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Communication and Conflict in Congregations

Church People in ConflictFor congregations to be on a healthy spiritual strategic journey, it is necessary not only for the spiritual maturity of the congregation to be above average, but also for the emotional maturity of the congregation to be above average. It is necessary for the congregation to have a healthy sense of being a Christ-centered, faith-based community that communicates openly and honestly with one another. The community must be able to dialogue about difficult and complex issues without losing their collective cool.

The idea that people can disagree without being disagreeable is a difficult concept to embrace, even in the church. Healthy communication channels must be written, heard, and seen. They must be regular, with many different spokespersons. They must have feedback loops that allow people to respond to what they are hearing and thus complete the communication process.

When a church anticipates transition and change, communication must increase in intensity, and the time allocated for feedback must increase. Communication must be characterized by the words discovery, discernment, and dialogue much more than the words debate, declaration, and demand. The inevitability of some conflict existing any time transition, changes, and transformation are taking place must be accepted. But healthy processes that do not create either/or situations, but focus rather on both/and situations must predominate.

Thinking Beyond Stereotypes About Bivocational Ministry

Bivocational Multi-RolesBecause of many unwarranted stereotypes about bivocational* ministry in some denominations, congregations, and Christian cultures or tribes, it is unfortunately seen as second-class ministry. This is overwhelmingly not true. Such a perspective limits the possibilities of innovative congregational staffing patterns and new congregational multiplication possibilities.

I actually suspect—although I do not have any scientific research to prove it—that at least 80 percent of all people in ordained clergy and program staff roles in the approximately 350,000 congregations in North America are bivocational. I further suspect that 100 years ago this number was over 90 percent, and 200 years ago over 95 percent.

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Church Growth [or Decline] in Congregations

Church BuildingsGrowing congregations are increasing in participation at a sufficient pace that they are changing their size and characteristics within a five-to-ten-year period. To do this, they must grow by at least 10 to 15 percent during these five to ten years. This growth must occur in at least two aspects of the congregation. Active membership and weekly worship attendance are two indicators that speak loudly to the size reality of a congregation.

Often growth cannot be defined without clearly understanding what is going on in the geographical context. If the geographical context of a congregation is growing at a decadal rate of 20 percent, and the congregation has been growing at a rate less than half that, then the congregation may actually be declining in relationship to the context in which it serves.

If the target group or groups of people the congregation serves have been diminishing in number over the past decade and the congregation has actually been stable in size, then perhaps the congregation could be considered growing.

Even more confusing is the idea of how growth is counted. Almost all approaches to growth count individual people. One New Testament model that ought to be applied is that of the household. When the participation and membership of congregations is counted according to households, then it becomes possible for a congregation to decrease in the number of individual people participating and increase in the number of households present at the same time. This particularly happens in congregations where the number of one or two person households increases due to the aging of the congregation, or success in reaching single adult households.

A huge factor negatively impacting the average weekly worship attendance of congregations is that people attend worship less often. The average number of Sundays people attended several decades ago was around three. Now the average is around two. This causes lower average attendance while the membership may not decrease.

People of Position in Congregatons

Leadership WordlePeople of Position are the third category of congregational leadership. They are the third concentric circle with the People of Pastoral Leadership forming the center circle and the People of Passion forming the second circle.

The first two circles are together composed of seven percent of the average number of active attending adults present on a typical weekend for worship. The People of Position are the next 14 percent bringing the total number of people now represented to 21 percent of the average weekly adult attendance.

This 21 percent are known as the Enduring Visionary Leadership Community [EVLC]. If this group achieves substantial consensus on the future journey of the congregation, the remainder of the congregation is likely to follow their leadership. The followership of the congregation generally have multiple people in the EVLC whom they trust and respect, and know the process of determining the Future Story of Ministry has been well represented by both the leadership and the followership of the congregation.

People of Position have a genuine commitment to transition and change for the congregation that may lead to transformation and the achievement of the full Kingdom potential of the congregation. They often have positive spiritual passion about the future of the White Plains. It is, however, their role or position in the congregation, plus their faithfulness, that best defines them.

Bivocational Ministry is a Thing of Great Beauty

Sermon PreparationJack was the bivocational pastor of the church I attended in Pennsylvania when that church licensed me to ministry as a step towards my ordination. Dale was the bivocational national leader for bivocational ministries among Baptists. Glenn was the bivocational pastor who led the search committee that nominated me to lead the statewide missions efforts for Baptists in South Carolina.

These are only three of the thousands of bivocational ministers I have encountered during my life, but they certain are three who contributed significantly to my life and ministry. They were leaders whose bivocational ministry was a thing of great beauty.

It is not only pastors who serve bivocationally. Music ministers, worship ministers, campus pastors, senior adult ministers, youth ministers, children ministers, Christian education ministers, recreation minsters, family life ministers, pastoral care ministers, organists/pianists, and church planters are just a few of the other congregational ministry roles served by bivocational ministers. Can you name others?

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