Archive for ◊ March, 2012 ◊

Author:
• Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

If you are ready to move forward, here are five first steps for “seizing the day.”

The biggest “if” in church work, is always “if” you are ready to move forward.  It’s often been said that big wheels turn slowly, but nowhere is that more true that in your typical congregation.  In fact, many congregations have made it their mission to resist moving forward at any cost.  I’m not sure why this is.  Although I suspect it has something to do with wanting to honor the historical significance of a ministry that has existed over many generations.  You see this in the staunch New England Congregationalists  of the Northeast U.S.  You find it in the Scandinavian Lutherans, and you see it in the strong Irish Catholic and Italian Catholic and Latino communities around the country.  So sometimes, this is an ethnic issue – if we change, we will lose decidedly European flavor, or our Latino traditions.  If we move forward, our identity could change and we don’t want that.
Add to these “social” concerns the fact that many human beings simply hate change and you’ve got a tough road ahead.  Into this context come Tom Ehrich’s thoughts on  Five First steps for “seizing the day:”

1.   See Reality:
Denial is always our enemy. Gather honest metrics about your current situation, look at trends of the past five and ten years, and develop a detailed profile of your congregation and of its larger community. Don’t get discouraged if the trends are down. Just be boldly honest about your baseline.

When Linda and I worked with Grace Church  as they dealt with diminishing funds and lessening attendance, that congregation had  begun to see  the “writing on the wall”   at least 10-12 years before.  The Trustees and treasurer had been sounding the alarm  at annual meetings for years, telling the church that money would be running out, and the costs of maintaining a huge (30,000 square feet) cathedral-like facility were becoming untenable.  Leadership suggested taking steps before the situation became a crisis, but  members clung to the hope that the Christmas Bazaar would suddenly gain a profit 100 times what it usually earned or that it would be a warm winter so the heating bill would be low.  While there is certainly nothing wrong with hope, it can often keep us from seeing the reality of our situation and facing it.  Tom is right — that kind of denial is the enemy.  It is the enemy because it paralyzes us and prevents us from doing what needs to be done to keep our communities of faith alive.

2. See Opportunities:
For a faith community, opportunities arise from human needs. What needs are emerging in your larger community? Unemployment, for example, or growing unrest along the fault lines of tolerance. Issues of aging and health, or deteriorating health services for women.
Put aside long-standing desires and left-over agendas. Study what your neighbors are experiencing right now. See the opportunities for ministry and mission that those needs suggest.

Wow!  This is a tough one!  I want to hang onto my image of my church.  I want to believe that the whole community looks to our church for leadership and inspiration, even though the community has not really looked at us that way for thirty, forty or fifty years.  I don’t want to see how the community around the church has changed.  However, if we are going to keep our ministry meaningful and relevant in the setting in which we find ourselves, we are going to have to look clearly and carefully at what that setting is now – not ten years ago, not forty years ago, not one hundred years ago, but NOW.  Tom says rightly that “opportunities arise from human needs.”  Realistically, what are the needs of the human beings in the community around you?
Who is getting lost in the shuffle?  What invisible need is lurking among the folks who live and work in your town?  If you don’t know by looking, then your congregation should begin interviewing professionals in your community — call on a physician at the local hospital or better yet, free clinic.  Speak with lawyers or judges who are working in the area.  What needs do they see bubbling up in your neighborhood and larger community now and as the future comes to pass?
In order to embrace the possibilities of new ministries, all church members must let go of personal agendas, and old visions and desires which no longer speak to the current situation in which your congregation finds itself.  Then and only then, can you move forward creatively to respond to the needs you have identified.

Author:
• Monday, March 12th, 2012

Reprinted by Permission from the author:

By Tom Ehrich, Morning Walk Media.com

When I led a “Turnaround Strategies” workshop in the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky last weekend, I was mightily impressed by their “can do” spirit.
Yes, their numbers have been shrinking, as have those in mainline congregations around the country, as well as many evangelical and traditional churches. Yes, some congregations are slipping below the threshold of viability.But when shown eight strategies for moving forward and asked if they could imagine deploying those strategies, they almost shouted, “Yes, we can!”This wasn’t just bravado. The 100+ people attending this workshop seemed to embrace the changes and bold actions that will be required. The moment seems right for moving forward.

If you are ready to move forward, here are five first steps for “seizing the day.”

