Numerous times over the years I’ve tried to help unaffiliated students who were pastors to become affiliated with The Wesleyan Church or another denomination. My rationale was not to grow any specific denomination, but because I believed accountability was good for unaffiliated pastors. Many of my students were pastoring independent churches with little accountability. I didn’t sense they needed accountability then, but I was worried they would need it sometime in the future and it would not be available.
All of my efforts were usually unsuccessful with African-American students. I often asked why. And their answers helped me understand why Baptist historians have pointed out that many black churches have affiliated with the Baptist movement. The Baptist movement was, in part, a reaction to the hierarchies found in many denominations. In hierarchal (Episcopal or Presbyterian forms of denominational government) a group of denominational leaders outside of the local church would often decide who would be ordained.
But not so in much of the Baptist movement. They embraced an organic and indigenous route to leadership. This meant that a person first distinguished themselves inside of a congregation and then after being mentored with the local pastors might be ordained. This natural and field-based route to leadership had at least three advantages in my mind.
Firstly, you could see how a pastor led a flock from a longterm experience with that pastor. Their strengths were known, as well as their weaknesses. In many ways the congregation was the accountability factor for the pastor in training.
Secondly it created mentor/mentee relationships between senior leaders and upcoming leaders. This fostered an environment of apprenticeship and training for future leaders. Another benefit was that if a volunteer saw a senior pastor training younger leaders, the church volunteer leader might start training others under him or her. In my clients I have seen that the mentorship model runs very strong and deep in the African-American church.
And thirdly, it was less likely that powers outside the church would make decisions about the leadership suitability of people immersed in the local church culture. In many denominations, including my own, the highest leadership positions are held by people who are mostly of one ethnic culture. African-American students whom I encouraged to connect with our denomination often told me that they preferred to be independent rather than to be accountable to people who might not understand the culture celebrated in their local church.
In hindsight, this third aspect is exceedingly important for judicatory leaders to grasp. And I’ll admit that I missed the mark. These churches need to develop their own culturally relevant systems and ministries. To draw them into a bigger denomination that is largely of a different culture may, in my view, undermine their uniqueness and cultural relevance.
But what about the argument that “They need to join us and influence our leadership culture?” I believe there is an answer for this. It’s a lesson to all judicatory leaders. We need to intentionally balance our leadership diversity by promoting and hiring at the highest levels of our denomination more diverse leaders. Just having a department or a director will not change the perception that a denomination is led by those of a specific culture. And, often leaders are elected because they have a family or professional history in a denomination. We must move away from these habits and affirmatively welcome, hire and promote the “other.” If not, we may unintentionally harden those invisible denominational boundaries that further divide the Christian landscape.
Yearly a handful of missional coach candidates shadow me on my consultations (more info here if you are interested in being considered for next year’s cohort).
Recently, the missional coach candidates and I were discussing the use, misuse and impact of mission and vision statements. First, I will share my personal conclusions from having worked with hundreds of churches on their mission and vision statements. Then (below my comments) you will find the discussion that inaugurated these conclusions.
If you have read my books, you probably know I am not a fan of Vision Statements (though I discuss them and the differences with Mission Statements in most of my books).Here is why.I agree with everything said (below, by the missional coach candidates I am training).
Vision Statements help visualize a preferred future,
create metrics for goal attainment,
But, I have seen them generate little use in these areas, despite pleas and pushing from the leaders.They often consume too much time, because I suspect, Christians like philosophizing and theologizing more than practicing something.
So, I have come to conclude that John Kotter has the answers. He states that visions (created by a collation) are temporary and elastic things. In other words, they are tied to a project.
Now, I’m not saying that vision statements aren’t needed.
They are, but they should be more flexible, temporal and more quickly created.
Yet, mission statements are different. They deal with unchangeable values (and for Christians, our theology). They shouldn’t change. But, the local church usually doesn’t need to craft them, because the denomination or network has usually done that for them.So, my recommendations to clients based upon my experiences over 25+ years.
Have a Mission Statement that defines your theology, history and polity.
Create multiple Vision Statements as time and projects dictate.
(Below is the conversation among my 2018 Missional Coaches candidates on this issue):
On Apr 13, 2018, at 11:10 AM, Tim W. wrote:
I did my graduate degree in business in the days when the competitive edge of Corporation, Inc. rested in these kinds of organizational tools. The church world then adopted the language and approach. My bias is still towards using these. I see them as critical pieces in organizational design BUT I also do not want to spend copious amounts of time/energy/money generating these statements. More to the point, if a congregation does have them, then they need to embed them deeply into the heart of the church. AND, if they are not authentic and missionally-driven statements, then it’s pointless anyway. :))
On Apr 13, 2018, at 9:01 AM, Mark C. wrote:
I would agree on many of your points. The fact that what the local church does is actually their vision is truer that what we or they want to believe.In most cases the Great Commission Vision has been neglected in place of a Great Coffee Dream.Here to surVMark
On Wednesday, April 11, 2018 9:19 AM, Tim W wrote:
Hi all … I want to chime in on some of the mission/vision statement comments in this string from my experience as a denominational exec.I agree that churches can spend too much time on massaging vision and mission statement(if they even understand the difference/function of these two tools), but I also thinkmany churches spend too LITTLE time on them as well. There must be a balance. When properly formed and used, these statements provide a great deal of agenda harmony, synergy in the organizational system, clarity of priority in budgeting, effectiveness in staffing right, and a host of other things. Most importantly, it removes the fuzziness in the minds of the congregation as to congregational direction. In fact, when done well, the very process of drafting a statement together reveals gaps, relational deficiencies (both personal and organizational), and then creates energy, excitement, optimism, and makes strategic planning more robust. Of course, these statements in themselves can’t do anything for the church; it’s all in the way they are employed into the organizational system.The truth be told, though, most churches already operate from vision, but it’s usually informal, imprecise, and carried by a few power brokers in the church. A couple of great questions to ask when conducting a first consult with the congregation is this: if your church was at its very best, what would this look like? where would she spend her time and resources? These questions do not directly address the vision question because if you ask “what is your vision?” most people will either recite what they read on the bulletin cover or will look dumbfounded. When asked outcome oriented questions, however, a picture emerges and this picture is the imperfectly constructed vision.Ultimately, the vision statement is a tool to help organize for mission—no more and no less. It’s power is in its simplicity to direct and excite and it’s contribution to the real-world ministry of the church.Just my thoughts…Tim Read more of the ideas about mission and vision statements that I’ve come to embrace after seeing them in practice here.
The power of mergers has been under estimated and underutilized in creating multicultural churches.
And, with so many small struggling mono-cultural congregations, the idea of merging two homogeneous congregations to create a multicultural congregation needs to be the strategy of more churches and denominations.
The power of mergers has been under estimated and underutilized in creating multicultural churches.
Integrating Sunday Morning Church Service — A Prayer Answered
by Sandhya Dirks, National Public Radio, Weekend Edition, 8/11/18.
… Which brings us to Pastor Kyle Brooks and Pastor Bernard Emerson. They knew creating an inter-racial church was not going to be easy, but they kept kicking the idea around. They would take long walks through Oakland’s Dimond District and dream about it out loud. Maybe at some point in the future, they thought.
Then a year ago, Neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, and they felt like they could no longer wait.
First, they had to break it to their congregations.
“I saw it on facebook, and instantly I typed back, ‘oh my god, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for,’” said LaSonya Brown, who had been attending Emerson’s church, The Way, for about a year. “I’ll be the first one to join,” she said.
Brown was raised in a black church with only two white people in it. One was her godfather, who had married into the black community, the other was a white woman who would “speak in tongues, and then translate the tongue.”
“I never knew her name, but I’ll never forget her,” Brown said. Despite it being different than what she had known before, Brown welcomed the idea of an inclusive congregregation. “I think it was something that I wanted, but I didn’t realize that I wanted it until I saw his post,” she said.
At first she thought it was going to happen instantly, just everyone showing up to church together. But it is not that easy to flip the switch on hundreds of years of segregated worship.
“It’s much more complicated than that,” Brown said. “You don’t think that your life is different than somebody else,” but it can be. In an ideal world, she said, people want to think about what they have in common and not their differences.
But we do not live in that ideal world of race relations. “There’s a lot of things that we don’t do in common,” she said. “But we do want to know how to be together.”
Each church individually went through months of workshops and classes, owning up to their own fears about what merging would mean.
Many people in Pastor Brooks’ white congregation were afraid of being uncomfortable. There was a feeling of discomfort around everything from different hymns, to the service being in a different neighborhood, to different styles of worship. There was also discomfort in having to face up to their responsibility, as white people, in ongoing American racism. Everyone in the church was excited about the merger, but that did not make it easy.
