For more than eight months now, most churches have been doing everything possible to navigate what may be remembered as the most difficult season in ministry.
If not the most difficult, likely the most complicated.
We often talk of the new normal, and that's a great conversation; we need it, but we can't wait for it to arrive. We need to lead forward now.
We need to build again.
Most churches are either open, trying to open or preparing to open their physical buildings. That's a good start. Their teams are simultaneously working hard to deliver high-quality worship services in-person and online, plus all their other ministries as well.
Both online and in-person can feel like double the work, and leaders across the country tell me they are exhausted.
But here's the insight.
Leaders are not exhausted from all the work; they are exhausted from all the work with half the results. It's emotionally draining not to see tangible outcomes anywhere near the corresponding effort.
Resilience is needed now more than ever.
Building again does not refer to physical buildings, but building the body of Christ stronger and larger, one person at a time.
One pastor said to me, "We built our congregation once, and we will put our heads down and build it again!" It was an inspiring moment!
It had nothing to do with self-sufficiency; it was all about God's purpose with God's power.
Rather than lamenting the losses, leaders who will build again are thanking God for what they have and stewarding their gifts and resources wisely.
The churches who will build again are building now. It may not be flashy, fast or the biggest in town, but they are building!
Here are five traits of churches who will build again:
1. They don't measure future results based on past performance. Comparing what you have now to what you "used to have" can be a discouraging trap of the enemy.
Of course, there is some benchmarking value to assess important ratios like financial or staffing ratios, but the point is to begin again with what you have, don't lament over what was; That is wasted energy.
Reference to past numbers is useful as a gauge of progress into the new reality, not proof of failure.
Further, we need not limit what God can do in the future or presuppose timelines He will do it in.
Let's just say it like it is: the church has taken a hit, but it will come back, and there is great potential that it can come back stronger than ever.
The church's future depends on the combination of the power and favor of God and your leadership. That's an incredible partnership.
2. They are learning how to make decisions without the ability to see around the corner. One of the most common questions I hear is, "How can I make good decisions when I can't anticipate what's ahead?"
One pastor said to me, "I feel like I'm flying blind." I understand what he means for sure.
Here's a helpful approach:
—Design your strategic plan for shorter segments of time.
Normally I would not suggest something like a three to six-month plan, but now it's necessary because you can't see far enough out to plan farther.
—Always design your planning in alignment with your longer-term vision.
That protects you from inadvertently veering off course. Your vision serves as your compass for true north.
—Make your operational decisions as short term as reasonable.
If you make your strategic plans short term, for now, you can minimize the potential consequences if you make a mistake.
You can adjust and adapt quicker, make your course correction and keep going with minimal losses.
—When it comes to progress, the important thing is that after you think and pray, make a decision.
Don't get stuck waiting for a perfect and certain decision; there isn't one.
3. They possess an optimistic and faith-filled spirit that overcomes doubt and discouragement. Each of us are responsible for leading people forward with a confident message of hope in the future.
However, it's not easy to authentically and consistently lead with an optimistic spirit in a pandemic. Right?!
Let's just own it—If you can't lead yourself forward with an optimistic spirit and hope in the future, you can't lead others there either.
There's a lot to this idea, but let me offer two helpful thoughts.
a. An optimistic message of hope can only come from an optimistic life and a positive, faith-filled spirit. It starts within you. Your overall outlook on life is shaped and defined by how you think, how you see life and your walk with God.
The good news is optimism is essentially a choice, and God himself is our hope in the future.
b. Vision brings hope. You've got to stay focused on something bigger than you. Each of us are too finite to create and cultivate such hope in the future based on our own life and goals. It takes a purpose larger than ourselves.
The purpose of your church is a great example of a vision bigger than you possess on your own. That purpose brings hope; It brings the potential of momentum and forward movement.
4. They cultivate a healthy and productive team culture that solves problems. Healthy teams take on challenging problems with great resilience and productivity because they stick together, believe the best, and where one person is weak, another is strong.
As I talk with church leaders in this season, they list so many problems to solve. Three of the most common are:
—Loss of momentum: the closing of physical buildings last March took the wind out of our sails.
—Loss of volunteers: some of the best volunteers in churches are not ready to come back.
—Loss of predictability: we've never been able to predict the future, but some somethings were predictable. That is no longer true.
It's OK to admit these are tough problems.
It's OK to acknowledge the solutions don't always come fast or easy.
But once that is owned, great teams move quickly to solutions, and they don't let anything deter them from a commitment to solving the problems.
It will take trial and error, it may take some time, but they press forward.
5. They embrace and implement change with agility and enthusiasm. The potential for your church to thrive in the future depends in great part on your willingness and ability to change.
The changes may be large or small, but the important thing is to make the right changes.
Most people resist change, at least to some degree—that's human nature.
The interesting thing is that it's not always the actual change that people resist; it's the transition from the old to the new. It's the effort and energy it takes when there is no margin and when so much is unknown.
Make the reason for the change clear, be honest about any losses from the old to the new and make the plan clear about how to get there.
When you make changes, make sure it's not change just for the sake of change.
Here's what I mean:
Be careful you don't celebrate change when the outcome is different than what you had, but not better. Improvement is essential. Always make sure the end result is better, not merely different.
And remember, if you change something and no one gets mad, you just changed something that doesn't matter.
Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of leadership and church development at INJOY.
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