LIFECYCLE & Should aging churches be euthanized? #No (what I learned by consulting them)

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 12/7/17.

Recently a student commented, “Last week (national name) was advocating that we put a ‘Sun Set Clause’ in all our churches. He said less than 1% of churches in the country are older than 100 years old. There are no churches that trace their heritage as a congregation to the first century church. He says that churches have a life cycle and instead of fighting it we should work with it. He said the most fruit years of most churches ministry is in the first 30 years. He is advocating that all decisions made in the church be based on the idea that we have 30 years of ministry left. He believes that if we did this we would place more emphasis on people and less on buildings. Instead of building monuments that will last for ever we would make disciples and release them to be missionaries. I would be interested in your prospective on this?”

I responded:

Thanks for the question. My view on this comes out of interviews I have conducted over the past 25+ years with hundreds of older members of churches in my consulting practice. I discovered that as people age they need the church more, rather than less. However as they age they have less ability to volunteer as well as less ability to support the church. Therefore, Like Social Security I believe we should provide a spiritual security in our congregations. So rather than closing a congregation down you can revitalize a congregation into a new lifecycle.

I discovered that as people age they need the church more, rather than less. However as they age they have less ability to volunteer as well as less ability to support the church.

Also as older congregants age I believe they have more insecurity in their lives. They have financial insecurity as they live on a fixed income. And they have relational insecurity as their friends move away and/or die. In addition they have health insecurity. Therefore it is been my experience that they look to the church to provide needed security and a worship culture they can relate to. Without an influx of younger generations the church becomes organizationally insecure it only adds to their insecurity.

Here is where I’ve written more about this and answered more questions: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2017/02/19/multiplication-instead-of-planting-an-independent-new-church-what-about-planting-a-new-venue-instead-pros-cons-considered/

Finally, as I said above I came to this viewpoint after interviewing hundreds of aging members. Over and over again these dear hard-working saints worry that their church will not survive. Usually they’ve seen exit behavior occur as the result of change implemented too quickly or without consensus (see Bruno Dyke and Frederick A. Starke, “The Formation of Breakaway Organizations: Observations and a Process Model,” Administrative Science Quarterly 44 [Ithaca, NY: Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University, 1999], 792-822.).

Thus, older congregants fear (rightly so) being left behind and marginalized. And many of these dear saints ran the church and supported it through the years as young families.

But I want to agree with (national name) that we put too much emphasis on facilities. In fact, I wrote a chapter in the book Growth by accident, death by planning: How not to kill a growing congregation (Abingdon Press, 2004) that “Missteps with facilities” was one of the quickest ways to kill a growing congregation. You can find more info on that here: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/facilities-the-7-donts-7-dos-of-building-growthbyaccidentbook/

I believe people like (national name) are not as familiar with the needs of aging congregants because they don’t consult aging churches. Most of them have been involved in church plants. In fact that’s how I started out: overseeing a network of church plants and then planting a church myself. And in hindsight I found I had a jaded view. I tended to not understand the needs of aging congregants and rather dismissed them.

And in hindsight I found I had a jaded view. I tended to not understand the needs of aging congregants and rather dismissed them.

After having consulted for so many years and conducted numerous focus groups with aging congregants I have found them to be dear, committed saints who now suffer insecurity in their lives” an insecurity the next-generation can address … if the next gen doesn’t abandon and instead respects the senior saints’ culture.

The result has been that some churches, like Trinity Wesleyan Church in Indianapolis has reached out to senior centers. They just don’t go into senior centers and put on a Sunday service. But they actually organize the seniors to lead the services. It gives aging Christians an opportunity to still be involved in worship and leadership. (As a preacher, worship leader and pastor I hope one day that opportunity will be afforded me 🙂

STUDENT SUCCESS & Don’t Use the First Resource That Pops Up in a Google Search

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Sometimes several students will cite the same outside resource, because it appears near the top of a Google search.  Many times this can be a relevant article. But other times, it may not be.

Let me give an example with a hint for student success.

I ask students to find scholarly research that explains the “difference between primary and secondary research.”  Usually, a handful of students will cite https://www.thebalance.com (an advertising agency). The advertising agency is not juried (i.e. does not have an editorial board of scholars verifying their explanation is reliable and valid).  But, they do correctly identify the difference between primary and secondary research.

