"And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved."
In my visits to churches, some things come up over and over. Many of these things we’ve known to be best practices for decades and are easily implemented, and so frankly, it’s a bit surprising that they haven’t been. Here are my top 10 “it’s time already” things for your church to implement yesterday:
Automatic giving: Countless books, seminars, and testimonies have verified that congregations should make it simple and easy for people to give. The first step is offering your base membership a way to give automatically. You know and I know that most of the world is both receiving income and paying bills this way. Yes, it costs money to set this up, but if it helps one person give, it’s money well spent (just like the offering envelopes). It’s time already to both implement and promote this in your church. A first step is for the pastor and leadership team to lead by example. Find out more.
A good church website: I was holding meetings at a church recently when the pastor came out of his office and asked his administrative assistant for the worship time of another church in town. She Googled it. Ironically, if someone wanted to Google her church, they wouldn’t be able to because her church doesn’t have a website. Note: A Facebook page is not the same thing as a website, nor is it a suitable replacement. Most first-time guests check out a church website before visiting for the first time. Not having a website IS communicating something. A bad website communicates even more. It’s time already. Find out more.
The policy and practice of Safe Sanctuaries: Even the laser tag park has a policy and practice in place designed to make it safe for my children to get the most out of their experience. It’s time already for your church to put in safeguards as an overt expression that you are committed to making your congregation a safe place where children, youth, and elders may experience the abiding love of God and fellowship within the community of faith. Find out more.
Fresh leaders, fresh teams: Many churches I visit are not taking seriously term limits for various offices of the church. Yet the healthiest churches consistently do have and follow these limits. It’s important for the nominations committee to make it clear that a term limit designates the maximum amount of time a person can hold a position, but it doesn’t designate the minimum. Your trustee chair, for example, is elected ANNUALLY and for up to three years. Some positions, like lay leader, that do not have a prescribed term limit should be re-evaluated each year, and it’s time already for a gracious but healthy turnover. Also, only trustees, finance, staff-parish relations (SPRC), nominations, and ad council are mandated committees; the rest can come and go as your ministry focus changes. Instead of trying to fill seats on a team that has lost its momentum, shut it down and trust that God can make a new thing happen. Find out more.
Technological updates: The number one rule of a missionary is to speak the language of the people, yet many of our churches are speaking an obsolete technological language that we don’t even speak at home. Your communication systems like phones, computers, wi-fi, copier, church management software, and newsletters (print and electronic) should be updated to a language that is the preferred language of the mission field. Consider this: Your next pastor could potentially have been born in 1990. It’s quite possible that a 30-year-old has never signed up for anything that was posted on a clipboard—and accessed only online forms using a smartphone. Please don’t make your pastor hand write the next baptism into a bounded ledger. Churches that seek to grow will be forward-compatible and not backward-compatible when it comes to technology. It’s time already. Find out more.
Clean house: I love to go to church libraries and pull a random book off the shelf. Most common publishing date? 1970s. Last checked out? 1970s. Do the relevancy and use of these books warrant a room? Let’s also stop using our entryways to store the pews, pulpits, and fonts from the church that closed in 1980. It’s time to go down from 10 cluttered bulletin boards to one clean one, to get rid of the pamphlet rack of dated information. Most people don’t get information this way. Be okay with letting that stuff go. Say “no” to dated pictures of Jesus, religious knick-knacks, and VBS leftovers from 1982. There is a reason hotel lobbies are crisp and clean—it’s more inviting to guests, and yes, they expect guests! Find out more.
Hard staffing decisions: It’s time already to make sure you have the right staff in the right positions. Some of our churches are staffed for a day when they were much larger, and many of our churches are not staffed with the right person for what they are trying to accomplish. For the sake of good stewardship and the mission of the church, it’s time already to sit down with your SPRC and have the crucial conversation about letting go of that staff person who is misaligned with the mission. Leading this conversation will be the hardest thing many of us will have to do, but ultimately, I believe it will benefit all involved. Often these persons know they aren’t a fit and deep down want to move on. Find out more.
Move the coffee: It’s time to move the coffee out of the basement fellowship hall. The most intimidating thing first-time guests had to do last Sunday was enter the front doors of your church. Don’t make them suffer onward to the middle doors. Hospitality meets people at the front door. As long as you’re moving the coffee, possibly get rid of the tables to avoid inhospitable cliques. My dad inquired recently when visiting a church, “Where’s the coffee?” The response was, “We serve that in the adult Sunday School class; too bad you can’t join us.” That’s a hilarious response and wrong on so many levels. Find out more.
Stewardship awareness: It’s time already for your pastor to have access to the stewardship habits of the membership. It’s also time to free your pastor to teach and talk about money and generosity, and provide a clear opportunity to pledge. Churches that don’t feel they need a pledge campaign miss out on 40 percent more than they could have received in contributions for impactful life-giving ministry, and they rob new Christians from an opportunity to learn the spiritual discipline of giving. Find out more.
Walk to Emmaus: Looking for passionate faith-filled people in the Wesleyan way to serve and lead in your local context? It’s time already to send at least two people every fall and spring to a Minnesota Walk to Emmaus 72-hour retreat. Our laity cannot offer what they do not have, so it’s time to lead them to an experience that can provide them with an overflowing sense of grace. It’s time already to take advantage of this transformative experience designed to raise up leaders for the local church. All you must do is get them there. This fall, it’s in Mankato! Find out more.
These are just 10 practices I believe are critically important and hope you take the time to implement. It’s time already. Don’t let another day go by without spending time on figuring out how to accomplish these things. But also know that I can connect you and your leadership to resources that will help educate and equip your congregation to make these changes.
Rev. Fred Vanderwerf is superintendent for the Minnesota Annual Conference's Southern Prairie District.