Churches of Christ in Decline? Setting a Short-Term Vision

Okay, I’ve warned you against just buying the hot new evangelical book and making it the short-term vision. It doesn’t work. Well, actually, sometimes it does. But not always.

Back when the church growth movement was in full swing, those methods actually worked for a while. Now, they’re about worn out and — more importantly — we’re beginning to see theological problems with them. Many church growth methods led to consumerist churches, catering to “felt needs” rather than recruiting people to join in God’s mission.

Therefore, we need to spend a little time in theological reflection. It’s not that hard. We just have to get back to elementary principles — and away from the books.

Now, I have an idea. It’s not the only idea that’ll work. It may not even be a very good idea. But it’s an idea.

I have, of course, already talked about it. What if we decide to turn our church into a planted church? What if, rather than asking our motivated members to leave and start an effective church, we ask them to stay and give them permission to do what it takes to be effective right here?

What if we really just forgot about the politics and turf wars and silos and did what we all know we need to do?

Sit down with your leadership team and ask them, “If you were part of a church plant here in our hometown, how would you proceed to make your plant a success?”

What if you got with the professional, experienced church plant experts with Stadia or Kairos and let them teach you how a church plant works?

What if you then did it? What would happen?

Well, I’ll tell you: silos, politics, and turf wars would immediately get in the way. And you can either try something else, or split the church between effective and ineffective with a church plant, or overcome the silos, politics, and turf wars. But any change from ineffective to effective will put you on a collision course with silos, politics, and turf wars.

Of course, churches aren’t businesses, and you can’t fire the members who refuse to cooperate. Well, actually, you can. You can lovingly tell the members that this is our goal for the next three years and it’s not optional. Some will leave, but they won’t leave the church. They’ll just transfer to an ineffective church where they can be comfortable.

Obviously, this is last-resort kind of stuff. And if you are very thoughtful and prayerful, and patient, you just might move nearly the entire church to become what the plan requires. But  you have to start by deciding that you won’t kill the vision because 5% of the church is unhappy about it.

Ironically enough, by being firmly convicted on this point, fewer people will leave, because they’ll have less incentive to rally friends in opposition. Of course, this assumes you’ve properly prepared your church, as we’ve discussed in earlier posts.

But any short-term vision requires an iron will, because no one gives up political power and the right to go his own way easily. There will strong-willed people screaming about theology and authority when all they really mean is, “I don’t want to give up my privileges.” I mean, if people get upset over singing during communion, they’ll really get upset when we insist they help with God’s mission.

Notice, that the problem with politics is not peculiar to trying to act like a church plant. You’ll have this problem with any transition from being served to being servants. And any short-term vision has to move the membership in the direction of greater service. And even if your church is filled with great servants, they’ll be unhappy when their favorite ministry is killed to make room for something more central to God’s mission.

So, as my partner used to say, “Get your grip!” It’s going to be a wild ride — but I’d far rather have a few members unhappy with me than be a contributor to the decline of conservative Christianity in America.

I’m absolutely convinced that the decline can be reversed. It’ll take prayer and a deeper commitment and servant-hearted people and some creative ideas. And the transition is going to be difficult because we’ll all have to give up some things we’re very comfortable with — like having our own way. But that’s a small price to pay to be called a “good and faithful servant.” (And it sure beats the alternative!)

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to Churches of Christ in Decline? Setting a Short-Term Vision

  1. Joe Baggett says:

    I just wanted to thank you for having this blog Jay. You the past 10-15 years I always heard the term "it worked" or "it didn't work". So one day I asked a friend and fellow church planter who just happens to be a professor at ACU now. Define for me work. Is it baptisms, more behinds in pews, a building or a bigger building, or maybe higher contribution? He kind of paused and asked why I was asking this. Then I told him that there are many churches that had gotten attendance up, but did that mean they were making disciples of all people.

    So one thing I would suggest is that along with renewed commitment, and new ideas about evangelism that we define what it means to make disciples of all people, because I think this is what gives definition to "making disciples of all people".

    When you read about the Gateway church there big banner is "Come as you are". But then right behind that there banner is "But don't stay that way". They don't try to get the new believers involved in church but rather involve the church in the new believers for the purpose of spiritual change and eventually behavior and character. Just a hint they a church of small groups they call them running groups only 6-10 people some are for those who are questioning and seeking and others are purely for spiritual growth (overcoming addictions and sin). John Burke will tell you that the church's life blood is the small group.
    My younger brother and his wife go there and he leads a small group. They have made disciples and baptized 6 people under the age of 30 since January.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Joe,

    I entirely agree that we often get our definitions skewed. We "convert" a Baptist and claim to have expanded the Kingdom. We steal members from another Church of Christ and figure our new "church growth" strategy is working.

    We accept these artificial definitions because we can feel better about our church work this way. If we define growth in terms of people brought to Jesus, we make things much harder on ourselves — but we will also be more honest with ourselves and with God.

    But then, once we get our mission straight, maybe we'll make the changes necessary to be effective, and then it won't be so hard after all.

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  4. guy says:

    Jay,

    i have a couple questions.

    (1) i've experienced ministers trying to implement very effective ideas and programs being strongly resisted. What's a minister to do when members are so resistant to *good* change? (And i'm not talking here about tired-old doctrinal fights either.)

    (2) How should criticism of ministers by members be handled?

    (3) When clear age prejudice is perpetrated against ministers, how should it be dealt with or addressed?

    i find these very things to be pivotal in congregational effectiveness.

    –guy

  5. Todd Collier says:

    Spend time with the "thought" leaders of the various groups within your congregation (we all have them) and try to get them on board with the grand vision.
    As much as possible let the elders handle your defense. If you have a good relationship with them (and so much of that does depend on us) they will defend you with gusto. Find those who dislike you the most and invite yourself to coffee. (That has helped at every congregation I have been with.)

  6. JMF says:

    Jay — completely off subject, but figured i'd hide this in an old thread — but I'm not a fan of the new way that the posts come up.

    1) On a highly-replied thread, it is near impossible to locate new responses when someone clicks "reply" to a previous point.

    2) Used to, on the right side was a list of the most recent posts — you could click on them and it would take you to THAT response. That no longer works.

    Obviously, I don't want this to come off like I am complaining about the (free) service you provide — I'm just letting you know my opinion b/c I know you often ask about that stuff.

  7. Jay Guin says:

    JMF,

    Your points are all well taken. Here's my dilemma. If I were to revert to the usual WordPress format, the comments would work the way you like, but readers wouldn't have the ability to subscribe to all comments for all posts. Over the weekend, Lord willing, I'll see if I can find a work around.

    Meanwhile, I'm going to try to add my comments using the "Post new comment" feature at the bottom of the post rather than using the "Reply" button.

  8. Brian B. says:

    Jay,

    Google Reader allows you to subscribe to all comments as an RSS feed separate from the blog feed.

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