Predicting the future has always been a risky venture. And lately? It’s a fool’s errand.
However, there are trends in ministry that we can learn from. And these can prepare us for whatever is coming next. Some of these ideas are extensions from my previous article, Small Church Trends – What We Can Learn From 2021. Others are based on what is yet to come.
The bottom line? After a couple years of reacting and adapting, it’s time to be more proactive. While holding our plans and strategies loosely, there are several principles that we can take advantage of to lead our congregations into the year(s) ahead.
1. Look Forward And Outward
As I wrote previously, too many church leaders are looking backward and inward – trying to restore what we’ve lost. We need to replace that with looking forward and outward.
Churches on defense will struggle and fail, while churches on offense will be the only ones that have a chance to thrive – or even survive. This has always been true, of course. But now it’s more obvious than it has been in a generation or more.Churches on defense will struggle and fail, while churches on offense will be the only ones that have a chance to thrive – or even survive. Click To Tweet
But being on offense doesn’t mean being offensive. In fact, if we’re going to reach our communities rather than alienate them, our outward-reaching stance must be aggressively kind and compassionate.
2. Refocus: From Retention To Evangelism
Retention is backward-looking, evangelism is forward-looking.
Retention is defense, evangelism is offense.
Retention isn’t the Great Commission, evangelism is.
3. Get Your Team Together
In too many churches, and especially in smaller congregations, the pastor does all the ministry for everyone. Pastor, if you keep doing everything for them they’ll let you – until you burn out from doing too much, they’ll kick you out for not doing “enough”, or the church collapses because it lacks a foundation of mature discipleship.
This has never been the pastor’s role. Ephesians 4:11-12 gives us a clear mandate. The calling of every church leader is not to do the ministry for people, but “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”
This is biblical discipleship, which leads to biblical teamwork. It must be a higher priority.
4. Provide Stability
For over forty years, almost all the leadership lessons I’ve received (and most of the ones I’ve given) have been about catalyzing change, motivating the unmotivated, and unsticking the stuck.
Right now, and for the foreseeable future, we don’t need to bring change as much as we need the wisdom to provide a clear path through the confusion.Right now, and for the foreseeable future, we don’t need to bring change as much as we need the wisdom to provide a clear path through the confusion. Click To Tweet
As I wrote in The Church Recovery Guide, “When times are normal, leaders inspire change. When times are disruptive, leaders provide stability.”
5. Reestablish The Essentials
The more things change, the more important it is to know and live by the unchanging standards of scripture. This is the first and most important step to providing stability.
In our congregation, for example, we’re reading through the Bible together this year. Stability through crisis begins with God’s Word.
This is one of the reasons I’ve started the Bible Reading Coach podcast.
6. Rethink Everything Else
Providing stability does not mean staying static.
Aside from the eternal principles of God’s Word, everything else is up for grabs.Providing stability does not mean staying static. Aside from the eternal principles of God’s Word, everything else is up for grabs. Click To Tweet
We have to rethink everything from our order of service and our building layout (including whether-or-not to have a permanent building), to the way we sing, preach, disciple, minister, and share our faith.
This is a watershed moment. The churches that will reach this and the next generation will look very different than what we’re comfortable with. As contradictory as this may sound, we need to become more 21st century and more 1st century at the same time.
7. Make Your Online Experience Better
In 2020, we went online. In 2021, we rethought the value of it.
In most churches, the online experience is not seeing anything close to the numbers we saw in mid-2020. That’s expected. Don’t abandon your online options. Adapt and update.
Now is not the time for our online church strategy to pull back or stay static. Rethink it, yes. Then recommit to doing it even better.
8. Give Them A Reason To Show Up
What can people get in person that they can’t get from your online service? Preaching? Music? No. All that is available online with much greater convenience and variety.
If you don’t know how to answer that question, you need to figure it out – and fast. Now that people can watch virtually any church service in the world without getting off the couch, we need to give them compelling reasons to leave their homes and show up at church.
At the conclusion of your in-person church service, if the people who attended aren’t thinking “I’m so glad I came today! I could not have experienced that online!” they’re not likely to return.At the conclusion of your in-person church service, if the people who attended aren’t thinking “I’m so glad I came today! I could not have experienced that online!” they’re not likely to return. Click To Tweet
Lately, I’m seeing too many church leaders complaining that “people get up and go out for school (or sports, or work, or shopping) but they won’t get up for church!” This is a losing attitude.
Don’t whine about non-attenders. Make your worship experience unmissable.
The good news is, a healthy church is ideally suited to meet this challenge. In fact, this is where the proactive smaller congregation should shine. When people show up for in-person worship at a small church, they can and should be able to experience the personal touch that makes a difference:
- Face to-face relationships
- Participatory worship
- Personal prayer
- Extended fellowship
- Intergenerational discipleship
- And so much more.
9. Be Hopeful
This is a time of great challenges. And it may get harder before it gets better. But this is also a time when your unchurched neighbors (which now extends to everyone with internet) are feeling a need for hope, connection and real-world solutions more than ever before.
They’ve always needed these things. But needing them and knowing they need them are very different situations.
Don’t look back. Stop looking inward.
It’s time to look ahead, look out, and look up.
(Photo by Noah Buscher | Unsplash)