By Laura Stephens-Reed
A new liturgical year began on November 29, and now the secular calendar is rolling over as well. Many people of faith will be making resolutions to improve their lives, and there’s no reason churches as whole can’t do the same. Here are a few ideas to prime the pump:
Have a hard but overdue conversation as a congregation. What’s a narrative that needs to be challenged or a conflict that needs to be addressed? Teach healthy dialogue techniques and take advantage of this opportunity to grow closer.
Ask leaders what they need to carry out their ministries faithfully. Do your committee chairs, officers, or pastors need tangible resources? Hands-on help? Training? Encouragement? Sometimes we don’t know – and sometimes they haven’t thought about it either – until we ask.
Invite someone of a different viewpoint to preach/speak/teach. Use the visit to start a discussion among your congregants … or to get facts from people in the know so that already-happening conversations are more productive and informed.
Host or participate in a neighborhood event. Churches aren’t just located in neighborhoods, they are neighbors. Consider how your congregation might engage in the give-and-take of being such. In the process, you’ll have the opportunity to show others more about the nature of your church than will fit on an LED sign or in a tweet.
Identify a non-tangible way to assess growth (e.g., not attendance or giving). The definition of “active member” is evolving, which means the metrics we use to determine engagement should change as well. (Of course, one could argue that nickels and noses never was the best way to measure the real impact of a church’s ministry!) One option is to create venues for storytelling.
Share no-longer-needed materials with a church that has fewer resources. What happens to your Vacation Bible School curriculum after the last butter cookie crumb is swept up? Rather than putting it in a closet to serve as a time capsule, gift it to a small congregation for next summer.
Approach stewardship in a fresh, enthusiastic way. Consider how you might approach stewardship as a year-round discipline – and how you might see the discussion of it as opportunity rather than drudgery.
Incorporate a new/underrepresented voice in leadership. Skim your orders of worship for the last few months and your slates of officer nominees for the past couple of years. What are the demographics of the leaders? Who among your congregants does not see him/herself represented? Complicate and enrich ministry by adding missing voices.
Learn a hymn that is technically challenging or new to the congregation. We’ve all got our favorite hymns, but we might discover new favorites! Take care to teach the music to the congregation and either to explain the story behind the hymn’s composition or the significance of the piece to worship.
Plan an event that is purely for fellowship. One of the best ways to ramp up the effectiveness of your church’s discipleship and outreach is to help people get to know each other. Then they will be more likely to participate in and even initiate ministries, and they will know whom to ask to join them.
May 2016 be full of connection, innovation, and formation for you, for your loved ones and for the strangers in your midst.
Laura Stephens-Reed is Regional Director for CBF peer learning groups in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. She is also a clergy coach and congregational consultant who blogs at laurastephensreed.com.