Thursday, August 12, 2010

Observations From 30,000 Feet

Perhaps you too have had the experience of peering out of a plane at 30,000 feet to view the vast landscape below. At that height discoveries can be made about the terrain below that would otherwise be missed. Recently I had a similar experience but it occurred from the corner of my upstairs family room that I affectionately call “my office”. I had just gotten off the phone with one of my Minister of Education friends and he started me thinking about my high level observations, a 30,000 foot view if you will, of what I see currently taking place in churches today.

As I thought about this it dawned on me that I am just now winding up three years of visiting churches in Texas and Louisiana in my role as a Church Consultant for LifeWay. In that time I have been in almost 400 different churches. And the best I can calculate there has been almost 2,000 times that I have pulled into a church parking lot and gotten out to visit with pastors and other church leaders about their church’s ministry. I say that gives me a pretty good 30,000 foot view of churches, churches in Texas and Louisiana at least.

My pondering drove me to my computer to capture my thoughts. Over the next hour or so, here is what I landed on. I thought I would post them here for you to ponder as well and to see what you think. You may or may not agree, that’s fine. These are just my observations and they may or may not be true for you and your church.

1. What current trends are you seeing in churches today?

  • Great diversity of church practices among and within churches
  • Wrestling over change and in how to do church—worship, group life, etc.
  • Coming to terms with cultural changes and in community demographics
  • Struggle in the transition of leadership to younger generations
  • Challenges in enlisting and developing leaders both paid staff and volunteers
  • Interest in multi-generational and inter-generational ministry
  • A renewed emphasis in ministering to families
  • In contrast to most churches, there are many churches who are experiencing great spiritual transformation

2. What challenges are you seeing in churches?

  • All of the above
  • Re-identifying the church’s identity, purpose, direction, and strategy for the future
  • Moving from programmatic activity to a results driven disciple-making process
  • Developing credibility and relevance within the community
  • Figuring out the implications for long established ministries such as Sunday School

3. What solutions are you seeing to these challenges?

  • Developing a willingness toward building a church for those not yet here and for the next generation
  • Establishing a unique disciple-making process that has clarity, movement, alignment, and focus
  • Simplifying and making accessible that disciple-making process to as many people as possible
  • An intense focus on spiritual transformation rather than mere participation and learning more knowledge
  • Becoming more concerned about what people are doing in ministry out in the community rather than in the church
  • Moving new people into leadership roles as quickly as possible

4. How are churches using Sunday School and Small Groups effectively?

  • Churches are all over the map with this
  • There is a converging of various kinds of groups into a more unified ministry of group life within churches
  • As such, these “life groups” are being used as the second step in the assimilation or disciple-making process
  • A greater emphasis is being placed on groups “doing life together”
  • A greater emphasis on leaders who are relational, spiritual leaders guiding in “spiritual transformation” rather than in “bible study”
  • A greater emphasis on groups serving in the community together as opposed to solely sitting in a classroom studying together.
  • A greater emphasis on creating new groups based on affinity interests rather than age

5. What do you see happening in churches in the near future?

  • I think much of the above will continue to accelerate
  • Some churches will make a breakthrough making forward progress because of the changes they are willing to make and will grow greatly in their spiritual influence in their communities and beyond
  • Many churches who don’t make some of the transitions above will continue to drift toward insignificance; some will survive at some level of maintenance but others will not survive and will disband or merge with other healthier congregations which is already a trend
  • Churches will continue to adjust in various ways to our new economy (buildings, staffing, programming, etc.)
  • I think perhaps one of the more important questions is what churches will decide to do with their Sunday Schools; most churches have a Sunday School and it’s the largest ministry organization in most churches, therefore this becomes a key issue: (1) every class can choose for itself what kind of class it wants to be regardless of what other classes choose (2) if classes expected and prepared to have new people every week it would totally revolutionize those classes and the church, and (3) the single most effective strategy in moving churches forward is to constantly be creating new groups

Until next time...share the journey and enjoy the ride!

Pat