Pastor Emerson’s congregation was also supportive, and not just because they are largely family. The black congregants of The Way had different fears, fears that they might not be welcomed. Emerson said some of them asked, “will they accept us for who we are?”
The modern leader has lived most of life in a realm of “command and control.” Command and control is necessary in crisis situations, such as warfare or firefighting. For Baby Boomers born after World War II, the command and control way of leadership became a popular leadership style in business and the church.
Modern leaders of this generation believe the way to succeed is to control through power, rewards, and punishments. Slow cycles that grew out of an agricultural economy began to affect business principles, where the agricultural approach of “command and control” began to be applied to the business world. Like breaking a horse, “The worker must be trimmed to fit the job,” Frederick Taylor famously intoned. Subsequently, modern leaders bristle at the thought of losing control. When wrestling with the freedom found in emerging networks, the modern leader tends to try to exert control through ownership. In the ever democratizing world of electronic communication, control through ownership is increasingly difficult.
Modern leaders attempt to take possession of networks that shape them. In business, this often means controlling access by charging a fee and thus reinforcing a modern notion of ownership. In the church, we may do this by restricting access to those times and places the modern leader deems fitting. Former Silicon Valley executive Rusty Rueff noted, “Movie theatres have long tried to control mobile phone signal in their movie theatres. They say it is because it disturbs people. Really, they don’t want teens text-messaging their friends that the movie is dreadful.” From the days of passing notes in church, to text-messaging a friend far removed from the church sanctuary, church leaders have also tried to limit the location and occasion of electronic communication.
Millennial leaders who have grown up in the expanding world of communication networks, view these networks as public property. And, to restrict access or monopolize them seems tyrannical. Modern leaders may recall similar unfair restrictions. At one time, restaurants and businesses charged a fee to use the restrooms. Charging a fee or otherwise restricting network access should seem just as illogical to leaders today.
Millennial Attitude: Networks should be accessible
Rueff, who serves as an advisor to the president at Purdue University, recently showed a picture of a classroom at that university. Of the almost 100 students assembled, every one was sitting behind a laptop computer. “Think of when this will happen in your church,” Rusty Rueff, the former Silicon Valley executive, said. “What do you do in church? Is there a place for those who want to communicate with laptops? Or would an usher ask them to put their computer away?”
Immediate, Even Critical Feedback. In a millennial world where unfettered networking is routine, millennial church leaders are starting to accommodate instant feedback. Some young churches have an “ask assertive environment” where those who disagree are encouraged to state their differences of opinion, even during the sermon. Millennial congregations such as Solomon’s Porch in Minneapolis regularly invite questions or challenges from the audience during the sermon. Even millennial megachurches such as Mars Hill Church in Granville, Michigan, sometimes welcome a congregant on the stage to ask the preacher questions during the sermon (since the audience is too vast for everyone to shout out a query). Leo Safko, author of the Social Media Bible calls this “a fundamental shift in power … no longer does the consumer trust corporate messages … they want to be educated by, hear their news from, and get their product reviews by people they know and trust.”
At recent conferences I keynoted, participants were given a keypad so they could rate the presentation and/or their understanding of the content in real time. Even now increasingly smaller smartphones allow electronic feedback as presentations unfold. Though modern leaders might initially resist such quick and honest feedback in the church, the day is not far off when immediate, even critical feedback will be visually displayed in our churches in much the same manner that words are displayed to a song.
Fact checking and further research. Allowing laptops and smart-phones into churches may at first seem disruptive, but it will enhance understanding as it allows checking of facts and further research on a topic. I remember sitting in college classes, balancing a three-inch (or so it seemed) textbook on one knee, while holding in my left hand a large diagram of the human organs. Amid this balancing act, I tried desperately to write what the professor was stating. Today, multiple items sit neatly on computer desktops where only a flick of a mouse pad is required to separate sources or conduct further research.
The accessible church describes a church that is accessible via as many social networks as possible.
The accessible church creates networks that reach out to those in need. Meeting the needs of the disenfranchised is a priority among millennial leaders. Expanding network access should not be limited to just Christians who attend a church, but to those outside as well. One congregation in Edmonton, Alberta started a church plant in an Internet café. Unexpectedly, the free Internet access they offered met the needs of a large Asian-American community in the neighborhood that did not have computer access. As a result this accessible church in an Internet café created an ongoing network with a growing Asian-American community.
The accessible church fosters instantaneous research and feedback at teaching venues, including during the sermon.Because Christianity is an experience- and knowledge-based faith, access to information can foster a better understanding about God. The accessible church can offer Internet access at teaching times such as during sermons, Sunday school, committee meetings, etc. Many modern leaders bristle at the thought of laptops and Smartphones being used during church, but so did professors several years ago (only to lose the battle). At one time sound systems, video projectors, guitars and even pipe-organs were banned from many churches. Though uncomfortable at first, new ways of communication and exploration will emerge, first among these cutting-edge millennial congregations, and eventually among everyone else. When speaker Stan Toler speaks to younger audiences he often uses instant messaging so attendees can ask their questions via a Smartphone while he is still speaking. He then displays their questions on the screen and answers them during his lecture.
The accessible church provides on-line communities to augment its off-line fellowship. Online communities “felt the connection and affinity they experienced in these groups fully justified their designations as a form of community.” Online communities often enhance off-line friendships. A church offering a 12-step program can create an online group in which participants can dialogue between meetings. Groups, committees, Sunday School classes and small groups can create, share and edit documents via Web-based word processors, such as Google Docs. These online documents allow collaborative work (such as designing a Bible study) prior to face-to-face meetings. Online communities can allow those who have special needs or limited time/resources to still feel like full participants in the community. In the same way that Robert Schuller continued a life-long ministry to drive-in worshippers because a physically-challenged lady’s husband requested it, online communities can engage people who might be challenged in their ability to physically connect with a church.
Leaders having little experience with online communities may wonder about their cohesiveness, value and permanency, but those who have seen them in action know that increasing accessibility to the church community only enhances the faith experience.
When leading a church it is very easy to miscommunicate your intentions. It usually happens because you’re concerned about pressing organizational needs as well as the needs of the believers you shepherd. Subsequently, we often use phrases that appear to prioritize the needs of the saints over the needs of the non-churchgoer.
I’m going to show you how this happens in your greetings, your announcements and even your church vision statements … and what you should say instead.
Jesus’ message of compassion for the not-yet-believer.
Jesus emphasized the importance of meeting the needs of those who don’t yet have a personal relationship with him. The “parable of the sheep” (Matthew 18:10-14) where the shepherd leaves the 99 to retrieve the one lost lamb, visualizes this. And in his actions, Jesus demonstrated a deep concern for the wellbeing of not-yet-believers (Mark 1:33-34, Luke 5:1-11). Mark records a poignant image of this when the crowds followed Jesus and his disciples to the seashore. Jesus saw their desperate needs and Mark noted: “So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mark 6:32-34).
Your message for the not-yet-believer.
Many times those first messages a visitor receives will inadvertently push them away, rather than draw them in. This is because when welcoming church visitors, leaders use phrases often tainted by the concerns of the congregation. Church leaders are worried about church finances, not having enough volunteers or reaching a new culture of people. And, this comes out accidentally, but clearly in your welcome. The result is often an unintended pushback by church guests.
I don’t believe that most churches are intentionally putting the church family’s needs over the needs of non-churchgoers. It’s only that we spend so much time every week deliberating on the church’s internal needs that this colors the things we say. And though we intend to reach out to newcomers and help them experience a new life and growth in Christ, we often share those concerns in a way that communicates the organization is more important than the people who need Christ.
What is the most important type of church growth?
Donald McGavran, the Fuller Theological Seminary professor credited with founding the study of church growth, said there were three types of church growth – but only one was desirable.
Biological growth: This is a church that grows because families within the church are expanding.
Transfer growth: These are people who are moving into the area and transferring their attendance or membership. In my research I believe this may be the largest contributor to church growth in America. Often we find growing churches in growing suburbs. The growth is often fueled by transfer growth, not by new believers. McGavran said that this type of growth means, “The increase of certain congregations at the expense of others… But transfer growth will never extend the church, for unavoidably many are lost along the way.” Transfer growth grows one church at the expense of other churches.
Conversion growth: The third type of growth is what McGavran calls conversion growth. This is a church that is growing because people are being spiritually transformed from their former lives and embarking upon a new Christ-centered journey. McGavran stated, “The third kind is conversion growth, in which those outside the church come to rest their faith intelligently on Jesus Christ and are baptized and added to the Lord in his church. This is the only kind of growth by which the good news of salvation can spread to all segments of American society and to earth’s remotest bounds.”
