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The Process

Written by: Carl Shank

Consultants know how deceptive a survey “score” can be. Scores tell a story, but not the whole story. I once worked with an independent Bible church and had the people and leadership complete a number of surveys, including an NCD survey. The surveys showed a relatively healthy church, but a stagnating church. People said they got along fairly well with each other, but vital, healthy group life was lacking. The Sunday morning service was usually filled, but the church was not really growing. I suggested to the pastor a full weekend diagnostic where I would personally interview all of the church elders, pastors, and key lay leaders. Each interview lasted 40 minutes. I started on a Friday afternoon and finished around dinnertime Saturday evening. I interviewed people who had founded the church and brand new church attendees. I interviewed both men and women, from young adults to senior members. I then stayed in the home of one of the deacon couples.

And, I discovered near the end of the evening on Saturday why the church seemed healthy, full, financially stable, and replete with model Christians but had not been growing either numerically or spiritually for a number of years. Underneath the snapshot were fears from newer church people not really being fully accepted or used by God in that congregational family. The congregational “family” had certain acceptable and unacceptable practices, certain “right” and “wrong” theological views (unstated), and a certain painful past that made forward movement problematic. People “loved” the people they knew and trusted, and remained courteous but skeptical of newer people. The church had been expanded, supposedly for outreach purposes and for more children and youth. Yet the youth group met in the pastor’s office while the “favored” older church group met in the best, largest, and most expandable room. The new children’s nursery was poorly furnished and unbelievably small because it was built on the premise that not many children were now attending and probably wouldn’t attend in the future. The parking lot was too small because the church had used for years a wooded space next to the current parking lot for fellowship times. Cutting down the trees and paving over this space would cause unity problems.

The good news is that this church made some very radical changes and growth steps that helped it move forward, both numerically and spiritually. However, that movement was not without pain and not without “casualties.” Going from one full service to two smaller services was theoretically agreed upon by the church leadership, but instituted slowly and with a great deal of resistance. Some small groups started, but the movement has yet to be church-wide. All of these insights, however, came from a process of group and one-on-one meetings where people shared what they really felt and knew. My recommendations flowed from conversations around dinner and breakfast and lunch tables, as well as from observing how people interacted both inside and outside the church.

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