We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, December 1, 2014

It's the Culture, Stupid

While many mainline churches are healthy, most are not.  They are in decline.  They share in a culture of decline that is marked not only by statistical decline but also by avoiding talking about their decline.  In a strange sort of way, they are acquiescing to their own decline and eventual demise.  Pastors play a large contributing role in all of this, but it is the churches themselves that play the major role.

Hold that thought.  When recently asked (here) why he has been so successful in turning around the football program at the University of Minnesota, head coach Jerry Kill answered, "I guess the No. 1 thing is the culture, trying to get everybody on the same page...That was difficult. It always is, by the way, when you take a new job.”  Football success wasn't possible without a change in culture.  That change didn't guarantee that the Golden Gophers would suddenly become a relevant program, but without the change in culture there was also no possibility that it would becoming a winning team.  One key cultural change Kill identified, for example, was improving the players' grades.

Returning to the church, it is clear that declining local mainline churches require a change in culture.  It is, unfortunately, far more difficult to sell that need to congregations than it is to young football players who want to win football games.  Churches are prone to actively resist such change.  They are frequently committed to the proposition that they can overcome decline by continuing to do what they are doing, but only better.  There is a reason.  Change might accelerate decline.  Better the devil you know than the one you don't.

Nonetheless, it is all about changing the culture of decline.  The problem with all of the how-to manuals and books and audio cassettes and websites dedicated to that change is that culture is a profoundly local thing, even the culture of decline.  What works in one place may well not work at all in another.  The one constant is the need to change the local church's culture of decline.  And one crucial place to begin is to talk about it.  Not talking means not changing.  Changing a church's culture also requires finding leverage points, which are easier to change and will promote changes in other places—such as introducing a small group ministry into the church.

In any event, it is all about the culture.