Turnaround Churches in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod
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There is crisis in the traditional American church. A multitude of churches that were once stable or thriving are now struggling and hoping to survive. Local ministry and denominational leaders, as well as church consultants, wrestle with how best to help these plateaued and declining congregations. This project focused on turnaround churches in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) and attempted to discover the primary factors that appeared to be associated with their turnaround. Turnaround churches were defined as congregations that declined at least 20 percent in worship attendance after which, by God's grace and blessing, they rebounded and rose above their original status (before their decline started) by at least 20 percent and then sustained or increased their new worship average. The findings were intended to help inform and better enable WELS church consultants to assist congregations with pursuing turnaround and be more helpful to stable congregations that yearned to have improved health. Four foundational doctrinal issues were highlighted in this project primarily because they particularly lay a solid scriptural foundation for desiring and pursuing turnaround. It was the hope and prayer of the writer that considering these four issues would help to minimize the tensions that could easily exist in a congregation or denomination where there is both a high priority on remaining faithful to God's Word and conducting aggressive outreach, especially through innovative methodology. Other issues and perspectives were explored from related contemporary literature, predominantly in reference to cultural shifts and changing demographics, striving for church health, and enabling needed change. The counsels in these resources underscored the complexities related to assisting churches with turnaround. As intended, key factors were identified that appeared to be associated with worship decline, turnaround, and sustaining or increasing positive gains. One finding pointed to the significance of the pastors' influence, which was primarily negative during decline and constructive during turnaround. As worship attendance increased or gains were sustained, other positive factors associated with pastoral leadership became more influential. Also, both during turnaround and sustaining worship attendance, a persistent focus on serving and reaching others appeared to be a prominent factor.