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You or Your Organization May Be Plateaued, If… (Part 4)

September 28, 2018 Leave a comment

You or your organization may be plateaued…

  1. If your people have different ideas of why you do what you do.

In the world of the local church, we have easily observed that the primary cause of plateau is “lost vision,” particularly in the pew. Likely results are similar when those within any organization lose track of the key motivating elements for what they do. As we have already seen in this series, programs or strategies require vision if they will maintain their effectiveness. When vision is lacking, the ongoing efforts to do what we do lose steam and quickly diminish in effectiveness. It’s vision that keeps us on the right path.

In an organization that has plateaued, such vision no longer rules the house. Either the “why” of our efforts has evaporated or it has given way to a dozen or more additional “whys” that folks manufacture out of their own assignments. Vision once clearly defined the “business we are in,” but now such clear focus eludes us.

What does this look like? I’ve seen a couple of settings where processes and the priorities of managerial types have taken the lead in what an organization does or even why it exists. Departments that were established to support the efforts of the frontlines now dictate their own frontlines to the organization and more resources are dedicated to managing what is rather than chasing what we originally began pursuing. These managers now dictate to the entities that actually produce our “business” and control priorities rather than providing the support they were originally designed for.

Perhaps a simple illustration will help. Years ago, I remember a church janitor coming into my office greatly frustrated and insisting that the church would need to discontinue one of our children’s ministries because they always left the building in such a mess. I made a remark about job security that he didn’t find amusing. His goal was a clean church and ministry that couldn’t contribute to that goal needed to be discontinued. While I could understand the frustration of having to clean the same things week after week, but you can likely see that his attitude revealed his need for a clearer understanding of the “why” of our efforts. We didn’t exist to make his job easier—we existed to impact the lives of those messy kids. His role was to aid those who were on the frontlines of our “why” in children’s ministries, not to rewrite such priorities in the favor of his own assignment.

Now, that may be too simple of an illustration, but plateau comes to any organization when its management processes assume the leadership chair. In any organization, management is the skeletal structure that helps hold everything in place. But, just like your bodies skeletal structure, management is best when it’s not easily seen. If you have a bone that’s showing, something probably isn’t healthy.

Still, many organizations reach a place of growth where they turn more of their decision-making to the support areas under the insistence of those who say we “have to do it this way.” While occasionally government regulation might make such prescriptions, more often these “have to” matters flow out of status quo preferences or efforts to make a manager’s job easier. Managers of support processes are critical folks in the organization and their value is unquestioned; however, a leader must also be aware of their preference for the status quo and for consistent approaches that they can streamline. Often a visionary organization that continues to be effective must be an organization that stretches and rewrites such comfortable preferences.

So, if you find that the answer to the “why” of what we do or the “where” that we long to be actually has multiple answers in the minds of your people, you are likely plateaued or heading that way in a hurry. Vision, clear vision, is what keeps an organization climbing and everyone in that organization must lay down their own agendas and preferences if we’re will stay on that track.

You or your organization may be plateaued if… (Part 2)

September 10, 2018 Leave a comment

You or your organization may be plateaued

  1. If you’re better at why we can’t than how we could.

A common characteristic in plateaued and declining congregations is the ease with which they reject new thinking, new ideas, new vision, and just about any other “new” mindset that presents itself. A culture of “no” often arises when we are stuck, not because we’re negative people, but because the status quo has become deeply entrenched and we often lack the kind of people that can help us think our way forward.

Plateaus typically come at the end of growth, not decline. It’s near the top of the closest hill where we can most easily find that settling place, and when we do we can find it equally easy to stay there. Plateaus are most commonly caused by lost vision among the rank and file. People are pleased with yesterday’s victories and are prone to bask in them until the momentum they provided slips away. Without vision, forward movement ceases and soon the pond from which we once fished out great ideas and efforts begins to grow stagnant.

People who join the leadership ranks in times of plateau are often a different breed than those who stepped forward when we were climbing. These friends, good people all of them, tend to be more managerial types—they can help us consolidate the previous gains and build systems that sustain them. These folks are good at doing what we’ve done and even adding some efficiencies to how we do it, but they’re not typically good at doing something new. In fact, the status quo that led to their leadership slot becomes something to subconsciously protect and taking chances on new ideas feels threatening.

