As we read last time, Step 3 is when the “turn” really happens. People start to leave, offerings suffer, staff start to withdraw, and visitors no longer “hear about great things” from your church. The local church is in serious trouble.
Then, the Senior Pastor or Board of Deacons, reach for a “silver bullet” (as Jim Collins puts it in his business book, “How the Mighty Fall“). And Step 4 begins.
Grasping for Salvation.
This can take many forms in the Church. Perhaps changing Pastors or key staff positions. There has to be someone out there that can solve all the problems in the church! Or perhaps the church leadership starts a new amazing product: reinvent the Sunday School, start another campus, change service times, switch groups around in order to create a brand new feel. It’s always a bold, larger than life solution — not based on tried and true practices, but instead it’s a “last straw” mentality. A quick decision made at the last minute.
All these ideas are communicated to the congregation as the best way to an amazing future. Big change, a revolution! “These ideas will transform nearly every aspect of our Church!” the Pastor will exclaim. “There’s a better day coming!” And instead, it will jeopardize the core strength of their local church.
Inconsistency reigns. It appears that the leadership makes big decisions in a random way, with cutbacks here and overspending there. It’s hard to tell what the leadership will do next. And often, the leaders don’t know either.
When the Board (or congregation) realizes that it must be the Pastor’s fault, they often seek an outsider who will become “leader-as-savior”, a visionary. Some one with huge ideas, totally different from the last Pastor. Often that person doesn’t have a clear background of success or performance. But they “look good”!
During this phase, Churches don’t just fail though. Instead, they have small victories but have dashed hopes. Small success, then failure. Up and down. In fact, a Church can stay in this cycle (Step 4) for many years. After failures, they seek another magic bullet that will give them a bit of success.
Probably one of the best quotes from the book is listed on page 92 as it describes this phase:
The signature of mediocrity is NOT an unwillingness to change. The signature of mediocrity is Chronic inconsistency.
This 4th Step proves that scrambling after the next best and greatest thing, is rarely the best solution.
In fact, in order to pull a Church out of this stage, the leadership has to:
- Determine what originally caused the success of the church and focus on effective growth steps. Your original vision.
- Incremental improvements based on retrieval of facts (through listening) and acting with calm determination.
- If a new Pastor is needed, they are disciplined leaders with a solid track record — and according to Jim Collins, they should be chosen from within the organization if possible.
Sadly, if left unchecked, this stage leads to Cynicism and Confusion – vision seems more about PR and rhetoric than actual practice. The opposite of the intent for a church!