Now that I am in my 35th year of pastoral ministry, and my sixth year of serving as a superintendent, I have seen and worked with a wide variety of congregations. And what I am noticing in this season of ministry is that as our dialogue with each other has become more and more divisive and toxic, as we have seen the cultural trend that fewer folks are attending worship, and those who do are attending less often, we tend to lose sight of the fact that even now, there are still congregations that have vitality and are excited about their future.
In the district I serve as the DS, I see churches of all sizes who are energized and vital, and I am seeing churches of all sizes who are discouraged, distracted, and desperate to regain what they once had. In my opinion, there are several characteristics that the congregations who are vital and passionate, no matter the size of the congregation, focus on doing well. In fact, they do these things exceptionally well in their context. In many ways they are each unique, but they have found a way to excel in their context in each of these characteristics.
- They know their mission and purpose well, and they are focused on fulfilling their mission. When anything gets in the way of our mission, it distracts us from our primary purpose. That pertains to the pastor (either adoration of, or conflict with), conflict among the lay people, the cost of maintaining buildings that don't serve the mission well anymore, or anything else that gets in the way of our being focused on mission and purpose.
- They are doing a great job of fully engaging their community. And as their community changes, they adapt to meet the needs of the community as it is, not as it once was. Vital churches know and love their community and they try hard to look like their community.
- They are focused outwardly rather than inwardly. In other words, vital churches are not self-centered. These churches free up their pastor and leaders to work with and love those who are not yet in church, they work hard at getting to know the needs and hurts and dreams of their neighbors, they take Jesus seriously when he said to Love God and Love others.
- They have worship services that are passionate, authentic, and indigenous to the culture they are trying to reach. The worship reaches multiple generations and is focused on the needs of the people they are trying to reach rather than on their own preferences. This is not about a worship style, it is about being authentic, passionate, and relatable to those the church is trying to reach.
- They have become very good at growing generous givers. They work hard at discipling members and attenders and do not shy away from teaching their folks how to live generously.
- And most importantly, they are grounded in prayer. This is where it all begins. If we are not a praying people, how do we ever expect to be in relationship with God?
There is no magic formula or magic pill that will take us back to when our churches were filled, and challenges seemed manageable. But I do believe with all my heart that it is possible for us to see a new vitality in our congregations that will lead us to reach out in love to the communities we are a part of. Our communities need us to be the church that God has called us to be now more than ever. So be courageous and follow where God is calling you to go!
In Christ's Love!
Dean of West Ohio Cabinet