The “It” Factor

The “It” Factor

In the previous post, an “it” factor was identified as a missing ingredient to CCK’s work with helping to revitalize congregations.

So, what is “it?”

Congregational revitalization is, by design, an attempt to redefine the purpose of the church and refocus its mission and ministry. A more modest goal is a waste of time.

Redefinition and refocus require a reallocation of pastoral priorities, the time volunteered by members of the congregation and where volunteer time is directed. They require a reallocation of resources. Money that once supported ministry “A” will now be reallocated to initiate new ministry “Y.” Volunteer time spent supporting the institutional church shifts to mission and ministry beyond the church. Redefinition and refocus (renewed purpose and meaning of the church) will require a different way to determine how these various resources will be reallocated and who gets to make those decisions. 

A congregation going through redefinition and refocus becomes very anxious. Before the revitalization process is initiated, the congregational seas are relatively calm and navigable. Afterward, the seas are stormy and threaten to capsize the church. It takes special skills to navigate the emotional swells and winds of change that revitalization unleashes.

Congregations, like all organizations, love the status quo. One example, Mrs. Smith has poured her heart and soul into ministry “A” for 10 years. It defines her place within the congregation. However, ministry “A” has lost its significance to the church as a whole. It primarily exists for Mrs. Smith. She will not relinquish the support of ministry “A” without a fight to save it. So, she gathers her network of support to preserve ministry “A.” Her supporters are just that, her supporters. Not people who necessarily support ministry “A” any longer. The influential members of her support circle gesture to leave or withhold financial support when their influence to preserve ministry “A” is threatened. (Note it’s rarely about ministry “A” and almost always about who gets to set the church’s agenda. It’s about preserving one’s seat of influence.)

Dealing with the members of a church with such a high anxiety level requires a different set of skills then the pre-revitalization congregation requires. Pastors who are not prepared, not equipped and not committed to this process will be threatened by the intensity of the emotional swells and winds of change. This is the wrong foundation for the kind of leadership necessary to lead the emerging church.

In my experience, most pastors begin revitalization with a genuine commitment to a new ministry and mission focus. What is often lacking is adequate time to mentally and emotionally prepare (toughen up) for the stormy seas ahead. In addition, the pastor(s) is not granted adequate time to develop the skill sets required to lead a congregation through the highly anxious times the process generates and gain confidence in their use. 

These scenarios are very common in revitalization processes. They are based on observations, not speculation. They are also textbook responses to a disruption of the status quo in any organization. That is the human nature side of the equation. Revitalization is a spiritual and rational approach to change within an emotional context. The clash between the rational (winds of change) and emotional realms (swells) create the stormy seas the pastor must now navigate.  Loving all. Keeping all at the table. Helping the opposing voices negotiate out their differences from a deep-seated love for each other, God and the church is hard, demanding, and skilled work that does not come with the pastor’s seminary diploma. 

Surfing the Edge intuited the need to prepare and equip the pastors involved. It worked with the pastors on a track that paralleled the work of the congregation. What it did not account for was the time pastors needed to process the changes, gain confidence in the use of these new skills they were learning, believe in the mission and ministry emerging, and grow into the new leadership role the revitalized church would require.

The CCK staff learned this lesson after the fact, after Surfing the Edge ended and we were assessing what worked, what didn’t work and why….but we did get it.

We were reminded just how vital an empowered and trusted minister is to a vital congregation.

So, what did the CCK board and staff do in response to this important lesson learned? That will be the topic of the next post.

God bless!