Simple Shifts (Part 1)
Major disruptions over the last few years have left many pastors wondering if how they do ministry needs a dramatic overhaul. These monumental shifts that we supposedly need to make are enough to make any pastor start to think: “This is not what I signed up for. Do I even want to stay in ministry?”
This week, we’re kicking off a new four-part series covering the simple shifts that churches may need to consider to regain health in this season. But before that, let’s first try to understand how we got to where we are today—and shift our focus for a moment on what doesn’t change.
WHAT DOESN’T NEED TO CHANGE?
What if rather than a total transformation to our ministries, there were smaller changes we could make that will lead to greater impact? And rather than becoming overwhelmed by the changes, what if we stopped to consider what needs to stay the same?
Join Amy and I for the first episode of “Simple Shifts” where we’ll address:
- Micro-churches and the metaverse
- Why so many pastors are thinking about quitting
- Getting back to our ministry fundamentals
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Major disruptions over the last few years have left many pastors wondering if how they do ministry needs a dramatic overhaul. But what if rather than a total transformation, there are smaller changes that will lead to greater impact? On this week’s episode, Tony and Amy kick off a series of conversations on the simple shifts that churches are making to regain health. Before today’s episode, if you’re new to the podcast, head over to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast, and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. Each week, you’ll get resources to go along with that week’s episode that include our leader conversation guide, some bonus resources and access to our podcast resource archive. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for today’s conversation.
Well, today we’re starting a new series that we’re calling “Simple Shifts.” In fact, let’s just start there. Why this topic? Why now, Tony?
Yeah, Amy, just between you and me and maybe the 6,000 or so other pastors and church leaders who will listen to today’s episode, this series is all about the simple shifts we need to consider. And we’re talking about the simple shifts because I’m kind of tired of hearing about all the big shifts, the significant pivots or those monumental changes that churches need to consider due to all the unprecedented disruptions that we’ve experienced the last couple of years. So over the next few weeks, I hope to convince you that big shifts are really completely unnecessary. And honestly, I think the people who are pedaling this need for big disruptive changes are either one, probably just trying to elevate your fear so that they can sell you something to fix your growing anxiety or two, honestly just causing harm to pastors in our churches by continuing to advocate for a completely different model of engaging our mission in this new normal, when a completely different model isn’t really needed. So that’s the reason why we’re talking about this topic and we’re talking about it right now.
Can you tell us what you really think though, Tony? What do you really think? But part two of that, why now? Why do you wanna talk about this now?
Yeah. Well, as you know, Amy, I’m a guy, I love change, and I love to help churches navigate change for a living. However, the constant stream of people advocating for the need for monumental shifts in ministry strategy on this side of the pandemic, it’s really growing beyond tiring for me. Instead it’s pushing pastors and church leaders to consider their ministry calling. And that’s very concerning to me. So just as a few examples of big shifts we’re hearing that, you know, we must embrace or the church is not going to survive in the future. One example, people are going to stop coming to church in our buildings and therefore we need to help people in our church become fully devoted followers of Jesus by shifting our entire ministry online. In other words, everything needs to be both online and on demand and Amy, I don’t agree with that conclusion. And we’ll talk more about that in the coming episodes. Here’s another example. Maybe just having everything online isn’t enough. Instead we need to go a step further, and we need to also move our worship services and the rest of our ministry environments into the metaverse. Are you familiar with the metaverse, Amy?
I’m getting to know it a little.
Yeah. Yeah. I certainly don’t agree with that conclusion. And here’s another example. Big church gatherings, they’re not gonna work anymore, especially on this side of the pandemic. People won’t come to our buildings, so we need to bring church to their homes. Instead, we need to embrace a micro church model. And I don’t agree with that conclusion, but let me begin there. I mean, first of all, let me share this. Just because several large churches are trying to implement a micro church strategy, doesn’t mean that strategy is going to work for your church. And we’ve seen churches make the same mistake with a lot of different fads in ministry, including multi-site strategy, in the past. And just because a strategy works for one church doesn’t mean it’ll work for another church. But secondly, I’ve seen several instances where micro church or home church models have caused more harm than good in recent years. And in fact, I’m watching this play out with a church in the Midwest right now that’s facing all kinds of challenges due to their micro church model. I’ve seen a church in the south, previously this church had thousands and thousands of people that used to gather for worship. Part of the ministry. Then they went all in on a micro church model, and that church has completely collapsed. It doesn’t even exist anymore. And then there’s a church in the west that shifted to a micro church model several years ago. And now they’re losing people who are engaged in their ministry and in the church. And they’ve had to lay off more than a third of their staff team because of financial challenges they’re experiencing as a result of this shift in their ministry model. You know, oftentimes we celebrate the churches that start new things, but we rarely hear the stories that end with disappointment because the new thing didn’t work. And so, you know, I kind of wish I could go into a lot of details on these examples I’ve shared because it’s just unfortunate that the proponents of strategies like this are elevated, and we give voice to that, but we don’t hear from the churches that have been challenged and have experienced loss because of pursuing models like this. And by the way, I hope, you know, I’m an advocate for taking risks and trying new things. In fact, generally speaking, I think churches need to be willing to make some bold moves. However, I’m not an advocate for “bet the farm” risks where we’re making monumental shifts and strategy that could cause churches to collapse in the long run, especially if they’re betting on an unproven strategy. So getting back to micro-church, there’s no doubt about it, home churches are working in parts of the world, especially in regions where people face government persecution if they’re caught in public worship gatherings, and people will continue to experiment with micro-church here in the US as well. And that’s a good thing. I’m a fan of new strategies for us to engage the mission that God’s called us to. However, it’s still way too early at this point to be able to point to enough wins to justify churches making big investments of time, leadership and other resources to pursue this specific strategy.
