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Monday, September 20, 2004

Help! My Church is Falling!

The following was posted on The Bullard Journal website. George Bullard has some good insights into a problem that many churches face... "The Wallenda Factor".

Monday, March 22, 2004 was the 26th anniversary of the day Karl Wallenda, patriarch of The Flying Wallendas, fell 75 feet to his death while walking a cable strung between two hotels in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

In reflecting on the time around his death, his widow explained that during the months preceding his death Karl transitioned from a life style and attitude of confidence and courage, to one of fear and precaution. He morphed from being an aerialist who lived to fly across the wire, to a hesitant high wire actor who was concerned about the fear of falling.

This fear of falling or failing is today known as The Wallenda Factor. It refers to people and situations where the fear of failure smothers the joy of soaring. It refers to people and situations where problem-solving erases an affirm and build process, where counting the “no” votes is more important than counting the “yes” votes, and negatives are more important than positives.

Congregations who take on challenging spiritual strategic journeys are often subject to The Wallenda Factor. They fear the possibility of failure as they travel along their journey. They focus on fixes rather than solutions. They seek to bring everyone along with them on the journey, and would rather halt the journey than leave anyone behind.

The Wallenda Factor is particularly expressed in congregations when a threat of some type is present. People often are afraid the threat will become a full reality, and that the congregation will be harmed. Much of their dialogue is around the possibility of something negative happening to the congregation, rather than the opportunity to soar that is often also present during a time of threat or challenge.

Does your congregation soar with the collective spiritual gifts, life skills, and personality preferences of the people connected with it? Or, does it focus on not failing, and thus takes few, if any, risks to minister to the people God has placed along the path of their journey; much less to engage in cutting edge discipleship development for people connected with the congregation?

Is it concerned that if it fails that it will possibly lose some of it strengths, capacities, and even members who are necessary to continue the quality and quantity of ministry to which it has become accustomed? Or, is it open to the new thing that God is doing in it, and gladly risks comfort to pioneer new areas of ministry into which God is leading it?

Are the leadership gatherings of your congregation filled with challenging dialogue about the emerging ministry trends of the congregation, and the possibilities for unconditionally sharing the love of God? Or, are their filled with cautious dialogue about the scarcity of finances, the lack of available leaders, and the necessity to not move forward if there is one person not in favor?

What are your thoughts? Please leave your comments by clicking the comments link below. George is doing some research on this subject, and we'll forward any and all replies to him as well.

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September 20, 2004 in Leadership Issues | Permalink

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For almost five years I served an "Old First Church" downtown in the Capitol of Michigan. The Wallenda Factor describes what we faced and experienced at every turn. I didn't know there was a name for it. The church is dead, most of the congregation is scattered and it took me over nine months to recover from the pastor abuse and devistation of trying to lift a Wallenda Church out of its free fall.
Now that the problem has been so succinctly described and labeled, can you offer any solutions?

Posted by: Leon Hebrink | Sep 20, 2004 12:35:47 PM

The Wallenda attitude has ruined more churches and pastors' ministries than any other thing I know of--and I do know by personal experience. People can let their fears get out of control to the point that they have people believing their press which is TOTALLY unfounded!! God wants us to be bold in Him and live by faith in Him just as He commanded the Israelites to do in the book of Joshua.

Posted by: Loretta | Sep 20, 2004 12:45:49 PM

I am a worship pastor in a small Church and we have recently been introduced to the searching for a senior pastor chore. I was nominated to the pilpit committee, and we have struggled for about 6 weeks just to put together a job description. This article (Help my Church is falling)really hit home for me. All the committee members are so worried we will miss one item or misrepresent one item that we are walking on egg shells with the whole process. I'm trying to tell them that God has already picked a pastor for our Church. He's just waiting to see if we are obedient to Him in our prayers and faith to let Him work.

