Recently I talked with an Executive Pastor friend who shared the frustration his Senior Pastor had with the staff’s inability to focus on the future of the church. I find this is a chronic challenge in many churches as staff focus the majority of their time on planning for the near term and executing their day to day ministry responsibilities. This puts staff in a reactive rather than proactive mode to the ever changing church and cultural landscape.
How then can church staff get ahead of the curve and anticipate the future? Some people have a God given ability to look to the future and spot trends where others see a bunch of unconnected dots. But, I am convinced that everyone can, with a little intentionality, become more future focused. What is natural for some, must be nurtured in others.
Fostering A Focus On The Future Through Research and Reflection
A form of the traditional SWOT Analysis is a good place to begin to help staff focus on the future. Provide two starting points for staff to research and reflect upon:
- External Society Specific Challenges, Changes, and Circumstances – what is going on in the world that impacts the church? Such as, changes in demographics, politics, economic factors, values shifts, entertainment preferences, and the impact of new and forecast technology? What opportunities do they create for our church?
- Internal Church Specific Challenges, Changes, and Circumstances – what is going on within the “Big C Church,” the Church Universal? What is going on in the “Little c church,” within your church in particular? Such as, changing member and guest needs and expectations, new vendors, new trends, new staffing models, new ministries and programs, new attendance patterns, and new governance and denominational structures? How do we need to respond to these changes?
Simply creating the expectation that staff develop the habit of continually researching and reflecting on these two starting points for getting in touch with the world around them, will help foster foresight and a future focus.
Gather Information, Research Issues, And Design Experiences
No one person has a crystal ball and is an expert on all the forces and factors shaping and influencing the church of today and tomorrow. That’s why the pastor cannot be the only person focusing on the future. Two, four, ten, or more heads are better than one when it comes to anticipating the future church.
One key is getting your staff to continuously gather pertinent information, research relevant issues, and create experiences that enable understanding. Here’s a starter list of ways to approach these three catalytic forces:
- Read selected secular magazines and online news sources
- Read church trade publications
- Read future focused books
- Research church consulting organizations
- Attend future focused church conferences and workshops
- Research church vendors
- Interview new members
- Interview prospects
- Interview those who stopped attending your church
- Interview those who started attending another church
- Interview local business, government, health and education leaders about the forces impacting their industries
- Interview non-profit organizational leaders to understand the trends they see
- Schedule site visits to churches that are consistently future focused and innovative in their approaches
- Schedule conversations with church staff who lead cutting edge ministries
These initiatives have the potential to create awareness, insight, and conversations about what is going on in the world, the culture, the local church, and your church in particular. To prompt staff to reflect on the issues and implications uncovered through these activities, consider asking simple follow up questions:
- What is the most impactful thing you discovered?
- What might these discoveries mean for the Church Universal?
- What might these discoveries mean for our church? Our denomination?
- How might they affect our staffing, our budget, our facilities, our schedule, our programming?
- How might they impact your ministry?
- What do they mean for you, your job, and your career?
- What resources did you discover that were most insightful?
- What churches seem to be the most future focused?
- Who is the best resource you discovered for insights into the changing culture?
Schedule Future Focused Forums
A future focus will never be imbedded within a church staff until it becomes a regular feature of staff meetings. Even occasionally having staff report what they have learned from the above activities will put you ahead of most churches. But, if you really want to make a difference, begin putting future focused conversations on every staff meeting agenda. I can guarantee the results will be powerful and that innovation will become more the norm.
Beyond asking the above questions about the output from their future focused research, reflection, and experiences, set aside time at staff meetings to ask staff to complete thought provoking sentences, such as:
- I predict that the next big shift in church worship, discipleship, missions, etc., will be…….
- The most significant change I have seen in churches since I got out of seminary is…….
- Everything will change and be impacted by the arrival of………
- Our church will be dramatically impacted if…………
- Our church would be most positively impacted if we would…….
- History shows that the pendulum theory suggests that the next swing will be back toward……..
- To continue to prepare for the future I’m personally going to have to……..
These questions can be asked individually or collectively as a team, but either way will force staff to think more strategically about the future and what it means for the church and their careers.
Posted on April 23, 2019