See Reality:
Denial is always our enemy. Gather honest metrics about your current situation, look at trends of the past five and ten years, and develop a detailed profile of your congregation and of its larger community. Don’t get discouraged if the trends are down. Just be boldly honest about your baseline.

See Opportunities:
For a faith community, opportunities arise from human needs. What needs are emerging in your larger community? Unemployment, for example, or growing unrest along the fault lines of tolerance. Issues of aging and health, or deteriorating health services for women.
Put aside long-standing desires and left-over agendas. Study what your neighbors are experiencing right now. See the opportunities for ministry and mission that those needs suggest.

See Obstacles:
Every good idea will face resistance. Lack of money, lack of energy, lack of consensus, certain individuals who tend to block change, hostile neighbors, unhelpful judicatories. You aren’t labeling them as bad. You are just being realistic about what obstacles you will need to surmount as you move forward.
Next, assess what it would take to deal with these obstacles. No magical thinking.

See Emerging Leaders:
At any given moment, older leaders are stepping aside and new, usually younger leaders are stepping up. This is healthy. Think through how you will identify those emerging leaders, how you will engage them in taking the reins, how you will support them, and what skills they might require.
Don’t worry about inculcating them in church traditions. Their role is to move forward from those traditions. Their role is to embrace change. If you bury them in yesterday, you will stifle their spirits.

Imagine Eight Initiatives:
In our worries about control, failure and offending longtimers, we tend to talk ideas to death. Better, especially now, to “test and measure.” Test a slew of new initiatives, and see which work. Don’t take the linear approach of doing one at a time. Do eight at once. Expect six to fail. Stop doing them, and plan to learn from failure. Expect two to succeed. Make them stronger.
This approach means you will need to develop two critical capabilities: an incubator for new ideas, and metrics for measuring outcomes. Some people are gifted at innovation. Put them to work imagining the new. Some people know how to track outcomes. Put them to work, too.

“Finishing With Grace” click here To Purchase

Author:
• Tuesday, March 06th, 2012

In our travels with Finishing with Grace, Gretchen and I have consistently run into one irritating fact. The denominational leadership of the mainline churches in the United States have their heads stuck in the sand over the issue of church closings.

What is the matter with you church leaders? What will it take for you to recognize – and acknowledge – that many of the churches that we know and love today are going to be history in our lifetimes!

Your parish leaders and the people in the pews sense this change. People on the street even know this. Every time we tell people that we’ve written a book on church closings – EVERY TIME – we hear, “Oh, there’s a nice church across town that is having troubles and may close.”

In America, 3500 — 4000 churches close their doors each year. from the Barna Study — www.barna.org

Churches lose an estimated 2,765,000 people each year to nominalism and secularism. from the Barna Study — www.barna.org
Only 21% of Americans attend religious services every week.
www.religioustolerence.org

What can we do about this? Gretchen and I have tried the “banging our heads against a wall” (i.e., door of the different denominations) but that only increases our headaches over the lack of response to this issue.

We have sent Finishing with Grace to every major denominational leadership group on the United States (about 25 copies in the mail). One kindly acknowledged receipt. We have even spoken to some denominational leaders – and felt ignored.

To be realistic, we’re willing to accept that our book is probably not the be all and end all on church closing. Well, actually, we do believe that it is – but for the sake of argument…. All we’re suggesting is that – even if denominational leadership doesn’t want to acknowledge the importance of a book like Finishing with Grace, why don’t they at least acknowledge that main line churches are in trouble?

To be fair – some denominations are recognizing what’s happening. However – as far as we can see – they aren’t doing enough about it. There are a few closure support programs out there (in even fewer denominations) that give lip service to this problem. But – sorry to say – they are not well organized. Part of that disorganization is because this is virgin territory for all those involved. Many churches don’t recognize and acknowledge that they are on the slippery slope to closure until it’s too late. The church doors are about to be locked forever before they shout “Help!”

A call to denominational leaders: Do something about this! Please! Acknowledge the program – reach out to your floundering churches – offer support. Let them know you understand and care. And if you happen to want to order a few copies of Finishing with Grace – that would be nice.

EXCEPT – let’s Gretchen and I be honest: We’re less concerned about book sales than we are with seeing churches in transition get the help they need – in any form. We have first hand experience on the pain and sadness associated with a church closure. Don’t let that happen to your churches – be there for them.

“Finishing With Grace” click here To Purchase

Click here to email  Linda