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.”

Metrics That Matter – Part 3

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.

Once again, we continue our look at the metrics that drive church health. As we have seen, the “nickels and noses” measures of local church life aren’t truly the best measures of church health. Just because something is bigger doesn’t mean it’s better. If bigger was always better, then doctors would stop bugging us about expanding waistlines.

But what is better? We’ve already looked at missional effectiveness and assimilation ratios. These have shown us how we’re really doing at doing the job Jesus gave us to do. How many of us does it take to reach someone with the Gospel each year? Are we maintaining contact with those converts long enough to get them into the waters of baptism?

3. The AW Ratio

Today, let’s combine those two previous metrics into a “kingdom growth” ratio.

We call it the AW Ratio because it measures our average attendance against the number of people we have baptized in a year. If we have 100 people attending our church each week and we baptize 10 people in a calendar year, then our AW Ratio is 100:10 or 10:1. Make sense?

Here’s why it matters. In our attendance-driven focus in the local church, a growing church can result from a number of possible factors. Chief among these can often be transfer growth–people start coming to our local church that we’re previously attending another local church. So we have more people and their old church diminishes a bit, a net gain for our local church but no movement forward for THE Church.

Now, church transitions such as these happen all the time. The result often makes the expanding church feel more effective, after all they have more noses to count and more apparent evidence of success in their ministry efforts. Now, we could say a lot about the long-term stability of transfer growth, but that’s not our point in this blog. Here, we’re looking at measurements, and we really want to measure another kind of growth–true KINGDOM growth.

So, are we growing by reaching new people–people formerly unchurched or those who have drifted away from a relationship with God? Are we achieving net gains for the Church, by engaging such folks and bringing them to Christ? Growing churches may insist that this is how they’re truly growing–that transfer growth isn’t driving their increasing attendances–but how do you know?

The AW Ratio is here to help. You see, most evangelical churches list water baptism as a requirement for membership. So those we are truly adding to the Church each year are those that are converted and baptized, thus becoming potential new members of the Church. Now, I’m not trying to mess with your theology. We know that at conversion an individual is adding to Christ’s kingdom, but it’s at the point of baptism that they are potentially added to membership in our local community of believers. So newly-baptized converts comprise the “non-transfer growth” of our local church.

So how are we doing with that?

Now, without getting too math technical and overburdening this blog with stuff many may not wish to read, let me briefly mention that the AW Ratio is actually found by combining our two previous metrics–the AC and CW Ratios. In simplest form, the AW Ratio is the product of those other two ratios so:

AC x CW = AW

So let’s say you have a church of 90 people and you had 18 new converts last year. That means your AC Ratio is a healthy 5.0, because 90/18 is 5. Then lets say that you baptized 6 people in that same year, so your CW Ratio is a healthy 3.0, because 18/6 is 3. That means your AW Ratio is 15.0, a number you can get by multiplying 5.0 and 3.0. You can also get the number by using the attendance and baptism numbers themselves (90 / 6 = 15). Make sense?

Here’s what you need to know. A healthy AW Ratio should be 15.0 or less. Frankly, if your AW is greater than 20, you’re likely not reaching enough new people to maintain the local church at its current attendance, at least not for long. Your attendance may be climbing, but if you’re not baptizing at least one person for every 15 in attendance each year, your growth is predominantly of the transfer variety, and that may not prove the healthiest long-term.

In our previous metrics blogs, we saw that in the U.S. Assemblies of God (our denominational group), small churches tend to struggle with the first metric and large churches struggle with the second. When you combine the two, the AW Ratios tend to be very similar, regardless of church size. The AW Ratios in 2014 were healthiest for churches between 50 and 400 in attendance (AW between 13 and 13.5). Churches under 50 and those between 700 and 1000 had the worst AW Ratios (almost 16.5) which tells us that many of these churches may have trouble sustaining growth into the future.

What is your church’s AW Ratio? Is it healthy? If not, which factor is the source of the struggle? Are you not reaching people or are you not keeping those you reach long enough to see them baptized?

