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Redesigning a dying organization

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At a Saturday night tent revival, the preacher announced, “Anyone with needs to be prayed over, come forward to the front at the altar.”

Leroy got in line, and when it was his turn, the preacher asked: “Leroy, what do you want me to pray about for you?”

Leroy replied: “Preacher, I need you to pray for help with my hearing.”

The preacher put one finger in Leroy’s ear and placed the other hand on top of Leroy’s head and prayed and prayed.

After a few minutes, the preacher removed his hand, stood back and asked, “Leroy, how is your hearing now?”

Leroy said, “I don’t know, reverend, it ain’t till next Wednesday.”

This story illustrates that sometimes we think we are addressing people’s needs and completely miss the mark. Cultures change, business trends change, demographics change and even the way we conduct church changes with the passing of time. Each generation has its own uniqueness and challenges. This is true in any organization, business or church. Today, we will use a church as an example but the same applies to any business or organization.

Pastor Mel Mullen of Red Deer, Canada, recently shared a message at a conference I attended. He called the message “The Frustrated, Dying Church.” Mullen doesn’t mince words. For many years, his church and church movement in western Canada has been one of the largest and most influential in the country.

Mullen knew even though there were significant signs of life and success in his church, his church was dying. Troubles were ahead, and he could sense it. The main issue was he and his church were getting older. The demographics of the church had changed.

One day, he walked into his staff meeting, looked at his mostly under 35-year-old staff, and thought to himself, “Can a mostly under 35 staff grow a church of 35 and older?”

Mullen is one of those intuitive leaders who embrace change when necessary. He decided he needed to do something outside of the box.

The next week, he walked into his staff meeting and made the following pronouncement: “Today, our church will change forever. I will no longer ask you to build a church for my generation. I will help you build a church for your generation.”

Think about it. As parents, we live our lives for the next generation, so why not adjust to the next generation?

Mullen went on to ask his vibrant, youthful staff some strategic questions. “Where are we, as a church, effective? Where are we not effective? How do we reach the next generation? Is the way we are presenting the Bible effective for your generation?”

They dialogued for months on this. They evaluated, rediscovered, rebranded and retooled the entire church. After all, you transition churches and larger organizations slowly.

The younger leaders came up with a new slogan: “We are a small church with lots of people.”

They adopted four new core values; engaging the culture, living in authentic relationships, empowering and releasing potential in others and being driven by compassion. Those values could apply to all generations, but they are living out those values in a way that connects with the next generation. They created space for both young and old. They have changed their language, communication style, presentations, environment and church culture. The results have been over the top.

How many of the old guard left after those changes? None. They had been praying for growth and God answered. It just came in a form they didn’t expect. There is something for everybody with a youthful flair. The church transitioned from feeding spiritual giraffes to engaging current culture purposely and effectively.

This reminds me of a conversation between a wife and husband.

She asked, “Will you love me when I’m old and gray?”

He replied, “Oh probably, I’ve loved you through all the other shades, too.” Remember the story we started with? They listened first and then addressed what really needed addressing and connected the message with the audience. This changes everything.

Maybe it’s time we assessed our lives, also. What do we need to change about ourselves? Remember, and I am speaking metaphorically here, you can’t save the damsel if she loves her distress.

To learn more about Pastor Ed Delph, the Church-Community Connection and Nation strategy, call 623-376-6757, e-mail, or log on to