3 categories of crises that push people to want to change their lives.
Researchers (using the Holmes-Rahe Social Readjustment Scale) have found that people who are interested in changing their lives are usually motivated by a combination of three categories of crises.
Concern about death and the afterlife. The first crises that drive people to seek to change their lives is a concern about death and dying or a loved one’s death. They have questions about eternity and heaven. They wonder if their loved one went to heaven and who will help them with their grieving. Churches can meet these needs in part by preaching/teaching on the afterlife and offering grief share ministries.
Family or marital difficulties. A second area that drives people to want to change their lives is marital or family difficulties including marriage problems, child-rearing difficulties, divorce, adultery, etc.. Many times they feel inadequate or a failure due to such difficulties. They come to the church seeking to change their life and to be a more adept and competent person. Little wonder that child-rearing classes, marriage enrichment seminars and divorce care have been helpful (and popular) programs in our churches.
Concern about illness: The third category that pushes people to change their lives is illness they are experiencing or someone they know is experiencing. They have questions about healing, helping others and improving their outlook on life. Need-meeting congregations have embraced prayer ministries, counseling programs and support groups for those who are suffering.
Because these three major categories cause people to want to change their lives, we must welcome guests and greet them in a way that shows we know they have needs and we are here to meet them.
THE LIST: Don’t Say That – Say This!
To help understand how to communicate your true intentions (of meeting the needs of others) I have created a list I call: “Don’t Say That – Say This!” Consider each statement and then notice how one better communicates your true intentions.
Don’t Say That: “I’m glad you are here” or “We are glad you are here.”
Say This: “How can I help you?” “How can we help you?”
Why: When you say, “I’m glad you are here,” it is usually a true statement. You are glad that they are present. You see their potential to encounter Christ and become a committed part of the faith community. But what they hear is a statement focused upon you and the believers, it’s not about helping them, but it’s about us being happy. Remember, people often come to a church because they have needs and crises in their lives. And healthy church growth comes from people’s lives being transformed for the better through the community of faith and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Don’t Say That: “We want to tell you about the church.”
Say This: “We want to know how we can help you.”
Why: The purpose is not to tell them about the church, but for them to tell us about their needs. Though it is helpful to offer information on the history and theological perspective of the church, guests are usually not ready to learn about this unless they are engaged in transfer growth. Most guests want to let you know why they came to church and what they’re looking for.
Don’t Say That: “I love being in the house of God.”
Say This: “God is here and he wants to connect with you (or help you, or fulfill your life).
Why: As Christians who are growing in our faith journey, we often talk about our growing enthusiasm as we know God better. But for people who are just beginning their journey of discovery about God’s love, we may seem too far ahead of them to lead them forward and be a relevant leader. Though you love being in God’s house, re-phrase that statement in the context of God‘s presence being there and that he wants to connect with them.
Don’t Say That: “We have a gift for you.”
Say This: “We would like to know how we can help you. So please visit one of our guest services booths so we can help.”
Why: Even though you want to show your gratitude, an appreciation gift can inadvertently create a sense of this-for-that at best, and manipulation at worst. In the leadership world we call this transactional leadership. You give something in order to get something. A person gives 40 hours or more a week at their job and they get a salary. If a better job comes along, they might leave because their motivation is based upon a transaction: giving their time in order to get money. Can you see how a gift might be perceived as a lure to sign a card or visit a booth can feel transactional? One former student of mine offered a $100 gift card to be drawn from the names of newcomers who visited each month. I know him and his generosity is exceptional (they have a region-wide food pantry in their smallish church). But the message he was sending was not helpful to the newcomers. Instead tell them you want to know about their needs and see if we can help meet them.
Don’t Say That: “I don’t know.”
Say This: “Let me find out.”
Why: Many people have heard about the art of hospitality practiced by the Walt Disney organization. Part of their Disney hospitality is to never say, “I don’t know,” and instead to respond along the lines of, “Let me find out for you,” or “That is a good question. I will find out.” This takes the emphasis off of the lack of knowledge of the hospitality person. And instead it puts the emphasis upon the hospitality person’s desire to help the newcomer find an answer to the problem.
Don’t Say That: Our mission statement is Belong – Begin – Become
Say This: Our mission statement is Begin – Become – Belong
Why: “Belong – Begin – Become” is focused on how the organization sees the newcomers journey. The organization expects a commitment, to which the organization will respond with tools and community for the newcomer to become a new person. But look at this from the newcomer’s perspective. They want to know more about you first. Unless they are transfer growth, they are not ready to “belong” in their initial step. Rather, starting this mission statement with “begin” reminds new travelers that there is a process in getting to know one another, experiencing the community of faith and encountering Christ. One of my former professors, John Wimber, described this relationship as dating. When a person first learns about the Good News, your relationship with them is similar to dating. There is no commitment, but you’re getting to know one another. The next stage of the relationship is engagement, and that’s where a new believer begins to give of themselves and the church responds by giving back even more. Finally, marriage serves as Wimber’s metaphor for when a person is ready to make a commitment to both Christ and the church. So, check your mission statement. Even run it by people who are not churchgoers. Look closely and you may find that its focus is on inspiring churchgoers rather than informing those who are just beginning their journey with Christ
Don’t Say That: “You’re welcome.”
Say This: “I am happy I was able to help.”
Why: Of course if you’ve helped people at your church they will be appreciative. They will usually say, “Thank you.” And the most common reply is to say, “You’re welcome.” But that has become so overused that it’s almost like adding a period to a sentence, rather than opening up to converse further. Instead it’s better to say, “I am happy I was able to help you.” That lets them know that you derive your happiness in part because of your ability to help them. Though it may be focused on your happiness, that happiness is based upon your ability to help others.
Don’t Say That: “Come back soon (or next Sunday).”
Say This: “This week, think about ways we can help you.”
Why: As we’ve seen above we want to leave the message, and especially with our parting words, that we are here to help.
Now, make your own list!
This list is not mechanical phraseology to be memorized or anemically repeated. Instead this list is designed to remind leaders how our intentions can be miscommunicated due to the words we use.
Rather than memorize this, do these three things.
1. Re-read the list often and add more phrases to it. Create an ever-expanding list of things you don’t want to say and things you should be saying to better communicate your heart. And, you can join together as a ministry team and create a ministry team list. At your meetings add an agenda item to add to your list and ask people for their suggestions.
2. Re-write and edit the short paragraphs that explain each of your list items. Help someone who is reading your list for the first time to understand why one phrase is preferable over the other.
3. Resist shaming or criticizing others who say the wrong thing. Everyone goes through cycles where their own pressing needs cloud what they want to say. After years of doing this I still catch myself saying things because it’s customary or because my own needs are driving my attention. Have grace in the way you encourage one another. Don’t criticize or tease those who speak out of their needs rather than the needs of others. Rather, use this exercise and your expanding list as a reminder about how to keep the needs of others first.
by Bob Whitesel, Biblical Leadership Magazine. 12/6/21
During the pandemic more worship services, including holiday events, have moved outside. And while the novelty of this has attracted some, should these outdoor venues continue after the pandemic?
I believe they should for three reasons.
First, the outdoor venue allows people to experience worship from their cars, which can be important for physically challenged people.
Robert Schuller tells a story that changed my view of drive-in worship. It seems that early in his church-planting career in Garden Grove, Calif., he was unable to find a suitable location to hold their worship service. So, on a temporary basis, they used a drive-in movie theater.
Of course, the novelty of a “drive-in church,” coupled with the image of car-crazy Californians, led to national media attention. As a result, more people began visiting the church and the church grew.
But the drive-in theater location was only meant to be temporary. Once they had enough money, Schuller and his team intended to build a traditional church building, without drive-in options.
But then a woman from the church contacted Schuller. She explained how her physical disabilities made it hard for her enter a church building and be comfortable. Even if she was able to enter, uncomfortable stares from ushers and congregants gave her less than a peaceful experience.
She explained to Schuller that she was like a full participant in drive-in worship. And she asked them to continue a drive-in option with the new church building. Schuller’s mission statement had been “find a need and fill it.” And with the drive-in option, they had stumbled across an under-reached people group: those with physical challenges.
In response, their new facility (and every other worship facility Garden Grove Community Church built) offered a “drive-in option.” Drive-in options are not needed because they are unique, but because they can connect with an underserved, physically challenged community.
Second, the outdoor venue allows people who are susceptible to illness to worship in a safer environment.
Research shows (Flavil Yeakley, Univ. of Ill.) that a motivating factor for many people who visit a church is personal illness or death of a family member. Our church visitors are often asking spiritual questions about life, health and death. And not surprisingly, in the new normal there is an increasing interest in health and the cleanliness of our churches.
