The stock market continues its erratic course as I write this. Investors are concerned about their portfolios and those with retirement accounts get a bit nervous. What will be the return on investment (ROI) in the long term?
Two recent blogs addressed a different kind of return on investment. The twentieth century was the era of the big denomination in America. Denominational infrastructure grew as church attendance surged. The churches provided funding to the denominations and, in turn, the denominations provided services, managed mission and ministry programs, and encouraged stability. That time has passed.
In recent blogs, two observers of the American denominational scene have addressed this topic. Bill Wilson of the Center for Health Churches asked “Are Denominational Bodies Doomed?” Luke Edwards of Fresh Expressions addressed “How to Innovate in a Traditional Denomination.” Wilson diagnoses the problem and suggests what the future might be. Edwards suggests a model for the future that balances tradition and innovation. Both have good insights and should be read.
I am not ready to write off denominations yet, but significant changes must be made if denominational entities are to survive. Here's my humble advice to denominational entities: “If you want the best return on investment (ROI), you should invest in people.
Programs will come and go. Buildings often become a burden rather than a resource. Strategies will rise and fall. People will endure. The investment that denominations (and churches) make in people must take priority. How does this happen?
1. Help people discover their gifts. The greatest resource of the churches (besides the Spirit of God is their gifted people. Our people are capable of much more than they are doing or being asked to do.
2. Encourage people to unleash their passion. When was the last time a church or denomination asked people what they were excited about as believers? Find out and harness that passion.
3. Provide opportunities for people to tell their stories. When people articulate their own stories, they discover where their stories intersect with God’s story. We can learn from one another and find alignment in a common cause as we come to understand the movement of God in the lives of individual believers.
4. Cast vision. As we hear the stories of the people, we listen for common threads that can be woven into a specific vision of the future. Rather than waiting for a charismatic leader to cast a vision, let’s listen for it among God’s people.
5. Empower the called. When individuals hear the call of God in their lives, they need to be set free to pursue that call rather than channeled into something for which they are not gifted or for which they have no passion. We must provide opportunities for people to fulfill their calling.
6. Pursue mission. We don’t have a mission. God has a mission and has invited us to become part of God’s mission. To put it another way, God has a mission and a people to accomplish that mission. Someone said, “Keep the main thing the main thing.” The main thing is the mission of God.
All of these steps are based on the idea that the Spirit of God is among the people of God (to borrow a phrase from Alan Roxburgh). We just need to recognize that presence and free God’s people to follow the leadership of the Spirit.
If you want real ROI, invest in the people of God. This may not assure the survival of your denominational entity, but the journey will be a lot of fun.