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Missional Choice #7 Avoiding the Charlie Brown Syndrome

Missional Choice #7 Avoiding the Charlie Brown Syndrome

Remember Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown to kick it?  Remember what happens every time he tries?  With great optimism and maximum effort Charlie Brown charges forward only to have Lucy drop the ball at the last moment.  Consequently, failing to connect with the ball, he winds up flat on his back feeling humiliated and frustrated, again.

Missionally effective congregations choose to avoid the Charlie Brown Syndrome by making sure that “those who do get to decide,” according to Doug Anderson of the Bishop Ruben Job Institute for Leadership Development.  This means the people with responsibility for implementation also have the authority to make the decisions controlling the direction and success of their ministry.  Failing to structure a congregation’s decision-making processes this way means that people in charge of providing ministries may be made to feel like Charlie Brown: humiliated and frustrated.

One of the growth challenges for congregations with around 70-80 persons in worship is transitioning from several key people making most of the real decisions behind the scenes to focusing ministries through committees.  Let’s say, several active parents start talking about sponsoring a Halloween event to connect with children in their community.  They talk to the children’s Sunday school teachers and to some other parents they know outside the church. Everyone is excited about the idea and even agrees to help.  But when they bring the idea up to the preacher and she mentions it to the congregation’s patriarch and matriarch, they say that they tried that once and no one came.  The preacher lets the parents and teachers know that it is probably just not a good idea to try this again.  The ball has been dropped as the group was gathering momentum and just about to kick it.  The parents and teachers wind up feeling like Charlie Brown missing the ball.   But unlike Charlie Brown, they learn not to take initiative to do anything in the life of the congregation – even though they are still the ones who make possible all the existing children’s ministry events.  Their budding sense of ownership, commitment, and enthusiasm for their congregation’s children’s ministry has been effectively nipped. 

But what if this same initial group of parents and Sunday school teachers were on the Children’s Ministry Committee and what if this committee was authorized to make and carry out decisions regarding the children’s ministries within their approved budget.  Then, when everyone begins talking up the Halloween event with enthusiasm, they could decide as a team to go ahead and give it a try.  They would feel a sense of ownership and motivation that will encourage their future ideas and commitment.  Their sense of empowerment and enthusiasm is far more likely to draw in new persons wanting to make a difference in and build up the congregation’s children’s ministry.  

When congregations are worshiping around 200–225, the growth challenge now becomes focusing ministry through teams.  Using the previous example regarding the Children’s Ministry Committee, let’s assume that the congregation’s children ministry continued to grow over the coming years.  Now the Children’s Ministry Committee has added a variety of regular and periodic programs.  There are so many people involved in the different children’s ministries that everyone can’t be on the same committee.  Let’s also say the teachers for the children’s component of the recently-added Wednesday night dinner and classes want to add a craft to the children’s activities.  They talk to some parents, who agree to plan and lead it weekly.  But when they go to the Children’s Ministry Committee, their idea gets shot down because members of the committee feel it is too much work (even though they aren’t involved in doing it.)  Again, the ball get’s pulled just as those taking ownership in doing the Wednesday night children’s ministry tried to kick this new idea through the goalpost.  They feel disenfranchised as their enthusiasm and energy evaporate. 

But, what if the Children’s Ministry Committee recognized some time back that they had too many children’s ministries for “those who do get to decide” to be implemented?  So, they decided instead to create teams for the larger children’s ministries.  They initially created a Vacation Bible School Team and a Children’s Sunday School Team.  When the Wednesday night program began, they decided to form a team for that too, since none of the existing members of the Children’s Ministry Committee were involved in it.  Each team sends a representative to the Children’s Ministry Committee meetings to help coordinate their activities with all the other children’s ministries.   However, each team is responsible for both designing and implementing their own ministry, within a budget approved by the Children’s Ministry Committee. 

Notice that in both positive examples, the dynamics are the same:

·         The goal is to make sure that those responsible for implementing ministries also have the authority to make the decisions that design and control the ministries.

·         The effect is multiplying leaders and allowing more persons to use their gifts and passions in ways that make a difference in the congregation’s ministry.

·         This multiplication of and empowerment of leaders can only occur in an environment where trusting one another is encouraged, where leaders are clear about the congregation’s mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” and where missional effectiveness is valued more than maintaining the status quo.   

How is your congregation doing at avoiding the Charlie Brown syndrome by making sure “those who do get to decide?”


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Dr. Jeff Stiggins

The Center for Congregational Excellence