Excerpted from Bob Whitesel, “Waypoint 16: No Awareness of a Supreme Being” Waypoint 15: Awareness of a Supreme Being, No knowledge of the Good News” and “Waypoint 14: Initial Awareness of the Good News” in Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey (2010).
Action 15:1: Research Needs
… How can a church gather first-hand information on the needs of its community? Let us look at three actions that can produce primary research.
Action A: Live Among Them. To ascertain community needs it helps to live among them, eating where they eat and shopping where they shop. In fact, one of 10 major factors in halting church growth is when leaders become distanced from their constituency. If this occurs church leaders will be only guessing at community needs.
Action B: Meet With Them in Group Settings. Informal gatherings, focus groups and Town Hall meetings are ways to connect with community residents. Often when people are interviewed one-on-one, they hold back their feelings. Research into group dynamics tells us that people will often expound more deeply … and expressively in groups. If the purpose is to ascertain needs, then understanding can be enhanced by group intensity. However, churches must be very careful to only solicit input and not to politic for the church’s viewpoint. To do the later will result in immediate distancing and suspicion. Guidelines for hosting effective focus groups are described in a previous book.
Action C: Don’t Clone Another Church’s Ministry. Unless necessary, don’t merely reduplicate ministry that other churches are utilizing. To do so will rob you of a locally developed and contextualized ministry. However, if your church is too small it can partner to expand its ministry. Look for other churches that are reaching out at adjacent waypoints and partner with them. Success often depends upon doctrinal and historical factors. But, if the needs of a community can be met by collaborating with another ministry, then pursue this option.
Action 15:2: Design Your Ministry from the Bottom Up
As a consultant with church clients of all sizes, I have found that the most helpful ministries are those that emerge from a collaborative effort between church leaders and needy residents. There are two elements for designing a contextualized ministry.
Action A: Inclusion. Include non-church goers in the planning and design of your ministry. <any will reject this offer because they are not yet ready to volunteer, even advice. But those who are emerging out of lower need stages may be entering the Belongingness and Love level. They will want thus to contribute, and at least give their thoughts. Yet, a natural inclination of Christian leaders is to reject such offers, feeling that the emerging person needs more time to grow or to gain more secondary knowledge (e.g. book knowledge, theological knowledge or doctrinal knowledge). But, once a traveler has had their physiological needs and safely needs met, they must be allowed to contribute, even minimally, to the ministry of a faith community. Churches can help wayfarers by inviting them to participate in the ministry planning process, and this invitation must be extended much earlier and more earnestly that most churches realize.
Action B: Allocate Sufficient Money. As noted in the first two chapters, churches customarily err on the side of either the Cultural Mandate (social action) or the Evangelistic Mandate. It was also shown that God’s intention for His church is a more holistic approach where a church ministers at many waypoints, rather than just in a narrow range. Narrow ministry becomes entrenched because churches tend to budget based upon history, rather than forecasts. A church that understands it should reach out at early waypoints will also understand that it must allocate sufficient funds to do so. Churches must evaluate what percentages of its budgets are going to support the Evangelistic Mandate and the Cultural Mandate. And, a plan can be brought about to create a balance, where roughly 50 percent of a church’s budget goes to support the Cultural Mandate and 50 percent goes to support the Evangelistic Mandate. Regardless of intentions, these mandates will never be brought into parity until finances are allocated with equivalence.
Action 15:3: Connect Your Ministry to the Community.
For a community established to communicate good news, communication is one the weakest skills in most churches. Many congregations design fantastic ministries only to have them marginally attended because residents do not know they are available. The following are three basic actions for successfully telling the community about ministries that can meet their needs.
Action A: Have a Trial-run. A church should initiate a trial-run with little initial fanfare. This will give the church an opportunity to try out the ministry without being deluged by community needs. To communicate that you are hosting a test-run, use word-of-mouth communication.
