by Cheri Wellman, Missional Coach candidate, 3/15/16.
An executive summary of Carey Nieuwhof’s Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, (Cumming, GA: The reThink Group, 2015).
Nieuwhof addresses potential reasons why local churches aren’t growing and the root of many of his answers are found in the seismic cultural shift happening specifically in the North America although many of these shifts are also happening globally. In answering the primary question of why we are not growing faster, he challenges the perceptions of local church pastors and leaders of existing church health, what keeps high capacity leaders engaged, reasons young adults are leaving the church, cultural trends, and actual willingness to change. The thread that is consistent from chapter to chapter in this book is the focus to continue to be missional. As followers of Christ, as disciples we are all called to be missional (Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts1:8) and I find that Nieuwhof approaches this concept in a variety of ways. Read this book and read it with a group of others. Digest it, discuss it and then do it!
It is important that Nieuwhof begins by addressing practical and simple reasons churches aren’t growing and some offerings at to what are significant shifts that can be made to change that. Again, the theme throughout the book is the significance of focusing on the mission. Focusing on the mission of Christ’s church puts things into its proper place and priority. It’s about the mission. Focus on quality not quantity. Don’t lose the mission. The mission is to lead people into a relationship Jesus not to fill the seats. The plan or method are not sacred; the mission is sacred. Focus on your mission because that is your purpose; it is the why we do what we do. Innovate around the mission. When we think this way we focus on sending people out to accomplish the mission not on how many are simply attending on a Sunday morning. Healthy things grow. He reminds us that it is our lean toward selfishness both individually and corporately. But this is in opposition to be missional. Missional keeps the mission of Christ as the focus and makes space for the uniqueness of various cultures. Missional requires us to learn and adjust to others for the mission’s sake. This is what I found at the heart of this book. Missional requires us to know and love others including others different than us.
There are so many great points made in this book; points that I wish every church leader would not only read, but understand and apply. Things are different than they were in the past and as a result we as church leaders need to shift how we view them. One example is the shift in meaning of committed church attenders. The committed church attender is attending less often. Understanding the reasons could allow the church leaders (including pastors) to be less judgmental and critical and in turn realize that attendance does not equate to commitment, passion or spiritual growth. A better measurement is engagement in the mission. Mere attendance is less a measure of spiritual maturity than missional ministry engagement. Nieuwhof proposes that it is the role of the church leaders to adjust their responses toward infrequent attenders and the unchurched if the church is going to accomplish the mission we must adjust to the culture which begins with understanding the culture and changing our response to it by adjusting our methods. Unhealthy leaders will be challenged to love others and focus on the missional requirement to adjust method to accomplish the mission.
Nieuwhof addresses issues with high capacity leaders and young adults leaving the church and then he makes recommendations as to how to address the issues he points out. For example, high capacity leaders leave if the leaders are not healthy. We must equip and coach and then give high capacity leaders real challenges and let them run with what we give them. The trend of youth and young adults leaving the church is not an irreversible. As church leaders we have to acknowledge the differences in their generational/cultural preferences and leans and make adjustments to methods in order to continue to accomplish the mission and make room for them to also join us in the mission. They need space to wrestle with the tough questions in an a safe and loving environment. They want their lives to make a difference. The church is the God created group designed to make the most meaningful and significant impact. Coupling the mission of the church with the young adult’s desire for their lives to matter creates a huge potential for revival.
“As we got healthier inwardly we grew outwardly” (p.20). “Mission-driven, mission-focused, and relationally rich churches will draw in people longing for something bigger and more significant than themselves” (p. 121). All this is great to read and even believe to be true, but if in the end the willingness to actually implement change does not exist then the mission will not be accomplished. Change is difficult but worth it if we truly desire to impact the world with the hope and healing of Jesus for Kingdom’s sake.
Each year my Global Outreach Team for the East Michigan District of The Wesleyan Church purchases one book for each of the churches in our district in effort to continually equip and encourage our local churches to think and act with the mission in mind. This year, Lasting Impact will be the book that we will purchase. I believe that if we keep our focus on the mission as the why, so many of the other concerns and issues the local church struggles with would dissolve. It would require a willingness to change, a willingness to think, care, and love of others, and willingness to set aside ourselves for the mission.