Outdoor venues are safer for those with compromised health. And this reminds us that everyone should have unrestricted access to worship opportunities. A poignant example was when children, often viewed as social nuisances, were welcomed by Jesus unreservedly. Matthew 19:13-15 describes it this way (The Message):
One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.” After laying hands on them, he left.
Third, an outdoor venue allows people who don’t yet feel part of your church-going culture, to join you semi-anonymously.
Our dress expectations, insider terms and unspoken territoriality are all too familiar to non-churchgoers. Not surprisingly, visitors become apprehensive when entering our unfamiliar cultures.
Yet Jesus asked us to humbly make the Good News accessible. Mark 6:7-13 (The Message) describes Jesus’ inaugural instructions to his 12 apostles this way:
Jesus called the Twelve to him, and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition. He sent them off with these instructions: “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple. And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave. If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.” Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.
And, Paul descried actions he took to minster cross-culturally, stating:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Cor. 9:19-23, NIV).
Did this mean Paul changed his theology for different cultures? No, according to verse 21. But he did change his language, his illustrations and his locales, “so that by all possible means I might save some.”
During this pandemic God may be pushing you into new ways to connect with underserved portions of your communities. Look for the fruit from these endeavors and ask God to give you the boldness to expand your proclamation of the Good News.
I am a professional church shopper. That’s right, as part of my job coaching church leaders, I must analyze the fruit of their leadership. And toward that end, I conduct for every client at least three (and sometimes up to eight) secret church visits to analyze Sunday services.
During these visits I bring with me missional coaches in training. We enter the church at multiple entrances and pose as different types of visitors. Then together we write a report for the client on everything we experienced, from the parking lot, to the worship service until the time the visitors leave the church.
The early part of this experience is sometimes called “guest services” or “hospitality ministry.” And every church leader knows this is a critical area.
But here’s a shocker! Almost all church leaders think their church hospitality is much better than it actually is. In fact, I have found the greatest divergence between intention and reality is in the area of hospitality. Even churches that laud their hospitality are often hit-or-miss, if not slipshod, in the execution. I wish this were not the case. But more than any other recurring pattern that works against church health and growth, hospitality is usually the most disappointing for the visitors.
Therefore, I picked up with interest The Come Back Effect: How Hospitality Can Compel Your Church’s Guests to Return by Jason Young, director of guest experience at Northpoint Ministries (a megachurch in Atlanta, Georgia), and Jonathan Malm who coaches churches on guest services. Their book comes highly recommended, with an endorsement by Andy Stanley. And so, I looked forward to jumping into the topic.
The book is divided into 10 chapters. Each chapter deals with an important element of hospitality. I found the following chapters the most helpful.
Chapter 1 deals with the importance of showing love and acceptance to the guest, rather than just going through the motions of a program approach. The lesson here is to help people feel loved and accepted, rather than being pushed through an assimilation program. This was a good way to start the book, and very helpful.
Chapter 4 emphasized the importance of the guest services volunteers being “fully present” rather than distracted by the Sunday morning fellowship or services. This was helpful. Too often I’ve seen hospitality people overly enamored with their job or enthusiastically fellowshipping with other guest services people, so that they often ignore the visitor. This chapter discusses discipling the guest services volunteer in their spiritual, mental, physical and emotional maturity. The result is that they will serve more holistically and with maturity. This to me was the best chapter in the book.
The chapter on “Preparing for recovery” was a surprisingly helpful chapter. It reminds people that when executing programs things will go wrong. It encourages the guest services volunteer to prepare for mishaps. It reminds them of the importance of spiritual peace and overcoming problems, especially when the person wrestling with the problems may be the first person a seeker meets when they visit a church.
There were also a few chapters that had good potential, but for me missed the mark a bit.
Chapter 3 was titled, “Know the guest.” I thought this was going to be about knowing the needs of the guest. Instead it deals mainly with knowing the guests’ reactions and adjusting the program based on the reactions of the guests. Yet, research has shown that guests usually visit a church because of a spiritual/physical need or a question.
Dr. Flavil Yeakley, in his groundbreaking research at the University of Illinois, found that some of the major events that drive people to a church are: death in the family, marital/family problems or financial problems. Therefore, it may be more helpful to place the emphasis upon getting to know the needs of guests and being able to explain to them how Christ presents the answer. Thus, hospitality services should “know the guest” and their needs even more so than their reaction to a program.
The chapter “Think scene by scene” emphasizes that everything communicates. So this chapter focuses on perfecting the assimilation system through attention to detail. I’ve observed many churches try to perfect their assimilation process. However, without the budget of a megachurch, the small to large church often fails in perfecting its execution.
I had also hoped the chapter “Reach for significance” would deal with helping the guest discover their significant place in the body of Christ. Instead it dealt primarily with helping the guest services volunteer become significantly skilled at their duties.
Though a few chapters seemed overly focused on the volunteer instead of the guest, this book has many ideas that are relevant for any church that wishes to train its volunteers and help them connect with guests.
However, there is another book that might make a good companion to this one. It is written by the pastor of guest services at a sister church, The Summit Church. Danny Franks’ book is titled People are the Mission: How Churches Can Welcome Guests Without Compromising the Gospel (Zondervan 2018). In this book, Franks emphasizes that guest services must have an overarching foundation and mission to understand the needs of those they’re reaching out to.
Putting guests’ needs first has become important to me in my understanding of hospitality ministry. This is because when I coach church leaders, I interview hospitality team members and I also interview newcomers. As I mentioned above, I often find the greatest dichotomy in their responses. The hospitality team usually feels that they are executing the program with excellence and effectiveness. But focus groups of recent guests usually feel that there is a lack of sympathy and connectedness with the needs of the visitor. However together, the two books cited make a comprehensive roadmap for any sized congregation to improve its hospitality ministries by balancing its ministry to its volunteers and to its mission field.
Most of my clients in the past 30 years have been congregations that don’t want to change. Small churches, rural churches, urban churches or mega-churches, they all have the same thing in common: the leadership wants to bring about change, but the congregation doesn’t. The solution is understanding two don’ts and one do.
DON’T force change.
Change proponents usually force change arguing that is necessary for the survival of the church. They also suggest that if people don’t want change, they should go elsewhere. But researchers(1) have found that status quo members won’t usually leave a church. The status quo just quietly wait for the change proponents to make a misstep and then they reappear to cry foul. Because the church is the status quo’s social environment (e.g. extended family), they can’t go elsewhere.Therefore successful change involves getting the status quo members involved in the change. See how below.
DON’T quit in protest.
Change leaders often leave a church with metaphorical protest, citing Matt. 10:14: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” (NIV).But theologians such as R. V. G. Tasker remind us this verse is about Jesus sending out the 12 on a short-term mission which requires “such haste that they must not linger at any house which will not receive them.” (2) Today’s long-term and evolving relationship between pastor and congregants, usually requires working through change rather than quitting in protest.
DO these 8 steps.
So how does successful organizational change occur? There are actually eight steps first formulated by Harvard management scholar John Kotter. (3) I adapted them to church change while completing my Ph.D. research in church change at Fuller Theological Seminary. In fact, these eight steps are a key element of the D.Min. course Iwrote and have taught at Fuller Theological Seminary titled: “Leading Turnaround Churches.”
Here are the steps summarized from my book: “re:Mix – Transitioning Your Church to Living Color,” Abingdon Press (2017) with Mark DeYmaz. Learn more details of each step at:ww.8steps4change.church
1. “Establish a Sense of Urgency.” Begin with a period of time acquainting the congregants with the need and biblical mandate for change. Because of the urgent situation, many church leaders will be tempted to ignore this step and launch headlong into transition. Yet, in my consulting work I have found that this step is critical. Pray, study, research and dialogue on the importance of a church transition first. But don’t make plans yet. Your task is to increase awareness of the urgency for change. How that change plays out is in the next steps, which for success require input from many church factions. Scripture; Ezekiel 3:17-19.
2. “Form a Powerful Guiding Coalition.” Even though you might think you know the situation the best, due to history, education or background: a church is a communal organization and leadership works best when there is a communal consensus. Find those who resonate with the transition and help them take the vision to the rest of the congregation. These may be “persons of peace” (Luke 10:6). The Greek word here for peace is derived from the word “to join.” It literally means a person who helps people from different viewpoints and even warring convictions to join together in unity whereby oneness, peace, quietness and rest result. (4) Scripture: Luke 10:6
3. “Create a Communal Vision.” The step 2 guiding coalition creates the vision, thereby taking into consideration concerns and insights from various segments of the church. This guiding coalition helps you draft, refine and edit the vision. People must see the future before they can work toward it. The goal is to have an easy to read, clear vision statement in no more than a paragraph that is crafted by persons of peace from varying church segments. Scriptures: Proverbs 15:22, 29:18.
