Saturday, April 6, 2013

Five Steps for Helping Small Churches Reach a Changing Culture

A seminar presented by Dr. Terry W. Dorsett

For generations small churches have cared for the spiritual needs of our nation. Small churches kept our nation focused on what was really important and our nation was stronger because of it. In the past 20 years our culture has changed and suddenly small churches are no longer having the impact they once had.

Stereotypical Small Communities:
 Everyone knows everyone and there are lots of connections through school, church, and community organizations. Many people are related by blood or marriage to a significant portion of the local population. Small communities often have low levels of racial diversity. Everyone knows the unofficial rules of how to get things done. Often more conservative politically than urban areas. More respectful of religion in general, though not everyone goes to church. Lower crime rate than urban areas. Often have a lower educational level than the national average.

Small communities are rapidly changing:
Though the small stereotypes can still be found, they are increasingly the minority culture. As well educated and politically active families have grown frustrated with urban life, they are increasingly moving to small towns and outlying areas. Sometimes native people who once lived in the area move back with new ideas they learned in the big city. With the advent of technology, people can now live anywhere and keep the same job they used to have to live in the city to get. But it is not just these “outsiders” who are changing the nature of small communities. That same technology has brought the ideas of the world to small communities. Teenagers from smaller communities can now be just as connected and up to date on music, clothing styles and ideological concepts as their urban counterparts. Adults are now being exposed to more progressive ideas and concepts than ever before and some of them are buying into these new ideas.

How Does This Impact Small Churches?
The influx of new people and ideas is rapidly transforming the mindset in most communities into a more postmodern way of thinking. Postmodernism is the idea that individuals have both the intelligence and the right to decide for themselves what truth is without any objective standards. Postmoderns decide what truth is based on individual experiences and relationships. They do not recognize absolute truth. However, many postmodern people are actually interested in learning about spirituality, they just want to do it on their own terms. To learn more about how to reach postmodern people, consider reading, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church.

Though we do not have to give up our biblical values to reach postmoderns, we may have to change some of our man-made traditions. Many churches will struggle with giving up their man-made traditions, but for the sake of the Kingdom, we must. The challenge will be in praying through what is a man-made tradition that we can let go of and what is a biblical mandate which we must retain no matter what.

Five Suggestions for How Small Churches Can Impact Changing Communities:
1. Embrace technology
2. Embrace bivocationalism and lay ministry
3. Embrace racial diversity
4. Use church buildings as much as possible
5. Get outside the walls of the church into the community

1. Embrace technology
Postmodern people are more “virtual” than ever before. That means they often socialize via technology more than in person. Churches must discover how to use Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, blogs, websites and other technological innovations. People no longer look in the “yellow pages.” Many people are less open to a home visit.

Embrace technology in public worship services without losing the sacred aspect of church. Invest in a projector and screen but also learn to light a candle and say the Lord’s Prayer or quote Psalm 23. Merging technology with ancient liturgy appeals to postmoderns, because they like to “experience” different things. This is particularly effective when we explain the meaning behind the rituals.
2. Embrace bivocationalism and lay ministry
Funding for small churches is going to be diminished in the future for a variety of reasons. Therefore, to have sustainable churches we must accept the reality of bivocational ministry and lay ministry. Most churches will not be able to afford multiple-staff members. Lay ministers are going to have to fill roles we used to pay people to fill. Churches that do not have high levels of commitment might not even be able to afford to pay their pastor a livable wage, therefore he may have to work another job in addition to the church. We may not like using lay ministers or having bivocational pastors, but it is a growing reality in many small churches.

The great challenge of bivocational ministry is burn out. The key to helping bivocational ministers avoid burn out is to help them learn the art of delegation. Pastormust train lay people to accept the duties that the pastor delegates to them. Consider the book, DevelopingLeadership Teams in the Bivocational Church
God NEVER intended for the pastor to do all the ministry on his own. Shared leadership is the biblical model –  Acts 13:1-3, 2 Timothy 2:1-2

3. Embrace racial diversity
Some churches may resist reaching out to people of other races, but this is essential, especially if we want to reach a younger audience. Do not misunderstand, there are places where “ethnic” churches are essential because of language barriers. But the “second generation” will not have those barriers.

4. Use church buildings as much as possible
Many buildings only get used two or three days a week. Is this  good stewardship of the facility? Many unchurched people see a church building as the place where weddings, funerals, family reunions, 50th anniversary receptions, Boy Scout troops, AA meetings, etc., are held. When a church lets the public use the building for such a things, the public begins to think of it as “their” church. Postmodern people want to “belong” before they “believe.” This does not mean they want to join the church organizationally, it means they want to feel a part of the group relationally. Providing a building and appropriate ceremonies for postmodern people to participate in is very important to helping them feel like they belong.

Make sure the building looks good from the road. Make sure the sign is easy to read and has the main service times and phone number prominently displayed. Most postmodern people do not care about the church’s denominational affiliation, or the pastor’s name, or highly religious descriptive phrases. That does not mean those things are not important, it just means they do not care.

5. Get outside the walls of the church into the community
Practice the faith outside the building that is preached inside through involvement in community organizations and activities that address community needs. Show Christian love through compassion ministries to the hungry, homeless and hurting. This is what postmodern people think Christians are supposed to do, so do it! Recover personal evangelism through sharing our own difficulties in life and how our faith gives us hope instead of just giving a religious sales pitch. Consider using Malachi: Finding Hope in the Midst of Adversity.

Work hard to let the community know anyone is welcome to attend any church services or activities regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof.

Small communities are changing rapidly and churches are going to have to adapt to those changes. Those adaptations include:
1. Embracing technology
2. Embracing bivocationalism and lay ministry
3. Embracing racial diversity
4. Using church buildings as much as possible
5. Getting outside the walls of the church into the community

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