Several years ago I attended a workshop led by Dr. Lyle Schaller, a leading church consultant. He was wearing a shirt with “What if next year is 1951?” written on the front. The back of his shirt answered, “Then my church will be ready.” His point, of course, was that too often the church is way behind the times, slow to adapt to a changing culture and focused upon the preferences of its current members rather than upon its mission and purpose.

So, what year is it?

Every January it takes me some time just to adapt to writing the new year on checks and in other dated material. Even beyond the simple act of correctly dating the year, each new year brings new changes, new challenges and new opportunities. In the midst of these transitions, it is important for the church and for us, as individual disciples of Jesus, to do three things:

  1. Maintain our core values which are unchanging,
  2. Adapt our strategies, plans and programs in an ever-changing environment and
  3. Prayerfully seek God’s guidance to know the difference between 1 and 2.

The record of church history is that the church fails when it becomes too attached to old strategies or when it becomes too vague about its core values and mission. Too often we have held onto old traditions which no longer relate to the new situation. And too often we have jumped from one fad to another without evaluating those new things in terms of our mission.

As the Indiana Conference moves into the year 2014, we are trying to keep it all in perspective. We continue to use “Spiritual Leadership Teams” as a model of loving, learning and leading together. We have developed a statement of our Mission, Vision and Values (found on our conference website under “About Us”) to remind ourselves continually of our basics.

We are encouraging innovation and working to “invert the initiative” so that more decisions are made at the appropriate levels of the conference. We are focusing upon developing new leaders to reach new generations and new people groups. We are helping our existing congregations to become more vital, vibrant and fruitful through processes like “Fruitful Congregation Journey.” We are starting new congregations. Our two newest ones have launched their public worship services in recent weeks. And, we are preparing to start 100 New Points of Light by empowering our congregations to start 100 new worship opportunities.

Will all of these efforts prove to be successful? Probably not. But if we don’t try to adapt to new situations in this new year, then we will most certainly fail.

Living in the past is not a choice. Living in fear of the future is not helpful.

Remembering, celebrating and learning from the past is essential. Praying, seeking and planning for the future is exciting. Faith is always an adventure, and God always promises to be with us on the journey into a new year.

It all starts with finding an honest answer to the question: “What year is it?”

Bishop Michael J. Coyner

Indiana Area of
The United Methodist Church

Leadership for vibrant congregations
making faithful disciples of Jesus Christ