By: Karla Hovde
This article is the third in multi-part series that will take place throughout 2020-21 in conjunction with the virtual Reach! webinar series. Learn about future webinars here.
This is the time to focus on solutions to the adaptive challenges every church is facing, according to Dr. Phil Maynard, the speaker in a June 4 Reach! webinar for church leaders that attracted nearly 100 people from the Dakotas-Minnesota Area.
There are two types of challenges congregations face today: technical challenges and adaptive challenges, explained Maynard, a nationally recognized congregational coach and author. Technical challenges are easy to define, quick to solve, and met with little resistance from the congregation. Adaptive challenges are harder to define and require a change in thinking and attitude to solve. Adaptive challenges are solved through collaboration and are sometimes met with considerable resistance.
Maynard discussed four major systems within the life and ministry of a congregation. He invited church leaders to focus on adaptive, rather than technical, solutions for the challenges we face in the new normal—the pandemic and post-pandemic era.
“People are not looking for a friendly church; they are looking for a friend,” said Maynard. This should be the guiding principle of the hospitability system in a church. He believes that if a new person can make six friends in their first six months of attending a church, they are much more likely to stay.
“Helping people build those relationships is huge if we want people to be involved in our congregations,” Maynard said.
Previously, small groups, pastoral visitation, and in-person events fostered relationships. Connect cards and gifts were other common strategies. In the new normal, some churches have tried phone calls, pastoral visits via Zoom, and online connect cards, but those strategies are not helping people feel deeply connected. They are technical rather than adaptive solutions.
An example of an adaptive strategy is neighborhood watch parties, where a member of the church invites neighbors to watch an online worship service together. The host follows up and forms relationship with the visitors, rather than the pastor or staff doing so. Pastors instead encourage and equip their people to become the primary connection points for hospitality.
He encouraged leaders to remind members that “we are an expression of God’s hospitality, not a program of the church. Real hospitality is not a church program, it’s people.”
“Passionate worship designed for the engagement of those coming to worship with us” should guide us as we think about the worship system, said Maynard. The key word is engage
. “We want them to sing and pray and have their hearts drawn into the loving presence of God.”
Familiar liturgies, music, and aesthetics are all part of the old normal. Simply live streaming our same old worship service is a technical solution that doesn’t allow for much engagement or relationship.
An adaptive solution could involve preachers moving from a monologue sermon to a dialogue message, responding to questions and comments in real time. Another example is church leaders providing resources for members to lead small house churches as stay-at-home orders lift enough to allow small gatherings. Aim for making people walk away feeling like they were part of a worshipful experience.
“Growth as a disciple happens through a clear pathway that is intentional, relational, and accountable,” said Maynard.
He noted that many churches didn’t do so well with the discipleship system in the old normal. Often, churches offered short-term classes that didn’t have a strategy of growth and accountability behind them. The technical solution in the new normal is moving those same programs online.
“The piece that is missing is the interpersonal connections that are such a big part of the discipling relationship,” said Maynard. “Discipleship is a contact sport.”
An adaptive solution could involve the church supporting families as parents disciple their children. Another might be connecting two to three church members as “spiritual friends” who support each other in discipleship. Or consider pairing up a person with a special gift, such as leading Bible study or prayer, with a more inexperienced person in an apprentice-style relationship.
“Disciples join Jesus in God’s ministry of love for the world” through service, said Maynard.
Churches and individuals can be at different points on a continuum when they think of service: from obliviousness, to performing missional gestures, to committing to systemic change. Maynard asked attendees to consider whether their churches lead people into service that results in relationships with those they are serving and whether that service leads to broader systemic change.
In the old normal, service included short-term mission trips, adopt-a-school programs, food pantries, and special offerings. A new normal technical example is shopping for people who are sick or at-risk. Those types of service are needed, but look for adaptive solutions too. These include partnerships with established social service agencies; providing job training; and supporting home-schooling needs, recovery programs, or other emerging needs in your community.
We hang on to programs we’ve always done because at one point we decided that’s what our community needed from us, Maynard said. However, “we shouldn’t be deciding—we should be asking the people in the community what they need.”
Don’t wait too long
Maynard implored church leaders not to wait too long to implement adaptive solutions during this time of disruption. If we long for the old normal, we risk losing the momentum for trying new ideas and losing the new people who have connected with us during this pandemic season. “That would be a terrible loss for the church,” he concluded.
Watch the full webinar with Q&A
for more advice from Maynard, including how church leaders can change the culture in a congregation to become more accepting of the ideas outlined here. Then, save the date for future webinars
Karla Hovde is the communications specialist for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.