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Patiently Nurturing Culture Change (via Ron Edmondson)

Ron Edmondson offers five observations regarding culture change in a local church:
They’re pretty sensible, but can be overlooked because of enthusiasm or over-confidence.
Taking the time to get to know the church and its existing culture (in contrast to its behaviour; trying to understand why people are doing what they’re doing) is necessary and respectful.
It also provides insight that enables adaptions that help changes to be specifically suited to the location rather than just being imported because they worked somewhere else.
Edmondson’s first four:

Figure out where the culture most needs to be changed.
Figure out what is working that you can build upon.
Begin to get a vision for the future. What does it look like?
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

And his final point:

Steadfastly work the plan.
It will take longer than most leaders hope it will. The longer the present culture has been engrained the longer it will take to change it. Protect your soul during the process, take frequent periods of rest, surround yourself with some encouragers, but stick with it.
The process to get there won’t be easy, but when the culture is improved you can really start having fun again.

Read the whole post here.

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Getting The Church To Think Outside The Church (via William Sikes)

This article is sort of a plug for the author’s web-based church revitalisation program, but there are a few phrases that resonate in communicating a mission focussed vision for local churches that need revitalisation.

One of the most important revitalization changes we faced was to move from a ‘country club’ church to a ‘mission-based’ church. The church was self-focused.
But the Lord was leading us to be something greater in the community for the mission of Christ. In order for us to do this, we were going to need to get the church thinking outside of the church and to stop caring about the “me, myself, I, and us” language.

Read the whole post here.

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The Challenge Of Sundays In A Smaller Church (via Karl Vaters)

Having come from a meeting today where church attendance figures were submitted, this article by Karl Vaters makes some helpful points.
While there is an average number of people attending a church, in reality attendances can fluctuate between, say, thirty-five an sixty people.
That difference makes a significant change in tone, and, realistically, most weeks those planning worship don’t know which ‘group’ they’re structuring for.

Vaters suggests:

Think relationally not programmatically
Highly programmed people have a hard time in small church leadership. Highly relational people do much better.
When numbers are small, and week-to-week percentage swings are highly variable, you can’t lead with a fill-in-the-boxes mentality.
In small churches, everything is done relationally. Our planning needs to be, too.
Leave a lot of wiggle room in your plans
Most planning principles are based on exact numbers. But when you don’t have exact numbers, you can’t plan that way.
Instead of saying “we need X number of ushers, greeters or nursery attendants”, talk with the members of your church about the importance of being ready for anything at a moment’s notice.

Read the whole post here.

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Waiting To Serve While The Business Is Closed

This is a heart-achingly sad feature article by Garry Maddox on Fairfax about the Olympia Milk Bar (Parramatta Road, Sydney) and its owner.
The Milk Bar was forced closed by the local council due to severe structural problems in the building, along with other signs of disrepair.
And yet, within the milk-bar that never opens a solitary figure carries out a daily routine, just as if it were still open.
Its impossible not to think of the similarity to this sad situation to numbers of churches.

The beginning of the article.

The old Olympia milk bar – a landmark on Parramatta Road at Stanmore – has kept sadly declining since it closed late last year.
The sign out front is full of gaps: “SNACK_, SMOKES, S_E_ _S,” it reads. The window is partly boarded up. The awning is black with dirt.
But anyone passing who has a moment to pay attention might see a figure moving in the shadows at the back of the shop. If they ever dropped in for a milkshake, tea or a quick meal after a movie when the Olympia was open, they will recognise him.
Eight months after its last customer, elderly owner Nicholas Fotiou still spends his days – apron on as though ready for work – at the Greek milk bar that has been his life.
“Seven days a week,” he says with a thick Greek-Australian accent.

Read the rest here.

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Why Starbucks Failed In Australia (via CNBC)

“They thought their business model could just roll out.”
I’ve watched forty years or so of church ministries franchise themselves as the future of the church without having the humility or awareness to realise that they were a lot more dependent on local circumstances and personalities than they thought.
“The company said that it would develop in Italy with humility and respect.”
If only Christian ministries focussed on church growth would do the same.
Interestingly the company’s plans for Australia now seem to be focussed on presenting a familiar presence and product for tourists visiting the country.

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Getting Rid Of The Messiah Complex

If you’ve talked to folk in churches that have a culture of decline they generally all agree there’s one reason that caused it and one solution to fix it: their pastor.
They seem oblivious to every choice they make as a church that cultivates decline, and wistfully yearn for the person who will see people come to their church while they continue to exercise the same churches that have resulted in decline.
What’s more disastrous is when the incoming pastor embraces the same narrative.
Churches so often get indulged in their disfunction.
That’s why this point from this article on five essentials to turn a declining church around by Joel Rainey appealed to me:

Get rid of the Messiah Complex.
There is a parable about a new pastor who, upon moving into his office, found three envelopes in his desk drawer. Each was marked to be opened for the first, second, and third major crises he would face. Before the end of the first year, he opened the first envelope in response to a major kerflufle to find these words; “This is from your predecessor. Blame everything on me.” It worked! But only for another six months. So when he opened the second envelope he read these words; “This is from your predecessor. Blame everything on my predecessor.” Again, that tactic managed to assuage the division. But three months later, in the midst of some of the nastiest conflict he had ever seen, he found himself opening that third envelope, where he read these words; “This is from your predecessor. Take a little time before you leave to prepare three envelopes for the next guy.”
The point? Presuming we are somehow “better” than those who came before us and thus will “save the church” is both arrogant and dangerous. In revitalization, we have a critical role to play, but just as former pastors aren’t solely responsible for a church in decline, we can’t be solely credited for bringing it back to life. That is the work of God alone. At the start, a number of God’s people will try to place you on that pedestal. For your own good, and theirs, refuse to sit on it.


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Who Owns The Culture? (via Karl Vaters)

I’ll be getting a copy of Karl Vater’s book Small Church Essentials.
While the main cross-cultural issue is that characterising a congregation of under 250 people as a small church in Australia is an over-reach, the observations about group dynamics in groups of varying sizes should hold true.

This excerpt about who shapes culture in a local church strikes me as true:

In bigger or newer churches, the culture is more likely to be determined by the pastoral staff, with the congregation more willing to follow. In smaller and older churches, the culture is more the property of the congregation and its history than the pastor. The smaller or older the church, the greater impact the culture will have on any new ideas, projects, or changes a pastor wants to implement, especially if the congregation has had a high pastoral turnover.

If this point isn’t taken into calculations cultural change in smaller groups will be a struggle.