By Rev. Evan Dolive
[Note: This article first appeared at Sojourners.]
With 2013 gone, many people will be contemplating how 2014 will be different than the year gone by. Some people want to lose weight, read more, travel the world or stop biting their nails. New Year's resolutions are supposed to give us tangible goals to better ourselves for the year to come.
Resolutions however are not just for people, I believe that there are 14 things that the church needs to do in 2014, if the church is to thrive, grow and be relevant in the 21st century.
1. Review what happened in 2013: What worked? What didn't? Where did we spend our money? How did we touch people's lives? What one word would describe 2013? Take some time and objectively look at what transpired in 2013.
2. Honestly answer the question "Why in the world would anyone want to come to this church?": I believe that this is the biggest question that every church must ask themselves. How one answers this question affects the ministry, outlook and mission of the church. If you answer this question honestly, the answer might surprise you and scare you all at the same time.
3. Try Something New: One of the complaints of the church is that it is stuck in the 1950s. Let's expand our horizons and try something new. In every church I have ever worked or preached in I have heard "we like things the way they are." I'm not calling for the church to re-orient the sanctuary but try something, anything. There are great new modern hymns, new bible translations and worship styles just waiting to be used. Give them a try, you might actually like them. If God can make all things new, then why not take God up on the offer; you'll never know what's out there until you try.
4. Pass The Torch: The younger generations in many churches are waiting to be able to take over the reigns and serve God, but some people are unwilling to let go. 2014 is the time. Let's inject some new life in stale committees/ministry teams/church leadership. Hearing how a different generation or segment of the population understands and seeks out the Divine is a wonderful learning experience. "Do not let your own preferences and comfort segregate an entire generation from service to the church.". The church can not tell the next generation to "wait their turn" any longer.
5. Fail (a lot if you have to): The fear of failure is one of biggest impediments to ministry. No one wants to devote time, effort, energy and even money to a project that is going to fail, I completely understand that. However through the act of failure we are able to examine what went well and what didn't. Failure is a necessity for innovation. Edison failure hundreds of times before he perfected the light bulb. The church is not immune to failure so we should stop acting like it.
6. Join The 21st Century: In 2000 having a website was a luxury now its a necessity. More and more people share, learn, collaborate and access news from pop culture to current world events thanks to the power of the internet. The church however has been lagging behind in this category. Too often this is delegated to a committee or a person who will update it if/when they have the time. One of the biggest turnoffs for many people is a website that hasn't been updated in six months. There are many different resources to record sermons, worship services, etc. Many of them are free or fairly cost effective. If a website is too daunting of a task or too expensive then maybe look into Facebook and Twitter; they are pretty user friendly and also FREE. (check out http://churchsocmed.blogspot.com for tips on how to use social media effectively in the church). It's about share the gospel of Christ and ministry of the church in a new way.
7. Stop Competing with Other Churches: Some churches pride themselves on being the biggest gig in town; others are quite content with their smaller congregation. However in some communities the sentiment is "we have to be better than that church." When the church starts trying to "one up" their neighboring church in an effort to put more bodies in the pews, we have missed the mark. This has to stop. When the mentality of a church becomes 'us vs. them' we have lost sight of the gospel and have made the church a high school popularity contest.
8. Collaborate with other churches: One way to combat competition is collaborate with other churches on a common goal. It is interesting that so many churches try to do ministry by themselves. This leads to frustration and fatigue. Collaboration allows congregations to pool their resources (time, money, expertise) and focuses them. In the community where I live several churches got together to give away 40,000 pounds of potatoes to soup kitchens, homeless shelters and people in the community. It was great to see how people were passionate about service in the name of Christ and no one cared if they were Presbyterian, Methodist, Disciples of Christ or Episcopalian. They were united under the cause of Christ’s love and that was enough.
