I regularly hear church members, wistfully remembering the good old days when there were young families and children in their congregation, bemoan the decline of their church. These people love their church, they love their pastor, they love each other and they want their church to be vibrant and thrive once again. And yet these same people put the breaks on when it comes time to do something about changing their decline. The nicest church lady can become an angry dragon when she feels her church is being threatened with new ideas. Sure people want their congregations to thrive, they just want them to thrive without the need for change and without having to accommodate themselves to new people. We will welcome new people, who are like us.
So what's a leader to do? WORK WITH THE WILLING. Find two or three others who will follow you out of the church building and into the community. Don't worry about the nay-sayers, find a few people who will partner with you and start doing something. You will be amazed at what happens when a leader and a couple of people following begin to interact with the community, Jesus shows up and begins to work in peoples lives!
There is a congregation leader I work with who is doing this. He is called to an older, declining congregation in the middle of a small city that needs Jesus. One day this pastor challenged his older Bible study participants to follow him out of the church building and up on a hill outside the city where homeless people gather. The Bible study people made sandwiches and other supplies for the homeless, then a few of the people followed their pastor out to interact with the people on the hill. Instead of just giving out sandwiches, they stuck around and talked with people. They talked to a young woman who had been kicked out of her parents home because of drugs. They found out this young lady was hurt and broken and needed Jesus. They talked to other hurt and broken people who need Jesus. The older ladies and men of the Bible study decided to make this a regular outreach.
Connecting with people outside their congregation didn't mean having to change their worship service, didn't mean becoming something they weren't. All it meant was getting outside their routine, getting a little outside their comfort zone to minister to people, and Jesus showed up. Those few who went the first time with their pastor came back excited and energized. They shared their experience with others and recruited a few more people to join them. Like healthy leaven, these people are infecting their congregation with their excitement. I am watching what God is doing in this one little congregation who decided to sidestep the nay-sayers and simply go outside the church walls to interact with people.
What can you do? Get together with a couple of willing people and seek God's help in getting out into your community. It doesn't have to cost a lot, it doesn't have to be a big program, start small. Take baby steps and watch God do his thing in and through you and the people you lead!