Action B: Use Indigenous Communication Channels. Church leaders often do not understand how community residents communicate. In one church’s community, fliers in self-serve laundromats communicated better than online advertising (few needy residents had regular or easy access to the Internet). Each community has developed different communication channels. If a church invites residents to participate in the planning process, then residents can share the veiled yet influential ways that news travels in their community.
Action C: Be a Good-doer, not a Do-gooder. The difference between a do-gooder and a good-doer was revealed to me ten years ago. Dan was auditioning to be the drummer in a worship team I led. Though he was more than suitable for the task, I was confused because he looked familiar. “You visited me last Christmas,” Dan responded noticing my bewilderment. “Brought a lot of nice things for the kids.” Each year our church visited needy residents, giving them gifts and singing carols. “You were nice enough to come,” Dan would say to me later. Dan and I had become friends, and now our team was planning to visit needy households. “You go, I won’t,” Dan stated. “I want to be a good-doer, not a do-gooder.” Further conversations revealed with Dan saw a difference between “do-gooders” and “good-doers.” On the one hand, Dan saw do-gooders as people who go around doing limited and inconsistent good deeds. He perceived that they were doing good on a limited scale to relieve their conscience. Thus their good deeds were perceived as self-serving, insincere and limited. A church that brings food a couple times a year to a needy family does little to minister to their long-term physiological needs or safety needs. On the other hand, Dan saw “good-doers” as those who do good in a meaningful, relevant and ongoing manner. And, he was right. In hindsight I had been striving to do good, not trying to do good better. Therefore, a church should connect with its community by offering ongoing ministry and not just holiday help.
Action 15:4: Evaluate the Results
Donald McGavran called the church’s aversion to analysis the “universal fog” that blinds the church to her mission and effectiveness. And, McGavran preferred the term “effective evangelism” as the best way to describe what we should be measuring. The term “effective evangelism” has much to commend it. Evangelism, as we noted in Chapter 1, means “Good News” or a heralding of “unexpected joy.” Thus, if we are embarking as fellow travelers and guides on this journey of Good News, shouldn’t we want to travel that route more effectively? And if so, how do we measure progress?
Some mistakenly perceive that counting attendance is the best way to evaluate effectiveness. Yet, there are four types of church growth mentioned in the Bible, and growth in attendance is cited as God’s task (and not the job of the church). In two previous books I have looked at measuring these in detail, but let’s briefly examine four types of church growth and a Church Growth Metric that can measure each.
The Context: Acts 2:42-47. Here we find Luke’s description of the church’s growth that followed Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Luke describes four types of growth.
Growth A: Growth in Maturity. In verse 42 Luke notes that the followers were growing in a passion for the apostle’s teaching, fellowship and prayer. Our first metric is to ascertain if, as a result of our need-based ministry, wayfarers are increasing in their participation in Bible study, fellowship and/or the practice of prayer. One way to measure this is to measure if people are becoming increasingly involved in study groups, fellowship networks (i.e. informal small groups) and/or joining with others for prayer. If these numbers are calculated as a percentage of overall attendance, growth in maturity may be estimated.
Growth B: Growth in Unity. Verses 44-45 describe how the church grew in unity and trust. This is much harder to measure, for it requires subjective evaluation. But, if people open up, much like Doug did about “do-gooders” then these and similar actions can indicate that ministry is creating deeper and more honest levels of communication. Unity often results from deepening levels of communication.
Growth C: Growth in Favor in the Community. Luke emphases that the church was increasingly “enjoying the favor of all the people.” Here is a metric often overlooked, which asks: is the community increasingly appreciative of the ministry the church is offering? Asking community residents for regular feedback is a way to accomplish this. One church crafted an online survey and gave away coupons for free coffee at a coffee shop for those that completed the survey. This survey was not designed to augment the church database, but was used only to ascertain if community residents felt the church was doing-good better. Another church regularly polled socially sensitive community residents such as school principals, public leaders, community organizers, business-people, etc. about how effective the church was in meeting community needs. The results were that these churches could gauge effective ministry by observing changes in community appreciation.
