Five Reasons Why Churches Won’t Grow

September 19, 2017

dying church

Although never voiced I have discovered that there is usually a degree of internal institutional opposition when it comes to church growth. It is not just that churches don’t grow; often it is they won’t grow. Here are five reasons why:

  • Lack of intentionality. For a church to grow it must plan to grow. It must be purposeful in evangelism. It must expect growth along with anticipating how to manage it. A church that grows is intentional about sharing God’s message; intentional about being hospitable to guests; intentional about assimilating new members in a healthy fashion; intentional about building meaningful relationships. They intentionally plant, water and are ready when God gives the increase.
  • Maxed out leadership. This includes maxed out vision for the church body and maxed out ability to manage the church body. A church will grow only as far as its leadership envisions and leads. When a leadership settles for status quo so does the church. Growing churches have leaders who walk by faith, not sight; who raise up new leaders to share in and expand their vision while escaping burnout; and who create an atmosphere for growth.
  • Apathy. Often churches are inwardly focused—more concerned and urgent about members needs then about outreach. This challenges every church. But beware! Apathy may be comfortable, but apathy dooms churches.
  • Fear. Fear is apathy’s partner. Fear presents all sorts of barriers (both real and imagined) to growth. Fear paralyzes leadership. Fear stymies vision, innovation, boldness and outreach. According to the Bible it is a spirit foreign to God.
  • Tradition. Tradition can be healthy. Some ritual is God-ordained–an essential and extremely meaningful part of our church life. Tradition helps define us as a community of faith, but frequently tradition can also be limiting to growth. Because we have never done it that way before does not necessarily mean it cannot be done that way. If tradition or traditional thinking is limiting a church’s ability to evangelize, then there should be a reevaluation of that tradition and thinking.

Avoid these not-so fab five at all costs! They are preventing churches everywhere from realizing the potential God sees within them for outreach and growth. Haven’t we let them stop us long enough?

(Bible verses referenced include 1 Corinthians 3:7; 11:23-26; 2 Corinthians 5:7 & 2 Timothy 1:7)

 

 

 

 

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Becoming an Effective Assimilating Church

April 20, 2017

This was a presentation I gave in a class at Levy. 

If a congregation becomes successful in becoming a visitor friendly church, a good percentage of guests will desire to transition into permanent membership. That is a wonderful and desired result of a relevant welcome ministry. It also brings with it challenges of assimilation—moving guests into involved membership.

Just as with becoming visitor friendly, assimilating new members into involved membership must be an intentional effort by a church. If not, then many unwelcome consequences could occur—including missing out on the giftedness of new members, alienation of new members eager to plug-in, and of course, ultimately losing the new members altogether. This is why it is just as imperative to become an effective assimilating church as it is becoming a visitor friendly church.

All Have Gifts

In the apostle Paul’s divine efforts to correct the dysfunctional situation among the Corinthian church he left us with a beautiful text on how the church functions as a body (1 Corinthians 12:12-25). Here he emphasized that in order to operate at its highest level the church needs every member in place and functioning efficiently—everyone has a place and everyone is needed in their place for God’s church to be healthy and growing.

Within this text is the idea that every member has a gift to offer and contribute to the overall health of the body. In fact, Paul teaches, God put every member in exactly the right place within the body to best use the gifts he gives them (vs. 18).

So everyone is gifted. God has put every new member coming into the Levy family into the body exactly as he desires. He recreated them to fit and plug right into the body of Christ. It then becomes up to local body to help them assimilate in order for them to use that gift.

Purposeful Assimilation

To become an effective assimilating church means making the transition from guest to involved member as seamless as possible. Included in this process is:

