Unearthing the realities of a declining organization is only the beginning. Church leaders must recognize the need for change – change for the better – the need for improvement. One major objective for each of us in all aspects of life is improvement.
We are incessantly seeking to improve some feature or component of life; be it physical, intellectual, or spiritual. When we discover certain truths of undesirable development (such as decline in the church), we have two choices: ignore it and let things continue in the direction they are headed or seek and develop strategic plans for improvement. The first choice is like sticking our heads in the sand. The second response usually requires a change of course and this often goes against our nature. We are creatures of habit, not of change.
Our very nature gives us an aspiration to envision a more desirable outcome. However, our mental or psychological make-up may not be prepared to take on the needed changes to reach the desired objective. When a person or organization desires to make changes to any recognized unhealthy patterns or practices, the necessary resolve to undertake the risks of the needed change may stop us from moving forward. The unhealthy pattern is in most cases better understood (by the church) than healthy behaviors, and because we have been operating out of this pattern, though it is unhealthy, it may even feel safer no matter how detrimental. Our psychological security system informs us it is safer to stay with what we know.
Remember the Israelites after Moses had led them by God’s direction out of the land of Egypt where they were horribly treated and beaten as slaves. They said to Moses: “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Isn’t this what we told you in Egypt: Leave us alone so that we may serve the Egyptians? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Ex 14:11-12 (HCSB)
Even after God delivered the Israelites, this time by parting the Red Sea and allowing them to cross over on the dry ground and drowning Pharaoh’s army, how many more times did they pose the same complaint to Moses? While we want a better life, even a godly life, our flesh tries to convince us to stay with what we know. The unhealthy pattern is perceived as our “safe zone.”
Perhaps the greatest thing you can do for your church at this point is to bring in a coach for objective assistance in making the right decisions and moving the church forward. The coaching process supports the individuals and the organization as the needed changes to produce healthy and productive behaviors are discovered, explored, and implemented.
Seeing the straightforward realities can be an eye-opening experience for individuals and the church as a whole and this, in many cases, should be a jarring awareness. The reality of our situation in a declining church should jar us as the unexpected sound of a loud horn blowing without warning. Realizing there is a call for further development and change leads us to the next step of our vigorous face-to-face with reality.
This article is excerpted from chapter 8 of Reaching the Summit: Avoiding and Reversing Decline in the Church.