Today the stock market fell another 500 points. Iceland may go bankrupt, NPR reported today. Euro-countries are aligning their financial strategies so they speak with one economic voice. Government leaders are already talking about more federal dollars, in addition to the $700-billion just voted by Congress. And the bad news keeps coming. Churches, I pointed out yesterday, will feel the fallout from this economic meltdown. But, is there an upside? Not to trivialize the situation, but yes, I think there is an upside for churches in this economic turndown.
- Churches will be forced to focus. We’re cutting our church budget this year by about 10%. To do that, we have to look carefully at what is really important to our mission and message. That kind of attention and discipline will make us more effective in ministry.
- People will turn to churches for help. Plan now for ways to help those who need money for utilities, food to feed their families, and warm coats for the cold winter. This preparation must go beyond the typical food pantry, clothes closet that most churches have, although those can be a good starting point.
- Communities will pull together. When Katrina hit, our church called together the entire community to discuss ways we might help. People want to help others, and churches can unite the community in that effort.
- Church can demonstrate an alternative to the consumer society. If church is an alternative community living out the message of Christ, what better example is there than living out an alternative to the current consumerist approach that drives the global economy. Generosity, hospitality, sharing, sacrificing, giving, saving, stewardship of resources are all attributes of a Christian lifestyle.
Is this economic downturn good? Not in my opinion because lots of real people will lose savings, retirement accounts, their homes, and their jobs. But, churches can become a powerful force in the months, and possibly years, it will take to recover from the current turmoil. This will not go away quickly according to most experts. Churches can make a difference. What about yours?
“It is no longer the time of the heroic leader — the leader who walks in and takes up all the space in the room. The job of today’s leaders is to create space for other people — a space in which people can generate new and different ideas…” The Changing Nature of Leadership, p. 19
That’s one of the conclusions in a report from The Center for Creative Leadership. The bottom line: leadership is changing and leaders that adapt to the changing times will:
- View leadership as a collaborative process. The lone visionary is out, the collaborative leader who listens and empowers is in.
- Recognize that 21st century challenges require adaptive, not technical, changes. Adaptive changes are systemic, and require new solutions that we may not have thought of yet. Technical changes are improvements or adjustments to strategies we already know. Sunday School might be a good example. Does Sunday School need an overhaul (technical change) or is there a better strategy for teaching the Bible in the 21st century than “classes” on Sunday morning (adaptive change).
- Develop a new skill set for leading. Participation, building/maintaining relationships, and change management replaces the old skill set of resourcefulness, decisiveness (“lone-ranger decision-making”) and doing whatever it takes.
- Reward teamwork, collaboration, and innovation. Collaborative, participatory teamwork emerges as the preferred strategy of the future and successful leadership will reward shared team efforts.
The CCL report is geared to secular organizations, but the same principles can apply to churches. Typically, churches are behind the curve in understanding and incorporating new leadership strategies. Eighty-four percent of leaders surveyed by CCL agreed that the definition of leadership has changed in the last five years. Several months ago I wrote about “Vision: An Overblown Concept”
because I thought church leadership needed to move from the “visionary leader” model to the “collaborative model” of leadership. Looks like someone else agrees with me. What do you think?
Last year, after talking about how our church partnered with various groups in our community, someone remarked, “That’s fine for your church, but nobody in our community would work together.” In the interest of challenging that statement, here are 21 groups that I think your church (or any church) might partner with on community transformation:
- Schools — including the PTA, PTO, and other school organizations.
- Civic clubs — our Rotary Club gives away over $12,000 per year to local organizations.
- Local charitable organizations — shared agendas create new partnerships. Join with others to feed the hungry or shelter the homeless. Our church does both working with other groups.
- Local corporations and businesses — our Boys and Girls Club is supported in part by local business contributions. We get donations from other companies for other projects, too.
- Other churches — I know this is a stretch, but yes, churches can work together, too. Our community center began as an informal coalition of local churches.
- Law Enforcement agencies — the local sheriff’s department worked with our Boys and Girls Club on a baseball project last summer.
