Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Church, According to Seth Godin, (Cont.)

It’s amazing how so many lessons from the business world apply so readily to the church. Seth Godin is one of the top business bloggers. His book, Small Is the New Big, is a collection of his best blog posts, arranged in alphabetical order, from over the course of six years. I’ve learned more about leading a church via his book then I did reading all six books I was assigned during the first semester of my supervised ministry class (which may say more about Drew than about Seth Godin)!

One of the sections of Godin’s book, (You can read his posts here and here), talks about the local max. Most businesses, Godin says, look at their life cycle like the chart below. You get a good idea, you make money, you have success, (point A), you peak, and then you decline (point B). Many of us can probably recognize this chart from our churches: they will have a good period, generally under an excellent pastor, will peak, (often at around 180 or so in attendance) and then begin a gentle decline downwards. At some point, the church bottoms out, and a similar period, with similar success begins again (e.g. just repeat the “local max” graph over again) or the church closes.

Godin suggests that the graph of a truly successful business looks like this.

When we’ve reached the local max, we form the foundation for a much larger, more successful, more effective organization, (the big max), not by doing A, which is what got us to doing the local max, but by operating completely differently (point D), which comes only when we successfully navigate the trough (point C), where it looks like our organization might fail entirely.

Here are a few ways that this directly applies to church life.

1) The first graph describes the lifecycle of churches especially when they reach the barrier of two hundred in worship attendance. Reaching two hundred in attendance necessitates a ministry paradigm shift, because pastors can no longer have consistent one on one contact with all their parishioners, because old organizational structures collapse under the weight of more programs and responsibilities, and because parishioners no longer feel “intimacy” because they don’t know everyone they see on Sunday morning.

Most of our pastors, if they’re even good enough to get people to this point, are not trained to see that the “local max” of their congregation is simply one step towards their “big max”. Therefore, rather than helping the church take a step back so they can eventually grow in ministry, pastors do the same things that fit when the church was one hundred people, only more. They visit more parishioners, they preach the same way, do the same programs more often and subsequently get burnt out.

2) What would happen if we trained our pastors to think of two hundred in worship attendance as only a stepping stone for a church on its way to a better place? What if we taught them how to navigate the trough, (point C), and gave them tools to develop new paradigms for ministry (D)? If we did this, I think we’d be surprised at how many that have between 160-200 people on a Sunday morning would become churches of 500 plus in a relatively short time. (And, for you New England United Methodists out there, think about what a difference churches that size could make in terms of finances, resources, collaboration, and mentoring for the rest of the conference.)

3) Going from a church’s local max to its big max requires innovation. Godin suggests taking resources gleaned from your local max, and investing them in a small independent team that invents a completely new product, one that might even compete with the “mother ship”. For churches, this may mean starting new church services or new ministries (e.g. a Saturday night service in a different worship style or a young adult group). However, it most likely means starting a new church on a different site, because the old leadership will be too invested in the success they previously had (the local max) to be willing to shake things up enough to simply take the organization to the next level.

4) What if those of us who are United Methodists were to see our denomination via these charts? In the United States, our local max was in the late 19th, early 20th century, at least in terms of people and finances. But what if that was just our local max? What if we were just in the trough (point C), waiting for a new strategy (D) that will make us more successful than ever before?

I’m not sure whether this is truly a viable possibility or not- it seems to me that we are still trying to live in our glory days (e.g. our pastors are still trained in 1950’s ministry) and that our structure is too invested in perpetuating itself. So, what if the United Methodists were to birth a new conference or new district, and resource it with money and personnel (and a minimum of interference) to find new ways to do church and ministry? Why not birth a new denomination of new-generation Methodists, better able to minister to the emerging generations? Now there’s a thought that could get me in trouble!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

RSS Feed

I now have an RSS feed that you can subscribe to using Sage or some other feed reader. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Why Doesn't the Church Ever Change?

I have recently started rereading Seth Godin’s brilliant book, Small is the New Big, which is a series of blog posts about marketing, management, and leadership. He writes about why managers and mid-level workers are often so unwilling to make decisions and take significant risks, pointing out that the system in most companies is designed to discourage people from taking risks and innovating. By remaining “competent” in their own, often outmoded paradigm, they are rewarded with promotions, raises, and stability. Breaking the paradigm, or doing something that will threaten this competency means that they must risk their personal and economic security, possibly lose the goodwill of their employers, and withstand negative repercussions from the system. Therefore, even when a system (e.g. a business model for a dying company) is obviously not viable, people will avoid innovation, which ultimately guarantees a slow and inevitable death.

