The past 12 months have forced every church, no matter the size, denomination, or style to evaluate every aspect of ministry. Recently I heard Pastor Dan Nold point out that the last 12 months “have not been a temporary interruption, but a transitional disruption.”
Studies from organizations like The Unstuck Group, Church Answers, as well as the Barna Group are pointing to the fact that as many as 80% of churches were in maintenance mode before the pandemic and now many are moving toward survival mode or even life support. Just as businesses had to figure out how to pivot in the midst of this disruption, churches also quickly needed to find new ways to “do ministry.”
As the lock-downs and quarantines begin to subside and we start to make plans for life and ministry post-pandemic, every church needs to be wrestling with some very important questions as they develop their strategic plan moving forward. The reality is very clear, while your mission has not changed, your ministry strategy from 12 months ago is most likely obsolete.
Here are 6 questions you need to be asking as you develop a plan for ministry moving forward.
1. Is your mission and vision clear?
If your mission and vision were not clear before March 2020, you probably struggled to make the necessary pivots in the midst of the crisis. If you have not taken the time to clarify your mission and vision, the next few questions will not matter.
If you feel like you need some outside assistance gaining clarity on your mission and vision, please contact me so we can talk about the various tools and resources Converge MidAtlantic can offer. Our connection with several ministry partners could prove very helpful for you in this process. Now is definitely a great time to gain focus and clarity on your mission and vision.
2. What is your discipleship pathway and how are you incorporating digital opportunities in it?
Jesus was pretty clear that making disciples was the prime directive for the Church. If you are going to accomplish this task, you really need a clear pathway for people to follow. Every church is going to be different in the way they accomplish this based on their cultural context and even geographical location. Some will work primarily through small groups. Some will utilize a Sunday School system. Others may have a class system or mentorship program. All of these are good, you just need to find a system that works for you and then use it!
In order to do this, you will need to know what a new, growing, and mature disciple looks like so you can evaluate the effectiveness of your process. You will need to determine how easy it is for a person to start on the pathway and how pervasive the discipleship culture is in your congregation. If you want to see disciples made, you have to cast a vision of discipleship to the church as well as cultivate discipleship in the DNA.
As you consider this, do not forget to think about how you can utilize various digital platforms within your discipleship plan. There have been numerous webinars and articles about building a digital discipleship plan over the last few months. You can also look for resources from Converge MidAtlantic’s own Nona Jones (From Social Media to Social Ministry).
3. What steps are you taking to (re)build a strong family ministry?
With schools shutting down in-person learning, families have been forced to take on the burden of making sure their kids were engaging in their online classes. Parents have faced stress in their homes on a scale not seen before. Who better than the Church to offer help in building strong families? Families are looking for help. We must have something to offer them so that they experience God’s love in relevant, practical ways.
If the focus of your children’s ministry is to be more entertaining than the church down the street, you are going to struggle. Instead, consider what kind of kids you want your children’s ministry to produce and work toward that end. If you want kids who are discovering their giftedness and learning to become leaders, then build your ministry structure around developing young leaders. When parents see that their kids are not only highly valued but your church is looking to invest in them, they will not only breathe a sigh of relief, they will be excited to support this vital ministry.
4. What is your digital ministry plan? How are you creating engagement with your online community? How does your digital ministry connect with your mission?
Most churches began offering some form of online version of their Sunday worship experience over the last year. At minimum, your online presence is your new parking lot, signage, and front door. Some churches are taking this even further and developing engagement opportunities for online audience members to pursue connection in the church. This could take the form of an online small group, Facebook group, or even one-on-one discipleship.
As you determine your online strategy make sure you consider how it fits with your mission and values. Is it important that the process moves people toward being present in your physical location? Could a person go through a discipleship process with your church without ever being in the building? What would a digital disciple look like if your system did a great job?
5. What does community engagement look like for you now?
While the word “outreach” was often used to describe how the church interacted with the people in the general vicinity of the church building, I prefer to use the phrase “community engagement.” The way your church engages the community as we emerge from the pandemic will communicate volumes.
In talking with my LEAD Team about this question, we noticed that shifting from large events that are geared toward drawing a crowd to grass root level engagement seems to be an important move. A simple first step might be asking every small group to consider how they can serve the people around them once a month. This could be assisting someone with yard work, serving at a local food pantry, or helping an exhausted single mom who is trying to juggle work, home, and keeping her kids engaged with their online learning. The key is to move the community engagement down to smaller interactions that don’t require lots of money, planning, scheduling and staff involvement. Cast a vision of community engagement that starts in every person’s front yard.
6. How are you, as a pastor and leader, staying healthy - emotionally, physically, mentally, relationally, and spiritually?
Pastors and leaders (and everyone else!) are exhausted. They have spent the last 12 months leading through a crisis like no other crisis we have faced. Over the next 12 months most experts say that we will see a major shake up in the area of church leaders and pastors. Most pastors have considered leaving their church or even leaving the ministry completely over the last year. Pastoral health is critical right now.
Every aspect of our lives impact our ability to lead well. At Converge MidAtlantic, we are committed to caring for and supporting the pastors and staff of our churches. You are not alone. Find a counselor, a spiritual mentor, or at least a few trusted friends who will speak truth into your life. Being tired emotionally, physically, mentally, or even spiritually is not a sin and it is not something to be ashamed of! Right now, everyone is feeling the exhaustion from the stress of uncertainty as well as decision fatigue. Carving out time alone with God as well as time with some people who will pour into your life is vital right now.
If you need help, Converge MidAtlantic is here. Contact us today. We can offer coaching, resources for you and your leadership team, and a shoulder to lean on. Ministry at any time is hard. Ministry right now is exhausting. But you don’t have to be on your own.
There are lots more questions you could be asking right now, but these six should get you started. Walk through them with your team. Encourage one another. Ultimately, our hope is not in the next new ministry strategy or system, our hope is in Christ who loves His Bride, the Church. With Christ, even the gates of hell will not stand agains the Church.
I leave you with Jesus’ words from John 16:33 (ESV) “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."
Jason Allison, Church Strengthening Director
Jason is the pastor of Spiritual Formation at a new church plant, Press Church in Powell, Ohio. Originally conceived and operating as Terra Nova Community Church, Pastor Jason led this community for over a decade at various locations throughout Delaware County. Also, he serves as the Director of Church Strengthening for Converge MidAtlantic.