How NOT to Fix Your Church
By Junius B. Dotson
It's not about fixing churches! The Rev. Junius B. Dotson explores "How NOT to Fix Your Church."
How NOT to Fix Churches
As a leader in the church, if you are like me I am sure you have felt the anxiety and the constant pressure of trying to fix your local church. For years, in just about every setting or significant gathering, there was a reminder of how the church was in decline.
It was our job as pastors and leaders to fix it.
Over the years, with the best of intentions, we have tried to reverse this decline in membership and worship attendance by offering technical fixes, like tinkering with our worship services, tinkering with children and youth programs, tinkering with metrics and tinkering with other aspects of congregational life.
The problem is this: We are not facing a situation that can be fixed with a technical thing. It requires adaptive leadership.
Don’t get me wrong. While these are important and arguably necessary elements to a vital and vibrant congregation, they can also distract us and lead us to believe that we can simply tinker or program our way back to vitality. If we busy ourselves with trying to perfect programming inside of the church, we can ignore the changing landscape right outside our doors.
We cannot program our way back to vitality. There is no quick fix. There is no silver bullet!
Reclaiming Your Passion for Making Disciples
But be at peace. I have good news for you.
What if this year you could reclaim your passion for making disciples and have the church come alive in ways that felt more organic and authentic, rather than flawlessly programmed?
I agree with Gil Rendle, who is senior consultant with The Institute for Clergy and Congregational Excellence of The Texas Methodist Foundation in Austin. He once shared that the lifeblood of the United Methodist is passion rather than organizational neatness, entrepreneurial freedom rather than denominational restraint and agility rather than staid institutional dependence.
I believe as leaders, we must shift the conversation away from fixing churches to seeing all the people Christ has called us to reach.
I believe as leaders, we must shift the conversation away from “fixing churches” to seeing all the people Christ has called us to reach. Seeing the people who are right outside of our doors is not simply to save or preserve the institution. Instead, it is for the sake of living out one of our scriptural values, the Great Commission:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
Author and church consultant Mike Breen says it like this, “If you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples. But if you make disciples, you will always get the church.”
In other words, we can either continue down the path of gaining more knowledge and expertise to fix the church and its programs, or we can grow forward the capacity and competence of individuals to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
I was reminded by Taylor Burton-Edwards, Director of Worship Resources here at Discipleship Ministries, that this does, in fact, reflect the wisdom of John Wesley and the early Methodists. The method of Methodism to reform the church was not to fix Anglican churches.
Burton-Edwards writes, ““It was to see the people who had little or no active connection to any congregation, and work intently in small groups with any who would respond to the call to ‘scriptural holiness.’ These people were then vitally re-connected to the whole of the experience of church through the society, including congregational life. And through this vital connection in their own lives, with both Methodist societies and Church of England and other congregations, both the nation and these congregations began to experience dramatic reform and new vitality.”
Seeing All the People
As we look at our ministries, my invitation to you is to reflect on what it would look like in your ministry context to see all the people – not just the people who are part of our church, but all the people who are right outside our doors, across the street and throughout our communities. If we could be the church we say we want to be, what must we risk? How would we have to challenge the ways that we currently engage in ministry?
If we could be the church we say we want to be, what must we risk How would we have to challenge the ways that we currently engage in ministry
Anybody who knows me knows that I am a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan. I read recently that the play the Green Bay Packers ran on the game-winning drive to knock my Cowboys out of the playoffs was not in the playbook.
Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers drew up a play in the huddle, like a child would do on a playground. He was operating outside of the institutional playbook. He called a play that unleased the creativity of his team to rise to the occasion they were facing.
We have a lot of huddles as a church, but the huddle accomplishes nothing on its own. In fact, in an NFL game if the huddle lasts much longer than 25 seconds, those watching will lose interest and complain, because that is not what they bought a ticket to come and see.
Instead, they want to see what difference the huddle will make. They want to know, now that you have huddled, can you score?
People do not need to see any more church huddles that lead to more church huddles. What people need to see is the church of Jesus Christ, made up of men and women from all backgrounds and cultures, scoring touchdowns for the kingdom of God.
This can be accomplished when we call some new plays – when we are relentlessly focused on reaching people for Christ and discipling them in the way of Jesus.
This is the conversation that we are having here at Discipleship Ministries, and it is just the beginning. We have created a new strategic playbook that allows us to think about how we call some new plays to shift our strategic focus, to encourage intentional discipleship in every local church and to increase engagement with people who are currently outside of the church and who consider the church to be irrelevant.
I believe that we have the capacity to inspire a new movement of disciple-making across our denomination.
I would love to hear your thoughts on how we can make this happen and your ideas about how we can carry this message across the entire denomination. Please email me your ideas and excellent suggestions to [email protected]