For anyone who has ever participated in the United Methodist Church’s system for identifying, training, and deploying pastoral leaders, this situation should sound very common. Think for a second about all the ways our dying church encourages pastors to keep the status quo:

1) Our United Methodist Seminaries- who train our future leaders using an educational paradigm born in the 1950’s, which encouraged pastors to be educated, to reach the people who walked through the doors (rather than those outside their doors), and to value personal and economic security, and send out their students to do supervised ministry with pastors who lead in that paradigm. This means that our pastors are taught about only one paradigm of pastoral leadership (and heaven help that any of our blessed seminaries ever touch anything so *gasp* radical as resources by those *big* churches such as Church of the Resurrection or Willow Creek), a paradigm that emphasizes stability and passivity.

2) Boards of Ordained Ministry- comprised of people trained primarily by the above seminaries, almost all in that one paradigm of leadership, who evaluate candidates for pastoral leadership primarily based on their ability to articulate theology, and who do not reward those who innovate, buck the system, or take risks. The candidacy process designed to serve those who reach the Board of Ordained ministry inevitably describes only stable, non risk-related situations for ministry. For instance, if you’re in the elder track (which were our local church leaders come from), they describe full time appointments in established parishes, rather than the possibilities of innovative and potentially risky ministries (such as church planting).

3) Our System of Appointments- which addresses the concerns of 1950’s pastors by providing people with lifelong tenure (which eliminates the need for training after you leave seminary) regardless of competency, free houses, and free health insurance. This gives our pastors incentive to take existing churches that operate in old models and to lead them their existing outdated paradigms, rather than risking change (and possibly shrinking or even dying) in order to find a better model, since it might put at risk their free houses, decent salary, and health insurance. This model does not fit people who want to risk and innovate (e.g. church planters) because ordination requires economic security (e.g. an elder with a full time appointment MUST have health insurance) and strongly encourages that pastors to be placed in stable old style churches, rather than to grow something new on their own. If you want to take a risk, then you have to work around the system, the system won’t work for you.

4) Our pastoral culture- which encourages people to look out for their salaries, health insurance, etc. before they think about serving the Gospel. (As I’ve talked to people about the possibility of planting a church, I can’t count the number of people who’s first concern was about how that would work with my candidacy process, with ordination, with health insurance, with financial security, etc. rather than talking about the importance of taking such a risk.) It’s also a culture where pastor actively discourage one another from taking risks and discourage those who strive for excellence. (When I wrote a paper on New England United Methodism a year ago, I heard multiple stories of pastors who’s ideas for outreach to their community or collaboration with other churches were ignored and derided by “experienced” pastors. Needless to say, after a few years, these previously idealistic pastors became “experienced” and mediocre as well.)

5) Our attitude of scarcity- if you listen to Annual Conferences or to leadership in local churches, people talk of keeping what they already have, rather than for reaching something new. A good pastor is one who bails out the sinking ship. A “na├»ve” or “renegade” pastor is the one who decides to build a new boat.

All of this will result in death, if don’t believe me, check out our budgets, our membership and worship attendance numbers, and the morale of our leaders. If we continue in this paradigm, then we will be dead in another thirty years, no doubt about it.

Wouldn’t it be better to risk, and at worst, die a quick spectacular death rather than a long painful one?

Why don’t we radical restructure our seminarians educations to focus on growing churches, on new models for leadership, and on planting new churches, rather than sticking to the safe “theological education” model which has churned out thousands of ineffective leaders over the past few decades? At worst, this model could fail to produce effective leadership, which is where we are right now anyway.

Why don’t we reform the candidacy process to require mentoring for people in on the edge situations with daring, innovative pastors, rather than sending them in to learn old methods from people who were good leaders in 1950? At worst, our pastors won’t learn how to lead churches, which they don’t know how to do anyway.

Why not allocate millions of dollars to recruit and train pastors to plant new faith communities specifically geared to reach postmoderns and Gen X’ers, rather than spending money to prop up a system that supports pastors that speaks primarily to people age sixty and up? At worst, we could go bankrupt, but we are heading in that direction anyway.

In the end, I wish that we would rather go down in flames, trying to do the work of Christ, then shrivel up because we wanted to play it safe.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Jesus Heals

I preached this Sunday, and for the first time in my life, used a manuscript. The passage was Mark 5:24b-34, where Jesus heals a woman with hemorrhages. As part of my sermon, I did a reinterpretation of the passage, using a typical high school as my setting that I thought I'd share with you.

