The following is adapted from remarks at a “Leadership 101” night for Ministry Team members.
Now is the time for God to renew the church for mission. But not all churches are at the same place on the life cycle. According to a now classic work by Martin Saarinen, congregations are made up of a blend of energy, programs, administration, and inclusiveness (EPAI). New church starts, for example, abound in energy but are low in administration and programs. Growing churches hit the sweet spot of flow in which they are high in all areas. Dying churches are high in administration and low in energy and inclusiveness.
How would you characterize the life in our church right now?
It’s important to look at where the energy is in a church. According to church renewal expert Cameron Trimble, when a church hits stagnation, something happens. It’s hard to describe, but you can feel it. Energy drops. Once energy drops, nervousness, anxiety, and fear, set in. Sadly, it’s often only when panic sets in that churches often decide to change things. A church, for example, often only wants to become more welcoming when, say, they realize they are losing money and membership is declining. They are desperate for new members or young families, but it’s not welcoming for hospitality’s sake or the gospel’s sake, it’s because the church will face severe cutbacks if the decline trajectory continues.
If there’s one thing my generation and the millennial generation sees through immediately, it’s false inclusiveness. You can’t fake authentic welcome.
Cameron Trimble of the Center for Progressive Renewal differentiates between leaders and managers. She teaches that leaders are those who are outward focused. They develop new projects and sell the vision. Managers are those who help maintain the infrastructure for that vision so that the leaders to their job.
What happens when a church starts to decline, she says, is that the Managers and Administrators take over. We start having more conversation about policies and experiencing more conflict with one another. I certainly have nothing against Managers and Administrators, because they have profound gifts to offer the church. However, management and administration needs to serve the energy of leadership and mission. Not the other way around.
If Managers and Administrators are left in charge of a church, the organization turns inward. This is when a congregation can die if it doesn’t turn itself around. So, the key question to ask ourselves is how do we feed the energy of vitality? How can we develop, nurture, and support leaders who empower, inspire, and reach out into the community? How can we build management and administrative support for those leaders?
The choice of evolution is the choice of growth, which is also the choice transformation.
I think we’re at the time in our ministry together where we need to recommit to growth. I don’t say this because I’m afraid of church decline. I say this because right now we’re doing well.
Over the past four years, we’ve had a reinvigoration of current membership. We have re-affirmed and enriched program commitments. We have attracted new members. We have deepened in prayer.
We could easily make the mistake of taking this relative health for granted by coasting a bit. I could start to phone it in and to be less serious about outreach into the community. You could start to become comfortable with the way things are. I take the opposite view: now is exactly when we need to dig down more deeply and choose transformation and courageous vision, precisely because we’re on an up swing. Otherwise the church’s vitality will plateau in a few years.
By the way, church growth isn’t only numerical, although it does include numbers. Church growth means substantive transformation: growth organizationally, growth in our inner lives and encounter with God, growth in how we treat and love each other, growth in our impact on the wider community, growth in the risks that we take.
No one knows the future of our church and anything could happen. What I do know, however, is that when we choose growth, evolution, and even risk, we open ourselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit. Our lives change, because as I’ve heard Massachusetts outgoing Conference Minister and President Jim Antal say, “God welcomes us just as we are, but God loves us enough to make sure we don’t stay just as we are.”
What are you willing to risk? What are you willing to let go of? How entrepreneurial and electrified are you willing to become?
In radiant faith,