A small group of us were sitting in a room, assembled to discuss a communications project. The organization had been dealing with explosive growth, a new finance campaign was starting, and we had been asked to consider how to communicate the new effort.
A senior executive led the group, and it was increasingly clear he was growing impatient with what he considered was the slow pace of the discussion. It was also clear he wasn’t thrilled having to deal with communications people, which he wasn’t one of.
I raised the question that turned out to be the tripwire. “We need to understand why the growth is happening. We simply don’t know. We should ask people what is going on, because it could be temporary, it could be permanent, it could be something else altogether.”
The executive had had enough. “I’m not here to ask people questions,” he snapped. “I’m here to get this campaign going.” We were supposed to be discussing articles and speeches and talking points, he said, not trying to find out why there was growth. He was running a campaign, not a research operation.
It was something of a rant, and when he finished, a noticeable chill had settled over the room. The meeting ended shortly thereafter, and the executive did not call us to meet again.
Would it make any difference if I said the organization was a church, the finance campaign was to raise money for a new church building complex, and the executive was a pastor?
The church had been dealing with the problem of explosive growth, and it was a problem. We had recently moved into a new building, and it was already insufficient. The parking lot has been been expanded two or three times, and it was still difficult to find a space on Sunday. The children’s ministry was getting overwhelmed. The facility lacked space for all of the youth programs and adult classes.
Instead of asking people why they were coming, the leadership was assuming growth would continue forever. And the church was turning to campaign programs, fundraising visits, sermons from the pulpit, and outside consultants who had all the right tactics for raising the most amount of money in the shortest possible time.
No one was asking people why people were coming. And no one was looking at the fact that attendance did not necessarily translate into membership, or at the fact that attendance might be “churning” – with a high “turnover rate” of who was making attendance permanent. That’s where the communications group was, and we were dismissed and not called together again.
In the face of a huge problem, as “good” of a problem as it might have been, the church leadership turned to the Egyptians.
In The Fire of Delayed Answers, Bob Sorge describes what King Hezekiah did when he faced the most ferocious and rapacious army of his time – the Assyrians. They had just conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, and they were not known for being merciful to their foe. Hezekiah, who knew better, turned to the familiar and the human – and made an alliance with the Egyptians. He didn’t turn to God, and he almost lost everything. The Egyptians turned out not to be much help, and Hezekiah found himself and Jerusalem surrounded. When it was almost too late, Hezekiah turned to God for help, and it was God who destroyed the Assyrian army, right at gates of the city.
Sorge’s point is that, when facing serious problems (our own version of the Assyrians), too often we turn to human agencies, human strengths and human resources, and we leave God out of the equation. We can do that individually, and we can do that collectively – like a church. Things make work, and we may succeed for a time, but ultimately it leads to more problems or, worse, to disaster.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Fire of Delayed Answers. To see more posts on this chapter, “The Assyrians Are Coming,” please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines.