“Growth in membership is the primary indicator of congregational health and vitality.” The pandemic is challenging this and other longstanding assumptions about engagement, belonging, and membership. We must carefully examine all of our assumptions—otherwise, we risk creating barriers to belonging for people trying to engage with us in new ways.
We have been reactive. How else can one be during a pandemic? The opinions of outside experts have guided our actions since this all began, and their positions change daily. When to close, how to take church online, protocols to follow before opening. Now, things are slowing down a bit and it is time to become more reflective—tapping into our own wisdom and exploring the potent learning opportunities at hand. The shift begins by asking better questions.
Crisis moments call for strong, decisive action—people want to know that someone is in charge and things are being managed. But once the initial crisis calms, a period of disorientation sets in as we find our way to a new normal. The resolute leadership style that worked well during the initial crisis won’t work well in this ongoing unsettled space.
Congregations are often confused about the power dynamics of supervision. Supervisors know they are supposed to ensure good performance. At the same time, supervisors want to model compassionate, kind, collaborative behavior. Employees want to know what is expected of them but don’t like being controlled or micromanaged. Congregants don’t want anyone abusing power. It’s tough to put all those expectations together into one supervisory approach.
Strategic planning: in some congregations it’s the “go-to” solution whenever leaders feel stuck. We need to grow. We want more families with young children. We don’t know what to do next. Let’s plan! But strategic planning is usually a poor choice for getting unstuck. It takes a lot of time and energy—and in many cases postpones action when action is most needed.
When were your glory days? Pose this question and a congregation’s leaders will often tell stories of high attendance, engaged participation, and buildings that couldn’t hold it all. Glory-era memories are almost always recounted as blissful, happy times of pure goodness. However, parts of the story rarely get told—including how the seeds of decline may have been planted amidst the goodness.
Chaos is a natural by-product of innovation. Innovation happens best in conditions of upheaval, disturbance, and dissonance. However, people expect their leaders to keep things calm, predictable, and orderly. How do we coax order out of chaos without squelching innovation?