Twelve Keys to an Effective Church (Kennon Callahan) is a helpful resource for understanding why some churches thrive while others die and fade. Much of the problem with decline in churches, he suggest, revolves around the concept of a “motivational gap.” According to Callahan, the highest biblical values for people in the pew are compassion, grace, and community. However, the greatest values for preachers are challenge, reasonability, and commitment. Challenge is defined as accomplishment, achievement, attainment; reasonability as data, analysis, logic; commitment as duty, vow, obligation, loyalty. Callahan argues that all values have importance to people in the pew, but when leaders more routinely emphasize the last three values to the exclusion of the first three—compassion, grace, and community—a “motivational gap” is created within the congregation. When a motivational gap occurs, a church loses drive and spirit. People grow weary of sermons that persistently emphasize obligation and data. However, when leaders emphasize the values that are longed for in the pew, there is a “motivational match” and the church flourishes. Callahan also suggests that local congregations must be “legendary” in some respect in its community. Churches are known for what is shared on the grapevine. They do not have to do many things well, but they need to be known for ONE thing in particular that community members talk about and celebrate—perhaps the youth program, a benevolent work, a recovery ministry. Here are some helpful questions for discussion:
  1. What church ministry would our community consider legendary?
  2. Are we known to be legendary in the present or only for our ministry in the past?
  3. What values do we more regularly emphasize: commitment/ authority/reasonability, or compassion/grace/community? Does this have any relationship to our spiritual health or decline?
  4. Callahan says that when preachers sense decline in a local church, they most often overcompensate by emphasizing “commitment.” When a church does this, it is in a declining phase. Is there a sense that preaching “commitment” is a reflection of our own insecurities? What are some ways we could better listen to the heart concerns of our people?