It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s also one of the busiest times of the year! Especially for local church leaders. Knowing full well all that needs to be juggled during Advent, Christmas Eve services, family time, gift buying, parties, and much more, I want to encourage to make some time to simply sit, pray, think, and settle on one or two specific goals God wants your church to focus on in the new year if you haven’t already.
When I was a rector, I personally enjoyed tuning everything else out for a bit and hearing from God what He wanted me to focus on in the new year. Since our church was focused on trying to be healthy, believing that health would lead to growth (which it did), the real idea was to each year assess where we were unhealthy and commit to work on those areas in the new year.
A leadership principle I used in these times of reflection was, “you always get more of whatever you focus on.” So, if the area of fellowship and small groups was not doing well, we would commit to focusing on that in the new year. Over the course of the year, fellowship and small groups improved. The same principle worked with worship or discipleship or mission and outreach.
In the American Anglican Council’s ReVive! Church Revitalization seminars, we encourage churches to focus on and keep in balance five VITAL areas of church health:
- Vision for Evangelism
- Intentional Worship
- Transformation to Christlikeness (Discipleship)
- Authentic Community (Fellowship)
- Life of Service (Ministry).
The reality is that it is hard to focus on all of these consistently. We tend to focus on the areas we personally like and somewhat neglect the rest.
That’s why making time to sit, pray, think, and hear from God what areas need to be focused on in the new year can be helpful to get back on track. As you do this, each new year, all five areas will get the attention they need.
I know you, as a lay or ordained leader, are busy and that it’s easy to put off taking time to do this. Here is a four-step plan to help you focus on and listen to God about the church’s ministry in the new year:
- Just stop what you’re doing and sit in a comfortable chair. Put the phone/device away. Stop reading emails – like this one – and just sit. Take a deep breath or two. Reject any thoughts about what else you should be doing. Invite God to come and meet with and speak to you.
- Think about what’s going well and what’s not going well in the church. Give thanks for what improved this past year and think about what areas need attention. Don’t berate yourself and get down about what needs work. It is what it is and a new year is upon us. God loves you and wants to help you lead the church in the new year!
- Hear what God says to you about what areas you should focus on next year. I remember in my first years of leading revitalization, all five areas needed a lot of work every year! Rather than be overwhelmed, let God bring to light which area(s) will be the most fruitful to focus on for this next season. Listen to his guidance however he speaks most clearly to you. (Always holding it up against the truth of Scripture, of course.)
- Once you have a clear direction for where to focus next year, commit to it. Determine to stick to it throughout the year in various ways. Let’s say it is fellowship and small groups: What can you do during Lent or Easter seasons to encourage and build small groups? What could you do over the summer to encourage fellowship? Develop a yearlong strategy and commit to it. You’ll be surprised at how much progress will be made.
The Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization and Coaching at the American Anglican Council.