The AW Ratio helps us keep the main thing in focus. We are to make disciples–not just grow churches! Remember that the kingdom of God is not about numbers. IT’S ABOUT STORIES! And it’s those individual stories, those journeys from sinner to baptized believer, that prove the health of our local church.

Metrics That Matter – Part 4

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 at it today. taking a look at the metrics that drive church health. As we have seen, the “nickels and noses” measures of local church life aren’t truly the best measures of church health. In fact, in the U.S. Assemblies of God today, a slightly higher percentage of large churches are plateaued or declining than are smaller churches.

So if bigger isn’t always better, what is better? We’ve considered a few metrics that measure things like missional effectiveness, assimilation, and true kingdom growth. These have shown us how we’re really doing at doing the job Jesus gave us to do. How many of us does it take to reach someone with the Gospel each year? Are we maintaining contact with those converts long enough to get them into the waters of baptism? Are we adding to the kingdom of God, or just to our numbers in a single local setting?

4. The CS Ratio

Next up, is a ratio that’s unique to and essential for the Spirit-empowered Church, one that measures how many of our converts are taking the next step of experiencing Spirit baptism. We call it the CS Ratio–or Conversion to Spirit-baptism ratio–and we insist that it’s truly a measure of both effective discipleship and mobilization.

Let me explain. In the Spirit-empowered local church, we first want to know the ratio of converts to Spirit-baptism because such a calculation will tell us how we’re doing at discipling our converts and guiding them to this critical experience. Like the Apostle Paul’s question of the Ephesian believers, “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” They hadn’t, but soon did receive–and we have the same goal for our converts.

So, this ratio measures our progress in leading our converts to this empowering relationship. Like our convert to water baptism ratio, we want to see at least a 4:1 result, allowing for the fact that our wider conversion net may “catch fish” that don’t normally swim in our neighborhood. If we’re effectively discipling the new believers that connect with our church, we’ll see them water baptized and Spirit-baptized, so we use a similar target ratio for both the CW and CS–in this case, 4 to 1.

But we can’t stop there. You see, someone might get excited if they discover that their CS Ratio is actually 2:1, or even almost 1:1. YES! We think. Because such a ratio would mean that nearly ALL of our converts are taking this important discipleship step. There is, however, a second side to consider with this ratio. Since Spirit-baptism was given to us principally to empower us for witnessing, shouldn’t growing numbers of Spirit-empowered believers lead to even more rapidly growing numbers of conversions? Spirit-baptized believers are fully equipped for significant impact in their families, their communities, and around the world.

That means a CS that’s too low may be telling us that we’re failing to mobilize the Spirit-empowered folks we have. Some churches treat Spirit-baptism as though the experience is their little secret or private possession. They celebrate the presence of the Holy Spirit inside their walls, but fail to connect with the true purpose of the encounter. So they shout and celebrate together, but limp their way from Monday to Saturday, seldom making an impact on the world around them. Such churches have a mobilization problem.

So, when we consider the mobilization side of things, we really don’t want to see a CS Ratio below 3:1. If the ratio moves below that threshold, we are likely discovering that many of our people are experiencing Spirit baptism, but the number of our converts aren’t being significantly affected. On the Day of Pentecost, 120 Spirit-empowered folks witnessed 3,000 conversions–on a single day! And that was in a culture just as hostile to our message as most of our communities, if not more so.

Ultimately, a healthy CS Ratio will likely land somewhere between 3:1 and 4:1. While some could argue the finer points of this target, it seems likely that this range will allow us to continue reproducing Spirit-empowered believers at a healthy rate–and that’s critical for the Spirit-empowered local church’s future.

The beauty of this ratio is that when our numbers are outside this range, we can determine if we have a discipleship problem or a mobilization problem. If the CS Ratio is higher than 4:1, we know ours is a discipleship need. We simply aren’t getting our conversions to this point in their discipleship journey. If we fail to do that, how long will ours continue to be a Spirit-empowered congregation?

