Have you ever watched the television program Shark Tank? It is a reality show on ABC television with re-runs on CNBC. I recently started watching it. Typically I do not watch reality television, but one night while channel surfing I came across it. Now I am hooked. I love it. I learn from it.
Because I am always looking for implications for congregations, it has occurred to me that congregations more than a generation old could benefit from having to appear before a Shark Tank.
Just for fun, and to get our creative juices going, let’s think about what a Shark Tank for Transforming Congregations might look like?
What if pastors and leaders of congregations needing to transform presented a ministry plan to a Shark Tank of ministry entrepreneurs? The sharks would negotiate what they would do to help the congregation fulfill it ministry plan and then become the strategic leadership coaches for the transformation. As strategic leadership coaches they would bring expertise and resources to the journey, plus hold the congregation accountable for the actions they take to transform.
A ministry entrepreneur team of two or three people would bring finances, leadership, and management to the congregations. You see this happening in Shark Tank when several of the sharks team up to help a business.
What would be the pitch from the pastor and their leaders? Let’s suppose it is a plateaued or declining congregation on the aging side of the congregational life cycle. In this case the management factor is in control of the journey of the congregation.
First, the congregational leaders would need to show how they had already diminished the controlling aspects of management. For example, if the responsibility of the board needed to change, then this had happened. If board members were holding back the congregation, then they had stepped down.
If the cost of facilities was too high a percentage of the church budget, they would need to show how they had RightSized their facilities through raising capital or an endowment to handle facilities costs. Or, they had rented out part of the facilities. Or, they had sold it. Or, they had closed it down or torn it down.
If the cost of staff was too high a percentage of the church budget, then they would need to show how they had RightSized their staff. Since dismissing staff is a highly emotional experience for congregations, this will be great evidence of the seriousness of the congregation to make changes and seek help from the ministry entrepreneurs.
They would also need to show additional commitments by the congregation to financially support the congregation. This would be an important element for the sharks to assess. Beyond this would be the commitment of time by laypersons to congregational leadership and ministry roles. Both of these would need to be documented.
Congregational leaders might say these are already the transitions and changes needed to transform. They would be wrong. These are the readiness things that must happen before a congregation can legitimately ask for outside assistance for a renewed or new journey.
The second thing the congregation would need to show is a ministry plan for the next five to ten years. It is the future based on a great foundation that sharks want to see.
Where is the congregation headed? What is their God-given vision? How are they aligning what they do to fulfill this vision? What are some of the incremental new initiatives called “low hanging fruit” they have already addressed that are creating momentum for transition and change in the congregation?
How is what they are doing already providing not just new output, but also new impact on the lives of followers of Jesus and the community context or target groups to whom God is sending them? What are the new capacities they are developing?
Again, some congregational leaders would wonder if these incremental ministry actions might already be the transformation they are seeking. Ministry entrepreneurs will understand that they are just fixes for their current situation. Sustainable solutions are still in the future. That is what sharks want to help congregations achieve. A fix will wane within 18 to 36 months. A solution will last seven to nine years before it must be reconceptualized for the next season of transformation.
Many congregations may say the preparation work to present their case to ministry entrepreneurs is too great. I would respond that is why only 20 percent of existing congregations ever truly transform.