Can't Get No....

A rough, unscientific rule of thumb I have used in running churches over the past 30 years has been the distinction between sources of satisfaction and sources of dissatisfaction. That is, the things that make people happy and pleased to be here and the things that tick them off. Fairly early, the penny dropped for me that they are not usually that same thing. If you remove the sources of dissatisfaction you won't make people any more satisfied.

In a church, the things that make people dissatisfied are things like heaters that don't work or a buzz in the sound system; or the Vicar's annoyingly drony voice or the fact that whoever chooses the hymns around here has the taste of a blowfly maggot. Sources of dissatisfaction are easily identified - people let you know about them early and often. Sources of satisfaction are harder to idenify. They are more subtle, deeper and often unconscious. People don't talk about them much and tend to take them for granted. They are things like a strong sense of community, awareness of the presence of God, the knowledge that people are valued and accepted in this place. 

Many clergy I know operate on the squeaky wheel principle. They spend their lives chasing around after the sorts of trivia that people ring them about, getting tired and wondering why the roll keeps on dropping. Of course if there is a buzz in the sound system it needs to be fixed, and perhaps I could do with elocution lessons, but by and large, if the church is a satisfying place to be, people will tolerate, even begin to enjoy, any number of evidences of character. So rather than a shopping list of minor things to get sorted, church leadership needs to quickly and consistently address itself to the bigger issues: the issues that are hard to identify and require years of patience and hope to fix. In the long term, the only way to build a successful worshipping community is to be aware of exactly what is going on, at depth, in the congregation and addressing energy and time to building it, healing it and maintaining it. This will result in making practical nuts and bolts changes, but often, not to the things people are complaining about. For example, when I arrived at St. John's ten years ago, it seemed to me, newly arrived and without any history in this community, that the greatly beloved and very beautiful church was inhibiting rather than facilitating the way the congregation functioned. Nobody was complaining about the building; in fact most saw nothing wrong with it. Nevertheless we got involved, fairly early, in making structural changes to the church and the church hall. The results have worked not just because they make things more comfortable, but because whole new areas of ministry have opened up for us and because the new arrangements facilitate the growth of our sense of community.  

It is the sources of satisfaction that need attention and thought. Sort them out and the other stuff tends to take care of itself. As with church life, so with national life and politics. 


Anonymous said…

I have often thought about what I will look for in a congregtion when I finally retire. I do not expect great achievement in the following but I do expect intent. While the list sees some fluctuation,

- A group who believe a relationship with God is the 'end' and church is a 'means' to that end. That is, 'church' is not itself an 'end'.

- That is, a group who value and have expertise in helping me have a relationship with God.

- The ego of the preacher / service leader to be appropriately controlled and subdued so it doesn't get in the way.

- A known liturgical structure freeing me from the autocracy of the service leader.

- A preacher who has given some serious thought to what (s)he is saying and is not functionally illiterate.

Bill Schroeder
Anonymous said…
... and so it is with our individual lives. If only we gave time and thought and our energy to the things which satisfy our souls. This week I have wasted myself on the insurmountable problems! Had I really thought I was growing up!
Why is it still so easy to be distracted with what we are dissatisfied with. Lord give me the grace.
Philippians 4 8:9
Anonymous said…
Can't get no apostrophes, neither.....Or wait - perhaps it was it a deliberate omission, to rile the pedants?
Janice said…
I was in a group that was discussing the liturgy and how to make it relevant for today's people last Saturday, and a theme that came up was the need for relevant music, es-
pecially the kind that people really enjoy singing and listening to. Then, last night, we had a stewardship campaign, with lots of music, and at one point our Ghanain family and some of their friends and relatives showed us how they worshipped in Ghana. They danced and sang, and had the whole congregation on their feet in a joyous festival kind of atmosphere, and we all had a great time singing and dancing before God, in his honour. Now, my point is this: week after week this family sits through what must seem like a rather joyless service, although our choir is very good, and we sometimes attempt to sing African hymns - not well, but with great enthusiasm. Why can we not ask them to do a portion of the service? As much as we talk about honouring other peoples traditions, we seldom let that show in our liturgy. Here in Canada our idea of honouring the indigenous people's culture and spiritulity is for the priest to wear a pair of moccasins, or a beaded stole, but I have not heard of a church where drumming and singing are a part of the service, and I'm thinking that we need to get with the program! If we had a number of different cultural groups, we could have an uplifting
service indeed, and perhaps our church would not have to die. you can believe that I will be beating my drum about this in my church, and in the reforming the liturgy group that I am a part of. If we build it, perhaps they will come.

And this is my dissatisfaction for this day.
Katherine said…
I am dissatisfied...or will be...if you don't post a piccy of yourself with your Movember-ness :-)
VenDr said…
Katherine - I am a sponsor of my daughter's partner's mo. I think he would look like a traffic cop right about now but he's not sending me any pictures either.

Janice: You're right that the mild tokenism sort of misses the point. What is energising about the Ghanians (or the Samoans or the....) is often not the drums and the chants and the dancing, but what lies under those things: a sense of spiritual reality contained in bodies and space which we staid and pale people have got locked up all safe and sound in our heads. If only we knew it, a similar bouyant joyousness can be found in high mass and O God Our Help In Ages Past. It's not the style of worship or the choice of music but the spirit that's important. We spend so much time energy and money fiddling with the wrapping paper - the choice of instruments, the style of songs, the words of the liturgy - we ignore the gift itself.

Anonymous pedant: Ive put the apostrophe's in their proper place's. Its good that grammar is used in it's proper way's and Ill make better effort's in the future. You cant ask for more than that