9. Review Mission Statement: Many churches have mission statements; they are the words that guide the ministries of that congregation. However this one small problem... hardly anyone in the congregation (the pastor included) can recite it. A mission statement should be simple enough to remember but still encapsulate the mission of the church, which can be challenging. If your church hasn't even looked at the mission statement in the last decade, it's time to. Every ministry project of a congregation should reflect this statement; it doesn't have to be verbose, it doesn't have to be complex but, it does have to be real.
10. Read More (books, blogs, Bible): Some followers of Christ do not have a regular reading routine. Many people know the stories and know the characters if the Bible, but that is it. Some are busy with their jobs, lives, kids, etc. and cannot find the time to fit one more thing in. There is a treasure trove of theological thought from christian bloggers/authors/theologians from various walks of life. They bring a new perspective on the world and Christianity. They help to form conversations and articulate thoughts in differing ways thus opening the conversation up more. Taking time to read the Bible, blogs and books (religious and nonreligious) we can see how the story of God can be told over and over again in many different ways.
11. Study More: Why are we going to the Bible to only reinforce what we already know? Let's take some time in 2014 to look at the Bible with fresh eyes, listen for the voice of God with open ears, have open, honest, faithful conversations. The Bible has been read by billions of people over thousands of years and yet each time we approach the text we find something that we had never noticed before. Try different ways of reading the bible like lectio divina or examin prayers. Try a new translation or commentary. Be open to what God is speaking to you and your church, it might surprise you (in a good way).
12. Love More: Sadly the church has received an unfortunate reputation of being cold and unloving. Now hear me out, I'm not saying that all churches are this way but every church can be more loving. Love in my opinion is at the heart of the gospel but if our love is bound by conditions then we are squandering a free gift, the free gift of God's love given to all. (See I john 4:19) I’m not talking about “love the sinner, hate the sin” mentality either; love is extended to all people from God. Christ’s teaching to love our neighbor as ourselves can not be limited. Love and care for all of humanity is the basis of the ministry of Jesus; let’s open our hearts and our doors and love all people no matter what.
13. Stop targeting "young people" (especially if you are not going to do what it takes to keep them): First off, young people aren't lazier than the previous generation and its not the iPhone's, MTV’s or the Devil’s fault that they aren't attending church. We know the stats and we see it happening in churches across the country, young people are leaving the church and they are leaving it in droves. Try as they might some churches are not willing to allow new, fresh, differing ideas, thoughts, theologies and beliefs in their church building. There is this unwritten understanding that "we want people to come and experience the Jesus we know even if it doesn't speak to them." This is another door slammed in the face of the next generation. The younger generations do not want to join committees or organizations, they want to join CAUSES. This is a huge shift from previous generations but it’s one that the church must recognize. As a minister friend once told me "the church has lost its particularity in society." He's right; why go to church if it means serving on a committee when you can make just as much of difference with CASA or United Way or Habitat for Humanity? Churches who have a cause to unite others with ministries they are passionate about will generally have the younger generation more invested.
14. Promote Justice: Justice comes in many different shapes and sizes and is part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are simple steps that churches can do to promote justice in the world. One way that I like to promote justice is ensuring that the coffee I drink is from organizations that are Fair Trade Certified. These groups work with co-ops and farmers to make sure that the workers that pick the beans for your morning cup of joe get paid a fair wage; it's a win-win. You get great coffee (or tea or chocolate) and the workers can provide for their families. There are dozens of organizations focusing on the promotion of justice in the world like International Justice Mission and World Vision International to name a few. God is calling the church in 2014 to look outside of its walls and extend the healing ministry of Christ to all people, in all places and at all times.
I'm not saying that the congregation you attend neglects these 14 things; some churches do some things well and others do not. The church is standing on the corner of the 21st century and the gospel. 2014 could be a pivotal year for many congregations around the world. I hope these serve as a guide for the next year to come.
Rev. Evan M. Dolive is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He is married to his high school sweetheart and has two children ages 3 and 1. He currently serves in Beaumont, Texas. He is the author of evandolive.com.