Jan 222014

John 6:67 has to be one of the saddest verses in the Bible. Jesus has just delivered a bombshell: Eat my flesh and drink my blood or you have nothing to do with me. That cleared the house of all but the twelve disciples. Jesus turned to them and asked, “Do you want to leave me too?” Pastors seldom ask that question because they’re often afraid of the answer they’ll get. But here’s the harsh reality: some folks ought to leave.

Pastors and leaders of smaller churches often get paranoid about numbers. In a church of 100, a family of five either coming or leaving causes a ten percent swing in attendance. Get over it. Nothing but eternity is forever. John Wimber used to say, “Everyone who comes in the front door will eventually go out the back door. Our job is to lengthen the journey from the front door to the back door.”

The “back door” for some is understandable and unavoidable. People relocate for job, school, or family reasons. Some people even have the audacity to die. It’s those who make an exit for “silly” reasons that bug us. So we try to keep everyone happy so they’ll all stay.

On any given Sunday, ten to fifteen percent of the people in your church are in a season of thinking about finding another church. The reasons are numerous and range from their recognition of dysfunction within the church to the classic “I’m not getting fed.” (Which, by the way, is seldom the real reason.) Any change can provide an excuse for them to actually go. So we try not to rock the boat and languish in the status quo, suffering gridlock, rather than making needed changes. Fear that someone will leave the church holds us captive to the way we’ve always done things while needed changes are perpetually put off “until the right time.”

I’m not advocating a cavalier attitude. The answer is not to harden your heart. Some pain always accompanies the breaking of relationships. Were it not so, pastors would lack the compassion necessary to care for people. But pruning a tree actually stimulates growth and produces more fruit. Pruning, however, is not just randomly removing living branches. Pruning only has the desired effect when it’s planned and purposeful.

Here’s a novel thought. Find out what people like and don’t like about the church. Anonymous surveys are a good tool. One way to get maximum participation in the survey is to pass it out (along with pencils) during the service and take ten minutes for people to fill it out. It’s that important.

When you find out what the strengths are (what people like) you’ve identified tools you can use to help fix some of what people don’t like. Choose to change things in ways that support the vision of the congregation. Consider changing things that most people don’t like, but plan the change to bring that aspect of the church in line with supporting the vision.

What do you do about the ten to fifteen percent of things people don’t like that can’t be changed to support the vision of the church? Do some research. Find out what churches do a great job of that aspect of church. When you report back to the congregation (and you must) do it in one to two weeks in the same context in which the survey was taken—in the service. Yes, it’s that important. (That means you’ve got to clear your calendar to do some serious praying, thinking, and planning with your staff and/or key leaders for one to two weeks after the survey is taken.) The presentation of findings should be short, simple, and to the point:

  • Here are our strengths. This is what we do well, what you like, and what we’ll continue to do and build on as we follow our vision.
  • Here are things that you don’t like. Keeping things the way they are negatively impacts our vision, so here are some changes we’re planning to correct to transform a negative into a positive to pursue our vision.
  • Here are things that some of you don’t like that we don’t think can be transformed in the short term in ways that support the vision of this church.
    • Understand that “not now” does not necessarily mean “not ever”—but it may.
    • If “not now” is disheartening to you, here are some nearby churches that really do a good job in this area. You may want to see if that’s where you could better participate in the vision, mission, and ministry of the church.

That’s planned, purposeful pruning. Bold? Foolish? What do you think?



 Posted by at 4:27 pm