We all know that most churches are in decline. We also know that some churches are growing and some are growing exponentially. There are clearly some things growing churches “get” that declining churches do not.
Here are ten things churches need to “get” to have a future.
- Get strategic around the mission A decreasing number of people in the pews and fewer dollars in the plates will force declining congregations to get strategic around their mission or capitulate to a slow and painful death. Having a clear and stated mission statement and a clear strategy concerning it has moved from a “growing church hack” to an absolute necessity. Resources are simply not available to give churches the luxury of being sloppy around their mission. Focus on your mission. Laser focus.
- Get unapologetic with your message Churches are not charities among charities, clubs among clubs or good causes among good causes. All churches do “good” but most are doing “good” to death. We are a Holy Ghost empowered community of faith entrusted to bring the salvation of Christ to the world. Let’s face it; the world is a fractured and dangerous mess. The task of reaching this world for Jesus is daunting. A watered down, off-mission or agenda laden gospel will lack the firepower needed for true transformation of lives or congregations. We must preach Christ and Christ alone!
- Get a long term financial strategy Volunteering and tithing Baby Boomers are beginning to die and will leave their wealth to family, hospitals and universities. Their children and grandchildren will attend church more seldom, give more sparingly and volunteer more reluctantly. There are lot of people in your church right now willing to give a “final tithe” to keep the mission of the church moving forward after they are gone but few will actually do so if churches don’t cast a vision for the future, express a need and make an ask. Legacy giving must be a part of the financial strategy of any church planning on outliving its current members.
- Get young adults connected The great thing about reaching young people is that they don’t want to be entertained. Are you hearing me? You don’t have to be a mega-church to reach young adults! Stripped down worship, the invitation to authentic community, an offer to help change the world and deep Biblical preaching with both scholarship and real life application WILL reach young people. And if they don’t come to you, you will just have to go to them.
- Get sensitive to the Holy Spirit People today don’t just worship with their minds, they worship with their emotions…they want to feel something. They also are not going to attend church at all if they don’t feel some “value added” effect of the worship experience. Shift your thinking from “worship service” to “worship experience” and you are getting warmer. Churches must allow room for spontaneity and “non-scripted” moments in worship. It is time to kick our bulletin addiction and get some Holy Ghost bouncing around! And no, you may not get out on time.
- Get smaller (to get larger) Churches must offer more times to worship, more days to worship, more ways to worship and more locations to worship. Sunday morning is no longer sacred space to the larger culture and if that is the only time you are offering worship services, you will miss an ever increasing number of people. We offer eight worship experiences in five locations each week. If the old 1,000 in worship was 500 in two identical Sunday morning services, the new 1,000 may be 100 in 10 or 50 in 20 services. Inefficient?
- Get evangelistic Putting up a sign with worship time and your preacher’s name hasn’t cut it for years (even if the sign is electronic). Churches must engage with social media, equip their congregations to invite people to worship, share faith boldly and create an evangelistic culture. People are not going to attend worship out of duty, guilt or obligation, much less invite their friends and family. They will only invite if they are excited about what God is doing in their lives and what God is doing at your church. Get people excited and they will get evangelistic.
- Get prayerful Hurting people come to church every week and leave hurting. We must do better than that. Offer opportunities for response and prayer creatively and often in response to the Word. Praying for people in the context of worship is powerful and prayers that are not offered are never answered. Start praying for the needs of your people and you will see miracles! Nothing significant happens in a church apart from prayer.
- Get positive People want to identify with things that are effective, successful, dynamic and meaningful. Get your building and grounds shining like a new dime! Make sure your sound system and projection is of high quality. Celebrate every single thing God is doing in your congregation. Every conversion. Every new member. Every baptism.
- Get a vision for the future Do you truly believe your congregation has a “future and a hope?” If so, share it! What growth engines are in your 2017 budget? What exciting things are coming for your congregation next year? What daring dreams are on the table? People and resources follow vision, not the other way around.
No church will be forced to have a future. In fact, for many declining churches, it will be far easier to die than to live. But if your congregation truly wants to live (and I suggest you take a formal vote); there are some things you have to “get!”
What might you add to my “GET” list?
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, a Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois