Monday, January 12, 2015

2030 is coming....Why hasn't our church changed since 2000?

If you spend more time
watching cat videos on YouTube
than thinking about your church's
leadership needs and outdated bylaws,
you might have a problem.
(Image: found via Google)
My wife and I share the amusing or thoughtful (and sometimes downright puzzling) posts we find each day on our respective Facebook account newsfeeds. The posts reflect the diversity of our “Facebook friends”, who cut across geographic, political, theological and social lines. And let’s not forget the endless videos of cats doing something cute and adorable, particularly when riding around on one of those Roomba cleaner things.

Here's the help you need:

Earlier this week, one of my wife’s friends shared this quotation: “With the start of 2015, the year 2030 is just as close as 2000.”
While it’s a fairly straightforward observation, easily apparent to anyone who can do the math, nonetheless, I got thinking about the difference that fifteen years can make. The year 2000 had no Facebook, let alone Facebook posts to read from friends that back then you would have otherwise had to call or email (a relatively recent tech amenity in itself at the time). In 2015, I am connected with more people on a regular basis, even if we haven’t been in each other’s physical presence in years (i.e. college friends I haven’t seen since graduating in 1997, etc.). By 2030, the technology will have changed just as unexpectedly as a 2015 person time traveling back to the “past” of 2000.
Given my line of work, I started thinking about the issue of change and churches. Many congregations I suspicion look at the year 2030 with some apprehension, knowing the challenges of what 2015 holds: reductions in contributions and/or endowments triggering staff cuts and limiting programming. Pastoral positions are decreasing while increases in facility upkeep costs seem to worry the congregation more. And the list goes on. Finding a more stable and sustainable way of being a local church seems a tall order by 2016, let alone whatever 2030 holds for us in the future.
Worse, many churches are governed by outdated bylaws. Most churches will nod and even chuckle appreciatively when I typify what I hear from other churches about their bylaws: “Our bylaws stipulate all these boards and committees, and we don’t have enough people to fill them, let alone people willing to agree to serve.” 

Reviewing these bylaws will reveal frequently that these governance documents pre-date 2000, hailing mostly from that increasingly distant era of the mid-20th century. Then again, why should we be shocked in 2015 that bylaws predating 2000 are ineffective or out of touch with our current congregational needs? I worry that churches forget that they are following documents written by our forebears who went to church when Ike was President. Why would we want to keep bylaws from that era? Why should we be content with bylaws that have seen no serious revision efforts since 2000 to be remotely the documents helping us make it to 2030?

Then again, I thought about a different spin. While we do not know necessarily what the future holds, we can think about the fifteen years prior to 2015. Where was the church in 2000 and how has our congregation changed in the intervening times? Further, are we able to identify ways where change was not only recognized but also understood with faithful and reality based responses?
From my own experience of the past fifteen years (finishing seminary, becoming ordained, serving two churches and now with a Regional ministry), I can honestly say few folks really wanted to think about 1985 to 2000 with an analytic eye or enter into the type of reflection and analysis about those years, let alone the fifteen years between 2000 and now.

Fifteen years can be an eternity in the lives of any organization. Churches have been slow to adapt to electronic giving, even as our commerce is conducted using “plastic” and “online”. In 2000, Cokesbury (a former employer) had a robust number of bookstores and just the beginnings of By mid-2013, all of the stores were closed in order to stay competitive where Cokesbury believed its customer base (and its manageable overhead) was already requiring them to be to stay relevant. What was a slender new sales channel for Cokesbury back in my day with them is now a major driver of sales and “brand awareness”. Walking into a Cokesbury store is now a fond memory.

In the past fifteen years, one church I served became a fond memory as well. The church that ordained me to ministry closed and merged with a church they helped plant decades before. Most churches in our ABCNYS Region are served by clergy called to less than full-time positions and with decreasing certainty that a parsonage or any benefits are available. It is fair to say to a church today that they need to think carefully about strengthening their lay leadership and diversifying their collaborative ministry with a pastor rather than just looking for a pastor who will provide the proverbial 24/7 presence without the need of employment or income beyond the church.

Being able to stand in the middle of a thirty year period, fifteen years past and fifteen yet to come requires a different type of leadership. Lay leaders and clergy have a vested interest in learning about organizational development, managing anxiety while leading change in congregations and availing themselves of “best practices” in financial and property management.

ABCNYS is actively developing events and workshops to help our churches and leaders (lay and ordained) engage in the conversations that help churches understand where they have come from and how to move strategically into the future. We encourage churches to contact our Region staff to plan ways to engage local churches (preferably in events inviting other ABCNYS churches nearby also to join in on the conversation).
On February 14, Dr. Jim Kelsey, our Executive Minister, will offer a one-day workshop on church leadership and church bylaws. This event will be at the First Baptist Church of Saratoga Springs, NY, (45 Washington Street) from 9 AM to 12 PM. The workshop is free to ABCNYS churches with an advance RSVP requested so adequate materials and set-up can be prepared. Call the FBC Saratoga Springs office to confirm your RSVP by 518/584-6301 (deadline: February 10, 2015). 

NOTE: Other versions of this workshop are gladly offered, as churches and Associations wish to invite Dr. Kelsey. Please contact the Region office to set-up a future workshop date!

During the month of March, two days are offered with the same workshop on “Church, Change, and Changing Church” in two different locations. Offered to the “eastern” side of our Region on Saturday, March 7, 2015, at the Latham Community Baptist Church (Latham, NY) and to the “western” side of our Region on Saturday, March 28, 2015, at the First Baptist Church of Akron, NY, you can register and pay online via the Region website ( or send in your registration with the brochures being mailed out to church offices this week.

Featuring Dr. William Tatum (Intentional Interim, Clifton Park Center Baptist Church) and Dr. Jim Kelsey and Rev. Jerrod Hugenot, this workshop is for any congregant, lay leader or pastor wishing to learn more about navigating change rather than fearing it or missing out altogether. In other words, “Church, Change and Changing Church” takes a lot of courage, thoughtfulness and nimble leadership. Come and learn!

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