13 May, 2012 Twenty years on – how can we make change ‘sticky’?
This morning I started reading ‘New Vision New Zealand’, published in 1993. It was compiled by various national Christian leaders at that time, with Rev Dr Bruce Patrick being one of the key initiators. The question was, how can we evangelise New Zealand? The desire was for leadership patterns and strategies that could help in the long-term, recognising that the goal is bigger than just sharing the gospel with everyone one time (which a single, very large, outreach effort could accomplish). There is much discussion on the changes in our culture, and national dynmics. There is a strong emphasis on the need for relational approaches. The content is fantastic – but then it dawns on me that this is written 20 years ago.
I found myself feeling very sad as I began to read, because – twenty years on – my suspicion is that little has changed. Not only do less people attend Church now than then, I suspect the average Christian would be less passionate about, and committed to, contextualised evangelistic action. We keep talking – but are still doing very little.
Many national Christian leaders had thought hard about the important goal of rallying God’s Church to sustained contextualised evangelistic action. They considered in detail what that might look like. Yet time reflects that many words did not get much further than the pages they were on. Many individuals who read the book in the 1990s were, no doubt, affected and helped. Some Churches would have applied various of the ideas – and been more effective as a result!
But nationally I fear we are still in the same place. Could it be that the most important thing wasn’t changed – our hearts?
In the opening chapter Patrick quotes William J. Abraham as saying (p16)“…Christianity has been part of the fabric of the West for so long that it has been assumed that Christians do not really need to evangelize… There has been therefore a deep sense of ease about the survival of Christianity in the West. Where evangelism has been taken seriously by the mainline traditions it has been relegated to a position of minor importance. Overall it has failed to fire the imaginations of the leaders of the central ecclesiastical [Church] institutions; most of these have been committed primarily to the maintenance of the institutions…”
Twenty years on, and it is a rare thing to find a Church that even bothers to equip it’s members for evangelism. And most who do consider it of so little importance that they only equip those are interested, delivering their motivation and training through optional seminars, rather than the pulpit.
For me, I reached Church (after having fed and dressed our children, and loading them into the car…), and felt like crying! Something needs to change!
What needs to change?
I wonder if there have been a lack of grass-roots strategies to bring about actual change in the leaders – and sustainably so, so that the many ideas discussed could be applied. In marketing terminology, I wonder if the discussions might have lacked the needed ‘strategy’ to make the promotion ‘sticky’.
Change is needed. But what will it take for us to come to the point where we consider our current condition to be unacceptable? (…because I suspect it is unacceptable to God). Jesus died on the cross for the ‘lost’ – yet we talk, do a little, but then fail to strongly and sustainably encourage that ‘little’.
If those of us in Church leadership believed something to be of importance, wouldn’t we make it so by the way that we lead? We always have enough time for what is important! The question is what will we make important. It seems that evangelism is still not important enough to be made important by many key leaders. This needs challenging!
Every leader knows how to bring change – leaders accomplish it in the area of their passion! However, at the same time it remains that the main thing needs to be made to be the main thing – and there is nothing more important than the spread of the gospel of Jesus! Nothing!
It is time for round two.
Twenty years on Bruce Patrick continues to make this call. Having recently initiated ‘Mission Koro’ he is again seeking to encourage and bring direction to national outreach efforts. I applaud such efforts, and exemplary perseverance! To him, this is the main thing! But this perspective needs to be ‘felt’ by a wider spectrum of denominational and Church leaders.
What is needed?
1. A new vision, which is deeply believed in by national Christian leaders, is needed
In keeping with what he wrote 20 years ago, Patrick believes that change needs to start at a national-leader level. He wrote (p18), “For too long, too many have focused only on their own local church, their own ministry, their own denomination. We have lost sight of the big picture. We must see the whole nation as our mission field, we must see the whole Church as the mission force, and we must discover what God wants us to do. We must accept responsibility before God for our nation. We need a new vision for a new day of mission.”
Indeed, again , in 2012 – “…We need a new vision for a new day of mission”, and national and denominational leaders need to be convinced of this themselves, if anything is to change.
