CHURCH EXIT & New Research: Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology, Not Music or Preachers #LifeWay

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: In my consulting on church change and church revitalization, I sometimes encounter a judicatory leader or a parent church that will want to change another church’s theology. But, research indicates that you must be very careful in doing so.

I have observed that churches many times grow around a specific theological viewpoint. Sometimes that theological view is in error, unorthodox, schismatic or heretical. In those circumstances it must be changed.

But in my experience I have also seen churches that, while they may have primarily orthodox beliefs, have a unique view on (what John Wesley would call) nonessential theological points. These might include issues such as charismatic gifts, healing, modes of baptism, etc.

In such latter circumstances, the research cited below indicates that we should move cautiously when changing a theological perspective if it is not an essential orthodox belief … or church exit might occur.

Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology, Not Music or Preachers

Don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

New Research: Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology, Not Music or Preachers
Image: via LifeWay Research

… Most churchgoers will put up with a change in music style or a different preacher.

But don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

The study of Protestant churchgoers found most are committed to staying at their church over the long haul. But more than half say they would strongly consider leaving if the church’s beliefs changed.

Pastors often worry about changing church music and setting off a “worship war,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. But few say they would leave over music.

Churchgoers are much more concerned about their church’s beliefs.

“Mess with the music and people may grumble,” he said. “Mess with theology and they’re out the door.”

Churchgoers stay put

LifeWay Research surveyed 1,010 Protestant churchgoers—those who attend services at least once a month—to see how strongly they are tied to their local congregations.

Researchers found most churchgoers stay put.

Thirty-five percent have been at their church between 10 and 24 years. Twenty-seven percent have been there for 25 years or more. Twenty-one percent have been there less than five years, while 17 percent have been at the same church for between five and nine years.

Lutherans (52 percent), Methodists (40 percent) and Baptists (31 percent) are most likely to have been at their church for 25 years or more. Fewer nondenominational (11 percent) or Assemblies of God/Pentecostal churchgoers (13 percent) have such long tenure.

“Most church members have been at their church longer than their pastor,” said McConnell.

Read more at … https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/july/churchgoers-stick-around-for-theology-not-music-or-preacher

RURAL CHURCH HEALTH & @EdStetzer on challenges in rural contexts, talks research, opioids, economics & why Christians should care.

by Ed Stetzer, Twitter, 3/10/18

Glad to get a copy the @TheInfluenceMag today. In this issue, Tena Stone and I write about challenges in rural contexts, talk research, opioids, economics, and explain why Christians should care. Be sure to check out the magazine. https://t.co/DgaGaLjoOz

TV & “Living Biblically” Sitcom Raises Serious Questions. But also opportunities for the Church to address them. Here is how to do it…

by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 3/4/18.

Chip Curry was in trouble. His best friend died. His wife found out she was pregnant. And Chip had lost his way and become “an overall disaster of a person”—completely unprepared to bring a child into the world.

Then he picked up a Bible and everything changed. At least that’s the premise of a new CBS television series called Living Biblically, which premieres this week.

Based on A.J. Jacobs’ best-selling book, The Year of Living Biblically, the show depicts Chip’s attempts to live out all the Bible’s commandments, big and small…

Jacobs, a secular Jew, has said in the past that he grew up with no religion. His year of living biblically, he said in a TED Talk, was profound and life-changing.

He told Christianity Today that the experience gave him a better appreciation of evangelical Christians.

And, he wrote, living by the Bible’s rules helped him better understand himself.

“I didn’t expect to confront just how absurdly flawed I am,” he said. “I didn’t expect to discover such strangeness in the Bible. And I didn’t expect to, as the psalmist says, take refuge in the Bible and rejoice in it.”

Spending time engaged with the Bible is one of the keys to spiritual growth, according to the Transformational Discipleship study from LifeWay Research.

“God’s Word is truth, so it should come as no surprise that reading and studying the Bible are still the activities that have the most impact on spiritual growth and maturity,” wrote Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, who helped design the study.

