5 Atomic Habits for Church Leaders


Happy New Year friend! The New Year’s season is made for reflection about the past year and looking at the possibilities for the new year. We at the Heritage 21 Foundation wish you a good year, a year in which you see God at work in and through your church.

The New Year is the season for resolutions. Every church leader I know is wondering what 2024 will bring and thinking about how to lead their church better. I want to give you 5 resolutions that I believe will help your church be healthy and on God’s mission for you. But, instead of thinking of these as resolutions (we all know hardly anyone ever keeps their resolutions!), let’s bounce off the book Atomic Habits (2018) by James Clear.

Clear says an atomic habit is, “a regular practice or routine that is not only small and easy to do but is also the source of incredible power . . . .”

Don’t you love those words: small, easy, and powerSmall, it’s something that happens step-by-step over time, like compound interest. Easy, it’s not complicated, anyone can do it. Powerful, it causes good things to happen! Those are great words! But perhaps the most important word in Clear’s definition of an atomic habit is regular. It’s got to be something like brushing your teeth, you just do it.

These 5 atomic habits have the power to help you be a better church leader. Don’t be lulled by how small and easy they are. These are powerful actions that, if you regularly exercise them as habits, will powerfully impact your church’s health and mission.

1.     Read the Bible everyday. The Bible is powerful, meaningful, impactful. It is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Did you know a Barna study defined Bible users as people “who read, listen to or pray with the Bible on their own at least 3-4 times a year, outside of a church service or church event.” This is not a typo. It is 3-4 times a YEAR! This can’t be us.

Your first commitment as a church leader has to be that you are continually, regularly filling yourself up on God’s word. God’s word needs to spill out of you like coffee sloshes out of an overfilled cup. And get your people reading their Bibles too! Make it a priority at your church. Talk about Bible reading all the time. Ask your people how they are doing, what they are gaining, how their Bible reading is changing their lives. It will, so don’t be bashful about asking for details. Make opportunities for people to share these things with your church.

2.     Pray together as a leadership team. In the first church in which I was an elder there was a year that we committed to begin our elders’ meetings in prayer. This wasn’t that perfunctory kind of  opening prayer. What we committed to do was to use our prayer time to set our agenda for the meeting! We asked one person to be our prayer secretary, to keep track of the people and ideas, the concerns and thanksgivings that came out in our prayers. Then we went around our circle so everyone had a chance to pray aloud.

As we prayed, our prayer secretary noted those items that came up, and he made tally marks beside those that came up more than once. When we finished praying, we listed on a white board the items our prayer secretary had recorded, listing them from those with the most tallies to those listed only once. This became our agenda for the meeting. We started at the top of the list and talked about why each item had come up, what our hearts were telling us. We discussed what we needed and could do about each item, and we made the assignments to get those things done. The next meeting we began with reports on those assignments then repeated the process of prayer.

I’ll admit, it stretched our faith to depend on our corporate prayer time to set our meeting agenda, but what a rich year that was for us.  A side benefit we gained was that our meeting minutes became our prayer journal for the year as a leadership team. Our minutes captured our prayers and the results that came from them as we made our assignment reports. I have never cared much to read old minutes, they’re kind of like day old oatmeal, but I read those!

3.     Plan an intentional spiritual checkup with one church member weekly. People in your church need to know that you care for them. It has always amazed me when I have taken the time to really ask people how they are doing, to do a spiritual checkup with them, how often they would say no one had ever done that with them before. I truly hope that was not the case, but it was what they said. One of your primary tasks as a church leader is to care for your sheep (Jer. 23:4). We live in fearful and uncertain times. Your people need to know you care for them. They need to feel that you know them.

Here’s how you can do a spiritual checkup. First, make an appointment. Tell the person you would like to call, visit, or sit down with them over a cup of coffee. Try to do this sitting down with them. The fact of sitting down lends a sense of importance to the conversation.

Second, when you set up the appointment tell the person your purpose is to hear how they are doing. You don’t want to let them hang in suspense about why an elder wants to talk with them. You also want to give them the chance to think about how they are really doing.

Third, listen. Ask questions about what they say and reflect back to them what you hear them saying. Resist the temptation to give advice or tell stories from your life. Let them know you are listening to them.

Finally, pray for them, specifically, about what they have shared with you. This kind of spiritual checkup is a form of mutual gift giving. The person you are meeting with is giving you the gift of knowing them well below the surface level. You are giving them the gift of being heard. Neither of these is a common gift today.  

4.     Weekly speak about God with at least one person not connected with your church. Most Christians do not consider themselves evangelists. In fact, most Christians are more than a little afraid to strike up a spiritual conversation with anyone! The only way we’ll get better at witnessing for God is to speak about Him more often—to anyone—including other believers.

These spiritual conversations are not deep theological discussions or even Bible studies. Think simple. Rejoice with people when good things happen to them and give a nod to God as the good, good father. Be compassionate when people are struggling and tell them you believe God will be with them in their trying time. Share with others what you are presently experiencing about God. The more you practice the simple act of witnessing God to others the more natural it will be for you.

5.     Honestly evaluate your church’s condition. Church leaders are more likely to overestimate the state of their congregations than to underestimate it. The idea that as long as nothing bad is happening, then things must be good, is false. Churches are not good because bad things are not happening in them. Churches are good because they are pursuing good things (Gal. 6:10). Is your church on mission to “seek and save the lost?” Is your church maturing people in faith and behaviors? Does your church provide a positive, attractive worship experience that people want to be at? As a leadership team, set regular times, perhaps once a quarter, when you stand back and take a realistic look at how your church is doing.

If you want your church to be healthy and to grow in the new year, I believe these 5 “atomic habits” will take you a good ways towards these goals. These habits are small, easy and powerful if you do them regularly.

God of newness. You are gifting us with a new year. We have no idea what this year will be like, but you do. You have asked us to live in faith and to practice that faith in life. I pray that each person reading this email will commit themselves to these 5 simple, easy, powerful habits. Multiply the impact of these habits in all your churches represented for your name’s glory and your kingdom’s sake. Amen

With all God’s blessings for 2024!

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