Thursday, June 23, 2011

Stirring the pot

Most churches and pastors try to avoid conflict.  There's no question that a lot of conflict does nothing but create problems within churches and other organizations, but it's also true that organizations seldom change or move forward without some level of conflict.  One of the reasons many change efforts fail is because those in leadership did not create a sense of urgency within the organization that would drive the change.  I do not see how one can create a sense of urgency without challenging the status quo, and that is almost guaranteed to create conflict.  It is almost a certainity that someone within the organization likes the status quo, often for personal reasons, and will oppose any challenge to it.  As much as we in leadership may not like the idea, one of our responsibilities is to stir the pot.  One writer suggests we need to create a holy dissatisfaction within our churches in order to move from where we are to where God wants us to be.

I can hear some of you now.  You have enough conflict and problems in your churches without intentionally starting new problems.  I understand that, but I also know that without intentional effort on the part of church leaders that our churches will never change.  Those that are stuck in a maintenance mindset will remain there until someone comes along to challenge them to get out of their ruts and capture a fresh vision from God.  Max DePree tells us the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.  What is the reality of your church?  Is your church doing everything it can for the Kingdom of God?  Is your church actively and intentionally reaching out to the unchurched in your community?  What percentage of those who attend your services are growing as disciples of Jesus Christ?  I'm not asking how many attend services or Sunday school classes; how many actually demonstrate through their lives that they are developing the fruits of the spirit in their lives?

Many churches would probably not like the answers to these questions, but those answers are the reality that needs to be presented to the congregation along with some possible ways to address any shortcomings contained in those answers.  Yes, some people will get upset when first hearing the realities that exist in their churches.  Unfortunately, too many people enjoy living in denial.  But, this stirring the pot might create the urgency that would allow significant change to occur in your congregation.

As I work with churches from various denominations I see a growing unrest with the status quo.  Both congregations and church leaders are frustrated with the poor results they see from all the things their church is doing.  They know there has to be a better way of impacting people's lives in the 21st century.  While a number of congregations would oppose any proposed change to the way they function, there are some who are just waiting for their leaders to lead.

Let me suggest that it is time to stop the smoke and mirrors we often use to feel better about what is happening in our churches.  Take a hard, honest look at the ministry your church is doing, and ask yourself this question:  Did the Son of God give His life for this?  If you then feel that God is leading you to raise the level of ministry your church offers, then begin to stir the pot.  Demonstrate to your congregation your current level of ministry and the level you believe God wants from you, and then ask the people to become creative and discuss how you can go from where you are to where God wants you to be.  It won't be an easy journey, but it will be well worth it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Telling your story

Last night I read an interesting perspective on change.  The author was discussing how when most leaders begin to change their organization they begin with structure or systems.   For churches that often equates into wanting to change the worship format.  We want to move from traditional worship to contemporary or we want to install a projector or we want to replace the organ with a praise band.  Other churches want to change their constitution or their board structure.  All of these things may need to be changed, but the problem is that after those changes are made we often find that nothing except the structure of the church has changed.   The church itself remains unaffected.  To compound the problem, the organization constantly tries to revert back to its old familiar structure so the leadership must continually fight the battle to maintain the surface changes that have taken place.

The author of the book I was reading insisted that the only way to truly introduce change into a church is to begin telling a new story.  Individuals, families, and organizations, including churches, are greatly impacted by the stories we tell.  Smaller churches often struggle with a poor image of themselves because they have over the years believed certain things about themselves.  Do any of these sound familiar to you?  "We are too small to accomplish much for the Kingdom of God."  "We can't keep a pastor here for more than two or three years because pastors want to move on to a larger church for more salary than we can afford.  I guess God has called this church to be a training place for student ministers."  "We don't dare dip into our savings.  That's our rainy day account, and we never know when we might have an emergency and need that money."  "The problem with this church is that the young people have no commitment."  "The denomination doesn't care anything about us.  They're just interested in the big churches."  I could go on and list dozens of more stories smaller churches have told themselves for years. 

