7 Mindset Shifts that Can Reshape Your Church’s Future


To reshape the future of your church you must set aside old assumptions, fears, and stereotypes and embrace new experiences and methods. In the new book Blank Slate, Lia McIntosh, Jasmine Smothers, and Rodney Smothers explore generational transition, design thinking, and successful private sector organizations to discern a new direction for the church. They name seven mindsets essential to create your own “blank slate” and embrace a new future.

This article has been translated into Spanish by United Methodist Communications. 

People need more than the Sunday morning hour to experience life transformation. Each day thousands of people in the communities we serve need help with housing, transportation, food, education, health care, and more. Unfortunately, the church often turns the majority of these people away offering little or no help.

Yet, imagine the very identity of the church once again becoming a place of empathy that connects people to resources while meeting immediate physical and deep spiritual needs. Imagine the church as a place where people find belonging and empowerment. This exciting future requires that we embrace seven essential mindsets.

1. See differently.

What would we see if we stepped outside of our comfort zones? What would we see if we sacrificed our own wants for the desires of God in our lives, hearts, churches, and communities? What space might we make for others if we see what God sees? Take some time to pray and to look around and see what you’re missing. Ask God to give you a fresh perspective on situations in your life. Ask God to show you things the way that God sees them.

2. Let go of the outcome and be willing to fail.

Nelson Mandela is quoted as saying, “I never lose. I either win or I learn.” Failure is an incredibly powerful tool for learning if we choose to embrace it. As we seek to solve big problems, we’re bound to fail. But if we adopt the right mindset, we’ll inevitably learn something from that failure and have a better chance for success next time. We don’t need to micromanage one another or the universe. We let go of the outcome. And we open ourselves to all sorts of wonderful possibilities that aren’t there when we’re attached to one “right” path.

3. Decide that innovation is mission-critical.

John Wesley preached in open fields, taught holistic healing methods, and cared for the poor. He was committed to trying cutting-edge methods for the mission of holistic salvation without regard for the status quo. Where are you afraid to break new ground? Who can experiment with you? When will you begin?

4. Practice storytelling and naming.

Everyone’s story deserves to be told, especially those who have been systemically silenced, sidelined, and stereotyped. As the church leads more people to tell their stories, witness is made to the nexus, instead of separation of race, class, education, mental and physical ability, and religious identity. Through storytelling the naming of good and bad, justice and injustice, joy and pain, love and heartache are identified instead of ignored. As a result, the transformation of both individuals and society becomes possible and the mission of the church is lived out.

5. Be relentless in empathy and belonging.

The church is called to meet the physical, mental, and spiritual needs of people in our neighborhoods and within the context of community. This type of engagement is a form of evangelism. It’s a connectional, social, boundary-crossing evangelism, and it begins outside the church. This is the deeper, messier work of evangelism that is required to transform our communities. This liberating work can be done in partnership with a variety of organizations and agencies, but authentic spiritual liberation is the primary responsibility of the church of Jesus Christ. It starts in the street, engages with local leaders in law enforcement, local government, and school districts, and includes local congregations. And the foundation for this work is empathy demonstrated by presence in the mist of everyday life with one another. Who is God calling you toward in empathy?

6. Practice the work of empowerment.

A way of demonstrating empathy is empowerment. Empowerment is not granted from an external source. It emerges from within as persons and communities acknowledge and appreciate the gifts and responsibilities that come from our collective physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual depths. The church is called to be a place of empathy, empowerment, and belonging for people in our neighborhoods. We must lead the way in the practices of welcoming hospitality, radical inclusion, and bold justice. Whom are you being called to empower and with whom are you being called to create spaces of belonging? What’s stopping you? What’s the easiest step you can take today towards this person(s)?

7. Imagine, hope, and act.

If you could create anything for your future in the next year, what would you like to create for your life, your church, or community? This question sets the foundation for taking on a big challenge, especially one as large and complex as the social ills of poverty, education, health, and spiritual healing. It’s a mindset of hopefulness and confidence about desired outcomes. It is the belief in possibility, the idea that even if we don’t know the answer, it’s out there and collectively we can find it.

Foundational to a mindset of imagination, envisioning, and hopefulness is faith. Not a generic faith that lives afar and avoids messiness, but an active faith that’s activated in the context of particular communities amidst their hopes and struggles with God. It is a faith in community, working in partnership with one another and God. In this place trust is built and the gift of partnership can be realized.

Adapted from Blank Slate: Write Your Own Rules for a 22nd-Century Church Movement (Abingdon Press, 2019) by Rodney Smothers, Jasmine Smothers, and Lia McIntosh. Used by permission. The book is available at Cokesbury and Amazon.

This article has been translated into Spanish by United Methodist Communications.

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About Author

Lia McIntosh

Lia McIntosh is the Director of KC Rising, a Kansas City regional economic development initiative, and a member of the Civic Council’s senior management team. She recently led the Kauffman Education Fellowship on educational issues. She is a life coach endorsed by the United Methodist Church, and she formerly served as a pastor of four congregations as well as Associate Director of Congregational Excellence for the Missouri United Methodist Annual Conference. She recently wrote Church School Community: Forging Partnerships to Change the World (Abingdon, 2021), available on Abingdon Press, Cokesbury, and Amazon.

Jasmine Smothers serves as lead pastor for the historic Atlanta First United Methodist Church. Previously, she served as Associate Director for Congregational Vitality through the Office of Connectional Ministries in the North Georgia Conference. She is co-author of Not Safe for Church: Ten Commandments for Reaching New Generations (Abingdon Press, 2015). Her book with coauthors Lia McIntosh and Rodney Smothers, Blank Slate: Write Your Own Rules for a 22nd-Century Church Movement (Abingdon Press, 2019), is available at Cokesbury and Amazon.

Dr. Rodney Thomas Smothers serves as a leadership coach and consultant in the areas of new church development and congregational revitalization. He recently coauthored Cry from the Pew: A Call to Action for The United Methodist Church (Market Square Publishing, 2022) available at Amazon. His book with coauthors Lia McIntosh and Jasmine Smothers, Blank Slate: Write Your Own Rules for a 22nd-Century Church Movement (Abingdon Press, 2019), is available at Cokesbury and Amazon. The three coauthors also founded the The Smothers Group. He previously served as lead pastor for Grace United Methodist Church in Fort Washington, Maryland, and the director of leadership and congregational development on the UMC Baltimore-Washington Conference Executive Leadership Team.

Cover of Discovering God's Future for Your Church showing a blank wooden signpostLewis Center video tool kit resource
Discovering God’s Future for Your Church

Discovering God’s Future for Your Church is a turn-key tool kit to help your congregation discern and implement God’s vision for its future. The resource guides your church in discovering clues to your vision in your history and culture, your current congregational strengths and weaknesses, and the needs of your surrounding community. The tool kit features videos, leader’s guides, discussion exercises, planning tools, handouts, diagrams, worksheets, and more. Learn more and watch an introductory video now.