Posted by: David McCelskey | Sep 20, 2004 1:56:27 PM

I have just left a church like that. It breaks my heart b/c it has so much potential. Their motto is safety first even at the expense of the ministry, even though they wouldn't say that.I ask that you pray for them as they are on their last leg of a three legged stool. Perhaps before most churches can recover from this "W" factor it must lose it's footing so it then has to-do something drastic to survive? I don't really know. It's really unfortunate b/c the church I left was supposed to be a cutting "edge" place but it was too complacent to be effective even though it has a dynamic speaker/pastor. If the core is afraid then so will the message presented. I am grateful for the very concise manor in which you have explained this concept.

Posted by: Jason Stone | Sep 20, 2004 1:57:51 PM

I am currently attending a church that I believe is experiencing this "Big Time". We are in the process of trying to build and add more ministries to our church and the sad reality is that there isnt enough money or people to run those ministries. But the even sadder reality is the fact that the congregation is getting discouraged and not giving their all in {time, money, resources,ect.} because no building has went up and it has been a while since we first started trying to build. Many are complaining because they are giving and seeing no results and many are just complaining because they are seeing no results.I can tell that it is taking a toll on our Pastor who is trying so desperately to hang on to all he can, but fact is we will have to build with what we have and start from there. Please keep us in you prayers.

Posted by: M. Chaffin | Sep 20, 2004 2:29:02 PM

Your artical helps me to keep things in perspective. I have been hearing much about the church in a transition or reformation. Looking to the new testament church they were constantly taking risks. Church was not built around mans comforts but it was all about "knowing Him" and serving Him. Our church addopted the verse "become all things to all men" That is an awesome verse for evangelism but not a very good leadership principal. You can't please all the people in the church and we never seemed to move forward, just in circles! I love the Proverbs 14:4 "Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, but much increase comes by the strength of the ox" I prefere to be in a church that has much increase even if it does get a little messy at times!
Maybe this explaines why I just resigned as worship Pastor and am seeking a new manger.

Posted by: P.J. Whiteside | Sep 20, 2004 4:18:18 PM

Funny you should mention it . . . we're a small UCC "community" church in an upscale suburb of Cleveland. We just lost a "beloved son", a pastor of 22+ years to a west side congregational church,and we're threatening to flounder instead of soar. The pastor did us no service by handling virtually everything himself (including all the custodial work!), leaving us now like foals on very wobbly legs. The good news? We have an interim who loves to soar! And she's a strong advocate in "the priesthood of all believers" and will work tirelessly to see us equipped to soar when her interim ministry is finished here. A caveat to all pastors everywhere: don't love your parishoners into wheel chairs. Help them grow wings and then push them gently off the branches.........

Posted by: Kate Young | Sep 21, 2004 9:18:21 AM

Interesting article. My experience is that the church is a collection of individuals. Some want to soar. Some are fearful of change. Some have their own agendas. Some are content to just show up on Sunday and nothing more. Add to the factor the "rotation" of people who move due to job circumstances (I'm in a military community) and those who are consumer oriented (Sorry pastor, the church does not have a youth ministry to our liking so we are joining First Baptist!).

Food for thought.

Posted by: Dan Moore | Sep 21, 2004 9:22:45 AM

Great article. I think that most churches struggle with this in certain areas. My ministry for the past 20 years has been that of restoring and rebuilding. Each church was once a strong and growing church, but when I arrived they had become weak and some nearly extinct. Most of them got there through church splits and either pastor or board related abuse problems. But the turn-around always involved overcoming the Wallenda affect. It's important that we as leaders learn to listen for these atttitudes in our leadership meetings and even in our own conversations. Thanx for the article, it was helpful.

Posted by: Jim | Sep 21, 2004 9:34:05 AM

I am in the midst of an interim pastorate. This older First church has had no vision and has been plateaued for over 30 years. The Wallenda factor is the chief offender. I have called it a spirit of fear. We are successfully challenging this condition with a systematic process of strategy developement based on values, vision, purpose and strategy. We have moved through the first two steps. I believe that we will have our greatest success when we start defining our ministry calling as a church and start identifing gifts, purpose and calling of each of the people. At this point we have seen a major move in the attitude of the people. It is the late adaptors that are resisting the process the most. Any thoughts on how to break this last stronghold? thanx for the article and insight.

