As part of Church Health Month we are offering resources from a variety of sources. Today we take a look at George Bullard's excellent article on aliments that effect churches who are making generational shifts.
Hidden Factors Undermining the Health of Congregations
Once congregations reach the end of their first generation, what are the hidden factors undermining their health? As an overarching issue, let’s acknowledge that the lack of an empowering, God-inspired vision for future ministry that guides the journey of the congregation is the key foundational factor. Yet the vast majority of active people in a congregation can feel the lack of vision, so it is not totally hidden. They may not be able to identify that the factor lacking is vision, but they feel that something is missing. Captivating vision is, however, the most important factor—hidden or visible.
1. Denial: Many congregations are in denial they are no longer driven or fueled by a clear sense of vision. They believe the majority of things are doing well in the congregation. It is generally meeting their expectations. Nothing is wrong that needs to be addressed.
2. Comfort: The longer congregations are in existence, the more they are comfortable with the way things happen in their congregation. They have lost the prophetic, cutting edge nature of the vision they are seeking to fulfill. Good enough has become good enough. A subtle mediocrity has set in.
3. Tradition: The patterns and culture begin to harden like concrete once congregations have been in existence for a generation or more. Tradition is worshiped as beloved heritage. This is where the seven last words of the church come in: “We’ve never done it that way before.”
4. Mission: During the first generation, mission is often truly missional in nature, and is about what God is up to in and through the congregation. By the second generation, and following without intentional effort otherwise, mission can often become about the existing congregations and what they are doing.
5. Programs: In years past, denominations sold congregations on the idea that successful, growing programs always meant successful, growing churches. This was a partial truth. Too many congregations believe a focus on the right programs is the best future for them. Also a partial truth.
6. Discipleship: Too many congregations believe discipleship equates to head knowledge, when it is really a lifelong process of spiritual growth focused on the Triune God. Thus, many people connected with congregations never grow deep enough in their faith that it is evidenced by a Christ-like lifestyle.
7. Relationships: Deep relationships in a congregational community are important. Yet, too many people equate close relationships with a closed circle of relationships. The active participants of congregations have too many people with whom they only have face familiarity, not deep friendships.
8. Shallow: Too many conversations in congregations are shallow. We are afraid to go deep. We are afraid of being marginalized if we say what we really think about the Bible, theological issues, ethical dilemmas, or what makes up a moral or immoral lifestyle. Congregations need deep dialogue.
9. Life: Life happens. Life can be tough. Church is a place where we should deal with life issues. However, there is a really big difference between in humility bringing our life issues to a loving congregational community, and abusing a church because of our anger over our life issues.
10. Tenure: The longer the average person has been connected to a congregation, the more they see things primarily from their own perspective, or the perspective of their best friends. This leads to a lack of openness to transition, change, and innovation. The age of a person is not a factor.
11. Attractional: Congregations tend to be output based. As such, they want the growth numbers of the church to be better each year than the year before. They want to attract new people to provide leadership where needed, and to contribute generously to the church budget and any debt.
12. Churched: By their second generation many congregations are composed of people who come from a churched culture and do not understand the unchurched culture. Even if they became professing Christian during the past generation, they may have lost the perspective of the unchurched.
13. Demographics: The geographic context served by congregations often changes from generation to generation. The demographics within active congregations may not match the community context; if it ever did. Congregations can become disconnected from their context and not understand the people.
14. Drift: The theology, philosophy, methodology, and style of congregations can drift over the years. One day the long-term members realize this is not their congregation any more, and they seek to bring the congregation back from the abyss instead of seeking God in the present times.
15. Dull: Congregations can get stuck in place, lack innovation and creativity, and simply become dull. There is no excitement, glitter or pizzazz. As such they are unattractive to new people, and do not inspire existing participants to do more than to go through the motions of being and doing Church.
16. Leadership: Any system needs a fresh set of leaders stepping forward on a regular basis. Too many congregations do not have this. The same leaders have led with the same or similar style, and in the same or similar ways for too many years. Fresh ideas and approaches have few or no champions.
17. Management: When a congregation is beyond its first generation of life, and is not empowered by vision, a vacuum is created into which a management mindset settles in. These management people have the good of the church at heart, but forget a church is an organism and not an organization.
18. Museum: Because of the significant investment congregations make in their buildings, and the fact that many participants invested their personal financial resources in those buildings, keeping up the museum becomes a high priority for congregations. They become curators rather than creators.
19. Money: To keep up the museum and to have the staff congregations believe they need or deserve, an increasing percentage of budget allocations are spent on buildings and staff. When this gets over 70 percent of the budget, warning signals should go off. When over 80 percent, the crisis is huge.
20. Anxiety: Long-term, older members confuse Christ and the culture of congregations to the extent they may believe allowing congregations to change in any radical manner may deny the presence and direction of God. They fear it may even impact their personal eternity in a negative way.
George Bullard offers these hidden factors after four decades of observing and working with congregations in the second, third, four, and following generations of their journey. What ones would you add? [Send me an e-mail at GBullard@TheColumbiaPartnership.org with your ideas about these or other factors.] HT
Find out more about Church Health Month