Elephant and Dinosaur Churches
Within the realm of Church Revitalization the subject of change is ingrained. Revitalization by definition requires change, but the changes must be necessary and vision focused. People do not like to change – I don’t like to change. While this is nothing new, it is an essential ingredient for anyone entertaining church revitalization. I have to be willing to change and as a leader, must be able to create a healthy atmosphere for the needed changes. Whether the revitalization is within a city, community or church; those advocating such must be prepared for conflict and confusion along the way. It has been often said that “unless the pain of staying the same exceeds the pain of change, nothing will be done.” Those who advocate revitalization have to create a “climate” for change, doing so is often a very tedious task. I want to use the illustration of elephants and dinosaurs as a way of identifying both “climate and ministry” changes.
In my office I have a collection of elephants that church members have given me over the last 4 years. Each elephant represents an “elephant in the room” problem that has finally been addressed and dealt with appropriately. Even though many knew the elephant existed, they were not strong enough, nor willing to expose it and deal with it. Many times churches would rather take “The Kings New Clothes” approach to elephants. If you are not familiar with this fable, it means just going along with what everybody else says, until it is so glaringly obvious to all that what was said is in fact untrue.
1. Elephants are warm blooded mammals, which birth off-spring and nurture it to self-sufficiency. Elephant ears are normally 1/6 of their body size.
2. Dinosaurs are cold blooded and largely reptiles, and have many eggs of which they will try to protect until hatching, once hatched they are for the most part on their own for survival.
3. There are some times when an entity has characteristics of both. [They are ministries that are extinct and still eat a lot of church resources; giving only an occasionally “song and dance routine]
Dinosaurs are flesh eaters. They devour their prey; they became extinct when earth had an extreme climate change as a result of Noah’s Flood. There are some dinosaurs that have made the climate change; such as alligators/crocodiles. Most of the dinosaurs are found in museums, and really are not much more than skeletons. But their existence in churches must be self-evident.
Elephants are very large mammals that have a pre-flood ancestor called the mastodon. The mastodon didn’t survive the radical climate change produced by the flood. However, we do have a distant relative, the large pachyderm with us today.
We must agree that these two species exist in some form with in churches. When we look at these two species within the revitalization movement, they become very self-evident in the lives of churches. It must become obvious that dinosaurs and elephants cannot be treated the same way.
The church in America still has dinosaurs in existence. One could put the “Bus Ministry, or “daycare/school” in this category. Years ago every church adopted the Bus ministry because it was the thing to do in churches. It has been clear from recent history [that and the rusting busses in back of churches], that not all churches should have started a bus ministry. In more modern days the necessity to have “hand bells, organ, piano and choirs” could be considered dinosaurs that every church felt it needed.
In a dinosaur climate, everything the church does is for its own self-preservation, particularly outdated programs. These become dinosaurs when the climate has radically changed, and it becomes a “dead/extinct” program. In other words the programs became more important that the ministry they were hoped to be. Before I get into too much trouble, there are some places where these aforementioned programs “appear to be beneficial,” however, they really only have significance for those who are dinosaurs themselves. Many communities and churches find themselves in a climate shift, yet, will not or better yet cannot acclimate to the new environment.
I have been a pastor at a dinosaur church. It is very interesting, how many “historical programs” have ceased to function, yet thousands of dollars are invested to keep them on life support. One such case is opening a daycare or school in the church; in hopes that it will keep the church alive. Day-cares look good on paper, but rarely add to the Kingdom of God. This is similar to the “Bus Ministry” mentioned above, except that the daycare or school devours ministers and laity without giving back. In order for churches to become effective they must rid themselves of the dinosaur syndrome. Caution – the dinosaur will try to eat you if you provoke it! Much like the movie series of “Jurassic Park” the original intention may have been well intended, but in the long run the dinosaurs turned against its masterminds that brought them to life.
Elephants are different however, while they consume a lot of resources, they are not as nearly mean spirited. When churches have elephants the condition is more subtle. Dinosaurs will be loud and boisterous, when elephants are more behind the scene operators. When we address elephants in churches we find that everyone knows they exist, but feel the elephant [area of problem] is too big to mess with, and tend to leave them alone. This seems like a good idea, except, the dynamics of the elephant are such that they aren’t programmatic, but personal relationship oriented. As dinosaurs are more flesh eaters, [destroy people] elephants are more of a hindrance. It is tough to get an elephant to move if it doesn’t want too. The “Elephant in the Room” is a person, group or established order that has become sacred.
Both the elephant and dinosaur have their own way of doing things. Dinosaurs just want to destroy everything, whereas elephants want to just create resistance and blockages of change.
In church revitalization, I think I would rather deal with a dinosaur than an elephant. One has to only change the “climate” to rid themselves of the dinosaur. But the elephant has learned to adapt to the new surroundings and remain still the biggest obstacle to productive and effective ministry.
A church will have to deal with both types of churches; it is imperative that the “change Agent” know which he is dealing with in order to lead a church beyond the position of mediocrity. If the climate of change is not significant enough in the right direction, the “extinct dinosaur will keep the church in the Ice Age.” Too many churches have been held captive to the past climate; partly because the dinosaur has threatened to destroy everyone if any change would cause them to be extinct.
When elephants are allowed to lurk around in services, business meetings and fellowship circles, then the church will lack the courage to confront for fear of conflict. The one thing about allowing elephants in the room or church is they will not leave on their own.
So if you are burdened about the Cultural or Climate you find your ministry currently existing in; you will have to be able to “identify the species” and determine how you will deal with each one in such a way so as not to destroy the church or worse yet be destroyed yourself.
Elephant and Dinosaur Churches