After serving in ministry for 18 years, I recognize the enormous temptation to look like another pastor or church. When we see the “success” another local church is experiencing, we want it for our church as well. But to copy another church ignores factors like location, budget, and volunteers. What’s most important is that you do you!
Here are three steps to owning your identity as a church:
1. Know who you are. Churches can be faithful to the message of the gospel while using different methods. Jesus said that true worshippers are those who worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24). This has nothing to do with what musical style or small group approach you use, but it’s easy to put greater focus on these methods than on our message of Christ.
Every church has strengths. Let me say that again…every church has strengths! Don’t become so consumed with where you want to improve, that you fail to celebrate your staff or volunteers who are laboring effectively.
Perhaps your church is doing a great job engaging and discipling kids, caring for widows, or helping families with the most basic of needs. Communities would be better off if churches worked to their strengths instead of trying to assimilate the strengths of the church down the street.
Knowing who you are also means you know your weaknesses. Perhaps your nursery area is in need of major overhaul. Before you start plugging leaks, ask yourself this question: How long has this been broken? If it hasn’t worked for five years, you can take five months to get the right partners and procedures in place to make a turnaround. Our once-broken nursery is now a safe and inviting area of our church, and a place I applaud our leaders often. It wasn’t a quick turnaround, but it was an honest and effective one. Take a breath and make a plan.
2. Know where you are. There is great variety among our nearly 1,000 IBSA churches. Rockford, Springfield, and Marion share a state, but all have different cultures.
For example, our community has a large number of unchurched, former Catholics, and people who’ve never heard of Southern Baptists. As a result, I take time to clarify elements of the worship service more than I did while serving in Arkansas. These explanations aren’t for the regulars, but to engage the newcomers. I’m also more deliberate in bringing Scripture to the screen during a sermon, knowing there are many here with little experience or knowledge to navigate the Bible quickly.
Be sure also to own your area. Our church is First Baptist of Machesney Park, meaning Machesney Park is our starting point. Like many churches, we draw from several neighboring towns, but our first priority is at our own front door. We work to not just be “of” Machesney Park, but “for” Machesney Park.
While I’d like to see our impact stretch out even more into the neighboring communities of our First family, knowing who and where we are is our first step for message impact.
3. Know where you’re going. Knowing who and where you are allows slight adjustments as you work to strengthen current ministry efforts. But you should also be asking long-term adjustment questions: Where are we going? What is the future impact we want to have as a church?
When we asked ourselves those questions, our answer was clear: young adult ministry.
Like many churches I’ve been around, we had a gap between our youth ministry and regular adult ministries. So, two years ago I began praying and talking with our leadership council about how we could have an impact among college-aged/young adults. This was a vital step to ensure our growing youth ministry could funnel our graduates into a clear next step for their discipleship in our church.
God has since brought a group of young adults into the life of our church who have connected well with our youth group grads. We’ve still got room for improvement, but taking the time to plan, instead of just reacting to a need, is setting our church up to serve the next generation.
To summarize: Be sure you know who you are. Own it. Celebrate it. Improve it.
Be sure you know where you are. Get involved. Make connections. Be a neighbor.
Be sure you know where you are going. What future ministry goal could your church set?
Heath Tibbetts is pastor of First Baptist Church, Machesney Park.