Tony, as you’re talking, do you remember the emergent movement in the church? That was emerging when I started my role as a leader over the weekend. In fact, I think if I remember right, our worship leader was trying to convince me that we needed to give people tattoos on the platform while we were in the worship service. But do you see any parallels to that movement?
Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, let me, first of all, for all you millennials and Gen-Zers who are listening, let me give you a quick history lesson. The emergent church movement took place back in the 1990s and early 2000’s. And the best I can describe it is that there was a group of Gen-X leaders that were filled with a lot of angst about ministry and life. And, you know, I’m calling out myself here, Amy, because I’m a Gen-Xer, and they challenged almost everything about church ministry and to some extent, even our theology. And they believed our models of ministry were broken and needed to be replaced with a new model for church in the context of our postmodern society. The problem is that there didn’t seem to be any agreement whatsoever on what this new model should be. And interestingly, I ended up at an emergent church conference. It was back in San Diego a number of years ago, and the best I can describe the experience. It was a lot of angry people with absolutely no answers about what needed to happen in the church. And, you know, here we are, 25 years later, and the emergent church, well, it never emerged. So Amy, this is certainly not the first time we’ve seen church experts advocating for monumental shifts in the way we do church. What’s different now though, is that we’ve experienced a lot of disruption in the last two years. In fact, Emily, my wife, she said just a couple weeks ago, you know. Well she was asking me, Tony, doesn’t it seem like we’ve experienced more change in the last three years than we’ve experienced in the first 50 years of our lives? And you know what I think she may be right. I mean, it just feels like we’ve experienced a lot of change in our society. And that change then is impacting our personal lives as well. So whether you’ve been in church ministry for two years or more than two decades, like I have been, all of these monumental shifts that we’re supposedly needing to make, they’re enough to make any pastor I would think start to consider this is not what I signed up for. And start to question, do I really want to stay in ministry if I’m expected to lead these types of big changes in our ministry model? In fact, I know that a lot of you are asking that question. In fact, Amy and Sean talked about some of these stats in one of our recent podcasts, but a recent Wall Street Journal article shared data from an October study released by the Barna group. And they found that 38% of pastors were seriously considering leaving full-time ministry. And by the way, nearly half of pastors under the age of 45 are also considering leaving full-time ministry. And Amy, I’m sure there are many factors driving this questioning of calling, but among them is certainly the sense that the last couple years are pushing the need for significant change in how churches engage their mission. In other words, pastors sense that they need to be a completely different kind of church in this new normal. And what we’re doing in this podcast series is hopefully pushing against that assumption because I completely disagree with that assumption.
Yeah, it’s really well said, Tony. Tony, what’s driving this pressure you think that pastors and church leaders are facing? Why are they even paying attention to people, leaders who are pushing the need for significant changes, you know, in their ministry strategies?
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think it’s the fact that in many instances, of course, sanctuaries, the churches are half empty on Sunday morning compared to where we were pre-COVID. And of course, many people are still watching services online. In fact, our last Unstuck Church Report showed online engagement up 150% year over year. And with that, I think pastors have this mistaken assumption that everything the church does to minister to people must also happen online, or maybe it needs to happen in their homes rather than at the church. And so there’s this unspoken expectation that if people are engaging Sunday morning online, then everything that happens Monday through Saturday also needs to be online. And it’s as if every church needs to become a 24/7 online church, like Amazon has become a 24/7 online store. So first let me suggest that trying to move all our ministry online could potentially become very detrimental to our mission. In fact, I don’t believe 100% online is God’s plan for the church at all. And the reason I suggest that is because we can connect with people online, but we really can’t develop the types of relationships online that would lead to spiritual transformation and the life change we desire for people. I mean, there are way too many “one another’s” in scripture for us to think that God designed relationships to happen through a computer or through a mobile phone screen. So online ministry, it’s helpful. In fact, I would say it’s very helpful for reaching new people and encouraging people to take those initial steps towards faith and connection to the church. But it’s actually an awful platform for establishing deep relational connections. I mean, could you imagine a young couple meeting through an online dating app and then going on every date, getting married and then trying to live out their marriage relationship solely through Zoom? Can you imagine that Amy? Or maybe this, can you imagine sending our kids to school online and expecting them to learn all the course material, interact their teachers and develop formative relationships with their peers? I mean, can you imagine spending every school day on a computer and expecting our kids to learn how to grow? Not only their knowledge, but their relational and emotional? Oh wait. We tried that. I mean, but anybody wanna go back to watching your kids to try to do gym class and art class online? That was a lot of fun. So yeah, I think online ministry could potentially be a wonderful front door to reaching new people. And it could be part of our reach strategy to initially engage with people outside the church and outside the faith. But online church has significant limitations when it comes to relationships, spiritual formation and ongoing discipleship. And it’s very challenging to help people become more like Jesus through a website or a phone app. And for that to happen, we need to live life together. And we need to “one another” with one another.