Therefore, should students use such a source?

YES:  If students are using this source to verify that practitioners agree with scholars on the differences between primary and secondary research. This would be acceptable.

NO: If students are using these practitioners as a source of reliable and valid information in an academic course, a scholarly source should probably be utilized instead.

If you are unsure about a source, find out about their background and if they have scholarly degrees (masters or doctoral) and/or have a scholarly editorial board, they would be considered scholars. (Though there are different levels of scholarship.)

In the example above, students could find out about the ad agency’s background by clicking on the “about us” link: https://www.thebalance.com/about-us. There students could find that while they are practitioners, they’re not scholars (and it’s not juried by an editorial board).

The problem arises because in a Google search for the “difference between primary and secondary research” this link often pops up near the top. However remember, in graduate school (a research-based school) you should not choose an outside source based upon popularity, but based upon scholarship.

While I always try to be gracious and give students some leeway early on in our course, I cannot do so later in the course. Student resources should increasingly be scholarly and therefore for fairness I will usually grade down a little bit more each week for non-scholarly sources.

My students understand that fairness and academic veracity require this. It makes their degree worth more and their learning more valuable.

STUDENT SUCCESS & My Grading Policies w/ More Examples of Outstanding Work

(from one of my recent syllabi)

Grading Policies

Your grading policy for your course is dependent on your school and program.  Your grading policies can be found in the IWU Catalog.

Discussions

In most workshops, there are discussion forums.  These discussions focus on either a special topic or general material from the workshop.  You will be given instructions on which discussion forums apply to the current workshop.  Complete discussions individually or in study groups as instructed. Well-thought-out postings that add something intellectually to the discussion are required for a good grade. Your initial postings should fully answer the questions posed in the course interface.  Additionally, you must reply to at least two of your classmate’s postings. Postings of the “I agree” or “Me too” variety will not suffice.

In these weekly discussions conduct some outside reading in a minimum of two to three books to support your observations. This might include a Bible commentary, other books on this topic, etc.  Customarily the graduate school student is expected to be skimming a minimum of several outside books each week and bring them into, when helpful, the online conversation.  Also bring into the conversation relevant ideas from your other course textbooks.  Thus, each week the student should be bringing into the online conversation one to two textbooks and two to three outside references as a minimum.

Also be sure to reply to any followup questions posted by your instructor. These are designed to help you dig deeper into application and theory.

End-of-week Papers

Most weeks an end-of-week paper will be due by Thursday 11:59pm. Like your discussions these end-of-week papers should cite relevant outside readings which support your observations. Similar to the discussion parameters, the graduate school student is expected at a minimum to be skimming several outside books each week and bringing them to bear upon their weekly papers (with citations).  Also, don’t forget to bring into your papers relevant ideas from other course textbooks.

And, unless specified differently by your professor, your end-of-week papers should comply with APA formatting rules and include an abstract.

An Expectation of Outside Scholarship

Therefore for B level work, the student should each week be utilizing and citing in their weekly papers and discussion forums, one to two textbooks and two to three outside references.  Remember however, this is for B level work.  A person seeking a higher grade would be expected to do better.

Letter Grade Equivalencies

Grade
Description of Work

A
Clearly stands out as excellent performance. Has unusually sharp insights into material and initiates thoughtful questions. Sees many sides of an issue. Articulates well and writes logically and clearly. Integrates ideas previously learned from this and other disciplines. Anticipates next steps in progression of ideas. Example “A” work should be of such nature that it could be put on reserve for all cohort members to review and emulate. The “A” cohort member is, in fact, an example for others to follow. Typical interaction will be 3+ times in each forum.

B
Demonstrates a solid comprehension of the subject matter and always accomplishes all course requirements. Serves as an active participant and listener. Communicates orally and in writing at an acceptable level for the degree program. Work shows intuition and creativity. Example “B” work indicates good quality of performance and is given in recognition for solid work; a “B” should be considered a good grade and awarded to those who submit assignments of quality less than the exemplary work described above. Typical interaction will be 3+ times in each forum.

C
Quality and quantity of work in and out of class is average. Has marginal comprehension, communication skills, or initiative. Requirements of the assignments are addressed at least minimally. Typical interaction will be 3 or fewer times in each forum.

