Day: November 19, 2007

What’s the expiration date on your church?

 Wouldn’t it be interesting Expiration dateif the expiration date for a church were stamped on it as clearly as it is on a package of meat at the grocery?  The expiration date tells you how fresh the package you hold in your hand really is.  If you’re like us, Debbie and I always dig in the back of the case for products with an expiration date as far in the future as possible. Unfortunately for churches, that’s not always possible.  As a pastor or church leader, you don’t get to choose the freshest church.  You’re already in a church and it may be closer to its expiration date than you think. 

Eight Stages in the Lifespan of a Church

Dr. Israel Galindo, in his excellent book The Hidden Lives of Congregations, identifies 8 stages in the lifespan of a congregation:

  1. Establishing.  This is the start-up, the everything-is-new-and-aren’t-we-excited stage.  Lots of energy, lots of enthusiasm, simple mission — survive.
  2. Formation.  Once survival seems fairly certain, now what?  At this stage congregations begin to self-organize like ants-in-a-hill.  Things start to stabilize and there is a collective sense of “we’re actually going to make it work.”
  3. Adolescence.  What does this sound like?  High energy, lots of activity, lots of trying out new stuff, lots of growing up. 
  4. Prime.  Everything is working at this stage.  Energy, organization, guidance, relationships, and manageable anxiety.  The key here is staying here.  Often churches only recognize this stage after they are through it, as in “Remember back in the ’60s when the building was full?”
  5. Maturity.  This is the well-oiled machine, aging, but still running strong.  Maybe not quite as strongly as before, but everything looks okay.  Unless you realize that the trajectory is toward decline and dissolution.  This is often a stage of denial and self-satisfaction.  “We’re not as big as we used to be, but the quality of our members is much better.” 
  6. Aristocracy.  Not all churches become aristocratic, and probably none should.  This is the era of the archives room, commemorating the glory years of the congregation.  Links to prestigious pastors, pride in classic buildings, and other characteristics of the “church as museum” come to play. 
  7. Bureaucracy.  Even if you skip the aristocracy phase, this is an unavoidable and unmistakable stage.  The numbers tell the story — lower attendance, offerings, budgets, baptisms, and energy.  The denials might still continue, but the decline is obvious and depressing.  The solution?  Let’s tighten the rules.  Watchdog the budget.  Form more committees.  Rewrite the constitution.  Energy goes to rearranging the deck chairs while the Titanic takes on water.
  8. Dissolution.  The end.  Period.  No more church.  Property is sold or bequeathed, missions gets a big check, and folks go away from the funeral saying, “She died with dignity.”  Or maybe not.  But the result is still the same.  A church out of business.

The stages are Dr. Galindo’s, the descriptions are mine.  While the specific timeline may vary from church-to-church, the results are the same.  But there is hope.  These stages are not inevitable if church leaders, including the pastor, can recognize the stage a church is in and offer leadership appropriate to that stage. 

The question your church has to ask itself is “What stage are we in and what should we do to revitalize ourselves?”  That’s what we’re dealing with here in Chatham.  I’ll let you know how it comes out.  And while you’re waiting, get a copy of Galindo’s book.  You’ll be glad you did. 

“Kindle: iTunes for words” plus writers, readers, and the web

Okay, I’m already lying here.Kindle by Amazon  I promised I would only post once a week on this blog, but I run across stuff that really excites me more than once a week.  So, here are a couple of related pieces on writers, readers, and the web just today —

— My friend rlp has a great post, Web 2.0, on writing in the brave new world of the web.  If you’re a blogger, writer, or just love words, check out his post.  I also shared it under the Trends of Interest feed to the left. 

rlp also clipped this video, which I am now clipping.  This is good, clever, and seriously creative and explains what has happened to information in the last 10-years.

 Today Amazon officially announced Kindle, their new e-reader.  Very cool.  And of course, it’s tied to Amazon.  Kind of like iTunes for words.  The interesting thing is Amazon needs content to feed Kindle.  So not only is it a book reader, but it’s also a blogreader (yes, my fellowbloggers), a newspaper reader, and a Wikipedia reader all-in-one.  Plus it stores you own docs, and works off cell technology.  You don’t need a computer — no need to sync to a desktop or lappy, but you can if you want to.  Amazon’s Jeff Bezos says Kindle is a service.  Hardware is not the star, writing is.  What a great time to be a writer!

The Kindle has limitations as does every other device out there, and Kevin Kelly comments that he is still waiting for the cloudbook that will do everything.  Me, too.  Imagine a bigger iPhone that is also a reader, plus computer, plus cellphone, plus internet access, plus toaster.  Okay, maybe not the toaster, but everything else.  It’s coming.  Kevin Kelly writes about this Always On Book and has blogged about the future of books here and here.  I love his labels — People of the Book and People of the Screen

What are the implications for church?  This is the shift in the creation, storage, distribution, remixing, and redistribution of information.  It is democratic, not top down, not expert-driven, and uncontrollable (at least by those who might want to control the free-flow of information).  What do you think the possibilities are? 

“An Opportunity to Testify” podcast

The podcast of An Opportunity To Testify, based on Luke 21:5-19, is the sermon I preached last Sunday, November 18, 2007.  The scripture is from the revised common lectionary Year C.  The text of the sermon is here