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2018/02/26/living-biblically-sitcom-raises-serious-questions/

STO LEADERSHIP & How differentiating between Strategic-Tactical-Operation styles helped #EdStetzer break the 200 barrier in church growth.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Operational leaders lead by employing a tightknit group of people to assist them. However tactical and strategic leaders systematically delegate to others while empowering emerging leaders. Such a transition in leadership style appears to have contributed to Ed Stetzer‘s case study about how and why the church he pastored broke the 200 barrier.

“Break Church-Growth Barriers: Build a Bigger Leadership Table” by Ed Stetzer, EdStetzer.com, 3/28/17

…The Systems Connection

The typical church in the United States has fewer than 100 people in weekly attendance. One of the reasons is that in order to go beyond that number, we must move from relational connection to systems connection. When we are under 100, discipleship influence is exerted through direct relationships. When we pass the 100 mark, if we don’t transition to a discipleship system that can be successful without a direct relationship to the senior leader, it’ll ultimately fail.

The unfortunate reality is that most pastors don’t know how to construct congregational systems and effective structures because they lead only relationally. Sure, this is a wonderful way to lead, but it’s simply not sustainable as the church grows. As we make the transition from leading relationally to leading systemically, there is a loss of control and a loss of intimacy, which can be tremendously challenging for pastors. However, it is one of the most valuable lessons leaders of growing churches can learn.

When one of the churches I pastored made this change, we did some ongoing messaging to persuade people to participate in the process with us as leaders. But remember: not everyone who has been a part of the church will continue to stay as the church grows numerically. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

After our congregation made this all-important transition, it almost doubled in size in a year. Of the people who stayed, every one of them had gone through our process of assimilation into congregational life and every one of them was now serving in some capacity. The pastor was no longer seen as the sole provider, but as occupying an important function within the church where the body of Christ ministered.

This transition became key in the life of our church. If we hadn’t made that change, we would have shrunk back to 75 in attendance because that would have been all that the relationally oriented leadership could absorb.

Read more at … https://edstetzer.com/2018/02/break-church-growth-barriers-build-a-bigger-leadership-table/

SMALL CHURCHES & How to increase community impact by making your facility available to emerging cultures in your community. #EdStetzer #TheExchange #CT

by Ed Stetzer, The Exchange, 2/27/18.

… Typically, small churches use their facilities no more than six hours per week. The other 162 hours of the week buildings sit empty and woefully underused. Open your property to a church plant in need of a place to worship. Invite the local addiction recovery chapter to meet in your building for as long as they want. Offer to provide coffee and cookies baked by a different member each week.

Neighborhood association meetings are often looking for a place to hold gatherings. These take place no more than once a month (usually much less frequently) and are a wonderful way to get people to come to your building. Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops are always looking for places to hold weekly meetings. Let your building(s) be a blessing to your community. Value relationships with your neighbors more than you value the cleanliness of the carpet in your sanctuary.

Serving people is more important than a pristine fellowship hall. Your community will soon take note of which churches care about them and which churches care only about themselves. Be the former, not the latter.

One of the most successful ways of serving your community is to offer a free night of babysitting so parents can have a date night. Sometimes this is structured around Christmas so parents can shop together without having to bring their kids and hide purchases.

Often it is simply a random Friday or Saturday evening where parents can spend an evening strengthening their marriage without shelling out $20–$40 on a babysitter. The kids are served a meal, presented a Bible lesson, and allowed to play together.

At pickup, church members tell parents about one unique thing their child(ren) did that night, showing that each child was valued. It is also a time where families can be invited to attend worship the following Sunday. Something as simple as taking down their name, address, or email for the promise of inviting them to future ‘Date Night’ babysitting events produces a ready-made list of prospects for future contact and evangelism.

In any way that you use your building(s) to serve your community, make sure you have members at each meeting to unlock the facilities and to welcome all who enter. They are there to assist, not to eavesdrop on the meetings.

A warm welcome goes a long way towards showing them you really care about them, not simply that you’re begrudgingly providing a community service. And it should go without saying, but just so no one misunderstands, all of these opportunities should be rent-free for the users. Don’t try to make a buck off of your community. Don’t even justify it as covering your costs.

Excerpted from “Getting Small Churches on Mission (Part 3).” Read more at … http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/february/getting-small-churches-on-mission-part-3.html

HISTORY & A Brief Historical Analysis/Definition of the Church Growth Movement by #EdStetzer

What’s the Deal with the Church Growth Movement? (part one)

by Ed Stetzer, The Exchange, Christianity Today, 10/1/12.

