Okay. You’ve taken the quiz and found out you’re leading a Zombie congregation or a faith community that’s at risk for becoming Undead. What do you do now?
Neither condition is easy to deal with. But stretching our Zombie metaphor just a little further, clearly a faith community that is at risk for going Zombie would be a lot easy-er to deal with than one that has already become Undead. After all, a congregation that is “merely” at risk still has a mind capable of critical thought. But by “definition,” a congregation that has actually gone Zombie no longer has a functioning mind and has lost the capacity for independent thought and with that the capacity for self-critical reflection.
If your faith community is merely at risk of becoming infected with Undeadness, you may be able to engage the congregation’s critical faculties by having the members of your leadership board take the same quiz you just did and then ask them what they make of their scores. While the quiz is admittedly somewhat tongue-in-cheek, engaging your leadership playfully on issues such as these may gain a lot more traction than a more somber approach. Once the can see the signs of impending Undeadness, they might be able to find a pathway back to full health. After all, while it may really piss you off first, knowing the truth will ultimately make you free (John 8:32).
If your faith community has already joined the ranks of the Undead, you are facing an infinitely greater challenge. Just as Hollywood Zombies do pretty good jobs of emulating many activities of the living, a Zombie faith community can also do a more than halfway-decent job of imitating healthy congregational life: often good enough to lure in the occasional non-member, and generally good enough to convince its own leadership and membership that a healthy, friendly, welcoming, vital congregation. They may have even convinced themselves that they want to grow (but just can’t seem to figure out why they don’t). More often, however, they may be found employing rationalizations like, “Growing in number is not the only kind of growth: growing in depth is valid, too.” Not that there’s anything wrong with growing deeper. For Christians, it’s just that actually deepening one’s relationship with Christ usually translates into a deeper encounter with Christ’s transforming love, which is usually marked by a natural desire to share that love with others.
When a faith community becomes so thoroughly convinced by its own rationalizations that it no longer retains the capacity for self-criticism, the only recourse may the proverbial “bullet to the head.” Once in a while, a Zombie congregation, as it grows closer to actual death, may benefit from the salutary effect of staring death in the face. Occasionally, this insight, combined with new leadership at the helm, may be capable of beginning the long road back to health. I’ve seen it happen, but it is rare. Unfortunately, many Zombie congregations would rather die than change. And if this is the case, the only options left are either: (a) let it “live” until it depletes the last of its own (a perhaps others’) resources of time, talent, and treasure, or (b) put it out of its misery now while sufficient resources remain to start a new faith community or invest in the living in some other way.
Daunting, right? Yet I can offer two rays of hope: Question #7 and a lot of prayer. If you can help your faith community remember WHY it exists – its reason for being – its first love – the Truth that can make it free – there may be a chance to come back from the brink. And prayer because, as Jesus said, “This kind can come out only through prayer” (Mark 9:29).