I have the honor and privilege to walk alongside countless pastors, laity leaders, cohorts, leadership boards, and church councils across the country in my ministry to equip and empower leaders of faith communities to engage in more effective ministry.  More often than not, I am far more blessed in the journey than those participating.  A few days ago as a digital cohort I was facilitating assembled, the pastor greeted his leaders by saying, “Hey Buds!” The leaders laughed and returned the greeting. The pastor explained he had recently preached on the vines and the branches. He referred to each congregant in the seven churches who had recently come together to form a cooperative parish as a “bud” on the branch.

Sometimes churches get stuck. This can happen to churches of any size, but it seems to happen to smaller churches a bit more often. Smaller churches tend to believe that larger churches have all the resources they need and therefore ministry is so much easier. First, every church (no matter the size) has limited resources. Whether it is limited dollars, energy, time, facilities, or available people, no church has all the resources they want or need. Second, every church has its own set of challenges. The larger the church is, the more complex its systems have to be to accommodate its size. The smaller churches can be more nimble and flexible. Third, this is a new time for all churches irregardless of size. As the United States population is now majority unchurched, the church must reimagine how to engage with this new culture.

In this postmodern culture, most every church is trying to figure ministry out for this new day. Gone are the days when there was a tried and true strategy for ministry that was guaranteed to work. For the most part, the Sunday-centric, pastor-centric, building-centric, offering-plate dependent approaches are no longer the go-to best practices to reach and engage the unchurched people under the age of forty. On the other hand, there is no one new strategy that will work either. Each area is highly contextual. Therefore, experimentation is the name of the game. 

However, there is one thing that is consistent within every area and context. Relationships are the top priority! This goes well beyond having good hospitality practices (i.e. being friendly on Sunday mornings and having a guest goodie bag). People are more digitally connected than ever before, yet Americans are terribly lonely according to the American Psychiatric Association’s latest Healthy Minds Monthly Poll. People have a desire for authentic relationships where they will find support, trust, nurture, and mentoring in a safe, judge-free atmosphere. The desire for a sense of community has never been stronger.

As church historian, Gary Neal Hansen, wrote about John Wesley’s 1748 explanation of the amazing growth of the Methodist movement in “Secret for Building Community,” there were four basic ideas in Wesley’s approach :

  • Trying new things.
  • Seeing what worked.
  • Ditching things that failed.
  • Innovation.

Even in the new world of the 1700’s, Wesley was constantly innovating and trying new things. No matter our church size, we are called back to our roots to try new things to reach new people for this new day.  It will likely be something new outside the church walls beyond Sunday morning. This new thing will likely be highly relationally and less programmatic. This new thing may take us outside our comfort zone and stretch our own discipleship. This new thing may call us to minister more like Jesus … in the homes of new friends, at the dinner table with new neighbors, in the city center with new people, and walking with people that others are ignoring.  As the pastor in the cohort suggested, our branches will first “bud” and then bear fruit as we faithfully experiment and invest relationally in our communities as we stay grounded in Christ (the vine) in this new day.

If you and your church leaders are looking for ideas on ways to partner in your community and build new relationships without spending any dollars, take a look at this complimentary list of ideas.