The church is dying. At least that is what many leaders of the church are saying today and statistics tend to agree with them. According to Pew Research, almost every Christian denomination in the United States has declined in population in the last decade and those trends are only going to continue to go down (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/). For a while, there was a state of panic in the church. Every magazine and blog post that was posted cried out at the dire situation— “What ever will we do?” “Is this the end of the church?”
Since those initial feelings and articles, there is still a lot of anxiety. However, now there is a different voice that is rising above all others—the voice of change. There are leaders of the church today that are calling out loudly for change, for something new. These voices say, “If we can change the church, then there is a chance to survive.” And of course that is true. If a business, industry, or system is not working then it either phases into nothingness or must change to become something different. However, how you go about that change is what will dictate survival and success.
Some of the voices are calling for the education of seminarians and current pastors to become “change leaders.” A change leader is someone that can energize groups to move toward change even if they may be hesitant to do so. In many ways, this sounds exactly like what churches need, right? A person that can motivate the older members of the congregations, council members, community members to change, to do something different and to do it now. However, here’s my question… A change to what?
A change leader is trained to be called into a church and immediately work to make changes as soon as they are in the door. But, that implies that there is a model that the leader is heading toward. Change leadership implies that there is a model of success. A model that will work to correct all the old congregations that have been losing members left and right over the last three decades.
But, there is no model. There is no one vision that solves all of the problems or a model that a change leader can immediately start working towards. If we are calling change leaders into parishes before there is a vision and model, then all we will see are congregations that hemorrhage any remaining members and any remaining finances that are left until the congregation is forced to close because they cannot keep the doors open. And ultimately we will sell the only assets that church has left—our property (and much of that has already been sold).
The church does not need change leaders (at least not yet). The church needs entrepreneurs. The difference is subtle but in the end, it makes every difference. An entrepreneur is hired not to immediately create change, but to re-envision. An entrepreneur is called to imagine new possibilities with what is in front of them. An entrepreneur is not looking to demolish the old or to change everything, but instead is taking inventory of everything that is possible with the resources that are provided. What are the possibilities with this congregation, with this worship style, with this building?
Instead of dismantling the people, the space, and the spirit of a congregation, an entrepreneur can re-envision that space to use every resource that is available. An entrepreneur can walk into an old building in an urban setting and see the possibility of a minute clinic or providing health services for underprivileged communities. They can walk into a large building of a suburban parish and see the possibility for a nursery school and kindergarten for suburban families looking for affordable childcare. An entrepreneur can walk into a church building in a hipster neighborhood and not see it as a dying worship hall but could see a basis for the beginning of a new bicycle worship community.
The church is not yet in need of change leaders. The church is in need of the new visions and creative spirits of transformative entrepreneurs.