Thursday, March 13, 2008

Seven habits of highly ineffective churches—Post 4.

Saturday’s edition (March 8) of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (PI for short) carried an article by Anthony B. Robinson titled, “Seven habits of highly ineffective churches.” Robinson’s article is witty, thought provoking and TRUE! I am continuing to use Robinson’s article as the springboard for my blog postings.

Habit #6: “Make it clear to all that the job of the pastor(s) and staff is to keep everyone, meaning church members, happy.”

Let’s think for a moment…

  • Did Jesus work at keeping church people happy?
  • Did Moses work at keeping God’s people happy?
  • Did Hezekiah work at keeping God’s people happy?
  • Did the Apostle Paul work at keeping the church people happy?
  • Did Martin Luther work at keeping the church people happy?
  • Did John Calvin work at keeping the church people happy?
  • Did John Wesley work at keeping the church people happy?

The job of the pastor(s) is to do the will of God. There are many times when doing God’s work will make church people unhappy. There are times when doing God’s work will make church people angry. God never said that serving him would be easy.

We need to take a quick look at the concept of “church members.” There was a time in American culture where people joined clubs and various groups. Those days are behind us.

Robert Putnam, in Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital, said:

Next, we turn to evidence on membership in (and volunteering for) civic and fraternal organizations. These data show some striking patterns. First, membership in traditional women's groups has declined more or less steadily since the mid-1960s. For example, membership in the national Federation of Women's Clubs is down by more than half (59 percent) since 1964, while membership in the League of Women Voters (LWV) is off 42 percent since 1969.

Similar reductions are apparent in the numbers of volunteers for mainline civic organizations, such as the Boy Scouts (off by 26 percent since 1970) and the Red Cross (off by 61 percent since 1970). But what about the possibility that volunteers have simply switched their loyalties to other organizations? Evidence on "regular" (as opposed to occasional or "drop-by") volunteering is available from the Labor Department's Current Population Surveys of 1974 and 1989. These estimates suggest that serious volunteering declined by roughly one-sixth over these 15 years, from 24 percent of adults in 1974 to 20 percent in 1989. The multitudes of Red Cross aides and Boy Scout troop leaders now missing in action have apparently not been offset by equal numbers of new recruits elsewhere.

Fraternal organizations have also witnessed a substantial drop in membership during the 1980s and 1990s. Membership is down significantly in such groups as the Lions (off 12 percent since 1983), the Elks (off 18 percent since 1979), the Shriners (off 27 percent since 1979), the Jaycees (off 44 percent since 1979), and the Masons (down 39 percent since 1959). In sum, after expanding steadily throughout most of this century, many major civic organizations have experienced a sudden, substantial, and nearly simultaneous decline in membership over the last decade or two.

The most whimsical yet discomfiting bit of evidence of social disengagement in contemporary America that I have discovered is this: more Americans are bowling today than ever before, but bowling in organized leagues has plummeted in the last decade or so. Between 1980 and 1993 the total number of bowlers in America increased by 10 percent, while league bowling decreased by 40 percent. (Lest this be thought a wholly trivial example, I should note that nearly 80 million Americans went bowling at least once during 1993, nearly a third more than voted in the 1994 congressional elections and roughly the same number as claim to attend church regularly. Even after the 1980s' plunge in league bowling, nearly 3 percent of American adults regularly bowl in leagues.) The rise of solo bowling threatens the livelihood of bowling-lane proprietors because those who bowl as members of leagues consume three times as much beer and pizza as solo bowlers, and the money in bowling is in the beer and pizza, not the balls and shoes. The broader social significance, however, lies in the social interaction and even occasionally civic conversations over beer and pizza that solo bowlers forgo. Whether or not bowling beats balloting in the eyes of most Americans, bowling teams illustrate yet another vanishing form of social capital.”

Mainline churches (us Presbyterians are one of these) have been referred to as “sideline” churches. These churches have had catastrophic membership losses. “Home headquarters” (a phrase coined by a former Elder at Evergreen) tries to put a positive spin on our decline. We are losing members.

Some of the membership loss is due to people going to other denominations or to non-denominational churches. Some people are just dropping out of church all together. Some people worship regularly worship at a church but never become a “member” of the church.

Here at Evergreen I prefer the phrase “church family” to “church members.” The “church family” is composed of those folks who regularly attend worship and are active in the life and ministry of the church. A person does not have to be a “member” of Evergreen in order to be part of our church family!

We have the man and woman at our church that had a HORRIBLE experience with the Presbytery to the north of us. They have been at Evergreen for many years—in worship every week and leading one of our largest Bible studies. They are finally to the point where the damage done by that other Presbytery is fading to the point where they will most probably join our church. Then there are those people who do not believe in denominations. I find it hypocritical when denominational leaders say that those leaving the PCUSA are splitting the church when splitting the church is exactly what occurs when there are denominations! By the way, could a reader please remind me of the verse in scripture that tells us that we are to have denominations? As a Presbyterian Church I realize that there are “rules” to be followed—and we follow those rules.

I am just trying to say that the “member” tag means less and less to today’s culture.

Habit #7: “Spend as little money as possible.”

I am sure that there is a scripture verse that says, “Thriftiness is next to godliness.” Churches like to do things “on the cheap.” And, this has nothing to do with stewardship! Generally speaking, you get what you pay for. Things that are cheap tend to fall apart. I have known church folks (long-time Presbyterians) who don’t want the church to spend a dime and yet they drive around in a $35,000 car. It drives me nuts when I go to a Presbytery meeting and find single-ply (third world quality) toilet paper in the bathroom stall--that just rubs me the wrong way! Poor quality sound systems make it hard for the elderly to hear. Poor lighting makes it impossible for people to see the facial expression of people leading worship.

The Presbyterian Church in Shelton, Washington, is building their first building (they have been meeting in the Nazarene Church). They HIRED an architect. They HIRED a general contractor and carpenters. They HIRED a firm to design their sound, projection and lighting. The Shelton church is adding additional conduit throughout the building so they can adapt to changing technologies and emerging needs. They are not able to get everything they would like in a church building; however, the things that they are getting are planned and installed by professionals and will serve the church for decades to come.

A church needs to model the concept of “good stewardship.” Church leaders need to be wise, and prayerful, in how they spend God’s money.


At 10:30 PM , Blogger Red_Cleric said...

Re: #7 the attic light was wired with speaker cable. The person who discovered it was a fire inspector. Boy was I ever embarrassed. The only good thing about that is that saint is rewireing heaven. LOL


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