Frustrated by the lack of commitment and involvement in your church?
Scott Thumma and Warren Bird may have the answers – or at least help you ask the right questions to discover the answers yourself. Their latest book, “The Other 80 Percent,” features exhaustive research on the problem of less-connected and inactive members in churches just like yours. Building on the foundation of this research, they then offer practical steps to develop listening and learning teams to help assist leaders uncover membership patterns, cultural norms, and leadership blind spots. Yesterday’s post covered The Listening Team; today, let’s take a look at Learning Teams.
The listening ideas covered yesterday help, but they won’t give you all the answers you need to address the dynamic of marginal commitment and involvement in the group Thumma and Bird call the other 80 percent. The fact is that the problem doesn’t rest solely in unwilling or dissatisfied people. Some issues require you to look beyond your people.
Enter the Learning Team.
A focus on learning seeks to gain an even bigger picture of the other dynamics at work that prevent “the other 80 percent” from being involved. These insights provide additional prospective and tools needed to turn your church’s spectators into active disciples.
Changes in Society
Changes in society and culture have significantly complicated the challenge of involvement levels at church. Some changes are obvious, but others are subtle. Here are several cultural shifts the authors found significant:
- Eroding traditional connections
- Blurring of religious distinctiveness
- Increasing individualism
- Desacralizing sacred time
- Declining civic engagement
Before you point your finger in blame at society, leaders also need to look at several ChurchWorld contributions to the problem:
- Emphasis on membership
- Counting attendees as a primary measure
- Sunday only based Christianity
- Conversion as an event rather than a process
- People looking to church only to meet their needs
Patterns in Churches
The programs, routines, and physical reality of the church all have a powerful formative effect on those who gather. While people constitute the congregation, in reality the church’s structure acts back on what takes place inside of it. Research conducted among thousands of participants in various church groups across the country demonstrate how certain organizational realities help or hinder church participation and volunteer recruitment. Factors include the following:
- Size matters
- Denominational family
- Worship format and church dynamics
Leadership teams often try to encourage participation and yet in doing so miss the mark completely. In addition to learning about the cultural hindrances of involvement and church structural challenges, it is critical for the leadership team to learn how its own involvement efforts can backfire.
Consider newcomer involvement patterns
- New people are not complete strangers; nearly all first heard about the church from friends, so someone at the church had already asked them to come
- New people are the least connected, so don’t overlook the need to help them develop meaningful relationships
- Churches and staff overwhelmingly see the “front door” of worship and the pastor’s identity as the way and reason folks come in
- People are more open to expanding their involvement when they are asked personally by someone they know
Too many pastors think that the pulpit, worship bulletin, or church newsletter is the primary trigger for involvement. It may take some work to structure a church so that the norm is a personal request by someone known, and the culture welcomes people taking initiative or responding to an inner prompting.
The Learning Team
In a similar manner to the Listening Team, the goal of a learning team is to uncover the external social and cultural dynamics in your community that may indirectly hamper church involvement. Study in-depth the content areas highlighted above. After creating a list of five or so specific areas to explore, meet with the Listening Team, sharing your information and listening to and learning from them.
As the Listening and Learning Teams process and digest their findings, it is very possible that they will discover that diminished participation involves more than personal issues. It also stems from systematic issues that have potentially programmatic remedies.
So far Thumma and Bird have discussed Listening Teams and Learning Teams. The final segment of their book will suggest specific ways to lead your people into greater involvement based on what you have gained from listening to your congregation and learning from the influences outside the congregation.