Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Foundations for Growth

            Many people have asked for my thoughts in the area of church growth. There are several things that must be in place for a church to be able to handle, receive, and maintain successful church growth.

            First the church must have a solid vision from the leadership of where they would like to be in the future. The leadership must paint a picture that the people can envision. It must be one that is obtainable and one that everyone can support. A picture of where the church would like to be in one, five, and even ten years is a solid place to start. This should be a rallying point for the congregation. This should be a vision that is exciting and should inspire the members to carry out this mission of the congregation.

            The second foundational item should be a mission. This should contain the specifics on how the congregation is going to reach the goals contained within the vision set forth by the leadership. When the congregation is on a mission, they can all pull in the same direction. It should produce a sense of unity and support. It allows the members to spur each other on in service to the Lord. This mission should contain the different ministries in which the church will be involved to make an impact within the community.

            The idea is to have each member contributing something, anything toward the mission. These things are truly important to church growth because they reflect the church’s heart. They reflect the church’s attitude toward the lost, the poor, the down-trodden, and the marginalized. These attitudes affect how genuine and authentic our worship is and how genuine and authentic people perceive us when we are attempting to minister to them.

            Most people can spot a fake from miles away. If we do not have a truly authentic relationship and desire to serve the Lord, people we will not respond to out outreach efforts. The foundation boils down to the church having a solid identity. They know who they are, where they are going, and have a good idea on how to get there.

            Any ideas for events and programs must, therefore, be pliable and moldable in order to fit the congregation’s mission and vision. When these ideas produce solid results as far as generating guests, they must be welcomed into a community of believers. When we create community, growth comes by drawing those guests into that community of believers and turning them into solid disciples of Christ.

            Unfortunately there is no “magic bullet” of church growth. Yet, when a congregation has a solid identity and a great focus, growth will be the natural byproduct of community service and outreach.

            The last piece of this puzzle is a congregation’s ability to change their fishing nets, the way in which we attempt to reach others. The messages never changes. It is always, always the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But, our times and our culture changes very rapidly, thus our methods of delivering the message must change. To put it in fishing terms, you simply do not fish for catfish the same way you fish for bass or trout or marlin. It is surprising to me how many congregations want to use the same outreach methods that worked in 1955 and are astonished when they do not get the same positive results in 2014 – many times failing completely.

Recently, a congregation in the town in which we live held a tent revival. The event was well publicized. There were radio spots, flyers, banners, and guest speakers that went from congregation to congregation to plug the event. In the 50s and 60s this event may have been too crowded for everyone to get a seat. The event barely had one third of the chairs filled each night. The message did not change. The speakers were very good at delivering the message. The weather was nice. What went wrong? In 2014, we have internet streaming, DVDs, multiple television channels with religious programming, and many other avenues in which people can watch or listen to the message on their own time. Our information and technology flooded culture has become one where relationship trumps the event. People want to be cared for over informed. We must change our methods if we are to see long term success.


“On the one hand we are obligated to remain faithful to the unchanging Word of God. On the other hand we must minister in an ever-changing world.”


“Every church needs to grow warmer through fellowship, deeper through discipleship, stronger through through worship, and larger through evangelism.”

                        - Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Broken Promises

            If there is one thing that truly makes me frustrated is when someone ‘promises’ to do something and breaks it. We hear telemarketers promise all of the time to remove our name from the call list. It never seems to happen. We hear customer service people promise all kinds of things but do it simply to pacify you and get you off of the phone.

            I remember one time my wife and I were having trouble with our long distance carrier, MCI. We could make local calls but not long distant calls. I was working with Bellsouth at the time and knew my way around the phone industry.

            I first contacted Bellsouth who referred me to my long distance carrier. When I called MCI around 6pm I was treated cordially and guaranteed that my problem would be fixed in two hours. Well, at 8pm, as you can imagine, I was not quite as polite as I could have been, after all, a guarantee is a guarantee. I was placed on hold on and off for about an hour and a half. They could simply not figure out what was wrong with my long distance. The customer service representative has becoming frustrated as well. She offered to refer me back to Bellsouth to which I refused, stating that I worked for the phone company and knew for a fact the problem was on her end.

            It was then the promises starting flying. She promised to have an MCI technician at my house no later than midnight. I kindly directed her attention to the fact that there was no such thing. Bellsouth was the only phone entity in the area that actually went to a person’s house. It was then that she swore up and down that someone would be at my house from MCI by midnight and there was nothing more she could do.

