A Failure of Nerve, leaders of a congregation in decline will often look for a “quick fix” and will concentrate their focus on data and numbers, programs and techniques rather than on emotional processes and the leader’s own self.
The end result: the more the congregation advances in one area, the more it will regress in another. According to Friedman, “The focus on data and technique is itself a characteristic of emotional regression: namely, avoidance or denial of the fact that it is happening” (55).
This may involve a strong determination to highlight numbers as a show of success: numbers in attendance and “preacher counts” at activities. The numbers game is often an attempt at self-validation for ministers.
In a state of regression, leaders will often look for reasons to justify to themselves and the congregation as to why people are leaving. It is not uncommon for leaders to attempt to appease their anxiety by negatively labeling those who leave.
So here’s a suggestion: instead of labeling and looking for causes “out there” and “with people,” wouldn’t it be much better to look inward and be honest about the role we are likely playing in the exodus of members?
My dad related a story once in which the preacher called a meeting of members and asked, “What do we need to do to make the church grow?” My father said, “I appreciate what he was trying to accomplish, but wouldn’t a much better question be, ‘What are we doing that is preventing the church from growing?’” In my view, that’s a better way forward.
Effective leaders shine the light on themselves instead of others. They fail to create false narratives. They say accurately and honestly, “How can the reversal of negative trends begin with me?”
There are observable signs of congregational regression. According to Edwin Friedman in