Saturday, May 24, 2008

The “Big 5” Kill Growth

I cannot get over how much feuding I see in the smaller (under 100 in worship attendance) United Methodist Churches I am encountering on my journey. My hypothesis (good SAT word) is...most churches cease to grow (and even decline) because of the influence of 2-5 people who are "dead set" on maintaining the status quo.

The “Big 5”

This "Big 5" usually are related or represent the two most prominent families in the church's history. In most every case the following is true:

  • The "Big 5" "love" the church and will do anything to preserve it
  • The "Big 5" have a great sense of "ownership" with regard to the church
  • The "Big 5" are in powerful leadership positions (SPRC, PPR, Ad Counsel, Finance, etc.)
  • The "Big 5" are more powerful than the pastor
  • The “Big 5” don’t respond favorably to pastors who want to change and evolve the church for growth
  • The "Big 5" understand the book of discipline better than most pastors and use that Knowledge to keep the pastor "in line"
  • The "Big 5" have the district superintendent on speed dial
  • The "Big 5" lead the charge to get rid of their pastors
  • The "Big 5" see the pastor's role as Chaplin (marry us, preach for us, bury us, pray for us, and get out of the way)
  • The "Big 5" are not concerned with the church growing in membership or visitors
  • The "Big 5" are not in favor of updating the worship style or music to increase membership
  • The "Big 5" have been "burned" and wounded by sub-standard "charge" pastors just passing thru (some of whom have been predators)
  • The "Big 5" are fiercely protective of their church family (which is mostly their biological family)
  • The "Big 5" are not comfortable taking risks
  • The "Big 5" have imbalanced lives that center on the "church" at the expense of other relationships in their lives
  • The "Big 5" truly believe they are always doing what is best for the church
  • The “Big 5” are usually among the biggest financial investors in the church

Churches ruled by the “Big 5” have the following in common:

  • Most "Big 5" churches have not grown in membership or baptisms in years (sometimes decades)
  • Most "Big 5" churches have not changed their key leadership (committee chairs, lay leader, etc.) in years
  • Most "Big 5" churches have a silent majority of members who want the church to evolve and grow but will not challenge the authority of the “Big 5”
  • Most "Big 5" churches lose all of their youth members after they graduated from high school (at 18 they run for the hills)
  • Most "Big 5" churches are surrounded by other churches that are growing in the same general community
  • Most "Big 5" churches have long standing, unresolved “family” feuds and conflicts that are ignored for months, years, and generations

These observations generate some logical questions for me such as…

  • What kind of “system” allows this “Big 5” paradigm to exist and thrive in the face of ever declining membership?
  • What can be done to allow the silent majority of the members to have a voice?
  • What can be done to resolve long standing family feuds and conflicts?
  • How does the “system” resolve the revolving door of under-motivated and under-skilled (leadership, entrepreneurship, etc.) pastors?
  • What should be done with churches where the value of the land and buildings is greater than the value of the ministry being done?

I know many of you reading this are nodding your head with me right now since the silent majority is the “majority” of United Methodists out there. I am just an objective outside observer who loves the church and makes his living helping them grow. I do not have all of the answers but my gift is facilitating honest conversations by asking the right questions.

In the future I will offer still more observations and even more questions. Want to speak up for the silent majority? Think my observations are inaccurate? Have any more questions to add? Feel free to respond with your take on the plight of United Methodist churches in America.

Let the conversation begin.

Shalom Y’all.

Christian Washington

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