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Church Growth

Growth and Witnessing

Oftentimes, spiritual growth and sharing the Gospel are not seen as being related. Well, of course you have to have embraced the Gospel message to be born spiritually in order to grow spiritually. However, I’m talking about once you’re saved, there’s not a lot of emphasis on witnessing. At least for many church-goers.

Last week, we looked at the issue of spiritual growth and sharing the Gospel. We looked at the context of Jesus’ comments about “the fields are white for harvest” from John 4: the Samaritan “woman at the well” went to invite the townspeople to come meet Jesus who knew all sorts of things about her (as well as her friends and lovers). As they were coming to Jesus, He told His disciples that, “the fields are white for harvest”. (John 4:35)

Our job is to pray to the Lord of the Harvest, asking Him to send His workers into the harvest (Luke 10:2). By the way, that doesn’t mean that we pray for somebody else to come along and do the work for us. The idea is that we ask God to send others to help us bring in the harvest. So how do we do that?

One plan is called 4xFour and it was developed by Greg Wallace of Woodridge Baptist Church of Kingwood, Texas. He suggests the first step is to Identify four “unchurched” (i.e., lost) people within your circle of influence, whom God wants you to share your faith. To do that, we have to realize that there is a harvest, we are called to be involved in bringing in the harvest, and that now is the time to be about the Lord’s business of bringing in the harvest. And that requires that we pray, asking God to lead us to our “four” (we don’t just pick out four random people).

This is just the first step of one plan, which I suggested for Fellowship Baptist Church. You may not like this plan. That’s ok. So what is your plan? How is your plan working for you? (I assume you have a plan)

God hasn’t called anybody to win the entire world to Christ. But God intends all of us to witness to some (1Cor 9:22). We can start by Identifying your “Four”.

So have you identified your “Four”?

Pastor Craig
Luke 10:2

Is “Praying the Prayer” Biblical?

One of my concerns over the years is the popular idea of encouraging people to “pray a prayer to accept Jesus into their hearts”. According the new International Mission Board President, David Platt, doing this is superstitious and dangerous.

I took a class on World Religions when I was at UNC-Chapel Hill. Obviously, this class was not taught from a “Christian perspective”. And that was a good thing. It was good to hear an academic description of the major world religions because it gave me an idea as to how lost people look at the world.

One day, our professor began to explain Pure Land Buddhism. As he described the concept of “salvation”/”achieving enlightenment”, I began to feel chills creep up my spine. According to that religion, all you need to ensure your “salvation” was to speak a particular phrase. You could live your life however you wanted before and after speaking these words and you were still guaranteed “salvation”.

So why did I get chills? Because there’s not much difference between that religion’s concept of “salvation” and much of our evangelistic training and mindset!

Let me ask… When you think about when you became a Christian, do you believe it happened because you prayed a prayer, or walked down an aisle? If one must do any or all of these things, then why don’t we see either of those things mentioned in the entire New Testament? Or in the writings of the Church Fathers? Or in the writings of the Reformers? Even baptism — as important as it is — isn’t given as being essential to salvation. In fact, such easy believe-ism is completely counter to everything we read in the New Testament, and the writings of the Church Fathers and the Reformers.

The concept of praying a sinner’s prayer is a modern convention, perhaps shaped by the Western mindset of “being a soul-winner”, similar to being a successful salesman who always presses for the decision and closes the deal. I even remember some of my evangelism training including asking the prospective convert if he/she could think of any reason why they shouldn’t pray the prayer and if not, they should bow and pray.

As Dr. Pratt says in the video above, doing this is dangerous, and even damning.

How many people will stand before God on Judgment Day, claiming that they should be granted access to eternity in heaven because they prayed a prayer, walked down an aisle, shook a pastor’s hand or were baptized?

The prospect of that Day scares me! And it should scare you, too! Jesus took it a step farther, saying that on that Day, many will claim that they had done some pretty spectacular things, but would still wouldn’t enter heaven because He never knew them. (Matthew 7:21-23)

Biblical salvation is more than just praying a prayer, walking an aisle, and being baptized. Salvation is receiving eternal life and eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3). Salvation begins when we exchange our life (all of our sin) for Jesus’ life (all of His righteousness) in order to be put in a right relationship with our Creator and King, against Whom we have all committed High Treason. Without accepting that free exchange, we are all worthy of nothing better than an eternity in hell and separation from God. Salvation continues as we live according to that new standing as adopted children. And salvation is fully realized when we cross over to the other side of eternity.

Does praying a prayer save you? No. Prayer is a natural response to receiving the New Life in exchange for our Old life and being accepted into a new family by a loving Father. And prayer can express our repentance as we turn from our sin and toward God.

