Want to change your congregation? Find a crisis

Five years ago I spent two weeks in the hospital. I did not enjoy it. It was for a reason that had been creeping up on me for about a month. I had been to my doctor—a general practitioner–twice during that time to figure out what was going on.

I really liked this doctor. He was young. He was easy to talk to. He seemed genuinely concerned about my health. He was a Christian and went to a neighboring church.

He would regularly pray with me about my wellness issues. His father had the same disease that killed my father. We would talk about it and I would pray with him. Periodically we would see each other in the community. We were even Facebook friends.

One Saturday I felt deathly ill. My wife drove me to the closest hospital where my doctor had admitting privileges. In the middle of the night I got sicker and ended up in the intensive care unit for the next four days.

We Made an Intentional Change

By the fifth day my wife and I realized the hospitalist doctors did not know what they were doing. My situation was not improving. One consulting doctor did seem to know what was happening, but did not have primary control of my case.

We took the risk to ask him to take over my case and move me to another hospital. He did. Within 24 hours I was much better. I was sick enough it still took another eight days before I could go home.

Once I got out of the hospital, my wife and I had “the talk”. The subject was that it was time to change doctors, and move up to an internist. We discovered two internists in town that seemed to be head and shoulders above others. One of these is now my doctor.

Crisis, Urgency, and Change

Making these changes was simple. Crisis motivated them. Urgency, as former Harvard professor John Kotter regularly said, is the key. Getting to the point I was willing to make these decisions was hard. Crisis motivated them. While in the hospital it was urgent that something change immediately. It did.

Few congregations have the luxury of a crisis coming along when they need one. Often when a true crisis occurs it is really a serious situation for a congregation. Yet, it does motivate them to change.

Are There Legitimate Ways to Find a Crisis?

I know. I know. I would have to use the word “legitimate”. Just like a person who becomes dysfunctional may orchestrate a crisis to get out of a high stress situation dysfunctional organizations do the same thing. These are not legitimate methods, and are unlikely to produce healthy results.

Try out this list of legitimate methods

First, seek to raise the expectations of what characterizes a significant, excellent congregation. Then inspire and invite congregational leaders to pursue this. I call this helping congregations reach their full Kingdom potential or empowering congregation to be FaithSoaring churches. In an ideal world this ought to work. However, it calls for a dimension of spiritual and emotional maturity, or self-differentiation, not present in enough congregational leaders.

Second, engage in an in-depth assessment of the congregation using soft and hard research methods. Perhaps have this done by an outside third party. If you have a congregation of tacticians this may work. Show them the gap between where the congregation is and where it could be. Even do some historical research to demonstrate that the congregation once did not have this gap between performance and potential.

Third, visit other congregations who have successfully engaged in significant changes during the past three to five years. The characteristics and demographics of these congregations should be as similar to your congregation as feasible so the comparison of opportunities has credibility.

This is where you could visit congregations who changed in response to a crisis. Examples would be the destruction of its building by a fire, hurricane, or tornado, a moral crisis or death among staff, severe financial reversal, or a major employer leaving the area and with it a percentage of the congregation.

Fourth, engage in spiritual renewal experiences. The best motivation for change that may lead to transformation is the spiritual formation of congregational leaders, and their response to the call of God. While generally a slow process, this may have the most lasting impact.

Fifth, get the congregation in motion implementing change that does not require major approval, finances, or new leadership. It really is more difficult for people to respond positively to the leadership of God, pastors and staff, or lay leaders if they are at rest, comfortable, and not looking for change.

So, what do you think? Try out some of these. Suggest others that might work. Don’t just sit there. Do something. Short of the direct, dramatic, divine invention of God your congregation is not going to change if you just sit there.

George Bullard

Author's Website
About the Author
George is President of The Columbia Partnership at www.TheColumbiaPartnership.org, This is a Christian ministry organization that seeks to transform the North American Church for vital and vibrant ministry. It primarily does this through the FaithSoaring Churches Learning Community. See www.ConnectWithFSCLC.info. George is the author of three books: Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation, Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict, and FaithSoaring Churches. George is also General Secretary [executive coordinator] of the North American Baptist Fellowship at www.NABF.info. This is one of the six regions of the Baptist World Alliance. George holds is Senior Editor of TCP Books at www.TCPBooks.info. More than 30 books have been published on congregational leadership issues.

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