By Mary C. Frances, Senior Associate Consultant
Last week I was meeting with a group of clergy and we were talking about the future of the church….not so much ten or twenty or thirty years from now but just the next ten or twenty or thirty months from now. In these post-Covid days, those of you who are in the field, on the ground, so to speak are facing a whole new set of challenges than three years ago at the start of the pandemic.
While many of us knew that things would never be the same – that we couldn’t go back to the way things were before the pandemic – it was hard to prepare for something we couldn’t envision. Today the church faces challenges accelerated by the pandemic with over 60% of people in most communities considering themselves unaffiliated with a worshipping community. Certainly, some folks still worship via online services but many – especially families with children – have found different activities to fill their time. They may value a religious education for their children but that doesn’t make it the top of the priority list anymore. At one point in time, it was a given that it was at the top of the list of priorities but much has changed and Covid pushed everything over the brink. “What do we do now?” has become the mantra for many in the Boomer and Silent Generations.
Well, for me, go back to the sign on the bus that I saw many years ago. I was starting a new business, and while I still had my old job, I would walk past this bus (pictured above) on a regular basis. One day it hit me as I walked past….this whole idea of not having to do things as they’ve always been done; the idea of pushing limits. Of course, the mantra that “we’ve always done it that way” is common in many churches AND it tends to foretell more challenges ahead. But in her best days, the church has been evolving, creative, and unleashed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
How do we start pushing limits? Where do turn to find where God is leading us next? I always recommend that congregations start with the concept of the three-legged stool. The first leg is knowing themselves. For this, the Congregational Vitality Assessment is a free and accessible tool that should be on the Favorites list of every pastor. The second leg is to know your neighbor. The Neighborhood Insight Report makes bring to your fingertips over 40 different data points about your ministry area and your membership area. And finally, the third leg is relationships. Building relationships through one-to-one conversations, showing up in the community, and joining God where God is already at work. Pick one and begin to start pushing limits – there is no limit to God’s imagination for the future of the church.