Posted by: Burton Purvis | Sep 21, 2004 11:22:40 AM

Wow! Our church is now going through a major hurdle right now…I’ve never heard of this factor however, the conditions are the same. Our church is dealing with this very issue with in our leadership capacity. Our Pastor is at his wits end in trying to hold this ministry together. We are hit by a strong Jezebel spirit. Although, its powers has been weakened because God allowed this entity to be exposed a couple of years ago, there were (those who left) and are wounded leaders who are there struggling, trying to hold on in various ministries. However, since this Jezebel spirit filled person is the pastor’s wife we have been pretty beat up in that we were/are told to “just over look some things for the kingdom sake.” As a leader myself I am constantly struggling to do as the pastor says but I am one who is being hit first hand directly from the hands of this person and I have no help. I am praise and worship leader and I know if the enemy can affect this ministry it will cause a major break with in the body. We are doing all we can as a body to defeat and bind this enemy through personal prayer, special prayer time and our intercessory team is diligent in prayer. However, I have spoken to our intercessory team leader in praying deliverance for the Ahab spirit as well. But because it is the pastor, no one wants to bring this up. I believe if we pray for the head (which is our pastor in his influential state) then God will give him courage and wisdom on to deal with this situation which will bring sure deliverance. Don’t know what to do any more…

Posted by: Linda | Sep 21, 2004 1:17:18 PM

These are great case studies......it sounds like you have hit a nerve!

Keep it up.....


Posted by: jim zeilenga | Sep 22, 2004 4:02:31 AM

I serve as an associate pastor at a small inner city church where the pastor is a former outlaw biker and many of the people are poor. We took on a project of distributing over 5000 pounds of food and other nonperishable items to our community, and yes, there was some fear, but we went ahead anyway. It was the best thing for the church, it brought us together as a congregation, we broke the 80/20 rule, and blessed the community as well. Faith is worth the risk of failure.

Posted by: Pastor Randy | Sep 25, 2004 9:21:00 AM

God moved my wife and I from one home to another home 6-8 blocks away, conveniently across the street from a denominational church, which we began attending (left one denom church for this one.) Wife & I were in agreement about these moves. I was then asked to supply the pulpit for another church (pastorless) in our small town. The last Sun AM I preached the pastor at our new church tendered his resignation, and encouraged me to apply. He had the decency and respect to pull me aside asx we walked into church that PM to tell me what he had done that AM - and even though Giod gave the same vision for chcurch growth to me and the "church controller"/pulpit committee chair, no-one has had the decency to keep mne "in the loop" - they are planning on interviewing 3 candidates in a week or so, and not one person has had the decency to tell me if I'm one of the three (obviously I'm not.) Three things are killing churches left and right across this country - 1)"we've never done it that way before"; 2)"our (by-laws/charter/insert whatever) won't allow us to do it that way"; and 3)"our denomination won't allow us to do it that way." What unbeliever in his/her right mind would want to join a group of selfish, self-centered, callous people, unwilling to "think outside the box", more interested in obeying their by-laws or the denomination than they are in obeying Christ? And what pastor in his/her right mind would want to attempt to lead them? I am now adamantly ANTI-denominational. A good website, especially if you THINK you are called to ministry - www.woundedshepherd.org. The American church is in a mess, unable to rise above the simplest challenge, because, like Gehazi, many are running WHO WERE NOT SENT. And the church is unable, or unwilling, to tell the difference. ###

Posted by: Bill | Sep 27, 2004 6:14:14 PM

thanks for the article it was very intersting the flying Waldeans or church falling i am pastoring a church that is exactly the opposite of this we are risk takers who believe God to do the impossible but i have people who sometimes fall into this category and the sad things is that onece there they never seem to get out of it and here is the conclusion that i have come to is that you must love these people and then try and help them to believe in God do the impossible but if they will not then you must go on without them for God has so much more for you than dwelling in the vally of despondent they will drag you down to where they live at if you will allow it God wants you to soar with the eagles not wallow in in the pig pens of this life

Posted by: wesley boyles | Mar 4, 2006 2:53:07 PM

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