Challenges, disappointments and setbacks abound right now in the church. From declining attendance and giving to the recent Pew report about the rise of the “nones,” it’s not hard to find signs of our demise.
But if you know where to look -- or, actually, if you just keep your eyes open -- you’ll also see signs of renewal. Sometimes they come in the most unlikely of people and places.
A high school kid who’s a whiz with computers suggests refurbishing the church’s tired website and, hey, why not start a weekly discussion thread about the passage to be preached next Sunday? And before long folks are way more engaged with the biblical passages and the preaching simply because they’ve read and discussed it ahead of time.
Or a grandmother who’s enjoyed tutoring her granddaughter in math wonders if the church could organize this kind of thing for the neighborhood elementary school. And a month or two later, you have a whole group of seniors finding a sense of purpose in reaching out to kids who need not only someone to help with homework but a connection to a caring adult.
Or a single parent who was surprised by how much he enjoyed a time of quiet prayer wonders if maybe the church could sponsor a weekly prayer service. Before you know it, you’ve developed a midweek service of Celtic song, spirituality and prayer that’s attracting not only folks from church but a few from the neighborhood as well. (And, no, it doesn’t have to be Celtic; that just sounds cool to me.)
Or a 20-something who grew up going to church doesn’t get much out of it anymore, but has heard about some churches discussing theology at a bar. In next to no time, you’ve got a group of young people looking forward to a monthly “theology on tap” gathering.
Sometimes unlikely people stumble into doing just the things that need to be done and don’t even know it. And the adaptive leader’s job is to recognize it, point it out, give them encouragement and support (but not do it for them!), and help them share their particular good idea with the congregation, community and world.
One more clip from Moneyball illuminates this point. (For a summary of the movie, see my first post.) This is from late in the film when Pete invites Billy to watch the tape of a player who, because of his size and lack of speed, never rounds first base to head for second but at this at-bat did something amazing…and didn’t even know it.
He hit a home run and didn’t even know it.
Yeah, it’s a metaphor.
The trends are clear. There’s no doubt that in the next 10 or 20 years the church is going to get smaller. The question is whether it will also get more vibrant.
I think it might, particularly if we have leaders willing to look at unlikely people who are doing interesting things that might just lead us to new practices, new patterns, new ways of being church in a post-church, post-Christian world. Often, they don’t even know what they’ve done, but we can tell them. We need to tell them and invest in them.
You probably know the 80/20 rule of leadership: too often, leaders give 80% of their time to the most unhappy or unproductive 20% of their people. That’s got to stop. Some people actually like change. Some people are interested in trying out new things, in taking some risks. These are the folks to whom we need to give our time and energy.
I’m not saying ignore the unhappy or nervous 20%, I’m just saying give them their due -- 20% of your time, energy and concern. I know that’s hard. The squeaky wheel gets the oil.
So, sure, you can give them 40, 60, or 80% of your time but, guess what? They’re still not going to be happy -- some people just don’t like change or fear loss or have a hard time imagining things differently. And that’s that much less time, energy and investment you have to give folks who want to move forward in mission.
There are people out there who are hitting home runs and don’t even know it. Find them. Look out for them. Invest in them. Tell them.
This post originally appeared on David Lose’s blog. This is a reprint of the commentary that appeared in "Faith & Leadership" www.faithandleadership.com. The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church.