Striped Carpeting

We had a problem at church.  The carpeting in our basement meeting space was old. The carpet wasn’t just old, it was unraveling at the seams. The estimate to replace the carpet was approximately 15% of our budget – and that’s IF the loose tiles underneath weren’t asbestos. If the tiles were asbestos, the cost would rise.

What to do?

We have another problem at church, too. It seems unrelated, but it’s not. There are fewer people in our church than there were ten, twenty, thirty years ago.  Fewer people means fewer resources. In the past our church could meet budget and above budget projects –  like carpet replacement.  Now we cannot. We can meet budget. Or we can replace the carpet. But we can’t do both.

That adds another strategic wrinkle. Our carpet is old and unraveling in a physical space that is used infrequently by fewer persons that cannot afford to replace the carpeting. However, we do use it enough that the unraveling carpet is both an eyesore and a hazard – both of which impact church morale.

Striped Carpeting

That’s how we ended up with striped carpeting. The decision was made to fix the seams without replacing the entire carpet.  Our carpet guys cut an eight inch strip where the unraveling seams were. They then put down a strip of carpeting in a color that complements the original. It looks better than before, but it’s pretty obvious that it wasn’t designed that way.

Analysis

The presenting symptom is unravelling carpet. The underlying illness is a failure to thrive in a key aspect of church health – growth/stability. It’s fair to say that we would not have put stripes in the carpet if we had the resources to do otherwise.

In my view, the solution of striped carpet was…

  • Creative – Leaders were able to look beyond the obvious option of replacing the whole carpet in order to imagine new solutions when resources didn’t allow for the best option.
  • Resourceful – While not the preferred solution, Leaders were able to resolve the carpet issue with the resources available in a way that works.
  • Potentially distracting – What remains to be seen if whether or not leaders will engage the underlying illness now that the presenting symptom has been dealt with in some fashion.
  • Potentially discouraging – The obvious stripes in the carpet CAN represent a creative, resourceful, solution. It also serves as a visible reminder that the church does not have the resources it once did. It’s better than unraveled carpet seams, but it sends the same basic message – we aren’t what we once were. This is another leadership challenge.

What would you do?

Many churches face this kind of situation. While it might not involve carpeting, the basic pattern of declining resources – people and finance – creates problems that require the best from leaders.

On one hand, the creativity and resourcefulness is to be applauded. It’s not healthy to face challenges like this with a sense of defeatism born in the inability to do what one wants to do. It’s far better to face challenges like this responsibly, using what resources are available, to resolve the issue in the best possible way.

At the same time, the key for leaders is not to let what is urgent draw all the time and attention away from what is truly important. Missional engagement is critical for each church. If we spend all our time on striped carpet, such that we barely talk substantively and practically about missional engagement, there will be many more striped carpets in the church’s future.

So, by all means, lets have striped carpet this time. But if all a church is doing is the equivalent of striped carpet, there may be some deeper issues at the leadership level that require attention.

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