Why Church Leaders Can’t Afford to Wait and See

declining in-person attendance

The next season of ministry will require decisive leadership

“Embrace the change before the emergency forces the change.”

I wrote those words in my book, The Unstuck Church: Equipping Churches to Experience Sustained Health, back in 2017. I’m amazed at how much of the content applies to today’s context.

Even before the pandemic hit, I had hundreds of conversations with pastors about declining in-person attendance, fewer new people connecting to the church, a struggling online experience and more. Yes, the problems we’re experiencing now were problems long before the pandemic.  

That’s why it’s concerning to me when I hear pastors say that they’re still planning to “wait and see” if things return to normal, so they can go back to the systems and strategies they’re used to. 

First of all, I wonder what “normal” from the past pastors are waiting for? 

• The normal before the pandemic … that started almost two years ago? 

• The normal before the Internet and online didn’t compete with the building? 

• The normal when our culture was built around the influence of local churches and people were expected to be in church on Sunday morning?

Unfortunately, those normals aren’t going to return.

So … news flash: The new normal is already here. There is no “wait and see,” because we’re already in it.  And the systems and strategies that were barely working before certainly aren’t going to work today and in the future.

Rather than taking this passive “wait and see” approach, I believe there are three marks of true leadership in this next season:

Leaders Create Urgency

It’s already pretty difficult to drift into health, but it’s nearly impossible to drift back to health. And it’s easy to look at all of the unhealth in our church that’s been there for a long time and use the pandemic as a scapegoat to ignore it.

Rather than making excuses for the past or hoping to drift back to health in the future, the job of a leader in this season is to identify what hasn’t been working and to create urgency around the need to change. If we wait until it feels urgent, we might be too late.

Leaders Embrace Change

One of my key frustrations in this season has been pastors still waiting for their people to “come back.” I’ve said it before, but I’ll repeat it again: It’s 2021. If they haven’t come back yet, they aren’t coming back.

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And this perspective is holding us back from what God wants to do in this new season: refocus our vision on those outside the church. A church that doesn’t focus on reaching new people has already started to decline and will eventually die. Leaders in this season need to think and lead forward, refocusing on the question: what are we willing to do to reach people outside the church and outside the faith?

Leaders Bring Clarity

In his book Focus, author Al Reis writes, 

“The sun showers the earth with billions of kilowatt’s of energy every day. Because all that energy is diffused by the earth’s atmosphere, the worst thing that happens is that you get a little sunburn. On the other hand, a laser beam uses just a few kilowatts of energy. Because that energy is tightly focused in a single direction, it can cut through steel. That’s the power of focus.”

Many of the pastors I’ve been talking to lately are feeling like their current ministry strategies are only creating a little sunburn these days. I get it—the pandemic has caused a lot of scrambling and a lot of energy is given to reacting to the new issues that pop up every week and every day. But this dispersed energy is not going to create the new strategies and the new ministry approaches we all know we need, that will “cut through steel.”

So what if, instead of scattered, random activity, your entire team was aligned around the key (and new) ministry approaches that will help your church fuel your mission to reach new people and help all believers take their next steps in looking more like Jesus? What if, instead of waiting for new ministry strategies to emerge in the months and years ahead, you embraced this season to tightly focus your team on the ministry ahead? 

That is the heart behind the Unstuck Process. We aren’t here to tell you what to do, we’re here to help you determine where God is leading your church, what success looks like, and how you will accomplish your goals.

There is a world that needs to hear the Good News. We can’t afford to sit around, wait, and see. As leaders, we need to create urgency, embrace change, and bring our clarity and focus back to the mission God is calling us to.

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This article originally appeared on TheUnstuckGroup.com and is reposted here by permission.