Times are difficult. Churches are reducing staff and trying to figure out what to do to avoid collapse. Fear is building and pessimism is the flavor of the month. Still, when I look at the horizon I see great things. Then again, I have never been one to despair. Sure, I have had troubles. I have made bad decisions. Yet, the mistakes that have been most detrimental are not mistakes that I have overtly made. Without exception, all of my greatest mistakes occurred when I moved too slowly in a given situation. In other words, they were mistakes of inaction.
If one had the tools, one could capitalize on the times for future prosperity. If I had $200,000 burning a hole in my pocket, I tell you what I would do. I would put a down payment on ten new homes, buying them as rentals and sit on that investment until the market turned around, making the most of market opportunity. However, most of us do not have $200,000 burning a hole in our pockets. We do have skill sets however, and to sit idly by—in this market—and do nothing to invest in the church is a grave error. Why, because you have the tools and the market is right.
There is no question that the game has changed for your people. The attention that was so readily given to your church is now given to worries, opportunities for income, longer hours and just making ends meet. In a perfect world—you know as well as I—our people would not forget their first love for their troubles. The reality however, is that they do. I want to share with you three priorities for your church that I think need to be considered immediately so that you do not make the mistake of inaction; strategies for driving growth, priorities for managing talent, and ideas for improving relationships.
Our best churches will do far more than just survive this difficult time, they will flourish. Your people are hurting and questioning everything from their financial stability to their faith. The question is, will you respond in a way that increases their confidence, or drive them away by your inaction?
Strategies for driving growth:
Our best pastors will recognize the unique opportunity that the financial crisis affords. Many have served in fear of initiating change for worry of backlash. Now is the time! Our people—more than ever—may be ready for change. Our boards, committees, ministries, strategy groups, whatever one calls them these days, see the crisis and desire for something to be done about it. This is where you, pastor, can seek the face of God and find out how you can bring the change that He wants to your ministry. The fields are ripe for change. Be a catalyst. Spark new ideas as you convey what Father is placing in your heart. A bunker mentality may serve to get you through, but not to prosper. There are souls to be won and the need for effective change is an urgent one.
Priorities for managing talent:
Remember the days of soccer practice (fill in your sport). You would drop off your kids, catch up on some shopping or whatever small tasks you needed to do, and then pick the smelly kid up and take him home.
Two questions. Why didn’t you stay for the practice? And, what factor enabled you to leave? The first answer is “because you didn’t have to stay.” The second answer is “responsible adults were there to watch and train you kid.” Now, I want you to think of the one person who was not the coach, yet was always there. Who was she and why did she never miss a practice or a game? She was the Team Mom, and she was there because she was given the “responsibility” to be there. Bingo!
In this difficult time, you cannot afford to do it all yourself. Your people love you and will live to your expectations of them. “Ask and you shall receive.” There is great talent out there, ready to help your church prosper, but they are out “doing those little tasks.” I bet, if you empower them with kindness and reward their efforts with recognition, you will have a team mom that shows up to all practices, all games, and makes the team better by far. You can only truly manage a few tasks well. Empowering others and building leaders offers a replicable process that creates speed and flexibility in the church. If you do it well, you will get things done.
My final thoughts are ideas for improving relationships.
Define the crisis. Not the global crisis, not the church crisis, but the individual’s crisis. You are the pastor and your people need you. When was the last time you sat with your members, or (as stated above if you have a large church) empowered leaders to sit with your people, and respond to their crisis. Hear this! Your people will return to the fountain that provides water when they are thirsty. In the past, we would lose people to other churches. In a sense, while that was unfortunate, at least they were not leaving “church.” In these times we are losing people all-together. They are leaving the church because they are finding nothing there to help their crisis. I am not going to give you ideas on how to remedy that, that solution is as individual as your people, your geography and your church. But I will tell you one thing, if I was losing members because they are losing jobs, I would surely be irresponsible if I did not build relationships by having a job fair, or retraining ministry.
Yes it’s work. But hard work will prove for some to be the difference between a new future and closing the doors.