D
Quality and quantity of work is below average. Has minimal comprehension, communication skills, or initiative. Requirements of the assignments are addressed at below acceptable levels. Typical interaction will be two or fewer times in each forum.

F
Quality and quantity of work is unacceptable and does not qualify the student to progress to a more advanced level of work.

STUDENT SUCCESS & Helping Other Students Not Only Aids Them, But Increases Your Score Too

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 4/19/17

Students often ask how to score well in an online discussion posting. And though the parameters for each letter grade are spelled out in great detail in the syllabus (and I’ve posted them again below) students often want examples.

Here are examples: one is a student’s posting about a “worship disaster” followed by two examples of responses. The first is a poor example of a response and the second is a good example.

Situation of Student X:

…My pastor decided to add a service on Wednesdays at 6:30pm.  I would not call it a disaster, but definitely a failure. We had already added a third service on Sunday mornings and we just did not have enough room to accommodate all the worshippers. The solution that leadership tried to implement was to add a Wednesday evening service which would allow for more newcomers. The service was from 7pm to 8:30 pm.

The mistake was adding the Wednesday evening service. The reason it was a failure is because adding the Wednesday service did not do what was it was supposed to do. Most of the people who attended to Wednesday service were people who already normally attended church on Sunday. I believe it is important that we deal with our mistakes as individuals and as the church…

Response of Student 1 (a poor example)

_____StudentName____, that certainly is a difficult situation. I know that Charles Arn has some good insights in his book about how to start a new service. You might want to take a look there and see what which of his ideas might be helpful.

Response of Student 2 (a better example)

_____StudentName____, I am sorry to hear about the failure of this mid-week service. It seems to me, though, by the way you described how normal Sunday service attenders would come on Wednesday nights that maybe there was not a specific group that the church was trying to reach with this service and it was seen by the congregants as an additional time for them, not for non-attenders.

It may have been more effective if the leadership would have placed an emphasis on the service being either for a select generational, or even spiritual group as discussed in Charles Arn’s book How to Start a New Service (1997). By focusing the service on a select group there could have been mitigation and buy-in from the regular attenders that the new service was to reach new people…

Arn, C. (1997). How to start a new service your church can reach new people. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.


My (Dr. Whitesel’s) response:

What Student 2 did right:

I agree with Student 2. I think the problem was that a specific outreach group wasn’t identified. And then as Student B simply stated, congregants felt it was just another requirement on their already busy volunteer schedule.

Student 2 helped Student X with the following suggestion, “Seems to me, though, by the way you described how normal Sunday service attenders would come on Wednesday nights that maybe there was not a specific group that the church was trying to reach with this service and it was seen by the congregants as an additional time for them, not for non-attenders. It may have been more effective if the leadership would have placed an emphasis on the service being either for a select generational, or even spiritual group as discussed in Charles Arn’s book How to Start a New Service (1997).”

This is the type of posting graduate students will want to utilize in their online conversations. Student 2 found reliable and valid scholarly insights on Student X’s situation and shared those with her.

The result was it not only helped the Student X, but it also helped me the professor see that Student A understood the principles of Dr. Arn’s book.

What Student 1 did wrong:

Student 1 didn’t share any ideas from Dr. Arn’s book, but rather just referred the student to it. Student 1 had probably read Dr. Arn’s book and knew it would be helpful. But as the professor, I have no evidence that Student 1 knew what was in the book.

So if a student simply points to a book for the solutions, it doesn’t earn many points. That is because it’s not clear to the professor if they have read more than the cover of the book. Now, I know that the vast majority of my students have read these books, but for fairness to all students I must see written proof that they know and can apply the principles in the books they cite. And the best way to do that is to help others.

So it’s a win-win. First, Student 2’s type of posting helps the person to whom the student is responding (Student X). And second, it demonstrates to the professor that the responder (Student 2) understands the scholarship on the subject at hand.


From one of my syllabi:

Grading Policies

Your grading policy for your course is dependent on your school and program.  Your grading policies can be found in the IWU Catalog.