  • Giving the new member an easy entry point to consider how and where to get involved. This is one purpose of our Levy 101 orientation class—to offer an introduction to the church and provide ministry information along with a simple and understandable way to sign up for ministries that connect and relate to each new member. Whatever the method/approach an effective assimilating church will provide each new member timely ministry information and have a proactive process in place to help them find where they fit—along with an encouraging atmosphere for getting involved. Many new members come into the church with an expectation of this—desiring to plug-in and make a difference. This is one of the strongest characteristics of the millennial generation, for example. So it is essential for effective assimilating churches to provide an entry point to involvement.
  • There must be timely follow-up by ministry leaders/deacons, etc. After providing an entry point the next step is to share the information provided by new members to appropriate ministry leaders. Once this information is passed on, the ministry leader should be ready to contact the new members in order to help them connect and become involved in their ministries. This allows the new members to start contributing to the work of the church and the overall kingdom quickly, which also gives them a sense of purpose and place in their new church home. It demonstrates that their new church takes seriously God’s call for everyone to use their gifts for ministry. If anywhere along the way, this process breaks down or is not in place, then it can adversely affect the new member’s relationship with the congregation, while also hurting the church by not utilizing the giftedness of the new member. Going back to the Corinthian context, it is a way for the eye to say to the ear that it is not needed. Our ministry leaders and deacons are greatly appreciated for their dedication in using their gifts to volunteer and lead ministries. An important part of that is to be sensitive to new members, always being prompt in reaching out to them if they have indicated interest in their ministry area.
  • Continuing focus on involvement and growing gifts of ministry. Assimilating churches work to create a climate of involvement beyond the details of a specific welcoming/assimilating ministry. Ministry fairs, tools to help members identify their personal ministry gifts, leadership being open to new ministry ideas from within membership, giving honor and appreciation to those involved in various ministries, etc. all work to help plug-in members and encourage them to grow their gifts of ministry. And while some of this will organically happen (which is also very healthy) an effective assimilating church will be very intentional in helping create this kind of climate.

Closing the Back Door

One significant characteristic of an effective assimilating church is that they limit the number of members leaving through the “back door,” that is, members leaving due to not being involved, becoming distant from the congregation at large, and deciding to go elsewhere. Certainly, involvement must generate from within individuals. Even the best assimilating approach will fail if a person decides not to become active within a church, but the back door will stay wide-open for churches who are not intentionally seeking ways for members—new and old—to become and stay involved in ministry that makes a kingdom difference in their community.

It is an entire church initiative. All of us—even if we are not a ministry leader—can help in the assimilating process and help close the back door. There are social aspects involved as well. We can all greet and welcome new members. We can invite them to lunch. We can take the time to get to know them and make them feel at home. An old study revealed that new members need to make seven new personal connections at a church or they would exit in just a matter of months. Regardless of the accuracy of this statement—it is true that unless new members are made to feel at home, involved, needed, and a part of their new church, they likely will take the back door—sooner rather than later.

Be Sensitive and Proactive!

So in whatever capacity that we can—be sensitive to helping our new members assimilate as quickly as possible. If you are a ministry leader do not neglect to contact new members if they express interest in your ministry. If a new member volunteers do not ignore that—put them to work! Greet all new members. Go out of your way to make them feel welcome. Put the power of prayer to use on their behalf. If we are truly working to build a strong family for the glory of God, all of this should be a central focus of that goal.


FIVE PREACHER FAILS

October 26, 2016

I am intimately familiar with preacher fails. I have lived through a host of my own. Here are five common ones.

  • Lack of discipline. Usually the church world allows quite a bit of daily freedom for preachers to be about their ministry. This freedom can be easily taken advantage of—preachers staying at home and away—not being fully engaged in productive ministry. We preachers already put up with the “you only work three hours a week” barbs. Let’s not allow laziness and lack of discipline to give that any credence. Instead let’s fully “carry out the ministry God has given” us (2 Timothy 4:5 NLT).
  • Inattention to study. Lack of discipline can also lead to sloppy study habits, which in turn damages our ability to effectively speak truth in love. Don’t take shortcuts on sermon preparation. We should put the proper study time in—so that we can be both confident in our presentation and content; that we are in fact handling correctly the Word of God.
  • Inability to listen. I once was convinced that I pretty much had all of the answers and I was eager to share them! Failure on my part to appreciate and to listen to other’s council, to hear proper constructive criticism, to simply learn from wiser and more experienced people hurt my ministry at times. Let’s be quick to hear and slow to speak!
  • Complaining. Everyone needs a place to vent on occasion—the same is true for preachers, but be very careful not to be seen as a whiner or complainer. This can undermine ministry. I have participated in and heard my fair share of elder roasts, how-terrible-my-church-is conversations, and complaints about everything from salaries to worship style. If things need improving usually complaining or whining is not the catalyst to make it happen. Instead let’s try to do all things without complaining and grumbling (Philippians 2:14).
  • People Pleasing. We all desire affirmation—preachers are no exception. And as preachers we certainly want to “become all things to all people so that by all possible means I may save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22), but not to the point of compromising personal or biblical integrity. Ultimately we will give account of our life and ministry to God. We simply cannot allow a desire to please people set the agenda for our work. It can be harmful to us, to our families and to our ministry. There is a balance here that we all must find.

