One of the most common questions we get from pastors as they consider whether or not to join the program is, “Will this work in ________?”  The question comes in a variety of flavors.

  • Is this helpful to a church with a solo pastor?
  • Will this work in Hawaii?
  • Will this help churches in the UK?
  • Do you have any multi-site churches on the platform?
  • Is this applicable in the African American church?
  • Will this work for ME?

And here’s the real answer: I have no idea but probably yes because it depends on you.

I’m not in Hawaii or the UK, so there’s really no way I can authentically answer those questions.  I wasn’t a solo pastor so I don’t have personal experience in that area. I can point you to people who are using the platform in those contexts, but there’s no way I can guarantee it will work for YOU.

Because how something works depends more on how you use it than what it is. It’s not only about the content, it’s about the application. It’s not all about the program; it’s about your commitment to it.

And this isn’t a Church Fuel thing, it’s true of just about anything.

I can’t tell you how many times I hear pastors questioning whether something born in the mega-church world will help their normal-sized church. It’s frustrating to read comments of leaders dissing ideas because they aren’t specifically created for their unique situation. It’s a form of lazy leadership.

Maybe you’re wondering if a curriculum specifically created for a denomination different from yours will work. Maybe you’re wondering if that tech solution will work in your older congregation. Maybe you’re wondering if a ministry idea really will help you accomplish your mission.

The answer is: I have no idea but probably yes because it depends on you.

When missionaries go into a new culture, they take the timeless truths of the Gospel and explain it in a way that makes sense in that language and culture. 

That’s what great leaders do. They see what’s working and what people are doing, and they process it through the lens of their own context. They don’t just copy. They learn the principles and get ideas.

They take something created for one purpose and adapt it to fit their own needs.

They don’t make someone do it for them—they do it themselves. They don’t expect everything to fit right out of the box. They put it in context.

Contextualization is how you learn without copying.

You don’t have to be the naysayer, pointing out how every little thing isn’t perfectly pre-adapted to your church, passing blame to creators for not tailoring their product or service to your unique ministry situation. 

Instead, you can reap the benefits of just about anything, embracing your role as the steward of your community and filtering ideas, programs, ministries, and technologies through your cultural context.

You don’t expect everything to be perfect; you adapt it.  

Here are three ways to do this and an example of how it could work for your church.

#1 – Approach ideas with a growth mindset.

Healthy churches are usually led by growing leaders.

And a top trait of a growing leader is that they operate from a growth mindset. Leaders who embrace this philosophy say, “I can learn from anyone. Everything can help me.” Contrast this with a fixed mindset or a stuck mindset.

Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, summarizes the two mentalities.

  • A fixed mindset comes from the belief that your qualities are carved in stone – who you are is who you are, period. Characteristics such as intelligence, personality, and creativity are fixed traits, rather than something that can be developed. 
  • A growth mindset comes from the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through effort. Yes, people differ greatly – in aptitude, talents, interests, or temperaments – but everyone can change and grow through application and experience.  

We see this with pastors and churches all the time.  

Stuck Mindset Growth Mindset
Coaching I don’t see the value of expert opinions. Besides, I don’t have the time or money I can and should learn from anyone.
Change I’d rather keep things the way they are because what’s known is better than what’s unknown. Embrace change and lead through it, because it can lead to growth.
Challenges We avoid challenges. We embrace challenges.
Staff When we get the money to hire someone, things will get better. Let’s develop the people we have.
Criticism I tend to ignore critics completely or else I obsess over what people think. I don’t have to agree with critics to learn from them.
Volunteers Everybody who wants to do something and can do something is already busy. We will cast a big vision and make sure everyone finds the right place to serve.
Leadership Development There aren’t enough high capacity leaders around me so I’m comfortable telling everyone what to do.  If there aren’t leaders around me, it’s my fault.  Since I can’t do this on my own, I’ll be responsible for developing them.
Giving Giving isn’t great because of the economy, our area, or the kind of people we’re reaching. I’m going to be the best steward of what God has given me.

