I read this article on Sports Illustrated’s website a few weeks ago. I think it captures, in the language of college football, something I believe the church needs to take note of. The article suggests that in the Saban school of coaching, the way to win national championships is not to focus on national championships. Instead, the focus is on “The Process.” The key question for winning national championships is how to you create a process that creates excellence?
The United Methodist Church is like a major college football program. We had our glory days. There are big names that stand out from the past like famous football coaches (Wesley, Asbury). When we talk about the present or our future, we struggle not to mention the past. As a church we are very proud of the past and want to have a brighter future. Fans of major football programs are also proud of their past and always want a brighter tomorrow.
Many in the denomination would like us to somehow recapture our glory days Some yearn for growth in the United States instead of decline in terms of facts, figures, and finances. There was a time when people in power cared what we thought or what our position was on an issue. We’re like a former powerhouse who wants to be taken seriously again. You’ll hear people say that our best days are ahead of us just like an inspirational coach taking the reigns of a down on their luck college football program.
Our current efforts to return to glory seem to focus on the end result in terms of numbers. Vitality in congregations is measured statistically. As if keeping track of statistics, let alone predicting statistics, will somehow help us produce what we claim to want. Perhaps the statistics will some how up our game as we suddenly realize we are “losing.”
We want to be winning. Winning is quantified and we put pressure on pastors and churches to some how achieve statistical success. It seems like if we focus on the scoreboard long enough, we might get better at scoring touchdowns. If we could predict better, maybe we would perform better, or so the thinking seems to go.
An alternative would be to focus less on the end result and more on how we get there. Want better statistics? Do not focus on statistics. Instead focus on creating a process of excellence.
What would “The Process” look like in the United Methodist church? If we stopped worrying about numbers, what would we worry about? How do we implement a process in the church on all levels (local, annual conference, jurisdictional, and general church) that creates excellence? Particularly, excellence related to our stated mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?
I believe our focus would be twofold. First, how do we create an invitational culture in our local congregations where people are invited to come and follow Jesus – become disciples? Two, how do we create a discipleship process that takes those who accept the invitation to become disciples on a journey to Christian Perfection, by the grace of God, leveraging our connectional system to its maxium advantage?
Instead of worrying about numbers, what if we worried about well we were inviting all of the people in our communities to come and follow Jesus? The focus would not be on worship attendance, Sunday school attendance, or even money. We would judge our success on our ability to be invitational on multiple levels to all segments of our community. The process, not the end results would be our concern.
Inviting people to follow Christ would not be enough. While the focus on numbers and the end result often ends there, we would then be concerned about what happens to people who accept the invitation. What do they do next? A disciple wants to be like her or his teacher. How are those following the master in the context of the local church actually becoming more Christlike? How are their lives changing because they accepted the invitation?
“The Process” would need a defined discipleship process. Multiple opportunities to grow in love with God and our neighbors would need to be established. Disciples would need to be encouraged in the process and held accountable. Invitations to the community to follow Jesus will be more authentic and compelling if those inviting are part of the process and showing fruit.
I think the money quote from the article is “‘you have to pay the price for success up front,’ Saban says. ‘Everybody wants to do it. Not everybody is willing to do what they have to do to do it.'” As a denomination we want success. We yearn for the glories of our past. Are we willing to pay the price though for that success on all levels of the church? Could we stop worrying about stats and start, by the grace of God, discerning an excellent discipleship process that encompasses the whole connection?