I’ve worked in more than one organization that was trapped in this quicksand. New ideas, new product designs, new ministry foci, were typically met with “why that won’t work” or “why we can’t do that” type of responses. Often in such places, salesman or others responsible for the frontlines of customer engagement bring ideas that are quickly shot down by those who must produce them. In the church, it’s the ministry leaders who dream of new approaches only to have those governing the purse strings easily dismiss them.

A culture of “no” doesn’t always feel like a negative culture. Usually those who create it believe they are acting responsibly, avoiding careless spending, following the rules, or maintaining good stewardship in their efforts. This is simply who these leaders are and how the world they have created works most comfortably. Unfortunately, their sustaining motivation can lock an organization into zero growth mode.

Some have made a big deal of the difference between leaders and managers, and this is the arena where that difference makes sense. Surely, every entity needs both, but if your organization is quicker with the “no” than the “yes” it could be because you have managers in chairs where leaders should sit. Frustrated leaders call these folks “bureaucrats” or other less than attractive names, but what they have identified is a culture that hears “no” before it considers the possibilities ahead, a culture that’s better at setting up camp than going into battle.

Truth is, in the church this culture can grow out of frustration over what we really can’t do. When we see other ministries scale the mountain and celebrate the successes we long for, we want to take their climbing tools and join the fun. But then we realize those tools weren’t meant for our ascent and we add to our list of what we apparently can’t do. As that list grows, so does our tendency to greet future new ideas with the “no” we’ve learned from experience.

So…what do you do? Well, that conversation is yet ahead of us. But the first and necessary step is to say “yes” when someone asks, “do we need to change?” Plateau is so easy to deny and inaction is equally easy to justify. Now, the road out doesn’t come with just any new approach or idea, but it will never come at all until we recognize that a plateau has us in its grasp.

Subject to Change – 14

This 14-part series of blogs–Subject to Change–is taken from the first three chapters of a new book by the same name that I hope to release in 2019. Believe me, there’s a lot more thirst-quenching truth to draw from the well of things people wish their pastor knew about leading them in change. I welcome your comments on what you’ve read thus far…

So, Pastor, we know you’re anxious to get started on the future, but let us walk you through our past a bit. We need you to know a few things before we put this car in drive. So let’s summarize a bit:

We need you to know that you’ve missed a lot.

We need you to know that yours isn’t our first vision.

We need you to know that getting this far hasn’t been easy.

We need you to be gentle when discovering our failures.

And, we need you to walk in our old shoes a bit before thinking we can run in your new ones.

We’re all a part of a larger story, a tale we hope will reach epic measurements, and we want you to be everything your role requires. We’ll even help you by doing our parts too. Just don’t think that this story started the day we added your name to our bulletin. It didn’t and there’s a lot of stuff behind us that we’ll keep carrying until you lovingly help us lay it down.

Here’s what happens if you do. If you love us enough to listen to our stories and let us cry through the sad parts, we’ll write new stories with you. We don’t need you to fix us—at least not yet. We don’t need you to run your highlighter over our failures—we know them too well. We just need you to love us enough to think you can learn from us too. And we’ll teach you what a few forays into the tall weeds have taught us. We both need to know those things ‘cause we really don’t want to end up there again.

Remember My friend, Bill? He turned out to be a really good guy. In fact, by the end of our journey together, he was ready to stand before his congregation and use his influence to fuel the new direction he and his team had discovered. Turns out he’s the kind of guy you’d love to have in your church. To say that he’s a believer in his congregation’s future today would be an understatement. I’m guessing there are several folks in that church reeling in shock to see Bill becoming such a catalyst for change. Last I saw, He was joyfully flailing his arms to fan that flame. It feels really good to see him so enthusiastic. Like most of us, he’s a lot better looking when he smiles.

Funny thing, though. I keep running into Bill nearly everywhere I go. Actually, it’s not Bill himself, but maybe a few of his cousins. In so many settings, I find people twisted into a tight ball that will only ever be unraveled when a wise and caring pastor takes the time to do what Bill’s pastor did for him.