And, if our CS Ratio is below 3:1, we know we must work to activate our people toward the reason God has given such power. We must mobilize them or they will continue to view this gift as something for their own private blessing.

In the U.S. Assemblies of God, smaller churches (under 200) have shown greater success with this ratio, keeping theirs near 4:1. But we’ve already seen that many of these churches aren’t producing converts at a healthy rate (AC Ratio), so this bit of good news might be a bit misleading. If many of these churches had healthy AC Ratios, they would likely have CS Ratios under 3:1, revealing a mobilization problem.

Large churches are on the other end of this challenge. In our largest churches (1000+), the CW Ratio is nearly 8:1, meaning that only 1 in 8 converts WILL EVER become Spirit-baptized at current levels of discipleship. Now, these churches see a very high level of conversions, so perhaps the message here is that the ministry emphasis has shifted so significantly to a conversion focus, that discipleship can’t keep up. No matter the cause, it’s difficult to imagine a church with a CS Ratio this high remaining a Spirit-empowered local church into the next generation.

For Spirit-empowered local churches like ours, the CS Ratio is a critical measure of health. If we’re not producing Spirit-baptized believers, what will our future truly be? The CS Ratio can help any size church take a close look at their effectiveness both in discipleship and mobilization. This number can reveal if we’ve become so focused on conversions and church growth that we’re missing true people growth or if we’re allowing our Pentecostal doctrines and practices to create a sub-culture in our congregation that makes little difference in its world. Either option will reveal unhealthy realities that, in time, will prove cancerous to our future as a Spirit-empowered force.

Metrics That Matter – Part 5

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.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been taking a look at the metrics that drive church health. As we have seen, the “nickels and noses” measures of local church life aren’t truly the best measures of church health. In fact, in the U.S. Assemblies of God today, a slightly higher percentage of large churches are plateaued or declining than are smaller churches.

So what is healthy anyway?

For a Pentecostal congregation, it’s hard to argue against the priority of effective reproduction. After all, if the assignment is to make disciples and we, ourselves, are disciples, then reproducing ourselves or establishing others on our same path would seem to be the general idea. Of course, reproducing would also include multiplying ministries, congregations, and every other expression of disciple life we are living together.

5. The AS Ratio

Our next metric to consider seeks to measure exactly that. How are we doing with reproducing Spirit-empowered disciples? After all, if we don’t produce such people, from where will the next generation of Pentecostals find their missionaries, their pastors, their deacons? Since the experience of Spirit baptism is essential for roles of spiritual leadership, the local church must begin to measure how they are doing with the effort to produce such people.

Sadly, many churches struggle to find a sufficient number of leaders who meet these qualifications. Some meet in communities where pastor candidates don’t exactly line up. Others sweat through their annual business meeting preparations, wondering if someone qualified to fill an empty deacon slot will emerge. Let’s not forget the “out there” assignment either. Will we find Spirit-empowered people to send across the globe in the next generation? If we don’t reproduce Spirit-empowered disciples in our generation, the answer will get uncomfortable in a hurry.

The AS Ratio measures average Sunday attendance against annual Spirit-baptisms. In our last blog, we already learned how to measure discipleship and mobilization using a comparison of Conversions and Spirit-baptisms. When we elevate the focus to the entire congregation, we’re asking, “How many of us does it take to produce a Spirit-baptized disciple?” Frankly, if we’re not doing that sufficiently, then we won’t have the Spirit-empowered leaders available in the future.

Since we said that a healthy missional effectiveness ratio (AC) would be one annual conversion for every five attenders, and we said that a healthy discipleship/mobilization ratio (CS) would see one Spirit baptism for between 3 and 4 annual conversions, we can put these two together to find the AS Ratio. The formula works like this:

AC Ratio x CS Ratio = AS Ratio

So, if we’re producing at the healthy levels, the following would be seen:

5.0 (AC) x (3.0 > CS >4.0) = 15.0 > AS > 20.0

This means that if both the AC and CS ratios are healthy, our AS would be between 15:1 and 20:1. Of course, you can do less math and simply divide your average attendance by the number of annual Spirit baptisms to get the AS Ratio, but using the AC and CS Ratios will help you uncover which might be bringing unhealthy results.