Discussions

In most workshops, there are discussion forums.  These discussions focus on either a special topic or general material from the workshop.  You will be given instructions on which discussion forums apply to the current workshop.  Complete discussions individually or in study groups as instructed. Well-thought-out postings that add something intellectually to the discussion are required for a good grade. Your initial postings should fully answer the questions posed in the course interface.  Additionally, you must reply to at least two of your classmate’s postings. Postings of the “I agree” or “Me too” variety will not suffice.

In these weekly discussions conduct some outside reading in a minimum of two to three books to support your observations. This might include a Bible commentary, other books on this topic, etc.  Customarily the graduate school student is expected to be skimming a minimum of several outside books each week and bring them into, when helpful, the online conversation.  Also bring into the conversation relevant ideas from your other course textbooks.  Thus, each week the student should be bringing into the online conversation one to two textbooks and two to three outside references as a minimum.

Also be sure to reply to any followup questions posted by your instructor. These are designed to help you dig deeper into application and theory.

Initial posts are due by Tuesday 11:59pm.  Follow up posts are due by Thursday 11:59pm.

End-of-week Papers

Most weeks an end-of-week paper will be due by Thursday 11:59pm. Like your discussions these end-of-week papers should cite relevant outside readings which support your observations. Similar to the discussion parameters, the graduate school student is expected at a minimum to be skimming several outside books each week and bringing them to bear upon their weekly papers (with citations).  Also, don’t forget to bring into your papers relevant ideas from other course textbooks.

And, unless specified differently by your professor, your end-of-week papers should comply with APA formatting rules and include an abstract.

An Expectation of Outside Scholarship

Therefore for B level work, the student should each week be utilizing and citing in their weekly papers and discussion forums, one to two textbooks and two to three outside references.  Remember however, this is for B level work.  A person seeking a higher grade would be expected to do better.

Letter Grade Equivalencies

Grade
Description of Work

A
Clearly stands out as excellent performance. Has unusually sharp insights into material and initiates thoughtful questions. Sees many sides of an issue. Articulates well and writes logically and clearly. Integrates ideas previously learned from this and other disciplines. Anticipates next steps in progression of ideas. Example “A” work should be of such nature that it could be put on reserve for all cohort members to review and emulate. The “A” cohort member is, in fact, an example for others to follow. Typical interaction will be 3+ times in each forum.

B
Demonstrates a solid comprehension of the subject matter and always accomplishes all course requirements. Serves as an active participant and listener. Communicates orally and in writing at an acceptable level for the degree program. Work shows intuition and creativity. Example “B” work indicates good quality of performance and is given in recognition for solid work; a “B” should be considered a good grade and awarded to those who submit assignments of quality less than the exemplary work described above. Typical interaction will be 3+ times in each forum.

C
Quality and quantity of work in and out of class is average. Has marginal comprehension, communication skills, or initiative. Requirements of the assignments are addressed at least minimally. Typical interaction will be 3 or fewer times in each forum.

D
Quality and quantity of work is below average. Has minimal comprehension, communication skills, or initiative. Requirements of the assignments are addressed at below acceptable levels. Typical interaction will be two or fewer times in each forum.

F
Quality and quantity of work is unacceptable and does not qualify the student to progress to a more advanced level of work.

WORSHIP & A leadership exercise comparing worship in different eras (Yikes! The 80s are Back ;-)

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: This is an exercise about understanding how different cultures worship. My students enjoy it, so I thought I would post it here. Here is how the leadership exercise works:

Watch this video:

It is a humorous video that actually teaches an important cultural lesson too. It is by the Christian band called Glad. They were known for great vocals (and probably also for 80s haircuts 😉

(the video seems to have disappeared, but here is the audio version.)

But aside from their fashion statement, the group makes a good cultural point in this video. Write down a paragraph regarding the point of their video in your mind.

This is an exercise to allow you to dig deeper into cultural patterns and why they differ. So what is the lesson from this video about culture, when we recognize culture is comprised of behaviors, ideas and products (Hiebert, 1997)?

Here is a more recent version of the video to will enjoy also:

And, for a final bit of humor here is a puppet ministry visualizing the song.)

STUDENT SUCCESS & Why Asking Questions of Other Students is Not the Application Goal of a Seminary

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 3/30/17.

