Chips Happen -identifying & fixing problems

Denial and ignoring problems are a HUGE problem in the church.  This post discusses the importance of identifying & fixing problems, …and some helpful strategies to do so!

Cracked-windshield200

Have you seen the Safe-Lite commerical about the small crack in the windshield?  You think that chip in the windshield is no big deal? One bump could turn it into a crack.”  The recession has exposed a lot of chips in the windshield of our markets, banking system,  personal finances, and our churches.

Not only do people, congregations and institutions often FAIL to recognize what’s chipped and broken, but…

  • their analysis of the chip is often wrong and self-serving
  • their response to the chips is often inadequate  and protective
  • and they often depend on the same people and tired ideas that led them into the mess -to get them out of it

This is how the need for evangelism turns into an exhortation to “bring a friend” and putting an ad the local paper, –instead of addressing the friendly-ness of our congregation, stuffy-ness of our worship, quality of our nursery (or lack thereof), and the stylistic irrelevance of our music to the very demographic we publicly desire to attract.

This is how the quality of sermons, –which is the #1 attraction to visitors, and reason why many members remain infrequent attenders, goes unaddressed. [Question:  if sermon writing and preaching takes 25% of the pastor’s time, shouldn’t training to improve preaching occupy 25% of their continuing education?]

My point of view:
1) Chips happen.
2) We need to do something about the chips …before they turn into cracks.

The word Ecclesia (“church” in the Greek) means, “those who are called out.”  And in the typical sermon, the preacher interprets this as “separating ourselves” from the world.  However, to “call out” someone in today’s vernacular means to call them to account. It means to speak up about what they’re doing wrong. In the past, the church has been “calling out” the world and its members. It’s time to “call out” the institution itself, –before more chips turn into cracks.

Unfortunately, people don’t like to be “called out” in the church. They’re much more inclined to protect their turf. And volunteers especially, don’t like leaders who tell them that they’ve been doing it wrong. Try diagnosing what’s wrong with the pastor’s sermons or the quality of the choir at your next council meeting and you’ll see what I mean 😉

One of the important lessons I learned about “calling out” came during our creation of the Workshop Rotation Model for Sunday School in our church back in 1990.  Before we came up with the model, we tried to address “change” on a teacher by teacher, classroom by classroom basis. And we were met with stiff resistance and half-hearted, short-lived attempts. I experienced this same problem in another church in 2001… the teachers and leaders in charge dug in their heals when we tried to say, “The Emperor has no clothes.” 

Lessons I learned:

  • We have to get people to admit there is a problem, before they are willing to work for a solution. 
  • Without vision, the people perish.  If you start throwing small fixes at people, they will nitpik them, unless they see a total picture that they have bought into. 
  • There are some simple management techniques to make change part of the normal process of doing business in the church, rather than just the typical exhortation and exercise in frustration.

Admit there is a problem.  This may be the hardest thing for you and them to do, but I learned a really valuable lesson. To sell the Rotation Model to our volunteers, we didn’t tell them about it. We simple started a flipchart list of what THEY were struggling with, what they didn’t like, and what they felt strongly about. That got everyone on the same page.  It revealed the extent to which they all cared, had similar goals, and wanted to change.  Then we introduced the ideas for change and people could see how they might address the consensus of concern which they had already bought into.  (Most leaders reverse this process… they throw up changes at meetings like clay pigeons and wonder why they end up in pieces on the ground).

Have a vision.  If your approach to change is a shopping list of “new sign, new bulletin board, and more money,” you’re toast. People who have bought into a vision are more likely to accept minor fixes which seem part of a plan.

Management techniques.  There are so many! 

Here are just a few ideas…

brickExamples for the pastor:  Rather than encouraging them to take a preaching course this year during their study leave. Make sermon training part of their annual job description and goals.  And consider simple rubrics to shake things up, such as, create a schedule of guest preachers (both from within and outside the congregation) to be there not only when the pastor is out of town, but several times a year when the pastor is right there. Give the pastor relief from the weekly grind of producing a sermon.

Example for the Evangelism & New Member Committee:  Rather than cranking up this priority for a few months, only to see it wane, -get to the heart of the matter. Make it a policy that all visitors get contacted and visited. If your committee members will balk at that, get the Council to hand down that policy, then find committee members to carry it out. Make it a policy that their annual report seek out and include comments from visitors who chose not to come back. If your priorities are merely suggestions and exhortations delivered by the committee chair or pastor, people will wait until you change the subject.

Example for the Christian Education Committee:  Rather than just giving them new things to do, require them to jettison things that are not producing returns. In one church I was part of, the CE committee was in charge of the annual church picnic, yet the picnic had nothing to do with CE and took time away from their VBS planning.  Consider programs like the Rotation Model, which remove teacher’s from positions of authority (obstructionism) over specific rooms and grades, and places the quality of the teaching methods and environment in the hands of a creative GROUP of people.

Example for the Mission Committee:  Pull out your calendars and label every other month for the next two years with the name of a mission project which your church supports, and the name of the volunteer who will be personally responsible for highlighting that mission during that month. Certain persons will do a great job during their month and that will raise the standard for everyone else. Then give each person a couple of  rules:   “In addition to writing about it for the bulletin, newsletter and website, you must also CONTACT someone involved in that mission, invite them to come speak or send materials. In addition to speaking during announcements, you are also responsible for a display and/or children’s sermon about that mission. And if the mission is local, you need to find a way to get yourself and members VISITING and somehow INVOLVED in that mission during that month.”  What will happen after a year or so will be that certain of your visitors/members will get personally involved in that mission.  

Another Mission Example:  Get them used to the idea of prioritizing and brainstorming difficult questions. Next month, ask them what they’d do if someone gave them $10,000.  The following month, as them what they’d do if their budget was cut in half (hypothetically speaking!) or they had to settle on just two mission effort a year. In my experience, such “academic” discussions reveal & create passion and new ideas. 

You can do the same thing with any program. In a former church, we created a Sunday school calendar years in advance which labeled the last year as “The Year of Jubilee”.  For several years we didn’t discuss what that Jubilee year would look like, we just said, “we don’t do anything the same.”  That commitment was kept and the committee came up with some spectacular ideas well in advance …that by the year came around everyone was primed to accept.

Another great idea:  Create a mission “grant” program within your own church. Set aside $200 a year. Begin listening to what local projects your members are  PERSONALLY and actively involved in supporting. Make a donation in their name to that organization and highlight their work to the congregation as an example of Christians serving the community outside of the church.  

Changing how you APPROACH change and implement change –may be the single biggest change you can make!  And it’s important to do these things in the course of the normal life of the church, before the chips turn into cracks. 

Hope this helps. 

 

I’m following up on this post with another about “how small problems are often signs of larger problems in the church.”

Look for it in this thread! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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