From Geography to Affinity: How Congregations Can Learn From One Another [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Lyle E. Schaller
eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: Changes in denominational life in North America have left congregations with two difficult choices. On the one hand, they can choose to act as though their ministries and programs can still best be established by national denominational offices. On the other hand, they can choose to act as though their denominational identity is completely irrelevant to their mission. Underlying these difficult choices, writes Lyle E. Schaller, is the tremendous flux in the relationship between national denominations and their member congregations over the last forty years. The fact that relatively few visitors choose to affiliate with a congregation on the basis of denominational identity leads some to conclude (incorrectly) that the interdependence and cooperation between congregations of similar heritage and background is unimportant. At the same time, others conclude (also incorrectly) that there is nothing wrong with current denominational structures and that congregations need simply to align themselves with their denominations's directions more thoroughly. To these bad choices, Schaller proposes an alternative. He observes that many congregations already seek to extend their mission and make their ministries more effective by participating in affinity networks--groups of congregations that share particular goals and visions. Schaller suggests the establishment of such networks within, rather than outside of, denominations. He argues that they should be established on the judicatory level. Rather than making state or regional boundaries the organizing principle by which congregations within a denomination align themselves, why not form judicatories around a particular sense of mission, or distinctivetheological stands? Schaller concludes that allowing and encouraging the formation of such affinity networks will recognize the differences between congregations within a denominations as the strength it truly is, and will, foster a greater unity of purpose between the denomination's churches.
eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House/Abingdon Press, Published: 2003
Fictionwise Release Date: November 2003
1 Should You Read This Book?
Your time is valuable! Should you spend a couple of hours of that scarce and irreplaceable resource reading this book? The best answer to this question can be found by reflecting on a dozen diagnostic statements about today and tomorrow. If you agree with at least nine or ten, and the first four in particular, it probably would be a waste of your time to read this book.
1. You are convinced the institutional and spiritual health of your denominational tradition is excellent. Your congregations are vital, healthy, and effective in reaching new generations of American-born residents as well as recent immigrants to America. Your denominational systems are producing the outcomes you desire and should not be changed.
2. Every congregation in American Protestantism should define itself as a geographical parish committed to reaching and serving the residents who live within a mile or two (or perhaps seven miles in rural areas with a low population density) of their meeting place. We also believe that instead of encouraging congregations to focus on a relatively homogeneous segment of the population, every worshiping community should consist of a representative cross section of the people living within that congregation's service area. One component of a larger strategy to achieve those two goals is a geographical definition of the churches to be served by our midlevel regional judicatories.
3. We believe a primary responsibility of congregations is to resource denominational systems by sending money and volunteer leadership. By contrast, this book suggests the primary role of the midlevel judicatories is to enhance the capability of congregations to fulfill the Great Commission. We disagree! Our congregations now enjoy an unprecedented array of vendors who are both competent and eager to provide customized resourcing on every concern from teaching materials to counsel on capital-funds campaigns to community outreach ministries to the design of worship experiences to music. That frees our denominational system to concentrate on other issues, and we find the geographically defined regional judicatory a useful and inclusive structure for fulfilling that role.
4. You are convinced that the mainline American Protestant denominations of the last half of the twentieth century are terminally ill. Proposals that suggest the future will bring the best of times for these denominations are naively optimistic. They belong in the same category as efforts to recreate the family farm of 1947 or the five-and-ten-cent variety store on Main Street of 1950 or the small public high school of 1955 or the four-bedroom single-family house with a one-car garage constructed in 1958.
The schisms that created the Presbyterian Church in America in 1973 and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in 1981, plus the more recent withdrawals of congregations from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, and other denominations demonstrate it is too late to design a wider and more inclusive tent. Culture is more powerful than denominational loyalties, and culture in American religion has become a highly divisive force. In other words, you are convinced it is too late for the renewal of old denominational systems.
5. Affirming the creation and operation of affinity judicatories requires granting lay leadership in general and local leadership in particular for greater authority and responsibility than our clergy-dominated system would ever approve. Furthermore, you are convinced that denominational systems should and do carry the primary responsibility for fulfilling the Great Commission. Congregations have a secondary role in fulfilling the Great Commission. Therefore why waste time studying a design that will be politically unacceptable in our religious tradition?
