I’m not much of a bettin’ kind of guy. I played the ponies once in the UK … I won and decided to keep my winnings and never played again. Did the same at a casino playing the slots. I won and walked away. When it comes to gambling, I’m a been there, done that aficionado. And yet, the fact is, if you’re in the church leadership biz, whether you’re a pastor, a deacon, a board chair, Sunday school teacher, or bench warmer, we’re all playing a gambling game.

I’m not talking about whether there’s a heaven or a hell. It’s not whether or not there’s a God that your betting on (if you are, then let me try to put your mind to rest … there is and there is). Those are sure things. The gambling you’re doing is betting that your congregation’s strategic focus will transport you and your congregation into the future.

You may remember the dire predictions: 100,000 churches will close by the end of the decade (that rumor’s been going around for over 15 years now, according to Olson in The American Church in Crisis -p 118). The real numbers hover around 32,000 churches that closed in the past decade. That’s about 1.1%. On the other hand, in none of the 50 states did church planting and church growth keep up with the population. The good news is that the average size of church in USAmerica has risen from 54 to 124. The bad news is that it appears the reason for the “growth” isn’t because the smaller churches are growing, but because the smaller churches are ceasing to exist and the mega-churches are offsetting the losses and raising the stats significantly.

But I digress. If you’re a church leader of any stripe you should be scrutinizing whatever strategy your congregation’s is using to meet your mission (you DO have a viable mission, right?). And here’s the gambling part … few churches even think in terms of key strategies. Instead, most churches employ an almost random practice of bouncing between one tactic and another in hopes that something will carry the church into the future and reach the community for Jesus Christ.

I was reading in the September 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review and came upon a sidebar that lists six questions every company should ask. The one that caught my eye included an interesting anecdote.

Would we bet on it?

Gordon Bell, a prominent investor who funds start-ups, is very blunt with executives of firms in his portfolio. For instance, when someone makes predictions for company performance, Bell will zero in on one number and ask the CEO, “Wanna bet? A side bet, you and me, for $1,000.” If the CEO gulps, Bell knows he or she has doubts. At least once, when an underperforming CEO didn’t take the bet, Bell had him fired.

Well, church leader … willing to make a bet that your congregational strategy is going to achieve your goals? (No goals? See The Growth Debate for why you need them.) If you haven’t developed a strategy yet, that may well be your next step. If you don’t know how (or what) a strategy is, check out the blog entry on Completing the Missing Genetics of the Congregation’s DNA. And if you have both … would you stake $1,000 of your own money that you’ll meet your predictions by, say, the end of the year?