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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Props to Harding University

June 12, 2017

 

Harding-University

Harding University, in Searcy, Arkansas, is a liberal arts college affiliated with the Churches of Christ. It’s scenic campus sits not that far from the Levy church’s campus in North Little Rock, AR. As a result of this fortunate geography we are quite often the happy recipients of Harding’s products–both their graduates who move into our area and their professors who occasionally speak here.

So I give props to the university for their good work in emphasizing Christ in their educational process. We have different generations of Harding graduates at Levy and all bless our church. Within our leadership–among our shepherds and staff–we have Harding graduates. We get to enjoy a wonderful stream of young people fresh from the campus. They bring energy, vision, and faith, which in turn, continually creates a fresh, rejuvenating spirit within our congregation.

My personal experience at Harding was through their Master of Ministry program. That was a tremendous growth period for me, but I have never been a resident student there. Our current preaching intern and several of our youth and children’s ministry interns are from Harding also. I am impressed by them all. And while I realize that there is no perfect school (and also acknowledge that Levy is blessed by those from other fine Christian schools and other universities)–Harding has indeed been a notable blessing to the Levy church over the years.

So thanks to everyone who keeps the Harding tradition going! May God continue to bless the university! At Levy we look forward to future Harding graduates potentially coming our way.


Meet Will

June 7, 2017

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Serving as preaching intern this summer at Levy is Will Brannen. Will will be a junior at Harding University in Searcy, AR studying Bible and ministry. He is from Houston, TX. He and his family worship at the Bammel Church of Christ.

I have known Will since 2003 when my family and I moved to work with the Gateway congregation in Pensacola, FL. Will and his family were living there then.

Will has an amazing God story to share about his life. He had a heart transplant as an infant and is a two-time cancer survivor. He plans to tell us a little more about that soon at Levy.

In spending dedicated time with Will–studying text; talking ministry and preaching; visiting people–I am deeply impressed by Will’s desire to serve God, his genuineness and his maturity.

I am thankful that Will is with us for six weeks and I urge everyone at Levy to pray for him, encourage him and support him in his pursuit of a life of ministry.


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!


The Growing Healthcare Crisis Among Ministers?

November 19, 2014

First, this post is not about partisan politics. I am not inviting any harsh rhetoric or political debates. This would be counterproductive.

I am inviting a dialogue. I am seeking information. Perhaps something you know could help someone else.

Those who are in full-time ministry occupy a rather unique tax status. We are considered self-employed when it comes to Social Security, but employed when it comes to income tax. That is one financial hurdle of our profession.

Another one–particularly for those of us serving in independent fellowships (such as the Churches of Christ)–is that there is no church-wide system to assist us in such things as planning retirement and healthcare. If assistance for these things exists they are negotiated through the local congregation in which we serve. And since most of our congregations of the Churches of Christ are not that large they cannot afford much more than just a salary. This leaves the minister alone to bear the expense of both retirement and healthcare and quite often either one or both go lacking.

I have seen and lived the consequences of this over the years. I know ministers who continue to work well past retirement years out of necessity (yes, some continue because they enjoy serving and could not imagine ever not being involved in ministry). I have also known (and this seems to be only increasing) ministers who have either no or very inadequate healthcare coverage (particularly if they do not receive it through the employment of their spouse).

Yes, there seems to be a growing healthcare crisis among ministers. While I do not know the workings of or specific details about the new Affordable Healthcare Act–the information I am getting from fellow ministers is, that it is only making an already expensive situation even more costly and more complicated.

(Personal disclosure: I and my family do have healthcare coverage which we provide for ourselves. Currently I have a grandfathered health insurance policy. It is standard stuff, but not widely accepted in my area. I am able to use it, but only with one hospital system in my city. This is not ACA related. This has to do with my insurance brand and how they do business with the local hospitals and doctors. My wife and kids have another standard type policy with another insurer which is widely accepted. They are good through 2015 and then (we have been told) because of the ACA will have to find other coverage. I disclose this to say that I yet have had to deal with the changes brought in by the ACA and therefore cannot personally speak to it. My conclusion of the ACA increasing costs comes from information shared by other ministers currently involved/enrolled in it.)

