A Plan for Change

Let me tell you something: I am not a pastor, I am more of a teacher, and I tend to teach the 100% solution, knowing full well that it does not seem to be applicable to pastors. To me, it does, and the only way to prove me wrong is if you implement my solution and fail. To succeed with another plan just tells me that there were alternatives, and to fail with your version of somewhat my plan means that it was not my plan.

Why am I saying this? So many times in my church and professional life I have heard that a plan would not work because the people would not come along, but whenever they were implemented, they worked bountifully.

Granted, my plans were never implemented in church, and maybe the people who visit the church are less up for change and more stubborn or less intelligent.

OK, what now is my plan?

First, let’s sell the buildings. Unless you have some ministry apart from church services that needs the building–like daycare, school, shelter, bingo hall–or want to run it as a convention center in the future, why do you need the building? You can use the time until the building is sold to build up a lively alternative, meeting in homes, cafés, wherever.

Second, get rid of paid staff. The money that you get from selling the building can provide for bridging the gap until your staff has found other income sources, which can be a job, building a business, having a few people supporting them, or selling their pastoral services like pastoral care at a market price.

Third, redefine the purpose of the institution called the church. Instead of the church providing all the activities and urging the members to participate, let the members fulfill their visions and the church helps them do so. The church could provide a list of projects, interested members, available resources, and connections as a kind of bulletin board.

Some of those projects could be even started by the former leaders of the church.

  • Teachers might have it in their hearts to build a small studio and produce teaching videos and messages.
  • The worship group could record worship sessions and make them available.
  • A pastor might build a home office for pastoral care or open his home for people in need or mentees, having them over for dinner and coaching.

Tons of projects are possible. Members can start them, as well as former leaders.

I will proceed to give you an example from the business world that seems odd at first: Buurtezorg.

Buurtezorg is a Dutch organization of local nurses that do the medical care for people that need help but are at home. I spare you of the history of why this organization has been founded, but the organization puts all the power into small groups of nurses that live close to and work in adjacent or the same districts. The only principle of leadership: you have to talk to another nurse in the organization before executing a decision. But listen carefully: you have to talk to that nurse, not do what they say.

Even when some nurses thought about adding maternal services and wanted to include midwives, the founder refused to make the decision for them. They added some midwives to their group, and soon, other groups started to do the same, asking the first group about their experiences.

The nurses are much happier with working for Buurtezorg than in the previous solutions, where they were micromanaged and planned centrally and had to follow the ideas of management. Even the patients love it.

The headquarters of Buurtezorg is responsible for a few services where size matters–pensions, insurances, and talking to the government.

Think church now. There are countries where pastors need to be ordained to perform weddings and funerals, and ordination is only possible for churches of a certain minimal size. In some countries, the same is true for tax deductions. A network could serve to reach that size. But otherwise, there would be no authority delegated to the network. All authority would lay with the single member, while membership would be reduced to the purpose of reaching that required size.

Members would decide on everything. Small groups would work together. Some things would be decided in unison, by the majority, or delegated to the specialist for the topic. The only requirement: nobody makes decisions on their own without former consultation of–somebody.

Wherever there are two or three gathered in my name, I am in their midst.

Let us for a moment come back to the idea of selling your building. Maybe, when you share this vision with your church, some groups of members will come to you and express their need for space. Calculate the rent they would pay for the space and look at whether that suffices to run the building. Invest some vision yourself of growth and new groups that would use some rooms, but do so only as long as you can afford it. Potentially, you can even get some organizations of other churches or businesses to rent from you.

Of course, one group can decide to support others financially, perhaps even tithe. Let the groups build a web, a tightly-knit community based on personal relationships rather than membership to the same organization or visiting the same Sunday morning service.

This kind of web could emerge organically from the visions of the people, instead of by order of a hierarchy.

“Build it, and they will come” maybe works for baseball fields, and perhaps has worked for the church in the past. But when we redefine what we build, it can work again: build the people by investing in their maturity, personality, freedom, and identity, and they will come.

But how can you sell this to your people? Don’t make this a ten-year plan. Aim for a year of change. Not everything has to be up and running after that year, but the mindset has to be changed. Start by refusing to do things for people when they come and say that somebody should. Stop telling them that people should execute their ideas as well. Ask them to find people who are invested in the idea so much that they would agree to give it a try. Let them have meetings, and only when they have a plan, come back to you with a list of what they need help with. Help when you can, but do not solve their problems for them. Mentor them, and introduce them to people, but do not lead them or take over or even tell them how to solve or do things.

Implement a change from ex-cathedra meetings led from the pulpit to dialogs with your people on topics, stop expecting that people are present. Encourage them to invest in their projects or neighbors instead of visiting yet another centralized meeting or activity.

Take advantage when new people come in, maybe even people that have no idea of the traditional church. Talk to your members that they are the mature ones and that you would love it if they invested in the new people, even if that meant letting go of beloved traditions. Ask them whether they had been hurt by the church or had thoughts on how to do church better. If they say yes, tell them that these new members are chances to try other ways. Why get them hurt by traditional ways first, why introduce them to suboptimal ways of doing church?

After a year, you should see an emerging living community. If not, you might ask yourself whether you ever had a community. Perhaps all you had was a pseudo-community held together by your effort, their guilt, and their habits.

I wrote this from a Spiral Dynamics perspective. The church is usually a blue institution and content-wise deeply blue with absolute truth. It depends on the church whether it displays orange traits, typically seen in individualism and business behavior, or even has progressed to green grace, harmony, inclusion, and consensus.

The approach that I am showing here can be used to strengthen orange traits like individualism, personal success, and business, and therefore allow to reach people that work from an orange worldview, namely modernity, or it can have a more yellow touch in meeting people where they are at, allowing for natural hierarchies, including people at all levels.

Of course, along with all this, your content, and your message might change as well.

I would love to help make the transition as an accompagnateur.