How you can change three negative trends in 2012, pt. 1

In my last post, I made three safe predictions for 2012:

1. Baby Boomers will continue to run most liberal religious congregations to suit themselves.
2. Liberal congregations will continue to focus more on short-term financial goals than on long term ministry and mission goals.
3. Fewer kids will be part of liberal religious congregations.

Each of these three trends, if left unchecked, will lead to continued decline of liberal religion. I’ll take these on in separate posts. Here are my thoughts on fighting the first of these trends:

Liberal congregations can learn basic volunteer management and leadership development skills.

The way you move entrenched leadership out of positions of power is by training up new leaders to take their place. The way you train up new leaders is to revamp your volunteer management system.

Your volunteer management system should provide easy entry for newcomers, ongoing training and mentoring, and established paths of advancement within the leadership ranks. And every level of volunteering should provide opportunities for fun, fellowship, and spiritual growth. So, for example, a congregation can provide lots of one-time opportunities for volunteering, like being part of the group to help serve a congregational meal. The person supervising that crew should make it fun and enjoyable — and should be looking for those people who are ready for something more. Then the supervisor can train and mentor those people who are ready for something more, having them run a sub-group at the next congregational meal (prep crew, clean-up crew, etc.). Some people won’t want to get above this level, or will want to do something else, but of course you look for people who are ready to be moved as quickly as possible to supervising an entire meal, serving on the hospitality committee, and eventually moving up to the board level.

Or here’s a better example: You have small group ministries, right? Of course you do, it’s one of the best ways to grow your congregation. And the reason it’s one of the best ways to grow your congregation is because small group ministries provide the perfect training ground for congregational leaders. The person supervising small group leaders can tell all the small group leaders that they are supposed to recruit and mentor an assistant leader from the members of their small group. That assistant leader takes on more and more responsibility, until they are ready to lead their own small group (which should take maybe six months). If the small group is growing (which it should be, with two enthusiastic leaders), then at this point you split the small group, and the leaders of the two small group each identify new assistant leaders. Or if the assistant leader has other obvious skills and talents, you move that person into some other leadership role, and the existing small group leader finds a new assistant leader. If you want to know more about this, read any of Carl George’s books.

The solution to entrenched leadership, then, is to develop a congregational culture where new leaders are constantly being trained up — and existing leaders learn how to mentor new leaders, and then get out of their way. It is not conceptually difficult to change a culture of entrenched leadership — but culture change takes time, and the difficulty lies in sticking with it over a period of five years or more.

And anyone can work at culture change. If you’re part of Gen X or the Millennial Generation, and the Baby Boomers run your congregation, don’t bother with a frontal assault — just start your own small group ministries, train your leaders from within, infiltrate the rest of the congregation — stay below radar until eventually you’ve changed the congregational culture, and can start removing entrenched leaders who won’t let go.

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