That was the premise of a great new post by Dave Jacobs entitled “10 Questions to Ask Before Adding, Subtracting, or Changing Something.”
If you’re looking to move your Small Church from dead, dying or static, to healthy and innovative, these ten questions are a very helpful place to start. They’ll help you discover whether a change is even needed, then they’ll guide you into making the needed changes more successfully.
I’ll give you each of Dave’s ten questions, followed by my commentary.
(Please do not assume my commentary is endorsed by Dave Jacobs. He may or may not agree, but he should not be held responsible for any of my opinions.)
1. What problem am I hoping this change will address?
Narrow your field.
“My church is unhealthy and ineffective” is a problem, but it’s too big to tackle all at once.
Instead, break the problem down into bite-size pieces, then deal with them one at a time. As I mentioned in a previous post, start with the easiest, most obvious problems first.
2. Am I sure that the above problem is the real problem and not merely a symptom of the real problem?
Look a layer deeper.
For example, a lack of enthusiasm in worship will not be fixed by goading people into singing louder, raising their hands or clapping along if they don’t feel like it. Their lack of enthusiasm is not the problem, it’s a symptom.
Ask why they don’t want to participate. Is the worship leader performing instead of drawing people in? Is the audio mix not balanced properly? Is there disunity among the members?
Then deal with the underlying problem.
(On a side note, I’m aware that the worship style I’ve described is somewhat charismatic. In many churches, people will never raise hands or clap along, but still have a very deep worship experience.)
3. Why do I think this approach will address this problem?
We need to be solutions-oriented, not method-obsessed.
One of the mistakes I made in early ministry was finding a solution, then looking for a problem to apply it to.
It usually happened right after attending the latest seminar or reading the newest book. A cool, new idea for doing church would be proposed, so I’d look for an excuse to use it.
It’s better to solve the problem with an old-school idea than not solve it by insisting on the newest, coolest method.
4. Are there any ways in which this action might be misinterpreted by others?
People will always misunderstand you. Even with the purest of motives and thorough communication.
You can’t ever get rid of misunderstandings, but you can minimize them.
One exercise I use is to look for trigger words that might bother people. In some situations, you might be better off using “adapt” instead of “compromise”, “upgrade” instead of “replace”, or “enthusiastic” instead of “charismatic”, for instance.
Know your congregation, then try to hear your words through their ears before you speak.
5. Have I ever tried this before (the proposed action, change, etc.) …what were the results?
Small Churches have long memories.
Too many pastors have short-term ones, or none at all.
Not everyone who says “we tried this before and it didn’t work” is a stick-in-the-mud. They might be saving you time, moneyand embarrassment.
6. Do I know anybody who has done this before who can share with me their experience?
So many “great” church ideas only look good on paper. Years ago, when our church was looking for ways to do a much-needed Extreme Church Makeover, I assigned a group of leaders to research some of the best ideas that were floating around.
They presented me with three possible strategies, all of which looked good. I asked them which one they preferred and they all selected the same one. When I asked them why, they said “because it’s been used successfully at other churches. The others feel like they were written by an editorial staff.”
They were right. The others strategies might have worked, but we went with the one that had worked elsewhere, tweaked it for our peculiarities, and it did work.
7. Am I doing this out of my own irritation?
Making major life decisions when you’re on an emotional high or an emotional low is a bad idea.
How many times have I heard “just change it! Nothing can be worse than this!” only to discover that there are some things that are much worse.
Big decisions need calm hearts and cool heads.
8. Is anyone other than me seeing what I see, i.e. the problem?
We’ve all read the stories of the maverick who struck out on a great idea against all odds, with everyone telling him he’s wrong, only to succeed spectacularly and hold his head high in triumph.
People like to write those stories. But the reason they’re great stories is that they’re outliers. They’re unique. They don’t fit the norm.
Here’s what usually happens to the maverick church leader. He strikes out on what he thinks is a great idea against all odds, with people who love him warning him of the dangers ahead, but he does it anyway. When the inevitable failure happens, those who love him are left to pick up the pieces.
If people you trust and who love you don’t see a problem, give it time. Let your irritation (see point #7) die down, then revisit it.
Lone Wolf ideas that work out well in churches are rare. We usually do better seeing the problems and working on the solutions together.
9. Is there anybody who I should run this by before taking the next step?
So many good pastors have been shattered on the rocks of church leadership by forgetting the top three principles of working with a team. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
As I said in an earlier post, churches are OK with change. They just don’t like surprise.
It’s counterproductive and disrespectful to put someone in a position of authority (like coordinating the church facility usage, for example) only to leave them out of the loop on decisions that will affect the job you’ve given them.
10. What has worked in the past to achieve this end other than what I’m planning? Is there any other way to hit this target or achieve my desired result?
Some people are addicted to change for the sake of change. Or to a particular method that “everyone else” is doing.
Don’t get so obsessed with a specific “fix” that you can’t see a better idea. Maybe even an old idea.
Ideas don’t need to be new to be innovative. They just need to work.
So what do you think? Are there any questions you would add to this list?