Churches must prepare for change, consultants say : Tuesday, Nov 25, 2003
November 25 2003 by Steve DeVane

Churches must prepare for change, consultants say : Tuesday, Nov 25, 2003
Tuesday, Nov 25, 2003

Churches must prepare for change, consultants say

By Steve DeVane
BR Managing Editor

WINSTON-SALEM - Any declining church can turn around, but not all have the energy, a N.C. Baptist consultant said.

Lynn Sasser, senior coach for the Baptist State Convention's Pursuing Vital Ministry (PVM) program, and Bill Moore, a PVM consultant, led a breakout session on PVM at the Baptist State Convention annual meeting Nov. 12

"It's a transformational journey," Sasser said. "In order to benefit from it, you must be in some state of readiness."

Sasser said PVM is not a "quick fix." The process, which he said is not for every congregation, usually takes 12 to 18 months. It will take longer in churches that are in an advanced state of decline.

Moore described PVM as "a congregation's spiritual and strategic journey to discern and live into its full kingdom potential." Successful churches must have a desire to reach their potential and be willing to change, he said.

While each church's journey is unique, there is a common framework used in PVM, Moore said. One part is the realization that transition comes before change, he said.

The transition process helps people get ready to change. Churches that try to change without a transition often encounter resistance to change, Moore said.

PVM also helps churches see that the journey doesn't start with answers, but discovers them along the way, he said. The process is not about church growth or church health, but about helping the church become what God wants it to become, Moore said.

PVM uses a coaching, rather than consulting philosophy. Coaches observe, listen and ask questions rather than giving answers and advice and monopolizing conversations, Moore said.

"The most effective thing a coach will do is ask the right question at the right time," he said.

Coaches inform, challenge and encourage the congregation, but don't take sides, criticize, judge or dictate the process.

Coaches let congregations own the process and discover their journey for themselves, Sasser said.

Sasser gave an overview of the life cycle and stages of development for churches.

The stages are characterized by how the congregation arranges its vision, relationships, management and programs. Sasser used the metaphor of a sports utility vehicle to show how each area should be prioritized. A healthy church has vision in the driver's seat with relationships as the co-pilot and management behind the vision with programs to the rear of relationships.

The process could take three to five years in churches that have declined significantly, he said.

Churches that have reached the "old age" stage just before death are dominated by management with little vision, relationships or programs.

"There are a significant number of old age congregations who don't have enough energy for a three to five year process, but there are those that do," he said.

Sasser said that only 20 to 30 percent of N.C. Baptist churches are in the stages ranging from birth to adulthood.

In the birth and infancy stages, vision and relationships are strong. Programs also gain strength in adolescence. In adulthood, all four areas are dominant and properly aligned.

"This is utopia," Sasser said. "This is what we're looking for."

When a congregation moves beyond adulthood and reaches maturity, vision becomes diminished.

"Most congregations don't even realize when they move from adulthood to maturity because good stuff is still happening," he said.

At this stage, management begins to control the movement. The focus shifts from risky, new initiatives to sustaining the institution.

"That, dear brothers and sisters, is the kiss of death," Sasser said.

In the empty nest stage, relationships and management are dominant. Congregations will become angry and look for something or someone to blame for their situation. Many will redouble their efforts.

"Tell me, if you're going twice as fast in the wrong direction, will that get you where you want to go? No," he said.

In retirement, programs and management take charge with vision and relationships becoming passive. Some feel that new people would be disappointed in the congregation, but still want to find a way to fill their sanctuary.

"All over North Carolina, we've got buildings that seat 800 with 300 rattling around in them or buildings that seat 300 with 45 people rattling around," Sasser said.

Some churches at this stage will urge a new pastor to lead them into a new era of transformation. Many congregations don't realize what they're asking for.

About 18 to 24 months into changes initiated by younger leaders, the older stakeholders realize that things aren't going as they thought they would. The older crowd will then take steps to stop the change, even removing the younger leaders if necessary.

"It happens," Sasser said. "It's really not a bunch of mean people. It's just a pattern that happens time and again."

11/25/2003 12:00:00 AM by Steve DeVane | with 0 comments

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