Research shows that a major concern for 1 in 3 pastors in the U.S. is stagnating spiritual growth. For 51% of pastors, a major concern is also reaching a younger audience. It is clear that what worked well for churches in the 20th Century is not having the same transformative impacts in the 21st Century. This reality compels us to take action as we seek to meet the changing needs of our communities.
If we want anything to change within our congregations, it means we need to do things differently than we’ve done before. But how? What exactly are we supposed to change: worship services, music styles, bulletins, the carpet color, or something else entirely?
What if we could learn how to connect more deeply with God, each other, and our neighbors, and how to ask different questions about who we are and what God wants us to be in this season of our congregation’s life? What if we could learn how to identify ways God is already present and active in our communities so we can join God’s work?
With the constant demands of ministry, it can be incredibly challenging to stay on top of how to best meet changing needs in the 21st century.
Over the past few years, members of the Innovation Department at Luther Seminary have been doing this groundwork for you and want to share with you how ancient spiritual practices and leading-edge innovation theory can help your congregation discover ways to join God in forming Christian faith in community.
Haven’t started engaging in faithful innovation with your congregation yet? Even better! Thinking about these approaches before your congregation engages in faithful innovation puts you in a great position to hear what God is inviting your congregation to be part of.
Here are five practices that we believe will guide you and your congregation to faithfully discover what God is inviting you to be a part of in your community to better respond to the changing needs in the 21st century.
1. Listen to what God is already doing in your community
Listening is foundational for starting to discern what God is already up to and inviting you and your congregation to be a part of.
One way to encourage your congregation to participate in faithful innovation is by inviting them to listen to your neighborhood. What is your neighborhood, you ask? When we say “neighborhood,” we mean the places that you frequent regularly, including:
- Where you work
- Where you live
- Where you worship
- Where you play
As you and your congregation walk and drive in your neighborhood and workspaces, make note of how you see God in these spaces. Encourage folks to take photos of “God sightings” when appropriate so that you can share them with each other when you come back together.
2. Try something new that you think God is inviting your congregation to do
After listening to your neighbors, we encourage you to ask yourself, “How do you teach people to try something new as a way of moving forward instead of meeting to death about it?”
One way we answer this question is by engaging in experiments, which when we approach them as learning opportunities are a success regardless of whether the intended outcome is achieved or not.
In an ideal world, congregations will connect their listening work to experimenting with something new. For example, after walking the neighborhood your congregation might say, “We saw this; now we’re wondering what God might be doing. What could we do to learn more about what God could be doing? We could do this for a month and see how it goes.” Then trying the new thing and seeing how it goes.
3. Share with others what you learned
Once your congregation has tried something new, it is important to reflect on what was learned. Through these reflections you will uncover what your next actions might be, discerning what God is inviting you to be part of.
Without this practice of reflection getting into the bones and rhythms of a congregation’s life, listening to your neighbors and trying out new ways of doing things will be little more than a moment of trying something before moving on to something else.
As you continue to engage in trying new and different things and reflect on what you are learning, you will begin to see transformation unfold in your congregation. This ongoing cycle of action-reflection learning allows you to act your way into new ways of thinking.
4. Get a coach to help hold your congregation accountable
Another practice that can energize your congregation to participate in faithful innovation is engaging the support of a coach. A coach listens to the desires and possibilities of the group, helps them to name resources and possible ways forward, and then holds the group accountable for their named actions. Coaching brings together relationship, purpose, and intentional integration—moving from just knowing things (resources, possibilities, challenges) to actively trying new ways of doing things.
Engaging the assistance of a coach can be monumental in helping your congregation not simply try one new thing here or there, but to intentionally process where they are now, what they sense God inviting them to do and then holding them accountable to taking action and moving forward while learning along the way.
5. Learn from other congregations also engaging in faithful innovation
The fifth practice to encourage your congregation to participate in faithful innovation is to learn from other congregations which are also pursuing faithful innovation. When we have opportunities to share with others what we’re learning in our context as well as hear what they are learning in their context, it increases the learning that takes place for all congregations involved.
Pastors and congregations often feel isolated in their work. Finding a community to do this work together with will provide depth, longevity, space, structure, and support to innovate faithfully in today’s world.
The Holy Spirit’s Call
God is up to something new. We believe the Holy Spirit is moving ahead of the Church, calling the Church into a new future in a time of disruptive social and cultural change. This presents some new leadership challenges for the local church. Luther Seminary and many synods are recognizing that even pastors who are really good at leading in the local church are facing challenges which they don’t know how to address.
We encourage you to engage ancient spiritual practices and cutting-edge innovation theory as you discover ways to join God in cultivating Christian faith in community. Rather than work harder at old ministry patterns that are breaking down, we want to identify and embody together faithful ways to lead the Church more deeply into God’s life and love for the world.
Photo by Stokpic
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