2. A multi-facted approach is needed
Church growth is not simple. As Patrick wrote (p23), our approach needs to be a ‘…multi-faceted…’ one, connecting not only with all the people groups, but also with “…the poor: the unemployed, the disabled or differently abled, the drug dependent, the alcoholic, the abandoned, the abused, the prisoner, the disadvantaged, the children, the sick, the terminally ill…”
We need individual efforts, small group efforts and Church effort… …but also combined Church efforts, para-Church efforts, and work-place efforts…
All this we understand already (even though there is still much to do).
So what is missing?
Why aren’t our words bringing sustained change, and being applied?
[The point this reflection is making…]
3. Our strategy needs connecting the heart of every believer in every local Church
In modern marketing circles I’ve heard this talked about as ‘stickiness’ – referring to the ability of a promotional campaign to not only implant a desire for a product, but to give the needed practical steps such that a person would be moved to get the product.
It’s like if you are asking for volunteers in a Church, and think to pass around a piece of paper on which they can sign up. Without that piece of paper, although they might want to volunteer (because of your great promotion) most would never do so! that piece of paper (including the phone call that you make to them afterwards) makes it sticky.
Could it be that we have failed to feed the evangelistic passion through our pulpits, at the same time failing to equip the hands of the saints for relevant and contextualised gospel outreach? Our Churches are busied with many activities. Most Churches are very involved with their communities. Everything seems to be in place for outreach to be effective – but (generally speaking) we are not!
Could it be that what is missing is truly evangelistic passion – imparted through the pulpit? Could it be that, at the same time, we are missing the simple, yet necessary, equipping of the hands such that a person could apply their passion (noting that the equipping of the hands is what gives ‘stickiness’ to the inspiring of the motivations).
Could it be that we are still not accomplishing the basics because we’ve overlooked something glaringly simple and obvious – that is starts in the pulpit?
(and that this is what needs addressing at a denominational level
to create stickiness).
As in the first of the above two quotes, it was stated that most Churches have relegated the training of hearts, minds and hands for evangelism “…to a place of minor importance” (such as seminars) – yet evangelising is actually the most important thing (being the mission-singular of the Church). This deprioritising is the root motivational issue. When it is dealt with – and this is connected with every local believer in every local Church – the whole matter will be dealt with!
The important link question:
How could we connect with the heart of every believe in every local Church?
1. I suggest that we need a new paradigm of leadership for the local Church in the area of evangelism.
This is what the ‘Next Step Project’ is seeking to provide (and for free, and
functioning through the programs that already exist, and with all needed resources).
2. But I also suggest that local pastors will not apply such a strategy until denominational leaders are convinced of the need for it. We all consistently promote what we believe in. Somehow we need national leaders to believe in this, so that pastors will be moved to action, and the gospel restored to its rightful, central, place!
When motivations are fed, the rest will fall into place quite naturally.
Until motivations are fed, well – we could do another comprehensive round of talk (and it is important talk!), but could still be in the same place in another 20-years time!
–Programs won’t fix this problem.
–Books won’t fix this problem.
–Lots of talk among national leaders, strategising… won’t fix this problem.
–Conferences won’t fix this problem.
…even though all the ideas discussed in them may be brilliant and needed.
But a new paradigm of leadership for our local Churches that affects the motivations could!
Conclusion: Three prayers
May God help the Church in New Zealand to give the needed priority to it’s mission – starting with the pulpit.
May God help national Church leaders in New Zealand to give the needed priority to the Churches mission – starting with what they direct their leaders to do from the pulpit.
And may all our hearts be challenged and changed, because this is the real root of the problem! Jesus died for the ‘lost’ – but we’re struggling to find a regular place for talking about in our pulpits and small groups! God – please help all our Christian Churches change in this area!
My own reflection is this:
I believe the ‘Next Step Project’ could be much more significant for our nation than most recognise it yet to be – including myself. Leadership is all about influencing people in a given direction, and I feel convinced that no sustainable change will come about in this area until – at the very least – our Churches are giving evangelism the level of strategic focus that is suggested in the ‘Next Step Project’.
For Church leaders – you can view this at the ‘mobilising’ page at this website.
Question: What do you think of this assessment of things?