Years ago, I worked in a job where, over the course of time, I was allowed to arrange displays and order products in an attempt to boost their sales. There was a problem, though, and that was I wasn’t given the time to make any of this work. Often I would put a display of product up, and if there was only a couple of sales in the first day or two, it would be taken down, because clearly the display wasn’t working. Other times I would put a sign up one day, and the next day it would come down.
My employer had been trained in a system created by a large corporation, and although we were a smaller version of that business, he felt that the corporation’s system was the only one that would bring success. Ultimately he didn’t have time for anyone who didn’t share this vision.
I ended up thinking about this after reading a blog post by Brandon A. Cox, entitled Pardon Me, But Your Church Is Too Slow. In the blog he talks about how churches often operate in such a fashion that they are unable to interact effectively with the society around them. How various church structures and practices hold them in a state of inertia that in the end leaves them out of touch with the the world around them. The focus in the article and this post is one practices, this is not in any way a suggestion that the church needs to alter its core message, but the fashion in which it is presented should always be open for review.
Oddly enough, when churches engage in practices like the one I described at the top of the post they also cause the church to move to slow. This may seem counter-intuitive, that allowing for time and space for new ideas to take root will actually make the church more adaptable in its practices, but the reason this is necessary is that unless churches do that, they will only adopt practices that provide instant results and gratification. These may result in temporary spikes in numbers, but they are in no way a guarantee in and of themselves that the church will develop a more effective witness as a result.
On top of that, it often takes time for people to change their behaviour and their expectations. If something new in the church is not given time to take root, people never get a chance to find out what if any value the new practice may hold. In a way, we put too much emphasis on the idea of “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” on the practices of our church.
Finally, when new practices aren’t given time and space to develop, eventually people quit making suggestions of anything new, and you’re back with a church that is moving at a snail’s pace that only appeals to other snails. Now, this isn’t bad, if you wish to self-identify as a snail church, and I think we need those. On the other hand, if you want to operate at a snail’s pace while interacting with a cheetah paced world, you are always going to find yourself arriving long after everybody you wish to interact with is gone.