Activating the Passive Church: Diagnosis and Treatment [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Lyle E. Schaller
eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: Has your church fallen into a predictable routine? Is it drifting without purpose or resolve? Put an end to that by using Lyle E. Schaller's potent prescription for passive churches.
Written for both lay and ordained congregational leaders, this timely book diagnoses the causes of church passivity, and formulates a method for combatting the problem. Dr. Schaller classifies churches according to their internal dynamics (rather than denomination or geographical location), and demonstrates how many have overcome the "twenty-year syndrome" -- that awkward time when relatively new churches tend to lose their sense of direction. He also shows how churches can make a smooth transition from one pastor to another, and how new members can be used in establishing an effective church program.
The cumulative result of twenty years of experience in parish trouble-shooting, Dr. Schaller's new book will be welcomed by church leaders everywhere who face the dreaded spectre of church passivity.
eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House
Fictionwise Release Date: February 2002
Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. Genesis 2:18-19 RSV
During the summer of 1976, while attending an American Legion convention in Philadelphia, an alarming number of men contracted a mysterious disease. Within a few weeks more than two dozen died. This lethal mystery disease was a front page story for several weeks. What was this deadly disease? What was the name of this illness that so often proved to be fatal? The newspapers and network news on television gave a big play to the story.
Eventually the Center of Disease Control in Atlanta gave it the name "the Legionnaires' Disease." Shortly thereafter the story disappeared from the front pages. Today people are still dying from this disease, but because it now has a name it is no longer a front page story. Today's stories about this disease do not even make the evening network news on television and usually are buried on page 26 of the New York Times.
All of us feel more comfortable if everything has a name. When a stranger comes to a meeting, everyone feels a compulsion to pause and take time for introductions. When a baby is presented for baptism, the minister asks, "By what name shall this child be called?" When a new school building is being constructed, the local board of education usually feels compelled to come up with a name for that new building before construction is completed.
This urge to "place a name on it" extends to types of churches. When a group of ministers come together, the introductions often include statements such as these: "I'm George Brown from Trinity Church, an inner city congregation in Cleveland." "My name is Ronald Johnson and I'm the pastor of an open country church ten miles west of Fremont." "My name is Henry Thompson and I'm the rector of a downtown parish in Portland." We all believe that if we can attach a descriptive label to our congregation this will help others understand a little more clearly who we are.
This intuitive desire to name things is behind one of the basic assumptions on which this book rests. It is assumed that if we can place a name on whatever it is we are dealing with, we will not only be more comfortable, we also will be more competent in handling it. A common example is the person with a pain who goes to see a physician. If the physician simply offered a prescription or recommended a treatment to relieve the discomfort, the patient would not be satisfied. The essential step in the entire process, for both the doctor and the patient, is that the diagnosis include a name for the cause or source of the patient's discomfort. This book represents an attempt to place a name on one of the most widespread sources of discomfort among Protestant churches.
Another basic assumption behind the writing of this book is that individual churches are different from one another. No two are alike. During the past two decades I have had the privilege of visiting over 4,000 congregations from more than two dozen different denominational families. Each one has its own unique personality, its own distinctive mix of assets and liabilities and its own special place in God's plan for his kingdom.
A third basic assumption is that as our society becomes more complex, as the various denominational families become more pluralistic, and as new avenues for ministry and mission emerge, these differences among congregations become more pronounced. One result is that the differences, and the similarities, among congregations of the same general type, but from different denominational families, frequently become more significant in planning and program development than is the denominational affiliation. Therefore, each congregation must tailor its strategy for mission, adjust its priorities in the allocation of scarce resources, and plan its approach to program development to reflect and take into account these differences. These differences among congregations also influence the style of ministerial leadership that is appropriate for a particular congregation at a certain stage of its life. These differences have also made obsolete the old cliche, "Every minister should be able to serve any congregation."
The fourth introductory assumption is that, while individual congregations are different from one another, it is possible to devise a series of categories that enable one to group churches by similar characteristics.
The first chapter identifies a dozen different systems for classifying churches and also presents five major assumptions about the application of any classification to congregational life. This book is an elaboration of one of these systems, the idea of classifying churches according to their internal dynamics, rather than by the more widely used criteria such as denominational affiliation, or the geographical location of the meeting place, or the place of that congregation on a theological spectrum.
Interwoven into the analytical sections of the subsequent chapters are the insights gleaned from other useful, but often neglected, systems of classification such as the tenure of the members, the age of the institution, and the size of the congregation.
The second chapter consists of an effort to identify and describe the passive congregation. This is a diagnostic chapter intended to help the reader recognize the symptoms of this particular type of ecclesiastical pathology. One of the reasons for the extensive listing of the variety of the causes behind passivity is to enable the reader to identify more precisely the sources of passivity in a particular congregation. A second reason is the strongly held conviction that the prescription for passivity in any one congregation should be formulated in response to the specific causes or sources of the problem in that particular congregation. This chapter concludes with a thirty-question self-analysis exercise designed to measure the degree of passivity in your church.
In a majority of congregations afflicted with the complacency, lethargy, or passivity that is the subject of this book, the most effective response requires a redefinition of the role of that parish. This approach is based on the belief that the life and ministry of most churches can be conceptualized as a series of chapters. Frequently each chapter is written around a distinctive role or identity of that congregation. The new mission, for example, typically spends the first fifteen to twenty-five years of its life fulfilling that clearly defined role of being a new church. As the years pass, however, there comes an institutional maturity. It no longer is a new mission. By the twentieth year of its life, more or less, it becomes a mature church. At this point it either carves out a new role for itself, with a new set of goals to fulfill that new role, or it begins to drift. Periodically every congregation either redefines its role and identity or it tends to drift into a passive state. The need to redefine role, the importance of defining role before formulating operational goals, and various ways of doing this constitute the third chapter of this book.
