Christ the King Congregation Was Misaligned
A Composite Case Study for Chapter Three of Soaring with Faith
Launched during the post-World War II church planting boom, Christ the King began as a congregation focused on its neighborhood, and remained so for 35 years. Then its neighborhood began to transition in ways that are classic in North American communities. It involved white flight, new residents of color, economic shifts, less traditional nuclear families, and an increase in renters rather than homeowners.
Often debated is which happens first – white residents leave or residents of color move in. One test of this debate is that some active members of Christ the King had already moved out of the neighborhood before there were clear patterns of more than incremental racial and ethnic transition.
When asked why they moved, the answers were varied. Early movers claimed their relocation was because it was time for a bigger house. Or they moved to be closer to the lake. Others retired and wanted to downsize.
Those who moved in later years admitted they wanted their children in a different school district. They noticed a decline in property values. New residents had different lifestyles with which they were uncomfortable. Few would name the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic issues, and admit prejudice. It was just not politically correct to say this.
As the neighborhood transitioned, the attendance at Christ the King began to decline. Older members said they would not come to night meetings. Parents of grade school children wanted their children with others like them.
When their children reached middle school they begged to go to a church with their school friends. The parents blamed the move on their children when often that was not the real reason.
Would Relocation Help or Did They Need a New Empowering Vision?
With the move of so many families, and the significant transition in the neighborhood, Christ the King decided they would relocate in the direction where their members now lived. This process of finding a location, selling their current buildings, meeting in temporary facilities, and constructing new buildings, took almost five years.
They realized they could not relocate without clarity about God’s leading for their new ministry. With the help of a consultant from their denomination, they engaged in a strategic planning process to focus their ministry on their new location. The process was a traditional approach to strategic planning. The congregation developed clarity around a vision for engaging the lives of families with children in their new location. They worked with an experienced church architect to design facilities with flexible space that would allow them to engage in programs, ministries, and activities for all ages.
The traditional planning process involved a committee-led approach. The committee put together a plan then presented it to the church for approval. The congregation was not significantly involved in the process. They approved plan. They did so out of trust in the committee members, the endorsement of the pastor, and their urgency to move forward.
But that did not mean they fully understood the implications of the plan. Nor did they feel deep ownership of anything except the vision. They liked the clarity of the vision. The need for intentional alignment of programs, ministries, and activities neither bothered them nor engaged them.
Following adoption of the plan, the major focus was on the construction of the new facilities, the sale of their current church buildings, and the transition to the new location. Once worshipping in the new location, they relaunched similar programs, with similar leaders as in their previous location.
Yes, they proclaimed often, publicly, and with great enthusiasm their new vision. But it did not translate into new, innovative programs, ministries, and activities. Few innovative approaches with new leaders emerged.
Relocation Was Not the Long-Term Solution
Within a few years, they realized the things they were doing to fulfill their new God-given vision were not working. They contacted the denominational consultant who helped them with their strategic plan to see what they were doing wrong. Or why the plan she had led them in was not working. She did not know and recommended a congregational coach who could help.
From this coach they heard about effectively aligning everything a congregation does to fulfill its vision. To address alignment, the church’s leadership team met with the coach to help review the implementation of their strategic plan.
During a workshop with their coach, they acknowledged their failure to effectively live into their vision. They were unsure why their faithful engagement in strategic actions were not resulting in the hoped for progress. The coach needed only three questions before realizing their dilemma.
The first question was to clearly understand their vision. The leaders explained their desire to address the life and spiritual issues of families with children under 18 years old. Their vision had clarity. They ably expressed their commitment to this vision with words that were articulate and emotions that were enthusiastic.
Second, was to understand how they were doing in fulfilling this vision. What is the evidence that the congregation is increasingly composed of highly committed families with children? Plus, are the adults in these households engaged in the leadership roles in the congregation?
That was the problem. This was not happening. The people who remained with the congregation through the relocation were the primary ones leading the new efforts. The current active, attending congregation was composed two-thirds of households without children in them, and only one-third of households with children in them. Many of the leaders came from households with grandchildren and not children of their own under 18 years old.
The third question seemed obvious to the coach. It was to know what specific programs, ministries, and actions the congregation engaged in to connect with and minster among families with children. Additionally, how do families in the new location know what the congregation has to offer that might enhance their life and their spiritual journey?
The leadership team began delineating the programs, ministries, and activities. Part way through their recitation the coach stopped them. He realized they highlighted things that supported an older, very traditional approach to congregational life characteristic of two to three decades ago. He pressed them to move on to the things they were doing to connection with families with children in the current era of congregational ministry.
They pushed back and said those were the things they were doing.
He then asked them how these aligned with their clarity around mission, purpose, core values, and vision? They did not know the answer. They assumed that doing the things they had always done – just pressing harder and with more enthusiasm – would bring results they had not brought for many years.
Out of his reservoir of knowledge, the coach suggested various things they could try. Their response was that they were not interested in doing those things. They would not be comfortable with them. Doing them might disrupt the wonderful fellowship they felt in their congregation. It might alter their historic identity.
They were not interested in aligning their programs, ministries, and actions with their contextual vision clarity if it meant doing what the coach suggested. Likely it also meant they had looked inward among themselves to reach their clarity as a gathered congregation. They did not look outward to their context and the trends in congregational life to reach clarity.
Like the biblical rich ruler who had followed the Jewish laws from his youth up, they went away with sadness.
Here is What Happened Long-Term
Within a decade of this encounter, Christ the King was struggling to find signs of vitality and vibrancy in the life and ministry of their congregation. For the second time in three years they were without a pastor. The search for a new pastor was not going well. The community context to which they moved began to experience the same transitions and changes as their former location. Once again they responded reactively to this situation – not proactively.
Ultimately, a much larger congregation adopted the remnant congregation. A new multi-cultural congregation launched in the Christ the King facilities and connected successfully and significantly with the families in this community context.
Concerning their original location, they sold their facilities to an up and coming Black church who thrived and became a major model ministry in the city. In the long-term, in both locations the enhancement of the Kingdom of God took place. Christ the King, however, ceased to exist.
Copyright 2022 by George W. Bullard Jr.