GROUP EXIT & A Review of “Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church And What You Can Do About It” (Abingdon Press)

Quote: “After reading the first chapter, I made a public proclamation that I had wished I had read this book 20 years ago, when I first started in ministry … I recommend every pastor have a copy handy.”

By Rev. Jeff Lawson, lead pastor, Life Church, 1/19/16.

It is with strong conviction that I recommend the book “Staying Power Why People Leave the Church And What You Can Do About It” (Abingdon Press). After reading the first chapter, I made a public proclamation that I had wished I had read this book 20 years ago when I first started in ministry. It is that powerful of a book.

Undeniable statistics, true life stories, and facts and figures are used from cover to cover.

I quickly found while pastoring my first church that there is a constant struggle between the ‘Status Quo’ and the ‘Change Proponents’ in the life of the local church. The book explains that, change means moving from comfortable experiences to more unfamiliar territory. The Change Proponents desire to see the church move and reach new heights that have never been experienced in the life of their church. The Status Quo cling to what they hold dear.

In my previous church, it was my desire to remove a large portion of an existing altar that separated the pulpit from the seating area. I was told during an impromptu congregational meeting that “the day that altar was tampered with would be my final day in this church”.

The misunderstanding between the two camps is that the Change Proponents are not desiring to hurt the local church. Their desire is to see growth happen through new techniques that are unfamiliar to the Status Quo. With that, the Status Quo feel threatened and believe that those things that they hold dear and have grown accustomed to will be taken away or hurt forever. Those people in my previous church did not want to think about changing the existing layout of the auditorium. In their opinion it would forever effect their way of worshiping.

If I had read Staying Power 20 years ago I would have realized that there is a process that needs to be followed.

Through a series of short stories sharing both stages and triggers, Staying Power helps the reader to see that the gap between the Change Proponents and the Status Quo can be bridged.

Whitesel diagrams the process of change like a coach would draw out a play on a blackboard for a team to execute to win a big game. Whitesel shares the process of introducing change with both potential conflicts and struggles to keep the team on the path towards harmony and understanding amongst everyone in both an understandable, but more importantly, godly way.

Many of the remnant in my previous church remember decades ago when the altar was filled every Sunday. When I became pastor the church had dwindled to 35 in attendance on a ‘good Sunday’. It had been almost a decade since the church had seen one convert. One important point that Whitesel brings out is that ‘The Good Old Days’ may not have actually have been so good after all. He points out that periods of congregational peace may seem more harmonious than they actually were. As humans it is our natural tendency to only hold on to those memories that are warm and fuzzy and try to always paint things in a positive manner regardless if they were positive or not. Seeing the building updated was 100% driven by me, as pastor.

Another important point that must be remembered is that diplomacy dictates the leader be a moderator and facilitator of unity. It is integral not to take sides.

Today I understand that my calling as pastor is to serve the local church and not to try to make things to go the way that I think best. Whitesel explains that authority figures must be careful about what they say, as well as when they say it, and do not let passions erupt into poor decisions. Check your emotions at the door, or don’t go.

It is integral to keep in mind that everyone is on the same team and we serve the same God. Staying Power points out that through prayer, open and honest discussions, a willingness to both listen as well as share, and an open mind, change can happen and be a good thing. If rushed or tried to be pushed through with unnecessary authority, no one will truly win. Staying Power will remain on my shelf and be used as an important tool moving forward, and I recommend every pastor have a copy handy.