By Kent Fillinger
I love quotes and short sayings. A favorite of mine is, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there,” from Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger adapted it slightly as, “If you don’t know where you are going, every road will get you nowhere.” But the best mutation of the saying comes from baseball icon (and celebrated linguist) Yogi Berra: “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”
Regardless of which version you prefer, here’s the point: It’s important to know where you want to go in life and in your church. Since this month’s issue focuses on gearing up for a new season of ministry, I thought it would be helpful to share research related to mission or purpose, strategic planning, and future-casting. Our annual church survey included three first-time questions that touched on each of these points. Each question was in the form of a statement asking the churches to select one of seven possible choices.
1. “I would characterize my church’s mission/purpose as . . .”
The spectrum of options to choose from ranged from “very focused” to “very broad.”
In general, the responses showed that the larger the church, the more it focused on its mission or purpose. The largest percentage of megachurches (average weekly worship attendance of 2,000 or more), emerging megachurches (1,000 to 1,999 weekly), large churches (500 to 999), and medium churches (250 to 499) reported that their mission/purpose was “focused.” But the largest percentage of small (100 to 249) and very small churches (99 or fewer) said their mission/purpose was “somewhat focused.”
You might be wondering what difference it makes for a church’s mission/purpose to be “very” focused” compared with “focused.” Based on some limited research, the more focused the mission/purpose, the better the church’s growth rates and baptism ratios. For example, megachurches with a “very focused” mission/purpose grew 8 percent last year and had a baptism ratio of 8.7 baptisms per 100 people in average attendance. Megachurches with a “focused” mission/purpose grew only 4.9 percent and had a baptism ratio of 6.4.
This same trend was also evident among emerging megachurches. The churches with a “very focused” mission/purpose grew 8.5 percent and had a baptism ratio of 7.4, whereas those that reported their mission/purpose as “focused” grew at 4 percent and had a baptism ratio of 5.5. The emerging megachurches that had a “somewhat focused” mission/purpose grew only 2.6 percent last year.
2. “Our church has a strategic plan that guides our actions and decisions.”
Response options ranged from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.”
Once again, the larger the church, the more likely they were to have a strategic plan and use it. For example, more than half of megachurches reported they “strongly agreed,” while only 6 percent of very small churches “strongly agreed” to having and using a strategic plan. No megachurch was operating without a strategic plan, and only 5 percent of emerging megachurches were without one.
On the other end of the spectrum, 24 percent of small churches reported not having a strategic plan to guide their ministry decisions and almost half of the very small churches (48 percent) had no discernable plan.
Once again, a clear connection existed between having and using a strategic plan and having better growth rates and baptism ratios. For example, megachurches that “strongly agreed” to having a strategic plan had the best baptism ratios—8.1 baptisms per 100 people in attendance. Megachurches that “agreed” to having a strategic plan had a baptism ratio of 6.2, and the megachurches that only “somewhat agreed” to having a strategic plan had a baptism ratio of 4.8.
The emerging megachurches that “strongly agreed” to having a strategic plan grew 9 percent last year, while the emerging megachurches that “agreed” to having a strategic plan grew only 2.3 percent, and those that “somewhat agreed” declined slightly in attendance.
3. “Our church is thinking about the next chapter of our overall story and how that will change the way we do ministry.”
I’m sure all will agree that we live in rapidly changing times. But this serves as a reminder we always need to try to identify changing trends, look farther down the road, and try to prepare for what’s coming next. We need to always be thinking about and planning for what our “second act” will look like.
I was encouraged by the number of churches that are thinking about their next chapter. Most of the churches, regardless of size, said they either “strongly agreed” or “agreed” that they are considering what’s next.
Many of you have probably seen some variation of Everett Rogers’s classic Bell curve model of Diffusion of Innovations. Rogers identified five distinct phases of how people respond to change: from innovators to early adopters to middle adopters to late adopters, and finally, to the laggards.
In a January-February 2018 Harvard Business Review article “Finding Your Company’s Second Act,” Larry Downes and Paul Nunes said that Rogers’s five distinct market segments have now been reduced to two: trial users (who help develop the product) and everybody else. They said the Bell curve now looks more like a shark fin.
This means church leaders need to put an end to some apparently fruitful ministries or church events before they completely run out of steam. Too many churches today are like Blockbuster video stores trying to rent people old VHS tapes when the rest of your community has already moved on to Netflix.
We can never forget that “methods are many, principles are few; methods should always change, but principles never do.” Sadly, many churches tend to confuse ministry methods with biblical principles. As a result, they get stuck in the past and are unable to change the methods needed to effectively move forward to minister to people in today’s culture.
As you prepare for another season of ministry, I encourage you to do three things:
- Evaluate your existing ministries and programs by asking these three questions:
- Does this ministry fulfill our mission? (And if you don’t have a focused or defined mission/purpose, then back up and figure that out first.)
- Would we start this ministry right now if it didn’t currently exist?
- Is this ministry sufficiently resourced?
- Examine what other churches in your area are doing that are working for them. What can you learn from them?
- Experiment and try to start a new ministry or event that helps you further the mission of your church.
Kent E. Fillinger serves as president of 3:STRANDS Consulting and director of partnerships with CMF International, Indianapolis, Indiana.