Church Revitalization Podcast – Episode 54

Too many churches have responded to what 2020 has thrown at them with paralyzation. Deer in headlights come to mind. In the line of sight of a threat, no action. It’s certain death! Those headlights are masking a four-ton truck closing in at 60 miles per hour (96 KPH for our metric-minded friends). We understand the inaction though. You’re asking, “How long will this season go on?” “If it’s short, we’ll just hold our breath, and then get going again when it passes.” You’re hoping that truck will turn down a side road instead of crushing you.

I have news for you. You’re standing in the road. It’s a dangerous place to be.

Will people come back?
Will giving stay up, go up, go down?
Is this mask thing forever?
Do new people want to visit churches?
What does staffing and staff roles look like moving forward?
How do we do children’s and student ministries differently and sustainably?

These are the questions I hear almost every day. So, how can we make a plan when there are so many unknown variables? Continue reading below for three things that work regardless of what the world is throwing at you.

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Start with what we do know.

Your mission hasn’t changed. It’s to make and mature disciples. The Great Commission should be a no-brainer, but when I’m talking to churches, I can tell from the questions they ask that most of them have gotten side-lined on the tangential stuff and forgotten the core mandate. 

The fundamental question is, “Can we make disciples in the middle of this 2020 mess?”

If your knee-jerk reaction to that question is “No,” then we have fundamental problems. If you’re inclined to say, “Yeah!” then we are on solid footing. The question then pivots to how not if. The how is a solvable question, and one that your church probably needed to be re-examining anyway. 

Consider this a gift!

But if your church feels like it’s just too hard to make disciples in a pandemic, and we should just keep the lights on until normal comes back, I have bad news. Your church probably won’t survive this. And frankly, it shouldn’t. God is on the hunt for churches that want to make and mature disciples, regardless of the adversity.

You need a framework.

Every church is unique, but the fundamentals of church health are universal. At The Malphurs Group, we use the Strategic Envisioning Framework. The framework maximizes your impact by shoring-up your church around the five fundamentals of church health.

  • What is our mandate? There’s that mission again. If we aren’t intentionally and urgently about the Great Commission, we will fail as a church. It’s like a burger place that gets distracted by its tacos and forgets to focus on making good burgers.
  • What motivates us? If we are supposed to make disciples but don’t know what the ingredients to discipleship are, we will miss the mark. Your core values determine the kind of disciples your church will make. If you look around your church and see a bunch of immature Christians, chances are, you’ve unintentionally programmed destructive values into the cultural and ministry DNA.
  • How will we structure ministry? COVID killed or paused a lot of programs for a lot of churches. Which ones should come back? Which ones should stay dead? How do you know the difference? Developing a clear discipleship pathway with clear discipleship outcomes empowers your church to re-structure, re-organize, and re-invent ministries for our new time.
  • Where are we going? Many churches are struggling right now merely because they don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Churches are feeling depressed. Your church cannot thrive in 2021 without a compelling mental image of the future and the bridge you’ll need to build to get there. That’s the power of vision.
  • What will we do this year? This simple question is either asked too early or not at all. If you ask the strategy question without fully answering the previous four questions, you’ll end up wasting time on projects that don’t matter. But if you invest time and energy in the first four questions, but never ask this one, you’ll never actually change. Strategy objectives are where the rubber meets the road. If you can narrow your focus to 3-5 projects, you’ll get them done.

You need to work the framework.

The biggest mistake churches make is assuming that they have all five church health fundamentals in good order. They’re usually not. Not really. They maybe have one or two—a good mission statement, or a good set of core values. Or perhaps they have a discipleship pathway.

But the execution is off.

A few weeks ago, I was working with a church that had a three-step discipleship pathway. Mentally, I was like, “Good. Ok, great. That’s a huge head start.”

But then we started going into the weeds on what they actually do—what the ministry actually looks like – it was a mess.

They had a pathway on paper, but the execution was sloppy and extraneous programs had crowded it out. Then COVID hit, and instead of simplifying, they stratified even more. Now they were stuck not only trying to resurrect the ministries COVID had shut down, but they were trying to manage all of the COVID-friendly ministries they had started to keep things afloat.

I was exhausted, just listening to it.

The church had the concepts right, but they weren’t working the framework.

We know that Mission, Values, Discipleship Pathway, Vision, and Strategy aren’t rocket science. We know you know what these things are.

But how clear is your church, actually, on all five right now? Just give yourself a little self-grade on each one.

When churches aren’t reaching their full potential, 100% of the time, they’re deficient in at least one of these five areas.

So how can you plan for 2021?

You need to work the framework in light of the new variables.

Bonus hack: always start assessing your health at step one.

When churches are struggling, the natural tendency is to want to start at step five and move backward. They begin with strategy, then if they get stuck there, they decide to work on vision, and if they are struggling there, they may go back to questions about disciple-making processes, etc.

This is a mistake. There’s a natural progression from mission to core values to discipleship pathway to vision to strategy. Always in that order.

So as you’re looking at 2021 and feeling uneasy about the future, start back at mission. Make sure it’s clear and that your church has missional integrity. Then look at your values—is there anything hidden in there that’s holding you back from healthy and actionable biblical values. Then look at how you’re structuring ministry. Are there gaps? Are you overprogrammed? Are you under-programmed in a particular area? Are you unclear about how ministries are communicated? If not, then ask if you are driving towards any specific vision, and is that a compelling dream or just random goals? Then ask the strategy question. 

The strategy question answers itself by the time you’ve genuinely answered the previous four questions.

Going through the progression this way ensures that you aren’t just focusing on good strategies, you’re focusing on the right good strategies. The difference isn’t inconsequential. 

We’d love to help your church create a great ministry plan. We have options with more hands-on help from one of our Guides, or a more self-led option through our Church Revitalization University. Don’t stand in the road any longer. Move!


Scott Ball is the Director of Services and a Lead Guide with TMG. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott)