A couple of years ago I was invited to participate in a “Thriving Church Conference” sponsored by the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Covenant. Myself and seven other pastors were led to discover what a “Thriving Church” looked like. Doug Stevens, a church growth consultant, put the results of our two days together into the following form. As you read through this, try to identify what Hope Covenant is doing to become a thriving church.
Ten Stupid Things Churches Do to Mess Up Their Ministry
Worn Out Wineskins: Let Structure Dictate and Limit Strategy
Don’t dream, don’t dare, don’t experiment, measure faithfulness to God by loyalty to organizational forms and revered traditions…The church should affirm and declare its purpose, boldly determine its direction and organize itself in such a way that this vision for ministry is highlighted, facilitated and undeterred. Structure must serve strategy – not the other way around. Structure is provisional – not sacred; flexible – not rigid; and experimental – not unchangeable.
Club Christian: Create Our Own Exclusive, Introverted, In-Bred Subculture
Become less engaging, less accessible, less comprehensible, much less effective…The church must conscientiously and brazenly sabotage its tendency to face inward and forget the folks who are on the outside trying to figure out how to break in. Never underestimate how cryptic and confusing our vocabulary, customs and cultures and cultures appear to the uninitiated who are hoping to find God somewhere in the institutional patterns and patter.
Age Bias: Neglect to Wind the Hearts, Minds and Support of the Over-60 Generation Consider them too old, out of date, irrelevant and interfering… The local church is irresponsible and foolishingly self-defeating if it fails to recognize both the special gifts and needs of the older generation. The church that wants to move ahead should take full advantage of the faith, commitment, wisdom, mentoring capacity and personal resources of the older generation. These spiritual grandparents and senior leaders can offer great encouragement to the rest of the congregation.
Chores and Checklists: Mistake Activity for Energy
Emphasize how much we do, how much time it takes, how many people are needed to fill slots, how cluttered the calendar is, how virtuous our resentment of the slackers…Calculating the hours of effort, adding up the number of programs and counting the pages of reports distributed by countless committees does not translate into a true picture of ministry effectiveness. Volunteering time, going through the motions, and ending up exhausted is not the same as making a meaningful investment in the motions, and ending up exhausted is not the same as making a meaningful investment in the Kingdom of God. Responding to His call on our lives, cultivating a servant attitude, acting out of our giftedness, focusing on the ministry target, join our efforts with others, and relying on Him for the results will save us from futility and inefficiency.
Missing Persons: Overlook In-Place Networks of Relationships
Allow us to ignore our intimate circle of family, friends, associates, and shame us into pretending we will take seriously the mandate of win ‘the world”…The easiest, friendliest and most natural method of evangelism involves praying for, loving, sharing with and inviting those with who church members are already in close relationship. Mass evangelism and cold calling are often emphasized as obligations, overshadowing and overlooking the obvious personal connections currently, casually and comfortably in place.
Time Warped: Assume that Authority is Institutional, Credibility is Positional, and Persuasion is Proclamational
Wish that we were still living in the era of the established church when denominational affiliation, ecclesiastical privilege and traditional values counted most – image that declaration of doctrine is received as self-authentication and self-explanatory… In our unchurched communities, and in this postmodern world, religion makes no special claim, denominational affiliation has no particular draw, and statements grounded in what everyone “should believe” convince no one. We must begin where people are, understand their experience and perspective and demonstrate the relevance of the Christian faith to their concerns and longings. As the apostles did.
Missing the Moment: Postpone Reaching Out to Someone New
Someone else will/should do it, there will be a better time, other ministry obligations come first, it’s not comfortable yet, they may need more that we can give…A friend is in crisis. Someone is apparently visiting the church for the first time. A newcomer asks a question in a Bible study. A woman’s husband sits uncomfortably next to her on his annual holiday pilgrimage to church. Your child asks if she can bring her friend to the weeklong vacation club at church. A stranger calls the church and asks if someone could visit his aging mother in a rest home. Each of these circumstances represent windows of opportunity for those with observant eyes, well-tuned ears, attentive spirits and tender hearts.
Going Through the Motions: Waste Time in Meeting
Don’t have an agenda, spend valuable time discussing and debating details, never come to a conclusion reach a conclusion and don’t assign anyone to follow through, save the critical issues for the end of the meeting when everyone’s exhausted, go late…Very few decisions are made, very little passion is aroused, and very little ministry is accomplished in too many of the meetings held at church. Our expectations are low, our objectives are uncertain, and our agenda is filled with administrivia. Only meetings that matter are worth our participation. Expeditious, well-planned, high-priority, action-intended gatherings will attract the interest, abilities and devotion of those who are eager to move beyond grinding bureaucracy to real spiritual impact.
Background Noise: Believe that Announcements Appeal to, Motivate and Recruit People
Just put it in the bulletin, read seven announcements in a row on Sunday morning get mad at people for not responding, then give up on the idea forever… The lazy, careless approach assumes that putting it in the bulletin or mentioning it on Sunday morning is sufficient. That it somehow catches people’s attention, tells them what they need to know, and brings them out. The reality is that people catch the spirit in personal encounters and by personal invitation. Direct, selective, face-to-face dialogue about opportunities can be powerful.
Deadly Complacency: Underestimate God’s Power
Stick with our previous experience, let maintenance be our ministry goal, give the most conservative accountant veto rights over any initiative, calculate resources in material terms only, let control be the central issue, let our own abilities and present level of faith determine the possibilities, when in doubt – play it safe, never get in over our heads, be suspicious of anything new or different, shut down if it gets too hard… Operating from a human point of view regarding resources, problems and possibilities, is inadequate and often disheartening. God can and does go beyond our experience, our modest goals, even our wildest imaginings. He wants to accomplish something dramatic and wonderful – in and through His church. We must open ourselves, stretch ourselves, entrust ourselves, extend ourselves, risk ourselves, and sacrifice ourselves as we try to catch up with the Spirit of God.
Pastor Duane Cross