Seminaries are so-called “professional schools.” That puts them in the category with Business Schools which offer MBA degrees.  In seminaries we typically offer ecclesial-orientated, but similiar degrees: MDiv, MA and DMin. These are professional degrees, which means that the students are usually already engaged in their profession and are honing their skills.

Therefore, students are expected to weekly be “applying” what they are learning to their profession in professional schools, such as business schools and seminaries. For example, in a MBA Business School program a student might investigate how to apply an innovate financial model to their business and report back to their professor the applicability.

Papers should describe application plans.

Seminary is the same way.  Students are expected to:

  • Take what they are learning each week
  • “apply” it to their ministry,
  • Then report back to fellow students and their professor.

This is why our end-of-week papers are customarily called “Application Papers,” because they describe how the student would “apply” to their profession what they learned that week.

Discussions also should describe application ideas, not just ask questions.

For students to earn points in professional school discussions, they should do more than just ask questions of the other students. Often times students do this because they see the professor asking questions. However the professor’s role is different: she or he is there to probe the thinking and depth of understanding of the students. Other students can do this as well, but it doesn’t demonstrate to the professor that the student is understand the content. It only demonstrates that the other students can ask questions.

To earn points for discussions in a professional school,

  • Students look up research that can help the other students
  • Then “apply” that research to the other student’s context.

Here is an example:

A student stated that he thought small groups create intimacy in larger churches.  And, he asked a fellow student, who pastored a large church, if this was the case.  The large church pastor did not utilize small groups and thus did not reply.

However in a professional school, students do not earn points by asking questions, but by giving application solutions.

Let’s go back to our example.  The student’s thesis, that small groups create intimacy in larger churches, is easily supportable from research by various scholars. He could start with the “Reveal Study” that was conducted at Bill Hybel’s church.

So, to earn points for application:

  1. The student finds research on how large churches can maintain intimacy as they grow.  The student might discover that small groups help with this.
  2. Then the student shares his/her  research-supportable findings with fellow students.
  3. Finally, the student explains (and cites) some “tools” or mechanisms for fostering small groups in a large church environment. Results are …
    • The large church pastor would benefit from the application insights in the “tools” suggested.
    • And, the student would demonstrate to the professor that she/he was conversant in scholarly research and application on the topic at hand.

MUSICAL PREFERENCES & They May Crystallize Around Age 23.5 According to Research (A Leadership Exercise)

Every culture is made up of behaviors, ideas and products (Christian anthropologist Paul Hiebert defined culture as people who join together because of “shared patterns of behavior, ideas and products.”1. One of the most powerful and cohesion-generating products is music and the celebration that accompanies it.

Holbrook and Schindler’s research suggests that a musical preference begins to crystallize in the early 20s and hardens throughout the rest of a person’s life.

This is important to know when attempting to understand worship wars. Rather than trying to attract people to into adopting music from a different culture, it might be more helpful to find touchstones and points of agreement between the music of their youth and the music of your youth.

So if you’re trying to reach out to another musical generation, begin by studying the music of that generation’s 20something years.

Try this leadership exercise to see if this research can be confirmed with your team members.

A. Ask your team members to share the year in which they were born.  If do not want to do so, graciously excuse them from the exercise. Try to get at least two or three participants.  Write down their birth year next to their name.

B. Next, ask your leaders to name their favorite musical groups and/or singers. Write these down next to their name. Each person should select three or four examples.

C. With your team (or later on your own if you prefer) go online and locate in which years  those musical groups were the most popular.

D. Then correlate the year range of artist popularity with the period in time when the team member was in their 20s.

E.  Finally, ask yourself, “Was there a correlation?”

There seems to be so, about 60 to 70% of the time. This is enough to say that Holbrook and Schindler’s research may be partially reliable and valid. But of course, more research is needed. That’s why I ask my students to undertake this leadership exercise. It can add to their experience and to their  emerging theses (a thesis is basically a scholarly hunch 🙂 And at the very least, it can make them more sensitive to the musical products that are prefrered by members of their teams.

1. Paul Hiebert, Cultural Anthropology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1976), p. 25.

2. M. B. Holbrook & R. M. Schindler, “Some exploratory findings on the development of musical tastes,” Journal of Consumer Research, (1989) 16(1), p. 122.