July 31, 2014

By Brian Hammons

It’s summertime! Annual conference is over, the fall activities haven’t started yet (including charge conferences), and some folks are still on vacation. While the pace is maybe a bit slower around most congregations, it’s a good time to reflect and consider some things we’ve learned and make plans for the months ahead. 
    
You might remember that Annual Conference focused upon “passionate worship”. What a great experience we shared there! As we apply the things we learned and offer deeper worship experiences, I’d like to suggest that leaders also consider 3 more areas to focus upon. Actually, these are just my observations (shared in the conference laity address) of things that leaders who are effective in growing congregations seem to be doing. Because as I look around our conference, it seems that growing congregations are focusing on doing a few things really well. 
    
Of course, growing congregations are very good at the Five Practices. But it seems like they’re also focusing on 3 areas in particular. I’d like to review those briefly in the hope that they’ll lead to some rich discussion among laity and pastors. And maybe some new ideas. 

#1 Clarify the Process

Does your congregation have a simple, clear process for making disciples of Jesus Christ? Especially to connect new people with next steps in the process? Do you have a solid understanding of what a disciple is and does – the result you’re seeking to achieve? It may seem elementary, but we find that a clear process of making disciples is one of the great needs of many congregations – as shown by the HCI prescriptions. And it seems that congregations that are really growing, vital, fruitful in making disciples do have a clear and intentional process. 
    
Passionate Worship is an essential part, along with other steps in the process that help people grow in their faith and reach out to serve. A couple of great resources with ideas are Andy Stanley’s book Deep & Wide and Rainer & Geiger’s Simple Church. The Core Practices Team is working to help congregations with ideas and successful models, plus we’re planning to emphasize Discipleship Process at next year’s annual conference. So there will be much more to come in this important area. In the meantime, Laity, be sure to talk with your pastor about how you might be even more clear with your discipleship process.

#2 Develop Leaders

It seems that pastors of growing congregations today focus upon developing leaders in several ways – helping people discover and understand their particular gifts for ministry; holding retreats focused upon leadership ideas; praying and planning together; taking them to Leadership Summit and other workshops; encouraging them to take learning / training courses; even having an LLD course just for leaders in the one church. The updated, simpler programs for laity training (combining LLD, Lay Servant Ministries, and Lay Speaking) may also be helpful here. 
    
There’s not a formula that fits all congregations. The important point is that growing congregations do focus upon developing leaders for ministry – spiritually engaged leaders, particularly among laity and staff. If you’re not sure what to do, just pick a laity training opportunity (especially the basic course) and talk with your pastor about what you learn and how it can help your congregation.
    

#3 Preach & Teach Grace and Truth

Growing congregations seem to do this well. We all know that “Practical Teaching” is important. It seems that there is a great need in our world today for practical, moral guidance. To receive God’s grace, love, and hope, learning to pass it on to others. And to consider how God’s Word in Jesus speaks to issues in our daily lives in a way that may be different from what society says. To better understand God’s truth –  which can be a little uncomfortable at times. Often, we’re pretty good with Grace (of course, we can continue to get better in a lot of ways). 
    
But our culture cries out today for Truth – Scriptural truth that’s conveyed through Jesus’ life and teaching. Timeless truth from the inspired, revealed Word of God. 
    
While our society is changing and pushing back boundaries of what’s acceptable, it seems to me that as Christ’s body here on earth it’s up to US to preach, teach, and live the truth. All of us – pastors and laity leaders. Not being swayed by shifting winds of cultural pleasures. Or distracted by practices that our society seems to condone. I’m not talking about harsh judgment, but about Scriptural truth as understood through the Spirit’s working, including our tradition, experience, and reason. And our United Methodist doctrine. Truth that the church is uniquely equipped to provide. We need that from our pulpits and in our classes.
    
I know that many are doing that, including our largest, fastest-growing congregations. Their leaders are not afraid to speak Truth about issues in our society today, even as they do it in love and with much grace. And I’m thankful for them. That’s simply leadership that can make a difference in people’s lives and in our world. That’s simply the Good News of Jesus Christ – the Way, the Truth, the Life.
    
So these are three observations, three areas where it seems that growing congregations are doing well, that I’m humbly passing along. In preparing for church activities in the coming year, I hope leaders will consider them. Pastors AND spiritually-engaged laity leaders working together.

Thanks again for your passion for the church and God’s mission – and for your leadership!