Breathing New Life Into Established Churches: Part 1

Carlus Guptonby Carlus Gupton

My passion is strengthening established churches, both in terms of training young ministers and coaching elders. Some of this comes from my own experience. I have never planted a church, but I have served several established churches ranging in size from 80 to 1,100. From these experiences, lots of reading, tons of trial and error, hours of interviews, and years of reviewing projects from students and on-the-ground church leaders, here are a few discoveries:

  • A lot of Christ-honoring ministry is done by established churches. Not all established churches are in-grown and stagnant. Many are vibrant mission outposts.
  • On the other hand, some established churches are lukewarm, complacent, club-like fellowships that show little initiative beyond a few programs that provide preferred services to their religiously well-bred members. They often resist needed change and discourage healthy leaders who feel called to help them be more faithful in today’s mission environment.
  • Renewing stagnant or declining established churches is hard work. It takes years of commitment and is often fraught with conflict.[1]
  • While many who lead established churches get discouraged, burn out, and quit, many others stay the course and relish all the help they can get.

This blog series will offer some of that help. It will not provide all the answers, and it will not be a comprehensive how-to guide, but it will offer four practices that are fairly universal in the quest to breathe new life into established churches:

  1. Keeping the mission, maturation, and ministry of the church at the forefront in decision-making
  2. Pursuing unity in the context of progress, not in the place of progress
  3. Blessing the past and affirming living traditions, but challenge complacency and “happy talk.”
  4. Consulting good resources for benchmarks on church effectiveness.


Part 1  |  Part 2  |  Part 3 |  Part 4  | Part 5



[1] See David R. Brubaker, Promise and Peril: Understanding and Managing Change and Conflict in Congregations. Alban Institute, 2009. Brubaker’s research suggests systemic/strategic changes that alter the church’s core identity have the most potential for conflict. These include areas such as finances, priorities, leadership, worship style, or shifting from a hierarchical/controlling leadership system to an empowerment model.

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