Maybe you’ve heard someone talk about a “strengths approach.” Or maybe you’ve heard about the opposite. A weaknesses approach (sometimes referred to by its two-dollar name, “pathologizing.”)
They are different ways of building something. You can start with a list of strengths. Or with a list of weaknesses. And these starting points offer very different outcomes.
The difference between these approaches shows up in all kinds of professions and disciplines. Not just church work. In family counseling, for example, a strengths approach starts with identifying all the assets and abilities. All the things that work. All the tools and supports already in place. A weaknesses approach starts with all the things that are hopelessly screwed up and need spackle, paint, crutches, serious help.
Same with business plans. Or blue prints. You can start with strengths–an inventory of talents and tools. Or you can start with a list of all the things that are missing.
Bottom line: folks tend to find whatever they are looking for. So if you’re looking first for weaknesses, you’ll find them. Then you’ll create something from/for them. But if you start looking for strengths, you’ll also find them. And these tend to transform whatever task is at hand.
The weaknesses approach shrinks innovation and possibilities. It resorts to fixing what is. The strengths approach, on the other hand, invites new thinking, new models, new possibilities. It imagines what could be.
Okay, so here’s the point for small congregations. And I think you’ll recognize it.
You’ve been pathologized. You’ve been asked to start with weaknesses. To make a really long list. Then spackle and paint over all the ways that you don’t measure up to big congregations. We keep churning out resources that try to get you a little closer to the successes of big settings.
Except that the model never fit to begin with.
Small congregations are different kinds of entities. They are not the same as big places. They differ in dynamics, resources, staffing, challenges, strengths, aesthetics . . . You could add more.
And worship resources can’t simply be dragged and dropped from big to small. They’ll end up feeling awkward, pretentious, ill-fitted. Like a home that’s been renovated based on all the ways it doesn’t work as a corporate office. Or a pot-luck birthday party that’s been organized like a formal dinner reception.
But here’s the good news. Because there is always good news. There are strengths for small congregations. Gifts that are not available to big settings. Advantages!
And if we start with these, we can end up with something that fits. Something that looks different. But even better–something that sings alleluia. Something that reveals the kingdom of God already among us.
Maybe it’s time to quit lamenting the weaknesses. Maybe it’s time to quit searching for bandaids. Maybe it’s time to imagine something new. With holy innovation. And unexpected, strong gifts.
Let me know your thoughts. I cherish the conversations.
Thanks for your ministry,
Continue the conversation with me at Teresa@SmallChurch.org