Energy will follow need and interest. So even though, from a practical standpoint, you could start anywhere and build toward a balanced program, your most pressing needs will be a reasonable starting point.
Many congregations, for example, are concerned about declining membership. Mainline Protestant denominations have been losing members steadily since 1964, when Baby Boomers began to graduate from high school. Partisans have used that decline as a weapon against whatever they didn’t like. In fact, growth had come too easily in the two decades after World War II, and we just weren’t geared up to retain current members and to recruit new members.
Even though membership development is only one of Seven Key Factors for nurturing a healthy congregation (see list in the Church Wellness column of the Outlook’s May 14 issue), it might be the one that feels most pressing. Therefore, many congregations will want to start there. A companion effort in young adults ministry might seem welcome, too, at congregations where membership seems too “gray” for long-term vitality.
Before settling on any one factor, I suggest you keep two things in mind:
First, in order to assess your efforts, you will need measures of what is working or not working. Therefore, some attention to Metrics will be necessary wherever you start.
Second, virtually any best practices that you choose to implement will require a capable Web site to be effective. Whatever your initial focus, a foundational first step will be to develop a Web site that uses best practices in design and features. Many congregations have Web sites, but few have truly effective Web sites. More on that later.
Remember, finally, that your starting point is exactly that, a starting point, not a full project. To be a healthy congregation, you will want to apply best practices to everything you do, from welcoming Sunday visitors to training leaders to teaching spiritual disciplines. You cannot plan all of that at one time; it is too much to contemplate. Just remember to seek balance as you proceed.
Tom Ehrich is a writer, consultant, and leader of workshops. An Episcopal priest, he lives in Durham, N.C. The church wellness project may be found at www.churchwellness.com