7 Steps to Reshape Your Church's Future


August 19, 2019

To reshape the future of your church you must set aside old assumptions, fears, and stereotypes and embrace new experiences and methods. In the new book Blank Slate, Lia McIntosh, Jasmine Smothers, and Rodney Smothers explore generational transition, design thinking, and successful private sector organizations to discern a new direction for the church. They name seven mindsets essential to create your own “blank slate” and embrace a new future.

People need more than the Sunday morning hour to experience life transformation. Each day thousands of people in the communities we serve need help with housing, transportation, food, education, health care and more. Unfortunately, the church often turns the majority of these people away offering little or no help.

Yet, imagine the very identity of the church once again becoming a place of empathy that connects people to resources while meeting immediate physical and deep spiritual needs. Imagine the church as a place where people find belonging and empowerment. This exciting future requires that we embrace seven essential mindsets.

Foundational to a mindset of imagination, envisioning  and hopefulness is faith. Not a generic faith that lives afar and avoids messiness, but an active faith that’s activated in the context of particular communities amidst their hopes and struggles with God.

1. See differently.
What would we see if we stepped outside of our comfort zones? What would we see if we sacrificed our own wants for the desires of God in our lives, hearts, churches and communities? What space might we make for others if we see what God sees? Take some time to pray and to look around and see what you’re missing. Ask God to give you a fresh perspective on situations in your life. Ask God to show you things the way that God sees them.

2. Let go of the outcome and be willing to fail.
Nelson Mandela is quoted as saying, “I never lose. I either win or I learn.” Failure is an incredibly powerful tool for learning if we choose to embrace it. As we seek to solve big problems, we’re bound to fail. But if we adopt the right mindset, we’ll inevitably learn something from that failure and have a better chance for success next time. We don’t need to micromanage one another or the universe. We let go of the outcome. And we open ourselves to all sorts of wonderful possibilities that aren’t there when we’re attached to one “right” path.

3. Decide that innovation is mission-critical.
John Wesley preached in open fields, taught holistic healing methods and cared for the poor. He was committed to trying cutting-edge methods for the mission of holistic salvation without regard for the status quo. Where are you afraid to break new ground? Who can experiment with you? When will you begin?

4. Practice storytelling and naming.
Everyone’s story deserves to be told, especially those who have been systemically silenced, sidelined and stereotyped. As the church leads more people to tell their stories, witness is made to the nexus, instead of separation of race, class, education, mental and physical ability, and religious identity. Through storytelling the naming of good and bad, justice and injustice, joy and pain, love and heartache are identified instead of ignored. As a result, the transformation of both individuals and society becomes possible and the mission of the church is lived out.

5. Be relentless in empathy and belonging.
The church is called to meet the physical, mental and spiritual needs of people in our neighborhoods and within the context of community. This type of engagement is a form of evangelism. It’s a connectional, social, boundary-crossing evangelism, and it begins outside the church. This is the deeper, messier work of evangelism that is required to transform our communities. This liberating work can be done in partnership with a variety of organizations and agencies, but authentic spiritual liberation is the primary responsibility of the church of Jesus Christ. It starts in the street, engages with local leaders in law enforcement, local government, and school districts, and includes local congregations. And the foundation for this work is empathy demonstrated by presence in the midst of everyday life with one another. Who is God calling you toward in empathy?

6. Practice the work of empowerment.
A way of demonstrating empathy is empowerment. Empowerment is not granted from an external source. It emerges from within as persons and communities acknowledge and appreciate the gifts and responsibilities that come from our collective physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual depths. The church is called to be a place of empathy, empowerment, and belonging for people in our neighborhoods. We must lead the way in the practices of welcoming hospitality, radical inclusion, and bold justice. Whom are you being called to empower and with whom are you being called to create spaces of belonging? What’s stopping you? What’s the easiest step you can take today towards this person(s)?

7. Imagine, hope and act.
If you could create anything for your future in the next year, what would you like to create for your life, your church or community? This question sets the foundation for taking on a big challenge, especially one as large and complex as the social ills of poverty, education, health and spiritual healing. It’s a mindset of hopefulness and confidence about desired outcomes. It is the belief in possibility, the idea that even if we don’t know the answer, it’s out there and collectively we can find it.

Foundational to a mindset of imagination, envisioning, and hopefulness is faith. Not a generic faith that lives afar and avoids messiness, but an active faith that’s activated in the context of particular communities amidst their hopes and struggles with God. It is a faith in community, working in partnership with one another and God. In this place trust is built and the gift of partnership can be realized.

This was an excerpt from Blank Slate: Write Your Own Rules for a 22nd-Century Church Movement (Abingdon Press, 2019) that first appeared in Leading Ideas (www.churchleadership.com/category/leading-ideas). Blank Slate is available at Cokesbury 
and Amazon.