4. “Communicating the Vision.” Take your guiding coalition as well as congregational members to places where turnaround ministry is being done and let them experience it firsthand. Also use stories to help people picture change. Atlanta mega-congregation, 12Stone(c) Church, found that the story of the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River (Joshua 4) inspired their attendees to trust God for “many bold crossings” in their faith journeys. Scripture: use a story that illustrates your church’s spiritual waypoints.
5. “Empowering Others to Act on the Vision.” It is important to delegate your power to others (or burn out). Too often passionate church leaders are tempted to go it alone. One pastor said, “Jesus had to do it alone.” And atonement and redemption were definitely things that only the Son of God could accomplish. But remember, Jesus rounded-up and delegated to his disciples his power. Scripture: Matthew 10, Mark 6, Luke 9.
6. “Planning for and Creating Short-Term Wins.” Probably the most overlooked step, short-term wins help people see the validity and direction of a new vision. Short-term wins are projects and programs that can be undertaken quickly and temporarily. They usually won’t change the long-term outcomes (yet). But they demonstrate the validity of the new direction in a quick way. So, use temporary “task forces” instead of semi-permanent committees to launch new projects in ministry. Scripture: Luke 10:17-20.
7. “Using increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit the vision.” Short-term wins will give the guiding coalition the social capital to make long-term structural changes. Don’t start with structural changes. You haven’t enough buy-in from hesitant members. Only after short-term wins validate your approach will you be able to change systems, structures and policies. Scripture: Matthew 8:1-22.
8. “Institutionalizing New Approaches.” Finally, it is time to adopt a church personality that reflects these changes.Now your church vision statement might be changed. Now your church’s personality in the community might change. Your logo and byline might change. Don’t be tempted to do these first (most leaders do and fail because of it). The church’s new personality is the last thing to jell and it comes organically from the church’s new direction. I remind clients that “Vision won’t bring about change, change will bring about vision.”
(1) Bruno Dyck and Frederick A. Starke, “The Formation of Breakaway Organizations: Observations and a Process Model.” Administrative Science Quarterly (1999), 44:792-822. I have applied the Dyke-Starke model to the church in Bob Whitesel, Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change and What You Can Do About It(Abingdon Press, 2003).
(2) R. V. G. Tasker, The Gospel of St. Matthew, Tyndales new Testament Commentaries, 1961, p. 103.
Some degree of social distancing will most likely be part of future leadership practices. This will require church leaders to develop new skills and embrace new leadership methods. But for many church staffs, volunteers and ministers leading remotely may feel awkward and unnatural. However, leading remotely is a skill found in the New Testament and the early Church. St. Paul himself provides a fascinating example about how to lead remotely through the letters he wrote to congregations he guided. Here are 12 principles drawn from his writings.
Paul’s Guide …
Be personable. Paul greeted leaders personally. This created a human connection to Paul’s remote location (and sometimes his imprisonment). Whether at the beginning of his letters (Philippians 1, etc.) or the end (Romans 16:1-16, etc.), Paul recounted his personal connection with his readers. When critique was called for, Paul even prefaced it with personal histories. In Romans 16 he spends several paragraphs thanking God for those who helped him, but then warns about those who divide the flock. In verses 17-18 he instructs, “Keep a sharp eye out for those who take bits and pieces of the teaching that you learned and then use them to make trouble. Give these people a wide berth. They have no intention of living for our Master Christ. They’re only in this for what they can get out of it, and aren’t above using pious sweet talk to dupe unsuspecting innocents” (MSG). Paul’s greetings not only provided personal salutations to exemplary followers, but also examples of ones to avoid.
Reputation is based upon God’s work in a life. Distance, whether physical or created by electronic mediums, can undermine credibility. When necessary, Paul defended his credentials. But he based his credibility upon how God has changed (and is changing) him, stating, “Do you think I speak this strongly in order to manipulate crowds? Or curry favor with God? Or get popular applause? If my goal was popularity, I wouldn’t bother being Christ’s slave… I’m sure that you’ve heard the story of my earlier life when I lived in the Jewish way. In those days I went all out in persecuting God’s church. I was systematically destroying it. I was so enthusiastic about the traditions of my ancestors that I advanced head and shoulders above my peers in my career. Even then God had designs on me. Why, when I was still in my mother’s womb he chose and called me out of sheer generosity! Now he has intervened and revealed his Son to me so that I might joyfully tell non-Jews about him.” (Gal. 1:10-16). Be ready to tactfully (2 Cor. 5:20) but directly (1 Tim. 1:3) point to God’s work in your life if your credibility is questioned.
Accept change, yet acknowledge how God is behind the change. Don’t shy away from accepting change, but also acknowledge how God is changing you. Paul embraced his change, recalling in Gal. 2: 7-10 (MSG), “It was soon evident that God had entrusted me with the same message to the non-Jews as Peter had been preaching to the Jews. Recognizing that my calling had been given by God, James, Peter, and John—the pillars of the church—shook hands with me and Barnabas, assigning us to a ministry to the non-Jews, while they continued to be responsible for reaching out to the Jews. The only additional thing they asked was that we remember the poor, and I was already eager to do that.”
Go deep theologically, but give them something to do with it.Don’t be afraid to give those you lead remotely something on which to theologically chew. But also make sure it’s something they can readily apply. Pauline scholar Herman Ridderbos stresses the general character of Paul’s preaching was the kingship of Jesus (1997:48). And, as a result Paul urged his readers to exemplify lifestyles that attested to living in a new realm. And knowing it might be some time before they would hear from him again, Paul literally gave them something to do. He told them to act upon what they heard, saying, “It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God—‘Jesus is my Master’—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: ‘God has set everything right between him and me!’” (Romans 10:9-10, MSG).
Use stories, to help others endure the unendurable. The early church experienced an increasing loss of civil and human rights because of mounting opposition by the Roman regime. To this predicament Paul encouraged his listeners to embrace perseverance, steadfastness and in the more modern term championed by Angela Duckworth, “grit.” Paul wrote to the church at Colossae, “As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us” (Col. 1:10-12, MSG). And in Gal. 6:9, Paul famously intones, “So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit” (MSG).
Learning how God works, brings strength to endure the seemingly unendurable.
When you must correct, do so with a parent’s firm but loving touch. Paul sometimes had to pen a painful response to his critics. In 1 Cor. 4:14-16 he admonished, “I’m not writing all this as a neighborhood scold just to make you feel rotten. I’m writing as a father to you, my children. I love you and want you to grow up well, not spoiled. There are a lot of people around who can’t wait to tell you what you’ve done wrong, but there aren’t many fathers willing to take the time and effort to help you grow up. It was as Jesus helped me proclaim God’s Message to you that I became your father. I’m not, you know, asking you to do anything I’m not already doing myself…” (MSG). As we saw earlier, Paul’s critiques sometimes begin with positive salutations. But here Paul prefaces his critique by reminding his hearers of the nature of their leadership relationship, not as a boss to a hireling but as a father to a child.
Face-to-face leadership is sometimes still required.Continuing the 1 Cor. 4 passage above Paul warns, “I know there are some among you who are so full of themselves they never listen to anyone, let alone me. They don’t think I’ll ever show up in person. But I’ll be there sooner than you think, God willing, and then we’ll see if they’re full of anything but hot air. God’s Way is not a matter of mere talk; it’s an empowered life” (1 Cor. 4:18-20, MSG). A key to critiquing remotely is to lay out clearly your intentions if remote leadership is ineffective. Face-to-face leadership may still be necessary and should be understood as an option by all parties.
Be authentic & humble.Paul regularly acknowledged his status, as one Christ appeared to lately, but genuinely. In I Cor. 15:8-9 he recalled, “…He (Jesus) finally presented himself alive to me. It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don’t deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God’s church right out of existence” (MSG). And in Ephesians 3:7-8, he said, “This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities” (MSG)
Put others first, as exemplified by Christ. Paul knew that each leader who read or heard his letters would need to make a myriad of subsequent decisions. To guide decision-making, Paul emphasized that the arrival of Christ’s kingdom meant putting others before oneself. Paul summed this up in Phil. 2:1-7, “If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!” (MSG).
Reconciliation and transformation are pivotal in the community of the king.Christ’s death and resurrection signified the arrival of his kingdom. A new community emerged which Paul calls, the saints, the elect, the beloved, the called. Over and over he would remind his readers they must decide if they will take up God’s offer for personal kingdom life, reconciliation and letting the Holy Spirit transform them. And so, Paul’s emphasis upon conversion was not just a theoretical concept, but also a noticeable change in people. Paul famously intoned, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:16-20, MSG).
