In our travels we meet lots and lots of parish leaders. We have talked to pastors, parish life directors, faith formation directors, youth ministers, parish administrators. They have come from every kind of parish in every kind of demographic. And because of the types of events we typically speak at, most all of the parishes we’re talking to want to grow and be healthy. But, over and over again we run into parish leaders who make excuses for themselves. And believe it or not, these excuses all start sounding the same after a while. This should come as absolutely no surprise to us, since we use to make all these excuses for ourselves. They go like this: “We can’t grow because…”
- Our context is different.
It is certainly true that your parish context is different that ours. But, there are also striking similarities. Perhaps the most important one is that most of the people in both our communities don’t go to church and that number is growing. Every healthy growing church in this country is achieving health and growth in exactly that context.
- We just don’t have the right people.
The first time we visited Saddleback Church I was most impressed by the quality of their staff and the deep bench strength they had assembled. Actually I wasn’t impressed, I was jealous. If I had such talent, so I reasoned, I could be another Saddleback too. What I failed to recognize is that my number one job as a leader is to assemble a great team. The reason my team wasn’t great was because I hadn’t led them there, or because they just weren’t the right people and I wasn’t willing to do anything about it.
- We don’t have the money.
Nativity is not a “rich parish” whose wealth funded our strategy of church growth. The money didn’t fund our church growth it followed it. It always does. If you’re waiting for money before you start reaching people you are going to have a very long wait.
- We could never get away with that.
This is an excuse people who don’t want to lead use all the time. Instead of making the hard choices and stepping forth with conviction and courage they just sit back and blame others for their lack of progress. “We could never do that, our people would never put up with it…the Diocese wouldn’t like it…our Senior Citizens would be up in arms.” Excuses. If you are going to grow a healthy church all those things will happen, and more too. You will be attacked, you will be misunderstood, you will be criticized. Leaders do it anyway.
- We’re not in a growing community.
It is true that there are some, perhaps even many, growing churches in this country. They’re in growing communities, so probably their growth is automatic. It is also true that there are churches in communities that are actively dying, and the congregation is inevitably dying too. The former don’t really deserve our admiration, nor the latter our commendation. But most churches in this country are in more or less stable communities which have plenty of people who are not going to church. In my community of Timonium, which is not growing in population (and will never grow because it is built out), there are tens of thousands of people who are not going to church. There is no excuse for our parish not to grow.
As Carey Nieuwhof writes, the leaders who make the most excuses make the least progress. The leaders who make the most progress make the fewest excuses.
For another take on this go to careynieuwhof.com