Leading Through Change | UMC YoungPeople
Connecting young people and their adult leaders to God, the church, and the world
January 2018

Leading Through Change

By Chris Lynch

Since every church is located in a community in some type of transition, every local church is encouraged to study their congregation’s potential.”

As a youth worker, you would not be the first, to wonder what in the world the BOD has to say that might be helpful in the youth ministry realm of things. For the most part maybe you are right, but that is another discussion for another time. What I would suggest is that this small excerpt in paragraph 213 has the potential to be as relevant to youth ministries as we have found it to be in the lives of local congregations in South Carolina.

The reality is that the only constant in our culture is change. Therefore, if we are not continually monitoring the change that is taking place around us – in our culture at large, in teen culture, and in our community – we are less likely to remain effective in making young disciples of Jesus Christ.

The Forward Focus process places in front of local churches the stark reality that many of them find themselves facing that is warned of in that quote we began with from the Book of Discipline (paragraph 213). In my work in the South Carolina Conference, I not only have the privilege of working with youth ministries and youth workers on the conference level, I also resource local churches in two of our twelve districts. It is in that role that I have had the opportunity to adapt and create a process called The Forward Focus that is used an assessment tool for local congregations based on Paragraph 316 in the UM Book of Discipline. We are about a year into the launch of this process and have experienced success in helping local congregations assess their ministry potential within their community.

With that as a backdrop, I would like to offer three truths that can’t be ignored if we are to lead youth ministries that remain effective even as the culture around us changes.

1. Our culture and community will change.

Like I said, that the only constant in our world is change. That has never been more true than now. If you doubt that, take a look at your cell phone. Unless you have purchased one in the last 3-6 months, chances are there is a newer model that promises to be better and probable bigger. It is impossible to keep up because change is so rapid. As a matter of fact, I think that is what sets this time and place in our world apart from times gone by. Change has always happened, but now it occurs at warp speed.

2. The best time to initiate change in your ministry when momentum is strong.

One trap that youth ministries and ministries in general, routinely fall prey to is waiting too late to assess the change in their culture or community. When things seem to be “humming along” and numbers and morale are good, we tend to take the opportunity to “ride the wave” of success. After working hard to create and plan an effective ministry for a particular place and time, there is nothing more satisfying that recognizing and celebrating a job well done.

As we take time to pause and enjoy the success that we have worked so hard to create, change continues to occur in our culture and our community. The best leaders are those that can stay in front of the change curve, not by predicting the future, but by continually assessing the change that is occurring and considering new ways of “doing ministry” in their context that will keep their ministry effective as those changes take place.

3. If the culture and community has already changed and your ministry is “stuck” in the past, moving forward requires wrestling with 3 tough questions:

-Who are we?

-What has God called us to do or be?

-Who is our neighbor?

These questions are shared by authors Gil Rendle and Alice Mann in their book Holy Conversations as the cornerstone to planning and discernment. What we have discovered in the Forward Focus process in SC is that these three questions are great tools to assess the change that is taking place in our culture and community and to begin to identify places that the ministry (or church) is blessed with gifts and resources to minister effectively in this “ new reality”. For me, the sweet spot of youth ministry is the place where we connect our unique DNA with our calling from God to address the needs of the youth in our community.

Change is eminent. Regardless of the demographics surrounding your current ministry context, I can guarantee that they are and will continue to change. Our ability to assess that change and remain proactive in creating ministries that are ready to be effective in the changing climate is critical to our effectiveness in ministry. To be crystal clear, I am not at all suggesting that we are wishy washy in our theology, not am I suggesting that we allow culture to dictate what we believe. But in order to reach our changing community and culture we must be sure we understand how and how quickly those changes are occurring.