At the end of the last "Turnaround Church" post, I mentioned that I'd talk a bit further about structure. Here's the crux of this post: Churches must continually find ways to engage people in ministry…but…
Generally, churches do a poor job of involving newer people in service .This is primarily for two reasons: 1) Churches entrust greater responsibility to those with tenure at the congregation. 2) There are typically few "open chairs" in the typical established church.
This typically bears some bitter fruit. Including, but not limited to:
- A "stepchild" aura is projected toward the newcomer who might desire to get plugged in. Like most small groups that have been together a while, churches have set ways of doing things and their own insider stories. Like it or not, the newcomer tends to sense this and feels like a junior partner…at least for some significant length of time. The church can make newcomers feel like kids going up to an ongoing game of kickball asking if they can play too. Of course they can.
- There are few open ministry slots…other than in a couple of areas (i.e., children's bible-class teaching :)) because leadership is held by people for years on end. Thus, leadership openings in ministry come around as frequently as those on the Supreme-Court.
- Only low-capacity ministry positions are available to those who have placed membership more recently. Churches often don't have openings for anyone–especially newcomers to get involved in ministry at the "high-stakes" level. In many churches that are in need of a turnaround, you'll typically find that most ministries have been headed by the same person…for decades. There can be some benefit to this. And, if the ministry leader stays fresh and is proactive about bringing new people in to serve…it's fine. However, that typically doesn't happen.
- Over time, ideas and ministries get stale when no new blood enters the ministry system. Thus, ministries fail to evolve even as the culture around them does. They thus become time-capsules and lose their effectiveness over time. This is often the case with the church as a whole.
- When people stay involved in the same ministry for years on end, they tend to develop a sort of tunnel vision. This tunnel vision keeps them from considering and valuing the other ministries and the church as a whole as they should. It's good for people who work in Youth Ministry to move to Children's Ministry for a while. Or, for someone to teach an adult Bible Class that has been on the Budget Team. It helps them understand the whole Body better…and breaks up leadership monopolies. Continuity and perpetuity of leadership is good. Leadership monopoly is unhealthy long-term.
Turnaround churches find a way to "open the windows" and let fresh air in. What is needed are new perspectives…or at least someone new to examine the way things have always been done…and a way to engage people in ministry.
We challenge those who lead at NCCC to keep open chairs at the high, mid, and low capacity levels…allowing for a steady stream of new blood, fresh perspectives, and new opportunities for those the Lord blesses our church with. Churches that don't engage newer people do so at their own peril. Tenure at the congregation is indispensable. But, so is fresh air. Most churches ask people "who really know the church" what they think they should do. This can be immensely helpful. Often, however, what is needed is the opposite.