Winter can be tough on a church if the pastor and people are not prepared. Make the most out of your ministry during this Winter!
One of the benefits of serving God in New England is that we get to experience all four seasons. Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter all have their pros and cons. New Englanders usually have strong feelings about which ones they like and dislike. Nevertheless, we are privileged to experience them in all of their glory. Each season presents its own challenges to ministry. We won’t list them all here. In this article, we will focus on ministry in the Winter.
If you want to have a fruitful ministry in New England, you must make peace with Winter. That’s easier for some people than others. If you grew up in the northern United States, you are probably accustomed to cold weather, snow accumulation, and winter storms. Some people even enjoy Winter! However, if you have never lived or ministered up North, you are in for a treat. Many well-intentioned preachers have moved to New England believing that God wanted them to serve here, only to quit because of the Winter. Either God never called them to New England, or they left God’s will because they didn’t consider how to serve God successfully during the cold winter months. I don’t make that statement as a criticism but as a fact.
I grew up in Southern Indiana. Typically, we had cold winters with snow accumulation each year. When I went to Bible College near Chicago, I knew I had a lot to learn. I was a country boy trying to acclimate to city life. That was a huge adjustment! I was soon to learn that I also wasn’t prepared for the change in weather. I was used to the cold and snow, but I wasn’t ready for the amount of wind in the Windy City. The first winter I was there the frigid air seemed to cut right through my usual winter clothing. I was cold! I had to learn how to dress differently in order to survive. Likewise, the lake effect snow was different than my previous experience. I had to modify my thinking and lifestyle to succeed.
I had friends in college from warmer climates that had an even more difficult time adjusting to the weather. Some were from states that an inch or two of snow would shut everything down. A few of them had never even seen snow! A few of them gave up and went home. Most of them adapted and had successful ministries in college because they learned to embrace the difficulties of the Winter season.
Truthfully, many of the successful churches in New England today are pastored by men that grew up in different parts of our country. God called them here, and they’ve stayed. God has used them to do much good for His Kingdom. I believe that God will continue calling men to New England. We need to keep them here once they come.
I’m sure someone is reading this article thinking it is unnecessary. Don’t underestimate the challenges of the Winter season. Even life-long New Englanders get discouraged. Life feels different when the sun goes down at 4:30 pm, it’s biting cold, and you don’t feel well because you are fighting off a cold.
Soul winning and running bus routes aren’t nearly as fun when your fingers are getting frostbite, and your face is so cold that it’s hard to speak clearly. Yet, we must keep spreading the Gospel in the coldest months of the year. People don’t stop dying. Hell doesn’t close its doors for the Winter like the tourist shops. The church must press on!
Our goal should be to continue God’s work during the Winter months. Not merely to survive, but to thrive! Here are a few suggestions to consider.
EXPECT THE WINTER.
Winter is coming. It will be cold. There will be snow. Saturday night and Sunday morning snow storms will negatively affect church attendance. A blizzard may happen on the night of the Christmas Program you’ve been practicing for months. Elderly folks won’t be able to come out when the weather is bad. Some won’t be able to attend evening services without help because it gets dark so early and they can’t drive at night. Uncommitted Christians will use the weather as an excuse to miss church. Faithful church members will miss church because of sickness and holiday travel. Depression and discouragement among members may increase. Heating bills put a strain on the budget. The list goes on…
I don’t mean to dishearten you, but to explain. None of these problems will ruin your ministry. However, a faithless reaction to them will cause many problems. Someone has to stay above the fray leading others to victory. Encourage yourself in the Lord. God is still in control. Keep your eyes on Him. We are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ.
EMBRACE THE WINTER.
You will never win fighting against God’s creation. The best way to overcome the Winter is to embrace it! Consider the challenges and opportunities then make a plan to adapt and overcome.
Do the Fundamentals.
They don’t change. Bible study, prayer, church services, caring for the flock, soulwinning, bus ministry, nursing home, Reformer’s Unanimous, children’s ministries, visiting shut-ins, etc. must be maintained. The program may change some, but don’t stop doing the essentials because it gets cold.
Focus on Personal Victories.
Church attendance may fluctuate in the Winter, but don’t be discouraged. Use the smaller crowds at services and activities to focus on individuals. Pray and plan to see some personal victories. Build strong relationships. Disciple hungry believers. Train new soul winners. Train future leaders.
Win some personal victories in your marriage and children. Catch up on some family time after the big Fall ministry push. Take extra time to read the Bible and pray. Read some good books for personal growth. Exercise. Take a family vacation. Organize your life. Catch up on church work you haven’t had time to do. Get some victories!
Plan Some Special Days.
Winter provides unique ministry opportunities. We have had past success with our teens making a complete Thanksgiving dinner and hosting the Senior Saints for lunch the Sunday before the holiday. Everyone loves a good Christmas party so plan a big party for the whole church or have smaller parties for the teens, ladies, men, etc. A Christmas play or cantata is always a favorite. Make sure to give the Gospel and an invitation for the guests that will come. Plan a service with fun activities or vision night for New Year’s Eve. Promote God-honoring marriages with a Valentine Banquet. We usually focus on Stewardship in January and Missions in February. March is spent gearing up for our big Spring Attendance and Soulwinning Campaign in April and May.
Don’t Cancel Church.
Don’t cancel church unless your governor calls a state of emergency. Teach the people to use good judgment. Clearly, they shouldn’t come if it’s dangerous. For example, we live in a coastal country community. The further you go inland the weather can be very different than the coast. Also, it takes longer for the towns to get the roads plowed in the country. It may be dangerous for some rural families to drive to church while it is perfectly safe for those who live in town or closer to the coast.
Once you start canceling church, it is always hard to decide when to do it. How much snow? What conditions? Typically, pastors start “erring on the side of judgment” and cancel church far more often than necessary. Every winter we get families visiting our church because their church canceled a service when the roads turned out to be okay.
As the pastor, I want to keep the church open during scheduled services if at all possible. I can get up early and make sure I’m plowed or shoveled out then get to the church and make sure the building and the parking lot is ready. This consistency builds security in the congregation. We have had days with a handful of folks for Sunday School during a blizzard, but there will always be some crazy Baptists show up if you open the doors! If you get in the habit of canceling church, church members will always wonder if the services are called off when the weatherman predicts severe weather. Meteorologists are wrong half the time anyway. Just plan to have church.
Prepare for Spring.
Prepare yourself for the busyness of ministry in the Spring. Spend extra time with God. Make sure you have His mind on the direction of the church. Be Spirit-filled. Fill your heart with Scripture. Be ready to go when the weather warms up.
Plan ministry meetings in the Winter to fix problems and for ongoing training. Ushers, greeters, nursery workers, bus workers, altar workers, children’s church workers, etc. all need some time and attention occasionally. Winter provides a lot of opportunities for preparation.Take advantage of them.
ENJOY THE WINTER.
I confess that Winter is not my favorite season. It may not be yours either. However, the Winter season is fabulous if you choose to enjoy it. Decide to revel in it. Appreciate the beauty of the snow. Be thankful for the benefits of cold weather. Savor the warmth of the wood stove. If you get snowed in, stay in your pajamas, grab a cup of coffee, and spend extra time with God and family. Treasure the holidays. Try some snow activities like skiing or tubing. Do some fun things with the youth group. Your attitude will make all of the difference. Decide that you will not be discouraged or grumpy this Winter. With God’s help, choose to make this the best winter season that your family and church has ever experienced!
This article was first published in the Winter issue of the Save New England Quarterly. You can subscribe to it here.