What are your thoughts?

 

What is the Measure of One’s Ministry?

Too often we measure ministries by “nickels and noses” or “buildings, budgets, and butts”. If you’re around a group of pastors of different churches, the topic of church size quickly comes up, one will brag about his church’s latest building program, another brags about his latest offering, and still another about how many new members have recently joined the church. And if you ask how many people attended last Sunday Morning’s church service, you will hear a “ministerialy-speaking” number that more often than not, is inflated.

Speaking of inflated numbers…. the first church I pastored had nearly 300 members! But I don’t know that even on the “high attendance” Sundays of Christmas and Easter we ever had more than 50 people in the sanctuary. As we dug into the names, we found that we only recognized about 60. Sixty of 300 names!

You rarely hear of churches cleaning up their rolls, mainly because reporting the numbers accurately makes it look like the church has had a drastic drop in membership. And smaller memberships mean fewer people can go to denominational meetings and vote on behalf of your church. But, honestly, how many people go to those denominational meetings anymore anyway?

Wanting to account for the actual number of sheep in our fold, we began removing the names of people we didn’t know, or that we knew had died. So what happened to so many people on the membership roll? I suspect that many moved away, joined another church, or simply dropped out. Perhaps many were children who prayed a prayer during a Vacation Bible School over the course of 30+ years, and their names were added to the membership and they were never heard from again. (and did we ever follow up with them?)

I have heard of church business meetings where a number of people showed up for the first time in years in order to vote out a pastor (maybe some people didn’t like the way he parted his hair) or to change the direction a pastor was trying to lead the church (perhaps to be less “religious” and to be more like Jesus). Phone calls were made and accusations were leveled, with the result of the poor church clerk having to pour through the membership roster to make sure that everyone in the meeting was entitled to vote, based on their “membership” in the church. I must confess that this is one of the reasons I wanted to clean up the membership rolls; I didn’t want the church to be sabotaged by people who had no vested interest in the normal operations of the church. If there were people who wanted to maintain membership so they could have a “church marriage” or a “church funeral”, I was prepared to conduct their services, but I felt that those “members” had “broken covenant” by choosing to no longer attend and support the church with their time, talent, and their treasures.

So what is church membership?

Even after paring down the list of names to those 60 that we knew, we still had some names on the list because they were family members of charter church members, for whatever reason afraid of removing their grandchild or cousin from the roll. Were they afraid they wouldn’t come back to church? Hadn’t the grandchild or cousin already made that decision?

OK, I’ll step off my soapbox after saying that we need to seriously consider what “church membership” means. By “we”, I mean churches, staff, as well as everyone who calls themselves a “church member”. Wouldn’t it be better to call everyone either a church member or church attender based on their investment of time, talent, and yes… treasures?

 

I came across a really good post this morning that addresses this question of how to best measure one’s ministry. From a pastor’s perspective, I believe we should change our criteria.

 

New Resume Posted!

I have just updated my resume and a letter from the Parker County Director of Missions, John Thielepape. Perhaps I might be a good fit for your church as a Supply (fill-in) Preacher, Interim Pastor or Pastor. Let’s talk! Contact information is on the resume or click here for a contact form.

Is Your Church More Like Blockbuster, Netflix, or Redbox?

Last week, I came across an “infographic” on the decline of Blockbuster Video. As I looked over it, I realized an undeniable takeaway regarding the state of many churches today: Are our churches more like Blockbuster or Netflix?

Perhaps one of the reasons I began pondering this question stemmed from a discussion the night before. After our weekly prayer meeting one lady – out of the blue – asked why some churches are attracting so many people while other churches seem to struggle keeping attendance up. She named the fastest-growing church in our area. I told her that I know the pastor as well as the “mother church” that this local church has recently partnered with. I said that for the most part, these churches have been solid, evangelical churches.

The church in question is – for the most part – very similar to our church, doctrinally speaking. Their music is much more up-beat than ours, however, I told those present that I don’t think that the music is the real draw. Lots of other churches have added a “contemporary” service or have begun to blend contemporary “praise and worship” with traditional hymns. Without exception, those churches haven’t seen a sharp spike in their attendance.

What about special “programs”? Church growth expert, Ed Stetzer points out in Comeback Churches that churches don’t grow through programs. They never have and they never will. Instead, Stetzer says, churches grow through relationships

What about the preaching? This particular church’s pastor is a very dynamic preacher, however, I’m not convinced that this is the only reason for their growth either. But I think we’re getting closer. So what’s the difference?

