As the calendar year or the church year draws to a close, every minister is faced with the question in the next year: What are we going to do? This is a question that very well may cause anxiety on the part of the minister, but in a church walking through a revitalization process, this may be an especially anxiety-inducing time. Walking through revitalization, church leaders are often forced to balance exciting new initiatives and events with programs from the past. When planning out the church calendar of events in a revitalization context there are three key things to remember: aim, audience, and action.
As you begin planning your event calendar, begin by considering what the aim of your events is for the year. In most congregations, the aim of events should fit into one of four categories: praying, playing, partnering, and proclaiming. The first two aims, praying and playing, are taken from Eugene Petersen in his book, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. In this text, Petersen writes, “Playing and praying are like the musicians’ art that combines discipline with delight. Music quickens something deep within us. . . . This discipline, while arduous, is not onerous, but is the accepted means for taking us beyond our plodding exterior selves into perceptions and aspirations that stretch us into beauty. And any time we are beyond ourselves, by whatever means, we are closer to God.”
The first aim, praying, should be considered more as a concept than as a task. Events focused on praying are events that are oriented and focused on church members growing in their knowledge of God and his will. These events may be focused times of prayer, times of quiet reflection and fasting, or organized readings and reflections on passages of scripture, but each of them are aimed at knowing, experiencing, and following the Lord.
The second aim, playing, is an aim that has been lost in many churches. With the rise of the church growth movement, churches have often sought to eliminate anything from their schedules that does not directly lead to the achievement of a desired outcome usually centered around a discipleship process. Though I am certainly on board with churches focusing the majority of their time and resources on discipleship, these efforts to bring focus to their ministry processes have forced fellowship and social events off the calendar of many churches. Gone are the days of fellowships, events, and activities focused on the church members growing deeper in their relationships with one another. A church that isn’t connected socially is a church foreign to the New Testament pattern where “all who believed were together and had all things in common…attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:45, 46).
As you plan your event calendar, don’t forget to bring opportunities for fun and fellowship into the church calendar.
The third aim, partnering, often is an outcome of the second aim. As members in your church create personal relationships through playing they often see the need for partnering together in discipleship relationships and the work of the ministry. Titus 2 seems to indicate the type of partnership that is necessary for the life of the Church: older members teaching younger members how to be faithful to the Lord. Many churches aim their events and connecting like age groups together, however it is helpful in the revitalization process to think through how you can encourage intergenerational relationship through events and activities for the sake of discipleship. Events aimed at partnership are events focused on establishing and celebrating discipleship relationships in your congregation.
The fourth aim, proclaiming, are events aimed toward the church living out the Great Commission and taking the Gospel to their Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. Many churches going through the revitalization process have lost their focus on reaching anyone, but have especially lost their focus on reaching their own Jerusalem, their community. Events aimed at proclaiming will look different from church to church, but a great way to get started in looking for physical needs in your community where your church can shine a light. Many times, ministry leaders feel they must be the ones to uncover these opportunities, but the members of your church are probably far more in tune with the needs of the community than you are. Ask around, look for areas of need that are clear to your congregation and start there. Though you may be seeking to meet a physical need, be sure your people are prepared to proclaim the truth of the gospel to meet the spiritual need of those they encounter.
After you have thought through the aim of your event be sure to consider the audience for your event. Is the focus on a certain group of church members, the church as a whole, the community as a whole, or a certain group within the community? How you answer this question will impact how you execute your event. Determining your audience will help you determine a lot of the practical event matters such as time, location, and logistical needs. Thinking through the audience of your event will also help you determine what level of involvement you will have to have in the event as a ministry leader. As ministry leaders, it is easy to feel like every event requires your direct involvement. However, Scripture reminds us that the church is one body with many members and one group with many gifts. The great news is you don’t have to be in charge of everything. However, as a shepherd of the flock, you do have to be sure everyone in your flock is cared for. As you think through the audience for events in your church and your community be sure every audience is receiving proper investment.
As you come to the end of event planning within your congregation you must ask yourself one question: What’s next? Each event in your congregation should lead naturally to something else. Every church event should lead to a specific action step for your congregation or community. For example, if you have an event aimed at prayer and finding God’s purpose schedule a time of testimony for a month following to discuss how people are living out the purpose God is calling them to. If you have a potluck event focused on getting to know other church members, encourage each person present to schedule a dinner or coffee outside of the church with someone they didn’t know previously. If you have an event focused on partnership, plan a start date for people to form discipleship mentoring relationships and groups, encouraging them to meet regularly for a specific amount of time. If you have an event focused on proclaiming the Gospel to your community such as a fall festival or Easter egg hunt, be sure they know the next action step is that they are invited to your church service, and more importantly that they are invited into God’s family through a relationship with Christ. Often churches host events without any anticipated action step to follow. An event for event sakes are fine, but events with action steps can lead to eternal implications in the life of your church members and community.
So when you plan your calendar for this year ask yourself: What’s our aim? Who is our audience? What is our intended action step?
Garrison Griffith is a PhD Candidate in Pastoral Ministry and Church Vitalization at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where he also serves as the Director of Student Life. Garrison is married to Braiden and they have two children: Eleanor and Graham. Besides discussing the local church, Garrison loves to talk Texas BBQ and LSU Football.