Picture this. Your church is a small church with a small budget. You are maintaining your mission in your small community, but people are drifting away to the mega church down the street. You research their programming and begin implementing it even though you don’t have enough volunteers, staff, participants, and money. You try to make things happen, but everyone is worn out and the exodus is continuing. Your leaders wonder “Why does it work there and not here?” Wrong question. The right question is “What is God calling us to do?”

This question is what churches need to ask. We want young adults but give up before they come home for Christmas. We want children, but our youngest member is 40 and unless we have a few Abrahams and Sarahs, this may not be our call.
How do we faithfully answer God’s call when we don’t know how to hear it? This 7-step process may start your church on the road to discerning your unique mission.

Step 1: Prepare
Gather a group to serve as a mission team. Ask a diverse group of people: age, occupation, those who love missions or Christian education, those who like to dream big or who like to plan the details. Avoid asking the session and pastor to do this. They are busy, and already have input in what the church does. Have a team member facilitate or ask an outside person to facilitate, so team members can focus on listening to God.

Decide how often to meet. Meet weekly, monthly, or do the first steps in a retreat setting. Whatever works best for you.

Step 2: Study and Pray
This is the foundation for everything to build upon. At each meeting, ask a member to bring a scripture to focus on. It doesn’t matter what scripture is brought. God has a way of making the call heard!

Open with prayer. Then check in so everyone can share the concerns they bring to the meeting. Next, have a time of centering. Then have the person who brought the scripture to read it aloud 2 or 3 times. Leave time between each reading for reflection on a word, phrase or idea that stood out and have each member write that idea on an index card. Begin to share these, and what made them stand out.

Finally, ask: What did you hear God saying to us as a church? What is God calling us to do through this scripture? Record these ideas on index cards. Record all ideas big and small without critique. Close the time with a prayer. Ask each team member to continue listening and praying until the next meeting.

Step 3: Clarify and Dream
Brings all the ideas that have come out of the studies and in between times. After the team feels at peace, tape each card on a wall. Together review each card and group ideas that seem to go together. Look at these groupings and prioritize them. Prioritize no more than 5 goals (preferably 2 or 3). This is not to limit the Holy Spirit, but to make the process more manageable. Keep all your cards as you may be drawn back to an idea or find that it can be easily accomplished.

Establish the wording, rationale, and how it connects to the congregation’s mission statement for each goal. Then decide how to proceed. Does the session need to approve these and have input? Do you need a potluck to share these with the congregation? Do you want to do the goal planning, or hand them to ministry teams to do the planning? Or do you want to appoint a planning committee for each goal?

Step 4: Plan and Summarize
Create an action plan for each goal. Hammer out the brass tacks. How much will it cost? What are the steps to do it? Who will head it up? It is important for the team to continue to pray together and individually. When the planning is done, the team receives a plan for each goal and tweaks as needed. The team summarizes all goals and plans.

Step 5: Fine-tune
The team shares the goals with the session, pastor, and congregation, and gets feedback to affirm they believe this is what God is calling the church to do.

Step 6: Act
The plans are put into action.

Step 7: Evaluate and Celebrate
The team comes back to evaluate the entire process. As listening to God is continuous, this will help the next time. The team needs to celebrate and give God thanks for all the wonderful visions that have come from this discernment and pray that God will keep calling your church. And you will keep listening!

Author Image

Elinor Brown

Elinor Brown along with Davis Gray developed this discernment process which is found in the booklet “What is God Calling You to Do?” Elinor is the Discipleship Ministry Team Leader for the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.