Stir up fresh Conversations

When a congregation launches a Church Wellness Project, voices telling the old stories come first. Some are negative, some are fond reminiscences, some are reminders of “how we used to do things,” and some are one more try at getting an idea or need on the table.

Don’t tell only the old, old stories.

The old stories tend to evoke irritable energy, not creative energy, and they leave some team members confused, as if a code language had suddenly emerged. They tend to suggest strong feelings but aren’t transparent enough to identify the depth of those feelings. In fact, sometimes it seems as if team members feel obligated to rehearse the old stories as an act of loyalty, not because they matter to them.

I have three suggestions for handling these stale recitals:

First, they are inevitable and probably necessary, if only to mark the starting point beyond which you need to go. If each team member gets a decent hearing, it can promote trust.

Second, don’t get hooked on the old stories. This isn’t a psychotherapeutic journey, in which old stories are the pathway to healing. In church wellness, old stories are like paint on the wall — some pealing, some vivid, some interesting, certainly a piece of the overall context, but not signposts to the future. There’s nothing to be gained from defending old behavior, joining a chorus of lament, or blaming.

Third, keep pressing on. The future lies in what people are experiencing now, needing now, saying now. The circle needs to extend far beyond the keepers of old stories, who are usually a small minority.

Proceeding beyond old stories might feel uncomfortable to some. Leaders need to encourage the risk of entering new territory. In time, the fresh conversations will stir up creative energy.


Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus,” and the founder of the Church Wellness Project.