Thursday, November 10, 2011

Evaluations and Conclusions About the State of Our Church

This is the time of year that we evaluate.  It’s usually a challenging time because many of our beloved programs come under intense scrutiny and some even end up on the chopping block to be discontinued.

We have been raising questions in our weekly staff meetings about the effectiveness of our current ministries and taking a hard look at the programming we offer.  We’ve been reviewing data, evaluating results, noticing trends, and even doing a little speculating.  It’s been an impassioned discussion at times.  It has also been an honest dialogue about the state of our church.  We recognize that most things are working well and others are not.  Throughout this process we have been gaining clarity and focus.  While this is still a work in process, here are a few observations.

I.  The Facts…

Fact # 1.  There has been a diminishing level of interest in many of the programs or ministries that we offer beyond Sunday.  The evidence is clear and the numbers tell the story.  Participation is weak.  Only a small portion of our people engage in these ministries (both in the past and currently).  Few sign up, and of those who do even fewer actually show up.  This has been a continuous trend for a long time.  Possible reasons for this:  (1) These ministries have simply run their course and lost effectiveness.  (2)  Our people are not interested in them.  (3)  Our people are too busy to be involved in them, or, (4) Our people simply don’t need them because the Sunday morning worship services, along with their personal devotions at home, are sufficient for their spiritual needs. 

In light of this, it is reasonable for us to ask whether the dedication of time, money, people, and energy is worth the effort.  Either way, it’s time for us to simplify/reduce/eliminate what is not working and focus our energies elsewhere.  It is conceivable that “the church” does not have to do everything for people.

Fact # 2.  Overall attendance in the weekend services has plateaued, growth has stalled, and in some instances attendance has even dropped a little.  

Fact # 3.  Second service still lacks the necessary critical mass to grow any farther.  I have come to acknowledge this fact, and we are all in agreement.  In spite of all the improvements we have made and the dedication of so many people to make Sundays successful, we still have an “A” service and a “B” service… and it still feels like it.  I don’t like that.  Given this reality, we are also asking ourselves whether the dedication of time, money, people, and energy towards the second service is worth the effort.

Fact # 4.  A lot of newcomers are not returning after visiting.  I realize that our church is not for everybody and I’m okay with that.  On the other hand, we should be keeping more than we are.  I think we are dropping the ball with our first-and-second-time guests.  There is a gigantic shortcoming in this area of our church. 

Fact # 5.  The front of our building looks tired.  The flowerbeds are neglected.  The patio appears neglected.  The atrium is dull and boring.

II. The Fix….

We are working on possible solutions.  While this is still a work in process too, here are a few ideas we are kicking around.

1.  Instead of relying upon programming, we should offer newcomers and members next step opportunities that are highly relational.  We should be thinking in terms of organic relationships more than a programming emphasis.

2.  Newcomers don’t want to be “assimilated” or pressured into deeper involvement too soon.  Initially, they may not care about our membership covenants, vision, small groups, core values, theology, or Bible classes.  What they do care about is whether or not we can help them address their needs.  Once people become regular attenders they will eventually ask the question, “What's next?”  At that time they will be ready for a “next step” towards Bible classes or volunteering, etc. 

3.  We should provide the best shepherding care we can offer.  While we are not responsible “for” people and the choices they make or have made, we are responsible “to” them in some measure.

4.  We need to train and deploy a cadre of hosts in our Sunday morning environment for the single purpose of hospitality and conversational engagement, and/or train our members to break from their holy huddles to engage newcomers.

5.  We will improve our First Impressions Ministry from top-to-bottom and put some of our best effort and energy into this area.
In Summary….

A main principle in church effectiveness is to let dying programs die, and to put those that are terminally ill out of their misery. Call in Dr. Kevorkian, the suicide doctor, if you have to. But whatever you do, do not let a dying program linger. It will only drain resources, cost more money, sap energy, and demoralize workers.  It doesn’t matter how beloved it is to some, if it’s not working it has to go.

Cutting our losses is easier said than done. Few of us are anxious to admit our mistakes or when something is not working.  So when a program, ministry, or service fails to live up to its expectations, we tend to hang on. No one wants to preside over the death of a once-thriving area. That sounds too much like failure or spiritual retreat.  But if we need to do it, we will.

We are not finished.  Cuts are sure to come.  We are still talking, evaluating, and brainstorming so we can be completely thorough and make informed, intelligent, and faith-based decisions. 

Whatever decisions we arrive at, it is for the long term benefit of our church.  Our goal is to be as healthy a church as we can possibly be and to bring honor to God by much fruitfulness.  

We'll keep you informed as things progress.

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