 

When leaders with a growth mindset encounter a new idea that may not immediately work in their setting, the growth mindset allows them to learn, adapt, and make changes. They refuse to be limited because the work of contextualization is not done for them.  

By the way, we’re doing a breakdown and a ministry insights video on Dweck’s book, Mindset, inside The Pastor’s Book Club.

#2 – Look for the principles behind the product.

Northpoint Community Church runs a program each year called Be Rich. It’s worth checking out.

Essentially, they vet tons of local and international charities who are already doing good work in the community. Choosing to cooperate not compete, they raise money for these charities, asking everyone in their church to give $39.95.

Over the last 13 years, they have raised more than $50 million, passing 100% of these funds on to great organizations. 

You can look at that and see big numbers and think “our church doesn’t have that kind of money.”

Or you can look for some principles behind the idea and pull them into your context.

You may not be able to partner with 610 organizations around the globe, but there’s probably one. You may not be able to raise $50 million, but you could encourage congregational participation in a pass-through-style program. 

You don’t have to copy the tactics to learn from the principles.

In fact, whenever you see an idea that sounds good, you should NOT rush to copy the tactics.  You should think about the strategy and you should look for the principles.

The principles are what allows you to contextualize the idea, not the idea itself.

#3 – Leverage your strengths.

Every church is different, with unique cultures, locations, leadership, and mission.

There’s a ton that unites us, and we might actually have more in common than we realize. But these nuanced differences are really important to how we operate.

The leaders in your church have unique strengths. Collectively, your church has strengths, too.

On the Two Page Plan, we call these Distinctives.

These are the things that make your church unique. You’re absolutely not competing with other churches in town, but if you were, these are the things you would call out. When you know your distinctives, you can build around them. You can build on your strengths.

When you execute the idea you’re considering, you do so according to your strengths as a church.  

That may mean the idea itself is different. Or it may mean you do it a different way.  

Putting It Together

Here’s an example of how all of this might work.

On Success with Groups Online, you learn from Brian Beauford that Grace Church is offering monthly webinars to reach new people in their community. 

You’re drawn to this strategy because you’ve been looking for a way to engage people online. A few leaders in your church think this might work for you, but soon, people begin pointing out the technical challenges. They remind you the people in your church have been resistant to technology. And they are worried about running ads on Facebook the way Brian does.  “That sounds expensive,” they say.

Approach the idea with the growth mindset.

You have to fight a little bit, but you convince your leaders to keep pushing. “It may look different for us, but there’s something here we can learn from. Let’s not dismiss an idea…let’s see what we can learn.” 

Look for the principles.

Webinars may not be the ultimate thing for you, but the principle here is that Grace Church is providing helpful content to people in their community. They are meeting people online and building trust with people before they ever walk through the doors.  As you keep discussing, you realize there are at least three transferable principles in this idea and you start talking about those with your leaders.

Play to your strengths.

Since your church and community really aren’t tech-minded, you decide an in-person workshop is a better fit. Webinars might be a phase two thing. Plus, you have people on your team who know how to run events. So, you organize a 60-minute workshop called “Parents and Screen Time” on Thursday night at the community center.

You just approached a new idea with a growth mindset, pulled out the principles, and launched it according to your strengths.

You didn’t dismiss an idea or force the idea-holder to contextualize it for you. That’s a huge win.

Even if you DID NOT execute anything as a result, deciding that this wasn’t something on strategy or in scope, having the growth mindset approach and fighting to pull out the principles helped you get better.

The goal isn’t to implement every idea or tactic or strategy. It’s to keep learning.

Take the Next Step

Looking for ways to reach more people in your community and invite them to church? For most people, the Sunday morning service is the front door to church engagement.

In The Senior Pastor's Guide to Reaching More People, you'll find practical and actionable tools that you can use to reach more people in your church.

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The Senior Pastor's Guide to Reaching More People