We stood there, the three of us, each surveying the mountain slope before us: A man of around 20 something, a little girl, and I in my fifties.
It was a beautiful day. As I looked at the scenery surrounding us, I could appreciate the majesty of God's creation. The snow-covered peaks told the story of how even they were subject to God who made them.
Then my eyes turned back to the steep slope in front of me. I had skied for many years, but this would be my first trip down this particular intermediate "blue hill." The easier "green" or otherwise called "bunny" hills were more comfortable for me. I wanted to have a plan for this trip down the mountainside. The little girl next to me was doing the same. Unexpectedly, she looked up at me and asked "Is it hard to go down?" Now when a 6 year-old stranger asks such a question it gives you pause. Immediately I knew that her guide had likely already told her she could do it. Being the astute little girl she clearly was, she wanted to get an impartial opinion from someone she didn’t know, but who might be as scared as she was.
I thought for a moment and then asked her, "Do you know how to stop?" She nodded. "Well then," I said. "If you know how to stop you can make it down the hill. When I go down a hard hill like this I shout 'I can stop, I can stop,' the whole way down!" She smiled. And then one by one we proceeded down the steep hill.
You know church programs are a lot like the ski hill experience. Oftentimes church members get very comfortable doing things that they are familiar with. "Why try something new when we all know how to navigate the path we are already on?" And I am sure you've heard this one: "We’ve already tried that and it didn't work". So back to the same old routine. Eventually members who are ready to grow in church and spiritual experiences move on to a place where they can try new things or they quit going altogether.
I knew it was going to be tough to move up to skiing the blue hills. And I also knew I would never grow as a skier if I didn't venture out of my comfort zone. But I did a few important things before I moved up a level. I took group lessons from experienced teachers. I practiced what I learned on the green hill before I tried to move up to the blue. And I practiced stopping. In the church, it's important to remember that just because things don't work the first time doesn't mean they will never work. You just might need to fall a few times. So instead of falling so hard, have a fallback plan in place for any new program you start. Regroup. Re-evaluate. Rejoice when things go well.
Not all your members will go along with moving to a new level and that's because not all your members are going to be at the same church experience or faith level at any given time. Don't expect everyone to go along with every new program or change. They just might not all be ready. Forcing them to be involved in something they aren't prepared to do can actually end up sabotaging your efforts. So leave room for some people to stay where they are at. Encourage those who show signs of being ready to move forward and venture out with you.
As you develop your program strategies think about the ski hill. There is one mountain with a group of many people. On that mountain will be green slopes for easy skiing, blue slopes for intermediate skiing and black diamond slopes for advanced skiers. You won’t go to a mountain and see all of the skiers on the blue slopes or all of the skiers on the black diamond ski runs. You certainly won’t see all of the skiers on the green slopes! When you delve into new program areas for your members and visitors, think about what level of church experience they may be at. If you make opportunities for growth available and provide leadership for those who are ready to grow, you just might see some surprising outcomes.
Back on the ski hill recently, I rode the lift up over the green hill for my first practice run of the trip. As I looked down I took note of a group lesson of eight or nine-year-old boys. The day was a warm one, and their ski jackets were off or tied around their waists. The teacher had just shown them how to proceed down the mountain in a nice smooth curve and was waiting for them further down the hill. I was interested to see how they would do. They were a little flustered, this committee of boys, and seemed to be discussing their options though I couldn’t hear what they said. All of a sudden the first one took off and fearlessly headed straight down the hill. And instead of shouting out “I can stooooooop!,” I heard him shout “Yeaaaaaaaaah!,” all the way down the hill! “Yeah,” I said to myself. He’s going to be skiing the blues in no time!