Every congregation has a unique genetic code. It is a complex combination of how the church began, its history, philosophy of ministry, pastors and leaders who have served and are serving, make-up of the congregation ethnically, socially and economically, its record of conflict and results, and a host of other factors.
All of these factors combine to explain why a congregation is what it is and why it operates the way it does. Churches are immensely complex organisms and organizations. The better that leaders understand the genetic code of their church, the better they are able to capitalize on its strengths and deal with its weaknesses.
Here are a number of important questions to explore as you try to understand your congregation's genetic code:
-What do you know about the founding of your church? How do you think the motives and attitudes in the church's founding - positive or negative - affect the church today?
-What was the philosophy of those who started your congregation? Is it the same philosophy the church has today, or has there been a significant shift in mission, vision or ministry philosophy? How did this shift happen?
-When there is conflict between people in the church, how do they handle their disagreements? Would you give your congregation high marks or low marks in the handling of conflict? Do you see patterns here?
-Are you aware of any significant unresolved issues within your congregation that lie beneath the surface? What are these issues, and why do you think they have not been resolved?
-How would you evaluate the unity of your board? Does your leadership board have a history of unity and love, even when faced with differences, or is there a history of conflict and broken relationships?
-If your congregation has faced significant periods of conflict in its past, what do you know about these periods? Is it possible to see trends in either the causes of these conflicts or how the conflict was handled?
-When you consider leadership, now or historically, who in your congregation has the major influence? Does the church board allow any individual (elected leaders or non-elected persons of influence) veto power over decisions of the board or the congregation? How has the power and influence structure of the church changed over the years?
-Think about major changes the congregation has made, whether related to ministry philosophy, location, ministries or staff members. Does the congregation respond to suggested changes easily, with great resistance or somewhere in between?
-Are there any subjects, people or situations related to the ministry of your church that are "off limits" for discussion? If so, why do you think these "elephants in the room" cannot be named.
Healthy characteristics of your congregation should be celebrated and affirmed regularly. We cannot do enough to affirm God's people, as He would, where they are living in His will.
Leaders should specialize in understanding the strengths of their congregations, both so they can affirm them and so they can leverage areas of strength into even greater ministry strength.