There are many other sources and forms of passivity in a congregation, however, and everyone should be equipped with a Plan B or a backup system. A dozen other sources of passivity, and the means to respond to each unique expression of that malady, are identified and described in the fourth chapter.
At this point some readers may be asking, "Why disturb the complacency of the members of that passive church? If they're comfortable and if their needs are being met, why get excited? Why not leave them alone? After all, weren't some of the major problems of the past twenty years created by excessively activist young ministers who came in and stirred up these complacent congregations? Why devote two long chapters to stirring things up? Why not leave well enough alone? Why not wait until the members are sufficiently discontented with the status quo to take the initiative in dealing with the passivity?"
These are fair questions and they deserve a response. This response can be divided into four parts. The first is chat leaders do lead! This book is not directed at every member of every church on the continent. It is written for congregational leaders, both lay and ordained, who feel frustrated by the passivity of the church of which they are members. It is written to help these leaders diagnose the illness and to formulate a prescription to combat that passivity. It is written to assist the discontented leader, not to comfort the complacent member.
Second, the New Testament definition of a Christian fellowship does not support the contention chat if the members are content chat means the congregation is fulfilling its place in God's plan.
Frequently the complacent or passive congregation does meet all the expressed wants of the members. Or, to be more exact, it frequently meets the social needs that are a product of that horizontal relationship of member and member. That, however is less than one-half of the two great commandments articulated by Jesus. The passive church is usually weak in its outreach beyond its own members and it is often weak in reinforcing the vertical relationship between God and the individual.
In other words, the passive church rarely meets both of the criteria laid down by our Lord in Mark 12:28-34. Third, the limitations of the passive congregation are seen most clearly in its relationships to potential new members. Visitors come, they see the social needs of the members being fulfilled, but often the visitor leaves feeling his or her religious needs have not been met. One evidence of this is that in the average year the typical passive church receives a disproportionately small number of new adult members. More to the point, the passive church rarely is effective in fulfilling its responsibilities in evangelism, in offering a Christian witness in the community, or in social welfare and social action. The passive church usually offers less than is required in the area of an evangelistic outreach. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) rarely receives the endorsement it requires from the passive church.
Finally, there is the need for every congregation to be more sensitive to the distinctive needs of that new generation of adults born after World War II. The research that has been done on this new generation of adults and on their outlook on religion suggests that the passive church will not be able to reach and serve many of these people, who view all institutions as inept. Whether one thinks in terms of institutional survival, or in terms of obedience to the Great Commission, it is a matter of great concern that the passive congregation appears doomed to be seen as irrelevant by at least one-half of all the persons born between 1945 and 1970. The passive church will not be able to help many members of this generation find meaning in life. That is certainly an important reason to be concerned about the role of the passive congregation.
There are many reasons why the churches should be concerned about their relationship with this new generation of young adults. After all, 1985, 40 percent of the persons of voting age in the United States will be between eighteen and thirty-four years of age. There also are many effective responses to passivity. Some, such as those described in the third and fourth chapters, can be planned and programmed. The three most effective cures of passivity, however, cannot be programmed that easily. One of these is a personal religious experience for each member. That is an event that happens within the life of the individual, however, and cannot be programmed on a congregation-wide basis. A second is the unexpected, and sometimes unsought, intervention of the Holy Spirit.
That, too, cannot be planned and scheduled by sinful human beings. The third is a flood of new members into the passive church. One of the first and most influential steps in encouraging that to happen is for the long-time members to view the newcomers as assets and not as liabilities. That is not as automatic as it may appear on the surface. New members tend to be different from longtime members in many respects. Several of the more significant differences and the implications for church renewal and for the pastor are the subject of the fifth chapter. Some ministers are very content to serve a passive church. Most, however, are not. The greatest discomfort is probably found in the newly arrived minister who came with exciting hopes for the future and is greeted by passivity. There appears to be a somewhat greater chance of the new minister's encountering a passive congregation in those denominations in which the members turn to denominational officials for a recommendation for the appointment of a pastor, than in the denominations that expect each congregation to go out and recruit its own minister.
"We know every minister has a program. Tell us what your program is and what you want us to do and we'll do it," is a statement frequently heard by the newly arrived pastor of a passive church. Ten suggestions for a productive strategy by the newly arrived minister constitute the heart of the sixth chapter.
Every one of us carries around inside ourselves a complex assortment of assumptions about what constitutes contemporary reality. The first chapter analyzes some of the more widely held assumptions about the most helpful systems for classifying congregations. The last chapter raises questions about the assumptions of the reader. To be more precise, questions are raised about a half dozen of the more important assumptions that will influence a person's response to passivity in a church. Perhaps the most influential of these, in terms of a creative response to passivity, are the first and sixth.
This book, like every other book that is written today, is not the product of one person's thinking and experiences. Some of the published sources that may be of value to the more inquisitive reader are referred to in the notes at the end. In addition, however, I am greatly indebted to literally hundreds of pastors and thousands of lay persons I have met in parish consultations and in workshops, for their ideas, insights, criticisms, comments and reflections. In many cases I reamed far more from them than they learned from me, and I am grateful!
Finally, this book is dedicated to a longtime friend, a former colleague, a generous and committed Christian, a wise leader, and a person who has remarkable gifts in creatively responding to passivity wherever he encounters it.
Copyright © 1981 by Abingdon Press