“The Church Doctor will see you now.”

“Tell me,” the doctor said, “What seems to be ailing you?”

The church shared her symptoms. Lethargy. Uncontrollable membership loss. And an unmistakeable rumbly in her tumbly.

“It’s most likely one of three common contagious church viruses.”

Capitulation Infection

Capitulation Infection is one of the most contagious and rapidly spreading viruses of all.

Symptoms: The cessation of any new ministries, programs, or events. The inability to implement any significant change in the congregation, including – but not limited to – tweaking the bylaws; updating the order of worship; changing the schedule for worship or small group or committee meetings; canceling any ministry, no matter how ineffective or ill attended; adjusting salaries to meet the cost of living; upgrading quality of coffee for the fellowship hour; or changing the color of the parlor’s walls. General discontent, malaise, and defeatism.

Diagnosis: Diagnosing Capitulation Infection is quite easy, but it has three indicators that always occur. These indicators are best evident during decision-making meetings.

Indicator 1: When a motion for a change has been made, listen for a lone dissenting voice to raise an objection. The dissension might be raised civilly, politely, and completely within the rules of Saint Robert’s Rules of Order, or it might be raised as a side conversation with anything from a hint of annoyance to outright ugliness, or it might be raised with snide, snarky comments made under the dissenter’s breath – but loud enough to be heard. Regardless of how the dissent is voiced, a lone dissenting voice brings dissent to change.

NOTE: Sometimes a lone dissent is spot on. The majority isn’t always right … in fact, biblically, the majority never gets it right. That said, Capitulation Infection is present when the dissenter’s objection is raised against a change that is either a “Duh!” kind of decision or clearly raised from self-interest or to maintain the status quo for the sake of maintaining tradition.

Indicator 2: Once the baseless dissent has been voiced, if the majority either tables the motion or defeats the motion, you should suspect Capitulation Infection.

Indicator 3: If the first two indicators are regular occurrences in your meetings, if virtually every good idea and life-giving change is undermined or scuttled because of a lone dissenting voice (or even a cohesive minority), then you can be sure the church has been infected with Capitulation Infection.

Prognosis: The first time church leadership experiences an undermining motion attempt, the response by leadership and the majority in attendance will determine whether or not Capitulation Infection will infect the church. Although a single scuttled motion does not guarantee infection, too often the lone dissenting voice will become empowered by their success. When this is the case, the dissenter will likely repeat their behavior and their objections will become more frequent. In addition, others who prefer to maintain the status quo will be emboldened by the results and the Capitulation Infection will spread throughout the congregation. This especially affects those who would champion change for the sake of the Kingdom and they will become disheartened and disenfranchised. Ultimately, the church will experience decline and its own demise because without change, a church will become increasingly irrelevant and obsolete to the surrounding culture, thus putting an end to returning visitors who are the life blood of every church.

Treatment: The only treatment to the Capitulation Infection is for the majority to refuse to capitulate to those who object to and/or become upset by positive change efforts. The good people who make up the majority of a congregation, church board, or committee are often afraid to “offend” the minority (or even a lone dissenter) for fear that they might quit the church, withhold their offerings, or retaliate in some way. This is especially true when the church’s leadership is similarly intimidated and thus allows the Capitulation Infection to take root. Although it is important to consider any dissent, lest there be legitimate reasons for rejecting a motion, consideration must not be synonymous with capitulation. The majority must stand up against dissension when the good of the church is in question.

Prevention/Inoculation: The best inoculation against the Capitulation Infection is a thorough understanding of the role of church leadership. Church leaders are first and foremost charged with putting the good of the Kingdom and the good of the church above all else … and above all others. That means they must be willing to make the difficult decisions that may alienate or infuriate their own church members for the sake of the Kingdom and the future of the church. These decisions are made all the more difficult when bullies and terrorists either overtly or subtly make threats unless they get their own way [see On Not Being Nice for the Sake of the Gospel for more].

How has your congregation dealt with the Capitulation Infection? Share your thoughts for other church leaders in the Comment section below.

See also Part 1 and Part 3