Truth is, Pastor, none of us have been where you want to go, and we’re pretty sure that you haven’t been there either. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to go or we don’t long for destinations like the one you describe. We just need a bit more trust, a bit more relationship, and a little less fear to climb aboard your fast-moving train. We’ve always thought there could be a Promised Land for our congregation, but so far it’s only been a place we talk about and we’ve already tried more than few maps to get there. Yours may be the right one and you may be the chosen one to guide our journey there, but the previous locomotives that have powered through here and the depot full of baggage they left have taught us to prefer looking more than leaping.

Subject to Change – 7

Last time, we discussed the second way a leader builds trust…through success. Let’s look at another way to bring this critical element of trust into our leadership efforts…

A third means by which trust can be achieved is personal transformation. Here, we have decided to trust our pastor because of the impact his or her ministry has had on our lives. In the work of making disciples, those who shape lives establish a powerful influence on the lives they have shaped. So we say, “Pastor, your efforts have changed us. So now, we trust you to change our church.”

Personal transformation builds the most powerful form of trust possible in a ministry relationship. You can see such impact modeled in the relationships Jesus shared with His disciples. After a few years of almost daily interaction with Jesus’ teaching and miraculous moments, the disciples were ready to be world-changers on His behalf. When His work in their lives was punctuated by His resurrection—a moment that made their own deaths look a lot less threatening—they circled the globe with His message, enduring death threats of their own and standing firm when those threats became reality. He had changed their lives so now they trusted Him completely.

Of course, personal transformation is no overnight achievement. In fact, of the four methods for building trust, this one likely takes the most time. But it’s also why most of us became pastors anyway. We want to make a difference, and the lives of people are where we really hope to make it.

To some degree, personal transformation can seem like a combination of the relationship and success approaches. It begins with a genuine commitment to the existing congregation—to grow them, serve them, and teach them to serve others. As that priority becomes clearer, then the people are strengthened to aid our pursuit of the church’s measures of success. When we feel loved and understood, we will roll up our sleeves with you, and that’s often where we find the life-change we’ve long desired for ourselves.

If you want to grow a church without growing it’s people, you’ll be found out soon enough. Selfish success stories seldom endure in the local church. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine God himself getting on board with such an agenda or allowing one of his local families to suffer one for very long. Congregations are rarely enthused about building a name for their pastor, especially if they get very little from the bargain themselves. I think we can assume God is on their side on that one. Instead, a pastor’s genuine desire to see his people discover life as its meant to be lived keeps the focus where it rightly belongs.

While personal transformation will usually prove to be the most powerful means of building trust, it can also be the most difficult to measure. Pastor’s presence alongside my hospital bed can prove he loves me and there are metrics we can use to identify or church’s successes, but how do I know when personal transformation is occurring? What measuring stick can we use to determine real progress and how can a pastor reach higher on that stick?

The answer is usually told in the stories we’re living.

Pastor, if you’re going to have this kind of impact on our lives, we need to see your passion for the lives we currently have. Regardless of the numbers in the sanctuary, we need to sense your heart for us, and the hope you have for what we can become. Some of us stopped dreaming a while ago and our family members haven’t mentioned our potential in quite some time. When you teach and preach in a way that says you believe in us and want to walk with us into our futures, we know you didn’t come to our church just to reach other people. You want to reach us too.

I love visiting Mt. Rushmore—that chiseled collection of granite presidential heads one can find amidst South Dakota’s Black Hills. As a huge Abe Lincoln fan, I can spend hours at any site where he is in focus. Add Washington, Jefferson, and Teddy Roosevelt, and you have more than tripled the attraction.

Why those four? Actually Gutzon Borglum, the original sculptor at Rushmore, rejected the first list of carving candidates suggested by the guy who dreamed of the monument in the first place. Lewis and Clark, Red Cloud, and Buffalo Bill surely impacted the West, but Borglum insisted on sculpting those who had made their mark on a wider scale. Good call. The four great men he chose had transformed a nation. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt had founded, expanded, and preserved this superpower and stood as symbols of its courage. As such, they are among the most trusted leaders in our nation’s history.

Who would be on Mt. Rushmore if it were your life we were celebrating? For me, the list is easy—my dad, my immigrant grandfather, my first pastor, and his young adult son. I won’t fill the pages it would require to explain how each of these men have transformed my life, but I can think of no one whose head should be carved on my life’s mountain ahead of theirs.

