One way a church knows it is in trouble is if it spends more time talking about its past than its future. I go into many small churches and find pictures of their congregations from back in the early to mid 1900s. I often wonder how they ever fit that many people in the building, but obviously they did. There may be as many as 200 or more lined up for the photo. Today, the church may have 30 people show up on Sunday morning, but some of them still remember those days when the place was full every week. These pictures they have hanging on their walls are almost a shrine to a better time in their church.
As I work with various churches in my current ministry role I often hear stories of those "good ole days" when the church was the center of life in their community. What I don't hear very often are the dreams of what their church can be in the future. I don't hear their vision for ministry, and that's because they don't have one. They are living in the past, trying to survive in the present, and fearful of the future.
This is not how the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to function. Your church may have had a great history, but the reason why it enjoyed a great ministry in the past is because the people had a vision for ministry. They may not have officially called it a vision, but they shared a common vision anyway. Your church began because a group of people had a vision for starting a church in your particular area, and people continued to live out that vision. They understood their purpose, and they attempted to live out that purpose as best they could.
There is no reason your church cannot enjoy an even greater future than its past. The best days of your church are not behind you, they are before you if you decide to become intentional about doing the ministry God has given you. However, that will not happen if you spend more time focusing on the past than on the future.
The best way to have a great future is to create it. Too many churches want to react to whatever the future throws at it. A much better way to approach the future is to create it as best we can, and that involves discerning a fresh vision from God for ministry and living into that vision. This allows your church to approach the future with intentionality, and such intentionality leads to more effective ministry.
Every meeting that occurs in your church should have at least one agenda item that is looking towards the future. A church should have regular times of inviting people to share their dreams of what their church might look like in in the future. Those dreams that are consistent with the vision of the church can be given legs to help make them happen. Such a church will be a much more exciting place than one that is living in its past glory.
I challenge you to begin listening to the conversations that occur in business meetings, board and committee meetings, and when small groups in your church gather. Are they talking more about the past glory of the church or are they talking about the future opportunities that exist for your church? It's OK to celebrate the past, but let's begin living in the present and preparing for the future.