Growth D: Growth in More Christians. Luke concludes this paragraph about early church growth by reminding his readers that “…the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Luke was pointing out that because it was a supernatural intersection, it was God’s task to bring people to and through the experience of salvation. But in the preceding verses Luke emphasized that it was the church’s role to grow people in the other three types of church growth: maturity, unity and favor in the community.
Church Growth Metrics remind us that we are engaged in a task that is not about large cadres of attendees, but about the inner growth of God’s creation into 1) a deepening relationship with Him, 2) more unity among His children, and 3) in such a way that a watching world rejoices…
Action 14:2: The Good News That God Cares
A church also must understand and articulate a theology regarding God’s concern for His creation, if its congregants are going to help people move beyond Waypoint 14. Yet, a theology of creation must be a holistic theology and include not just God’s creative activity but also humankind’s woeful response. For in response to God’s gracious creation of a paradise on earth, humans chose a selfish route disobeying God’s directives and forfeiting paradise. Thought there are many elements to a theology of creation, let us look at five points that bear upon our current conversation.
Point 1: Injustice, poverty, etc. are the result of human activity, God does not desire it for his creation. When Adam and Eve forfeited the paradise of Eden, they embarked upon a journey of selfish arrogance. The Scriptures tell us their journey led to self-centeredness, injustice and greed (Genesis 3-5). Ron Sider reminds us that this disappoints God, stating “the Bible clearly and repeatedly teaches that God is at work in history casting down the rich and exalting the poor because frequently the rich are wealthy precisely because then have oppressed the poor or have neglected to aid the needy.”
Point 2: This injustice was not always so. God provided Adam and Eve an Eden of goodness and wholeness in every aspect of their life. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann pointed out that the Hebrew word shalom comes closest to describing this “wholeness in every are of life, where God, creature, and creation enjoy harmonious relationships.” God had warned that disobeying him would result in a loss of this life of shalom (Genesis 2:15-17). But, Adam and Eve picked selfish choices putting to an end this world of balance, bless … shalom (Genesis 3).
Point 3: Humankind was put in charge of caring (i.e. stewardship) for God’s creation. Yet early on in the Genesis story, before the fall of humankind from the era of shalom, God had given humankind a task, to take care of the garden and to be a steward of it (Genesis 1:26-30). This requires Christians, to be good stewards of God’s earth and life upon it.
Point 4: Humankind was put in charge of caring (i.e. stewardship) for the needy, oppressed and disfranchised. Proverbs 19:17 says “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.” Judah was punished in part because of her mistreatment of the poor, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? (Isaiah 10:1-3). King David said, “I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy” (Psalm 140:12). And, Howard Snyder reminds us that “God especially has compassion on the poor, and his acts in history confirm this.”
Point 5: God requires his people to sacrifice for this task. Adam and Eve were put in charge of caring and cultivating the garden (Genesis 1:26-30), and this required sacrificing their own will to taste the forbidden fruit. From this beginning, serving a loving, creative God required self-sacrifice. At this sacrifice, Adam and Eve failed. In doing so they condemned their children and their children’s children to laborious toil, hostility, repression and ultimately death (Genesis 3:16-24). Still God’s desire is that His children serve and sacrifice for others. Jesus stated, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors…. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14). This sacrifice for others is exemplified in the sacrificial actions of Godly men and women in the Bible, ultimately culminating in the sacrifice of Jesus for humankind’s disobedience.
When a congregation grasps the five points above, wayfarers will understand that evil, oppression and the like are not God’s doing, but human doing. And wayfarers such as James can see that God wants Christians to help the oppressed, disenfranchised and neglected. The church must help travelers at Waypoint 14 see the Good News is that “…the sinfulness of the social order offends thoughtful Christians everywhere.”
Read more by downloading the chapter here (but remember, if you enjoy the input please purchase a copy to support the publisher and the author): BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT Spiritual Waypoints 16, 15, 14
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