Now, seeing family members on that list shouldn’t be too surprising, but including my pastor and his son seem significant to this context. Actually Pastor Howard held that title in my life for twenty-six years and his ministry has certainly impacted the other thirty-one. He put my growth, and the life advancement of dozens of others ahead of any church growth agenda he might have harbored. His son lived the same way, leading me to my initial faith decision and becoming a valued mentor in my teen years. They, along with my dad and grandfather, shaped my life in ways I can’t fully describe. Rushmore’s reserved for folks like that.

Pastor, we can tell when that’s who you want to be for us. You know our names, remember chunks of our important stories, and help us target a destination for our futures. So you bring the passion and we’ll bring our very lives, and the stories such a merger will write could prove to be the best future our church can find. You may want to change the way we do church, but your greater goal is to change us more into what we really want to be. Frankly, we’ll be glad for you to change both.

 

Subject to Change – 5

A leader builds trust in one of four ways—relationship, success, unblemished integrity, or personal transformation. Let’s consider each of these, discover how they build a foundation for change, and identify how much change each will allow a pastor to achieve before the ice beneath his feet begins to crack.

First, trust is built through relationship.

This used to be the pastor’s wheelhouse. A new pastor would join his congregation, knowing that the best first step would be to engage the people, get to know them and the extending branches of their families, and understand their worlds from an up-close perspective.  Pastors once launched their ministries with plans for people rather than plans for change, believing they needed to walk in the former pastor’s shoes for a while before being certain of any new steps to take.

Sunday sermons and Sunday dinners, wedding rehearsals and their subsequent receptions, graduation parties, hospital visits, kids’ ballgames, family funerals—these, and other moments like them, prove to be the construction sites where a pastor’s relationships are built. Pastor’s influence in our lives is established by his presence in our lives. Experienced pastors understand that their preaching is a job requirement, but they really become “pastor” by their presence in the midst of life’s major moments, especially its crises. Preach a great series on the Beatitudes and folks will appreciate you, but sit in the Intensive Care Unit and hold their hand as doctors remove dad’s ventilator and your role in their family changes forever.

And, as that influence grows, trust grows as well. Through relationship, pastor has proven that he’s one of us. We’ve come to know him as he has prioritized knowing us. So we attach ourselves and our family’s spiritual futures to our pastor because we know him, we like him, and we trust him. Will we, then, let him direct changes in our church? Yes, at least to a point—the point that our relationship can withstand.

You see, when pastor has established healthy relationships with us, we come to believe that he understands us and our needs more fully. He does. So we are willing to trust his heart for us because he has proven that heart in our cemeteries and hospital wings. He’s laughed at our jokes and eaten blueberry pie in our dining rooms, so he has proven his commitment to us and we like him. Change? Go ahead, pastor, we trust you…to a point.

When your influence or leadership is built on relationship, we let you lead because we like you. But change too much or go too fast and we start liking you less. “You may have done an amazing job with grandma’s memorial service, but decide to discontinue my Sunday school class, and we’re back to square one!”

This “zeroing out” of the love bank often catches pastor by surprise and inflicts some of his deepest hurts. He’s caught off-guard when the family that he’s held together by the bailing wire of his late-night counseling efforts suddenly decides to leave the church.  He doesn’t understand how his long-time friend and fishing buddy withdraws his membership over last Sunday’s song selection or why the babies he’s held and slipped candy to for a generation now want the Associate Pastor to replace him.

Yes, at times we the people can be a bit fickle. We may sometimes allow our mole hills to become mountains you can’t climb, but there’s something we need you to understand. In a journey of change, relationship is essential, but it will only take you so far. If we let you lead because we like you and the changes you’re making lead us not to like you anymore, well, you can see that your recent withdrawals from our love bank have overdrawn your account. So we close it.

Funny thing about relationships, though, they won’t let you make a lot of change, but we won’t let you make any change without them. Making changes at church without first building relationships is like trying to cash a check when you’ve never made a deposit. If you do that, the bank teller’s going to frown at you, and shake her head until those horn-rimmed glasses fall from her ears.

Now, there are two modern realities that work against a pastor’s priority of making relationships. The first of these is the increasing size of today’s churches. A half-century ago, a pastor would typically arrive on scene and be welcomed by eighty to a hundred people, ready to launch life’s journey together. Today, that average has almost doubled and there are many places where the assembled well-wishers could fill the local high school’s gymnasium…twice. To build relationships with hundreds would be overwhelming. Keeping this size of a crowd happy requires a politician, not a pastor.

