I've read that a good lawyer always knows the answer to a question before he or she ever asks it. When I hear Dr. Phil ask the question, "How's that working for you?" he knows the answer before he ever asks. Whatever the issue is, it's not working for them. That's why the people are on his program, and yet they will often argue with him until he asks the question. I see the same thing happen on shows like Bar Rescue and Kitchen Nightmares. Both shows begin with a serious problem with the bar or restaurant, but when the experts begin recommending changes the owners resist insisting they know their business better than the outside expert. One would think if that was the case, the bar or restaurant wouldn't be in trouble in the first place. Of course, such challenges don't exist only on television or in bars and restaurants. They exist in many declining and plateaued churches as well.
Few church leaders get excited about change even when things are going really poorly in the church, and such changes are likely to meet strong resistance. These leaders insist that there is nothing wrong with their church or the way they approach ministry. I think it's fair to ask the Dr. Phil question to them as well: How's that working for you? Church leaders, whether pastoral or lay, that refuse to face the reality of the problem will often point the blame in other directions. Here are some common blame statements: Younger members aren't as committed as the older members were, and if they would just raise their level of commitment things would be better. Too many outside influences pull people away from the church. Our finances are down because of the economy. The big, growing church down the road has pulled away all the church members because they have compromised the Bible and offer entertainment rather than genuine worship. We don't worry about numbers; we only want to be faithful. I'm sure each of my readers can add other excuses they've heard.
The unfortunate fact is that your church structure will produce the results you are getting. The bars and restaurants on TV that are in trouble are in that condition because they created a business structure that has cost them business and profit. They are in business to gain business and earn profits, but their current structure prevents them from achieving either of those goals. What is the mission of your church? The mission of the church is also two-fold: to fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Now, the question church leaders must ask is "How well are we doing these two things?" How many people came to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ last year in your church, and how many of those people became involved in a discipleship program whether it was in Sunday school, small groups, or however your church promotes discipleship? How many of your older members are involved in discipleship ministries? Those questions will help you get a handle on how well you're doing with the Great Commission. Now, what about the Great Commandment? How many of your people are regularly involved in coroporate worship? How many are involved in ministries outside the walls of your church in surrounding communities? In what ways are the members of your church reflecting the love of Jesus Christ to their unchurched friends, co-workers, and neighbors?
In declining and plateaued churches, leaders probably won't like any of the answers to these question, and that's why they are seldom asked in such churches. Each of them are a way to measure how well your church is fulfilling the two primary purposes of your church, and who wants to do such measuring if you already know there's a problem?
However, the only way to turn-around a declining or plateaued church is to ask these questions and answer them honestly. Placing the blame on outside influences will not solve the problem. The problems that exist in most of our churches are primarily internal. The church has created structures that prevent positive answers to these questions. Every church (and I said every) has created walls that reduce the effectiveness of the church's ministry. Some walls are much higher than others, but every church has them. The challenge is to identify those walls and find ways to knock them down and replace them with bridges into the community. I have to be honest and tell you that some of those walls will be sacred cows to your congregation, but as long as they remain part of your church's structure you will continue to get the same results you've been getting. Some churches with shorter walls are getting good results, but could enjoy an even more effective ministry by removing the barriers that prevent that more effective ministry. Other churches with higher walls face more difficult challenges, but if they want to change the results they've been seeing they have to address those challenges. Perhaps the best way to do that is to begin by looking at everything you're currently doing and asking, "How is this working for us?"