2021 is an opportunity to make long overdue changes to the way we do church
The disruptions brought by 2020 have changed our culture forever. They’ve also changed the context in which every church does ministry. Many of the trends we’re seeing in 2020 are simply accelerated or intensified versions of trends we’ve been seeing for years, including decreasing weekend attendance caused by decreasing frequency of attendance.
I believe the church needs to make several significant switches if we want to experience a wave of real church growth—not simply growth in numbers, but growth in the kinds of disciples we consistently produce. We need to flip the switch from remaining defensive to harnessing discontent.
Many pastors have made this switch and had actually made it before COVID-19 arrived in early 2020. One of the key ideas from my latest book, Future Church, that consistently connects with pastors and church leaders is an articulation of the core problem we face in the church in North America. It’s this: The functional Great Commission of most churches in North America has become, “Go into all the world and make more worship attenders, baptizing them in the name of small groups, and teaching them to volunteer a few hours a month.” But that’s not the mission Jesus gave his life for.
Some pastors become slightly defensive when challenged with this idea. They say things like, “Lots of people love our small groups and have grown a lot.” Or, “Are you saying that you don’t think worship attendance is important?”
But the majority of the pastors I’ve shared this idea with don’t get defensive, because they know it’s true. They may not have been able to put those exact words to it, but they feel it every day. The paradigm for church we’ve embraced—that has arisen as a result of the last 40 years of church history in North America—is perfectly designed to produce the limited results we’re getting.
Our churches primarily produce worship attenders who attend a small group Bible study (well, maybe 50% of them) and who serve in one of the ministries of the church (and most of the serving opportunities focus on making the worship experience happen—worship, tech, greeters, ushers, preschool, kids, students).
I’m not saying that worship services or small groups or serving in the ministry of the church are bad things. I’m saying that unfortunately, the regularly scheduled programming in most churches does not automatically or consistently produce a growing number of whole-life-transformed, living-on-mission kinds of Jesus disciples. We don’t produce disciples primarily. We produce attenders.
As I mentioned above, most of the pastors I talk to about this don’t get defensive—they have made the switch from defensive to discontented. I don’t know of any pastor who felt called by God to just make worship attenders. Every single pastor feels called to make disciples of Jesus—to guide people to an ever-deepening experience of new life in Jesus that cannot be contained, but spreads to every corner of their lives, impacting everything they do.
Many pastors aren’t defensive anymore about a system and a paradigm that doesn’t consistently produce the results they were called into ministry to pursue. Instead, they are—some for the first time—expressing a discontent in the status quo and asking, “So what should we do?”
What you can build in the near future, even though it may start with fewer people, will actually be better—more effective for God’s kingdom—than what you had before.
Will Mancini is a church consultant and ministry entrepreneur. Learn more at futurechurch.co.