Leaders Keep The Big Picture In Mind
I once heard a friend of mine share the following true personal account: When he served a particular church as youth pastor, they would allow him to preach - but only on Sunday nights. After one particular sermon when he passionately challenged the congregation to reach out to their local communities with the gospel, he was approached by the stereo-typical little, old church lady.
She said, "That was a wonderful sermon you gave tonight. Your passion to reach other people is so evident." He demurely thanked her, thinking their conversation was complete. But it wasn't. She continued, pulling him close to her and whispering, "But we really don't want any more people here. We're happy with things the way they are."
I've learned over the years that many church people actually feel more comfortable in a congregation that has plateaued, or is even declining numerically. They are uncomfortable in a growing congregation.
Why do people feel this way? Let me suggest a few reasons:
- Constancy. People like the predictable; they like stability. Their church has become for them a comfortable and cocooning environment of sameness.
- Continuity. In a church experiencing decline, faces are familiar, sermons are comforting, the order of service hasn't changed since the Eisenhower administration (neither have the song selections), and the leadership is comprised of the same people who have been "leaders" for years. That sound you hear are the deck chairs being rearranged on the Titanic.
- Complexity. Church consultant Lyle Schaller writes, "Growth almost invariably is accompanied by an increase in the level of complexity. The vast majority of people prefer simplicity. Life in the numerically shrinking parish usually is less complex than in the rapidly growing congregation."
- Commitment. Churches that are championing a high-level of commitment towards its members are generally ones that experience growth. Churches in decline generally have lower expectations of their people. Consequently, the lower the expectations, the greater the perceived level of comfort (see #1 above).
While keeping in mind that churches have shepherding responsibilities to their people, let us never forget that as long as one person in our community needs to know Jesus, our church must grow by at least one. The proclamation of the Gospel and making more room for more people trumps, "We're happy with things the way they are," every time.
It's the living's ability to change that differentiates it from the dead.
Are constancy and continuity limiting factors in my situation?
In a season of growth what can I/we do to limit the feelings of complexity among our community?
What level of commitment am I calling people to? Does this need to improve and is it time to take it to the next level?
What is the next level?