I think I've been on a diet half of my adult life. I am the classic yoyo dieter. And for you healthier folks out there, yes, I know—that is not a good pattern.

However, do you know what the toughest part of my diet is? When I step on the scale after failing to do so for weeks, or even months. Why? Because I don't want to confront the reality of my weight and the need to do something about it.

The Point Where Turnaround Begins

What does my weight have to do with church health? I have researched and written about leadership and local churches for nearly 30 years. And through all my research, I have seen one universal commonality in true turnaround situations: leaders have the courage to confront reality.

Many of us have written extensively about the unhealthy state of most congregations. Frankly, it's easier to write about what's wrong than to offer solutions.

Admittedly, turnaround or breakout churches are rare exceptions. But they do happen. And it is fascinating to see how God uses leaders to initiate that turnaround.

A Brief Case Study in Confronting Reality

The church is located in the Midwest. It has surpassed the century mark in age. Its glory days are years in the past. The average worship attendance is 140; it peaked at 350 in 1978. The pastor has been there three years—or the average tenure of pastors over the past 25 years. Though discouraged, he is not without hope.

Most pastors in previous years simply moved on rather than confront the church's lingering problems head on. Frankly, such action is understandable. Conflict is inevitable when leaders confront reality and do something about it.

This pastor has done an extensive historical study of the church since the 1978 peak. He has particularly looked at the congregation's ministry during his three years of leadership. It's not a pretty picture. The church is inwardly focused. Almost all its ministries exist for the needs and comforts of members. Likewise, the budget focuses on members, except for a small percentage of dollars set aside for someone else to do missions.

The pastor is aware of the brutal reality he faces. He knows that change will be difficult. Yet, he also knows that maintaining the status quo is not an option. He regularly spends a week in prayer and fasting for God to give him the wisdom and the courage to lead the church toward godly obedience.

That Difficult First Step

Will this story have a good ending? To be honest, I can't say with any certainty. But one thing I do know: this church had virtually no chance of turnaround until leadership found the courage to confront reality.

Despite the gloomy situation in many churches today, I am an optimist. I see more and more leaders confronting reality. I have been amazed and gratified at the number of churches utilizing LifeWay's congregational assessment tool, TCAT (Transformational Church Assessment Tool).

Leaders who desire to see breakout take place in their churches will seek God's face as they look for the courage to confront reality. Leaders in healthier churches are never satisfied. They confront reality with courage and boldness on an ongoing basis with the awareness that the first step can be the most difficult. But any journey leading a congregation to greater health begins with one step.

I am closely watching this Midwest church. Although there are no guarantees, I have hopes that it will become a turnaround church. Similarly, I am watching churches all across America and the world. I have great hope that God is doing a great work in tens of thousands of churches in our nation alone—not to mention the international impact that courageous leadership can make.

Are you willing to be a leader toward a transformational church?

It begins with finding the courage to take that difficult first step of confronting reality.

In God's strength you will have victory.

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. He is also a former pastor, seminary dean, and leader of a church and denominational consulting firm. Rainer is the author or co-author of 22 books, including his latest, Transformational Church. This article first appeared at Church Central. Reposted by permission.

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