Give Your Ministries a Nudge in 2021

January 06, 2021

By Brian Mateer, Associate Director of Missional Engagement

I gave up New Year’s resolutions year ago. Mainly because I was not able to keep my them for more than a month or two. I like the concept, but for some reason, I have had little success in continuing them for any extended period of time. Several years ago, I stopped making resolutions but instead strive to do “three things” in the new year. I’ve had much more success with this approach.
  1. Go somewhere new
  2. Try something new
  3. Learn something new
These “three things” have inspired me with new challenges and adventures including joining our church choir tour to Europe (I sing, but not well), turning some uneven bowls and mugs in a pottery class and beginning a lifelong goal of learning Spanish. I’m still pondering what “three things” I will do in 2021 but I have already started to “try something new” by roasting coffee from home.
I like the fresh start the new year brings, and I like change. Maybe it’s because I grew up as preacher’s kid and I learned early on change was always a possibility. For me change is exciting, it provides opportunities for growth and brings freshness to the mundane. The new year allows for reflection over the previous year and inspires opportunities for personal, ministry and professional adjustment.
I once attended small town high school graduation where each of the seniors were given three minutes to share about what they have learned in their education experience. An exit interview of sorts.  One young man closed his time by saying, “If the world ends, I am going to return to insert small town name because everything happens here, five to ten years after it happens everywhere else in the world.” The audience laughed but that statement stuck with me.
In my nineteen plus years as a UMC ministry professional, I have witnessed how the church often does not do change well and sometimes not at all. Tradition, history, passions, fear, “the way things used to be”, “what’s wrong with how we are doing it now”, “if we just had this program”, “that staff member”, “this amount of money” are just some of the obstacles to changing our ministries this year. Having led through systemic change on several occasions, I understand how hard it can be and how resistant people may be. There is risk to change.  People’s feelings may get hurt, members may leave, money may be withheld and/or you may be trying to lead change where church leadership has not yet caught the same vision. The very thing God has laid on your heart, may be what ushers in a new era of mission and ministry in your congregation or community.
The arrival of the coronavirus to our communities forced churches to change and change quickly. Now a vaccine is being distributed and administered and we hope and long for a return to life before the pandemic. The reality is, some things in the church and world will never be the same, nor should they be. The first quarter of 2021 should be utilized by churches and church leadership to assess and evaluate ministries for life post-pandemic. We should not go back to “how things were.” This is the time to refresh, adjust or maybe even uproot ministry not bearing fruit.  This pandemic is providing the opportunity to cultivate the life-long vision God has planted in your heart. Churches who embrace change will have new prospects of ministries not dreamed of at this time last year. Be bold and courageous.
The covid-19 pandemic provided a “pull the rug out from under you” moment for change for churches and ministries. This type of change may be necessary, or a more subtle approach may be more welcome, and more effective. Recently, I came across a system of change called Nudge Theory that I have found particularly helpful in strategizing for change. This would be a great tool to utilize with a small group of members and/or colleagues.
Nudge Theory
Substitute “employees” with “congregation” or “community members”
As you begin 2021 looking to begin new personal habits, also consider the ministry resolutions God is calling you to. Strive to challenge your churches to consider going somewhere new, trying something new and learning something new.