This is seventh (7th) in a series of articles by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D. (5/17/17) introducing the 7SYSTEMS.CHURCH and which first appeared in Church Revitalizer Magazine.
The “7 systems” of a healthy church (www.7System.church) is based upon an analysis of 35,000 church combined with 25+ years of consulting research and practice. An introduction to the “7 Systems” of a healthy church (www.7System.church) can be found here: www.7systems.church
This sixth mark is that growing churches usually have at least one “specialized, effective and signature ministry.”
This is a ministry it does well and church leaders put funding/person-power behind it to expand it. Almost 52% of the growing churches could cite at least one specialized program. But less than 42% of the churches who claimed “no specialty” were growing.
Church revitalization takes place in even a small and dying churches if they uncover the specialized program that God has given them.
The Bible describes how God gives spiritual gifts that allow individuals to uniquely contribute to a fellowship of believers and to reach out to meet the needs of people in the community (1 Cor. 12:7, Eph. 4:7, 1 Peter 4:10). Gifts are listed in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 along with secondary gift lists in 1 Corinthians 7, 13-14; Ephesians 3 and 1 Peter 4. And, most Christians are a mixture.
I’ve seen that the same type of God-empowered giftings in communities of faith. Churches often have specialized programs that are making significant kingdom impact because God has anointed these programs.
But too often church leaders are not aware of how much an effective, specialized program can be the foundation upon which to build a revitalized church. Turning around a church means recognizing which programs are having a kingdom impact in the community and channeling more funding and volunteers to those ministries.
God-empowered Specialized Ministries
I’ve asked my students to list specialized programs they have uncovered in their own churches via a 5-step process (below). Their replies include: worship-oriented churches, preaching-gifted churches, churches that reach out to the poor, churches that have a strong Sunday school program, churches that offer tutoring for schoolchildren in the community, churches that support foreign missions, churches that support local missions, churches that plant churches, churches that launch multiple venues, churches that have large/multifaceted facilities, churches that have small but intimate facilities, churches that have strong prayer ministries, and the list goes on.
It is important to recognize that churches should be competent in multiple of the above specialties. And, this not to say all of the specialized programs listed are good for everyone. But, these are the type of specialized ministries upon which churches have focused to reach their community.
When revitalizing a church, and that church is small and weak, it is helpful to find a specialized, anointed program upon which the church revitalization can be built. This does not mean that everything a church specializes in, or even that it does well, is what God intends. Thus, 5-steps can help you ascertain if God has gifted a congregation with a specialized program which can become a foundation for revitalization.
An example of a church revitalization based upon a specialized, anointed program
(This example is gleaned from several case studies in order to preserve anonymity.)
A small and dying church, had been trying to attract younger generations by offering contemporary music. Unfortunately this aging congregation had never been skilled (nor seemingly anointed) in contemporary music. Therefore these efforts failed.
But, though small and dying the church had a long tradition of members weekly tutoring 5th grade students over lunch in a nearby school. When polling the community (below) it became clear that this program was much appreciated. The church began to invite younger generations to join their lunch mentoring program. Younger generations, appreciating such service to the community, soon began attending the church.
Conduct a Saturday morning community survey to find your specialized, anointed program
A simple survey is conducted by a handful of church leaders who go out into the community on a Saturday morning from 10 until noon. Conducted in a public location such as the park or Civic Plaza, the leaders explain they are from a local church (identifying that church) and ask those they interview how they would describe their church.Leaders write down the replies and spend the afternoon looking for recurring programs about which people in the community know and appreciate. Be forewarned, the community will know some negative things too. Yet, it’s important to be aware of these as well.
The leaders ferret out the one or two ministries for which the church is known and begin to build part of their revitalization strategy on this. This is conducted in 5-steps.
Evaluate the specialized program though 5-steps
1) Describe the specialized program in two ways:
A. In a first sentence, describe your church’s specialized program.
b. In a second sentence, explain what “need” it meets in the community.
2) Evaluate it for Biblical fidelity and longevity. Carefully narrow your focus to one or two ministries that can be sustained over a long period of time and which appeal to younger generations as well.
A. Evaluate this specialized ministry through a biblical lens. A ministry must line up with God’s Word and His intention to reconcile the world to himself. There are many specialized programs that may not be your most appropriate avenue for spreading the Good News.
B. Ask yourself if this program can be maintained over the long term. If the church is known for “a good choir,” but choirs are less appealing to the younger generations, this is probably not the specialized program upon which you can build your future.
3) Expand the program. This may require taking the focus away from other things you’re doing and refocus time and treasure on a specialized program that is having an impact. Though not easy, it is wiser to spend time and treasure on programs that God has anointed, rather than trying to simply copy what other churches are doing.
4) Tell people you are expanding this ministry. Feature it prominently on the main page of your website and in your communication.
5) Evaluate your specialized program through the 5-steps every year. Ask people (in a community survey) about specialized programs for which your church is known. Look for an increasing awareness in the community of the specialized, anointed ministry.A specialized and impactful ministry is a characteristic of growing churches according to The American Congregations Study. These 5-steps will help you discover an anointed and specialized ministry upon which God may intend to build a revitalization.
For an overview of the “7 systems” of a healthy church (www.7System.church) based upon an analysis of 35,000 church combined with 25+ years of consulting research and practice, see www.7systems.church
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