So, what can be done about this crisis? What can our churches do to help? What alternatives are out there besides what is offered through the ACA? Is the ACA actually working for any ministers?

Ministers and their families without healthcare is not only a personal issue, it would seem to be a congregational one as well. What would happen in your congregation if an uninsured minister or family member became ill or were injured in an accident? Would the congregation feel compelled to cover the costs (or at least some of them)? Would it not be better stewardship then to help provide healthcare for you minister–before a tragedy occurs? What would the weight of healthcare debt do to the ability of a minister to serve effectively? Could this force him out of ministry into another profession that offers healthcare options? There are many questions here–including is there really a crisis?

Perhaps you know some of the answers to these questions. Your input on this is welcome.


Five Ways to Be a Healthy Church

February 12, 2014

For years I read every church growth book on the market. I hung on the testimony “experts” shared. I rode the waves of the church-building trends. I wanted my church to grow; to be relevent; to be on healthy churchthe cutting edge (as much as allowed within my congregational setting, anyway); and to attract others. Eventually, however, I learned that while all of this could produce activity, it was not always healthy activity. What was good for that happening church in the metropolis, was not necessarily good for my church.

Churches come in all shapes, sizes, and traditions. Before importing the latest and greatest from a successfully growing church, we all need to thoughtfully consider if it really fits into our church context. Some things may; some things may not. The key to me is in understanding our own church–and working within it to bring about congregational health–just as we are. I wholeheartedly believe that regardless of worship style, church tradition, location, etc., every church can be healthy and productive in the Lord. Here are five suggestions on how to be a healthy church–just as you are; right where you are:

  • Be Real. This is foundational. Churches that demonstrate a genuine faith struggle attract fellow strugglers. This is the opposite of Christianity as performance. This is church–not about how proud we are to be church; how exceptional our preacher is; how cutting-edge our worship is; how amazing our building and campus is; it is about real folks who have found forgiveness and fulfillment in Christ. It is about demonstrating and celebrating the real difference Christ has made in our lives. It is about being true to him, his will and who we are in him. No pretense; no put-on. Jesus is our identity. He is the reason why we worship. It is not trying to be something we are not. If we can learn to become genuinely transparent with our faith at our church–our church will be healthy and being healthy, ready to be used by God in fantastic ways.
  • Be Welcoming. Truthfully, many churches are not that welcoming. They think they are, but in practice they are not very sensitive to the experience of guests. To be welcoming means to be intentional about it. It is more than just a friendly mindset, it is an intentional atmosphere created within a church to make every guest’s experience as pleasant and encouraging as possible. All churches have people who visit. What is the reception they receive? Are they greeted? Are they assisted in finding their way around? Is there informational material to share with them? Is that material updated? Are church members interacting with the guests? Why is this so key to being a healthy church? Not only does it greatly assist guests–ensuring a great church experience for them and an incentive to return; it creates an outward focus for the church. Unhealthy churches have an inward focus. Healthy churches seek ways to serve others. Being a welcoming church is where an outward focus can start.
  • Be Your Best. This point really speaks to worship and worship styles. Perhaps nothing has harmed churches more over the last few decades than worship wars–people feuding within churches as to which worship style will be practiced. None of that has been very healthy. What is healthy is when we simply do our best (within our worship context) to worship God “in spirit and truth.” We put our entire heart and soul into our Sunday gathering. We do not hold back in our devotion and praise to God. Certainly, we use gifted people to lead and assist us, but it is also our best God desires. We can have the latest technology; the most gifted leading us; the most contemporary song selection and still not have healthy worship. Healthy worship is when we are all engaged–offering the best of ourselves to God as we worship. When we do, it will be a tremendous witness to our faith and relationship to God–a witness other’s will notice and from which they will gain strength. Healthy churches do not get lost in an over-focus on the latest worship bells and whistles–they engage the heart of the worshipper to bring out the very best we have to offer.
  • Be Grace-Filled. Healthy churches realize that there are none perfect (“not even one”- Romans 3:10) and operate in God’s spirit of grace. Forgiveness is fundamental among healthy churches. Healthy churches welcome everyone to journey as fellow grace travellers. Healthy churches are not judgmental nor self-righteous. Healthy churches offer a safe place of refuge for all who are weary in the world. God’s grace oozes from healthy churches.
  • Be Flexible. This may be the most difficult! Not speaking of any type of Biblical or value compromise here, just the ability to adjust to changing culture. Think Paul here–becoming “all things to all people” in order to spread the gospel to as “many as possible” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Healthy churches do not get stuck in the rut of tradition to the point that they fail to live in the present. The church is called out to minister in our time and place. Healthy churches have enough flexibility to adapt to their changing communities and offer a compelling contemporary message about the old rugged cross.