In the larger church, people soon figure out that close relationship with the pastor isn’t realistic. So we don’t expect him to officiate the kids’ wedding or show up at the clinic to pray before each colonoscopy. Instead, we like our pastor because he seems likeable—from a distance. We know him (or think we do) because of what he shows us in the pulpit. He’s kind because he seems kind. He’s smart because he sounds smart. He cares about us—you can tell that by the way he crafts each week’s benediction—but we really don’t know him. We may, however, know some people who know him, and they say good things.

In many larger churches, relationship isn’t a realistic means for building trust. Those pastors will have to look to one of the other two options we’ll consider in a moment.

The second reality is our principal subject in this chapter—time. Building relationships takes time, there really are no shortcuts. It’s this requirement that has many pastors growing impatient. They’re attending conferences where the latest idea looks like the perfect solution to an aspect of congregational weakness, and waiting a few months or even years to try it out doesn’t seem appealing.

When I first became pastor of our congregation in Wichita, a fellow pastor told me that I wouldn’t really be the pastor for the first five years I held the title. That’s about how long it takes to build the needed relationships to lead. He ruined my evening—several of them, in fact. I decided right there not to like that fellow pastor, and it had nothing to do with the fact that his congregation was six times larger than mine!

But he was right.

Relationship building is time consuming work. And pastors, especially those leading congregations of 400 or less, have no choice but to make that investment. You simply cannot lead change until you have proven your love and care for the people, and that requires you to live some life with them before launching us all forward onto new avenues.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve some change until you’ve entered year number six. Change can be achieved more rapidly if you can work effectively with those in the church who currently possess the influence you haven’t had time to build. Often, those sitting around the deacon table or others among your leadership team have put in the time and proven their care for the congregation. If you can respect and value these friends, and learn to trust their sense of judgment and timing, you can make some earlier progress on the future—steps you could never successfully take on our own.

Still, even with the help of these friends, you need to be prepared to spend some time before we’ll trust you enough to let you determine our direction. Sheep follow their shepherd’s voice, and it takes a little while for that voice to become familiar—time spent bringing us to green grass and extricating us from life’s thorn bushes. We want you to lead us, but we need to be sure that you really know us before we can be sure that you know what is best.

Metrics That Matter – Part 1

NOTE TO MY REGULAR READERS: This week I am with Kansas Assemblies of God pastors, explaining these church health metrics. These five blogs are posted together for their benefit.

Numbers are a somewhat controversial topic when it comes to the local church. Some chase them, believing the size of the crowd will speak volumes about their own effectiveness. Others simply insist that Jesus wants to reach everyone, so everyone is the goal. Still others focus their energies on smaller gatherings, searching for an intimacy the crowd can seldom achieve. Church isn’t a numbers game, and yet it really is.

Okay, now that’s a confusing paragraph. But the life of the local church can’t be summed up in an attendance board or income statement. The so-called “nickels and noses” measures seem to be commonly used to evaluate churches, while we simultaneously insist there’s more to it than that. We want to insist that a healthy church is a growing church, and yet there are enough examples of unhealthy growth to give us caution. So how do you really measure effective local churches?

Like the annual trip to the doctor’s office for a physical, a real health evaluation is going to be comprised of multiple measures. You just can’t say you’re healthy if your weight is in line with your height. You don’t get a good health diagnosis for blood pressure either. There’s cholesterol to count and a heart rate to measure. And truth is, all these could be at perfect levels only to discover a cancerous tumor growing within. In truth, health measurement requires a number of inter-related measures.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at some of these. Taken together, they can provide a better picture of health than the simple chart of last week’s attendance.

  1. The AC ratio.

The AC ratio actually takes that attendance number (annual weekly average) and sets it over the number of conversions occurring each year. So if your church averaged 100 in attendance last year, and you saw 10 people choose to follow Christ in that same year, the math is fairly simple–Avg. Attendance / Conversions or 100/10, which equals 10.

What the AC ratio means is that for every ten people attending your church, one person became a Christian. Another way to say it would be, “it takes ten of us to lead someone to Christ in a year.” Now, we understand that ten of us didn’t actually target the same person over a twelve-month period, but you get the idea.

