A New Church Practice for the New Year
Church is not the same anymore. Perhaps a better way to say it is the Church cannot be the same anymore. The wineskins are old, and we're all feeling it--church leaders, committed church people, and sometimes church people. The shift happened, and it's continuing to happen. It's the shift brought on by the internet, racial reckoning, social media, new technology, and the pandemic. We'll be studying all that happened in the last ten years for the next one hundred years.
The Church needs new practices. Some of what church did before the pandemic has to stay, of course. Some practices have been around for 2,000 years or more. But, right now is a ripe time to try something new. I have a new practice to propose.
What if every church staffer was commissioned by their church leadership to make at least one workplace or neighborhood visit each week? Give the people working in the church office the green light to leave the office and be with the people they are called to shepherd.
It would be irresponsible of churches not to do so. Perhaps even fatally irresponsible.
First, the ministry happening in neighborhoods and workplaces daily is unseen by most church leaders simply because they do not live and work in those places. So, why not go check it out to encourage and challenge those they are shepherding? If the main vocation of a church leader is to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-12), then the ministry the saints (those in Christ) are doing at work and in their neighborhood is exactly what the church leader must equip them to do well. The real ministry isn’t happening in the church building; it’s happening in neighborhoods and workplaces.
Second, whether we want to admit it or not, we are more lonely, fearful, and anxious than we have been in decades. The pandemic has led to a decline in corporate worship attendance, the central way churches initiate community. If small groups, Sunday school, and church-led ministry programming have decreased, then churches must do something different to make stronger connections with isolated, anxious, and perhaps indifferent congregants. Visiting people in their neighborhood and workplace will help build the bridge back to corporate worship engagement.
Third, church leaders will be better church leaders when they better understand the context of those they are leading. That cannot happen behind a desk inside a building where no Christians are throughout the week. Parachurch youth organizations like YoungLife and Cru successful build relationships with students because they are constantly with and communicating with them. Likewise, youth pastors and ministers are charged with being present as schools and sporting events. Why should this change once people are no longer students?
Around my home church, I’ve been suggesting, almost imploring, that we close down the church office for two days each week. No one is allowed to work inside the four walls of the building for at least two days. Or one? All the internal meetings have to happen outside those two days. Staff could:
work remotely in a coffee shop and seek out interruptions;
visit people in their homes who are not working and go on a prayer walk with them or simply spend time with them; and
learn what someone’s every day world looks like by getting to know their work and finding ways to love and serve their clients/customers, co-workers, bosses, and the work itself.
I can imagine the impact—relationships restored, people encouraged, kingdom work strengthened—but, this hypothesis can actually be tested.
So, here’s the challenge for churches as we launch a new year: enable church leaders to do one workplace or neighborhood visit each week for 12 weeks. If you want to go big, shoot for 52 weeks.
I am convinced the impact will be noticeable and measurable in the church staff, in the congregation, and in the community. The Church of your community will bless you community new ways that lead to holistic flourishing for all.