Laity Session: Equipping the Local Church

Date Posted: 6/8/2017

Lay Leader John Esquivel facilitated an interactive panel discussion outlining tools and resources to help local congregations interested in revitalization as well as engaging or re-engaging their diversified communities.
Several realistic challenges for local congregations -- and opportunities -- were addressed in the laity session, with input from Lay Leader John Esquivel and two panelists from the Center of Congregational Excellence (CCE): Center Director Rev. Dr. Jesse Brannen and Rev. Artie Cadar, incoming Coordinator of Mission Field Development.
How do churches access resources and tools from the CCE?
“We have tools and resource people that are specialists in a number of areas to help the local church with just about anything,” explains Jesse, “but it is best to call or email me as a first step. I will then set up a meeting with your church leadership to better understand what you need, and we will make a plan.” Churches seeking to look more like their immediate communities can contact Artie for assistance in outreach to a changing demographic. “It is my dream to be able to help congregations and train leaders to do the job that needs to be done to understand different faith traditions and cultures, meet needs and edify those in your respective mission fields,” adds Artie.
What is the greatest barrier to church revitalization?
“Many congregations do not have a realistic view of who they are in 2017,” shares Jesse. “Some churches may not realize they still live in the 1950s, but when you stop and notice how much people have changed you realize the church has to do less talking and more doing to adapt. My grown children, for example, don’t carry cash, and this major shift in social norms has an impact for churches passing the offering plate. I have visited churches with members more concerned about someone in their seat than saying good morning to a visitor.” According to Artie, “Pastors who are serving in churches that are frozen in the glory days can love their congregations  and pray for the Holy Spirit to warm their hearts.”
Why is the demographic environment important to a church?
“The community tells us if we are relevant or not, and if what we are doing has an audience, or any potential,” shares Jesse. “If parents choose soccer over church, then perhaps the church has not done its job demonstrating the importance of young people learning life lessons at church. And, likewise, if churches are wanting a lot of kids to attend church in a predominantly retired community, they could spend years working for something that isn’t there.”
How does a particular mindset impact the church?
Panelists reminded attendees that churches should not exist to serve members. Adds Jesse, “We need to be in ministry with others, not ministry to others. When you minister with people it is much harder, messier and more time consuming, but these relationships are what we are there for.” According to Artie, “Everyone has a role to play. If we want to save the lost, whatever the cost, we need to know who they are, what cultures they follow, and what they need before we introduce them to the church.” Responding to a comment from the crowd, John noted that some congregations prefer not to be inconvenienced by noisy children or others who do not know the norms of church behavior, but those congregations that are not inclusive will struggle with growth and vibrancy.  Shares Artie, “The church can decide to be ‘we four and no more’ or decide to pursue what God is calling them to be, because it only takes a spark to get something new going.” Jesse explains, “Size does not indicate health in a church. The churches that offer small groups, provide some kind of outreach to youngsters in the community, build on their strengths and look to the future are the ones that will typically be healthy.”