6. While you are experiencing a few problems as a result of the erosion of denominational loyalty by the generations born between 1940-80, you are confident the pendulum is about to swing. You are confident the generations born after 1980 will display the same high level of institutional loyalty as those born in the first third of the twentieth century.
7. This book missed the boat! The top agenda item for the mainline Protestant denominations during the next quarter century will be how to produce reasonably friendly schisms and minimize litigation. We all know the best way to predict tomorrow for the Lutherans, Methodists, and others is to look at what the Presbyterians began to do twenty years ago. The issue is how to respond to schismatic forces, and this book does not deal with that, so why waste time reading it? (That is NOT an accurate statement! One theme of this book is how to avoid the pressures for schism.)
8. You are convinced that within a few years the United States government and most states will replace the income tax with a tax on carbon emissions. One consequence will be a huge increase in the cost of gasoline that will restore the viability of neighborhood institutions and geographically defined denominational structures.
9. The distrust of institutions is increasing. The big contemporary example is the crisis in the Roman Catholic Church in America. One consequence is distrust of long-tenured leadership. The adoption of the Twenty-second Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1951, that limited the tenure of the president of the United States to two full terms, is one example. You believe the best antidote to distrust is short tenure. This book encourages long-term relationships and long tenure for pastors and denominational leaders, so why read it?
10. Your experience is that congregations subsidized by the dead (endowment funds) and/or by the denomination usually are more vital and more effective in fulfilling the Great Commission than are those churches that are fully self-financing.
11. You are convinced the policy-formulation and decision-making processes of your denomination should be driven by (a) precedents, (b) inputs such as budgets, (c) providing jobs for adults, and (d) ideology, not as this book recommends, by desired outcomes.
12. The ecumenical movement has been winning increasing support among the mainline Protestant denominations for more than forty years. If the recommendations in this book are implemented, one consequence will be a strengthening of denominational systems and an enhancement of the loyalty congregations feel toward their denomination. That is incompatible with encouraging greater interdenominational cooperation. Given a choice, you prefer to promote Christian unity rather than strengthen denominational systems. (Note: Some readers will disagree with this either-or view. They believe that ecumenism flourishes among large, strong, numerically growing, healthy, and vital congregations and denominations.)
If most of these twelve statements represent your view of the future of the mainline Protestant denominations in America, you already have wasted too much of your valuable time. A Dozen Assumptions
On the other hand, if you disagree with most or all of those twelve statements, you may want to explore the basic assumptions on which this book rests.
1. God has not written off the future of denominational systems in America. The best years may be in the future. God has given us the freedom to make that decision. That God-given freedom to individuals has been enlarged by changes in the American economy, the political system, and the culture since 1776.
2. The competition among the Christian churches in the United States to reach, invite, attract, serve, challenge, assimilate, and nurture younger generations is far greater than ever before. In other words, the call to the churches in the twenty-first century is not only to be faithful and obedient, but also to be relevant and competitive. The family-owned and operated general store in the village of 200 residents in 1935 was a friendly environment that offered a high level of customer service, but it cannot compete with today's 200,000-square-foot superstore on a twenty-acre site.
3. Systems produce the outcomes they are designed to produce. One widely shared worldview is, "Things just happen." This book is based on the conviction that W. Edwards Deming was right. Slogans, quotas, shame, guilt, high-powered rhetoric, and fear no longer are effective in improving the performance of an organization.
When old systems become counterproductive or fail to produce the desired outcomes, they should be replaced! That is the big challenge before American leaders in the Roman Catholic Church.
4. A new system for these mainline Protestant denominations should place a high priority on (a) resourcing congregations, (b) giving birth to the new, (c) facilitating the transformation of believers into devoted disciples of Jesus Christ, and (d) encouraging the emergence of more very large congregations that are able to mobilize the resources required to provide the quality, relevance, and choices sought by younger generations. A much lower priority should be placed on (a) perpetuating old institutions, (b) regulating congregational life, and (c) taking care of the clergy. One of the most difficult assignments is to renew an old and obsolete institution. It is much easier and more rewarding to create the new. The creation of tax-funded charter schools is one example of that guideline.
