The epigraph that follows clearly comes from someone who has been blessed to be part of a congregation that can answer that question in the affirmative. A "grateful parishioner" writes, "when I first arrived, I had lost everything - my husband, my job, my health. This church saved my life." What a testimony that is! A church that claims Jesus as Lord and lives like we mean that continues the same healing ministry that Jesus began by the shores of the Sea of Galilee two millennia ago.
Durall offers what he calls a rubber-meets-the-road observation for search committees and ministerial candidates alike. Ready? "A low-expectation church is unlikely to be anything more in the future than it is today." For a congregation to have soul, it needs to raise expectations. What does that look like?
Here is Durall's very practical list, found on pages 21-22:
- Lay leaders who believe they are actually leading the church somewhere, rather than serving as overseers of finance, administration, and committee work;
- A belief that the church should always be a place of respite for those who need it but also a place of embarkation for new ministries that serve the world;
- Fiscal responsibility but also a willingness to take some risks and not be bound by the debilitating tyranny of the operating budget- a constant reminder of all those things we cannot do;
- Awareness of the untapped giving potential of the congregation. It bears repeating that middle-class Americans could double their charitable giving to all causes, and notice little difference in their day-to-day lives. Most churches could double their annual pledges drive with ease;
- The funding of mission and outreach programs that equals or exceeds ten percent of the operating budget;
- A music program that is not amateurish or "garage band" in nature;
- Continual efforts to achieve a well-functioning educational program for people of different generations;
- A well-maintained physical plant with preventive maintenance funds budgeted annually;
- Groups that attract members for study, prayer, and mission that are not closed to newcomers. Nothing communicates that new members are unwelcome more than closed groups;
- A culture of volunteers who feel empowered to initiate new ministries;
- A competent staff of non-clergy employees;
- Competitive compensation with health and retirement benefits.
Durall points out that many congregations might not get there on all of these things and small congregations may find some of these goals especially challenging. On the other hand, with God's help we do well to remember that we can do far more than we can ask or imagine. Conversely, it is a form of "functional atheism" when we assume that what is is all that will be. So it is a sign of trust, and of health, to strive for such goals even if we are not yet there. Conversely, unhealthy low-expectation congregations put all their hope on the ordained leader, passively waiting after a call to see what he or she is going to do. (And then they can sit back and evaluate whether they approve or disapprove.) Passive congregations that "hire" clergy to do ministry do not have a soul!
He concludes the chapter by reminding his reader that no successful organization functions on the basis of low expectations. No one wants to send their children to a school or be admitted to a hospital or root for a sports team that says "we don't expect much." Why then do we settle for this when it comes to church? "Churches," he writes, "should get out of the low-expectation business once and for all. This will require courageous ministers, search committees, and congregants alike."