6 shifts churches need to navigate

By Jim LaDoux
Thriving congregations pay attention to the shifts taking place in life and ministry and find ways to successfully navigate their way toward a preferred future of being church in times of constant disruptions. Listed below are 6 facets of ministry I'm seeing church leaders pay closer attention to support vibrant faith and a vital congregational culture.

Most church members feel ill equipped to speak about God’s action in their everyday lives, often because we focus primarily on what's happening within the walls of the church. Thriving congregations Create opportunities for people to share where they see God active in their daily lives. They embed testimonies about God at work in people's lives during worship, meetings, small groups, and social media posts. They invite Christ-followers to move beyond their comfort zones and use their in person and online church gatherings to teach people how to practice faith in at home, online, and in their communities. They celebrate the many ways that people are partnering with what God is already doing. Recognizing that God's creative work continues to unfold in this world, thriving congregations invite people to:
  • View faith as a verb and find ways to practice the presence of God.
  • Discern where God might be leading them or how to best live out their callings.
  • Look for and celebrate where they see God's love showing up in the world.
  • Try on new faith practices that can be done at home, in the car, and online.
  • View faith as a journey rather than a final destination.
  • Practice faith in the context of a supportive community that builds the body of Christ.
  • Model faith communities similar to what's described in Acts 2.
Thriving congregations create resources to empower people to pray, discern, and practice faith at home. They are easy to use, engaging for all generations, and are designed to be portable so that people can use them wherever they go.

Thriving congregations focus on impact and reach. They find tangible ways to help people grow spiritually. They help people discover, develop and deploy their callings. They replace the term "members" with words like ministry partners, unpaid servants, or Christ-followers.  Their identities are tied to growing disciples who live and lead like Jesus.

Thriving congregations teach their leaders to talk less, listen more. Their pastor is not seen as the “expert” but rather one of many sources of insight and wisdom. Elected leaders spend time praying, discerning, and asking powerful, and sometimes hard, questions in ways that lead to new ways of being and doing church. They listen to each other. They listen to their ministry partners. They listen to the people they seek to serve.  Thriving congregations have leaders who have courage to say, “I don’t know the answer...but let’s find it together.” They are willing to ask "what if," and "why not?" They have a curious mindset and are always wondering if there might be a better way to be church together, They view failure as an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to try another course of action and therefore, design short-term experiments and prototypes reveal new ways to move forward in ministry.

Most congregational conversations about mission talk about what's being done, or what has been done without entertaining questions about why they do what they do. Leaders need to ask, "why is that important?" and "what would happen if we no longer did this?"  Leaders must reframe conversations so that the focus is on how we're fulfilling God's intentions, and how lives are being changed. Leaders of thriving congregations connect what they do with why it matters, and how it's fulfilling God's mission.

“The hallmark of anxiety in a system is undue seriousness” (Edwin Friedmann). Laughter can be rare in many church settings but it doesn't have to be so. Thriving congregations find creative ways to combine playfulness and purpose into all of their activities. Consider what squelches the playfulness out of your ministry setting and then consider what you might embed it into upcoming activities. The next time your at church, consider:
  • Asking people to share a joy from the week at the beginning of a meeting, or in worship.
  • Asking people to share with each other the last thing that really made them laugh.
  • Counting the number of times your leadership team during their last meeting.
  • Inviting someone to share a joke at the beginning or end of an event.

If leadership is about influence, imagine what would happen in your setting if every person sought to use their influence to be transforming presence within and beyond their church? What would happen if every ministry partner to saw themself as a care giver to others, a source of wisdom and creativity, AND called to represent Jesus with everyone they encounter. What would happen if every ministry partners view their homes as mission outposts, and their neighbors as the people God has called them to serve? Leadership is a skill that can be taught; a muscle that can be strengthened. Thriving congregations create a culture where all people are equipped to serve and bless others so that it's not just a few people doing the majority of the work.

As you think about these 6 shifts, which ones do you see as most prevalent if your setting? How might you build on these facet?  Which facets need greater attention from you and other leaders?  


  1. What characteristics do you look for in a thriving church?
  2. How has your church culture changed in the last 5-10 years?
  3. In what ways does your church need to become more nimble and adaptive?
  4. Who are the people within your church that can help you think outside of the box?
  5. Who are the people beyond your church that can help you address the 6 facets?

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