I have been hearing recently about issues facing a number of manufacturing firms and have been struck by the similarity between that sector and the Church.

Many manufacturing companies have an ageing workforce.  This is because they have been good at retaining employees and have been experiencing static turnover, therefore having little need to recruit.  This has the advantage of having people with experience, although they can be resistant to change.  The big danger is that a lot of them will retire over a fairly short period, creating a recruitment crisis.

Those manufacturers who have tried to recruit young people in recent years have found it surprisingly difficult, even in areas of high unemployment.  This is apparently because manufacturing has a bad image among young people.  It includes:

  • Long hours
  • Poor pay
  • Noisy, dirty conditions
  • No career ladder
  • Bad industrial relations
  • Repetitive, unstimulating work
  • Being undervalued and badly treated.

I am sure most of the above were true in many businesses in the past, but I am aware that the image is out of date.  Most modern manufacturers have addressed all these concerns and take a far more positive approach to the welfare and development of their employees.   The problem is that images tend to take a long time to change. Young people hear horror stories from parents, grandparents and other adults, many of whom are passing on stories from their own elders.  They may also pick up ideas from historical dramas or documentaries.  Some may even have paid attention in history lessons in school.  It is also likely that most teachers have little knowledge of modern manufacturing.  There is probably far less information “out there” about the changes in the Twentieth, let alone the Twenty-first, Century than about the Eighteenth and Nineteenth.

What has this got to do with the Church?

Most churches are full of elderly people.  Young people have a negative view of the Church.   Since they have mostly never been to a church, nor read the Bible, their concept can only be based on some impressions they have gained from the older generation and from the media.  The sort of negative things they imagine include:

  • Old-fashioned language
  • Dreary old hymns accompanied by an organ
  • Meaningless rituals
  • Cold, uncomfortable pews
  • Long boring sermons
  • Judgmental attitudes
  • The need to sit still and be quiet for long periods.

Many people would be surprised to find how far many churches have moved away from all of the above.

Just like manufacturing, however, the image lasts far longer than the reality.

A lot of churches have put a lot of effort into updating their worship but far less into publicising the changes.  On the other hand, there are some which have done the opposite with disastrous results.   Change the image without changing the reality and you destroy your credibility when you get “found out”.

The same is true of manufacturing.  Some firms talk about their modern approach, but a lot of their practices are still Dickensian in reality.  This damages the credibility of the whole sector.

Of course, it would be a big help if teachers kept their knowledge up to date regarding manufacturing and the Church. [Ofsted have criticised the lack of awareness among R.I. teachers.]

The Risk Management message is that you run a big risk if you address the image problem without addressing the underlying reality, but you run an equal risk if you address the reality without doing anything about the image.  They need to move hand-in-hand if you are to be successful.