Your first week of revitalization is essential. Knowing this, you must immediately begin to think proactively and plan to build alignment for future success. You will never get this time again, so it is important to focus on the most urgent task: assessing the situation by talking to people.
Talk to Church Members
Start by recognizing that it may be your first day, but it is not everyone’s first day. You may have the title, but you have little insight into the history and territory of the church.
1. People have been there longer than you. You are walking into a historical and maybe even a hysterical place. You must tread carefully and watch your actions and your thinking. The people that come to you first are usually either the people who know the most or the ones who are looking to you as a hero that will rescue the church. Resist the pull to engage heavily in conversations and remember that everything at this point is about assessment.
2. People know things that you don’t know. You might have a Bible degree, but they have a church history degree with a focus on their local church, and they are ready to educate you (whether you want the class or not). The people you inherit already know the community, the church and the people. They have walked through life together, and you are the new person in the history class. Take the right notes because you will need them.
3. People are in their natural habitat. There is no doubt, we love comfort. People in churches like things the way they are. Change is not an option for the new guy in the first week. You must seek first to understand the lay of the land before you start bulldozing the congregation’s natural habitat.
Week One Tips
As the new guy, you are going to need to talk to people and assess the situation without making waves or getting off on the wrong foot. Many people are going to share information with you, but be careful. Remember: week one is about alignment and building foundations.
1. Smile, listen and learn. Your job is to say very little in week one. Smile a lot, listen to the stories and learn the personalities of the people. It will not take you long to start learning the current culture from the people. You will begin to get a feel for the convictions of the people, the culture of the church and the constructs that have shaped the church.
2. Understand who is connected to whom. Long-term connections lead to lasting partnerships. Recognize that people in the church have gone through things together. You must begin to get a handle on both the official and unofficial roles in the. (For example, Mrs. Jones always makes the inexpensive coffee and controls the church kitchen.)
3. Learn faces and names. Grab a directory or use your cell phone to start snapping pictures with people and making direct connections with them on social media. Start building a moment with them to celebrate your new journey together. Be a friend-raiser. Learn their names and family. Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn are also excellent tools to discover who knows whom, as well as their influence and connections to one another and their behaviors outside of the church.
So be focused, but remember that week one is just the beginning. It will take at least six months to move from the position of learner to guiding the church into new ways of doing things. So don’t get impatient. It’s only week one!
Gary Mortiz serves as the church revitalization director at the Baptist Convention of New England.