Again, Tony, this series is called “Simple Shifts.” So in the coming weeks, we’re gonna talk about some of those simple shifts that churches need to consider, particularly in this season of ministry. But for now, maybe it would be helpful to talk about what won’t change. What’s not changing?
Yeah, I agree, Amy, over the last couple of years, there’s no doubt about it. We’ve experienced a significant confluence of disruptions in our society. We’ve lived through a global pandemic. We’ve witnessed social unrest in response to several atrocities that have rightly captured the attention of the world. We’ve experienced political divisiveness that has also divided our congregations. And currently, of course, we’re watching the resurgence of, I don’t know how else to describe it, an evil empire, as it tries to expand its kingdom in a way that’s unlike anything we’ve experienced since World War II. So there’s just no doubt about it. We’re in the middle of several global disruptions that have indirectly impacted our mission as the body of Christ. But because of that, yes, change is required to engage culture in a new way. But again, I’m not convinced the needed changes for the church are that big. In fact, it might be helpful in this season to begin with what does not need to change for our churches. So let’s focus on what was true yesterday, is true today and what will remain true for the foreseeable future, if not for eternity. In fact, it might be a good idea for you to discuss this question with your ministry leadership team, especially in this season where it often seems like the new normal demands monumental change. So if you were to make a list of everything that will not change, what would be on that list? Maybe I could help you get started. For example, Jesus doesn’t change. Tells us about that in Hebrews 3:8. The Word of God doesn’t change. God’s plan for us doesn’t change. Check out Psalm 33:11. Our mission, that doesn’t change. The fact that God’s building the church, that doesn’t change. The eternity that was promised to us that doesn’t change. The priority for us to love God and the priority of loving other people that doesn’t change. For many churches, God’s placed you in a community, such that your mission field as a church, it will not change. God’s called you to that mission field. Your doctrine, your theology, what’s at the foundation of your ministry, that the doesn’t change. The values that shape who you are as a church, how you engage your mission, that probably will never change. And this list could probably go on and on. And I actually think it’s helpful in these days, where it feels as if so much of our world is changing, that we need to talk. We need to talk about maybe start with what will not change. What do we believe at our core? What forms the foundation of our existence and our purpose? Why do we engage our mission no matter what the disruptions are that we’re facing? In a world that demands change, I think it’s helpful to recommit to the things that will never change. So let’s begin there. Next week, we’ll come back and we’ll begin to talk about some of the simple shifts that we may need to consider. But for today, let’s just focus on what doesn’t need to change.
Tony, I kind of like when you put on your pastor hat and pastor our pastors for a little bit, because there is a lot of discouragement. I was with the church this week, and prior to the engagement, he said, I was gonna resign. As we did some work and made it much more doable, the things that were in front of him, he was in a completely different place. And so for our listeners, if that’s been you, I hope you take Tony’s advice and spend some time this week. What doesn’t change? And then we’ll be here in the next few weeks to talk through some simple shifts, some doable shifts, that I think will strengthen your ministry. So Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Well, I don’t think I could add anything to that other than the fact, as Amy mentioned, in this season where it feels like there needs to be a lot of change, we continue to work with churches, work with pastors, on almost a daily basis. And if you want help kind of navigating and kind of figuring out what doesn’t change and what needs to change in your ministry, please reach out to us. We’d love to come alongside you in this season to help you get clarity about what God has for your mission as well. So contact us today at theunsuckgroup.com.
Well, thanks for joining us for this week’s podcast. At The Unstuck Group, our goal is to help pastors grow healthy churches by guiding them to align vision, strategy, team and action. In everything that we do, our priority is to help churches help people meet and follow Jesus. If there’s a way that we can serve you and your church, reach out to us today at theunstuckgroup.com. If you like what you heard on this podcast today, and it’s been helpful to you in some way, we’d love your help in getting the content out. And you can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform, giving us a review and telling somebody else about the podcast. Next week, we’re back with another episode. Until then, have a great week.