At Concordia Technology Solutions, we hold weekly product meetings with members of our marketing, support, and development teams. We discuss what happened during the week and what tasks will be accomplished in the coming week. This is also a time for us to share feedback we’ve heard from the users of our software.
We get a lot of great ideas on a daily basis, but I’ve learned I have to be careful in how I bring them up. If I say, “What do you think, can we add this new feature?” it’s likely that I will get a tongue-in-cheek response from a developer such as, “Yes, we can do anything ... with time and money.”
I’ll admit I’ve used that phrase in other meetings as well. While there is a certain level of sarcasm to it, the reality is that technology has improved so much over the years that (almost) anything is possible, as long as you have sufficient resources.
“What can we do?”
If the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has taught us anything about technology in the ministry, it is that we are (and have been) capable of doing far more than we ever thought possible. We just needed to have the right reasons to do it.
I’ll use my church as an example. Before the pandemic and sheltering-in-place, we had never livestreamed a worship service. In fact, video was such a small part of our communications strategy that we didn’t even have a YouTube channel. Now, just over a month later, we have streamed a few dozen Bible studies and worship services, including all of our Holy Week services.
When interviewed for an article in the LCMS Reporter, our pastor, Rev. Wayne Huebner, said, “There is a lot of news right now about what we are not able to do. ... At Salem, we are asking, ‘What can we do?’ ” It turns out, we can do quite a bit.
We are not a unique case. Thousands of churches have been doing the same and more after having never done these things in the past.
When Priorities Are Thrust upon Us
I think many of us are surprised at how quickly churches with limited technology experience and resources have been able to adjust to the pandemic and implement things such as livestreaming. Really, it all comes down to priorities.
Before the pandemic, many churches were operating under priorities that had been in place for a while. Whether these were defined priorities, such as mission statements and ministry goals, or undefined priorities (“We’ve always done it this way”), the routines were in place and activities like livestreaming were considered to be something beyond what the church should or even could do.
Then COVID-19 came along and everything changed. Previous activities that involved meeting in person had to be paused, and the mission of the Church became even more important. In a time of fear and uncertainty, our only hope is to look to the cross and what Jesus did for us there.
So while the goals were the same, the possibilities for accomplishing it became limited, and churches had to change their priorities in a very short time period. Many congregations have done so and in fantastic ways.
Setting Priorities When the Possibilities Are Endless
Once the pandemic ends and life goes back to normal (or whatever the new normal will be), you as a church worker or volunteer will have to make a choice for your congregation: go back to the old way of doing things or take what you’ve learned during this time and do something different.
The old way is the familiar, comfortable, and seemingly easy. However, in a world that has changed, the old way may not be (and I would argue will not be) as effective in achieving the mission of the Church as it once was.
The new way is unknown and uncomfortable, which makes it seem more difficult. It will involve trial and error, and most important, in a world of technology that presents more opportunities than ever before, it’s going to require focusing your efforts.
Not All Things Are Helpful
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “ ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (1 Corinthians 10:23 ESV).
Paul certainly wasn’t referring to ministry priorities in a congregation when he wrote this, but these words have practical applications for us in this area. When we look at all the technological possibilities, it will not be fruitful to pursue everything, even though it is possible, because not all things will further the ministry.
That’s why setting priorities for your ministry is so important. Having priorities, whether that is done through a mission statement, ministry goals, or some other means, will allow you and others at your church to focus your efforts on a few key areas, settings aside all other possibilities, not because they can’t be done, but because they are not as helpful.
Limiting Factors Still Exist
While the possibilities technology offers do exist in the world, that does not mean there are no limiting factors at your church. You will still need to keep these things in mind, but they can be overcome in ways that didn’t exist before.
- Training—While people are more tech-savvy than ever before, there are some technologies that still have a bit of a learning curve. Thankfully, training resources are now available in an abundance for almost any technology that you could use in your church.
- People—Many churches have trouble finding volunteers to serve in all the required roles. When you focus your priorities, that may mean cutting certain activities in order to free up volunteers’ time to assist in other ways.
- Time—Before the pandemic, people seemed to have more time commitments than ever before, which affected how many volunteers would sign up. As activities slowly start up again, it will be a chance for you to speak with your members about their stewardship of their time and see if they might be willing to share more of it with your church.
- Money—This has always been a limiting factor and will continue to be one in the post-pandemic world (probably even more so). Look for opportunities to use free resources or apply for grants from organizations that seek to help congregations pursue new opportunities in ministry and technology.
Getting Started with Priorities
Now that you understand the importance of priorities, how do you get started with setting them at your church?
My recommendation would be to first take a full assessment of your congregation using a method called a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. This is a simple process but requires honest evaluation and input from many people.
Next, define your mission statement. While all churches operate under the Great Commission and strive to share the Gospel with all people, how this is done will look different for each church. Your church’s mission statement should explain how you pursue the Great Commission in your context.
Finally, I recommend setting ministry goals. A ministry goal should be written using the SMART format, meaning it should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. These goals should be easily understood and serve as rallying points for your congregation, giving you a benchmark for deciding your next actions.
To help you in this process, I’ve compiled a free downloadable resource that will walk you through this three-step process. Click on the button below to download it today, and use it to help your church prioritize your ministry efforts.