A Travel Free Learning Article
William T. McConnell
Ministry Associate with The Columbia Partnership
Voice: 513.367.4316, E-mail: BMcConnell@TheColumbiaPatnership.org
Web Site: www.TheColumbiaPartnership.org
Some Basic Observations
Let me begin by pointing out some information that has become common knowledge but serves as a foundation:
- A majority of mainline Protestant congregations in North America have been suffering a decline in membership and ministry for several decades.
- Many programs, processes, plans and ministries having to do with evangelism and/or church growth have been introduced over the past several decades and, generally speaking, have not been successful.
- Continuing to do church 1950’s style does not work in our present culture even though we insist on attempting to do so.
- It is understood that about 70% of the people in our culture are unchurched.
The Good Old Days
As a young pastor, fresh out of seminary, I set up shop and began doing ministry in a small church in a small Midwestern town. My first task upon arriving on the scene, as I understood it, was to listen to the people to discover what their hopes, dreams and expectations were so I could help them move in that direction. I then settled into a cycle of producing a weekly sermon, visiting with the sick and shut-in, and making sure everyone was as happy as possible.
Vision or focus or leadership did not fit into the scheme of things when it came to being a pastor. I was there to maintain the church, the church building, the church membership and the church’s programs. If growth happened, that was a good thing. But it was not our bottom line.
The Good New Days
As the church attempts to live and grow and impact a culture that is very different that the culture of the 1950’s and 60’s. Ours is a culture that is no longer church centered and has, in fact, become generally hostile toward the church. It is not unusual for a believer to keep his or her church attendance a secret. In such an atmosphere, it seems obvious to me that the church must become much more aggressive in being the church. Most likely the word “aggressive” is a bit strong for most of my readers. But I mean it in the best sense. We must be more aggressive in connecting with people who seem to not yet know God, serving them, loving then and sharing the good news of God’s love with them through our lives and life stories.
A New Approach to Doing Church
To impact our culture, we are going to have to do some things differently. It could be argued that we need to do everything differently. Among those things that must be done differently are:
1. Vision: The church must be vision-driven. We can no longer be driven by a maintenance mentality where the desires of the present membership are of primary concern. One of my mantras is, “The church exists for the people who have not yet come.” We must make all of our decisions as a church in line with the vision, to help fulfill the vision of the church.
2. Focus: It is my observation that many of the churches that I consult with seem to have a bad case of attention deficient disorder. We are off chasing every idea, program, and idea that comes across our desks. It is a powerful thing to stay on task, to stay focused on the outcome the church is seeking.
3. Simplicity: The church is attempting to reach people who have full, fragmented lives. They are busy. When the church suggests they come to a class, or a marriage seminar or a pot luck dinner or invite them to become a part of a small group, or be involved in a ministry, they probably hear it as an invitation to more busyness. We need to invite them to participate in a simple, clear process to connect with God and grow in that relationship.
4. Leadership: For the church to be vision-driven, remain focused and pursue simplicity there must be strong, consistent leadership. This leadership must begin with the pastor. A foundational element to this pastoral leadership is developing the church’s lay leadership. Even more than the need of good pastoral care for the church to grow, we must have strong, healthy pastoral leadership.
As much as most of us might resist the idea, key to church growth is good pastoral leadership. We must lead the church into growth.
My book Renew Your Congregation: Healing the Sick and Raising the Dead speaks to the issues addressed in this column and many others having to do with Church Transformation.
Important Things to Know
Bill McConnell is a Ministry Associate with The Columbia Partnership. He is a Church Leadership coach and Church Transformation Consultant. He is available for speaking and coaching with church leaders and congregations.
The Columbia Partnership is a non-profit Christian ministry organization focused on transforming the capacity of the North American Church to pursue and sustain Christ-centered ministry. Travel Free Learning is a leadership development emphasis of The Columbia Partnership. For more information about products and services check out the web site at www.TheColumbiaPartnership.org, send an e-mail to Client.Care@TheColumbiaPartnership.org, or call 803.622.0923.