What does it all mean? Let’s say a church of 200 in attendance saw 5 people experience Spirit baptism last year. That means the church has an AS Ratio of 40:1. Now we should rejoice over the 5, but we actually didn’t see enough Spirit-baptized to demonstrate healthy reproduction. Using our 15:1 – 20:1 target, we know that a church that is reproducing at a healthy level, would likely see 10-14 such baptisms, if they are discipling and mobilizing their people at a healthy levels.

Now, don’t get lost in numbers. Just understand that the Spirit-empowered future of your congregation will likely be determined by whether or not you’re reproducing the Spirit-empowered reality of your current generation. If your church is growing but you’re producing fewer and fewer Spirit-empowered leaders, how can that future emerge?

Subject to Change – 3

“Pastor doesn’t care about us…he’s only interested in new people…”

“Those people have no concern for others…they just want everything to be the way they like it….”

“Pastor’s just trying to make a name for himself so some bigger church will call him and pay him more money…”

“No wonder the last pastor left. These people have no vision at all…”

Here’s where that whole “peeking behind the curtain” episode I mentioned a few blogs ago proved so important. These statements, no matter how they might be buttressed by anecdotal stories and the kind of undeniable evidence that makes your friends think you have an open-and-shut case, are simply not true.

Pastors do care, though they may feel overwhelmed by what seems to be an endless set of congregational expectations. Ministering to people like you is the core motivation that led them to choose this life path. I’ve met hundreds of pastors, maybe even thousands, and have yet to encounter one that I’d feel comfortable insisting that he’s little more than an empire builder.

And here’s something pastors need to know. Your people do love others and want to see them come to faith. They do want their church to excel at affecting your community and they long for their efforts under your banner to fuel their own reason-for-being. They’ve processed dozens of sermons and been challenged with the mission—the same mission that brought you to their little town—so often that they feel defeated by the gap between where they are and what they’re convinced that God wants them to be. Don’t write them off or toss them onto a pile that’s carelessly labeled.

They want what you want.

When I became pastor of Maranatha Worship Center in Wichita, Kansas, in the late summer of 2000, twelve 8 x 10 photos greeted me as I walked through the church hallway. These were my ancestors in the role of congregational shepherd. Their pictures, and the nameplates that reminded of their tenure, served as the remaining evidence of their sweat and toil encased in a $5 frame. I made a mental note to have my picture taken.

I was pastor number thirteen, an apparent tribute to my good fortune as I assumed the leadership chair in this church’s 78th year. The current label was the church’s third name, the building it’s third location, and the somewhat stern faces of my dozen predecessors reminded me that this was their journey before it was mine.

But it wasn’t their faces that motivated me. Within a month, I had removed the 8 x 10s, combining these historical head shots into a single collage with a $40 frame. Now they all stared at me together, and some of their eyes seem to follow you… but they and their dreams didn’t generate my marching orders.

Honestly, it wasn’t the large and somewhat awkward picture of Jesus hanging in a nearby classroom that drove me either. Yes, it’s His Church and His Commission and His Kingdom. In fact, everything of consequence in that place was and still is actually His. It’s just that I discovered that Jesus and me weren’t playing on some exclusive team on that Wichita corner. He’d recruited a lot of other teammates for our effort.

They were my motivation. In my first months on the ecclesiastical job, I met the lambs I was assigned to feed. Some had been in the flock a long time, those who still had First Assembly of God bumper stickers on their cars—a reminder of what the sign at the previous location had said. A few could remember the days of Pentecostal Tabernacle, a decade or more before the Great Depression disrupted their teen years. This was the congregation I came to pastor, even though no one had hung their pictures in the hallway.

