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In chemistry, a catalyst is a substance, usually used in small amounts relative to the reactants, that modifies and increases the rate of a reaction without being consumed in the process. Within group dynamics, a catalyst would be a person or group that precipitates a process or event, especially without being directly involved in or changed by the consequences. While much of this definition is acceptable for the process to be described, the last part would be better expressed as “without directly affecting or manipulating the results, and without being consumed in the process.”
By virtue of simply reading this far, it can be assumed there is some level of interest, if not commitment, to pursuing exploration into transformation. To begin, a small catalyst group needs to be selected from the congregation or judicatory that is likewise interested in engaging in the discussion. It is imperative that this group seeks to take a pilgrimage, rather than influence predetermined changes in particular directions. Being exploration, the destination is, as yet, unknown. To this end, it would be preferable to have a range of theological positions included. Diversity – theologically, socially, and politically – will be exposed in this assessment, but this identification is itself the beginning of the process.
Occasionally, the ratio of interested people within the organization to those that are disinclined or opposed is low and there is little or no interest in revitalization. In this instance, the pastor and/or leaders must pause and carefully discern their next step. Sometimes a dignified “death” for a particular congregation will allow for resurrection that otherwise would not be possible. “Hospice” care for a church in this situation should not be considered a judgment that the congregation’s spiritual lives are lacking. Rather, it may be a recognition that the institution has lived through its reason for existing, and now its members are in need of moving on – much as a family continues even after the death of a beloved grandparent. Trying to move a disinterested group towards change can be self-defeating.
For those congregations that may be interested, the catalyst group is formed to experience first hand the transformation process and subsequently take it into the congregation. The selection of the catalyst group itself is important; these individuals are change agents within the church community. They should be those already demonstrating commitment to the church and have good working relationships with members. They must be willing and able to commit the time and effort required to go through this process. The pastor should pay close attention to the dynamics at work in this group, as it is a microcosm of the whole congregation. The actual implementation will vary depending on the size of the congregation. In a small church the catalyst group, after its work is well on the way, could work directly with the rest of the congregation. In a large program church, the catalyst group may work with the leaders of the various program areas, who will then repeat the process with their program members. In a large cell-based church, the catalyst group could work with a hierarchy of cell group leaders, who can eventually bring it to their individual groups.
The larger the church, the more tiers there may be in implementation between the catalyst group and the full congregation. As the distribution of the process deepens, the more intentional the catalyst group and pastoral staff must be in reintegrating the various group-level processes back to a congregational level. One goal of this process is developing a unity of purpose for the congregation. Without integrating the groups, such unity is impossible. Remember that unity is regarding purpose, not theology, politics, or programming. Diversity is encouraged within the church as long as the purpose remains clear.
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