by Craig Cable
We’ve all experienced the negative effects of bureaucratic red tape. It doesn’t matter whether it’s been in your church life, your professional life or your personal life; nothing has the power to suck the life out of a great idea like forming a committee to debate its merits.
In the spirit of providing some levity while still attempting to inform, allow me to introduce the participants of a fictional church committee meeting:
First, I’d like you to meet Devil’s Advocate Dan. Dan’s one job on the committee is to always present the other (far less desirable) outcome of anything being discussed. Dan is a master at presenting the worst-case scenario regardless of however ridiculous it may be. Much like a strategically placed juror for the defense, Dan can swing a vote like no other by simply planting a mustard seed of doubt.
Next, I’d like to introduce you to Bean-Counter Barry. Barry prides himself as a shrewd negotiator and steward of the church’s funds. No matter what the price, it’s always too much. He’s laser-focused on the financial legacy of the church and making sure that reserves are well-funded for any future contingency such as a failing furnace, leaky roof, or meteor crash in the parking lot.
Now sitting to your right is Melodramatic Martha. Martha and her larger-than-life personality actually occupy two seats at the table. She effortlessly moves between hot and cold with a level of inconsistency and intensity that would rival El Niño. Martha is well-connected and has the power to influence over half of the church with just three phone calls and four iced caramel macchiatos.
Finally, sitting to your left is Gatekeeper Gladys. Gladys considers herself a bit of a church historian and protector. She thrives on long-standing traditions and deeply worries that those traditions will be lost in today’s secular and self-centered culture. Gladys accepts change with the same level of receptivity as would a well-known geyser in Yellowstone.
Anyone sound familiar? Any of these personalities can hurt your church’s ability to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider and act on important decisions. Not only do committees like this keep decisions from being made in a timely manner, they also spool out bureaucratic red tape that can drive away people who are motivated to actually get things done.
In the book Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith, Dr. Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope identify four primary factors that are causing people to leave the church at an unprecedented rate. When people were asked why they left, the second most common response was that they felt the church’s bureaucracy was stifling. They often found themselves in a constant loop of indecision as they experienced one creative spark after another be smothered to death. Over time they just quit trying and eventually walked away.
Back in 2010 we launched an innovative and proven new ministry called Lifetree Café. In short, Lifetree Café is an outreach ministry that invites believers and not-yet believers to gather weekly at a designated place and time where they talk about topics related to life and faith. Over the years we’ve talked to thousands of churches regarding the opportunity to plant their own Lifetree Café. As a result of those conversations, we now have thriving Lifetree Cafés located all around the country.
I’ve spent hundreds of hours speaking with pastors about what it would take for them to bring a Lifetree Café to their churches and found that the most frequent obstacle is this: the need for a committee to make a decision.
What’s strange is that many of these churches were on their last legs. They were shells of what they’d once been, were doing far less ministry than they’d once done, and yet they were paralyzed when asked to consider doing something new that might breathe new excitement (and draw new people) into their congregations.
These were churches that were literally dying, that would soon close their doors: and they still wouldn’t consider making changes.
My question to those pastors was often “Well … what have you got to lose?”
It was a bold question, but I discovered it was the wrong one. There is a better question, one that doesn’t send committees packed with Dans, Barrys, Marthas, and Gladyses into hand-wringing indecision.
The better question is this:
“If not this … then what?”
This simple, powerful question is the antidote to the poison of indecision. It forces people to realize that by not making a decision, they’re actually making a decision.
In many cases, that decision is to keep doing what they’ve been doing and continue down the path to further decline.
However, a huge difference can be made when a church leader like you is willing to help people broaden their perspectives to see beyond what’s always been done and consider what can be gained by making a change. That’s when conversations turn from “Why we can’t …” to, “What if we try?”
As we move into the last few months of the year, there’s never been a better time to honestly assess the health of your church, explore how to help your church thrive in today’s culture, and nudge your committees past indecision to action.
If you’ve been put on hold as you consider planting a Lifetree Café, now is the perfect time to get started so you can be ready when the holidays bring visitors from your community who are hungry to connect with others through spiritual conversations.
Don’t wait another day. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Visit us at the new LifetreeCafe.com and get your Lifetree Café started right away!