Project Documents

Date of Award

2014

Document Type

Project Report

Degree Name

Doctor of Ministry

School

Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary

Program

Doctor of Ministry DMin

First Advisor

James J. North, Jr.

Second Advisor

Trevor O'Reggio

Third Advisor

Boubakar Sanou

Abstract

Problem

In December 2008, the membership of the New Life Seventh-day Adventist Church in Warner Robins, Georgia, was listed at 120. In actuality, however, there was only about one half of that number of members and guests attending on a regular basis. Over the next two years the church experienced a further decline in membership attendance. As of December 31, 2010, the voted membership stood at 58. Two key identifiable factors were responsible for the reduced membership. First, a necessary membership audit was undertaken. Second, there were additional losses due to damaging congregational conflict. A history of disunity, an offensive culture of irreverence, seven pastors in twenty-three years, and a general lack of regard for the purpose of the church did little to make most people want to stay. It was time to transition this church.

Method

A congregational conflict resolution training program consisting of the creation and presentation of a series of seminars and sermons was conducted over the course of four months. After each presentation, a focus group was utilized to discuss the material presented, gather feedback, and serve as an evaluation mechanism to measure the impact upon the thinking of the congregation. Five seminars and sermons on congregational conflict resolution were presented. Topics dealt with the dangers of judging, conflict resolution at work and at home, and the dynamics of congregational conflict. Seminar participants were provided with handouts. Only church members and Sabbath School members, eighteen years of age and older, were invited to be part of the focus groups.

Results

Change is a slow and tedious process. This conflict resolution training program is about changing a mindset. The main objectives of the seminar series were accomplished: (1) expose the membership to the factors that cause conflict, (2) teach the membership how to avoid preventable conflict, (3) teach the church how to correctly conclude conflict, (4) cultivate a new culture of love and mutual accountability as it pertains to congregational relationships, and (5) create a more harmonious relational context in which community outreach and church membership growth could occur. The focus group research method indicated strong acceptance of the conflict resolution principles among the membership. Those members who participated in the seminars overwhelmingly embraced the instruction presented in the training program and became the nucleus of the renewed church experience. New Life has been transformed from a constantly conflicted, discordant congregation to a much more peaceful, community-focused congregation in just under two years since the training program was first implemented. The new emphasis on mutual accountability and making the church a safe place where people can have a positive encounter with God, has greatly assisted in ushering in a new era of peace and harmony at New Life. The congregation is now visibly and consistently involved in the community, offering various outreach ministries such as Bible studies, youth activities, a revamped and highly successful men’s fellowship, and life enrichment seminars that speak to the needs of the community. Several new people have started attending on a consistent basis. Several former members have since returned to the church, and have commented on the positive developments in the light atmosphere of the congregational fellowship instead of tension, and the uplifting ambiance of the worship services. The recently voted mission statement expresses the new paradigm: "Our mission is to demonstrate God’s love to all, be a blessing to our community, and invite people to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus."

Conclusions

This study demonstrates that a dysfunctional church can be transformed, given the proper handling of old and new conflicts. Change is possible. Plateaued or declining churches can live again. The impact of skillful pastoral intervention and congregational education has been shown through this study to hold major implications for the state of the church-at-large. One of the primary outcomes of this research process is the realization that in the Seventh-day Adventist church, there is a serious problem regarding inadequate emphasis on practical training in the area of conflict ministry. This study reveals an important need to better equip pastors and educate congregations in art of congregational conflict resolution training and practice.

Subject Area

Church controversies--Seventh-day Adventists; Conflict management--Religious aspects--Seventh-day Adventists; New Life Seventh-day Adventist Church (Warner Robbins, Ga.)

DOI

https://dx.doi.org/10.32597/dmin/471

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