The numbers game is one of the trickiest in the God world (aka church). There are at least three pieces to this dynamic.
1. We all say it isn’t about ‘how many’, but we all compare our ‘how many’ and feel either inferior or superior because of it. Some of us more than others.
2. Then there is the sustainability dilemma. If the church is going to support itself it takes enough people to make that feasible. But then it isn’t about making money, or guaranteeing an income for the pastor and other staff.
3. On the more positive side we know that we have a responsibility to grow in both depth and breadth. Not one or the other.
As you evaluate your ministry try dealing with the numbers game this way: Numbers are important. They let you know some very important things about the sort of systems and resources needed. The numbers help you set goals that match your vision and calling. And they tell you whether your ministry is growing or shrinking. Remember, the answer to “Why?” is the important piece to this.
But while that bigger number is important, the key number is always ‘one.’ Never take your focus off of the individual. What is each person’s experience who enters your doors, who attends a small group gathering, who is encountered at a service event, who has a crisis in their life and needs your community’s ministry, who is met by a person shaped by your community? Who are you for the person standing right in front of you, right now? There is no such thing as the community’s experience, or the neighborhood’s reaction to your church. It is the experience and reaction of each individual. Build, equip, structure your community to be about the number that always comes first, one.
I’m speaking to a class of students at Luther Seminary on Friday who are preparing to do ‘mission development’ as either a new enterprise, or within the context of an already established church. LOTS of things to talk about, including a bit about the story of Jacob’s Well, but I’ve only got 45 minutes. So here is the 5 point checklist I’m giving them (and yes, it feels a bit inadequate to me too.)
- Are you really called? Are you willing to do whatever it takes? (’cause it will take it!) Who are you as a leader? (strengths/non-strengths, assets/liabilities)
- What is your vision? What are your expectations, what does ‘success’ look like? Is your vision clear enough for others to follow and big enough to need God to make it happen?
- What is your plan? (models you are watching, strategy and systems, including funding)
- Who is your team? How will you find them? How will you prepare them and use them to complement and balance you?
- How will you evaluate? Don’t overlook this!
Given this is just a sketch… what’s missing? Particularly anything that can’t be fitted into one of these 5 points?
What is Leadership today?
It’s not looking at the report of Protestantism losing it’s lead while the religion of None swells its ranks and saying, “Oh no, what can we do to get them back?”
Leadership is asking, each and every day, “How can we be church today?” and then trying to be it.
Laurie Goodstein reported on the Pew Research findings in the 10/9 New York Times (read it here) that protestants no longer make up a majority of the US population. What’s more, it is a rapidly changing trend. And it isn’t because people are switching churches. They are simply opting out.
The clanging bells and flashing lights of this warning might just get our attention this time. So, in case you couldn’t see it, hear it coming before, well… business as usual is coming to an end. We are staring face to face with the fact that what churches are doing is connecting with and engaging fewer and fewer people every year. And it isn’t because God has changed. People simply have not been experiencing sufficient relevance or value in churches to make them orient their world around them.
It’s time to get out from behind the safety of our institutions and doctrinal checklists and start being what we tried to define, describe and defend. It’s time to be the church. It’s time to make mistakes, build less, love more. It’s time to stop worrying about the orthodoxy of what we believe and how we do things, and to start risking the extravagance of living out love no matter what it looks like.
Maybe people aren’t leaving the church because they don’t believe in God, in fact the study showed that only a minority of those who have given up on church have also given up on God. They are leaving because they don’t see the church being big enough to hold what they believe God is. So they have left hoping to get a peek of God out in the immensity of the rest of life.
In case you were wondering, it looks like the stop arm is descending from the semaphore. It isn’t when or if things really need to change; it is time. Time to let God be BIG again. So big that God bursts the seams of church and we go spilling out all over the place. Those places all those people are. Those places where God already is.
Folks, this article… the way I see it, it’s good news.
Posted in change, church, church transitions, emerging church, God, love, precarious, risk, Why Believe?
Tagged believe, change, church, emergent church, faith, God, New York Times article, not-church, Pew Forum, praxis, protestants
As a pastor I need to be everybody’s pastor and I value the fact that there are many who don’t agree with me on issues but still feel our church is their home and that I can be their spiritual mentor. So I help people have conversations, provoke them to think selflessly about tough issues, and I don’t advocate political positions. I work hard at helping people feel free to figure out for themselves what their faith means in rubber meets the road places like the polling booth. So, this post isn’t meant to be political in the sense of telling people how to vote, but Mitt Romney has made me personally very angry and I cannot help but speak out.
My wife and I were among the 47% for many years. We were ‘middle class’ but had more deductions than income. We paid lots of taxes, including the 15.3% self-employment tax, but no or very little income tax. All that time…
- we secured our own healthcare,
- repaid college loans for ourselves and eventually for our children,
- paid our own food bills,
- started a business (a church) that employed up to 8 other people and impacted the lives of 100’s of others,
- volunteered at schools, neighborhood parks and other organizations,
- gave fairly large amounts of money to charities we thought made a difference.
We never even remotely considered ourselves victims or waited for a handout, in fact we always thought we were privileged to have what we did and tried not to take it for granted. We realized that we are the beneficiaries of generations who worked hard to provide us with a world in which we could have secure, meaningful lives that realized dreams. We have always felt obliged to use our resources and influence to make that kind of world available for others too. To re-invest, so to speak, not accumulate.
As part of the 47% I never voted for a candidate who would create a government to take care of me, but a government that we could team up with in making the world we experienced available for everyone.
This 47% is full of people who are living to make the United States a great nation. I am angered that my middle class contribution to this country is looked down on as being dependent on government to come take care of us. We are helping build this country in powerful ways.
That is who we are as part of the 47%.
If the Bible has a few clear messages, one of the clearest is that life is about community. And church is not just an hour on Sunday morning, a building you go to on Sunday morning, or the people you go to gather with on Sunday morning. Church is any and all people getting together making the kingdom of God apparent.
Today, Tuesday, August 2, 2011 is National Night Out. Hit your street. Grill a burger, have a beer, put on a nametag, fill out your name and contact info on a a map of your block, and get to know your neighbors at your own block party. I’ll be at mine.
If your block doesn’t have a National Night Out event, then take an hour and go around and talk to some of your neighbors about getting one together for next year. It makes the world a little more like Jesus pictured it for us to be together.