Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How a congregation learns part 6

Before I left for a few days vacation I was posting a series on how congregations learn that is taken from an article in Congregations, a publication of The Alban Institute.  The article was written by Tim Shapiro, the president of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations.  In this post we will look at Congregations learn well when they slow things down.  Learning anything takes time, and trying to rush the learning cycle often produces less than desirable results.

Church leaders sometimes forget this.  We may examine an idea for weeks or even months before we're ready to propose making a change.  Then we are surprised when the congregation seems less than thrilled with our new idea.  We forget that we have spent a good amount of time exploring and thinking about our idea, and the people we finally share it with are hearing it for the first time.  They need as much time to process it as we had.

A number of years ago the church I pastored at the time recognized it needed to update its church constitution.  It had been two decades since its last update, and there were some things in it that were outdated.  Some of the things we were no longer doing, and there were some new things we were doing that probably needed to be added.  One of our problems was that there was only one person in our congregation who had been involved in developing the old constitution, and no one else in the church had ever worked on one.  At our first meeting we decided to move slowly, try to understand why something was in the constitution in the first place before we tried to remove or modify it.  We also decided that rather than wait until we had rewritten the entire constitution, we would present what we had completed for church approval at each of our quarterly business meetings.  These decisions took away any need for speed in rewriting our church constitution.  In fact, the process took us an entire year, but when we finished the committee that rewrote the document and our entire church had a much better understanding of our church constitution, and we ended with a document that was useful to today's ministry.

I talk with many pastors who recognize their churches need to update their constitutions, but they are reluctant to say anything because they believe it will lead to dissension in the church and create more problems than it solves.  I explain the process we used and describe the learnings that took place in our congregation because of that process.  Because of how we went about it there was very little controversy.  Because we only presented the work we had completed during the previous quarter if there were questions or concerns we could easily address them, make needed corrections, and then go on to the next section.  I only remember having to revisit an article of our constitution once or twice after our committee made their recommendations.  It was always a quick fix, and then we were on to work on the next article.

The next time your congregation is facing a steep learning curve due to a new ministry taking place or a new way of doing some old things, take your time.   Slow everything down.  Chances are the new learning doesn't have to occur tonight, so take your time.  Give people in the congregation some time to adjust to what you are proposing and then give them even more time to learn the new things that will go along with this change.  Doing this will probably lead to your congregation enjoying the new learning that is taking place and will make them more willing to consider even more new things in the future.

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