You’ve probably set a New Year’s resolution at least once in your lifetime. Studies show that about 44% of Americans made resolutions last year. Have you ever considered setting New Year’s resolutions for your church? If not, you should.
Just like individual resolutions, church resolutions can give your congregation a goal to work toward and provide motivation for improvement — both honorable ambitions.
What kinds of resolutions should churches set?
As individuals, we rarely have a hard time thinking of resolutions. Eat healthy. Exercise more. Lose weight. Save more. Learn something new. However, setting goals for a church may seem more daunting. It needn’t be. The options are just as vast and unique as the members of your flock.
To begin, you may want to think in terms of a category. Your resolution could be one that pertains to the church as a whole: increasing attendance, creating a new ministry or raising funds for a new building. Resolutions concentrating on individual pursuits may be another way to encourage congregants to read their Bible daily, participate in a mission-related activity during the year or fast for a day.
You may also choose to create a ministry-specific goal (redecorate the children’s wing) or a goal for staff members only (streamline the weekly staff meeting or organize the church office).
Your target may be something to which the whole congregation contributes or geared toward a small number of individuals within your church. The objective could involve a spiritual matter. It could also apply to the administrative side of church functions.
If you’re having difficulty imagining a resolution, you can always employ one of the many online tools to help you set, track and achieve your goals. Consider also exploring some of the many cheap or free tools for nonprofits.
Once you start thinking about goals, you may find that options abound. Unfortunately, studies show that only a small percentage of the people who set resolutions actually keep them. Increase your chances by limiting how many you set. If you’ve never set a church goal before, start by focusing on one objective.
How do you set a New Year’s resolution?
Once you have chosen a general area for improvement, narrow your dream to a very specific goal.
Perhaps you’ve decided that you want a congregational resolution. Since attendance has been waning, you’re thinking of something that might encourage more bodies in the pews. Now it’s time to get specific.
Think about it. Pray about it. Talk about, and eventually, write down a clear-cut goal. Using the example above, your resolution might be something like, “By the end of 2021, XYZ United Methodist Church will have increased our average Sunday morning attendance by 25%.”
Make sure that the components of your resolution are in accord with SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. The attendance example above meets all of these markers.
Specific and Measurable
The goal states exactly what the church wants to do and gives a quantifiable way of determining how to reach it — to increase average Sunday morning attendance by 25%.
When setting a resolution, it’s always important to consider if this is a realistic goal for your congregation. If you have a congregation of 1,500, then an increase of 25% would mean an extra 375 people in the pews. If your church is located in a community of 3,000 people, and there is a church on nearly every corner, then this goal may not be realistic. However, if your congregation has been composed of the same 35 people for the past 10 years, and a new housing development has just been built in your neighborhood, then a 25% increase (approximately nine people) may be well within reach.
Each group is different, and you know your church best. Just don’t set yourself up for failure. While your goal should be something to reach for, it shouldn’t be so far out-of-reach that it discourages people from trying.
Think about it. If your church is currently at capacity, then looking to increase attendance might not be the best resolution for you. Instead, you may want to consider drafting a building campaign. The purpose isn’t to set a resolution just for the sake of setting a resolution. The point is to motivate yourself, your staff and your congregation toward positive and useful growth or improvement.
Without deadlines, goals are likely to go unmet. Therefore, it’s important to put a timeline on your resolution. With the attendance goal, that would be “by the end of 2021.” While most resolution-makers give themselves the full year to complete the goal, it’s sometimes necessary to establish a shorter or longer deadline. If for example, your church wants to finance a mission trip in September, then the money would need to be raised well in advance of the trip date. If your church aims to send out five mission teams to five different countries, you may want to extend your timeline to include the next five years. The important thing is to be specific about when you want the goal to be reached.
How do you eat an elephant?
Once you have created a SMART resolution, the next step is to outline “your little bites.” No matter how big (or little) the project may seem, the process is the same. You eat one bite at a time. This is where the real planning begins.
Sit down with a committee or your staff and consider what it’s going to take to reach the ultimate resolution. Plan ahead. Ask yourself, “Who is going to need to do what to make the resolution a reality?” Consider when, where and how those things are going to need to be done. Be as detailed as possible. Plan for every contingency.
What will it take to increase attendance by 25% in your congregation? Does that mean every family needs to try to bring one new person to church every week? Should there be a bus ministry to pick up potential congregants? Would a “bring-a-friend” Sunday each month or a special online event recruit new attendees? Brainstorm, anticipate problems and tailor things to your church and community.
For example, as the world continues to work through COVID-19 regulations and restrictions, how feasible is a 25% increase? Should you include online attendance in that goal? What new problems might arise that might actually decrease your attendance rather than increase it? How can you plan ahead to meet those challenges and stay on target? The year of 2020 has shown us that it’s impossible to imagine every possible scenario, but by planning ahead and trying, you are more likely to meet your goal.
Once you have exhausted the limits of anticipation and written everything down, put it all into an actionable timeline and a step-by-step list. Determine what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it. Put the dates on your personal and team calendar (digital or hard copy). Make assignments and plan for follow-up and accountability. Accept that some things may have to change and conflicts may arise. Having specific, actionable steps already in place at the beginning of the year is key to avoid procrastination. The use of a goal-setting app may help you stay on track.
Lastly, don’t forget to include rewards.
The joy of meeting a goal is to be able to celebrate it. Each of your actionable steps is in itself a mini goal. Make sure to include appropriate celebrations or rewards. Just like teachers hand out stars to well-behaved children, find a way to promote the progress your church is making and to recognize it accordingly. If one of your steps includes a competition to see which small group has the most attendees, then offer a pizza party to the winning class. If you’re encouraging members to bring a guest on a particular Sunday, offer a small gift to everyone who does. Plan a big celebration or church-wide reward upon ultimate completion.
If the whole process overwhelms you, don’t give up. Consider checking out some of the powerful goal-setting activities that may help walk you through the process.
Kick off 2021 with a New Year’s resolution for your church. Even if you don’t meet your goal, the process is still worthwhile. Just by setting a goal and planning toward it, you’ll be closer to reaching new heights than you were before.
Tricia K. Brown is a writer, editor, keynote speaker and Bible teacher. In addition to being a wife and mother of four sons, she is the sole proprietor of The Girls Get Together, where she and her team provide women's event programs for churches and other organizations.