I’m sure you’ve heard some recent conversations about the “death of retail” as we know it. Whether that statement is true or not, the reality is that the operational landscape for organizations is changing.
While there are certainly implications for what the shift in retail means for the future of the church, there is a deep-rooted approach to ministry (or business) that often keeps organizations from long-lasting effectiveness as shifts occur.
Here’s an example:
My local mall has been affected by some of these changes as they’ve seen four foundational retailers close their doors. What struck me most about this change was an article I recently saw from a local news outlet with this headline: “Mall Looks to New Stores as Macy’s and Sears Exit.”
Though that may seem like a pretty standard response by the mall, it signaled one issue to me that can be seen throughout churches and businesses alike that ultimately leads to stagnation:
As organizations move into the future, it’s easy to rely on what’s worked in the past. In the case of my local mall, it’s easy for them to simply find another retailer to fill the space that has been vacated, even though that business will probably experience the same difficulties the previous ones did.
Is there a chance it could work in the long run? Maybe. But are there some more forward-thinking ways to use the space? Probably.
Churches all across the country are experiencing this dilemma as well.
As culture shifts, most churches stand in opposition to change, strictly relying on approaches to ministry that worked in the past without being honest about what would be most effective today.
Let me explain this further by walking through three shifts you can make to avoid small-thinking in your ministry:
1) Build on the Past… But Don’t Live in It
We’ve often said that you cannot go forward looking back. A short drive to the grocery store is guaranteed to end in disaster if you only look in the rearview mirror as you drive! Nothing halts growth in the church more than living in the past.
However, it is always a sign of maturity and character to remember and honor those who have gone before us. So many of the things we enjoy in our churches today were built on the lives of those no longer with us or who are in their later years. But we must not allow ourselves to build “mental monuments” to the leaders and great seasons of the past.
Every aspect of our ministry needs constant evaluation. John Maxwell has said, “If you do only what you know and do it very, very well, chances are that you won’t fail. You’ll just stagnate, and that’s failure by erosion.”
As time goes on, the temptation for every organization is to rely on methods that were effective in the past. This is where you often hear the phrase “this is how we’ve always done it” presented as a legitimate argument to maintain the status quo. This mindset cripples our ability to effectively (and honestly) evaluate old and outdated ways of doing ministry.
Small-thinking churches continue to keep ineffective ministries around for fear of rocking the boat. However, these ministries drain resources, people and time which could be better spent on innovative ways to connect with our community.
2 – Dare to Dream Big… But Develop Your Plan Before You Start
I want to encourage you to attempt to do something so incredible in your community that it would be impossible without God’s help! Anything we do that has Kingdom impact requires great faith. (And it’s okay to be creative. After all, Creator is an attribute of our Father.)
Once the dream is articulated, it’s crucial to create a systematic strategy that moves your church one step at a time in that direction. The best plans are carried out in increments!
One of the most harmful philosophies in the church is taking “a leap of faith.” In addition to being harmful, it also isn’t biblical. The Bible teaches us to take steps of faith.
Taking steps of faith definitely doesn’t sound as dramatic as taking a leap of faith. However, all things built to last must have a firm foundation. It is always wise to develop a plan from foundation to completion BEFORE you roll it out to the public.
3 – Find a Need in Your Community… And Fix It
Our Director, Dale Sellers, recently shared this analogy with our team:
Small-thinking ministries often emulate bad fishermen. There is nothing worse in fishing than to spend an entire day on the water and not even catch one fish. I’ve been there more than I want to admit!
However, I have also been on the other side of some incredible fishing. It is not uncommon during the spring spawning run on one of our local rivers to catch a fish on almost every cast. The action is hard to describe!
Yet, on many occasions, I have been catching the limit while other fishermen standing next to me aren’t catching anything. The simple reason for this is that the bait I am using is what the fish in that river are biting and the other folks haven’t figured it out yet.
The small-thinking church is a lot like those fishermen who are not having success in a river full of fish. In other words, they have failed to understand the changing demographics of their communities and adjust to meeting their needs.
Jesus dealt with this issue head-on when he tried to help his disciples see the fields right in front of them that were ripe for harvest. But the disciples couldn’t see it because of prejudice. Small-thinking creates blinders that keep us from seeing the opportunities that are right in front of us.
Spend Your Energy Where it Counts
Change is hard. It’s true. It can sometimes feel impossible to keep up with everything. But truly, our effectiveness in reaching our communities for Jesus is at stake based on how we respond to these changes.
Don’t spend your energy fighting how our world is changing. And don’t waste time by ignoring the changes. Instead, work hard to learn how you can maximize these shifts in culture to better reach and engage people for Jesus.
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