You’ve noticed, haven’t you?
Leading a local church is more complex than ever.
It’s still the most rewarding and greatest purpose I can imagine, but the challenges are not for the faint of heart.
One of the reasons that local church residencies and internships are on the rise is because ministry students graduating from college are smart. They are observing churches and realize that while their academic education is extremely valuable and necessary, leading in a church is nothing like listening to a lecture. They know ministry is complicated and they need an environment to practice their leadership.
Let’s take one extreme complexity. Decision-making can be crazy-making. Even if you and your team can make decisions at lightening-speed (which is not the norm in a church) circumstances change faster than you can implement the decision.
Changing circumstances require new decisions, but that can appear like you keep changing your mind. And that has its own impact on those you lead. If you choose, however, not to keep up with the needed changes, you are in even greater trouble.
With the right team and the proper perspective, all of this is energizing and even fun. (With the occasional tough day or a rough season here and there.)
I love a challenge, and you probably do too, but it’s important to be focused on the right things so that the rapidly changing tyranny of the urgent doesn’t steal your time and effectiveness.
The better you have a grasp on the reasons leadership is becoming more complex, the better you can prioritize and address each one in a way that is relevant to your church.
5 reasons leading in a local church is more complicated:
1) Culture is unpredictable.
Political division, racial tension, financial pressure (such as rising costs of healthcare), and theological debates, etc., bring massive change and complexity to local church ministry.
Everyone who attends your church is impacted in some way by these things. In the midst of all this, we are responsible for communicating the gospel in a way that connects and meets people where they are regardless of the challenges.
Added to these realities is a rising number of issues ranging from #MeToo to globalization that require church leaders to stay current to remain relevant.
All these things add an element of instability that keeps most everyone on edge, and the purpose of the church gets challenged. In many cases, rather than the pursuit of God, the church becomes a target for the pursuit of agenda.
It’s easy to get drawn into issues and problems that are real and important but were never intended to be the purpose of the church.
No matter what pressures we face, the purpose of the church must remain the same—to communicate the saving grace of Jesus.
This requires amazing focus, courage and dedication.
2) Staffing norms have changed.
Building staff teams have been impacted by the rise of the megachurch and the success of the multisite movement.
The idea of organizational advancement is not new to the corporate arena, but it’s relatively new to the church. Even just 25-30 years ago, if you accepted a position in a church, that was your position. There just weren’t many if any other options in that church.
There were a few emerging megachurches, 2,000-5,000 in attendance. Now, churches of 5,000–10,000 are common. That in connection with the multisite landscape it’s becoming commonplace for staff to move “up” in their church’s organization or move to another campus for a new challenge, or both.
This means that in a smaller church a staff member may leave because there are no new options, and in a large church staff can quickly get antsy for change within the organization. If that’s not available, they may leave in search of advancement.
There is nothing wrong with this, in fact, the focus on leadership development contributes to this complexity in a good way. But it is complex. When you develop a leader, they are ready for more.
A big part of the solution is to create an environment that is as meaningful as a promotion. I’ve long believed that the environment I serve in is more important than my actual position. Don’t misunderstand, being in the right seat is essential, but personally, I don’t want the right seat on the wrong bus.
3) Technology has upped the ante.
The advancement of technology is here to stay, and that’s a good thing. But it’s often a love-hate relationship. I love my iPhone. It’s a fantastic tool. But I hate that my battery can’t keep up with all the cool stuff it can do. And the answer seems to be “close your apps.”
Connectivity and accessibility have become the new leveler to the playing field. Websites, social media, and online services, etc., have all become part of the church world. If you ignore it, you reduce the impact of your ministry.
From IT support to live streaming services, the digital world has forever become fully integrated into the church. There is so much good and so much that advances the Kingdom.
One of my favorite advancements that technology added to the communication of the gospel is the YouVersion Bible developed by Life.Church; what an incredible gift to us all.
However, the potential impact to your budget is endless. We’ve all watched (no pun intended) the progression of standard definition projection to HD projection, and now the new thing is LED walls that are in HD.
Technology requires a delicate balance of Kingdom advancement and knowing if it’s a tool or toy—what is needed and how that fits in your budget.
This is a massively complex subject, and I highly recommend getting expert advice to help you make good decisions.
4) The worship service is once again up for grabs.
There is no right or wrong style of worship service, but the trends seem to be changing.
The long-standing “seeker service,” often characterized by a “dark room with loud music and people are sitting in the back checking your church out,” is no longer the primary or only choice. It still works great in many churches, but this is a good time to evaluate what style you believe God wants for your church.
It’s scary to make a change, but the good news is that you can approach this complex topic without panic and in much prayer. It’s not about what the large church near you is doing. That’s the encouraging thing. Not everyone wants to go to that church. You have something unique and special to offer!
The most important thing is to do what you do with excellence. That includes if you want something more quiet, informal and less showy, etc. Simple isn’t an invitation for sloppy. That won’t work.
There is new freedom coming in the style and approach of worship services.
5) Attendance patterns have changed.
Massive amounts of energy are now being invested into engagement over attendance, focusing on many of the digital elements of ministry.
It was less than 20 years ago that the new idea of online church and online campuses was revolutionary. Now the issue isn’t if you offer it, it’s how effectively you integrate it into your overall ministry strategy.
Questions like, does online church help your attendance or hurt your attendance have become a top agenda. Other church leaders spend their time discussing how to integrate engagement and attendance. Still, others take it farther and ask if physical attendance is as important as we once believed.
The answers to those questions are quite divided. Not divided, as in right and wrong, but very different in thought and approach. Some believe we are re-training the American public that church attendance isn’t that important, while others remain passionate that church attendance is vital. Still, others would say that “we” aren’t retraining anyone, it’s just a reality of a culture that requires a relevant response.
Whether you believe that the new attendance pattern is 1.7 times a month, or online helps or hurts, here’s one thing we know for sure. Attendance patterns are changing, and as a church leader you need to know what you think and set your new strategy accordingly.