Be thankful & prayerful for those you are entrusted to lead.Paul believed thankfulness must characterize every step in a Christian’s journey, saying: “And cultivate thankfulness… Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way” (Colossians 3:15-17, MSG). In addition, Paul’s mentees were never far from his prayers. In Phil. 1:3-6 (MSG) he recalls that “Every time I think of you, I thank my God. And whenever I mention you in my prayers, it makes me happy. This is because you have taken part with me in spreading the good news from the first day you heard about it. God is the one who began this good work in you, and I am certain that he won’t stop before it is complete on the day that Christ Jesus returns.”
Regardless of difficulties, pestilence and/or persecution Paul’s leadership is a guide to how to lead God’s people in difficult, even remote, times.
The first inclination when writing on the starting place for church revitalization will be to focus on prayer. That is most likely (and rightly so) because we want to remind ourselves that we can’t do it without Christ’s help.
I’m not suggesting that prayer is not important for church growth or even that it should be postponed. It is!But I’m suggesting we first must understand what we’re praying for.
Therefore, the first question that must be asked before chruch revitalization is, “Whose needs is a revitalization effort intended to meet?” In fact, in church revitalizations there are three needs that often come into play. And after 30 years of consulting chruch revitalizations, I have come to believe if you pick one of them you’ll succeed. But, if you pick one of the others, you will usually experience failure.
Reason 1) Meeting the needs of a church’s congregation.
Often church revitalizations are launched because a church wants to survive. Members remember its illustrious history, the close bonds of friendships that were forged there and the many good things accomplished in their past. And they want to want to preserve these legacies for future generations. I’ve often heard leaders say, “We want to ensure this church lives on by younger generations coming to it.” And while this is laudable, this will be in adequate to successfully revitalize a church. That is because of two reasons.
Reason A: Younger generations quickly pick up on a church’s desperation to survive. They’ve experienced and rejected churches that are not interested in meeting their needs, but rather interested in preserving the church’s aesthetics and culture, to which the younger generations may not relate.
Reason B: A church’s desire to retain a legacy, even a good legacy, can overshadowed the real purpose of revitalization: to introduce more people to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (Luke 10:1-16).
Reason 2) The second misguided, but common, starting point for church revitalization is to focus on meeting the needs of the revitalizer.
The revitalizer may feel that they want to start anew with a new type of church. This is similar to what motivates many church planters, i.e. the leader wants to grow an organization that they can form over in the vision they reimagine. They want an organization that they believe will be easier to lead, more like they want and filled with people like them. But this focus will also usually fail. That is because revitalizing a church, like church planting, is a missional effort that usually requires us to be challenged and uncomfortable.James states, “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (2:1-4 MSG).
We must expect and be satisfied with the pressures and pains that come from serving Christ in missional activities. Regrettably some people today don’t look upon leadership as a missionary might. Missionaries know that they are going to sacrifice what is comfortable and familiar, in order to bring the Good News to people in need of it. Missionaries I know are leading threadbare, uncomfortable lives in service. Yet, when it comes to a church revitalization, we often want the most comfortable and potentially successful neighborhood in which to revitalize a church or plant one. Rather we should be looking at those with the greatest needs, putting their needs first and putting ourself last.
Reason 3: Meeting the needs of non-churchgoers.
This is the reason that leads to successful revitalization.A revitalization effort by its very name focuses on revitalizing an organization. But perhaps instead we call it re-focusing an organization. We all know that it doesn’t take long after a church is planted or even revitalized, that it begins to focus inward and mainly on its own needs. When that happens the church increasingly becomes focused on programming, staffing and churchgoer activities that make its congregational life more comfortable.
But, a church that is revitalized must first become refocused. That happens when the focus is to turn our eyes to the harvest and seeing its need.My father grew up on a farm. He knew that when the harvest was ripe you stopped everything else you were doing, even going to school, and went into the field until the harvest was complete. Jesus talking to a similar agricultural society, prepared them to endure hardships in mission by utilizing an agricultural metaphor:
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. (Luke 10:1-12, MSG).
Thus, I’ve found that a church revitalization starts by a profound and persistent refocus on whose needs are you called to meet. Then your prayers can be focused.
A church building craze exploded in the ‘70s and ‘80s and led to many sanctuaries that are outsized for their current congregation… But the cost of oversized facilities and their upkeep may mean that that even these churches have little resources available for unexpected expenses or low offerings. – @BobWhitesel via @OutreachMag
Many churches are experiencing a downturn in giving during the recent quarantine. And what they are seeing is not a typical. Here are some thoughts I’ve gleaned over the years and from clients.
During an “external crisis” (meaning job layoffs in the community, people leaving the area for a different town or quarantine due to a pandemic) the following occur. In addition, below are actions that can help crisis-proof a church’s budget.
1. Giving is down roughly 25 to 40% for churches that have not strongly emphasized online giving before the external crisis. Those that have emphasized online giving beforehand still drop but only about 20 to 25%. The lesson here is to robustly embrace online giving going forward.
2. During an external crisis there is usually a loss of long-time givers. This is because the external crisis exacerbates some frustration they have. However research by Bruno Dyck and Frederick Stark at the University of Manitoba (“The Formation of Breakaway Organizations: Observations and a Process Model,” Administrative Science Quarterly 44) found that if people who stop giving are personally visited and listened to, the frustration can often be diffused. This is hard to do during a quarantine, but it’s something to consider as restrictions loosen.
3. New givers will usually appear during one of these external crises. This is because people see the need for the church and the good things it’s doing. And they want to support it. However new givers typically do not give as much as long-time givers. Therefore if you are replacing them one for one, it’s usually not enough to make up the difference.
4. An important strategy is to track the quarterly ebb and flow of giving. Every church has a giving cycle. e.g. certain times during the year when giving decreases. It’s important to know when these coincide with an external crisis, so that you don’t over react to a downturn fueled by two concurrent forces: seasonal and external.
5. Some of my church clients who are younger congregations put a freeze on “new spending” when they saw the external crisis on the horizon. This doesn’t help you too much when you are in the middle of a downturn, but it is a good strategy for the future.
6. During this time another prescription is to make online giving convenient and to communicate it as an important option. Allowing giving to take place online allows the giver more time to pray over and consider their support.
7. It’s critically important to teach the reason for giving. Giving not just to keep the church going, but to increase ministry during this time when more people have needs. Therefore emphasize the good you were doing, why people give and how people’s spiritual journey includes meeting the needs of others.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: During a shutdown, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, churches have an opportunity to prepare for rebounding and renewing into healthier churches. Here are articles I’ve written about how to accomplish this (published by magazines with national platforms, i.e. Outreach Magazine and Biblical Leadership Magazine). These articles are excerpted from my book: “Growing the Post-pandemic Church.”
Excerpted below you will find …
How to use these difficult times as a springboard for churches to rebound and renew,
With greater long-term health and more powerful Good News impact.
Now that banning gatherings is becoming commonplace, the faith community will be temporarily forced to morph into something new (or maybe something old, read on). During this time and afterward some churches will thrive, but others may struggle. Having coached churches for 30 years, trained hundreds of church leaders and earned two doctorates in the field, here is my forecast with survival options for those churches at risk.
My latest article for @BiblicalLeader Magazine has become a chapter in my 2020 book, Growing the Post-pandemic Church. In it, I discuss how you can keep your church from declining during a pandemic. Check out the article below and see their website for the full article.
Now that banning gatherings is becoming commonplace, the faith community will be temporarily forced to morph into something new (or maybe something old, read on).
During this time and afterward some churches will thrive, but others may struggle. Having coached churches for 30 years, trained hundreds of church leaders and earned two doctorates in the field, here is my forecast with survival options for those churches at risk.
Churches that will suffer the most:
Churches with aging buildings and no savings
During the 20th century having an impressive building was a way to make a church’s presence known. Many churches borrowed their way into debt to restore, renovate and expand older facilities. When downturns in attendance occur (and they always do) such churches may not have the flexibility made available by sizable savings.
They are vulnerable because they do not have contingency plans for an attendance downturn. If a roof needs repair, a boiler replaced, etc. a church may find itself no longer inhabitable after a quarantine.
Impressive facades, of course, weren’t the way the church became known in the New Testament. Paul reminded the church that they should not be known for their physical attire, but instead he encouraged them to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12, NIV).
Survival options: Look for ways to cut overhead by selling, leasing or giving away facilities that drain budgets. Research the correct amount of savings a church like yours should have and create a savings plan. Also, begin to build your church’s reputation upon compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. These are the best avenues to make a church visible in a community.
