3 Not So Quick "Fixes" for the Mega Church A reality check for any church over a thousand members...
My charge is to write blogs about worship for churchcentral.com. It is my delight to do so, but every so often I stray to broader subject matter. This is one of those moments of unabashed OpEd exploration and comes from over 40 years of observing how churches work and...occasionally, don't!
Three major themes have emerged for me in the area of why mega churches often fail to thrive, and here is the residue of some of that observing. Tar and feather me if you wish, I understand both are on sale this week at Ace Hardware.
The Problem: Increasingly, it would seem, based on the input I receive regularly, churches treat their buildings much like we treat our homes—as long term investments similar to a 401K. Most folks hope for their homes is that they will increase in value over time and when it comes time to retire, they will buy something smaller in a less expensive community and live on the financial delta.
Now it would be lovely if we could do that with our churches, but chances are we won't move the church to a less expensive location, the value of it may not increase at the same rate as a home might, and that we might be forced to refinance it endlessly just to keep up with the debt service (DS).
All too frequently, the DS on buildings eats the programs that are designed to serve the people we claim we want to house in them. What's wrong with this picture?
The Fix: Don't use capital campaigns to pay off a DS, use them to pay for a building before it's built. Yes, I know the arguments in favor of "build it and they will come" and "manageable debt," but all of us have heard the horror stories of frequent unmanageable DS impoverishment in the local "growing" church.
The Problem: Congregations are pleading for a "piece of the action" when it comes to devising strategies for change and growth. Too often, however, the formulas for such master plans are being generated outside the church without much contributing thought from its members.
Oh, sure, we form focus groups and committees to "discuss" possible plans for change, but many times the decision was made way before such gatherings and the reality is that these groups are meant not to "design" as much as to give consent to a preordained paradigm shift. Know what? People usually figure that out, and when they do, they're ticked!
By the way, congregants would also like a bigger piece of devising their own unique worship style, but there too, we "church professionals" often seem to have borrowed a blueprint we're determined to use from elsewhere.
The Fix: Assume smartness instead of ignorance. Empower your congregation to make good decisions for themselves within the unique culture of your church. I believe we will all be stunned at the creativity that is potential when congregations start becoming more active in the creative process. For the record, this is not the same thing as congregational "voting." This is more about presuming people are creative over and against their argumentative and divisive reputations.
The Problem: Church leaders often want to change at a rate which is impossible for their members to assimilate. I call it "Rapid Change Fatigue Syndrome." Change is inevitable and—good for us—we do it with great regularity (especially within the Reform community), but it comes with a price. Just as people are adjusting to the last change, a new one raises its menacing and frightening visage. I often talk with church folks who look more like shell-shocked war veterans than content and resolute pioneers of forward motion.
The Fix: Slow it down and let people catch up! Tell them, "We're all going to sit down and have a cup of tea while we prepare for what God has next." Too often (way too often) the message is, "We're breathless about what God has for us next," and you know what, we are just that—out of breath! Let's enable people to fill their lungs with some fresh air before we leap to the next idea we gleaned from a "fabulous" new book or conference.
Is this subversive and obstructionist thinking? Some leaders would probably say so, but ask the folks in the pews...they would love to talk to you about it.
—Doug Lawrence, internationally recognized speaker, author, and advisor, helps churches assess and improve their skillfulness in creating engaging worship experiences by utilizing his more than 35 years of "deep trench" worship leadership in prominent mainline churches. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, if you wish, call 650.207.8240 for assessment information and scheduling. Doug now teams with the slingshotgroup.net to place extraordinary worship leaders in extraordinary churches.
Gary McIntosh says the first two commonalities among all turnarounds are 1) someone in authority defines reality, and 2) a sense of urgency is created, painting the potential of the church vs. its current, painful reality.
Rich Frazer says a declining church should ask itself questions like these: "What part of our purpose and vision is not working anymore that either needs to be thrown out or revised? What could be transformed and realigned?" …
In 1 Cor. 9, Paul gives advice to church leaders on how to merge into the community. What are you willing to give up in your cultural heritage in order to reach people? (Aubrey Malphurs in the Society for Church Consulting's Level 3 training …