Every year I would make New Year’s resolutions. They were almost always the same: lose weight, keep better spiritual disciplines, work less and play more. I would faithfully write them down in my journal, and then fall into that magical thinking that because I wrote them down, surely they’d come true. I had good intentions. But I had no action plans. I wanted the goal without the work. And that is why the next year I would have the same resolutions, because nothing had changed in my life.
I can’t tell you how many congregations have said to me, “We want to grow” or “We want to reach young adults and young families” or “We want to be more spiritually vital.” When I responded, “Great; tell me what your plan is. What will you do differently?” they looked at me with blank stares. Like me, they had fallen into the trap of hoping that somehow just by saying it, it will magically happen without their having to change anything. How often have we confused talking about something with doing it?
The other trap we fall into is the belief that there is a quick fix to our dilemma. If we just start that contemporary worship service or hire that youth worker, then young adults will come streaming into our churches. The challenge is so much more complex than that. People I know who have made major changes in their life, like staying sober or losing a lot of weight and keeping it off, tell me that there comes a point where they recognize that their new habits and the things they have done to get to their goal have to become their way of life. They have a plan and they work their plan, and they keep working their plan to stay healthy, sober, and on goal.
From words to actions
Congregations have been asked this year to develop and work a congregational ministry plan. This is not “just one more thing to do” from the conference office! It is, we believe, a critical tool needed to help churches face complex situations and changing cultures. There is no quick fix to reaching new people and cultivating vital spirituality. It is not enough to say we want to grow and think somehow that will happen on its own. The day when new people find their own way to our church has long gone. We need a plan. And then we need to work our plan.
I have discovered in my own journey that I am much more effective in reaching my goals when I have support and accountability as well as structure. If creating a ministry plan is a new process for your congregation and you need help, my colleague Dennis Alexander and I are available to consult with you on how to take those first crucial steps. If you want to invest in a coach to help you create and implement your plan, we can offer you recommendations and some financial assistance for the coaching. If you are interested in using Natural Church Development in your ministry planning, our office can get you started with that as well.
The most important thing in all of this is for you to get started and to take it one step at a time, to keep working at it bit by bit. You won’t get sudden dramatic change, but if you keep working your plan, over time you will see a noticeable difference. And you will discover a whole new way of life.
Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church