Churches that have overbuilt
A church building craze exploded in the ‘70s and ‘80s and led to many sanctuaries that are outsized for their current congregation. Even a megachurch (a church of over 1000 attendees) may still have hundreds, if not thousands of attendees. But the cost of oversized facilities and their upkeep may mean that that even these churches have little resources available for unexpected expenses or low offerings.
This problem arose in part because of a popular 20th century adage (not supported by research) that, “If you build it, they will come.” And so, the size of the expansion was customarily based on the size of the congregation at the time of building.
For example, a church in the 1990s may have been running 400 people in an early service and 600 people in a second service with a facility that seated 800. An architect might suggest combining the two services (not a good idea, because it decreases options in times and styles) and combine into one service in a new 1,600 seat sanctuary. “After all,” the church leaders reasoned, “400 plus 600 equals 1,000. And, a new sanctuary of 1,600 would give us room to grow.” But, when the service times and styles were merged in a large cavernous sanctuary, the church began to run only 700 people. A lack of options in times and styles started the church on a downward trajectory.
Survival options: Look at ways to right-size sanctuaries. Converting part of the sanctuary into classrooms, welcome centers and prayer spaces can create intimacy in the once larger space. And look for ways to monetize facilities.
My co-author Mark DeYmaz in his book, The Coming Revolution in Church Economics: Why Tithes & Offerings Are No Longer Enough and What You Can Do About It, outlines dozens of ways churches can lease out portions of their facilities, create local business hubs, develop shared working spaces, etc. to increase income from aging buildings.
Multisite churches, who own their own sites
A trend in the 20th century was for growing churches to purchase older church buildings, theaters and community buildings in which to hold satellite worship services. Many times denominations did this to encourage growing churches to take on the expenses of a closed church. But, because of the reasons cited above (e.g. the cost of maintaining the facilities) when combined with attendance drops, liabilities were rapidly created.
Survival options: Lease or rent sites for offsite services. And look for opportunities to sell, lease or give away facilities you own. This promotes longterm flexibility when demographics, styles and finances change.
Churches that rely on the onsite Sunday morning offering
With the proliferation of online giving tools, most churches have embraced online giving. However, some have not and this creates hurdles for supporters. Even churches that have misgivings about online tithing, offerings and pledges will rethink their strategy when the church is dispersed.
Survival options: Create and promote an online giving option. Many denominations have a preferred online giving tool to use. Then educate your congregation about why disciplined giving and online avenues can help a church to thrive.
Churches that put on a Sunday spectacle.
Some churches spend an inordinate amount of time and money on the lighting, sound, musicians, broadcasting and staff associated with putting on an elaborate Sunday morning experience.
These Sunday morning expenditures will now be seen as optional, as churches are forced to focus more on smaller groups as a way for people to be connected and discipled. And, congregants may discover that smaller groups which are flexible and meet in neighborhoods are more enjoyable and convenient.
Survival options. Many of today’s young pastors have created youthful churches that are moving away from Sunday performance and toward more organic expressions of church. I provide a look at 12 categories of organic churches in my book, Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations. Most of these emerging congregations prefer less staging, softer music, audience participation and smaller auditoriums (capacity around 200).
Churches that will survive:
House churches, pub churches, café churches and online churches.
These entrepreneurial smaller churches are often dismissed by leaders of more established congregations. Typically they meet in rented or free facilities. Their low overhead allows them as small churches to more easily survive fiscal cycles brought on by a quarantine.
Churches that have spent their money on staff, rather than spent their money on facilities.
The trend in the 20th century was to expand facilities and stretch staff. This created overworked leaders. Then, when emergencies arose small staffs were not able to handle the extra workload. But if a church spends its money creating a team of experienced and talented staff, these entrepreneurs can create innovative online options.
Churches with bi- or co-vocational leaders.
My colleague, Dr. Jay Moon, describes bi-vocational pastors as those who work two jobs until the church can support them. He describes co-vocational pastors as those who work two jobs, never expecting the church to support them full time.
In other words, the latter have a clear calling to leadership in the marketplace and to leadership in the church. Because the co-vocational pastor does not envision a time where she or he will be in full-time employment of the church, they may be able to make longterm decisions without personal financial needs clouding their judgment.
Still, both can be an advantage during times when churches are unable to physically meet. A bi- or co-vocational pastor will become less of a drain on the church finances. And a pastor who is involved in marketplace leadership will better keep her or his pulse on needs in the community.
Churches that are young, having been recently planted by a mother church.
Planting a church is an arduous endeavor that requires creativity and entrepreneurship. It takes tenacity, good theology and a balance between ministry and family. The very balance needed in a good church planter can help him or her maintain equilibrium during attendance swings brought on by viral quarantines. And, did I mention that many church planters are bi- or co-vocational? That’s another strength.
Good news—most churches will survive.
My 30 years coaching leaders has led me to believe that God empowers his people to survive and thrive in difficult times. The Bible is overflowing with people that God empowered to overcome adversity. Church history further attests to this.
Christians have a grit whereby they come together and work for the long-term existence of the community of faith. It may mean that the facilities, staffing and priorities may change during and after a quarantine, but the Holy Spirit and God‘s will for his church will not change.
A Scripture reminder is Paul’s admonishment that “We pray that you’ll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us” (Colossians 1:10-14, MSG).
What every church can do to increase survivability
Focus on making learners, as Jesus commissioned us in Matthew 28:18-20. Your goal should be to help congregants “learn” during this time, not necessarily congregate.
Focus on small groups as the primary venue for discipleship. Research indicates that most people stick with a church when they are involved in a small group which meets regularly for Bible study, prayer and service. The Methodist movement was founded and grew because of such small groups. And Jesus exemplified this when he chose 12 learners who he apprenticed to become his 12 apostles.
Focus on prayer and serving the needs of others. During a difficult time Christ does not want us to make foolish decisions about our health. But he does want us to think of others as more important than ourselves. This means considering ways we can help others during this period and therefore let Christ’s light shine through us. Philippians 2:1-4 (MSG) sums this up fittingly:
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Having pastored in small, medium-size and mega-churches (as well as planting a church) I realized there were certain spiritual disciplines that when embraced my life and ministry flourished. I also realized that when I ignored them my ministry became difficult and unstable.
Having coached hundreds of churches in the past 20 years, I’ve come to believe these four areas of personal discipline are critical for not only having an impact in ministry, but for being happy as well.
Accountable vs. Being Independent
Usually when a church needs to be revitalized, it gives the turnaround leader a great deal of control. And why not, if the church has been failing under its previous strategies and tactics, then shouldn’t the new shepherd be allowed to implement their own approach?
If the turnaround leader did not have much control in their previous ministry, this can exacerbate the situation. I’ve noticed that some leaders may undertake a turnaround because they look forward to having some independence. When congregations are desperate to survive, they may give inexperienced turnaround leaders carte blanche to do what is right the leader’s eyes.
This dual empowerment can be good if the leader is skilled, experienced and equipped to be a church revitalizer. And after all, equipping the church revitalizer with the skills necessary is the purpose of Church Revitalizer magazine. But if a leader is still learning about the dynamics of a turnaround church, the resultant independence that the congregation bestows upon the leader can be the the leader’s undoing.
Recent news stories have pointed out that ethical failures in pastors often seem to be the result of too much independence and not enough accountability. The turnaround pastor and a struggling church’s desire for someone to lead the congregation out of its marginalization, can inadvertently give the leader so much independence that the leader does not have the accountability or professional oversight needed.
Solution: If you are a turnaround leader, then seek out accountability. Don’t just seek out like-minded peers who are going through the same professional and spiritual battles. And just don’t seek out one person, but rather seek out a group of individuals that can give you guidance.
QUOTE: Recent news stories have pointed out that ethical failures in pastors often seem to be the result of too much independence and not enough accountability.
One of the thorniest questions the early church had to battle was what to do with Paul’s new ministry to non-Jews. This was a substantial and divisive issue. However, Paul submitted not to an individual, but to a council of godly leaders which we know today as the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). Having an accountability to a godly group not only sharpened Paul’s theological insights, but also gave him a platform of accountability that would help most of his detractors overlook his former life as a persecutor of the faith.
Mentee vs. Being a Mentor
This means being a mentee, in addition to being accountable. But often turnaround leaders are tempted to be the mentor more than the mentee. In my personal life I found that as my ministry increased, others wanted me to mentor them. Not only was I honored, but I was told I had the gift of teaching and therefore I enjoyed mentoring others.