Twelve pastors, twelve visions, twelve new days and new dreams had each taken their turn in the pulpit over the decades, but it was the people that remained. And while their collective sense of direction seemed to need a new compass and their hymn preferences seemed to prefer a language no longer sung or spoken, they still possessed a distinct and clear heartbeat. Those graying and balding heads nodded with firm affirmation that a passion for Christ’s work still beat in their hearts—a passion nurtured by God relationships with many anniversaries.

And that’s the second thing people wish their pastor knew about leading them in change—they really want the same thing you do, even if they want it for different reasons.

Subject to Change – 2

The slightly ornery phrasing of this set of blogs suggests that being on the receiving end of change isn’t always fun. But, my intent is to suggest that those in the pew have some real input to offer to their shepherd as he leads them toward a new day, a reality I have discovered to be true again and again.

The first of these unexpected insights is that we may not be wanting the same things.

What do you suppose sheep want in a shepherd relationship? Now, I realize that nobody really asks such questions of barnyard animals, partly because of the single-syllable vocabularies of wool producers and partly because talking to animals is one childhood dream that can end in adulthood incarceration. If sheep are answering your questions, farming may not be for you.

But if we could coil ourselves inside the tiny cubby-hole where sheep intellect quietly dwells, what would we learn about their goals for their shepherd? My guess would be that green grass and quiet streams where the current doesn’t threaten to topple you off of your leg of lambs would top the list. “Take care of us,” is the most likely translation of that Baaa sound.

Good shepherds oblige, but they often have a different set of goals. They want to preserve the sheep, helping them grow healthy while somehow maintaining their spotlessness, but they also want to grow the flock. Bigger flocks often indicate better shepherds. Old Testament stories show Abraham, nephew Lot, son Isaac, and even grandson Jacob established their wealth through sheep multiplication.

Sheep and shepherd pursuing different passions in the midst of their relationship can create some challenges. I’m guessing that sheep don’t typically mind having other sheep around provided the grass and water are abundant. Still, it’s likely that the shepherd celebrates new members of the flock a little more exuberantly. Sheep don’t throw baby showers.

When we trade the barnyard for the sanctuary, this potential disconnect comes into practical focus. Not long ago, I met with the leadership team of a smaller congregation as they were preparing to welcome their new pastor. I had spoken with the new “shepherd” a few days earlier and I marveled at his excitement, knowing that his most recent predecessors in this role had struggled a great deal. History wasn’t really on his side, but his dream of building a great church and reaching his community in creative ways was captivating. Maybe he’s the one, I told myself. Like Yoda and the other Jedi masters around the presbytery table, I wanted to believe that balance might have come to their Force as long as he’d be careful not to get too forceful.

Problem is, the people had a different agenda. Yes, they wanted to experience God’s future and see their church reach the full potential their founders had dreamed about and prayed for a half-century ago. These are good people and they would never say “No” to the Great Commission, but I knew that their enthusiasm for this moment of decision centered on having a pastor, a shepherd, one who would care for them and nourish them from God’s Word. They treasured what is and what had been while I knew that his eyes were searching elsewhere for what could be. And in a matter of minutes I could see that their enthusiasms weren’t for the same path.

Here’s the first intersection of change and trouble. Pastor and people try to imagine they’re on the same road when they’re actually seeking different destinations. He dreams of larger flocks and producing enough wool to warm the entire village. They long for greener grass and cool, refreshing drinks at crystal pools. He pleads with them to help him chase down more sheep, and they beg him not to forget that they’re sheep too.

Truth is, they’re both right. Jesus’ clear vision for His Church is ever expanding, seeking to fulfill His Commission within its community and beyond, and at the same time loving one another, nourishing each other with His wisdom and caring for every little lamb with a need. Sadly the pastor and the people seemed to each have a different half of the playbook. Two very different goals, two remarkably distinct directions, and two agendas that often bring a confusing “why” to the issue of change.

