I served on a committee many years ago which examined grant proposals to determine if a church should get funded for a new idea for outreach to their community.
One particular church had a doozy of an idea...their church sat on a lake, a lake that was filled with boats and people fishing on Sunday mornings during church time. The church wanted money to buy a sound system so they could broadcast their worship service and sermons over the lake to the anglers so they could 'attend' worship while fishing.
I wondered out loud how long it would be before those newly installed speakers would have bullet holes or ball bat scars on them. I could imagine people on the lake early in the morning, relaxing, getting a nibble or two, only to have all the fish scared off when Victory in Jesus began to get piped through the sound system.
One of my greatest pet peeves is when people see a problem and immediately run out to solve it while ASSUMING that the answer is simple and obvious. The church needs more people. There are lots of people are on the lake. Of course all they need is to hear the church service to want to be part. The fact that we inflicted this on them against their will doesn't seem to be a problem. After all, who doesn't love being yelled or crooned at against your will??!?
I've discovered a couple things...
1. The thinking and behavior that got you into the situation won't get you out of it. If the trajectory of your life, your church, your marriage, your kids, isn't what you desire, then something has to change. What makes us think that we can see different results without better understanding or different behavior?
2. The people who got you into the problem probably won't get you out of it. We think people change, therefore groups change. Wrong. Groups change because people get shuffled around. Hate to break it to you. Either they walk away from the group, they head for their eternal home, or they undergo a serious transformation of heart or mind, which in essence is them dying to self.
3. If we knew what to do, we'd already be doing it. Of course there are exceptions to this that make the entire diet industry extremely happy (I KNOW I shouldn't eat the entire sleeve of girl scout cookies, but I do it anyway. It's for the children, after all). But aside from those besetting sins, as a church I have found this to be true many times.
I find that a heart change AND a change in understanding is both needed to see a real difference in the life of a church. People generally don't want their church to decline. But the world has changed and left them behind. They don't know HOW to catch up. And if you're going down hill, just pedaling faster in the same direction gets you down the hill faster.
So for all of the goal setting we do, for all of the strategic planning, for all of the fund raising and pep talking we espouse, let's start with the critical first piece that is many times missing: RESEARCH.
Don't just do something for the sake of doing something. That only burns out and frustrates the most loyal of people. It is a sin to waste people's time and money by throwing each after a bad idea. It erodes people's confidence in their leader, and sets a church up for the 'we tried that before' excuse.
For example, we have know for years that the first modern worship service a church introduces should not be on a Saturday or Sunday night. Yet I have pastors ask me how to re-energize and get more people to their Saturday night contemporary services. Easy - put it at 11 am on Sunday morning where it belongs. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, including this one. But are you really being called to be the one exception? Didn't think so. There is no need to make mistakes that have been written about at length, spoken of and shared across the internet for years.
God has called us to lead, but has also placed us in the space and time when we can learn from each other in an unprecedented way. He provides mentors, coaches, books, webinars, and tales of woe to teach us what generally works and what generally doesn't. Most of us are not called upon to re-invent the wheel. Most are called to drive those road-proven wheels toward a new future unique to our churches.