It matters little what kind of surface changes we make in our churches; if we continue to tell ourselves these same stories our churches will remain stuck by the limitations we have imposed on ourselves.  To experience real change in our churches it's necessary to catch a fresh vision from God for our churches and begin to tell stories around that vision.  Furthermore, it's important that we not stray from that story or allow others to sidetrack us from our story.  When others come along with stories that contradict the story behind our vision we have to stop them and repeat over and over again the new story.  Until that story becomes ingrained in people's minds and hearts and it becomes their story, nothing of any real substance will change in our churches.

What story defines your church?  Is it a story that lifts your church up or is it one that is holding your church back?  Who created your story?  Was it someone who wanted the best for your church or someone who had other motives?  Finally, if you need to do so, how can you develop a new story for your church, and what would that story look like?


I didn't realize it at the time, but my last post was my 400th post on this blog.  Although I'm sure many bloggers do far more than that, 400 seems like an incredible number to me.  Let me thank each of you who read this blog regularly and especially those of you who respond and provide feedback.  I only have 48 regular followers, but I know many more than that read most of the postings I write.  Some of you have written telling me how helpful some of the articles have been, and I appreciate that very much.

In recent months my writings have been a little sporadic.  That is largely due to some personal issues we have been addressing the past few months.  We've been facing some challenges that we never expected to face, and they have required a lot of time and energy.  I hope to become more regular with my postings in the future.

Again, thank all of you for helping me reach this milestone.  As always, if there are specific issues you would like addressed please feel free to contact me at

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Book title

My publisher has sent me the title they selected for my next book, The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision.   This is a change from the title I wanted, but publishers have the right to select the title, and I have found that authors typically have little say in the matter.

Regardless, I am excited about this project and believe that the book will challenge leaders of all size churches.  I believe that it is time for the church to decide to get serious about its purpose in this world and become the church God intended for it to be.  One of the things that must happen is that churches must address the issues that are keeping that from happening.  This book addresses some of those issues and offers some ways to correct them.

The book is scheduled for a spring 2012 release.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Church closings

I recently read a note from a 2004 publication that said that of the approximately 400,000 churches in America it is estimated that around 60,000 will close within the next 10-15 years.  In 10 years that would be 115 churches closing each week.  Although the note I read doesn't say, I would guess that most of those churches will be smaller congregations that finally lost their struggle to survive.  Could your church be included in these numbers?

Like most tragic events, we always think they only happen to the "other guy."  We won't be the one diagnosed with a fatal disease; we won't be the one in a tragic accident; it won't be one of our family members who struggles with addiction.  As ministers and church leaders we don't want to think that it will be our church that will close its doors, but if this article is right 115 churches each week for the next 10 years will be locking its doors for the last time.  If our church has been struggling for some time to stay open there is no reason to believe that it won't be our church included in these numbers.

It is time we have some honest dialogue with our churches.  Unless some of our churches are willing to make significant changes quickly they are going to close their doors.  And, frankly, they probably should.  There has been no real ministry existing in some of these churches for decades.  The most these churches offer is an opportunity for the handful who remain to get together once a week.  This could be done just as well in someone's home which would probably make for a better experience for everyone anyway. 

If a church sees that its days are numbered why not go out in style?  I see some churches who are able to stay open because faithful Christians from the past contributed sufficient funds for the church to have a fairly large savings or endowment.  Until that money is gone the church will remain open.  Is that really good stewardship?  Would it not be better for such a church to decide to close and give its assets to another ministry, its denominational body, or a missionary organization?  At least the money could be used for ministry purposes and not just keeping the lights turned on.

I should hasten to mention that some struggling churches still have time to turn it around if they are willing to ask themselves some hard questions and make some significant changes.  It will mean that the church will have to decide they exist not for themselves but for those who have not yet encountered the living Saviour.  Ministry will have to become more important than history.  It may require the congregation to be willing to say good-by to those who do not want to make the necessary changes in order to reach future generations.  It will likely require much pain as the church transitions from its current situation to one that is healthier, but this pain is the price the church must pay if it wishes to continue to have a ministry in the future.

As I say in my workshops, your church is today what it decided 5 years ago, 10 years ago, and even 20 years ago what it was going to be.  Your church will be 5 years from now, 10 years from now, and 20 years from now what you decide today it will be.  Every church leader should will make that decision.  Deciding not to decide is making the decision, and your church will one day reflect that decision.