriving. One of the biggest issues facing missionaries and pastors is personal, family, and team meltdown. Through our experience-driven training, discover a Christ-centered way to not only become resilient under stress but to actually metabolize stress and turn it into increased capacity.
This year will feature our 5D Thrive Conference, accompanied by helpful pre- and post-conference electives that will dive deep into topics such as language acquisition, cultural intelligence, relational intelligence, and ministering in Muslim contexts. Join this Coracle cohort and find a renewed sense of purpose and a greater understanding of how to effectively serve those around you.
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