Many churches I work with suffer from low self-esteem and a sense of hopelessness. There are many reasons for this malaise, a common one being that the congregation has come to believe their circumstances are insurmountable (they’re not, but that’s a post for another time).
I’m working on a recommendation report from a consultation with a church that is suffering from a culture of hopelessness. As I wrote the prescription, I noted that many churches are suffering from this same issue. So to address this widespread problem, here’s an antidote for hopelessness.
Create a Church Culture of Hope
The only effective prescription to cure congregational low self-esteem is for the congregation to experience serial successes. Too often, low self-esteem churches actually experience multiple successes, but there is no “cheerleader” leading the encouraging cheers. Without a success cheerleader, the congregation remains unaware of the church’s effective ministries and human nature tends to color any thoughts of the church’s future in shades of drab gray. The solution is to become a celebratory and encouraging congregation.
Hope is built on the promise of a preferred future. Developing a SMART congregational vision would be a good first step (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time Bound). However, vision alone is inadequate to change a congregational culture. Just as progress on the Jerusalem walls ceased less than a month after Nehemiah cast the vision, so too will progress trail off at the church if encouragement and the celebration of milestones aren’t coupled with renewed vision casting.
Even before the congregational vision is discerned and embraced, congregational encouragement and celebrations must commence in order to overcome the current culture of hopelessness.
One of our discipleship development questions is, “Who have you encouraged in the faith today?” Beginning immediately, this question needs to be asked of every church leader every week, and every church leader should begin making encouragement calls during the week.
There are a variety of ways to encourage a fellow disciple in their faith. Asking any of the discipleship development questions is one way, but it should not be the only way we encourage one another (nor should the questions necessarily be a part of regular encouragement calls). Any one of the following questions should be raised during a personal communication (a phone call, a one-on-one encounter outside of church, a Skype call, etc.) – after a general “How’s it going?” has been asked and answered.
- How can I pray for you?
- How’s your walk with Jesus this week?
- What can I do to be an encouragement to you this week?
Church leaders should begin raising the encouragement level of the church by connecting with at least one other church leader and one at-large participant every single week. No one church leader should be calling the same two contacts each week. The point is to increase the “we care about one-another” factor exponentially across the whole church.
The expectation is that when someone shares a prayer need, the church leader will pray with their contact while still on the phone, as well as adding the need to their personal prayer list. In addition, the leader should move heaven and earth to meet any needs expressed in these encouragement calls.
Human nature is generally guilty of seeing the dark clouds gathering but ignoring the shelter from the storm, let alone the warm, inviting fire. Children naturally celebrate, but sometime during our growing-up we stop. There is much to celebrate at any given time, but Winnie the Pooh’s happy un-birthday parties rapidly become passé when they happen everyday. Therefore, it is incumbent on the church leadership, and especially the pastor, to (1) see and acknowledge celebratory moments/events/achievements; and (2) create opportunities for success, thereby enabling celebratory moments.
When it comes to kindling hope, the church leaders will need to be the catalysts for regular celebrations based on successes. It will be necessary to set meaningful yet achievable goals for the congregation and then ensure that those goals are met. Here are some example goals that could be set and celebrated:
- Increase average worship attendance by even two or three for the month
- Start a new adult small group – even a short-term group – once a quarter
- Set up a booth during the county fair and give away soft drinks in branded cozies – and count how many people you have contact with during the event
- Implementing any of these recommendations
- Take a special offering to offset a non-anonymous outreach project – and then engage in the outreach and get some local media coverage.
There are literally hundreds of things your church can do that are celebration-worthy. As the church begins to recognize positive things happening, the culture of hopelessness will be replaced with a renewed commitment to the future.
Question: What are some practical ways you can foster hope, encouragement, and celebration in your church? Share your ideas in the Comments section below.
 In this case, encouragement is not giving one another an atta-boy or atta-girl. Biblical encouragement is an invitation to take a step forward in faith practices. Whether we’re encouraging one another to read scripture, pray, serve, or share more, encouragement makes a difference in the way we live our faith.