5 Church Words I’m No Longer Using

Stewardship. Outreach. Committee. Volunteer. Livestream.

Stewardship. Outreach. Committee. Volunteer. Livestream.

At the beginning of the year, I made a resolution for my ministry.

I was thinking about reimagining ministry – how so many things about church are not working like they used to. So I decided to reexamine some of the programs and systems that almost every church has, and wonder if it’s time to look beyond them. Or at least beyond the way we’ve always done them.

I decided to stop using words that lock me into a way of thinking that is no longer working as it once did.

Letting go of these common words and thinking more about the future of church is helping me reimagine ministry that is thriving. I’ve even started an online speaking/retreat about how to reimagine ministry without these words – and what to use instead.

These are the top 5 words I’m striking from my ministry vocabulary in 2022.

1. Stewardship

It’s been years since it was financially feasible for one (declining) group of people to pay for all the programs, buildings, and salaries of an organization out of their pockets. I wonder if it was ever a model that truly worked, without a few big gifts or an endowment.

And while tithing is biblical, I’m no longer comfortable equating giving out of our abundance with keeping up the church budget. Stewardship conflates our Christian practice of giving with the need for ministry to be sustainable. I think it’s a good time to re-examine both.

Now is the time to embrace new ways of sustainable ministry: subscriptions, digital membership, paid offerings, and online fundraising.

2. Outreach

Serving God and our neighbor is the very essence of Christian life, as is caring for those in need.

Yet considering service to one another as a spiritual discipline is very different from running outreach programs, which often struggle to find leadership and fulfill their mission in an era of dwindling church attendance and budgets.

I wonder how ministry could look different by eliminating the administrative aspect of ‘outreach’, and engaging instead with equipping service-oriented disciples, ready to serve others daily in any number of ways, through many organizations – or none.

3. Committee

Jesus called a community, not a committee. He didn’t hand out roles and set an agenda and a time table for making decisions that needed to be voted on.

Jesus said, ‘follow me’, and a ragtag group of visionaries stumbled around joyfully and sometimes fearfully to pray, heal, gather, serve, and worship. There was conflict, and it was messy, yet great things happened through faith.

Personally, I have a vision of the church going back to our organic roots.

4. Volunteer

One of the biggest issues clergy bring to me is the struggle to find volunteers for programs, especially leadership volunteers.

I think that’s because there are no volunteers in church – only disciples – and the question we might ask is how are we drawing members deeper into their own life with God.

Volunteering for a committee, event, or program is not usually about deepening our faith practice. This may be an invitation to think about how many committees, events and programs we really need!

It also makes me wonder if we should reduce the ‘work’ of church to the number of paid contracts a congregation can afford, and let the rest of it go. We may find that reducing our programmatic overhead helps us all grow spiritually.

5. Livestream

This one may shock you!

But I believe three important things have happened in digital ministry since 2020:

  • some communities have leapt into technology and found new, sustainable ways to reach people online with things like online courses and private social media community spaces.
  • some communities feel they must livestream or do ‘Zoom church’, but they’re exhausted and uninspired by it.
  • some communities are never going to meet online in any capacity.

It seems to me that the first group has moved beyond livestreaming worship, or it’s well-integrated into a diverse digital ministry; the second group needs permission to give up the livestream and discover other ways to be church online; and the third needs to be supported as is.

Regardless of which group we fall in, it’s time to think beyond livestreaming worship.

Re-thinking some of our most common church terms can be the catalyst for remembering the important concepts at their core.

From here we can reimagine how we share ministry in new and thriving ways.

Personally, I’m using a new set of words: Subscription. Service. Conversation. Disciple. Digital Presence.

Want to talk about it in community? There’s never been a better time.

Free Range Priest offers 5 Church Words virtual speaking events and church leadership retreats.

18 Comments

  1. Manny Faria on May 17, 2022 at 9:12 am

    Good stuff, Father. I concur with all of it!

    • CathieAdmin on May 17, 2022 at 9:59 am

      Thanks, Father!

  2. Jeremy Hoover on May 17, 2022 at 10:05 am

    I stopped using outreach as well when I realized it can connote something entirely unwanted to the people we are “reaching out” to. As though they are somehow deficient.

    I like your note about “livestream.” I don’t like it, either, but I hadn’t thought of any reason to avoid using it. You raise some good points!

    • CathieAdmin on May 17, 2022 at 10:13 am

      thank you!

  3. Deb Blackwood on May 17, 2022 at 10:05 am

    Loved this – building community within a church is key … way to go

    • CathieAdmin on May 17, 2022 at 10:13 am

      thanks, Deb! I appreciate your encouragement.

  4. Susan Youmans on May 17, 2022 at 11:00 am

    Grateful for these challenging perspectives on “the way we’ve always done it” or how we “must do what the next church does.” Will share with my visioning leadership! Bless you!

  5. Courtney Tan on May 17, 2022 at 12:12 pm

    Thank you, Fr. Cathie. I intend to share this with my Vestry next week.

  6. Kevin McGrane on May 17, 2022 at 12:23 pm

    These resonate strongly with me. I look forward to exploring more deeply the replacement concepts of subscription, service, conversation, disciple, digital presence. I’ve come to see my ministry as developing disciples in the pews, first and foremost, The old list of five you post almost works against it.

    • CathieAdmin on May 17, 2022 at 12:37 pm

      thank you!

  7. Alan Akridge on May 17, 2022 at 3:27 pm

    Well said hero!

    • CathieAdmin on May 17, 2022 at 4:38 pm

      thanks, friend!

  8. Chris McCall on May 17, 2022 at 5:31 pm

    May I add a word to leave behind? “Partner”. I have heard the statement from pastors “Let’s partner with God” to accomplish whatever. We do not partner with God. We serve, worship, and obey God.

    • CathieAdmin on May 17, 2022 at 5:54 pm

      you certainly can add that word! I agree – ‘partnering’ with God sounds a little hubristic. I feel the same way about ‘co-creation’…

  9. Ken Kroohs on May 17, 2022 at 5:57 pm

    Good ! Yours are, as you described, primarily for working ‘inside’. For working with new people I add: ‘church’ because it focuses on the institution. For ‘church’ I will use ‘congregation’ if speaking on a single one.

    unchurched because it focuses on institutional connection,. I have nothing that works well for ‘unchurched’ so generally say something like “people without a spiritual home’ after emphasizing that a spiritual home does not necessarily mean a church.

    ”visitor’ use guest instead

    ‘greeter’ use ‘host’

    • CathieAdmin on May 17, 2022 at 7:22 pm

      thanks, Ken!

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