My wife and I once visited an old college classmate of mine on vacation. We stayed with him and his wife for a few days and had a grand time with them. He’s a pastor, too, and so we had a lot in common. And as an added bonus, he plays guitar, so we had that in common, too.
He had a couple of wonderful guitars and an amplifier. But he told me he was disappointed in one of the guitars, and the amp, too. He said the guitar, which originally was a beautiful pearl color, had become discolored with age, and was now a dull off-white. He said he was thinking about getting rid of it. And the amplifier made unpleasant sounds like static, and the volume would drop unexpectedly.
I asked him if I could take a look at them. When I saw the guitar, I could see what he was talking about. Its former beautiful white was now a sort of yellow color. But as I looked at it closer, I said, “Can I try something? Would you bring me a damp rag?” He brought me one, and I proceeded to rub the front of the guitar, applying a little “elbow grease” as I did. And lo and behold, after a few moments of rubbing, the beautiful white pearl finish began to shine through.
His face turned red. We’re good buddies, so I couldn’t resist razzing him a little. “Do you ever wipe this thing off? It’s only dirty. It’d look a lot better if you’d clean it off every now and then!” And his face turned even redder, and he said, “I am so embarrassed!” He got me some more water and soft cloths, and I proceeded to clean the guitar up for him. By the time I was through, it looked almost brand new again.
I said, “Now let’s take a look at the amp.” He looked a little sheepish, but said okay.
The amplifier’s problem was less apparent but basically the same. Dust is the enemy of anything electronic, and over the years that he’d had the amplifier, dust had gotten into the controls behind the knobs. To fix this meant taking the amp apart, which I did. Then we made a trip to a nearby Radio Shack and bought an aerosol can of electronic component cleaner. I sprayed the cleaner into each of the controls, working them back and forth to get the dust out. After this, I reassembled the amplifier and we tested it. No more unpleasant static sounds and no more volume drops!
He was ecstatic. He said, “I thought I had to get rid of the guitar and amp. Now they’re like brand new again! What do I owe you?” I told him we’d just consider it partial payment for room and board. But I couldn’t resist ribbing him a little more. I said, “Try keeping this stuff clean, will ya?” He just shook his head, laughed and blushed again.
As much fun as I had teasing my friend, all he really needed was a fresh set of eyes on the problem. It took a while to clean his stuff up, but once we had identified what the problem really was, then we understood what we needed to do to fix it.
Sometime after Easter we’re going to ask our congregation to help us get a fresh set of eyes on our church situation.
The first step in dealing with any problem is acknowledging you have one. I have spoken from the pulpit about the state of our church and some things the Bible says we should do in response: humble ourselves, seek God and give ourselves to a new season of prayer, turn our hearts to the next generation, and turn our focus from inside our church to those outside our church.
To learn that our church is not alone in the problems we face is both something of a relief and fairly alarming at the same time. The figure I keep encountering is that there are 100,000 churches in North America that are either plateaued or declining.
And once I shared a statistic with you from the pulpit that, in retrospect, sounded a little iffy to me. So I checked it out, and I had it wrong. I told you once that 5000 Baptist churches close their doors every month. That number is not right. Actually, 5000 Baptist churches close their doors every year. Now that’s better, but let’s not kid ourselves: losing 5000 Baptist churches a year is an alarming number. And with all my heart I do not want our church to be part of that number.
Part of the problem is, we’re so close to the trees we can’t see the forest. We need a new perspective. So who are we going to get to give us a fresh perspective about our church? To speak plainly, the first people we want to look at our church afresh is you, our church congregation. But we need something to help us see better, a new set of glasses, so to speak.
We have arranged for our church to use something called the Transformational Church Assessment Tool, or TCAT for short. It’s a series of questions that will ask you to rate our church on many different levels. It takes about 15 minutes to complete. We’ll designate a week for our congregation to complete the questions, and then have a “TCAT Sunday” to finish it off. (We’ll probably even have a pitch-in dinner after the service, because, hey, we’re Baptists.)
The best way to complete the survey is to do it on-line. We’ll announce the website address where you can do this, and print it in the bulletin. If you need help doing this, we can have someone help you. On TCAT Sunday, we may even have some laptops set up out in the narthex for those who haven’t completed survey yet. If you would really prefer it, we can print out the questions for you to complete with a pencil or pen. But then someone will have to input your answers into the website in order to include your results. So if you can, it would be most helpful to do it online.
I can already sense some of you thinking. “What are we doing this for? I’m not taking any test or survey!”
The reason we’re doing this is to get as clear a picture as possible of the state of our church and what we need to do to keep it from becoming part of that statistic I talked about earlier.
And we need your help. The more people who participate in the Transformational Church Assessment Tool, the better we’ll understand our church’s strengths, weaknesses, and challenges. You don’t have to be a church member to take the survey. You just have to be someone who attends our services. For this assessment, the opinions of non-church members are very helpful, too.
And please hear this: Your responses on the TCAT are anonymous. You don’t put your name on them. This is so you won’t tell us what you think we want to hear, but what you really think instead.
Who’s making us do this? Nobody. This is something I have found in the resources now available to us that I believe will be helpful to us in addressing our church’s challenges. I brought it to the Deacons, and they agreed. You don’t have to do it, but your observations can help our church. And the more people that participate in the TCAT, the better it works.
So, stand by. Let’s have a wonderful Palm Sunday, with the “Christ in the Passover” presentation, brought to us by Ofer Levy of Jews For Jesus. Then we’ll celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus on Easter Sunday.
Then after that it will be time for a good look in the mirror, and a prayerful assessment of where we are.
Our good friend Bob Weeks, who has preached for us twice, put it this way to me: “The TCAT will show you some things you already know, and some things you don’t. The problem is, you don’t know what you don’t know.”
Maybe a good prayer for our church to pray in this season can be found in Psalm 139:23-24 –
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
And also the words of Habakkuk 3:2 –
“O LORD, I have heard the report of You, and Your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.”
Soli Deo Gloria!