How all of this will look– lived out in churches is as different as the churches themselves. It is not presented as some exhaustive check-list–just what I have observed over the years within healthy churches.

 

 

 

 


Five Things Preachers Would Like You to Know

February 10, 2014

preaching_cartoon_1*The following information is based on years of conversations with preachers; years of being a preacher; and a more focused dialogue I had with a select few preachers. It is not a scientific study, nor does it represent all preachers. 

Don’t you like when a disclaimer starts things off! It was necessary, however. Each preacher’s experience–while sharing many similarities–is also unique. Just like each church is unique. So, I am not pretending to speak for all preachers in this post. The five bullet points I share do, though, speak for many (including myself).

  1. Preaching is our calling. For most of us, preaching is not just a job. A job is usually something you can take or leave. It is necessary, of course, but not necessarily life-defining. Preaching is life-defining. It is not just what we do; it is who we are. Preaching knows no nine-to-five mentality. It is not something we can leave at the office. It is what we feel compelled by God to do. Ask your preacher about this. He will tell you.
  2. Our goal is to “preach Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). This is a part of our call. We must be faithful to Jesus; to preach him; to have a cross-centered message. It is not primarily about preaching church. It is first and foremost about preaching Christ. He is our main agenda. For some preachers this, unfortunately, has brought them into conflict with their churches–when other agendas developed within those churches. As preachers, we realize that ultimately it will be Christ who will hold us accountable for what we preach (James 3:1). So, our aim is to lift him up in order for all to be drawn unto him.
  3. We love the church. Most preachers of my acquaintance would do everything in their power not to bring harm or disunity to the church. It is the precious bride and body of Christ. Our desire is to see the church flourish and grow; to see it be relevant to its community; to witness spiritual lethargy turned into spiritual energy; to be a part of changing lives; of renewal; of revival. This is one reason why we do what we do.  Few things matter more to a preacher than the health of his church.
  4. We often feel insecure. Preachers feel vulnerable quite frequently. It seems to come with the territory. Whether it is connected to our own personal weaknesses; our own perceived feeble efforts in the huge responsibility of proclaiming the gospel; or the atmosphere and attitude within our congregations; preaching does not usually come with lots of job security. Most preachers agree that it is better than it used to be, but still insecurity lingers.
  5. We just want to be accepted as family. It may come as a surprise to non-preachers, but many preachers (and families) find it difficult to make friends. One preaching brother told me that one of his college professors (who had been a preacher) expressly told his class not to make friends where they preached! Even though I do not agree with that reasoning, I understand it. The best thing you can do for your preacher is make him feel at home. Get to know him. Spend time outside of the church building with him and his family. Trust me on this one.

God places an extremely high value on preaching and preachers:

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:13-15)

Value your preacher. Let him know you appreciate his efforts to preach “Christ and him crucified.”