From a coalition to a congregation in 5 difficult steps

Yesterday we looked at characteristics of coalition vs. congregation churches.   Assume for a moment, hypothetically of course, that your church is a coalition of factions, each one protecting its own turf and sharing power in a tentative stand-off.  How do you as pastor or lay leader move your church from being a coalition to an authentic congregation? 

Here are the 5 steps to changing a coalition church into a congregation:

  1. Identify the factions.  Factions are characterized by a zealous control of their particular turf, which might be the youth program, music ministry, or church flowers.  Doesn’t have to be big to be a faction.  Factions don’t share, collaborate, or include others.  Factions go it alone, resist change, and protect their territory.
  2. Pray [to God] and listen [to others].  No kidding.  Pray for wisdom.  Ask God for an opportunity to engage each faction.  Find out what’s behind the “faction fortress” that each group has erected.  Listen to their stories with your heart and your ears.  Chances are you’ll hear stories of heritage, pride, preservation, and devotion.  Granted, all those things may have gone a little off track, but they’re probably there.  And those things are important to the faction telling their story.
  3. Promote the common good.  These are usually identified in the New Testament as the “one another” passages.  Love one another, care for one another, etc, etc.  Factions can be gathered around the common good if they do not feel threatened, attacked, or endangered. 
  4. Work with those willing to move forward.  Coalitions are based on a “balance of power.”  Like the Iraqi government, some factions may pull out.  If and when they do, the balance of power will shift.  Work with those groups who are willing to work for the common good. 
  5. Care for those who withdraw.  In a coalition church, somebody is going to lose when the church decides to be a congregation.  Threatened factions will threaten back — “We’ll leave the church, if you do this,” they’ll threaten.  Your job is to continue to care for them.  To love them, to be patient, to help them in their grief and loss, because that is exactly what it feels like to those factions who lose.  This is not a time for winners or losers, but a time for caring for one another.  In other words, you get to live out what you’re trying to do. 

Most of all, be careful and loving and patient.  This is a delicate process.  Civil war can erupt if the coalition is not dismantled carefully.  Two excellent books dealing with this type of adaptive challenge are Leadership on the Line, and Leadership without Easy Answers.  Let me know how your church makes the transition!