This series of posts has us considering how to future-proof churches when we see COVID and other factors eating away at the resilience and viability of many. So far, we have looked at some overlapping elements of tailored discipleship, the development of systems, and the intentional generation of leaders, where usual biblical, prayer, and community foundations are assumed. In this final post, we look at two more of the essential practices of healthy churches, regardless of size, which will guard against demise and actually facilitate health.
4. An Engagement in an Encounter with God
One important and under-appreciated reason why church services fail is not just because people become consumers or lack passion for God, as many leaders would suggest. Senior leaders also need to own their own need to lead well, both in their shop-window events and in the other aspects of church life.
The solution is not to remove church services or to minimise them, but to lead them better.
So many ministers lack the personal security, interest, or tenacity to ask more experienced people for honest feedback (or else they selectively ask those who don’t have a growth history). Many pastors are busy telling others what they are doing instead of perhaps asking what they should not be doing.
Why would there not be a relentless push to get better? Ministers need personal supervisors, but they also need coaches. The greatest favour we can all do ourselves is to stop saying we don’t need one.
Services are an easy and important target for feedback. So many of them lack compelling engagement because people do not experience God in a meaningful way. Communion celebrations have often become opportunities for mini-sermons appended with: “Let’s eat and drink in Jesus’ name, Amen!” Worship ‘sets’ have become collections of four songs where spiritual encounter is confused with the quality of the presentation. Congregation members have typically connected to music through passive observation (after arriving late) without then being drawn into responsiveness by means of more than good songleading or verbal cajoling. Announcements have become mundane information updates that lack vision, explanation and inspiration. Sermons have become well-crafted teachings that are nevertheless devoid of ministry opportunities to showcase the power of God to rescue, heal, prophesy, or impart.
I am also staggered at how few ministers … minister. So much telling and so little showing of just how the world will be transformed. So little evidence of breakthroughs, answered prayer, or certain spiritual gifts. So little leading of passionate and sustained prayer or expressive worship. People’s growth needs to be led, not just monitored. When it is, and when there is personal follow-up, there will usually be few problems finding new volunteers.
Key leadership moments need personal contact, regular gatherings, and meaningful small groups in which it leadership then helps people to hear from God and respond to him. Of course, not everyone seems to need it, but most actually do and, when they don’t get it, they leave. And it’s not always ‘care’ they are looking for, but care becomes the most basic form of the personal leadership input people need and for which they came across your path in the first place.
5. A Pervasiveness of Energy that Starts at the Top
John Wesley once said that if you catch on fire people will come for miles to watch you burn. Enthusiasm for a vision starts at the top. It fuels engagement, attracts finance for the associated budget needs, and rallies people. As much as individuals need a personalised unpacking of their call to serve God, and also its application, people want to be a part of something that is going somewhere.
Good leaders exude enthusiasm in their manner, their positivity, and their can-do attitude. Confidence without arrogance helps. So, too, does clarity without compromise. A divinely-ordained sense of direction that helps people understand why they can no longer stay where they are and how to reach their preferred future will generate contagious optimism.
Leaders who have this quality have a pep in their step. They’re usually the right blend of interesting, informative and inspirational, whether communicating publicly or one-to-one. This all-pervasive energy is important in church services as well as small groups, not in the form of exuberant hype but a natural passion for a believable and achievable vision.
Churches that enculturate this offer vision amplification that creates a community that is hard not to want to belong to. While spirituality is important, vision-related energy is a different, though hopefully overlapping, trait.
Clearly, the five practices examined above all overlap. They are also unified with prayerful, biblical and community commitment. Like a three-legged stool, these three foundations allow us to then build the five practices without us falling down! Which of them do you need to work on most?
It may be helpful to think of STEELing your resolve if you are a leader interested in future-proofing your church. Expressions and expectations of church will indeed change over time but, whatever these might look like, we surely have to look at ourselves and our own commitment to developing people missionally.
Think regularly about the five qualities of ‘Systems,’ ‘Tailoring,’ ‘Energy,’ ‘Encounter,’ and ‘Leadership’ that will make a profound difference in shaping a healthy church, whatever the model you adopt. Above all, please, please, please don’t assume that a new methodology will ever be enough with the same engine under the hood if what you have been using has not actually been firing. A commitment to action in prioritising the elements described above will STEEL you for the future and ensure that the right drivers leave no stone unturned in your commitment to the greatest cause on Earth!