Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Define the Problem

Throughout the year I’ve tried to carry on a “conversation” with you about the work of UBA churches in Houston. Let me take a minute to summarize what I’ve said. The mission of the church is to make disciples of all people (panta ta ethne), to lead the unconvinced and unbelieving to become fully devoted followers of Christ. The work of the association is to assist the church in carrying out that mission.

I've said that, frankly, if that's our task we are not doing a very effective job. While we can show that our churches are baptizing folks (a measure of our effectiveness in making disciples), we are doing it at a rate much slower than the population growth of the city. We can show that we are starting new churches each year, but we are doing it in multiples of ten when we need to be starting them by the thousands!

So, we are doing good, just not good enough. It a little like bailing the water out of a ship that is taking on water faster than you can bail it out -- you are working hard but you are fighting a losing battle, and the projected end is not good.

I've said we can't just keep doing what we've been doing and expect things to get better. We need to do things differently. But we will never do things differently until we begin to think about things differently. So my theme throughout the year has been "think different(ly)."

Think different(ly). I've discovered that's much easier said than done. Why? Because God didn't really design us to think differently. He designed us to think in repeatable patterns. (I'm tempted to follow this line of thought in my blog, but instead let me point you to the "Think Different(ly)" videos on our UBA webpage where I show you in detail just what I'm talking about.)

So the question then becomes, what is it going to take for us to learn to think different(ly)? (I'm glad I asked.)

I think it is a process that begins with defining the problem. How you define the problem determines the solutions you develop. For example, Henry Ford and Will Durant (the driving force behind General Motors) saw the mass market potential of the automobile. The question, how can we produce cars people can afford?

For Henry Ford, cost was the primary focus. How could he keep the costs down so that he could produce a good product at an affordable price? The solution? He developed a wonderfully elegant system -- the assembly line process -- for producing cars. There was only one model -- the Model T ... one color -- black. "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black" he said. Everything was designed to keep costs down. A friend told me he even arranged for his suppliers to send parts to him in crates of a certain size. He would disassemble the crates and use the wood for the floorboard in his cars. Everything was designed to keep the cost down.

Will Durant also wanted to make cars people could afford, but he took a very different approach. Instead of focusing on the cost of the car, he focused on paying for the car. Drawing on his experience in the carriage business, Durant sought to create automobiles targeted to various incomes and tastes. He created General Motors by consolidating his company (Buick) with twelve other car companies and various parts and accessories manufacturers. With so many options and so many different cars, how did he make cars affordable? He created a finance company, GMAC, that allowed people to buy a car and pay for it in affordable monthly installments.

Both men were interested in mass producing and mass marketing automobiles. One defined the problem as cost, the other as affordability. The way they defined the problem determined the kinds of solutions they developed.

We are commissioned by God to make disciples of all peoples and we are doing that less effectively than we've done it in the past. So what's our problem? Is it that church members have become consumers rather than contributors ("folks just aren't committed like they used to be")? That our society has become postmodern and pluralistic? That Christians are afraid of being rejected if they witness (maybe even fired)? That the church has become irrelevant and outdated? That churches focus more on providing for their members than on making disciples? All the above? Some combination of the above? Something else?

How we define the problem is critical. I know how I would define the problem. How would you?

Learning to Think Different(ly)
Step One: Define the Problem