At this point in Jesus’ career, in the local Sea of Galilee high school, he was on the top, the winning quarterback of the football team, bound for a Division 1 university, the talk of the town, with a rapidly growing posse of friends, suckups, and wannabees, all trying to mooch off his glory and advance a couple levels up the social ladder on the wings of a smile or a word.

We can all guess where the woman with hemorrhages would be on the social scale. She was another one of those people who we can all guiltily recall if we think back to our teenage years, an unfortunate blip on the high school radar. I wonder what it must have been like for that woman, the loser, the class joke, the Napoleon Dynamite of her school, hustling quickly, silently from class to class, arms full of books, head down, dressed in old second hand clothes from the local Salvation Aarmy, two sizes too big, smelling like she hadn’t taken a shower in week, hair in long, clumpy, frizzy waves down her back, a person perfectly suited to be tormented or ignored. I wonder what must it have been like for her, trying so desperately to fit in, taking up a job so she could buy clothes at the Gap, sitting at the same table week after week with the “cool” girls, who alternately ignored and abused her, trying out for the field hockey team and the drama team, only to be cut from both. She would be at the end of her rope, no one to talk to, even her teachers giving her a wide berth.

I wonder what it must have been like for her to watch Jesus go down that high school hallway, surrounded by crowds of friends that she would never have, hearing the gossip about them as they pass by, “He won the state championship on Saturday, I hear he’s going to USC to be their starting quarterback, did you hear he got a 1580 on his SAT’s?” And perhaps, in that one moment, she thinks, “If I could just touch him, if he could just speak to me, just look, no, just even glance at me, then maybe I could be healed. Maybe I could find friends to spend time with, to share secrets with, to laugh with, maybe I wouldn’t be teased and tormented every time I went down the hallway, maybe, just maybe, all of this could stop; I could be human again, part of the community again, just a person, again.”

And so she dives into the crowd, squirming past person after person, as the triumphal procession marches down the hallway to Jesus’ next class, gathering steam, people, energy, and excitement. Students stop opening their lockers and join in the crowd, just to see what’s up. Teachers, chatting to other teachers outside the doors to their rooms, stop and stare. Everyone looks at the local town hero, going in triumph, crushed by the mass of people, the mass of popularity, heading to his next class.

And finally, she comes behind him, and he’s just in reach. She stretches out her hand and her finger lightly brushes the back of his shirt. Time stops. Suddenly, in painful clarity, she notices that Jesus has stopped walking, the crowd has paused as well, and he’s looking around, saying to one of his friends, “Who just touched me?”

His friends laugh, punch him on the shoulder, “Good one Jesus! You’re in the middle of a parade! Every popular guy, hot girl, and famous jock in this hallway is around you right now!”

But Jesus remains unconvinced, his eyes scan the crowd. Suddenly, she realizes that the faces in the throng are fixated upon her. She hears voices saying, “What is she doing here? She doesn’t belong here. She’s such a loser, and oh my gosh, she’s almost touching me! Get away! Get her out! Send her back to wherever she belongs!” In despair, she falls to her knees, oblivious to the pain as she hits the hard tiled floor.

“I did it, Jesus,” she says. “I touched you. I’m nobody in this school. I thought maybe, just one glance, just one touch, and I could be human again. I could have friends again!”

The crowd jeers and tenses itself for the explosive sarcastic comment, the push, the disdainful roll of the eyes that will send this woman back to where she belongs.

But it never comes.

Instead, Jesus bends down, kneeling with this girl, who is quaking in terror, and kisses her lightly on the cheek. “Go and live in peace, my dear and beloved friend,” he says, “And be human again.” With that, he stands, and moves off down the corridor, leaving her kneeling in his wake.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Record Setting Two Blog Posts in Two Weeks

If anyone's still reading, I'm going to try to make an effort to post at least once every week. Depending on how I'm feeling, it may be a journal entry, a reflection, or perhaps a few links. This week, as I try to dig out from piles of work leftover from last semester, a few links (which have no overarching context or theme) that I found interesting this past week. Enjoy! (or not!) And, if you feel really daring, leave some feedback on the blog! (I got the idea from Jordan Cooper, who puts up links like this on his blog a couple times a week.)

Christians hanging out with the type of people that Jesus did.

A poignant, entertaining, and insightful blog by a cook at a homeless shelter in Canada.

A nice article on Barack Obama- one of the most intriguing politicians in American today.

Why Methodists don't immerse.