How Much Unity Is Enough?

As you move forward with a church building program (or for that matter, any large endeavor by your church), one of the challenges you will face is the decision about how much unity is enough; whether to try to get every last person in the church to be in agreement about what to do and when.  Allow me to set your expectations; it will probably never happen.  In my years of consulting, I have never witnessed 100% unity on the decision to build, or as a result of deciding to build, unity in the decision to raise money for building. Chances are, it probably will not happen in your church either.

If everyone in your church is a sold-out, evangelical, deeply committed, mature Christian ready to do what it takes regardless of the personal sacrifice, you have a chance at 100% unity.  It is important to realize the chances of getting 100% buy-in is inversely proportionate to the number of people in the decision process, so if you have more than 3 people in your church, the odds start going down quickly.

Almost every church has at least a few professional naysayers, people who don’t want change for the sake of not having to endure change, people that don’t understand the Kingdom need, or even agents of the enemy who try to derail good works.  So therefore:

100% unity is a goal to hope for, but not one to necessarily hold out for.

How much unity then, is enough?  At what point are you delaying a project that is the express wish of the vast majority, in order to attempt to bring the last few sheep into the fold? Honestly, only you can answer this question and should be approached with much prayer.  I don’t think a church should even remotely consider moving forward with less than 85% concurrence, and I recommend support of 90% or more.  That said, however, there is a point of diminishing return where trying to convince that small handful of people will cost you far more than you will gain.

If you think me harsh, please don’t. No one will ever have a greater love for man than Jesus, yet on occasion He was clear in drawing the line and telling people they needed to be on one side or the other. (Lk 18:22, Lk 9:60, Jn 6:60-67).  In no way do I mean this to be mean spirited, but there may well come a time when you need to say, “This is as close as we are likely to get, lets move on and let the chips fall where they may.”  It is important to realize some people will sit on the fence until presented with two clear choices and the exhortation to pick one.

As opposed to those who are merely uncertain or concerned, I have little tolerance for divisive people.  I wrote in my book, Preparing to Build, “Some people advance the cause of peace by their absence.”  It’s often the case of goats and sheep. The difference between a goat and a sheep is the sheep will do what the shepherd tells them to do, and a goat goes “but, but, but…”

Sadly a few unhappy goats often make a whole lot more noise than a church full of contented sheep.  I have long suspected, and many pastors have backed me up on this, that for the most part, the malcontents, trouble makers, high maintenance members, sticks in the mud, or whatever you call them, usually give very little of their time or money to ministry work.

I believe the most difficult person to know how to handle is that person, whether they be staff, a deacon, or just a long-term member, who has the best of intentions, but ends up being a sympathetic sounding board for unhappy people and unwittingly undermining both the authority of the leadership of the church and the will of the majority of the church members.

Often times this person considers themselves a genuine peacemaker, but by being overly sympathetic, often gives an appearance of legitimacy and support to contrary opinions. This person, once hearing out the objections, should encourage the dissenting party to place others and their opinions before their own and submit to the will of the leadership and church body.

Those in your church who are part of a very small minority that may not support certain decisions must be willing to say that if they, once their concerns have been heard, need to submit to the will of the church leadership and body. If they cannot get to this place, then it may be best to consider finding another church.

Losing people for any reason is a hard thing for almost any pastor, and hopefully it will not happen because of the building program.  However, any time the church does something big, it provides the opportunity for people to come down on opposite sides of the solution.  A mature Christian, once having been heard out, will hopefully submit themselves (if not joyfully, then at least quietly) to the overwhelming opinion and desires of the church body.  Losing people can be hard, but sometimes the only thing harder is to try to hold onto people who are not in step with the church vision and mission.

Unity in the body is important to God, but He does not expect the church to indefinitely postpone doing His will in order to try to bring along a few people just aren’t with the program.