Our family recently made an intentional move into a neighborhood that happens to be zoned for what is known as one of the “worst” high schools in our town. The thing is, this school was recently honored for its academic progress; its graduates are getting accepted in some of the best colleges in the country; and the school just received an almost $5 million improvement grant.
Why the negative perception? Because for many years, this school was one of the worst in the county. While the turnaround is now in its fourth year with no signs of slowing down, the perception lingers that this is a “bad” school.
A few weeks ago I visited my college alma mater. When I was there over 15 years ago (yikes), our denominational seminary across the street was one of the largest in the country. I met with the institution’s president and learned that enrollment has been declining for some time. Yet during my visit, I also talked with a local pastor who mentioned how this seminary was still producing large numbers of graduates each year. Clearly, this pastor’s perception was different than reality.
And there’s the church in our area that was known for years — decades, actually — as having a thriving college ministry, thanks to its location adjacent to a major university. But over the nearly ten years that this church has been located in a new building miles from campus, student attendance has declined from the hundreds to maybe two dozen. Still, long-time members talk about how the college ministry remains one of the church’s strengths.
Perceptions can take awhile to catch up to reality. The longer the old perception was true, the more difficult it will be to change that perception. As a leader, it is your responsibility to acknowledge and communicate reality, not to get stuck — for good or bad — in old perceptions.
What is the reality in your ministry these days?