About once a year I will notice that my vehicle has a tendency to pull in a certain direction while I am driving. While it is my intent to go straight, it seems that I struggle to keep the wheels from veering to the left or right. When this occurs I know it is time to head to the tire shop and get a realignment. Over time, the bumps in the road, the grind of the asphalt and the sudden turns and stops take a toll on the alignment of my car. If I ignore the warning signs of misalignment, I will begin to see the impact on my tires as they show premature wear and, in time, it becomes a hazard to my ability to get where I want to go.
Much like my vehicle, many churches suffer from missional misalignment. Without regular realignment a church has a propensity to veer off the intended course of making a Gospel impact on their community. There are many churches who have allowed the vehicle to become misaligned from their mission and they are finding themselves having little impact. The road God has called us is the Great Commission Highway and regular missional alignments ensure that we stay straight on the high impact path to which Christ has called us. However, remaining on that road is easier said than done. It takes an intentional and continual effort of keeping both hands on the wheel and our eyes on the mission before us. Here are five key adjustments that your church can make to attain missional realignment:
- Have a clear and often stated missional purpose. I was recently reminded by a friend of a statement that I had heard years ago, “Words create worlds”. Missional language should be used often and regularly if we are going to create a culture of intentional outreach. A clear, concise and often communicated missional statement is of great importance in creating missional culture. This statement should not be thrown together, but carefully developed through a collaborate effort between staff and key lay leaders in the church. There are many churches who have a missional statement but rarely refer to it and certainly don’t adhere to it. A Missional statement is not merely to be used as a catchy marketable slogan. Many churches by nature compartmentalize ministry rather than allow the missional purpose to give birth to ministries. We recognize the stuff we should be doing and we treat them like a check list. Such compartmental thinking causes the church to be program driven rather than gospel/missionally driven. Churches must create a model of ministry that encompasses all the important components into one concentric focus. Missional focus is the DNA of the church, it should be who we are, not just one of the things we do. The discipleship, evangelism, outreach, ministry, worship and every other program must be birthed out of and in perfect sync with, the missional statement of the church. State your missional purpose often, make it conspicuous around the facilities, preach annually on it and allow it to give birth to your ministries. Your focus will become your function!
- Staff for missional effectiveness. Not long ago I was in a consulting relationship with a pastor regarding his declining church. There were no youth or children attending and the congregation’s future was in question. When I suggested that they take steps to hire a youth or children’s minister he immediately responded, “Why would we hire a children’s minister when we don’t have any children?” His response seems appropriate and even based upon common sense. However, it was delivered from an improper view of mission. Churches should not staff according to need, it should staff according to mission. Churches that fall into the “plugging holes” approach of hiring staff usually end up being overstaffed with a group of people leading a few programs or ministries. Always allow your missional focus to determine your staff positions and the type of person you hire. As you exegete (study) the culture of your community pay close attention to areas of greatest needs where your church can share the love of Christ. As you create staff positions, hire based on missional needs and not simply to keep the “ministries for the members” afloat.
- Budget according to missional focus. It has been my experience that most churches give little attention to money dispersion through the various line items on the budget. I would say anecdotally that 8 out of 10 mid-sized to smaller churches approach budget planning in one of the following ways: The budget committee meets, looks at last year’s budget and if the church is doing well financially, they will add a few dollars to the most important line items. If the church had a down fiscal year they will take a few dollars away from existing non-essential line items and if the church has barely made budget the year prior they will give the staff a cost of living raise, appropriate the necessary increases regarding utilities and keep everything else the same. Point is most budget decisions are made based on bottom line figures without regard to where and how the money is spent. I believe each year a church should take a fresh approach to its budget planning. Does your current budget accurately reflect your missional approach? There are some items that are considered essential such as utilities, payments, salary, denominational giving and other items that should be deemed absolutely necessary. However, don’t keep throwing budget dollars toward dead ministries hoping they will somehow revive. Let your missional focus determine where the bulk of the dollars should be spent for the maximum ROEI (Return on Eternal Investment). It has been said that a person’s bank statement is a theological statement, the same can be said of a churches budget. Where your money is going says much about the heart condition of the church. Quit allotting budget to dead or dying ministries. Every member’s tithe is an eternal investment which should bring back the maximum kingdom value for the church.
- Find 2 or 3 missional opportunities and stay locked in. One church cannot fix every ailing part of a community. There may be 20 areas of need in your community, but you should not attempt to provide missional assistance to all 20 areas. Unless you are a large church you cannot sustain the energy or finances needed for such a task. A few years ago one of my members was riding through a mobile home community near our church and felt the tug of God on his heart to do ministry to this hurting place. After some time and many discussions we concluded that this was an important opportunity to be the hands of feet of Christ to an area greatly needing the touch of God. For many years we provided Thanksgiving meals, Christmas gifts and ongoing block parties in that community and saw many come to Christ. It ended only when the new management told us we weren’t welcomed there anymore. After we committed to the mission I brought this church member on staff, we budgeted toward the mission and made it a priority with our membership, God richly blessed the work and our people were energized through it. Your church can’t fix all problems, but you can be the healing balm to those suffering in your community, and you should. Find 2 or 3 areas of greatest need, enlist your people, fund the work and stay locked in for long term conversions.
- Build missional leaders. What is the definition of a missional church? A missional church has a process of intentional disciplemaking to build leaders and then provide opportunities to serve. Just because you send a few people to visit “membership prospects” doesn’t make you a missional church. Just because your church offers a large attractional event in October and gives out a bunch of candy doesn’t mean you are missional. Don’t get me wrong, we should do these things, but how we do them should be in question. For example as you have VBS don’t simply babysit a bunch of children for a week, but purposefully have a plan of missional engagement to the many unchurched families that will come this summer. Don’t just offer a fall festival or an Easter egg hunt, make it an opportunity to engage people in conversation making relational connections that over time will bring them back to your church when life takes a difficult turn. Church leaders must train their members to have this kind of approach. Use your congregation as a missional force of outreach. Through personal mentoring help them to see their ministry potential and find areas of greatest needs in your community. As you accomplish this work, you will build missional leaders within your congregation. Train them to share their faith through gospel conversations, help them to embrace their giftedness and match them with a missional opportunity.
Over time vehicles need alignments to ensure they keep a steady and straight path. Without regular missional alignments the church begins to show wear as the road gets bumpy. Providing attention to these areas in your church will assure a realigned missional focus that will energize your church and bring unparalleled times of ministry effectiveness to your church. Happy driving!
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