It is probably not a stretch to say that right now has been the most challenging...
If you have been reading ECO newsletters or have been at a place where one of the ECO staff has given a presentation, you have probably heard the phrase, “Flourishing Next Step.” The concept of Flourishing Next Step is that every church and every leader will identify where and how God is calling them to grow for greater flourishing. We do not dictate what that Flourishing Next Step is, but rather give tools and resources to help discern where God is uniquely calling you and your church to grow.
While the phrase itself is new for us, the concept certainly isn’t. Our desire has always been that churches wouldn’t simply change denominational jerseys, but rather that ECO would provide an environment that would spur one another on toward flourishing. The ultimate purpose behind the narrative questions we provide for reflection is to help congregations take stock of what the Lord has done in the previous year and determine where God is leading in the future. Some congregations and leaders continue to use the questions for this purpose. In some cases, the questions are becoming less helpful as new seasons of ministry approach. In other instances, filling out the narrative questions becomes something that leaders consider an obligation and it hasn’t been used to determine the next steps of the congregation.
As Anna Kent (our Director of Mission Affinity Groups) and I have talked, we have wanted to give churches some freedom as they approach the narrative questions. While I still think the questions are valuable in helping a church examine the totality of its ministry, some churches may find it even more helpful to answer the following three questions. As you look at these questions you can see that they are really a distillation of the ethos of the narrative questions.
1. Where have we seen our church flourish in the last year? Take some time to ponder this question individually and with your session or other leaders. It is important to notice, acknowledge and celebrate what God has done. We can easily miss what God is up to when we are so deeply entrenched in ministry. Take a look at things such as your children’s or student ministry, or the number of covenant partners who didn’t just transfer from other churches. How many leaders do you have? How many people are in discipling relationships? Perhaps your church has had a particular focus in the last year such as engaging in the discipleship initiative from ECO, or utilizing another resource from outside of our denomination. What has been the fruit of intentional focus last year?
2. What needs to be changed, added, or improved in order for our ministry to flourish? With this question, we are not yet addressing how you will assess a particular need, but rather focusing in on what is your highest significant need in the next year? When asked this question, some church leaders have said, “We have to develop our elders and potential elders to become spiritual leaders.” Others have said, “We need clarity on who we are and where God is taking us.” Another example may be, “We need to work on creating a disciple-making culture.” There are a variety of ways you can answer the question regarding the area of greatest need. Perhaps you engage in the Becoming a Flourishing Church material that asks you at the end to evaluate your church in core areas of health. Or, perhaps you will do some investigation into what’s next with members of the congregation. It is crucial, however, that the church leaders determine the answer to this question as they seek to move into a flourishing future.
3. What Flourishing Next Step can we take to thrive? There could be a variety of answers to this question. Congregations could address their needs through resources that are offered by ECO/Flourish, or through outside ministries, individuals, or groups. It can be easy for congregations to sometimes grab on to a resource before asking the deeper question of what needs to be enhanced within the congregation in order to flourish. While the enthusiasm is appreciated, congregations are much more likely to truly take a hold of resources once they know it is meeting their largest need.
If your congregation does not currently have your Flourishing Next Step identified, I highly encourage your session to answer those three questions above. Perhaps in the fall if you have a session and/or staff retreat, these questions might provide a framework to move forward. Another option is to ask one of these three questions each month as a session. As always, our Synod staff is ready, willing, and able to assist you engage in the future. We are excited to see what God has in store for you!