Let me answer that with a question: Why have so many people begun to use Netflix and Redbox? or, Why did people stop going to Blockbuster?  I think the answer to these questions are very closely tied to the question of why some churches are barely hanging on while others seem to thrive.

Ok, before I go any further, let me say that I am not a “church growth” expert, though I have had some training and have read a few books in church growth principles. Neither am I a marketing genius. But one doesn’t have to be either to see that the times have changed.

For the most part, Blockbuster and Netflix both carried the same movies. Blockbuster, however had newer movies. As soon as movies were released to the public, you could walk into your local store, pick it up and watch it that night with your family. What a deal! Why wait a few more weeks, or even months before the same movie was available to watch on Netflix?

Our family had a subscription to Netflix when they offered unlimited movies by mail for a set price. We could configure our movie preferences online, selecting the order of the movies we’d like to watch and then check out a couple of movies at a time. After watching a movie, we would send it back to them, in their postage-paid envelope, and they would send out the next movie in our queue. In many cases, we would get the next movie in our queue a couple of days after we dropped the previous movie in the mail. What a deal! That was convenience! Netflix also had another offering the sweetened the pot; I’ll talk about that in a moment.

Then Blockbuster began something similar. You could rent a movie in the store or online for home delivery. Once you had watched the movie, you could return it in the postage-paid envelope, or you could take it to your local store and pick up another movie right there; you didn’t have to wait two days to get your next movie. It seemed Blockbuster was gaining the upper hand.

However, I believe that the draw for Netflix was that in addition to their mail-order distribution, you could – with the right equipment – stream movies right to your TV through the Internet. By this point, many people had bought game systems for our kids and already had the necessary equipment. Netflix provided software with their subscription and they advertised like crazy on the radio and TV. For “ just 8 bucks a month”, you could watch movies an unlimited number of times on your home TV. Immediately. No waiting two days for the next movie. No driving to the video store. Just run the app on your Wii, PS2, or Xbox and watch as many movies as you want when you want to. And it worked.

Blockbuster was late in the game in offering the streaming of movies. Perhaps too late. And I believe the reason why stemmed from their business model: come to the store and get what you need.

In April 2011, Blockbuster was bought by Dish Network, the number two satellite TV company, behind DirecTV. But in order to use Blockbuster resources, you had to be a Dish subscriber. In addition to its Dish Network offerings, Blockbuster began offering to stream movies over the Internet, but unless your TV had an Internet connection, you had to stream the movie on your computer screen. Comparing the size of computer screens with the size of modern large format TVs, it was obvious that Blockbuster’s relevance was fading quickly.

As Blockbuster’s relevance was fading, a new player came on the scene: Redbox. The draw for Redbox was that you could rent newly-released movies at a number of locations, including your corner convenience store or grocery store. Their business model was streamlined; they didn’t have to rent expensive space for a brick-and-mortar store and pay several employees to remain onsite twelve hours a day. Instead, each week an employee would visit the local kiosks to add the latest movies and update the available selections. Compared to Blockbuster, Redbox’s business model featured a much lower overhead, including a few traveling employees, low rental space fees and a cellular connection for credit card processing. With their lower overhead, they could afford multiple kiosks in more locations than Blockbuster stores. Instead of making a special trip to the video store, they could simply pick up a movie when they did their weekly grocery run. With Redbox’s option of newly-released movies coupled with Netflix’s option of unlimited viewing of slightly older movies, few consumers needed Blockbuster anymore.

Again, I believe that Blockbuster’s business model was the reason for its failure. The marketplace changed and the business model didn’t. Consumers no longer wanted to drive to their local store to rent movies to drive back to return them the next day. Consumers didn’t want to leave their homes to drive to a single-location local store when they could just power up their home TV and game console and watch an almost unlimited selection of movies an unlimited number of times for one monthly fee or pick up a movie at the gas station on their way home from work. Additionally, you could do it in the privacy of your home and not have to interact with strangers at the store.

Blockbuster, Netflix, and Redbox offered the same product; they just offered it differently. Each limited its method. But because they were slow to adapt to change, Blockbuster, with its limited traditional methods, lost its relevancy and even lost its existing customer base. Blockbuster no longer appealed to younger audiences and even its long-established base soon moved to the new offerings of its competitors. Blockbuster was forced to close its doors.

So what’s the connection between the Blockbuster, Netflix, and Redbox battle and the growth or decline of local churches? Well, just like with movie distribution, I believe it comes down to different business models.