- Local fire department — our local fire department was a co-sponsor for the Boys and Girls Christmas Party this year. They bought toys for each of the 86 kids who attended.
- Hospitals — many hospitals provide programs for clergy. Why not a community project that involves healthcare, such as blood pressure screenings, etc?
- Transportation companies — some churches provide a “free ride day” with the cooperation of their local transit provider.
- Hobby clubs — local hobbyists could provide instruction or donate products they made for specific projects. One of our members organizes a blanket project, with all the blankets made by others. Blankets go to children involved in calls made by the Sheriff’s department.
- Hunting and fishing clubs — In rural areas, local hunters and fishermen provide game or fish for a community wild game dinner or fish fry.
- Professional partners — doctors, lawyers, and other professionals could partner with churches to provide legal advice for seniors, or health programs for the community.
- Banks and financial institutions — Banks often look for ways to do good in their communities, and you can tap that civic spirit in the form of sponsorships or volunteers.
- 12-step programs — Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other 12-step type programs depend on church facilities for meeting space. But, there could also be other tie-ins with these groups.
- Local politicians — we invited local county supervisors to our community center groundbreaking and some came! During an election year especially, local politicians can lend their names to worthwhile projects. Maybe some money, too.
- Other religious groups — the church we attended in Nashville years ago partnered with other churches, synagogues, and mosques to create an interfaith dialogue group that met for dinner once a year.
- Colleges and universities — our community music school is a collaboration with Virginia Tech’s Outreach Department. Universities often need to do community outreach as part of their mission in their state.
- Community Development Corporations — these are groups whose mission and projects aim at community transformation. A lot of variety exists in CDC programs, from low-income housing, to rehabbing old buildings, to targeting specific civic problems.
- Social service organizations — our church hosts the annual Social Services Volunteer Luncheon each year, sponsored by our local county Social Services Department. We call them to check out folks who request help, and they call us when they have a need with which they need assistance.
- Scouts — often Scouts need projects to earn merit badges and churches need things done. Check with your local scout leaders.
- Professional sports teams — our local minor league baseball team sponsors church night and gives church groups discounts. But, this partnership could be expanded to provide visits to children in the local hospital, or to your church after-school program.
Here are photos of the Christmas party at our church for 83 kids from the Boys and Girls Club. This year a local business, First Piedmont, sponsored the party, and our own Chatham Fire Department donated the gifts. The kids had a blast, as you can see.
A walled garden is a site or company that offers content only to its subscribers, who have to “come inside the wall” to get the content they want. The old AOL was like that — you had to subscribe to get access to their content. But information wants to be free, and those walled gardens that charged for access were quickly bypassed for the open internet.
Churches face a similar transition. The old church model was the walled garden. People were invited to come inside [join] to get access to all the stuff inside — pastoral care, committee participation, right to vote, name on a membership list, or whatever the “inside” stuff was. The ministry of the church was what happened inside the wall — Bible studies, small groups, worship, fellowship, decision-making, and so on. Success was measured by how many people were inside the walls at any one time.
But all that is changing. Today churches that are walled gardens are being bypassed. Open access, decentralized leadership, participation, collaboration, bridges, and networking are the new order of the day. Walled gardens struggle for survival while new, more open forms of church are emerging. Many of us are trying to at least open the garden gate, if not tear down the garden walls altogether. What’s your church doing?
Christianity Today just posted my article, “Learn To Partner,” on their website. The print version appeared in Leadership’s spring 2007 issue. If you don’t subscribe to Leadership, or haven’t read the article, it’s the story of what we are doing here in Chatham. Hope you find it helpful.
Here are the latest photos of the community center we’re building on Main Street in Chatham. I founded a non-profit, Chatham Cares, in 2005. In 2006 we received a $3-million grant to construct a community center for the entire county. This is the only recreation facility in our county of 60,000 people that is not a school. This effort is part of our commitment to be the abbey church in our community, and to collaborate with other groups to transform our town. A sketch of the building and groundbreaking photos are here.