Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Moving Off The Plateau

Lyle Schaller
When your church hits a plateau what are the best options to get it growing again? There are some practical suggestions Lyle Schaller the Dean of Church Consultants gives that will help you analyze what are the best options to get your church back on track in the wonderful task of making more and better disciples.

Before we get to these practical steps I wanted to lay down a few foundations that are critical for the church that really does want to get growing again.

The first of these is to understand that the church is both an organism and an organization. The Church has been described in the Scripture as an organism and we are a living body of believers. It is also described as an organization and we are a building that is being put together by the Master-Builder Himself. These images of the church as both body and building help us understand that the church has both health problems because it is a living organism and it has organizational problems because it has structures that either help or hinder its growth and development.

Very often the mistake that a church on a plateau is trying to answer is to try to solve an organizational problem with a spiritual solution or an organism problem with an administrative solution. This violates a foundational concept that organizations need organizational solutions and that spiritual problems need spiritual solutions.

Complicating this understanding is that rarely is a problem so simple that answers in one category or another is sufficient to solve the problem. Most church issues are a mix of changes that need to be made in both the spiritual and structural areas.

For example; Let’s assume the diagnosed issue is a lack of conversion growth and the existing biological and transfer growth rates are just sufficient to cover the normal attrition common in any church.

If the leadership saw the solution as only organizational they might get a new evangelism program and find themselves frustrated that it doesn’t seem to work for them as advertised.

A more comprehensive analysis’s might point out that the value of evangelism has been eroded over time so that lost people although mattering to God do not matter to us. It may also point out that very little prayer for lost persons is part of the personal and corporate prayer of the church family. Rebuilding this value and crying out to God would be essential if any program or structural changes in evangelism are to work. Therefore looking at the issue points out that the solution had a little bit of both the organic and organizational side.

So as we look at Lyle’s main points it is helpful to acknowledge that they will work in any church that really wants to grow, and is willing to do whatever it takes to see that happen

Schaller’s 10 Steps Off A Plateau

1.    Use a “both and” rather than an “either or” approach
·      Most persons will accept change that comes as an addition to what is already begun but will resist the change if it is seen as a replacement of the familiar way of doing ministry.
·      This characteristic of human behavior explains why churches in an effort to bridge the generations replace the existing traditional service with a blended service which inevitably is still to modern for the tradition loving folks and not contemporary enough for the contemporary loving component.
·      Using “both and” increase the scope of your ministry and avoids most of the anger and angst that change by “either or” is sure to bring

2.    Broaden the base of goal ownership.
·      A wise proverb tells us people oppose what they don’t understand. Increasing the base of persons who have a commitment to the goals of the Church in its missiological pursuit will result in both a greater enthusiasm and also a greater participation by the membership.
·      Listening to and giving people an opportunity to participate in the setting of the goals is also a great tool to increase involvement. I have heard it said is that the difference between good goals and bad goals is based on who set them. So good goals are my goals and bad goals are your goals.

3.    Focus on the possibilities and opportunities not the problems and limitations
·      Every church has an abundant opportunity to grow. Looking at who the unreached persons in a community are will open up a myriad of opportunities
·      Every church has problems. Rarely if ever does problem solving move the church off the plateau. It is the focus on the possibility that drives an organization forward.
·      Talk to any growing church and they will tell you growth brings with it problems but these problems are welcomed as opportunities to enhance our effectiveness

4.    Concentrate your planning in the areas where you have control not on the areas you don’t have control
·      The “somebody else” syndrome will paralyze any church quickly.
·      If the leaders will take control over what they can do that will make a difference instead of making excuses as to what they can’t do a great deal of progress can be made.

5.  Monitor the program to insure people are being given real choices

·      The choice most churches give people is “take it or leave it”. Increasing the options available for people to experience the grace of God will increase the scope and effectiveness of your ministry
·      Some examples might include; adding an additional worship service at a different time or of a different style, or increasing the homogeneous appeal of the church by adding ministries that appeal to a new group of potential disciples.

6.    Encourage tolerance (if not acceptance) of new programs and activities

·      Rarely if ever will a leader be able to get total acceptance for any change. If however the assumption is that I need total acceptance to make changes then the church will remain plateaued
·      Toleration underscores the principle is that people need real choices and while they might not like everything they recognize that what is liked and enjoyed may be different for different people.
·      It is also a helpful suggestion to institute change for a specified trial period to see if it really will work. 6-12 months is normal here. If it works almost everyone will now believe it needs to be continued. If it did not it gives us an opportunity to discard it or rework it. As a leader knowing new programs have an evaluation and sunset time built in gives an additional impetus to insure we give what we are attempting our best effort.

7.    Plan and program for specific subgroups of people not the entire congregation
·      Donald McGavran observed that the church by its very nature is heterogeneous but also having many homogeneous groups within it.
·      Simple examples might include old or young, rich or poor, men or women, married or single, married with children or without. As you can see the list could go on but it does point out that rarely is a church solely homogeneous.
·      Expanding the appeal by adding additional ministries or programs that meet the needs of those whose needs are now unmet will increase the appeal of the church both to its members and potential members.

8.    Celebrate positive accomplishments
Lyle Schaller
·      Organizations have a self-image of themselves. That image it built largely by two factors,
                                      i.     What they do and the results of what they do
                                    ii.     What is said to them and about them
·      Celebrating the accomplishments of what God has done not only encourages people to do more of it but over time builds a positive self identity that moves the church from maintenance and trying to hold on to a “We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength”.
·      You have a choice you can either build people up or beat people up. What you do determines the kind of congregation you will have and the achievements of that group of devoted followers

9.    Identify your strengths and specialize your ministry around them.
·      Every church has both strengths and weaknesses. Focusing on what God has blessed you with (your strengths) makes you a good steward of your talents and treasure.
·      Looking at the few things you can do well and doing them well will pay dividends in both achievement and self-identity, as you will find God has uniquely gifted you to do something different and better than the other churches around you. These gifts are your “Acre of Diamonds”

10. Carefully and regularly review the actual purpose of the church
·      What you devote your time talent and treasure to tells the real story of the churches understanding of its mission.
·      Jesus told us that where we put our treasure would be the telltale sign of where our heart was.
·      Would a stranger looking only at what you do be able to tell whom you serve and what cause or purpose you are trying to fulfill.

As you look at these 10 steps Lyle Schaller suggests which of them spoke most directly to you and your current situation? What could you do in the next 30-60 days that will make a big difference in the church 6 months to a year from now?

I deeply believe that God wants his church to grow in every way. In our love for one another, in our growth as disciples and in our mission to the lost Christ would have us be fully devoted as his disciples.

My study has shown that the majority of churches who are plateaued never take the steps to turn things around unless a crisis forces the issues. Change by choice is always a better way to go.

If I can help you with this or other issues relating to the mission we all share of taking the gospel to all persons please feel free to contact me.

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