What are the signs a congregation has more energy dedicated to hope than just survival?
Churches are simultaneously both fragile and resilient. They hang on by their fingernails, but those fingernails are surprisingly strong. Every Sunday seems to have the potential to be the last one. Yet the same church survives year after year, decade after decade. Struggling churches tend to maintain the constant tension between fragility and resiliency. It’s the perpetual state of not quite dying.
And it’s exhausting.
You have just enough momentum and life to get to the next Sunday. The culture of the church is one in which the members learn to survive but never thrive. Barely hanging on requires a ton of energy.
Any initial movement in the right direction will feel slow, but the progress is monumental when you consider how the church expends energy. Survival is a drain. Hope is an investment. The more you invest in hope, the greater it will build over time.
What happens when a church starts investing in hope? What are the signs a congregation has more energy dedicated to hope than survival?
The core gets stronger, and the mission becomes clearer. At this stage in the pandemic, most churches are smaller than they were two years ago. But the core people are stronger. Key leaders and volunteers who stuck with the church have a clear sense of mission.
Polity is a means, not an end. The governance of the church should never dictate how the church ministers. Rather, the ministry of the church should guide the governance. In a hopeful congregation, polity is not the driver but rather the mission of God.
Devotion is more prevalent than nostalgia. In a church merely surviving, the past is often the hero. In a church filled with hope, Jesus is the hero. When the mission of the present evokes more energy than the memories of the past, the church is turning toward hope.
Members care more about the community than their traditions. While traditions can be important markers in the life of a church, these markers should never supersede a love for the community. Hopeful churches love the community more deeply than their traditions.
The older generation is willing to give up preferences to reach the younger generation. When preferences are the priority, internal conflict will inevitably surface, especially between generations. The greater burden is with older, more mature people to give up their preferences to reach the next generation.
The younger generation is willing to listen and learn from the older generation. One of the great bridges of hope between generations is a willingness to learn, especially when the younger generation learns from the older generation.
Members value sacrifice more than comfort. Apathy is a contaminant polluting the mission of the church. Status quo churches are more like social clubs than kingdom outposts. The less a church cares about comfort, the more hopeful the church will be. A church willing to sacrifice is one that knows the reality of hope.
If God can save any person, then He can also save any church. Hope is both personal and corporate. It’s time for churches to be optimistic. The energy spent on survival can be transferred to hope. Stop draining your energy on survival and start investing in hope.
Sam Rainer serves as president of Church Answers and is a cofounder of Rainer Publishing. He is also lead pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church in Bradenton, Florida.