Preaching is one of the most noble and needed callings! Let’s do it with a passion for excellence. I praise God for good preachers!


God and Government #3

October 20, 2016

Here is the third lesson. I will post the last one next week. Thanks for the feedback so far! 

Our study takes us next to Ephesus and the text of 1 Timothy 2:1-4. Included here is a snippet from Paul to Timothy—instructions for him to pass along to the Ephesian church:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 

As we continue to allow Scripture to inform us and shape our thinking/relationship with those who govern us, these words can further our understanding.

Ephesus

It is not unexpected to find Paul addressing this topic in the Ephesian context. Externally this was a church born (so-to-speak) out of a riot (Acts 19:23-41). Civil unrest had accompanied this church planting—so the idea that they would need clear instructions about not participating in such, but rather in praying for those in authority is not surprising. Further in unpacking the internal situation of the church in Ephesus—it was in turmoil due to false teaching (likely among leadership/elders) creating strife among its members, particularly young widows. A quick look at the verses following our immediate context demonstrate the situation—men needing to direct their hands toward God in prayer and not toward each other in anger and disputing. Women needing to act in accordance to God’s will in demeanor and in worship practice. In the larger picture, those in this church had issues with God-ordained authority. They were not living peaceful lives. For this to spill over and into their community (especially after already being connected to a riot) would not accomplish God’s will. So Paul urges a prayerful stance be taken toward all people, but specifically for kings and those who govern in order to live peacefully and quietly in their community. Note the connection here—peaceful lives could result from praying for/honoring those who govern. Becoming involved in civil unrest most certainly would not. One Bible commentator wrote:

“For kings and all who are in authority” The Bible does not teach the divine right of kings, but it does teach the divine will for organized government (cf. Rom. 13:1,2). The theological issue is not whether we agree with our government or whether our government is fair. Believers must pray for governmental officials because they are in God’s will in a fallen world. Believers know from Rom.13:1,2 that all authority is given by God, therefore, as followers of Christ we respect it. This statement is all the more powerful when you realize Paul is asking believers to pray for governmental leaders like Nero! (Bob Utley from Bible.org)

This was the challenge for the Ephesian Christian, but it also remains a challenge for us as well. We may not always agree with those who govern us. We may not have supported them politically. But we have been instructed to pray for them and to not engage in any civil unrest, but instead strive to live peaceful and quiet lives.

This is What Pleases God

Just in case we question this teaching, Paul clearly informs that this approach to those who govern us is “good” and is what “pleases God.” Again, this should not be unexpected. It is consistent with the other New Testament teaching on this topic (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17) and is exactly the approach Jesus, himself, adopted.

In using the terms “peaceful and quiet” Paul emphasized the importance of both being free from external strife and from inner turmoil. Christians must demonstrate their faith by calm living, which can be quite challenging in times of crisis and tension, but as in Ephesus—is so crucial to pointing people toward the kingdom of God and the hope it offers. Instead of turmoil our focus should be on godliness and holiness.

Why this is good and so pleasing to God is revealed in the text—God is eager for all men to be saved! This salvation comes only through Jesus. Quiet and peaceful lives; those free of the turmoil and tension of the world; those focused on the values of the kingdom instead of the vices of the world are reflective of him and will draw people to him. Conversely, lives full of unrest, engaged in disputing behavior, and demonstrating anything but peace cannot lift up Jesus.

Fairly straightforward message here—Christians are to be engaged in the kingdom business of seeking and saving the lost. Becoming involved in the kinds of disputes that arise out of political strife (or church strife for that matter) will hinder this pursuit. So, pray for those who govern and do your best to live quietly and peacefully while seeking first the kingdom of God. This is what is good and pleases God. Coming to this knowledge of truth releases strife—for everyone!

