7 Factors That Will Erode Your Church’s Progress in 2021

2021 is well underway …

The presidential election is settled, the vaccine is in the beginning stages of distribution, and you no doubt have a strategic plan in process for your church.

How’s it going so far?

Even though you may have some unanswered questions and perhaps a few setbacks that linger from 2020, God is in control, and you have a tremendous opportunity to bless your community.

Before we jump into the meat of this post, let’s do a quick assessment of how you’re thinking and how you’re feeling.

Here’s a quick 5-point checklist of your leadership thinking for 2021:

  • You are applying what you learned in 2020.
  • You know what you have to offer your community.
  • Your faith in God and your confidence in your vision is strong.
  • Your staff is fully engaged.
  • Your plans are clear for the first 3 – 6 months.

If you are unsure or unclear about any of the above, I encourage you to dig in now and shore up whatever needs your attention.

How are you feeling?

What’s the condition of your heart early in 2021?

  • Discouraged?
  • Hopeful?
  • Anxious?
  • Opportunistic?
  • ___________?

Anything you can do from time in prayer to a good conversation with a trusted friend to help you gain a positive, hopeful, and faith-filled spirit is worthwhile.

Let’s assume you are thinking clearly, feeling emotionally strong, and focused on what you can do!

In this post, I’ve outlined 7 factors that can undo the good you have going.

7 factors that will erode your progress:

1) Fear-based decision making

Fear is a healthy emotion that can protect you from harm and keep you out of trouble, but being fearful can break down your leadership.

Unhealthy fears, unfounded anxiousness, and worry can result specifically in poor decision-making.

COVID realities, declining church attendance, financial uncertainties, racial injustice, and the coming election outcomes elevated fear to an all-time high last year. Some leaders made wise decisions; some made decisions highly influence by fear.

The fear I’m describing is not panic level but an internal lack of peace and trust. This can result in a holding pattern, wait and see mode or inability to make a decision.

How are you doing this year?

Are you ready to make prudent risk-taking yet forward-moving decisions?

2) Sideways energy

Sideways energy results from lack of focus, lack of unity, and frequently changing your mind. (Anyone or more of these three will do it.)

Sideways energy is inefficient or wasted energy chasing something other than a common focus on an agreed-upon priority.

In my book Confident Leader!, I included one of my favorite quotes, “If you chase two rabbits, you catch neither.” Pick a rabbit!

That simple but clear picture of chasing two rabbits communicates sideways energy well.

Are you crystal clear on your focus for the next 3 months?

3) Unsettled by COVID

COVID is unsettling, but that’s different than being unsettled as a team.

We all experienced unsettling moments from the realities of COVID-19, but that does not have to result in an unsettled spirit among your staff and key leaders.

In fact, by now, your staff and church should be largely settled in your decisions about being open or closed, masks mandatory or encouraged but optional, and your plans to move forward.

It’s unlikely that your entire congregation will be able to fully align with every leadership decision just yet, but your staff and key leaders need to. While you love and respect everyone and want them to stay with you, you have a responsibility to lead your church forward.

Are you settled, confident, and moving forward?

4) Overlooking the importance of joy

Even though inner joy may not be visionary or strategic, it may be one of the most important qualities a leader possesses.

If you don’t possess joy as a leader, you’ll never go the distance. Productivity without joy is drudgery, and you can’t last long that way.

Inner joy doesn’t mean every day is a happy day and certainly not an easy day.

Inner joy means you find value and meaning in your calling and your daily work. Even on difficult days, you know that what you do matters. That leads to most days, actually enjoying your work.

No leader chooses difficult days, but wise leaders choose joy.

5) Unnecessary complexity

2020 introduced us to new levels of complexity in church leadership and ministry, far more than in at least the last thirty to forty years of recent church history.

Much of that complexity is unavoidable, but what about any complexity that did not result from navigating current culture and COVID?

Is there any unnecessary complexity in your systems, processes, staffing, ministries, or Sunday worship experiences?

Not sure?

These 3 questions will help you know the answer:

  • What is taking much more time than it should?
  • What is more difficult than it should be?
  • What requires more effort than the corresponding outcomes? (ROI)

6) An unhealthy staff culture.

From vision to strategy, you can have nearly every other aspect just right, but if your staff culture is off, that can quickly derail your progress.

I don’t remember where I first read this, but I love passing it on; Vision determines where you will go. Structure and strategy determine the path you will take, and

staff determine if you will get there.

  • Is your staff culture healthy and productive?
  • Do you experience high trust and champion honesty?
  • Do you give grace and practice accountability?

A great staff culture takes a great deal of ongoing work and intentionality. Know what you want and dedicate yourself to it.

  • What are the 3-5 things about your staff culture that you want to champion?
  • What are the 1-2 things that need to be improved right now?

Your staff culture is a product of what you create and what you allow.

7) Letting your guard down.

2020 was tough, and some leaders are understandably a bit gun-shy and reluctant. 

But there’s another group, those who think, “We are through the tunnel, we made it, we are back up and good to go!”

If the first group is unwilling to take a step of faith, this second group is in danger of letting their guard down both spiritually and strategically.

Spiritually speaking: even though you are full of hope and you have a great plan, it’s still important to guard your heart and remain fully dependent upon God every day.

Strategically speaking: even though you have a good strategy, stay perceptive and pay close attention to the movements in culture, and be prepared to adapt quickly.

14 thoughts on “7 Factors That Will Erode Your Church’s Progress in 2021”

  1. Christy Lipscomb

    Wow–what a timely article for me. We’re going through a significant leadership restructure and we are a couple weeks away from a leadership planning retreat. And of course Covid. Thank you for this insightful, specific probe. I’ll be processing these in detail.

  2. Dan, Excellent article and solid advice as I have come to expect.
    Except for one phrase, “masks mandatory or encouraged but optional”.
    I am amazed that in the midst of a real pandemic, where the number of people testing positive, and like me recently ( a 3-bout of COVID), increasing numbers becoming sick, there are still churches and members of churches who are unwilling to adopt the posture of Christ and “love their neighbor as themselves”, relative to dampening the spread of the virus. I would like to you address this issue by itself in a future blog. What are loving, caring and respectful attitudes that our whole Christian community can convey to our local communities through our actions. And how might unwilling churches & members consider how their actions covey unhelpful attitudes in this stressful time?

    1. Hi Larry,

      Thank you, and I appreciate your candid comments. I’m also sorry you suffered from COVID. I pray you are doing well now. My phrase about masks wasn’t intended to assess the rightness of one side or the other, but simply acknowledging that different churches have made different decisions, and each church needs to have confidence in their decisions. As a leadership coach I don’t think have the right to tell churches what is right or wrong in this matter. It seems like that might cause more division rather than elevating unity. There is just so much division and I hope my influence can lend itself to unity and the advancement of the Gospel. Personally, I and our whole staff wear masks on Sunday mornings. I can tell this topic is very important to you and it is to all of us. It’s tough to lead now, it really is. What is encouraging to one person, frustrates the person sitting right next to them. I believe that most churches are doing their very best to lift up the name of Jesus, keep the doors open, and serve their people well. I hope this response is helpful to you Larry.

  3. Thank you, Dan! I am really appreciating and finding value in your blogs. I’ve used part of them in board devotionals also.

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