I remember watching “The Lone Ranger” television program as a child. It began filming in 1949, and reruns are still on some television stations or streaming services.
The Lone Ranger was committed to hope, justice and law-abiding people in the American West. The symbol of his focus and strength was not only the mask he wore, but also the silver bullets he used.
His silver bullets could bring a quick end to dangerous situations. His goal was not to kill people but to scare them, wound them or disarm them.
Rarely living up to the hype
The concept of silver bullets refers to solutions that are quick, easy and effective. They are touted as the answer to an organization’s problems, but they rarely live up to their hype.
Silver bullets are often based on one-size-fits-all thinking and ignore the unique opportunities and contexts of each organization. They can also create new problems.
Silver bullets do not exist in the real world. Complex problems require complex solutions, and there is no single solution that will work for every situation.
Silver bullets not the answer
Struggling churches often want a silver bullet, a simple solution that will restore them to past glory or a program or event that will bring spiritual revival to the church.
Often, the silver bullets for which churches are looking are things that worked in the past when their situations were different.
Silver bullets are not the answer for churches. No guaranteed short-term fix will work for churches that are struggling.
A struggling church is smothered by its overly churched culture with an internal focus on making tomorrow a return of yesterday.
The direct, dramatic, divine intervention of God is its hope. If God miraculously brought a new vision to the people, they would embrace it.
The core of the congregation is empty nesters and senior adults. Few young and median adult households remain.
Struggling congregations have not been captivated by God’s empowering vision for them for many years. Their programs and ministries are declining. They feel their staff and lay leaders are failing to provide strong, positive leadership.
A specific program or ministry might be outstanding and thus become that for which they are known. Struggling congregations align their programs, ministries and activities around what they have always done that brings them at least moderate satisfaction. They believe that if they push harder, they may experience a breakthrough. They will not.
Struggling congregations are passive in reaching new people. They respond to those who visit their worship services and programs. Beyond that, they are more comfortable with people who are members and hesitant about new people who want to change them.
Struggling congregations have no intentional faith formation efforts. They offer various programs and small groups for people to connect with one another, study and engage in ministry projects. These are not, however, intentionally for deeper spiritual faith formation. When a faith formation effort does arise or is introduced into the congregation, it may bring new short-term spiritual life to the congregation. But then it fades.
Struggling churches have an established pattern of worship they repeat each Sunday. Their challenge is the lack of quality resources they once had to experience this worship.
Like other aspects of the congregation, they know they need spiritual renewal, revival and revitalization. They are just not sure how to achieve it.
Ready, shoot, aim!
Struggling churches are not well served by focusing on a Lone Ranger or a silver bullet organizational approach.
Instead, they need to get ready, shoot and aim.
They get ready by acknowledging they need to try new and different ways for their churches to have fresh, vital and vibrant ministries. This is the toughest step.
They shoot by seeking outside guidance for strategies and ministry practices in which they have the capacity to engage. This is a humbling step in that they admit they need help.
They aim when trying new strategies and ministry practices and hear the voice of God speaking clearly to them about His focus for their next seasons of ministry. This is the most important step.
Baptist associations must prepare themselves to come alongside struggling churches to assist them with this approach.