Annoying Members: Stagnant if you DON’T, In Search if you DO?


Yesterday I shared a link to a post by Seth Godin discussing the fact that if we’re to innovate we’re necessarily going to annoy 2% of the people using our product or service.

A response via Twitter  countered that if you annoy more than 10% as a minister you are probably in search.  I think that numbers probably too high.  It doesn’t take too many people to start a witch hunt, especially when there is change and innovation to point to.  Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place…

When I was growing up the  minister of our congregation rated how successful his newspaper columns were by the amount of hate mail they generated.  That works with the newspaper, not so much for the congregation.

Its easier to get into the sort of trouble mentioned above when you don’t have a vision that has captivated, energized and enlisted members and friends.  My favorite description of productive church visions states that the right vision is like an energy field that encompasses all of congregational life. It aligns time, energy, resources, worship, social justice and other ministries, while at the same time repelling negativity like its a force field.

That sort of vision takes great leadership, process and dedication. Without vision advancing and protecting our ministry, it is easy for our leadership to fall victim to the 2%.

If you’re on Twitter you can follow me @uuplanet.

8 thoughts on “Annoying Members: Stagnant if you DON’T, In Search if you DO?”

  1. iInovation, even with exceptional vision, sometimes because of vision, requires transition. This isn’t unhealthy. Innovation and change management use up capital. When enough capital is spent, it is time to pass the baton to keep both congregation and minister vibrant. There are exceptions, but I wasn’t one of them.

  2. One of the things I learned when things fell apart in Salt Lake City is that many of the best of my colleagues have experienced negotiated resignations. The more I talked to them, the more it became clear that sometimes you end up in search BECAUSE you are doing great ministry. In 7 years, we met and exceeded almost every goal we set. We paid off the mortgage, started Small Group Ministry, changed the RE model, grew the endowment, put in an elevator to make the building accessible and celebrated the 25tth anniversary of the congregation with Rev. Sinkford preaching and all the former ministers helping celebrate.

    So what happened? The measures of success suddenly changed. People started complaining that membership numbers were “inflated.” The leadership made public space for ANYone in the congregation to complain. They decided I didn’t do enough pastoral care and wasn’t “meeting their needs.” They stirred up every single conflict and controversy they could find and eventually I was told the conflict was endangering the future of the church, and my only choice was to resign.

    I wasn’t perfect, but I did damn good ministry there. Innovative ministry that made use of all the best practices, expertise, and ideas of successful ministries. The vulnerable thing about ministry is that it is just plain impossible to do everything perfectly. My weakness was administration. That became a big issue when the board was left weakened by several key departures and a staff person partnered with members who had been unsupportive of not only the changes, but of ministry throughout the years.

    The people who wanted to go back to “how it had always been” won. The congregation’s membership is back where it was before I came. After a year on their own, they have just hired a half-time minister that they share with a congregation in another state. (2+ hrs away.)

    This is not just me griping about what happened. I think this story is very common in our congregations. I think it’s connected to our struggle to be relevant even though our core message and values could be very attractive to people. We’re stuck in a culture that is not just hard to change, but actively–sometimes explosively–resistant to change. And it takes so few people to make SO much trouble for a minister who has taken risks.

    It’s why I’m not sure I’ll go back to settled ministry. I’m loving the freedom of interim ministry–after all, it’s my job to be part of the significant transition happening in the church’s identity because of the change in ministerial leadership. We’ll see, but I’m not sure I can ever invest that much time, energy, and LOVE in a congregation to have it fall apart so easily.

  3. Thanks for sharing Sean.

    Things being able to fall apart so easily and the fear that generates is probably crippling our ministry, innovation and growth more than we realize.

    I’ve wondered if some congregations would be better off going with a set 5 year call, especially if they are on a rapid change track.

  4. Sorry I keep commenting so much on your blog! I just find it all so interesting. Recently, I watched Joel Osteen on TV when I overslept and missed church. The sermon was “Stay Open for God to do it His Way.” In the sermon he recounted a story about a long-time church usher who shared big dreams for growth for Lakewood when it was still his father’s church. But he ended up leaving shortly after Joel became pastor because so much had changed. Both wanted growth – but the usher wasn’t willing to explore a new way. You may not agree with Joel Osteen about a lot but I think this is an applicable message. And Joel Osteen clearly has had success with growth!

    Long and short of it – it’s not just UUs who get stuck in their ways. We all need to hear the message to be open to new paths, new ideas, new people. It’s openness that leads to success! Hopefully we can do a better job of nurturing our innovative leaders instead of tearing them down (so sad to hear Sean’s story).

    Here is a link to the sermon: http://www.lightsource.com/ministry/joel-osteen-ministries/20101024/

      1. Isn’t it? I really agreed with 99.9% of his message! I think non-denominationalism may be something for us to explore in liberal religion. If anything, it may be the “new way” for Unitarian Universalism. I can picture a future where Reform Jews, progressive Christians and liberal Muslims gather to worship our shared God and spread a message of universal love. How cool would that be?!

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