March 21, 2012

Surviving or growing into the future?

Last week I remembered a resource about “survival mode” vs. “growth mode” for congregations. There are lots of resources available about this topic, but my notes pointed me to a short, easy description I could remember and share with others.

So with due credit to the Rev. Gerald W. Keucher, here’s my simple digest of a framework provided in his book Remember the Future: Financial Leadership and Asset Management for Congregations.

Congregations in survival mode tend to:

  • Centralize power in the hands of a few.
  • Let the same people do everything, because “it’s easier” that way.
  • Assume “everyone knows” what’s happening.
  • Take a complacent or passive stance toward the future.

On the other hand, congregations in growth mode:

  • Disburse power and decision making.
  • Quickly bring people into activities and responsibilities.
  • Communicate intentionally, often and broadly.
  • Face the future with an active and urgent hopefulness.

One of the things I love about Jerry’s book is his reflection on how congregational leaders choose to face the future. He’s worked with lots of congregations in decline and notes that the forty-year decline of mainline churches “has deeply affected the psyches of those who lead our congregations. In many cases they’ve been ‘managing decline’ for so long that they’ve forgotten to look to the future….Moreover, the skills that allow a parish to survive are not the skills that will permit growth.”

The focus of the book is about understanding and managing church assets, such as investments and buildings. But in order to tackle those issues wisely, he poses this question:

Do you think your parish has a future?

It seems like a simple question. But has your vestry really pondered it? Your answer will make the difference in how you choose to lead. Will you sit back and let the future come to you? Or will you move forward in faith?

      It is not all one or the other. The future is not an event; the future is a Person. If we’re moving toward the future, we’re not studying for an exam: we’re working to build a better, closer relationship with the God revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord. If the future is moving toward us, we don’t need to fear: it is God coming to meet us.
      God is our future. Because he loves us so much, he is moving toward us every moment, calling out our name: “beloved,” “not forsaken.” God is the future that is coming at us.
      God is our future. Because we love him and want to be like him and want to be with him, we are moving toward him every moment. God is the future we long for and toward which we are moving.
      Because we have this confidence that God is moving toward us and we are moving toward God, we can do our part in leading our congregations into the future God is preparing for us.