Really? Did anyone actually drive one of these? Apparently.
For me the VW Van minus the paint job reminds me of the weekend my college roommate rebuilt the engine. Seriously. One weekend. The engine comes out with four bolts. I mostly watched and gave some moral support in the process but I like to think I helped.
I see analogies between this experience and the experience of church back in the day. It was easy. At least easier in my memory. The part that was easy was that all you had to do was a credible job of the stuff we still do and people just kept showing up. Generally, the church grew because more new people came than needed to cover off those who walked away.
I don’t recall learning very much about how to grow a church. It was mostly taught that if you get your act together with the insiders more people would find you. So, I was taught — and I chortle at the thought now — if I put in an hour in the study for every minute in the pulpit my preaching would be good and the world would beat a path to our door. I couldn’t figure out how to do that much prep and I found that the more I studied the more removed from the day-to-day realities I drifted. Eventually, I figured out that preaching wasn’t everything.
The other thing I focused on was the Christian Education program. That is what we did back in the day. We did get some traction there because the smaller group size premise made a difference. And when you engage a bunch of people attempting to teach a group something at least the teachers learned some things.
I was a Sunday School guy and put in several years representing a major Sunday School curriculum publisher. Sales growth started to slow a little and the company did massive things to educate us road warriors on how to rally the troops and thus generate the necessary sales. Then one day one of the VPs shared with us at a company conference that he had done some serious research and found what he didn\’t know. He found out that the Sunday School market was shrinking and we still had the largest share of sales of any publisher. Further, our market share was growing. The fact that we were growing in sales was remarkable under the circumstances of a shrinking market that we already dominated.
We had missed some of the really big ideas that were and still are essential. And because of that, over time we lost serious momentum.
That started me on a journey that is now approaching 50 years. Man! Where did the time go? And oh no, I have no interest in trying to recreate yesteryear. 1987 isn’t coming back anytime soon. I plan on staying fully engaged in things that make a growth difference for many years to come. I plan to live into the future and not pine for the past. And I will tell you unabashedly that I have figured out many simple things any church can do to turn things around. I used to think turnarounds were hard. Now I know they are easy when you know what to do and work with people who will make some modest modifications to their behaviours. It won\’t take more than six months to change everything if you are willing and ready to change. Let me give you one clue. Culture eats strategy, structure, programs and buildings for breakfast. And that has almost nothing to do with contemporary cool stuff like changing musical style, dress and what not.
The hard unvarnished truth is that we weren’t so hot back then. We thought we knew what we were doing because there was still a flurry of stuff happening. But the ship was starting to leak and list while the band played on.
If you are in a church that is ready to face the future by getting back to first principles and finding the ways to get wheels under them without repainting the van and pretending you have something new going on, then I want to talk to you.