Failing More for the Church’s Future

 In Pastor Jeff's Blog

Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something. – Morihei Ueshiba

Last year our local paper ran a series of columns on the decline of the Church in America. The response among Christians has been interesting. Some wring their hands and wonder what the world is coming to. Others blame the unchurched and demonize them for not valuing what we value. I find myself among those who are seeking to prayerfully discern a way forward.

A quote from Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, keeps running through my head, “Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions.” In other words, what helped us to succeed in year’s past actually becomes a barrier to future success. Many larger churches, like the one I serve, grew through excellent preaching and innovative, effective programming. The goal, whether it was ever spoken out loud or not, was to attract people to our campus, engage them in worship and make them members. That strategy, however, has become a barrier to future success. It causes us to continually ask the wrong question, “How do we attract more people to our campus and get them to join?” And the wrong question leads us to wrong answers. I wish I had a dollar for every time a church member said, “If we would only do (fill in the program name) again like we used to, we’d grow.” The reality is, no program designed to attract people to the church will grow the church. The painful reality is that most people simply aren’t interested in what happens on our campuses.

The right question, I believe, is, “How can we engage more people into relationship with the God whom Jesus reveals, and engage them in God’s work in the world?” That’s the question that the first century Christians kept asking themselves and our culture resembles first century Rome more than the America of the 1950’s when it comes to the Christian faith. It wasn’t about growing or sustaining an institution (which has more to do with our egos and with preserving the past) but about furthering the mission of God. That question opens a wide field of possibilities to explore.

But exploring that wide field will force us to do something many of us in church leadership are loathe to do: fail. We’re going to have to experiment, fail, learn from our failures and persistently try again.

So, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to fail more. Seriously. I am so “failure-avoidant” that I need to discipline myself to try new things that require me to fail so that I can learn. My first step has been to take guitar back up. I haven’t played in over a decade, but I’ve started playing again and it’s forcing me to lean into the frustration of things that aren’t easy. It’s forcing me to fail over and over again until I gain mastery. I’m doing this, not just because I love music, but in the hopes that I become better at failing and learning.

How are you thinking about the Church’s future? How have you seen your congregation try to use yesterday’s solutions to solve tomorrow’s challenges? What experiments (and failures) has your church experienced, and what have you learned? Leave a comment and share. I’m also convinced that the way forward will require us to learn from one another.

Jeff Marian serves as lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN

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Showing 7 comments
  • Victor Diller

    Just because we don’t go to church doesn’t mean we don’t have a strong faith. We have not been demonized. Sometimes church is so large you become a number only, you have no friends or family so you stay home but still pray, still believe in God and our Heavenly home.

  • Paul Gilje

    How can we engage more people into relationship with the God whom Jesus reveals, and engage them in God’s work in the world? I find it much easier to believe in Jesus than to believe about Jesus. I am attracted by those people who stress that we Christians should worry less about what happens after death and more about what happens during our lives.

  • Paula Becker

    Einstein said, “You can’t solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Failing is one of the ways we shift consciousness and think in broader and more creative ways. I think the church can have much to offer for the future. Accepting and living into God’s unconditional love is a level of consciousness that will open vistas we have not yet imagined.

  • Kathryn

    There’s one reason people don’t go to church anymore…it’s political and full of self-righteous, pious hypocrates.

    Mainly run by men.

    I challenge you to have a face-to-face with me to discuss my statements.

    • Jeff Marian

      Hey Kathryn, thanks for leaving a comment. I’m always glad to discuss issues with folks face-to-face so we can all learn and grow. To be honest, though, your comment sounds a bit confrontational and argumentative, in which case I’m really not interested. If I’ve read too much into your “challenge” I apologize and am certainly open to chatting further. Peace.

  • Evan

    Everyones faith journey is different. There isn’t a one size fits all. I’m 41 and still trying to figure out my personal faith and were I fit in. I come to church for my kids but over time have found much more. We don’t worship as a family. My 13 year old attends another chuch and my husband doens’t attend. But their jounrey isn’t mine- we are all very differnt people. Stay the course- POP is the only church i have ever walked into where I feel zero judgement.

    • Jeff Marian

      “Zero judgement” is one of the greatest compliments ever. Thank you!

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