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Tangled fishing lines

My parents had a cottage in northern Minnesota where we spent a fair amount of time fishing as a family.  My dad’s role was to bait the hook and remove the fish we caught. He also spent a good amount of time untangling the fishing lines.

When I think of how congregations organize themselves and get their work done, I think of tangled lines.  I often see fuzzy goals, unclear boundaries about who does what, and why, and operating systems and procedures that belong in a previous century.  I remember getting a call at Vibrant Faith a few years ago from a woman that was complaining that a document we had sent her wasn’t copying well on her mimeograph machine – a machine I thought churches quit using in the 1970s.  Another person asked me recently if I knew the best ways to store flannel graph items.  I remember seeing these teaching tools in the 1960s and 1070s and I didn’t like them then.

Bob Dylan reminds us that the “times are a changing” and the church needs to change too.  The structures, practices and plans we put into place 5-10 years ago may have made sense then but are most likely an albatross to your setting now. I’d like to suggest two simple changes every church could make to keep the ministry lines of communication and execution as tangle-free as possible.

  1. Congregations need to untangle their lines that hinder quick, thoughtful, informed decision-making. Leaders can’t afford to wait for the next monthly meeting to make decisions that could easily be made in less than a day using technology that’s readily available to anyone with a smart phone. The capacity to execute will be one of the defining factors of thriving congregations in the future.
  2. Congregations need to untangle their lines by setting a schedule for regularly reviewing the services provided by their vendors. This includes web hosting, phone service, insurance, equipment leases, contracted services, etc. In addition, leaders should update job descriptions, compensation packages, operations manuals, employee handbooks, programs and ministries, and communications channels at least annually.

Congregations pay a huge price when they put their programs, ministries, practices and procedures on autopilot. If we’re going to be good stewards of the resources God has provided us, then we need regularly assess WHAT we do, WHY we do it, and HOW it gets done. Congregations need to rid themselves of legacy costs and procedures that no longer serve the organization and its mission.

Healthy congregations focus on getting better before getting bigger.  A question you might ask yourself and other leaders is, “If we were to launch this ministry now, how would we go about doing it?”  I’d venture a guess that your response is probably different what what you’re doing now.


One Comment

  1. Tracey Harris
    added on 14 Aug, 2014

    The times have changed and if we are truly to embrace that change we must be honest in our examination of programs. We are trying to do that as Fall approaches but St Louis currently is looking at broken community systems and hurting people as all of the country watches as we respond to Ferguson. It is true for all situations facing us that we must work together to untangle the lines. Thanks, Jim for those images! Tracey

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