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Label Your Church

If people were asked to describe your church in one word, what word would they choose? To some this might be a frightening thought, but it’s actually a good question to ask. How do others perceive us? What are the characteristics of the Happyville SDA Church?

This could be an enlightening experiment to try on ourselves. Some Sabbath, during the opening announcements, pass out small slips of paper and ask each person (members and visitors alike) to “describe this church with one word.” Stress that they can only use one word (no compound words allowed)! Some will think it’s unfair to limit people to one word, but most of us already do this with many things. We do it in the marketplace and in our relationships with people. Have you ever heard someone say that shopping at ACME market is great? Or, so and so is a jerk?

Yeah, I’m talking about labels. They’re easy to apply, often inaccurate, and hard to shake. Sometimes they are misapplied, but in the business world the aggregate data that labels provide is used by marketing research to understand customer perceptions.

How are people labeling us as Seventh-day Adventists? How are they labeling your church? If asked, which word would they choose? The Happyville SDA Church is, Warm? Friendly? Unhappy? Dedicated? Irrelevant? Biblical? Compassionate? Bigoted? Political? Liberal? Conservative? Kind? Intellectual? Evangelistic?

The collective responses could be as instructive as looking in the mirror to remind ourselves of our actual appearance.

Is it possible to change the aggregate characteristics of a church? Yes, but not overnight. Here are some interesting thoughts about organizational change within the business world.

“Organizational change initiatives often arise out of problems faced by a company. In some cases, however, companies are encouraged to change for other, more positive reasons. ‘Change commonly occurs because the organization experiences some difficulty,’ Bateman and Zeithaml wrote. ‘But sometimes the most constructive change takes place not because of problems but because of opportunities.’ The authors used the term ‘performance gap’ to describe the difference between a company’s actual performance and the performance of which it is capable. Recognition of a performance gap often provides the impetus for change, as companies strive to improve their performance to expected levels. This sort of gap is also where many entrepreneurs find opportunities to begin new businesses.

Unfortunately, as Rick Mauer noted in an article for HR Focus, statistics show that many organizational change efforts fail. For example, 50 percent of quality improvement programs fail to meet their goals, and 30 percent of process re-engineering efforts are unsuccessful. The most common reason that change efforts fail is that they encounter resistance from employees. Change appears threatening to many people, which makes it difficult to gain their support and commitment to implementing changes. Consequently, the ability to manage change effectively is a highly sought-after skill in managers. Companies need people who can contribute positively to their inevitable change efforts.” 1

The church is in the business of sharing the Good News about Jesus and reflecting his love to others. Essentially we are a group of beggars telling other beggars where to find bread. Part of our success is tied to how convincing we are with our “sales” pitch. Do we look and act like we’ve found bread? Do we draw people in with our sense of joy and enthusiasm? It’s pretty hard to be excited about something we haven’t experienced ourselves. How long has it been since we’ve “eaten the bread” and been renewed?

Regardless of what you hear in the news about other people, even professed “Christians,” who are angry about politics, culture or whatever happens to be the latest grip, this is the holy grail–the kind of life that Jesus calls us to embrace:

“Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tender hearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. For the Scriptures say, ‘If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil'” (1 Peter 3:8-12, NLT).

It is important to be reminded of this because we live in a world that has forgotten how to be gentle and kind, and unfortunately we as Christians have been affected by this and it has seeped into our churches. Consequently, the aggregate condition of many churches is not conducive to fulfilling their stated mission. Instead of impacting their communities in positive ways, they are perceived as detached, toxic, inward focused, disinterested, or somewhat aloof.

Pacific Conference Church Support Services is engaged in an initiative to address this issue head on. We believe that by God’s grace we can be the salt and light that Jesus described in Matthew 5:13-16. So, we are inviting you to journey with us, through this website and some of the resources we are creating, let’s make ourselves available for God to bring joy into people’s lives!

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (NLT).

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About Rich DuBose

Rich DuBose

is director of Church Support Services for the Pacific Union Conference

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