Keynotes – August 2017

Options for our Congregation

Dear Congregation & Councils,

Staying on a well trod path is all too easy. Unfortunately, the old path may, and in our case does, lead in a circle and each time we return to the same place we find that it has decayed. Our best efforts cannot change the result because the result is based on outside influences. Our work doesn’t seem to have the impact it used to.  And in truth, it doesn’t.

It takes courage to do something different. It takes a lot of work from our council to come up with a plan and many man hours to implement a plan that changes the direction of a well established organization. Not every organization has the people it takes to change direction. It is often easier to shut down and start up something new rather than making changes to cause renewal.

For example, pretend you are shop keeper and owner of a building that is in need of significant repair. Your business has fallen off and you really don’t have the money to fix up the store. You could buy or rent a much smaller building, but you own this one! Your father or grandfather started the business years ago. You grew up learning that being in debt was a position you wanted to avoid. What do you do?

  • You have the opportunity to close this store, sell the building, and reopen in a new location that you rent, trusting in new growth to cover the new costs. That takes faith.
  • You could collaborate with another small business like yours and between the two of you united you could change into something much greater than you could on your own. That takes faith.
  • You could also find someone in your organization who is willing to learn from experts in the field what your company needs to do, then have them teach you how to change and adapt to the new reality trusting that the additional work will pay off in time. That takes faith.
  • You could close your eyes and stay on a path that leads to collapse because it is comfortable and requires no change.

Not changing anything may be a comforting mask, but we still know inside that it isn’t working and we are scared to remove the mask because we have grown very attached to it and we are afraid to face the reality of what we will find. Part of the work of PLI is helping us to see that there is another way to do things. It takes a lot of work. It takes admitting to ourselves that we will need to change. It takes work to develop new habits. It takes love for others to care enough to change.

We are at a point where the mask is wearing very thin. We are also at a point where we can change.

The following article comes from Reverend Jock Ficken, the head of PLI. He spells out our options for growth rather well.

Option 1 is what Good Shepherd has done with their English and Spanish speaking ministries.

Option 2 is what Pastor Bokre presented at Grace’s council at the June meeting.

Option 3 is the path Debbie and I are pursuing with PLI.

We need to act. Exactly how our congregation changes is up to us!

Pastor Oatman 

By Jock Ficken | June 20, 2017

80% of U.S. churches…

  • Worship less than 100.
  • Face steady to rapid decline.
  • Possess collective memories of being 2 times or 10 times larger.

Leaders and members are taunted with the whisper that they’re failing. Usually today’s realities were set in motion years earlier by…

  • A stubborn refusal or inability to make necessary changes for the sake of Mission.
  • A disregard for the shifting community around them.
  • A scarcity mentality that believed that God could not provide what’s needed to carry out His mission.

(I understand oh so well that many congregations are always at risk of being overwhelmed by external threats and forces beyond their control.)

You’ll see more and more pastors and ministry staff joining the world of freelancing to secure a portion of their income as we move forward.

I suppose for half of these churches it’s just too late…too far gone…for their future to be different. But, I wonder about all the rest. I wonder if a different future could be cast. Could they still become vital communities of faith with significant Gospel influence in their communities?

So, here are three choices for churches in that 80% group!

Option 1: Relaunch/Reboot

Members choose to shutdown and restart with a new vision and new ministry program usually with a new missionary-type leader. Members may or may not stay but they give themselves fully to the support of this mission work. They become like the kernel of wheat that falls to the ground… to produce many seeds. (John 12:24)

Option 2: Merge

They find a congregation that’s healthy with a strong mission focus that possesses a vision for multiplication of sites and the multiplication of leaders within those sites. They surrender control and invite the larger congregation to infuse their vision and leadership. (Not to be confused with congregational mergers simply to cut costs or combine resources that typically result in the mathematical equivalent of 2 + 2 = 2.)

Option 3 Invest in Discipling Leaders

Slower. Less radical. Churches escape the sense of powerlessness and begin to create leaders who can invest in others. Rather than waiting for the community to “come to church,” members become the joy-filled shepherd/missionaries where they live, work and play. They begin to build an engine that powers the ministry. It starts with a couple of leaders who are willing to look at their own lives and see what needs to change and then invite some others to come along and imitate them as they imitate Jesus. (1 Corinthians 4:14-17)

Most churches would not need to be scurrying toward their death if leaders were willing to covenant together and seek God both for His blessing and His direction. Most of us aren’t keen on asking for God’s direction when we prefer simply more and better of the direction we’ve already chosen. Each of the choices above requires some level of sacrifice and risk. Most churches refuse because they grieve too heavily what will be lost or they fear too much the uncertainty of an unfamiliar future.

So, share this with a couple of peers or a couple of leaders.

In PLI, we see leaders bravely and boldly charting new futures with each of the choices above. And we’re here to offer help and support.

Leadership and ministry is not particularly fun when we hear the whispers of failing. There’s a freedom found in remembering that we are loved not because of the performance of our ministries but as a result of the sacrifice Jesus performed on the cross.

Rev. Dr. Jock Ficken