There are times I feel somewhat like a sea captain who took charge of a ship that had experienced unprecedented prosperity under the direction of his predecessor, and then sprung a leak a few months into his tenure. Don’t get me wrong, I love the church where I serve, but some of the challenges came as a bit of a surprise. Chiefly a decline in attendance and a corresponding budgetary strain.
In some ways this was inevitable. In some ways this is circumstantial. And in other ways it is personal.
It was inevitable because nothing stays the same forever. No organization, or organism, experiences perpetual increase in prosperity. Sooner or later, changes, challenges, and a period of decline is certain.
It is circumstantial, if for no other reason, the nature of the community where our church is located is a very fluid, very transient community, Many who live here are in the military, and so they are only here for a short time. Others who live here have retired – often early – and come to enjoy the wealth of cultural, historical, and natural amenities. However, there seems to be a pattern – when one member of the marriage, husband or wife, experience injury or become ill, the couple moves away, back home, or somewhere near their children. Understandable. While Williamsburg is a beautiful place to settle, they have no roots here, so they move on.
It is personal in the sense that whenever a church changes pastors there is almost always some turnover among the members. No matter how capable the new minister is, his presence is a constant reminder that things have changed; that this is not exactly the church that they had joined anymore. And as American church culture becomes increasingly more consumeristic, the less likely folks are to stick around to get used to the changes. After all, if they have to adjust to change, why not use it as an opportunity to trade in for a new model that has some amenities that they had not been looking for a few years ago, but would provide a pleasant upgrade. Consequently new pastors are often not treated like people, who might have feelings, but rather as a commodity to be embraced or discarded at the whim of the customer. Or another aspect of the personal – some church members just don’t like the new pastor’s personality (or lack of it).
I suspect differing measures of all three of these played a part in our initial decline. Fortunately we remained stable. We have a good cohesive staff; wise and godly officers who work as a team, a band of brothers; and no panic or finger pointing from the congregation. So despite our leak our ship has remained in pretty good shape.
As we move forward it is essential to assess where we are, and to map out where we are headed.
At present we are in what Thom Rainer calls the Chrysalis Period. According to Rainer, during the Chrysalis Period a church or organization undergoes changes beneath the surface that are necessary to become what we will inevitably become.
The chrysalis is the pupa of a butterfly encased in a cocoon. It is the former caterpillar and the future butterfly. It is the stage when the worm-like, slow-moving caterpillar becomes a beautiful, free-flying butterfly.
I like the imagery. It seems apt. We are a work in process. And not all that is going on is evident to all who take a look.