By Jeff Brumley
Ministry and nonprofit leaders are reporting opportunities for growth in 2016 — and some of them credit the difficulties of the preceding year for that.
Still, for others, and for many churches, the next 12 months may have just as many pitfalls as it does benefits.
Some significant challenges — especially on the congregational side — are social and cultural in origin, says Travis Collins, director of mission advancement for Fresh Expressions, a movement to help congregations engage postmodern culture. The U.S. branch of the movement is coordinated by the Baptist General Association of Virginia.
The issue of same-sex marriage is one of the biggest problems facing churches in the next year, Collins believes.
“Avoiding the topic became more difficult after the Supreme Court decision,” he says.
It’s not a challenge so much for churches on the right and left, who know exactly where they stand on gay marriage.
“But for the bulk of the churches in the middle, and who value diverse opinions, this is a very difficult thing.”
It’s also an especially acute problem for congregations that are conducting pastor searches. Many of them want to settle the issue before calling someone, he says.
Collins is working with a handful of churches in that situation right now.
“All three are wondering ‘what do we do about the same-sex issue? It impacts our search for the pastor, it decides what the match is.’”
And the challenges don’t stop there. Collins says there is no end in sight to the often-reported trend of Millennials and other Americans leaving or ignoring churches.
Why the “nones” and “dones” are increasing will continue to be a mystery, or at least require a very complicated answer.
“I doubt we find the answer in 2016,” Collins said.
‘A people of grace and … reception’
Politics may be another source of challenges for some ministries and those they serve in 2016.
Greg and Sue Smith expect nothing less this year at LUCHA Ministries, a Fredericksburg, Va., organization that advocates for the human rights, social and spiritual needs of the Latino immigrant community.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel anticipate refugees and immigrants coming under even heavier fire between now and November based on what they have seen so far from the ongoing presidential campaigns, and from the anti-immigration rhetoric earlier in 2015.
Defending those segments of the population is always part of their job, Greg Smith says.
“What we see as our responsibility will increase with the presidential elections. We are going to be called upon more and more … to help explain who immigrants are, why immigrants come to the U.S. and that immigrants are not a threat but a blessing to our country and our churches.”
LUCHA also owes it to all Americans to oppose the voices raised against immigrants and refugees, he adds. Christianity is a welcoming faith that requires Christians to receive the stranger without judgment.
“I think the rhetoric about immigrants and refugees is damaging to our society and contrary to our faith as Christians.”
Some of the Smith’s work in this area will be conducted in congregations.
“Part of our calling will be to help churches help others and take a step back from what they hear on television and realize we are called to be a people of grace and a people of reception.”
Meanwhile, LUCHA Ministries will continue plans to expand its offerings in 2016, most notably by establishing a legal clinic for immigrants this spring or summer.
The accredited service will provide qualified immigrants low-cost assistance on immigration and other legal matters, Smith says.
“We are looking forward to that.”
‘What the Kingdom of God can look like’
Other groups anticipate plenty of racial injustice in 2016 — and plenty of efforts to counter it.
“In general, 2015 was a year when a lot of the racial injustice that has been present with us for so long really came to the surface,” says New Baptist Covenant coordinator Hannah McMahan.
Protests, sometimes turning violent, occurred in cities like Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and Philadelphia in response to cases of racial profiling and police violence last year.
The covenant, through its social and racial justice ministry work, helped direct the efforts of ministers and congregations seeking to address those troubling trends, McMahan says.
“We were having some really important and good and hard questions with faith leaders on how … Baptists can come together to address racial injustice, which is so pervasive.”
In that period, she said, the organization saw an increase in its Covenants of Action program, which pairs African-American and white congregations for missions and ministry work.
Last year was the final pilot period for the program that will go into full swing in 2016, McMahan says. And interest is already high.
“This year  we had 10 more churches and we are anticipating a big bump. People in the church want … to show what the Kingdom of God can look like.”
Hoping for a good year
Violence also influenced the year for Metanoia, a community development corporation that provides asset-based community development ministry in North Charleston, S.C. The organization began in 2001 by urban ministers Bill Stanfield and Evelyn Oliviera as an outreach of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina.
North Charleston is where a police officer shot an unarmed motorist in the back on April 4. A video of the incident, captured by a pedestrian, went viral.
In response, Metanoia piloted programs aimed at improving relations between police and North Charleston residents, Stanfield says.
It was in the following June that nine members of an African-American church in Charleston were shot to death during a weeknight service.
The response to that tragedy has involved Metanoia and other segments of the community, he says.
“That is going to be years in the healing.”
The ministry, meanwhile, has big plans for 2016, and many of them are underway.
Metanoia will expand heavily into property acquisition and construction projects. It also received a grant with which it can make low-interest loans to businesses in exchange for job creation.
“We hope it will be a good year,” Stanfield says.