As the team at Holy Cow! Consulting works with congregations all over the country, we find ourselves experiencing two things quite frequently.
The first is the limitation of count data and the same old responses to that data. You don’t have to do a lot of research to find that a large number of mainstream denominations are experiencing decline in worship attendance, as well as a decline in membership numbers. Often the response from regional associations to this decline is that congregations can mitigate these losses by (1) sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and (2) connecting with the growing number of the spiritual but not-religious unchurched people in their communities.
Here we see the limitations of count data. At a national level, denominations know virtually nothing about the kinds of experiences members and visitors are having in their churches. They have no choice but to continue citing the same statistics with the same proposed solutions.
But in fact, churches do not benefit from a pep talk urging them to reach out. Reaching new members and incorporating them into the life of the church is already the first or second priority of 99% of the denominational churches in the USA. The real problem that needs to be addressed can only be discovered through witness data, the power of letting members and visitors speak.
When we listen, we discover the real issues: in the typical church, only half of the members are clearly satisfied and more than a third (37%) feel members are simply “going through the motions.” Until this changes, it will be impossible to make the case that the church is a better option for their lives than the local library, which performs many of the same functions of the church and with a 90% satisfaction level. There are exceptional churches that rise about these generalizations which we call transformational churches. However, our focus on count data means we are neither identifying them nor learning from them fast enough. This also indicates that our congregations are not adapting.
The second experience is a call from an interim pastor who has stepped into a church where the previous pastor left in a state of frustration. In this all too frequent situation, when we run the Congregation Assessment Tool (CAT) and look at the Vital Signs report of the results, it shows a church in the hospice quadrant. This means that unless the church makes changes in the system to achieve a higher level of missional flexibility, the next pastor will also fail, and the next, and the next. This is not the case of finding the leader that fits in the congregational culture but rather a situation where the congregation must decide it is time to change. Without this congregational self-awareness, we are sentencing leaders to failure.
These hospice congregations have made reaching new people their highest priority (as urged by their denomination), but they are a congregation where only 30% of the members feel positive about the church and over 50% of members feel the congregation is just going through the motions. This is not the setting where new people will feel the energy and vibrance of what Christ can bring to their lives within the body of a congregation. Outreach by this church is not only futile; it is likely poisonous.
The way to move past this same old plan that is failing our congregations is organizational intelligence. The enlightenment from Organizational Intelligence (OI) offers meaningful hope for breaking out of the tired clichés and sermonic urgings. OI helps identify practical strategies that hold real promise. It presses congregations to look deeper than count data- helping them take a meaningful look at where they are today, not where they wish they were, but where they truly are in terms of organizational health. And folded into next steps, OI can help move congregations to where they are called to be.
We are here to help when your congregation or regional association is ready to begin this journey.