With the brief thumbnail (to be expanded in a later post) of congregational size from a previous post as a backdrop, the question struck we – who should set this significant direction for any congregation?
There are church type and official policy considerations as an undercurrent, but those often do not accurately reflect the way the congregation operates. For example, many constitutionally ‘congregational’ churches may in fact run with a Pastor as defacto CEO and with congregational approvals as an effective afterthought. Or the paradigm could be reversed. Ignoring these set-ups and any value judgments about them as a separate issue for the moment, however, who should set the priority for the congregational size and growth profile?
A case is sometimes made for interpreting the great commission as a command to proactively grow not only the faith, but by implication each congregation. This would be Biblical by implication, if that interpretation were applied. This intrepretation would mean that growth would be close to, if on the, top proirity. However, not only is that simply one interpretation, but there is no concrete stipulation in Scripture of precisely ‘how’ it is to be sought. Procative congregation growth, and the means thereof, has many models and possibilities.
Growth which is based upon offering services (in that paradigm, that is what programs are, after all) can end up as a vicious circle. In this model, there are never enough resources to satisfy the program needs, so further growth needed, and so on. As such, increasing size based upon programs can end up chasing resources (that is, money). This would apply to both internal congregational support programs and external programs such as missions or social acitivism. In both cases the result is expanded resource needs that never meet the expanding program plans.
There are other senarios, but they all lead to the place where increasing program scope and activity requires additional financial resources. This would appear to be true whether the models starts at the small or the large end of the scale.
With all this in mind, let us consider the process of setting congregational program priorities.
In the biblical model used in many evangelical denominations, the Elders (including the Pastors) are tasked with Spiritual guidance for the congregation. Those tasks today seem to be presumed to included the direction of the church in terms of growth priorities. Depending upon the denomination, those priorities may require approval by the general membership in some forum. In many cases, though, these goals and their full implications are not clearly spelled out or completely veted with those in the pews before being ‘passed’ and ‘implemented’.
Does that matter? Well, if the decisions have financial implications for congregant participation, and if there is to be hope of success, then it matters a lot. Failure of the proposed priorities to reflect the actual priorities of the stakeholders (the congregants) is to flirt with failure. Since this is not an uncommon church situation, the surprising, even shocking, part is that the leadership is surprised by the result.
What am I saying? Well, if there is to be a congregational direction related to increased size and financial obligations, then the majority of the contributing congregation must help formulate that direction (and I don’t mean just approve it at a meeting, which is a historically unreliable indicator), and agree to it explicitly, along with a clear statement of it’s implications for the individual. I would go so far as to say that to do otherwise is to ‘test God’ as opposed to ‘trust God’.
Why bring this up? Well, after talking to congregants from various congregations, and having heard a majority say that in one respect or another their church is struggling financial while at the same time proposing increased expenditure, it would seem that there is an organizational failure to communicate somewhere.