When I wrote If You’ve Got to Herd Cats, You’ll Need a Big Mouse, I wrote about the reality that your church members have no end of “good ideas” about the direction their church should go. Those good ideas include what new programs should be started, what the church needs to stop doing, and of course what the pastor should be doing (can you say Pastor Fetch?!).
Twice a year, I invite pastors to join me for The Big Mouse Adventure. No, that’s not a semi-annual trip to Disney World though the thought has crossed my mind! No, The Big Mouse Adventure is a two month online training course that helps pastors get clarity around what God is calling their churches to do and to be. From there, I help them articulate that vision and build a strategic plan for getting it implemented. (If you can’t wait, you can grab the Big Mouse Training Here … it’s the Big Mouse Adventure Lite version.)
One of the things we talk about is that whole concept of good ideas. Just this week, I was speaking with a pastor who told me he was preaching about vision next weekend and that he’d be asking the congregation where they want to go over the next twelve months. Here’s what I know about what’s going to happen – he’s going to get no end of good ideas and they’re going to fall into the four categories.
1. Some Good Ideas Will Be Good Ideas for Some Other Church or Organization
There’s not a church on this planet that can do everything, and most churches are barely big enough to effectively manage more than one or two ministries with excellence. Some of the congregation’s good ideas are going to be good ideas, but the church simply isn’t adequately equipped to take on that ministry.
I worked with a flagship church in a university town that experienced this firsthand in a most unfortunate way. The church was a wealthy church with a highly educated membership. They had excellent facilities and great resources. At a board meeting, someone observed that there was an impoverished section of town that didn’t have a church within walking distance. Wouldn’t it be a good thing for the church to run a bus ministry and invite those local residents to worship with them?
Without a lot of thought, someone made a motion, it was seconded and adopted. A staff member was assigned to get the initiative launched. And soon the congregation was abuzz that “guests were coming.”
So far, sounds like a great idea, right?
The majority of those who accepted the invitation really were generally impoverished. Many were illiterate. Few had high school diplomas. And most hadn’t been in church much, if at all. In other words, the guests had virtually nothing in common with their hosts. For months, church members tried their best to build real relationships with their guests, but they literally had nothing in common. The only common ground they had for conversation was the church, and the more intellectual content and the traditional worship style didn’t connect with the guests. Nonetheless, it was a pleasant ride in an air conditioned van, free coffee and doughnuts, and the kids were taken care of in Sunday school.
The problems with the good idea began to crop up pretty quickly. The children weren’t “church broke” and didn’t understand why the adults got angry and the other kids blushed with their earthy language (the “F-Bomb” was simply a part of their day-to-day vernacular, even in school). The children were also used to settling disagreements in ways that weren’t agreeable in the church’s culture. The Sunday school teachers were at a loss about how to deal with the unruliness and the parents were concerned as their own children’s language and behavior began to morph.
There was no Sunday morning youth group, so the youth came to the worship service with their parent/guardian/adult. The worship service bored them and so they tended to whisper, fidget, and play games on their phones … but their adults “knew” how kids were expected to behave in church and on a regular basis the whole worship service was punctuated with a loud scolding by one parent or another to try and get one of the kids to behave (totally oblivious that their behavior was much more problematic than the youth … most of the time).
The church members really did try to guide their guests into conformity with the cultural norms, but to no avail. A year later, the church was at its wits end about the whole situation. The Effective Church Group was hired for a general consultation, but with an undertone of “Help! What do we do?”
The truth is, the situation was sticky at best. The Good Idea really was a good a noble idea, but it wasn’t a good idea for that church. They had gotten themselves between the proverbial rock and hard place. The church clearly was a mismatch for the guests, but how do you tell guests they’re not welcome unless they conform? In the end we made a recommendation that the church sponsor a new church start in the neighborhood. The new church would offer an indigenous worship style and be led by a pastor and staff that was indigenous to the situation.
Not every good idea is a good idea for your church.
2. Some Good Ideas Will Be Good Ideas for Some Time In the Past
“Do you remember back when the church was wall-to-wall people? We had young families and kids everywhere. What we need to do is what we did back then.”
The problem is, 1954 isn’t coming back (and either is 1974 or 1998). What worked “back then” rarely works today – like really never – because our culture has moved on. I had a member tell me that the church would start growing if we’d only invest in a pipe organ because “That’s what the church is missing. People used to come to church because of the beautiful music.” The key words in that phrase was “used to.” Churches don’t grow today because there’s a resurgence of classic music played on classic instruments. (And to be fair, they don’t grow today because they’re playing Hillsong or Lecrae either.)
The Y’all Come days of the church are over … at least for now.
Not every good idea is a good idea for today’s church.
3. Some Good Idea are Good Ideas Only In The Eyes Of The Beholder … And Often for the Good of the Beholder
Let’s be honest here. Not every church member has the best interest of the church at heart. Personal comfort and status quo are powerful values in most churches. “I like what I like, so don’t change anything” may not be specifically vocalized, but you’ve heard shades of that plenty of times.
Some good ideas are offered for the sole purpose of maintaining the status quo or, perhaps more often, for the purpose of going back to how it used to be.
Change is uncomfortable for almost everyone and the transition from what was to what is can seem untenable for a few. Unfortunately, those few sometimes make the most noise. In the absence of a strong mission, vision, and an effective leader, those voices may well carry the day and set the agenda. Even though the good idea may hurt the church in the long run, if the good idea is repeated loud enough and long enough, it is very possible that it may prevail. And adopting a “good idea” that is bad for the church isn’t really a good idea at all.
Not every good idea is a good idea. Period.
4. Some Good Ideas are Good Ideas
And finally, some good ideas are quite simply really good ideas. Those are the ideas that pursue the church’s mission. The ones that move the church forward in its quest to reach its vision. The good ideas that are grounded in the Great Commission and the Great Commandments and are localized and contextualized for today’s local church.
Once you’ve got a good idea that’s a good idea for your congregation, then the next steps are all about implementation … all those things about team ministry, staying in budget, and building measurable success metrics.
But that’s another article.
Too Many Good Ideas at Your Church?
The biggest problem with Good Ideas is that there are simply too many of them – and sadly, too many churches have implemented too many Good Ideas over the years and their pastors are run ragged trying to keep up with all the stuff that has to get done.
Pastor, if you’re so busy spinning the plates of ministries that probably should have died a generation ago, then you need the FREE Get More Time Planner.
The Get More Time Planner is a free tool that will help free up to 10 hours of your week so you can spend that time doing the things that give your church life.
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