Changing Our Ways is Harder than Changing Our Shoes

I attended a church meeting several months ago and was the youngest person there by many years.  (I’m 62 years old.)

One woman approached me as if I had run over her dog: “What are you doing about all the young people?  Where are they?”

Me (in my head): Trying to avoid being chastised?

She went on to tell me that her daughter was breaking her heart because she didn’t bring the twins to church. I suggested that she ask her daughter why she doesn’t go to church but I suspect I already know why.

It was vociferously reported at this meeting that people need to give more. Fingers might have been pointed at all the guilty slackers.

There were numerous open leadership positions and the chairperson begged folks to nominate themselves.  (Not one person did.)

It was announced that the coffers are low in terms of paying dues and when asked for suggestions for making up the deficit, the following suggestions were made:

  • Bake Sale
  • Car Wash
  • Pancake Breakfast

The date could have been 1972 but it was 2019.

This group clearly needs to change their ways:  No more bake sales.  Get rid of committees that nobody wants to serve on.  Stop berating people.  Give up on perpetuating something nobody wants to/is able to do anymore.  Remember why we started this organization in the first place.

Changing our ways is an adaptive change.  Changing our shoes is a technical change.  And depending on technical changes to grow is killing us.

Shifting a culture – as I’ve written many times before – is not for the fainthearted.  It’s hard and messy and people will almost certainly feel angry and hurt that they are losing their institutional power.  But if we do not make adaptive changes – especially in terms of the way we’ve been The Church – our congregations and mid-council ministries will die.  Many are already dead but we haven’t accepted that fact.

It’s okay.  (Remember: Easter.)

In the meantime, if our congregations are brave and faithful, we will welcome the challenge of adaptive change.  (Many of your leaders have read this book, if you’re interested.)  Here are some questions to ask at the beginning of your next leaders’ meeting (adapted from the Heifetz book):

  • What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since we last met, in terms of our church/organization?
  • What mistake did you make in the past week/month and what did you learn from it?
  • What’s the most important thing you did yesterday and why was it so important? (This could have happened at church or at work or in your family.)
  • What’s one thing you did (for the church) in the last month that was unnecessary/you need to stop doing?

At the end of the meeting, discuss whether or not sharing one of the questions above helped make it a better meeting.  How might it change how you move forward as leaders?

Changing shoes is easy.  (So is changing the chancel flower arrangements or changing to LED light bulbs in the church office or changing the color of the towels in the church kitchen.)  But not one of those changes will make any difference in terms of the health and competence of your church.

[And what’s really crazy is that – in some churches – changing the flowers, the light bulbs or the towels invokes a church-splitting fight.  And this is why that mother of  twins and so many other people will not cross the thresholds of our church buildings.]

Note:  there are people/other church leaders who will help you make adaptive shifts that could resurrect your congregation.  Please get in touch with us.

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