I recently read the latest edition of Congregations, a magazine published by The Alban Institute, that contained an excellent article on "How Your Congregation Learns" written by Tim Shapiro. Shapiro was a pastor for 18 years before becoming the president of the Indianapolis Center for Congregations. I felt the article was excellent and wanted to share it with the readers of this blog. Each day I want to take one element that is addressed in the article and add some of my own thoughts to it. As you read these think about how they might apply to your congregation and what changes they might make in how your church addresses whatever challenges it may have. The first element Shapiro lists is Congregations that learn will find and use outside resources. He correctly notes that an outside resource provides a new perspective to a congregation.
Sometimes a church becomes stuck in its thinking because it can't find a new way to think about its existing challenges. When any group has been together for some time certain thinking patterns take root. When old issues arise again it's always tempting to deal with them in the same ways we did before. We really have little choice because it's the only way we know to approach them.
Bringing in an outside resource gives us a new set of eyes to look at those old issues. This resource may be a judicatory leader who has seen how other churches have approached the issue. It may be a coach who can lead persons to begin to think differently about the issue. It may be an author or consultant who has spent signficant time studying the issue and who has learned a number of ways to approach it. Regardless of whom this resource is he or she will bring new ways of thinking to the challenge. The congregation then can take their new learnings and adapt them to their context.
So far, my comments have focused primarily on bringing someone in to the church, but it's not always necessary to incur that expense for outside resources. Every year there are numerous workshops and seminars made available to churches to provide them with those resources. Churches need to take advantage of these opportunities, and yet few do, and then they complain that they can't seem to get unstuck. Some of these are offered by the church's denomination at little or no cost. Few workshops and conferences I've seen offered to churches are beyond any church's budget and should be seen as an investment in the future of the congregation. These opportunities offer a great way to expose your church leaders to some of the best thinking on virtually any challenge that your church may be facing.
Whether you use someone specific to your congregation or take a group of leaders to an upcoming conference, find some resources outside your church to help you look at your challenges through different eyes and who can offer new solutions that can enable your church to move past whatever barriers may be holding them back. Stay tuned tomorrow for the next factor that helps congregations learn.