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2030 Pioneering while Living Up to Expectations

Last week we began to pursue how to make sense of getting from “here” to “there” in 2030

Here’s the Dilemma

There are roughly 350,000 churches in the United States and the vast, vast majority are focused on serving the 25% (and rapidly shrinking!) of the population identified as practicing Christians. 

Two fundamental problems result:

  1. It gets more and more difficult for your congregation to maintain its “share” of the shrinking piece of the pie.
  2. Relatively few churches focus on what is now the vast unreached mission field amounting to 75%.

This presents you as a congregational leader with a challenge of unbelievable proportion!

  • The good, godly people inside your church don’t want to change. And…
  • Committing to reaching a very small segment of this vast, unreached mission field is not quick, easy and filled with promise of rapid “success.”

Here’s the solution! 

  1. You need to continue serving the folks inside the church well enough for them to know that they’re loved, valued (what they’ve done oftentimes over decades has “counted”), living up to their expectations most of the time while helping them adjust unrealistic expectations, and disappointing them at a pace they can handle. (Did I mention this is easy?) Here’s a clue…
    1. They’re grieving the things they’ve valued that they’re losing.
    2. They’re fearful of what they don’t know about the future you’re trying to describe.
  2. Seek permission to pioneer. Experiment. (You probably don’t need to disrupt everything.) Don’t be afraid to ask them to support it and give to it…and challenge a few to join you. Here’s a clue…
    1. When they’re not emotional or defensive, folks can see what “no change” looks like when they wind the clock forward ten years, to 2030, where the established church we know is a whisper of what it once was! Most honestly don’t want to hand forward an irrelevant shell of what used to be.
    2. There’s an institutional memory buried among them that remembers seasons of adventure and excitement and maybe even missionary zeal that sacrificed for a next generation or a vast unreached mission field far away. Plus… that mission field, today, likely includes the generation of their own children and grandchildren. 

This is no small leadership task! And you already know that you need to be bringing other leaders in your congregation with you.

So, the world has changed a lot since what I’m going to tell you now….

My first pastoral assignment out of seminary was as an assistant pastor of a 125-year-old urban congregation. 20 years in decline. Proud of their prominent past. Fearful of the future. Stubborn. Conflicted. And nestled in what was about to become a very violent neighborhood for a decade or two. (A few months after I arrived I was Called as senior pastor because, as one elderly lady explained to the assembly, “Things are so bad here no one else would want to come.” Seriously. (It’s OK to smile now.))

Three observations…

  1. They were in crisis. Full-blown crisis. (“If something doesn’t change we won’t be around very much longer.”) In crisis… Pride is slowly humbled and an openness to adventure and change can emerge. And a willingness to trust God can bubble up because we haven’t done so well trusting our best efforts. IF leaders are trusted.
  2. There’s no logical explanation for what happened. The wind of the Spirit (Ezekiel 37) blew life into dry bones and “more than we could ever ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3) over time emerged.
  3. With everything working against our old, tired congregation, they made many changes by “addition” (starting new pioneering efforts), and minimized changes by “subtraction” (taking away ministries and programs people valued).

I made so many leadership mistakes that I regret during these years that most people had the depth of faith to forgive; but two things for you to hear…

  1. I listened a lot. Eventually, over 25 years, I had listened enough to become the chief storyteller of the highly treasured history of our congregation.
  2. The vast majority of the “we’re never gonna change” crowd elbowed their way to the front of the line to help, encourage, champion, explain, financially sacrifice!, participate for it to happen… because usually they knew they were valued, served…and their expectations at least partially met.
  3. Slowly, haltingly, amazingly the Spirit converted people outside our church from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of Light.

Two footnotes…

  1. It wasn’t all pretty. At times, I felt unfairly attacked. Misunderstood. Embroiled in petty conflicts. Frustrated by individuals’ self centeredness or short-sightedness. Betrayed. 
  2. It’s a whole different world today, but the principles above are more true today than ever before. 


  1.  You can’t do it alone. Who’s the team? Who’s the larger circle that needs in on this conversation? Listening. Strengthening resolve. Moving toward fearless champions with you.
  2. You already know. When you’re ready to start, it will need to start with developing a forgotten capacity of relational discipleship. Big church. Little church. Crisis church. 125-year-old church. Raechel at PLI can answer questions about Discipleship to Missional Community and/or 1,000 Young Leaders.
  3. If your church decides to wait until 2030, you’ve made it very difficult for a pioneer to start. It’s better to stand on the shoulders of a few of today’s giants. 

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