E2: Effective Elders Blog
Editor’s Note: Each Friday we publish a new blog post from our partners in ministry, E2: Effective Elders. We publish it here simultaneous to E2’s posting on their site. The leaders of E2 write an article for our print and online magazine every month as well. Those articles are full of wisdom and practical help for elders. Please check them out!
By Jim Estep
Putting it simply: Change is hard.
We try to change our diet, exercise more, adapt to new technology, change our routines . . . but it’s hard to take the risk of changing to something new, and much easier to fall back into old, familiar habits.
The same is true of churches. We often have the best of intentions; we set goals and talk about mission, but when it comes to living out our mission and achieving some ambitious goals, we’re often disappointed that yet another year passes and we are exactly where we were before. Sometimes we’re in a little worse state.
When a congregation embraces change, it is, in part, indicative of relative health in that body of believers. One way to energize a congregation to change is maintaining an outward ministry focus. When left to default, we typically become content and happy with status quo; “Those of us who are already in the church are happy, content!” This inward focus, seeking to minister to those who are already in the church, creates spiritual myopia—nearsightedness. We can only see those who are already here; we focus our ministry narrowly toward the interior of the church, never seeing the broader context of ministry outside the church.
An outward ministry focus makes us remove the walls of the congregation from our thinking and look beyond those already seated in the pews; we look out toward the community in which we meet. An outward ministry focus calls us to know those around the church, to know the needs of our community, to develop open doors of invitation to those nearest to us.
In conversation, I have had church leaders push back with, “We never turn anyone away!” and “The doors are always open, they know we are here on Sunday!” That may be true, but do our ministries address needs in the lives of lost people? Do the current ministries of the congregation really appeal to those who are not Christians already? An outward focus challenges us to change and adapt our ministries to engage those beyond the walls of our buildings.
Here are a few ideas to facilitate becoming (or remaining) an outwardly focused congregation:
1. How well do we know the community within two miles of our building? If there are hospitals, then there are hurting families. If there are schools, then children and adolescents are there. If the community has a homeless shelter, then there are people in need. Are there bars, strip clubs, or adult video stores? People are lost and looking to idols. What is our congregation doing to engage these people?
2. How well do we know the demographics of the community? If there are high numbers of young couples with children, then a children’s/family ministry is essential. If the community suffers a high rate of divorce, perhaps a support group is in order. If a large portion of the community has a college education, then we know at what level of instruction our Sunday morning teaching (classes and the sermon) needs to be. Once again, how well do we really know what’s happening beyond the walls of our congregation?
3. What ministries do we intentionallyhave for nonbelievers or nonmembers? I don’t mean existing programs that a person is welcome to attend; most nonbelievers would be lost in a Sunday school, small group, or even a worship service. What kind of ministries do we have that are intentionally designed to interact with nonbelievers in a casual, “get to know us,” “you’re welcome here” atmosphere?
Take the risk, step out in faith, look beyond the church’s walls, and make the changes to lead your flock to greener pastures and a healthier future.
Jim Estep serves as event director with E2: Effective Elders and as professor at large with Lincoln (Illinois) Christian University.
Click here for more blog posts from E2: Effective Elders. While there, please be sure to check out their excellent events and resources for elders.