History will look upon the years that spanned our lifetimes and declare them to be a period of seismic cultural shift. In the same way the Gutenberg Press changed the world in 1439, the advent of the personal computer and the internet has changed the world again. We live in a time when the Norman Rockwell America in which many of us were reared has given away to an emerging world having little in union with the world it replaced. As a result, most of us over fifty were formally educated to succeed in a world that no longer exists. I graduated from Candler School of Theology at Emory University in 1992 equipped to do ministry in a piano, organ, hymnal, bulletin led and highly formalized worship world. I came to work each day in a suit, starched white dress shirt and a tie. Today I do ministry in a dual big screen, rock and roll band, tech savvy, Social Media and unbelievably informal worship world. Many of the people who are a vital part of this faith community will never step foot on any of our campuses.
We are conducting ministry in the aftershocks of a cultural earthquake. The old world is almost completely gone except for a strong pocket here and there and the new world is divided, volatile and views theology from a political lens. No wonder baby boomer church leaders are retiring. For many, the church has become the last enclave of the old world where people can still come to exercise power in an economy they understand, worship with familiar forms, slow things down and take solace in their cultural sanctuary. The problem is that many churches have become “Ecclesiastical Amish” and while they do provide a much desired and appreciated service to their ever declining memberships, they are failing miserably their opportunity to continue the ministry of Christ to a new generation.
Our stated mission at Christ Church is that we exist to connect people to Jesus Christ. Every decision we make from programming, to staffing, to administration to worship style has been made in relentless pursuit of this mission. We often make decisions that are not popular and not everything we try works but we believe the most risky thing you can possibly do in this new world is act like it is the old one.
We know that our culture is divided and divisive. We know that churches holding traditional Christian values are under cultural attack. We know that most churches are in decline. We know that old style denominationalism is a part of the old world and not the new one. We also know that some churches are growing and a few are growing exponentially. There are clearly some things churches must “get” if they want a future.
- Get strategic 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 grounded 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 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 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 physically present in two identical Sunday morning services, the new 1,000 may be 100 in 10 or 50 in 20 services and some will worship with you on-line. Inefficient?
- 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 evangelistic Putting up a sign with your 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 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 Do you believe your congregation has a “future and a hope?” If so, share it! What most excites you about your church? What exciting things are coming for your congregation? What daring dreams are on the table? People and resources follow vision, not the other way around.
- Get in the Bible Biblical illiteracy is a disease that is killing the church and has opened the American church to false teaching and heresy. It is 100% curable but it takes intentional effort. Stop reading books about the Bible and read the Bible! We have over 1,000 people formally reading the New Testament this year.
- Get internally aligned Until your church has absolute clarity concerning its mission, core values and basic beliefs there will be perpetual drama fueled by Social Media. Double-mindedness within the church is a greater threat than outside persecution. Paul understood this well.
No church will be forced to have a future. In fact, it is far easier to decline than grow and to die than to live. But if your congregation truly wants a future (and I suggest you take a formal vote); there are some things you have to “get!”
We must risk our way into the future. We must give God something to bless. God can bless anything but nothing. If your church is in decline, the biggest risk you can take in 2020 is to do what you did in 2019.
Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.