Traditionally, local churches have had a business model similar to Blockbuster: come to our church building and get what you need. This model worked for decades. Many churches even had “specials” each year in the form of evangelistic meetings called revivals and vacation Bible school. Outreach often consisted of sending out flyers or “visitation” by going out in the community, knocking on doors to invite neighbors to come to the church. Some churches, through a bus ministry brought people to their building. However, the business model remained the same: come to the church building and get what you need.

The culture has changed. Businesses no longer use door-to-door salespeople to sell vacuum cleaners, make-up, or brushes. And the companies that do are often seen as shady businesses seeking to take advantage of homeowners. The main exception is cultists, and homeowners don’t want them either. Today, if they open their door at all, the homeowners will often have a baseball bat or shotgun within reach of the front door. Yet, some churches still use the same business model of church growth; after all, it worked well in the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.

The culture has changed. If consumers have chosen to not go out of their way for a movie, why should churches expect them to go out of their way to go to a church building? If people don’t want to interact with strangers at the video store, why should churches expect them to interact with strangers at church, especially the strangers who dress strangely (except for bankers and lawyers, who wears a suit and tie anymore?), sing strange-sounding music played on strange instruments (organ and piano),  and use a strange words like, “fellowship”, “inspiration”, “tithe”, “saved” and “lost”, and call their leader, “Brother”. Indeed, we are a strange bunch!

The culture has changed. And if churches wish to retain any relevance at all, we must change our business model and hence, methods as well. But we must be willing to embrace other methods. And we must embrace the other methods quickly if we want to stay in business.

In discussing this issue with my teenage son, we began to draw some analogies:

  • Blockbuster is like the traditional church building.
  • Redbox is like church community groups.
  • Netflix is like streaming church programming through a live feed or an on-demand podcast.

Having a “brick-and-mortar” church building costs a lot of money. Blockbuster invested a lot of resources for its rent, utilities, signage and employees. Similarly, the traditional church invests a lot of resources for its building, utilities, signage, and employees. Traditional churches recognize that the daily usage of human resources and the other costs are worthy investments.

On the other hand, church community groups, like Redbox kiosks have very little overhead. Churches that use community groups believe that the weekly investment of human resources and other minimal fixed costs is a worthy investment.

Streaming of movies by Netflix depended on some investment of human and technical resources; the rest of the equipment was provided by the consumer. Once Netflix invested the initial capital on the technical resources, except for ongoing advertising and personnel, it cost absolutely nothing to add more consumers. Netflix could provide on-demand programming for one home or ten million homes for the same investment of resources.

In a similar way, churches can stream programming with an investment of some technical resources up front, and a small amount of ongoing maintenance costs, but can add a virtually unlimited number of users for no additional investment of resources. Some of these resources, such as social media including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest are completely free. Other online resources including website and podcast hosting are relatively inexpensive and can handle virtually an infinite number of users.

Compared to the costs of building and maintaining a brick-and-mortar church building, using neighborhood locations and streaming to individual homes is much more cost-effective. Churches should look at using new methods like adding a church website in the same way they would look at adding a new building on the church property. But how much more cost effective!

Perhaps this cost comparison for a small-to-medium sized church will help:

    • New building:
      • Hundreds of thousands to even millions of dollars to build
      • Hundreds to thousands of dollars to maintain each month

  • Professional church website
    • A few hundred dollars to build
    • Much less than $100 host the site and on-demand media (sermons, etc.) each month

It’s not a question of which method is better. Businesses have discovered that each of these methods has advantages and disadvantages. And just like businesses have done, churches can leverage the advantages of all three of these methods and virtually eliminate the disadvantages. Churches should be looking at all three business models, while keeping their eyes open for new methods and technologies as they come along.

What about Ed Stetzer’s statement that churches grow through relationships rather than programs? Justin Wise, in his book The Social Church, says that the younger generations view social media “virtual” connections/relationships (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, texting, etc.) the same way they do “physical” connections/relationships: connections are connections. If this is true, our entire business model of “come to the church building and get what you need” should be completely reevaluated!

What has “always” worked for churches will not work as we move forward.

As Justin Wise points out, the Reformation had the Guttenberg Press; the modern church has social media. Yes, utilizing social media and websites is that transformative. I cannot recommend his book too highly. It’s that good.

Adoption of social media and websites is necessary if churches wish to remain relevant. And as I have demonstrated, the costs to do so are minimal. Even the smallest of churches can use the free social media options to reach out to the community as well as its own members. (but read Justin’s book first)

Churches have a choice: They can adapt newer business models … or they can literally hold a death grip on their limited traditional business model.

 

 

Application

What about yours? Is your church more like Blockbuster, Netflix, or Redbox?

 

I am very interested in hearing your feedback!