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As a judicatory leader, I spend a lot of time listening to pastors and church lay leaders talk about the numerous challenges of doing ministry in the 21st century.
They talk about how difficult it is to attract new people to their churches, apathy within their own congregations, declining resources (in both monetary and human capital), lack of qualified leaders (both lay and clergy), reduced numbers of people attending discipleship ministries, and the list goes on. 

Most of the time, my question to these church leaders is: “So, what you are going to do about it?”

At that point most of them go into immediate stun mode because they really haven’t thought about what to do about their problems other than complain about them.

There is no question that church work is more difficult today than it was in previous years. If that doesn’t discourage you, I think it’s safe to assume that it will become even more difficult in the future.

In response, we can either sit around complaining while we watch our churches close their doors one by one, or we can do something about the difficult challenges that we face.

Too many churches have spent the past 30 years complaining about their problems without doing anything intentional about addressing them, drifting along waiting for God to send a revival.

Others have thought that people would eventually come to their senses and return to God and the church. Even worse, still others hoped we would eventually elect a political leader who would return our nation back to Christian values.

The key word here is intentional. What are you going to do about your problems? What specific steps are you going to take to attempt to turn things around in your church?

Your church struggles to reach young people, does not have the leadership it needs to provide more effective ministries and hasn’t baptized anyone in the past 10 years. So what are you going to do about it?

Far too often I’ve heard the same churches complain about the same issues for years without ever doing anything to actually address the problem. 

It’s time to stop offering excuses and start seeking solutions. And if you can’t do that, then you need to step down from your leadership position because you are not a leader.

Start by identifying the problems you want to address and then establish what Paul J. Meyer called “SMART goals” around that problem. A SMART goal is one that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-defined.

For instance, a problem in your church may be a low number of youth. A SMART goal would not be saying you want to increase the number of youth in our church.

Deciding you will increase the number of youth in your church by five people by the end of the year would be. Please notice I did not say “you want” but “you will” because “want” is a word to be avoided in forming a SMART goal. 

If you do not have a SMART goal that is written down, all you have is a dream. Next year you’ll be complaining about the same problems because you did nothing to address them. Once you’ve identified a goal, you can then begin to identify the steps you will take to achieve the goal.

If your goal is to grow your youth ministry, some possible steps might be to establish youth gatherings, identify and train leadership to guide that ministry, create social media sites to promote this ministry and reach out to a particular group of young people in your community.

When you have goals and an action plan, you are ready to do something intentional about the problem, which should begin with communicating to others about what you are doing and why. 

Hopefully, a group of leaders in your church has worked with you in identifying these goals and action steps, and that this work has already been communicated to others in the congregation so there is widespread buy-in.

With congregational buy-in, concrete goals and an action plan in place, you should see results that can be measured. 

As you measure those results, you will also look at what is most effective and begin to make adjustments so the results continue to improve.

When that happens, you’ll look back and be able to see the major improvements you’ve made in that particular area, and that is much better than sitting around complaining.

Dennis Bickers served as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Ind., for 20 years before accepting his current position as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, Bivocational Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.

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