5. More people than ever before in world history believe they have the right to determine their future and to choose from among a variety of attractive alternatives in designing their own future. "For the first time--and I mean that literally--substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, people have had to manage themselves. And we are totally unprepared for it." [See "Foreword" by Peter Drucker in Bob Buford, Stuck In Halftime (Grand Rapids, Mich., 2001), p. 9. Drucker describes this as the most important event on this planet in our time.]
6. There is still time to transform the culture and the institutional systems of these denominations, but it will not be easy!
One reason is most of the people in these mainline Protestant denominations do not feel a sense of crisis. Most are convinced, "My denomination will be here long after I'm dead, so why worry? Why push for change?" They are right. Denial is more comfortable than change.
While there is widespread agreement that the recent and current outcomes have had a minimal overlap with the desired outcomes, nothing resembling a consensus exists in regard to a renewal strategy. That road to renewal is filled with many barriers.
The highest barrier may be denial. There is nothing wrong with the system. All that is required is either (a) a bigger hammer or (b) better people to run the system.
Second, in several mainline Protestant denominations there is an absence of agreement on the primary role of the denomination and on the top two or three priorities in the allocation of resources.
A third big barrier is legal. The present systems were designed to make it exceptionally difficult for those who want to amend, revise, renew, or scrap the old system. Those dead white males of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries realized the churchgoers of the twenty-first century could not be trusted! They designed several high legal barriers to change.
Fourth, a lot of highly influential denominational leaders have committed their futures to perpetuating the present system. Replacing the present obsolete and dysfunctional systems would place hundreds of jobs in jeopardy.
Fifth, the decision-making systems in these denominations have been designed to make it easy to reject proposals for change and tempting to look for compromises that can win broad-based support.
Sixth, and perhaps the most widely neglected factor is most denominational systems do not include a system of accountability based on an annual audit of performance as measured by actual outcomes.
7. We know what to do and how to do it. It is not necessary to begin with a blank sheet of paper and dream up new systems. The ecclesiastical landscape in America is covered with (a) hundreds of congregations that are modeling how to do ministry in the twenty-first century with new generations of younger American-born residents on a self-identified religious pilgrimage and (b) several denominational systems that are modeling the concept of affinity midlevel judicatories. The call is not to invent a new wheel. The call is to replace that worn-out or broken wheel with a better wheel that already has been invented and is in use.
8. The arrival of the age of affluence in the post-World War II era has transformed the context for ministry. (See chapter 4.)
9. The three paradigm shifts suggested in this book are really conservative. One is to replace an input-driven planning model that focuses on money, personnel, schedules, regulation, traditions, governance, and real estate with a process that emphasizes desired outcomes. Another is to at least offer congregations the opportunity to be members of learning-driven affinity networks and judicatories. The third is to recognize that role and ministry are more significant components of a congregation's community identity than denominational affiliation. (See chapters 5, 7, and 11.)
10. The issue is not a choice between change and perpetuating the past! One of the questions at the heart of this issue is whether congregations should be encouraged to look to intradenominational affinity judicatories for resourcing or to continue to turn to "outside" parachurch organizations, teaching churches, and a score of other sources for help.
11. It also should be emphasized a switch to affinity judicatories is not the only possible course of action. That is the easiest and most promising. A dozen more difficult strategies are identified in chapter 10.
12. Finally, the two key assumptions in this book are (a) in a world of increasing complexity and greater competition, congregations need customized ministry plans and (b) the most effective way to create a customized ministry plan is for congregational leaders to go and learn from churches that currently are implementing a strategy that could be adapted to fit their church. Those are two of the key components of a strategy to fulfill the Great Commission.
If you agree most of those assumptions are consistent with contemporary reality, the next step may be to encourage the policymakers in your denomination to talk about what your system is producing and to compare actual outcomes with the desired outcomes.
Copyright © 2003 by Lyle Schaller