We’ve seen the large maps before. They’re usually prominently displayed inside our favorite mall or amusement park. It’s a large map of the facility with a cartoon red arrow pointing to a specific place on the map announcing, “You Are Here!” With this information, we should be able to get to wherever we want to go.
That is, assuming the map is correct, and we really are where the map says we are. If we’re not where the map says we are, we’ll never get to where we want to go.
In our society, we spend a lot of time talking about where we want to go. Corporations have vision statements. Churches have strategic documents, and all of us have dreams. For all of the work done working on vision statements and strategic plans, for all of the literature written about leadership and structure, we don’t seem to be able to make much progress.
Every church I know has a growth plan. Somewhere in the church offices will be a large notebook with a lot of color-coded graphs and next steps. There are plans for the worship center upgrades and the new student ministry outreach. Hours and hours of meetings, reams of paper will be used, and several presentations will have been made to church leadership and membership. The church will vote overwhelmingly to support the new church direction under some catchy name phrase like “21 steps for 2021” or “From Here to There.”
Then, the notebooks will be closed and placed prominently on a shelf in the church’s main office. This notebook will be moved around for a few years, then, put in a box and stored away. Sooner or later, the notebook will be thrown away without ever having been opened since the affirming vote. Nothing will have been accomplished. Nothing will have been done and nothing changed. Our members will be a little more jaded the next time someone suggests we need to have a plan.
Why does so much work yield so little results? Why does so much planning end up with nothing being done? Nothing changing?
Because our maps are wrong. More specifically, that little red arrow that points to a place and says, “You are here,” that arrow is wrong.
Simply put, the members of our churches, our congregations aren’t where we as leaders think they are. What’s more, our members aren’t where they think they are.
Here’s what we’ve found out about religious surveys. People lie.
OK, maybe they don’t intentionally lie, but they don’t tell the whole truth either. When asked a question on a religious survey, people answer with the answer they wished was true, not the actual truth. For instance, if you asked someone how many times they go to church during a given month, they might answer “three.” Yet, if you put a tracking device on them and followed them the next month, you would find out they actually went to church once.
Now, they fully intended to go to church more than once, but you know how it goes. A child gets sick, there’s a last-minute trip, there’s always something, and the result is the family actually goes to church only once.
And people lie like that in every area of their lives. They don’t read the Bible as much as they say. They don’t pray as much as they say. Now like I said, they don’t lie on purpose…
...but they still lie.
This means that in most every church that little red arrow that says, “You Are Here” is wrong. Our church members aren’t where they think they are. They aren’t where they tell us they are. They aren’t where we think they are.
And if this is true, then when we as leaders are asking them to go somewhere they can’t go, to do something they can’t do -- all because we’ve assumed they’re somewhere they aren’t.
Have you heard the old joke about a man who stops and asks for directions, and the fellow behind the counter say, “You can’t get there from here.” That’s where most of our people are. As leaders, we’ve laid out a destination most of our people can’t achieve.
So, how do we fix this? We begin with a large dose of honesty and reality. If our people aren’t where we think they are, then let’s find out where they are. Let’s be exact in our efforts to describe exactly where they are.
And we’ll begin from there. No, we aren’t changing the destination. There’s no negotiating where the church of God is headed. We can do a better job of understanding the point from which we are starting.
It’s neither good nor bad. It just is. Before our churches can achieve all of the dreams Christ has for us, we have to do a better job of understanding of where we actually are.
And when we do, we can make a better plan to get to where we all want to go.