Last Year’s Church Won’t Get You to Next Year’s Church

Pastor Jamie knew he hit it out of the park when they created a state-of-the-art approach to reaching huge numbers of 20-somethings (insert your success effort). Virtually no other christian mysticism in the state-or maybe the country for that matter-had been able to do what Woodbridge Church had done. It was an off-the-charts success. Question: Why is it that while in the planning for this year’s and next year’s approach to the same target market Jamie is talking about doing it differently?

As a kid growing up, I remember that when my family would go on vacation in the ’60s and ’70s, we would always go to church in whatever town we found ourselves. My wife’s family didn’t. You can only imagine the therapy we’ve had to endure to get her to see it my way. For the record, I lost.

When my family showed up in our denomination’s church in some far away town in any of those years, I could predict what would happen. All churches had the same general lineup: opening exercises at 9:45, Sunday School at 10:00, and worship service (we called it “church service” then) at 11:00, out by noon. That remained true from about 1960 to 1980, and for some churches up to 1990. But then the world changed. Al Gore invented the Internet in the early ’90s and the world was never to be the same again.

The speed with which things changed in the ’90s and ’00s was exponential compared to the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Now in this decade you have things happen like people purchasing an iPhone 4 and hurrying to get the package open and phone charged before the iPhone 4S arrives. What will the ’20s hold?

In much of George Barna’s research he packages generations in 18-year blocks. Back in 2001, I spoke with a Master’s Commission director who told me then current reports indicated that generational change in thinking changed every five years. Imagine that. Translate that to 2013 and beyond.

What got you here won’t get you there! Face it, Pastor Jamie knew it and you will be well advised to get it quickly. The great success you have had in the past, even the recent past, is not going to get you very far in the future. The world is changing that fast. Much that you learned about church from your childhood, Bible school or seminary training and experiences in ministry to this point is as outdated as Grandma’s rocking chair and a John McCain campaign button.

Before you go ballistic on me please note I am not referencing any doctrinal issues in this discussion. You believe what you believe and must hold true to those foundational beliefs. However, the method you use to communicate those beliefs must now go under serious revision year after year, month after month. It’s got to happen!

Here are some considerations as you move forward in understanding that last year’s church won’t get you to next year’s church.

1. Pray – Before you jump into the next effort to reach spiritually lost people you must pray. Well, you don’t have to pray. But if you don’t, all bets are off on your efforts for the future. The effective prayers of righteous men and women work. Pray.

2. Be Grateful – Never should a leader take for granted the good things God has done in creating success in any endeavor, either personally or in the church. Always take time to be thankful and express that thanks to God.

3. Celebrate – Sometimes senior leaders of larger, growing churches overlook this one. Always celebrate that which God has done. Never overlook the hard work done by paid staff and volunteers in accomplishing the mission of the church. While you may likely change what you celebrate, you must celebrate first. Doing so sets the stage for greater ministry success in the future.

4. Look Ahead – You live in today. You can see history 20/20. You do not have a crystal ball. However, you must look ahead. You must think short- and long-term. The worker bees on your team will carry the day-today-for you. But you need to be constantly thinking and looking ahead. Even though smart, spiritually discerning pastors can’t see or predict the future, they can look ahead and think to that end.

5. Think – This should be a no-brainer-no pun intended! Think. God gave you an amazing mind. Use it. I do not mean just sit at your desk and think through a few items relative to how you got here and how you’ll get there. I mean block off a serious chunk of time-hours to do nothing but think. It is hard work. It is not planning time. It is thinking time. When you do, it will be amazing what God might put in your mind.

6. Coach – It is imperative that you take time to bring people with you. Just as an athletic coach sees a vision that has to be translated into a present reality in order for the athletes to perform to the future he sees, so is it with a lead pastor. Be smart and coach your key stakeholders. Along the way you can set yourself up for future change and future success by talking about change in the present as an ever-present reality for the future. In other words, coach to this year’s success while communicating that next year we’ll probably do it differently.

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