Congregations in decline live in the midst of a self-fulfilling prophecy. They fear failure. They fear failure in their ministry, then fail to act on the opportunities in their midst. The ministry often takes a slow and painful descent into the abyss. This descent is mined with blame, doubt and despair. The descent is accelerated by a fear of failure.
Failure is magnified these days. With continual exponential expansion of communication opportunities, someone is ready to pounce on a failure for individuals, organizations and congregations. Tracking failures is a cottage industry--even big business (think tabloids), and a hobby. For Twitter, you only have to search for #FAIL and you have a quick view of the failures of the day. No one enjoys having their failures exposed in public, let alone among their family and friends.
There's nothing particularly church-related about the fear of failure that exists in any organization, although I think congregations have particular traits in their relationship with failure. I think there's different theological and emotional ammunition wrapped in a congregational ministry as we ponder the fear of failure. I believe the thinking develops like this--ministry is closer to God, then it must last forever, because God does not change (which is a loaded statement).
Seth Godin's post on being wrong highlights a tipping point. All of us are going to be wrong. You will make mistakes. I will fail. The tipping point is whether we are able to claim the failure proactively as fuel to learn, grow and seek the next opportunity to embrace. Godin ignites an excellent point that may shed light on the collective disappointment and anger with the U.S. Congress. No one is ever wrong, and all actions are subject to spin. No wonder Congress can't get any traction.
The Christian practice of confession and forgiveness can be informative for congregations, individuals or anyone else confronting their fear to act. Rooted in the ultimate failure in the cross (what a colossal failure of a chosen leader to be executed before he even had a chance to lead for a long time), Jesus resurrection from death frees us to confess our sin, failures and brokenness without fear of being abandoned by God. In confession and forgiveness we are reminded of God's faithfulness. We are free. If you are free, why worry about failure? It's going to happen. So if failure is going to happen, what are you going to do with it?