The Gallup Organization has evaluated the public’s confidence in institutions for four decades. Their most recent annual survey on this matter showed that Americans are continuing to lose confidence in churches and organized religion. While religious institutions were among the most revered organizations in the land for many years (topping the list some years), we are now in a situation where less than half all adults (48%) have “a great deal of confidence” or “quite a lot of confidence” in churches. Earlier in my lifetime, three out of four adults had such a degree of trust in religious institutions.
Shockingly little has been made of this decline. I think the widespread ambivalence about that decrease is, in itself, stunning. Perhaps the widespread disinterest reflects the confluence of several factors: people’s growing disinterest in organized religion, the frog in the kettle syndrome (the decline has been consistently small each year, but over the course of time has added up to a substantial loss), the frequent denial of bad news by church leaders, the comparatively larger short-term gains and losses of other institutions capturing the imagination of the media, etc.
I’d encourage you to pause and think about the significance of losing people’s confidence. A leader can only sustain forward movement if he/she has the confidence of the people being led into battle. Now, if a church is simply providing a safe comfort station for hurting people, that’s one thing. But if a church is intent upon facilitating a moral and spiritual revolution, recognizing that doing so is a declaration of war on current cultural preferences and values, the loss of confidence is a devastating setback. And – strategically – such confidence cannot be restored by simply waiting for the tide to turn; church leaders must intentionally win back people’s confidence through visionary leadership, holy character, and guiding people in transformational ministry efforts.
Barna Group research has shown that during the past decade, not surprisingly, the Roman Catholic Church has suffered the greatest loss of public confidence. But the Protestant Church has struggled, too. The two generations of adults (Busters and Mosaics) now assuming a substantial share of positions of leadership in the Church think and live very differently than their predecessors – and have divergent expectations related to faith, institutions and leaders. No church is immune to the morphing needs and expectations that challenge all organized groups.
Today’s a good day to realistically assess how much trust and confidence your community has in your leadership and in that of your ministry. Ask yourself questions about people’s understanding of, passion for and engagement with the vision; the efficacy of the strategy you rely upon to pursue the vision; people’s ownership of the proposed process for transforming the world; the efficiency with which your ministry engages the world; the effectiveness and openness of your communications about the cause and your progress; and the utility of the measures you rely upon to evaluate transformation.