But the times when I suffered the most were when I was mentoring others but no one was mentoring me. In my town I sought out the lead pastor of a large nearby church. And though we were very theologically different, we became fast friends and he became my mentor. Later he went on to become the president of a nationally recognized theological seminary.
In the times we spent together in his kitchen, I realized the challenges I was facing he had already faced years before, and he had insights from the encounters. In much the way Paul mentored Timothy (1 and 2 Timothy), a more experienced leader can bring needed encouragement to a pastor who is encountering daily frustrations in turning around a church.
Solution: Find a mentor and submit to being a mentee. No matter how long you’ve been in ministry, there is probably someone who has encountered what you are encountering now, and can offer perspective and biblical insight. The New Testament precedent is a one-on-one relationship with someone who has already countered the challenges which a turnaround pastor is daily encountering.
QUOTE: I suffered the most when I was mentoring others but no one was mentoring me.
Equipper vs. Being an Expert
As ministry impact increases, people often start to look to the leader as “the expert.” This can be exacerbated when a church is struggling and looking for any help. The result is that the congregation and the leader may put too much of the burden upon the leader.
As a result, turnaround leaders tend to undertake the most important things themselves. They tend to do most of the preaching themselves, they tend to do most of the organization themselves, they tend to run the meetings themselves, they tend to do most of the evangelism themselves, etc. etc. An all too common result is a burned-out pastor and a church that feels even less likely to turn around.
Solution: As pastor your job is to equip the believers for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12-16). When turning around client churches I have found it most helpful to get people’s eyes off of the pastor as expert, and start seeing the pastor as their trainer and equipper.An important personal discipline for the turnaround pastor is to train and delegate to others important tasks rather than trying to do it all oneself. This means seeing the potential in people and even giving them the chance to flounder at times. It means having less perfection in our churches and more opportunity for participation.
QUOTE:It means having less perfection in our churches and more opportunity for participation.
Family Time vs. Church Time
Finally the fourth area is the important aspect of carving out time with your earthly family and your heavenly family (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). During some of my most successful years in ministry my children were young. And though they had have great memories from their childhood, I wish I’d spent a bit more time with them. I could have had more deep dialogues with them. I could have known them even better. And this is good not only for our earthly family, but our heavenly family as well.
Solution: Later in my years as a turnaround pastor I found that I benefited greatly by taking two days off every week to be with my early family (recreation) and my heavenly family (in scriptural meditation and prayer). On those two days every week I did no church business. I viewed those days as a sabbatical. If God, the all powerful creator of the universe took off a seventh day to rest (commanding it upon his children as one of his 10 commands) then I need something more regular and restful than a couple of partial days off each week.
These four principles helped me not only survive ministry, but enjoy it and thrive in it.
Bob Whitesel DMIN PhD has been called “the key spokesperson on change theory in the church today” by a national magazine and ranks as one of the nation’s most sought after church health and growth consultants. An award-winning author of 13 books, he founded an accredited seminary (Welsey Seminary at IWU) and created one of the nation’s most respected church health and growth consulting firms: ChurchHealth.net
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel. The following article of mine was republished in the inaugural issue of The Journal of the Academy for Intercultural Church Research (AICR). I highly encourage anyone interested in reliable and valid articles on multicultural churches and their growth to bookmark this site: http://intercultural.church
This article first appeared in the Great Commission Research Journal, vol. 6, issue 1, summer 2016 (La Mirada, CA: Cook School of Intercultural Studies at Biola University, 2014) and is used by permission.
FIVE TYPES OF MULTICULTURAL CHURCHES: A New Paradigm Evaluated and Differentiated
Author: Bob Whitesel, D.Min. Ph.D.
Professor of Missional Leadership Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University
This article puts forth a comprehensive and reconciliation-based paradigm through which to view multicultural congregations as one of five models or types. It updates the historical categories of Sanchez, adds contemporary models and then evaluates each through a 10-point grid of: nomenclature, mode of growth, relationships, pluses, minuses, degree of difficulty, creator complex, redistribution, relocation and reconciliation. The five models are: 1) the asset sharing Multicultural Alliance, 2) the collaborative Multicultural Partnership, 3) the asymmetrical Mother-Daughter model, 4) the popular Blended approach and 5) the Cultural Assimilation model. The result is a comprehensive five-model paradigm that includes an assessment of each model’s potential for spiritual and intercultural reconciliation.
The following is excerpted and reedited from The Healthy Church: Practical Ways to Strengthen a Church’s Heart (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing House, 2013).
This article assesses the strengths and weaknesses of different multicultural church models. Daniel Sanchez offered some of the earliest depictions of such models, but 35 years later they beg to be updated. And despite the proliferation of books on the topic, no significant updating or additions to Sanchez’s categories have been offered other than the Sider et. al. partnership model.
In addition, there is a vibrant discussion today regarding how John Perkins’ intercultural goals of redistribution, relocation and reconciliation are being addressed by churches. Therefore, it can be helpful to assess how well different models of multicultural congregations are addressing each of Perkins’ intercultural reconciliation goals.
The following five models of multicultural congregations suggest a new and contemporized paradigm. I will analyze each through a 10-point grid of: nomenclature, mode of growth, relationships, pluses, minuses, degree of difficulty, creator complex, redistribution, relocation and reconciliation.
Starting With Goals: Spiritual And Cultural Reconciliation
Sociologists have long known that people of a dominant culture will try, sometimes even subconsciously, to make over people from an emerging culture into their own image. C. Peter Wagner called this the “creator complex” and said, “Deep in the heart of man, even in missionaries, lurks that ‘creator complex’ by which he delights in making other people over in his own image.” And so, when humans encounter different customs, the creator complex in us wants us to view their customs as abnormal and change them to be more in keeping with our traditions.
The creator complex arises because it seems easier and quicker to assimilate a culture and make it look like us, than to try and sift out any impurities that run counter to the message of Christ. But in the words of missiologist Charles Kraft, every culture is “corrupt, but convertible.” To convert any culture thus entails sifting out elements that run counter to Christ’s Good News while retaining elements that affirm it. Eddie Gibbs calls this “sifting a culture,” drawing from the image of a colander or strainer that sifts out impurities in food.
So what then is the goal for our filtering of cultures? Let us return to Charles Kraft’s reminder, that every culture is “corrupt, but convertible.” Our purpose thus becomes to assist God in His quest to convert or transform a culture. Such transformation begins by reconnecting people to their loving heavenly father. This has been called the ministry of reconciliation, which Paul described in 2 Cor. 5:11, 17-18.
John Perkins suggests that today’s divided world needs churches that will foster both spiritual reconciliation and physical reconciliation. This would fulfill Jesus’ prayer that His children would be united as the Father and Son are united (John 17:20). To describe this goal, Perkins employed 3 Rs:
Redistribution (sharing money from wealthier cultures with struggling cultures),
Relocation (relocating ministry to needy areas) and
Reconciliation (physical and spiritual reconciliation, first between humans and their heavenly Father, and then between humans).
Among today’s emerging generations I am seeing young people more attune to this need for reconciliation between people of different cultures. Today’s young people have been born into a very divided world of politics, economics and cultural clashes. Yet, across the nation I have observed churches lead by these young leaders that refuse to limit themselves to just spiritual reconciliation, but also see maturity in Christ as advancing cultural reconciliation. I agree with Brenda Salter McNeil who sees the emergence of a reconciliation generation, who in addition to a spiritual reconciliation, sees “a host of people from various tribes, nations, and ethnicities who are Kingdom people called to do the work of racial reconciliation.”
And so, to bring about both spiritual and cultural reconciliation, we need models that describe churches where people of differing cultures are not only reconnecting with their heavenly Father, but also who reconnecting with one another. A multicultural church may provide the best locale. To understand a multicultural church, let us look at five models.
5 Models of Multicultural Churches
To picture the variety of multicultural congregations I have suggested the following five categories. In each category I have codified examples from many authors, along with my own case-study research to present a clearer picture of the multicultural options and the plusses and minuses of each approach.
The Multicultural Alliance Church
This church is an alliance of several culturally different sub-congregations. Daniel Sanchez describes it as one church “comprised of several congregations in which the autonomy of each congregation is preserved and the resources of the congregations are combined to present a strong evangelistic ministry.” The different cultures thus form an alliance by joining together as one religious organization in which they equally:
Share leadership duties (i.e. leadership boards are integrated),
Share assets (it is only one nonprofit 501c3 organization)
Offer separate worship expressions (to connect with more cultures)
Offering multiple worship options allows the Multicultural Alliance Church to reach out and connect with several different cultures simultaneously. And a regular blending of traditions in a unity service creates unity amid this diversity. A weekly format of a multicultural alliance church with five sub-congregations could look like this: