When I was super young (middle school age), I had a friend who I noticed was making some REALLY stupid decisions! So, I did what any other true middle school friend would do and confronted this person (I guess because I cared for this friend and didn’t want to see them continue down a dangerous path…I’m hoping that it wasn’t out of my own sense of self righteousness). Needless to say, this friend wasn’t the most receptive to my concerns! They proceeded to tell me that they had to learn from their own mistakes (even if their decisions did lead towards destruction). They also encouraged me to loosen up, try new things, and learn from my own mistakes as well….and to this I responded, “Nah, I’ll just keep watching you and learning from your mistakes…instead of making all the mistakes myself.” Later in life, I heard through a mutual friend that this person had picked up a few “less than desirable STDs!” Now, I am not sure if the end to this is totally true (since it was the product of gossip), but I am confident that my friend’s lifestyle had some majorly negative consequences.
Even though this scenario took place when I was in the midst of puberty, I know today that there is a lot of wisdom in learning from the mistakes (and successes) of others. Throughout my life, I have tried my best to be someone who learns from the mistakes and failures of others (not just my own). When I was in middle school and high school, I learned from the mistakes of others as I watched many people around me spiral out of control in relational/dating turmoil. While in college I have saw many folks get caught up in the party scene and make choices that were quite regrettable. Trust me, I have had to learn from plenty of my own mistakes/failures as well!
As a pastor, I have developed a hobby of checking out churches and trending their success and failures (at least in numerical growth and decline). It is fascinating to me why some churches grow exponentially and others limp along with the same 50 to 100 people warming the pews of their building! If I apply my middle school method of “learning from the failures of others,” I must take a close look at what the churches who are in decline are missing and why they are not experiencing gospel growth! My initial questions for declining churches are, “Are the individual members of these churches passionate about The Gospel and missional impact?” and “If they are passionate, How are they striving to live out and share their faith?” By asking theses questions, I simply want to encourage my church community and others who have put their faith in Jesus to take an individual look at how God is using them to make a missional impact in this world! Here is a great tool from Josh Howerton’s blog to help encourage Christians who truly want to live out the Gospel and make an impact for the kingdom of God!
I also came across a couple interesting blog posts by Tony Morgan about churches in decline. I definitely think that this graph (attached below) is organizational gold! These 5 attributes of churches in decline can help your church leadership “learn from the mistakes of others” by considering the flip side!
Here is how we can flip these attributes upside down and examine our own churches organizational potential for gospel growth. Ask yourself these 5 questions that correlate with the above graph:
1. Do we have clarity of mission and vision (can people within our church body embrace and remember the vision of our church)?
2. Do we have a concise strategy to help newcomers become fully devoted followers of Christ (and what is that strategy)?
3. Is our structure too complex (where are we experiencing vision drift/leakage because we are trying to do too much)?
4. What is our connection to the surrounding community (are we really outward focused or do we just say we are)?
5. Do we have competent leadership (are they wrecked by the gospel? are they trustworthy? are they wholeheartedly committed to the vision and the church body)?
Obviously, you could do all of these things organizationally and still miss the point. Every healthy/growing church is growing because of the favor and blessing of God! As the people of God seek Him in prayer, great things happen! It is my fear that we minimize the work of God to formulas and a simple list of organizational questions…I have seen churches do this, and I want to learn from their mistakes as well! Maybe if you keep reading my blog you can learn from my mistakes too!