In church health circles, we can call the AC Ratio a measure of missional effectiveness. Since the mission Jesus passed to us is to make disciples, this metric gives us some insight into how we’re doing with that. So…how are you doing with that?

In the Assemblies of God in 2014, the AC Ratio across the United States among all 12,849 churches was 4.2. So, across our Fellowship, it took four of us to lead someone to Jesus. Back in 1980, the national AC Ratio was 5.5, so you can see that we’ve been more effective with this first part of our Great Commission assignment in recent years. However, this ratio may show us something about church size too. In 2014, churches under 200 it takes about six of us to produce a convert each year, while the average for churches over 400 in attendance hovers around three of us.

Now there are a number of factors to consider if we’re going to determine a “healthy” rate, but given the increasing U.S. population and the likely number of unchurched folks in your community, surely an AC of at least 5.0 should be achievable in most places–if we’re really trying to reach people.

It’s just one measure, but it’s an important one. There are, however, several others to consider if we’re going to get the full health diagnosis, so go ahead and calculate your AC Ratio, but stay tuned…

Metrics That Matter – Part 2

NOTE TO MY REGULAR READERS: This week I am with Kansas Assemblies of God pastors, explaining these church health metrics. These five blogs are posted together for their benefit.

Well, we’re back to the numbers game as we continue our look at the metrics that drive church health. Last time, we reflected on the “nickels and noses” measures of local church life, concluding that while more people and more money for ministry are good things, they aren’t truly the best measures of church health. Just because something is bigger doesn’t mean it’s better–that’s why some of us go to the gym a few times each week. If bigger was the goal, well, I’d eat more bacon.

2. The CW Ratio

Our second metric for consideration is called the CW Ratio or the Assimilation metric. With the CW Ratio, we measure annual conversions against annual water baptisms. Here we’re asking, “how many of our converts did we keep long enough to get them baptized?”

This is a measure of assimilation because it shows, at least in part, that we are connecting those we are reaching to the ministries of the local church at least long enough to help them take this important discipleship step. So, maybe we had a large outreach last year and saw 15 people come to Christ. Over the next few weeks (sometimes months), we want to measure how many of those 15 were effectively connected to the church. Unless you baptize at the outreach event itself, this number can help us see if we’re assimilating these new believers into the life of the local church.

Now certainly there will be additional measures for assimilation, but the CW Ratio is a great way to see if our efforts are solely evangelistic, or if we’re achieving some real discipleship goals. Some churches report hundreds of conversions each year and yet their attendance only grows by a handful, if any. Why? Apparently we’re either over-reporting our conversions or we’re not doing a great job of connecting with folks after the “altar event.”

In 2014, U.S. Assemblies of God churches baptized one person for every 3.4 converts reported. That means we helped fewer than 1/3 of our converts take this essential step. Is that good enough? Probably not. For purposes of health, we have set a CW Ratio of 3.0 as a healthy target. That means we must see at least 1/3 of our converts baptized. Now some might think we should baptize 100% of our converts, and it’s hard to disagree with such thinking. But some of those converts may have been from other communities. Others may have attended an outreach, but haven’t made it to a worship service yet. So, 1 of 3 seems to be a minimum goal, but if you can achieve a CW Ratio of 1.0, we’ll rejoice with you!

Interestingly, smaller congregations report lower CW Ratios than larger churches. For example, in 2014, AG (US) churches under 200 in weekly attendance reported a CW Ratio of less than 2.5 while churches over 700 showed a CW Ratio of more than 5.0. Why the difference? Remember that larger churches report a much higher rate of conversions, and likely find it more difficult to maintain contact, even with these that have taken their first life-changing step. It’s a challenge, but one to which larger churches are giving increasingly more focus. Over the past decade, these largest of our churches are seeing their CW Ratio slowly decline (a good thing).

Want to do better with baptisms? Try offering more opportunities for baptisms. Also, look for ways to shorten the gap between the conversion moment and the chance to step into the water. You might also consider explaining this next step while you are in the altar with the new believer. In fact, that’s a good approach in all areas. With every step someone takes in their faith, help them understand the next step so they can chart a consistent course for their lives. As one pastor said, “Do all you can to ‘keep them moving forward’ so you can help people become more firmly planted in their faith.”