A second-generation restoration leader among churches of Christ, David Lipscomb, had very strong opinions concerning the Christian’s relationship with government. He was an influential editor of The Gospel Advocate during the early 20th century. He wrote a book entitled Civil Government. Here is an excerpt:

The principles in the Sermon on the Mount are diverse from and antagonistic to the principles that have obtained and must ever obtain in all human governments. No human government can possibly be maintained and conducted on these principles laid down for the government of Christ’s subjects in his kingdom. The spirit that prompts the practice of the principles is opposed to the spirit needful for the maintenance of human governments. The two spirits cannot dwell in the same heart, nor the same temple, or institution. A man cannot be gentle, forgiving, doing good for evil, turning the other cheek when one is smitten, praying ‘for them that despitefully use and persecute’ him, and at the same time execute wrath and vengeance on the evil-doer, as the human government is ordained to do, and as it must do to sustain its authority and maintain its existence.

While we may or may not agree with him—I borrow his words to highlight that the purpose of God’s kingdom and the purpose of governments rarely intersect. In this political season—let’s more than ever depend upon and trust in God, quietly going about pursuing his will, disengaging from the anger/confusion swirling around the election, while praying for those who govern us. It is what pleases God and will accomplish more good in the end. This we can learn from Ephesus.


Preacher-to-Preacher: Do’s & Don’ts

October 19, 2016

From one preacher to another I gently offer this advice for building stronger relationships within your church and with other preachers.

  • Don’t go all robo-preacher. A while back I was a guest at a church. I was acquainted with the preacher, but had not talked with him recently. So I asked the “how are you” question—genuinely wanting to know how he personally was doing. I got back what I call the “robo-preacher” answer. His church was doing incredible and was growing. They had recently added more leadership and renovated their facility. He was in more demand than ever as a guest speaker at other churches and conferences. God was good! Well, okay. Glad to hear it, but that was not the question I asked. Being a preacher I recognize the tendency we have to attach our value to the good things God is doing through our ministry and those around us, but perhaps this information does not always need to be in the foreground and we need to engage others in a different way. Opportunities to share good news about our ministry will happen.
  • Don’t start posturing. In one city as a new preacher I arrived late (had to find the place) at a graveside funeral service. It was raining. As I made my way to join the crowd a man kindly shared his umbrella with me. After introductions I discovered he was a fellow-preacher in town but at a church that I soon found out that was suspicious of mine. His entire demeanor changed and he began to posture over certain biblical theological positions. Later when encountering this brother, he would barely acknowledge me. I have never understood this. Even if we disagree why this treatment? Wouldn’t it be healthier and more productive to engage each other as brothers and perhaps even enjoy open dialogue about different viewpoints?
  • Do Reply. Maybe this just happens to me (or maybe all of this just happens to me—I could be the common denominator creating all of these situations! LOL) but often when I email and/or call other preachers I never get any reply. Nothing. Not even a “no thank you—not interested.” It is puzzling. I know everyone is busy, but try to reply. It is the gracious thing to do. Speaking of…
  • Do be gracious—to all and specifically toward other preachers. We are a brotherhood within one, you know. All preachers are not gifted the same. We all have made our mistakes (The reason I can write this post is because I recognize myself in it). Let’s be kind to each other even if and especially if—I go all robo-preacher on you or start posturing or whatever. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt, encourage one another, and help each other grow in the gift of preaching. It is a gift God values highly.

I love the preaching life even with all of the insecurities and bumps along the way. The rewards far outweigh those temporary challenges. I also appreciate the work of my brothers in the pulpit. Let’s always strive to learn and grow as preachers and always try to be encouragers of each other to preach the Word!


Four Ways Not To Treat Your Preacher

October 26, 2015

Churches and their preachers–always an interesting relationship.

I know of wonderful stories and of horror stories. I have experienced huge doses of the former and a small taste of the latter. As a result of the latter category here are a few things I have learned–four ways not to treat your preacher.

