I heard someone use the “you know what happens when you assume…” line the other day and cringed (and y’all know it wasn’t for the vulgarity!). The thing is, in order to get up each morning we need to have a certain number of assumptions lined up. Imagine what would happen if you didn’t assume your car would still be in its parking space each and every day? Our lives are based on a series of assumptions.
Where we run into trouble is when we set assumptions that have not been validated…. especially in assuming causal relationships. All of the below may be true but that can only be determined if they are tested:
- A pastor with a young family will bring in young families.
- Unless we have a drum set in worship, we aren’t relevant to younger generations OR everyone loves old hymns.
- The denomination started losing members because it became too social justice oriented OR because it didn’t address social justice issues soon enough.
- Growing deeper spiritually as a congregation is the best way to grow numerically.
- We aren’t attracting new people because a) our pastor’s preaching/personality/spouse; b) we no longer have __________.
Again, any of the above may be true… but the only way to determine that is to test the validity of the statement. The problem is, what may be true for one congregation isn’t necessarily true for another. Context is highly individualized.
So how do you go about testing the validity of your assumptions? External sets of eyes and ears can help when looking at the assumptions within a congregation – including the use of benchmark survey tools (Holy Cow! Consulting offers an excellent tool that also requires good interpretation).
Testing the assumptions about the needs of the community outside the walls can occur with demographic information, but the most important thing you can do to test your assumptions about your community is to spend real time in it! Walk around the neighborhood of your church. Talk with folks you meet about their needs and hopes (and don’t immediately start suggesting they need the answer to their problems is to staff your committees!)
Of course, it’s not just churches that need to challenge assumptions. Part of the work that I continue to do is to learn the song of this Presbytery, and that involves conversations with many different folks in different places. I’m still new enough that I’m not sharing the established collective assumptions y’all have been using… although I know this state of ‘assumptive innocence’ won’t last long!
Some assumptions are essential, and without them we couldn’t function. Others need a good poke from time to time! As we enter into this new season together, let us challenge our own assumptions, knowing, well…. you know what happens when you assume!