Today, I begin a blog series that takes a closer look at the Church Growth Movement. Our approach to church today has been shaped by this movement whether we are conscious of it or not. Good and bad have evolved from the early days. By taking a closer look at the movement I hope we can learn and become more focused on lostness issues in America. So where were the thoughts and dreams of the early voices in the Church Growth Movement?

Now, church growth (as attendance) is not the same as Church Growth (as a movement). Most people would be in favor of growing a church, but Church Growth has become controversial (see the Google search on the movement to see how many links are to critiques).

So, what is Church Growth (when using capital letters). The American Society of Church Growth (now the Great Commission Research Network) defines it as:

Church growth is that discipline which investigates the nature, function, and health of Christian churches, as they relate to the effective implementation of the Lord’s Great Commission to make disciples of all peoples (Mt. 28:19-20). It is a spiritual conviction, yet it is practical, combining the eternal principles of God’s Word with the practical insights of social and behavioral sciences.

Over the next few weeks, I want to talk a look at the movement, starting with the person widely seen as the founder of the movement.

Donald McGavran, was a missiologist and third generation missionary born in India. He is universally considered the father of the Church Growth Movement. He was, interestingly, a missiologist and that was related to his emphasis.

As a missiolgist, when he suggested the need to transition our strategy from “people” to “peoples” in his work Bridges of God in 1954, it impacted his views (and the Church Growth Movement) in big ways. His study of groups (or peoples) on how they respond, undergirded the movement’s emphasis on statistics, sociology, analysis, and more.

Let me say that I am a fan of Donald McGavran. We may learn more by understanding what McGavran was not saying, particularly from the beginning. For example, McGavran took on the most popular, long standing approach to international missions and evangelism. He declared the “mission station approach,” that had existed for over 150 years, was ineffective for reaching the masses. He determined that by measurement– he analyzed and came to statistical conclusions that undergirded his missiological decisions that led to the Church Growth Movement.

For background, the mission station approach encouraged new converts to leave their tribe and isolate themselves. They took advantage of Western churches, hospitals, and schools (goods and services) established on international mission fields. He did not deny the positive outcomes through this approach but called for a “new pattern” when it comes to results (peoples being converted to Christ):

A new pattern is at hand, which, while new, is as old as the Church itself. It is a God-designed pattern by which not ones but thousands will acknowledge Christ as Lord, and grow into full discipleship as people after people, clan after clan, tribe after tribe and community after community are claimed for and nurtured in the Christian faith.(Bridges of God 331,332)

Read more at … http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2012/october/whats-deal-with-church-growth-movement-part-one.html

MULTIPLICATION & The Next Iteration of the Black Church

by Ed Stetzer, The Exchange, 11/22/16.

…In recent interviews with several African-American church planters, three core themes arose that can give us some insight into the characteristics of what successful Black pastoral leadership will look like in our racially awakening America:

The ability to be “culturally bilingual.” Now more than ever Black pastors have to be able to speak both the language of the surrounding (urban) community and the language of their often suburban members. A high cultural IQ is critical. Successful Black pastors must be able to walk and talk in both worlds, often simultaneously.

Unusually thick skin. Because of the deeply stressed state of race relations in America, Black pastors need to be able to bring a sense of calm when necessary and be prepared to field some very, very inappropriate (and even hurtful) questions. People of all races have been wrestling silently with how they feel about race for years—even decades. Many are now experiencing a renewed sense of freedom and courage to ask previously “stuffed” questions. Black pastors need to be a safe place for curious people to ask these questions without being penalized.

A systematic theology of race and justice. In essence, the Black pastor needs to be able to differentiate between social justice (defined by society, ever changing) and biblical justice (defined by God’s word, thus unchanging). America needs pastors that can articulate a clear case for mobilizing their local churches to be God’s change agents in the area of racial justice. Unfortunately, we may once again need more feet in the streets and in places of power, and those feet have to be connected to a theological rationale for why they are there…

Read more at … http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2016/november/next-iteration-of-black-church.html