The three tell-tale signs it's time for a new vision

November 13th, 2018

How do you know if it’s time for a new vision in your congregation? Or your denomination, for that matter? It’s not as hard to discern as you might think. I want to share with you three tell-tale signs. And one important next step to take.

Watch for these three key dynamics first identified by church life-cycle specialist George Bullard. If you see them at play in your setting, then it’s time for a new vision.

Blame: Watch for finger pointing. If it’s easy to identify the problem person, dynamic or influence that’s at fault — and it’s not you — then you are witnessing the dynamic of blame. Listen for statements such as: there aren’t enough young people coming to church; no one tithes anymore; we don’t have enough visitors and it’s all the pastor’s fault.

Sacrificial commitment required: Everyone is asked to give more, more, more. More money, more time, and more service to the organization. This would seem to solve the problem of waning energy and attendance. But the problem is lack of vision, not lack of commitment. And I suspect the actual underlying problem is something else. There isn’t something big to commit to!

Nostalgia or anger: Nostalgia about the way things were quickly turns to anger when it becomes apparent that the good old days aren’t coming back. And they’re not getting resurrected easily. Bullard points out that a focus on teenagers is a focus on the past. A focus on senior adults is a focus on the present. A focus on 25-40-year-olds and their kids is a focus on the future.

These three tell-tale signs are evident not only in individual churches but in denominations as a whole. I’ve spotted these three dynamics at play within the United Methodist Church. Consider that we have been in the blame-each-other mode for a while. Both progressives and conservatives point fingers at each other when it comes to church decline. In fact, many of our denominational fights have been framed as a lack of commitment. Some say that we have a lack of commitment to biblical authority. Others say we have a lack of commitment to inclusivity. I suspect that the issue isn’t so much a lack of commitment as it is a lack of vision. These fights are further fueled by both nostalgia and anger. Can’t we go back to the way we used to believe, used to organize ourselves, used to live? This nostalgia is countered with anger that our denomination isn’t more inclusive or farther along in the world.

It’s time for the leaders of the denomination to muster a new vision. I am in favor of the One Church Plan. However, deep down inside I know that it won’t make much difference if we don’t have a new vision driving us. If the denomination were to split it would be worth it if each new movement was led by a vision giving us fresh energy and leading us in new directions. A vision based on blame, nostalgia or anger, however, won’t cut it. We’ll stay stuck in the same old patterns of decline.

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