            Needless to say, no one came to my house, mainly because there was no such service from MCI. I called them back at 1215am. I asked to speak to her supervisor. After another 30 minute hold, I finally reached someone claiming to be as such. The person laughed when I told them about the representative promising me to send a warm body to my house. They verified that they have no such technicians. When all was said and done, my problem was in their software, and I received a $50 credit for long distance on my phone bill. After the $50 credit was used up, we switched long distance service and never returned to MCI.

            How many times as Christians do we break our promises? It seems to be an epidemic in our country that you simply cannot trust someone’s word. We as Christians must strive to honor our words. We must make every effort to follow through on the things we say we are going to do. There are times when we are the only witness for Christ that someone encounters. If we break our word to them, we may also lose our ability to witness to them as well. Let our yes be yes and no be no.

            This isn’t to say we should beat ourselves up but to say that we must be careful with what we say. I have let people down before and it pains me when it happens. But God can cash in on our busted promises. Take a look at Peter. He denied Christ during His darkest hour three times! God still used him to preach a sermon that resulted in 3,000 baptisms. He was an apostle that truly demonstrated a zeal and boldness for Christ even though he failed on many occasions. How can God redeem your broken promises? Start with one relationship. Pray over it. Ask God to help you fix it. Wrestle with how to mend it. Then start with one…

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Traditional Versus Contemporary

            One of the big questions of our day is about worship. Should our worship services cater to the ones that prefer a traditional service or the ones who prefer a more contemporary service? It seems that many of the older crowd grew up with things such as hymnals, pews, a reverent style service, and even a certain style of preaching. There is certainly nothing wrong with this type of worship.

            It also appears that those of younger generations prefer a more upbeat, visual stimulating, technology-filled style of worship. They tend to like songs that you might hear on contemporary Christian radio with little to no silence during the service. They tend to like their song lyrics projected on big screens instead of having them in printed form. There is certainly nothing wrong with this type of worship either.

            Yet there seems to be a growing chasm between the two types of service. Unfortunately this same chasm can develop among the people as well. So what is to be done about the vast differences in worship preference? Are we to split our services, have different times for each? Will this not also split the smaller congregations, making two really small congregations out of one small one? If your church is over 1,000 members, you will most likely be running multiple services anyway, and this will not be as big of an issue as in a smaller one. If you are not ready to run multiple services due to sheer numbers, perhaps the following suggestions might provide some help in blending the two:


1. Open the lines of communication. It is important to keep your people informed and dialoging. Perhaps have several who prefer each style of worship form a committee and discuss this issue. What does worship look like for each style? What things are important for each group to instill a desire to participate fully in worship? In what ways can these two styles work together? Define the things that seem essential.

2. Cross pollination is a must. A healthy congregation needs members from all generations. There are things that each generation brings to the table that the other generations do not. The older generations have that invaluable wisdom and experience from which others may benefit greatly. The younger generation has the energy for service and has lots of creativity and the imagination to lead the church into the future. When these two generations work together and help each other the entire congregation benefits. It may be the older generation mentoring the younger generation on marriage, or it may be the younger generation helping the older one learn to use technology. This type of cooperation is a must for a strong faith to be passed down from generation to generation.

3. Compromise is acceptable when it is a preference. When we are talking about Scriptural truths, compromise is never acceptable. When we are talking about which song to sing on a giving Sunday, a blend of contemporary and traditional songs and hymns will work well. There are also many apps for electronic devices that can be used to aid worship. A printed bulletin may be a must for some while an electronic “event” with additional content in the YouVersion app may be desirable for others. In the scheme of things, preferences should not be divisive things. A variation in the order of worship should not cause great distress. Clear communication beforehand works well to alleviate a lot of heartburn. Always sell the benefits of a change or variation before it happens.

4. How fast should we go? There are also small things that can be done to compromise. My daughter who is 12 had a nice insight. She said, “I don’t mind singing the old hymns but I don’t want to sing them like I am at a funeral. Please don’t sing Gloryland Way to the cadence of Just As I Am. I end up wanting to fall asleep and not participate.” Is it acceptable to pick up the pace a bit and still sing some of the great old hymns? Absolutely! You may find new life in your song service.

5. Unity building events can cement relationships. There are things that you can do that both generations enjoy. You can have board game nights, movie nights, football watching parties, shopping, book clubs, “Chick flicks”, jewelry or craft making circles, etc. These types of events and social gatherings help members from every generation bond as a community and build lasting friendships.

            Perhaps trying some of these things will help if your congregation is experiencing the separation in generations. Be flexible and remember the most important thing is an open an honest dialog about the issue.