Now, the danger in identifying these two conflicting ideas is the accusation of making them sound mutually exclusive. Pastors with their eyes on church growth aren’t calloused to or disinterested in the needs of the existing congregation. Such an assumption would be unfair. And it would be just as careless to imply that the congregation is so consumer-driven that they don’t really care about anyone else’s healthy life plan or eternal hotel reservations.

Yet, when there is change conflict in a church, those are often the colors chosen to paint one another into corners. And suddenly it seems that the amplifiers have been shut off, turning Jesus’ command to love one another into little more than a feint whisper. Frankly, if you’re chasing different finish lines, that doesn’t mean you’re a terrible runner. It just means you and your friend probably aren’t running side-by-side.

Subject to Change – 1

April 23, 2018 1 comment

I peeked behind the curtain…

No, this is not a confession of some sort of voyeuristic escapade. I’m a Midwesterner, and peeking behind the curtain is a euphemism that means we like to uncover the real story, see what’s happening beyond what’s visible, or crack the code to see how things work.

You might remember my fellow Kansan, Dorothy. She was a peeker too. Standing amidst the overpowering display in the throne room of the Great and Powerful Oz, Dorothy–in true Midwestern form–pulled back the curtain to find the real story. Okay, actually she was trying to find Toto, who had initiated this journey of curiosity. Still, she overcame her own timidness with her desperate desire to get back home and suddenly she could see the real story behind the amazing Oz. A small, somewhat chubby man, pushing buttons, pulling levers, and speaking into a microphone larger than his own head. In that moment she uncovered one of life-s great truths–add a little reverb and you can sound all-powerful.

Now, let me get back to the curtain I pulled back. Dorothy was disappointed in what she saw, but I was only surprised. Like Auntie Em’s favorite niece, I had been prepared to see something, but saw something else.

You see, I’ve attended numerous pastors’ conferences, drained thousands of coffee cups with fellow pulpiteers, and listened to the dreams of hundreds of these would-be world changers. And, quite frequently, their stories often describe the resistance to their efforts in less than flattering tones. These are the enemies of change, the status quo protectors gathered around deacon room tables. I’ve had the scowling faces of future preventers described in such detail that I had clearly envisioned the veins popping from their heads. Churches don’t change because the people won’t let them change.

Then I pulled back the curtain…

Actually, I began working with churches and the people inside them. I started sitting at their tables, listening to their attitudes, and surprisingly saw very few of those popping veins. Instead, I saw passionate people, some even desperate to see a new day for their church. I met folks who wanted to reach their communities every bit as much as the pastor who led them. I encountered people who were waiting for some powerful character to pull the right lever for them and they seemed quite ready to click their ruby red dress shoes together to get there.

More often than not, the portrait of control-freak deacon or stern church matriarch proved inaccurate. Sure, there are a few out there, but even most of them aren’t out to control the church. Many have just exerted a bit more effort to make sure that some painful and confusing event that occurred a while back never happens to them or their church again.

I discovered that the stories, like Oz’s frightening head, had been a bit embellished for effect. No, my pastor friends weren’t lying (and neither was I when it was my turn to talk), it’s just that many of us hadn’t figured out how to lead these folks effectively yet. We stepped into a story we didn’t start and struggled with our willingness to invest the kind of time it would take to really catch up. So, our impatience and our people’s caution mixed a volatile brew–the kind that has your eyes playing tricks on you.

Most church people are really good people who want really good things for their church–God things. They can quote the Great Commission too, and they really want to live it. It’s just that when you live in the passenger seat and you’ve been driving in circles for awhile, it’s hard not to comment on the latest turn, especially when the road looks too familiar. Hard to blame them, and I can understand why their doubts irritate the latest driver.

But the point is that these are good folks and they need to be led to the future effectively. So, over the next several weeks, I’m going to write about what change is like from the passenger seat, what we can learn from that side of the windshield, and how we can get where we both really want to go together. I’m calling this series of blogs “Subject to Change” ’cause that’s what many congregations are–they are subject to our repeated and occasionally clumsy efforts to bring change to their world.

Stay tuned…