Things happen as a result of the system that is in place to make things happen. That doesn’t mean that the result, or even the system itself, is intentional.
Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase began his talk about organizational systems at the School of Congregational Development by sharing a story by author Adam Stanley, in which Stanley described the system in his house for taking out the garbage. The system involved Stanley nagging his sons multiple times to take out the garbage, eventually getting angry and the sons finally do it. The next week Stanley carried out the garbage, and withheld the allowance without a reminder. The system changed, and then next week the boys carried out the garbage on time without a reminder.
“You have a system for getting the garbage taken out, but you never thought of it as a system,” Bishop Schnase said. “Our churches have systems for getting things done, and sometimes that system is not what we think it is.”
Bishop Schnase asked the leaders present to consider what the system is at their church for making contacts with people not in the church, and the system for invitation and assimilation that helps people become part of the church.
One way to confront the question is to consider where all of the new members in the church have come from in the past two years. If they are all transfers from other United Methodist Churches, the system may just be hoping and praying that a good United Methodist family moves into your neighborhood and finds your church.
“This system is entirely passive,” Bishop Schnase said. “We began with go-to instincts and have become a come-to church. We learned the passive system back in a day when it worked, the 1950s, when suburbs were growing and people were moving around, and the culture supported church attendance. The culture used to dump people off at our front door, and now it’s like a vacuum cleaner, sucking people out.”
Bishop Schnase told how not that long ago, having sports and other activities on Sunday was unheard of. Now as he travels to churches and spends Saturday nights in motels in preparation for the next morning, he notices that the motels are filled with families who are traveling to some type of tournament. And in a few decades, the culture has shifted from most businesses being closed on Sunday, to most being open on Sunday morning.
“Go to Starbucks on Sunday morning, that’s where the line is,” he said. “Waiting for people to show up at our churches on Sunday morning is passive. It will not work in the future, and will not help us in building the kingdom of Christ.”
Society is not only filled with children who have never been to church, but now in many cases their parents have never been to church either. There is no simple way to reach the unchurched; it takes a lot of work. Churches should have high-quality brochures, use big annual fund-raisers for invitation opportunities, have specific events to invite people to, and train people in the church who have a natural ability to greet others. None of these things may provide immediate results, but one may open the door for someone at some point down the road.
“It sounds like a lot of work to grow a church by a three or four people, but every time you see a growing church, they are going to that much effort and more,” Bishop Schnase said.
Bishop Schnase encouraged those present to cut out any bureaucratic hurdles and empower people to initiate new ministries they are passionate about.
“Lyle Schaller once said that when it comes to initiating a new ministry, only count the yes votes,” Bishop Schnase said. “That might sound undemocratic, but if you have a few people who are excited about a new ministry, it’s good to let them give it a try even if everyone doesn’t share their passion.”