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44 Steps Up Off the Plateau [Secure eReader]
eBook by Lyle E. Schaller

eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: Lyle E. Schaller defines a "plateau" as a stagnant holding point in the size and energy of a congregation -- a level at which energy is focused entirely on maintenance of past structures. He shows how to move an established congregation up off a plateau.

The three most important steps up off the plateau are quality, responsiveness, and productivity. This important guide by America's most influential religious leader also contains 44 handles to organize information.

eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2002


Perhaps the most challenging undertaking for a leader in the church today is to go out and help plant a new congregation. This can be true for both the mission developer team as well as for those volunteer leaders enlisted by that three-to-five person team to help pioneer that new mission. (This also can be an unexpectedly lonely assignment for the minister who goes out alone to build that new mission.) One reason for the challenge is the absence of the momentum that has been built up in the long-established worshiping community. Another reason for this fascinating challenge is the absence of inherited traditions and customs that limit creative thinking. Part of the fun is in creating the new, in making order out of chaos, and in looking back and feeling good about what happened in such a brief period of time.\\Fn="pop001"1\\Fn

Perhaps the most interesting assignment is to be a member of a leadership team in the large and numerically growing congregation that has been assigned the responsibility of creating a new specialized ministry. These teams usually include one or two paid staff members, plus several creative, dedicated, and enthusiastic volunteers who share a common vision. That vision may focus on expanding the missional outreach of that congregation, expanding the teaching ministry, feeding the hungry, nurturing children, planning a new worship service to reach a different slice of the population, serving developmentally disabled adults, strengthening the evangelistic outreach, or some other aspect of ministry. The central point is that everyone on the team has accepted this as a high personal priority and is eager to turn the vision into reality.

For many adult Christians the most comfortable assignment is to be part of a long-established worshiping community that is bound together by a common commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, by meaningful friendship and kinship ties, and by a widely shared affection and respect for the current pastor. The cohesiveness of this community is reinforced by the power of local tradition, a common history, an attractive sacred meeting place, stability, predictability, and few surprises. The relatively slow pace of congregational life and the one-to-one relationships undergird that feeling of comfort.

Perhaps the most difficult assignment, for either a minister or a volunteer leader in the church, is to design and implement a strategy that will move the long-established congregation up off a plateau in size. That is the focus of this book. The reader should be forewarned that this is not a book filled with easy-to-implement formulas. Transforming the long-established church that has been on a plateau in size for years is an extremely difficult assignment! Why that is so often true is explained in the first chapter. It is increasingly difficult to devise a plan or a strategy or a course of action that will please everyone. This can be illustrated by the difficulty experienced by this writer's struggle to devise a sequential outline for this book.

Once upon a time, when everyone obeyed the laws of the Creator, people would pick up a book and read it from cover to cover. Television has legitimized discontinuity. Today people turn from one channel to another without any feelings of guilt. Likewise many persons open a book and begin to read one chapter here and another there. This has complicated life for authors who prepare an outline on the assumption that (a) every reader will complete the first chapter before turning to the second chapter and (b) every reader will read the entire book.

In this world, which is populated by a growing number of liberated church members, voters, pastors, and readers, it may be impossible to design one action program that will please everyone. Likewise it may be unrealistic to hope to prepare an outline for a book that will make sense to every reader. Those who have read every word in every one of this writer's last two dozen books will find much that is familiar. Such a small crowd, however, can safely be ignored.

A far larger crowd includes those impatient activists who want to read only the chapter or two "that speak to my situation back home." This road map is designed for them. The impatient reader who is eager to undertake the radical changes necessary to transform the parish that has been on a plateau for years may want to turn first to chapter 10. Those who seek what is closest to a guaranteed formula may begin with chapter 4. Those who are confident that all we have to do is open the doors and invite people to come probably should seek a different hobby or transfer their membership to a rapidly growing congregation. Or they may want to begin with chapter 9. Those who are leaders in churches that have begun to grow up off that plateau in size and want to maintain that trend may turn first to chapter 11. Those who are deeply troubled by the fact that the consumer orientation is a growing trend may wish to skip chapter 10, which, in two different courses of action, affirms this shift from a producer perspective to a consumer orientation. That chapter may threaten the traditional view of how priorities and schedules are determined!

Denominational officials responsible for ministerial placement probably should concentrate on chapter 6. Those congregational leaders who want to choose from among a broad range of tested alternatives will find twenty-five choices in chapter 8. In that chapter, they can begin by choosing between seven steps filled with discontinuity with the past or eighteen that are less threatening.

The leaders from self-identified "small churches," averaging between 120 and 175 at worship, may find chapter 2 to be the best beginning point. Those who are convinced the prescription should be written after the diagnosis has been made will begin with chapter 3.

Those who have attempted to implement what they were convinced was an appropriate strategy, only to experience disappointing results, may want to begin with chapter 5 or the first half of chapter 12. For others, the barrier to the successful implementation of their carefully designed strategy is discussed in chapter 5. Not everyone is willing to pay the price of moving up off that plateau in size.

Ideally, many will discover that, with God's help, they were able to move their congregation up off that plateau, but they also discovered that success carries a price tag. That phenomenon is discussed in the last half of the last chapter.

All orthodox and patient Christians who love the Lord and who seek first to be faithful and obedient servants of the Lord will, of course, begin by reading this introduction and struggle through the succeeding chapters in the sequence in which they are presented.

At least a few of the less docile and obedient readers, however, may inquire about the motives for writing this volume when some of what is included here was discussed in greater detail in earlier books. This author's response is this book represents an effort to bring together in one volume a more comprehensive analysis of this difficult subject. The challenge to the leaders in the long-established congregation to move up off a plateau in size is far more difficult than it sounds. No one formula fits every church. No previous book discusses the variety of choices available to a broad range of churches. As the notes at the end suggest, a reader may want to turn to another source for a more comprehensive discussion of a particular point. That is the purpose of those notes.

Feedback from readers has revealed that this "44" series has attracted many people who enjoy counting, and several who can count beyond twenty. A few have built checklists to determine if the title represents misleading advertising. For their benefit this author's count declares one step up off that plateau is described in the second chapter, another is found in the third chapter, and the three most important are offered in the fourth chapter. Each of the next three chapters discusses a single step. Add those eight to the twenty-five choices offered in chapter 8, plus the six in chapter 9, and we have only five to go. Four of those remaining five are found in chapter 10. The last and most crucial step is described in chapter 11.

Now, dear reader, stop counting and start designing the strategy that will move your congregation up off a plateau in size. Counting can be useful, but do not let it be a substitute for planning and doing!

Copyright © 1991 by Abingdon Press

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