  • Do away with the comparisons. I suppose it is human nature to make comparisons. We do so consistently with almost everything, but it is not always wise–especially when it comes to preachers. We come in all shapes, sizes, personalities and most importantly–giftedness. We are most definitely not in competition with each other. That comparing/competitive spirit got one New Testament church in bundles of divisive trouble (see 1 Corinthians 1-2). Instead of comparing your preacher to your favorite past preacher, how about accepting him as he is and appreciating his giftedness? This will encourage him to grow in his ministry.
  • Avoid foyer ambushes. Every preacher knows about these. This is when some good church member takes issue with a sermon point and decides to air it out immediately after worship in the church foyer. Never really a good idea here. Regardless of the point being made, it becomes an embarrassing situation that puts the preacher on the defensive. Trust me, he will not hear much of what is being said and instead feel like he is being attacked. Try to speak with your preacher in a more private setting and you will likely be surprised about how cordial and profitable such a conversation can be.
  • Stop the demeaning jokes. It may seem funny to tell your preacher that perhaps “he will make a good preacher one day.” Or to rib him about his salary. Or to say that he only works a few hours a week. Or to introduce him as your “little preacher.” Every preacher everywhere has heard versions of all of these and every preacher everywhere really does not care for them–even if they grin and go along. Overwhelmingly preachers take their calling seriously. It is not just a job for us–it is who we are. While we work in congregational settings with our greatest desire being for our church to be healthy, to grow, and to make a difference–we still answer above all to God. Most of us love to joke on occasion, but do not consider our calling a joke.
  • Do not make your preacher starve. Okay, admittedly this is an extreme way of saying honor your preacher and his family with a fair wage and benefits. From what I understand generally we are at a much better place here then in the past, but still be sensitive to your preacher’s financial needs. Providing a comfortable salary, health insurance and retirement benefits, etc makes a major supportive statement to the preacher and his family. It messages to them that the church is investing in the preachers success and expects a prosperous, healthy relationship. Preachers can flourish in such an environment.

This is not a comprehensive list of course–just four things that can commonly happen.

Here is my favorite Bible verse about preachers. It demonstrates the high value God puts upon us. It is also incredibly humbling.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” (Romans 10:14-15)

Value your preacher. It will be a blessing to him that will return to you many times over.

*To be fair my next blogpost will address the ways preachers should not treat their churches


People, Not Issues

February 19, 2015

issuesQuite often during the ministry of Jesus, attempts were made to draw him into the middle of some controversial, hot-button issue. Whether it was healing or working on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:1-5) or identifying just who is your neighbor (Luke 10:29ff) the law experts and Jewish theologians were anxious to involve Jesus. But he refused to take their bait. He either ignored them or handled the issues in such a way as to deflect the controversy and defuse the debate.

Jesus and his ministry was about people–not issues. He came to serve and to save (Matthew 20:28; Luke 10:10). He had no time for issues. Reaching people was his priority.

It should remain so for his church. Issues continue to abound. Churches can get lost in them–making the issues their identity. God forbid!

Our world does not need more issues. It needs more servants sharing the gospel of Christ. Issues cannot save. Jesus can.

Three observations:

  • Issues splinter, the Gospel reconciles. Issues create strife, quarreling, and division–a toxic mix for a church. We should work to avoid this at all costs (2 Timothy 2:23-24). The gospel has the opposite effect. It reconciles and unifies (Ephesians 2:16; 4:1-6). It creates a healthy, harmonious, growing atmosphere for a church.
  • Issues are nothing new. Not only did Christ have to deal with issues, but the first churches did as well. The solution was always Christ-based and gospel focused (1 Corinthians 2:2). What an important example for us. When issues arise–put them at the foot of the cross.
  • People want Jesus, not issues. Most people do not know about nor do they care about most of our church issues. In fact, being made aware of our issues has pushed many away. They have enough issues of their own living in our broken world. By lifting up Jesus we are offering a heaven-based alternative to their issues; a message of hope and joy; of forgiveness and grace.

This is the message Jesus shared in his ministry. It penetrated the issue-laden focus of the religious leaders to reach the hearts of many–hungry to hear a word of hope. These people marvelled that Jesus was not an ordinary teacher with an ordinary message (Matthew 7:28-29). The first church grew rapidly because of their focus, not on issues, but on the “Good News of Jesus Christ.”

Let’s learn from this.

It is about people, not issues.