It's an odd contradiction to say that leaders look for trouble, but it's true. It's one of the responsibilities of leadership. Someone's got to do it.
In my long season of leading churches, I've got to confess that I tended to be the cup is half empty kind of person. I always had this sense that no matter how well things seemed to be going, it was about to fall apart. This kept me leaning on the worry side too much and spot small trouble before it became big trouble.
Metrics and the narrative were the tools that I often used:
- If the number of guests declined, I saw that as big trouble; why and what can we do about it?
- If giving reflected a pattern of decline or even lack of growth, why and what can we do about it?
- If the kids in our 5th and 6th-grade numbers dropped, why and what can we do about it?
The idea is that each of these (these three metrics are illustrations of many others) metrics would impact the future and meant either decline or growth. They did not stand apart from the future effectiveness of the Church.
A metric seldom, if ever, fixes itself. Trouble almost never solves its problem.
Narratives are equally important because they tie directly into what we want the Church to be, a movement, not just an institution, or people and not only numbers.
The narrative includes:
- Do you feel God's presence in groups, worship, ministries, etc.? If not, why and what can we do about it?
- Is there existing energy where people invite friends and neighbors to connect with their Church? If not, why and what can we do about it?
- Are there places you can point to where disciples are being made, people are coming to Christ, and the Church is influencing the world? If not, why and what can we do about it?
The narrative is often intangible, but it's where the miracle of the Church is most clearly the Church.
Metrics are tangible and cannot be ignored, manipulated, or overlooked. They are the truth, the reality that leaders must embrace if we are to lead well.
In the season beyond Pandemic that will eventually come, looking for trouble the first year will be critical. We must know the truth, the new reality if we will be faithful in making disciples well.
In the season of Pandemic, trouble has found us.
It's a serious mistake to think that everything will be fine when the Pandemic is under control. It's the same pre-covid attitude that was easy for many of us to have; that somehow next Sunday will be better, this sermon will fix everything, when school starts, everyone will come back, or Easter will help us turn the corner. This has never been true.
When momentum, growth, disciple-making happens, then we know it's going to happen. We had already been looking for trouble and dealt with it ahead of the crisis. Dealing with trouble today helps us envision a prayed for, planned, and implemented a bright future tomorrow.
I would start with this season's metrics and the narrative we have experienced over the last many months. It might be depressing, and it could be encouraging, but it is a reality every leader must embrace before we take the next steps.
I would pray a lot too.
Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director
Center for Evangelism, Mission & Church Growth