One of Lifeway’s values is charting what’s next. You might ask why that’s important, but often I am reminded that churches that do not consider the future often become stagnant or die. I’ve often said I believe time travel exists because I can instantly transport myself back thirty years or more by visiting some churches. It doesn’t matter whether they are large, small, rural, or urban, it doesn’t take more than one visit to see in which decade I’m worshiping. And this isn’t a commentary on music styles, but the approach churches take in their overall worship. Traditions aren’t necessarily bad, but being stuck in the past may cause a church to become irrelevant and unfortunately, obsolete.
That’s the primary motive behind this yearly blog on trends. It’s not to predict what I think might happen, but it’s a way for us to consider how we stay relevant to the next generation. I want the church to thrive. I want others to be drawn into a personal relationship with Christ. I want churches to foster biblical community and to make disciples. In short, I want us to take seriously the words Paul penned in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some.” In short, we can’t stay the same and expect to move forward. There must be courageous leadership, vision that comes from the Lord, and a conviction that lives are changed by the gospel.
As I considered the trends I’m observing from several ministry leaders, two words and themes kept rising to the top. The first is focused on variety. There is not a one-size-fits-all program that will be the answer to the needs of those you serve. Just like choosing one ice cream from a grocery store aisle that contains one hundred options, there is no longer one way to effectively reach others. The second theme focuses on the care of the leader. After almost three years of leading others through a pandemic, political strife, and other cultural issues, leaders are crying out for help. Let’s explore both of these trends.
Variety and Options
Remember the days when you could offer one Bible study and that was enough? That’s no longer the case, and I see this especially in the area of ministry to women. Churches must consider a variety of studies, both those that are lighter on homework and some that are more intensive. Variety will include when you study, where you study, and what you study.
Women’s lives continue to be marked by busyness and finding time for personal study. So, as a leader, offer options. Instead of one Bible study, consider offering several that are smaller and more personal. Take a quick survey and discover optimal times for study as well as times when childcare might be offered. Consider both daytime and evening studies to accommodate different ages and stages of women in your ministry.
Where you study is another area where you can offer variety. Is there a group that wants to study in a home? Is there a group that needs to meet at church where there are other options for their families at the same time? Do you have some women who prefer an online option where they can meet from the comfort of their homes? All of these are considerations as you encourage women to dive into God’s Word.
What women study is also marked by variety. I’ve heard some leaders say that women want very little personal study and in the next breath, I hear women say that others are demanding more depth. The solution is offering options. Consider offering one group a study that allows more time for discussion. This might be a study where videos are optional and personal study isn’t divided into daily lessons. For those who want more in-depth studies, consider studies that offer expository teaching that takes a group through an entire book of the Bible. For women who want a bigger challenge, consider Lifeway Women Academy as a course and put together a group that holds each other accountable to complete the work.
Variety and options aren’t just for Bible studies either. When asking women about events, this trend also rose to the top. Women are excited to gather back together for live events, but some want events focused on doing something together. Whether it was sitting around tables and diving deeper into conversations or serving the community together, the overall consensus is it’s time we get to know each other more deeply. Some leaders mentioned the importance of gathering women from their own church while also including other churches and doing something more collaborative. Some mentioned events geared towards specific ages or stages of life and others mentioned events to help bridge generations. In other words, there was not a one-stop event plan that fit every need.
Community outreach and mission trips are other ways to offer variety and options for women. Consider simple community projects where everyone can feel like they can contribute or participate but offer challenging opportunities that might include travel with a focus on sharing your faith in a different country. I believe there is a huge trend toward women getting back on the road and traveling, so consider how you can use this trend for kingdom growth.
One particular need that seemed to jump out, whether it was in Bible studies or events, was the need to be mindful of single women in your church. As there are more and more single women in your ministry, consider how you are meeting their needs. Are you including them in your planning time? Are they included in your leadership? You don’t have to point them out, but you do need to make sure that what you offer is not just for the moms with children at home.
Care for the Leader
The second major bucket of trends I’m observing focuses on the needs of leaders. I recently had a Zoom call with about fifteen ministry leaders, and during our prayer time, the comments of weariness and burnout seemed to surface all at once. Many of them feel the pressures of balancing home, ministry, and their personal soul care all at the same time. Often, these leaders are the ones giving and giving and yet no one seems to be pouring into their own needs. They lack friendship and find little time to enjoy the presence of being with others without an agenda.
I’ve been shifting my own thinking in regard to the leadership events we offer at Lifeway. For years, we have put the focus on developing leaders and giving leaders practical help whether they lead in the home, the church, or the marketplace. As we head into 2023, I’m asking the teachers at our events to include ways we can support leaders emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically. If we are to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, then we must offer more than ministry how-tos. We must see the brokenness of leaders, their weariness, and be examples of Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
In addition to the opportunity to invest in the souls of leaders, one can’t neglect the weightiness of the topics women are confronted with on a regular basis. Not only are leaders tackling the issues of discipleship but also the cultural issues related to gender confusion, unbelieving young adult children, addictions, and ensuring safe practices in ministry settings. Leaders feel inadequate to address many of these issues, and resources are needed to be helpful guides. There is a true sense of compassion fatigue among leaders, and it’s time for women to consider making sure they are healthy in all areas of their lives. In the future, it will be important to help leaders establish healthy boundaries, know how to expand their teams, and practice vulnerability when they need help.
How will you tackle 2023? What have you learned in the past couple of years that will propel you forward? One of my favorite things at our recent Women’s Leadership Forum was a huge sign that women saw when they were headed to the bookstore. For the first part of the event, we asked women to write on the sign the things that have been holding them back in leadership, but then we flipped the sign to encourage them to write the ways they plan to move forward in the year ahead. You can do the same thing as you turn the calendar to a new year. What will you leave behind and how will you move forward? Together, let’s consider Paul’s words to the Philippians in Philippians 3:13-14, “Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”
Kelly is the Manager of Magazines/Devotional Publishing and Women’s Ministry Training for Lifeway Christian Resources. She is the author of Ministry to Women: The Essential Guide to Leading Women in the Local Church and contributor to the Lifeway Women’s Bible, as well as the Lifeway Women Advent and Easter studies. In addition, she is the co-host of the MARKED podcast for Lifeway Women. She has a Master of Theology degree from Gateway Seminary and is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Ministry degree.