PHYSICAL CHALLENGES & 3 Ways to Engage the Homebound in Church Life #HeatherHagstrom,

by Heather Hagstrom, LifeWay, 12/7/18.

Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I enjoyed actively participating in my church and thrived in a young adult weekly Bible study. It was a blessing to worship God and fellowship with other believers regularly.

After I was diagnosed with cancer, I couldn’t attend church or Bible study consistently for seven months while going through a major surgery and cancer treatments. Throughout my cancer journey, the church included me even when I couldn’t attend consistently.

This inclusion gave me hope and perseverance to view my trial from God’s perspective so as to bring Him glory through my suffering.

With the number of people forced to stay home because of physical or mental illness, how can churches include these isolated and hurting people in their congregations?

1. PRAYER

“Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.” Ephesians 6:18 (CSB)

Throughout my cancer journey, I was humbled and thankful my church and other churches throughout my hometown—and even other places in the U.S.—were praying for me.

A pastor and his intern met me in the hospital at 5:30 a.m. to pray with me before and after my cancer surgery. My 28 days of radiation promoted prayer as a pastor prayed for me daily at my scheduled times for radiation. Sunday school classes also kept me on their prayer chains throughout all my treatments.

All these prayers helped to ease my fears, encouraged me to persevere, and prompted me to keep my focus on God, knowing He had a good plan for me even in the midst of my pain and heartache…

2. DISPLAYS OF COMPASSION

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (CSB)

When I was isolated at home, my pastor took the time out of his busy schedule to personally write a note of encouragement to me. This helped me feel included as part of my church.

I also felt included in my church when I was able to attend online through livestream and people applauded to welcome all those who were attending online.

When I couldn’t physically attend church, my parents, who were my caregivers, stayed home with me to watch the church service online. They graciously served me communion at home while we watched communion being served at our church service.

God changed my attitude to see my cancer journey not as a crisis but as an opportunity to share His love and compassion with those in difficult situations...

3. ABOVE-AND-BEYOND OUTREACH

“Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another. According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts.” Romans 12:4-6a (CSB)

As people from different churches volunteered their time and talents to help me throughout my health crisis, their skills were increased to help others. Many cooked and provided delicious meals for me and my parents through a meal train after my surgery. Others wrote encouraging cards, offered rides to my treatments, and provided thoughtful care packages.

Including me in my weekly Bible study through the use of technologies such as FaceTime and Skype when I couldn’t physically attend has provided skills and resources to include others. All these people were utilizing the gifts and skills God had given them to provide outreach to others.

As I was included through creative approaches, I received encouragement, which motivated me to promote the gospel in my cancer center. Each time I went to my cancer center to have blood drawn, receive treatments, or attend a follow-up appointment, God led me to bring in cancer devotionals…

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2018/12/06/3-ways-to-engage-the-homebound-in-church-life/

CHRISTMAS EVE & Non-Christians are more likely to come to worship services on Christmas Eve than any other day of the year, including Easter. What churches are doing.

by Thom Rainer, Facts and Trends, 12/6/18.

…Non-Christians are more likely to come to worship services on Christmas Eve than any other day of the year, including Easter. Church leaders get it. They are putting more prayer, preparation, and strategic thinking into the services.

There are three popular times for the service. Whether a church has one or multiple Christmas Eve services, three times are more popular than others: later afternoon (typically for families with young children and for older adults); early evening (the more traditional time); and late evening (for empty nesters and families with teenage or grown children).

The services are traditional. They include traditional hymns and carols. They may include some time for the lighting of the final advent candle.

The services are brief. The typical length is 30 to 45 minutes.

The pastor’s message is brief. The typical length is 10 to 15 minutes.

Most churches include candlelight services. They are now expected by Christians and non-Christians alike.

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2018/12/06/9-trends-in-christmas-eve-church-services/

GUESTS & The 4 biggest blind spots of churches according to #LifeWay #agree

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: I have conducted mystery visitor, Sunday worship analysis at hundreds if not thousands of churches. This article by Aaron Wilson is based upon the research of the FaithPerceptions.com group, and an interview with their founder Melanie Smollen. Read the article to find great summation of what I found.

Basically I see there are repeatedly four “missteps” (Wilson class them “blind spots”) in churches,  regardless of size, culture or polity. Here is a summation of each with my personal analysis followed by a link to Aaron’s excellent summation.

BLIND SPOT #1: FRIENDLINESS IS ENOUGH

Most churchgoers feel they’re friendly to visitors, because they’re friendly to the people they already know. But as a mystery visitor most Sundays of the year, I found that churches overlook and under engage guests. That is, unless a church is intentional in reaching out to guests and utilizing those people with the gift of hospitality, see 1 Peter 4:9, Rom. 12:9-13, 16:23, Acts 16:14-15, Heb. 13:1-2). Also see the chapter on spiritual gifts in my book Spiritual Waypoints (an overview can be found here: https://churchhealthwiki.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/spiritual-gifts-list-how-to-help-others-discover-their-ministry-calling-spiritualwaypointsbook/).

Usually a church leader will have an anecdotal experience about some guest that has been reached. And, I’m sure these are valid experiences. But they are just that, anecdotal and usually outliers.  Therefore I agree with  analysis number one.

For more read Aaron’s article and interview with Melanie Smollen here … https://factsandtrends.net/2018/08/17/the-4-biggest-blind-spots-of-churches/

VOLUNTEERS & Research reveals 41% started because someone already involved invited them to join. #NationalSurveyOfCongregations

by Helen Gibson, LifeWay, 7/27/18

(According to) the 2015 National Survey of Congregations …, released in 2016, the most recent year such data is available, shows around 1 in 4 Americans, or 24.9 percent, said they volunteered at least once over the course of the year.

Women tend to volunteer more than men, at a rate of 27.8 percent to 21.8 percent…

Americans 35 to 44 years old and those 45 to 54 years old were most likely to volunteer, at rates of 28.9 and 28 percent, respectively. On the other hand, people 20 to 24 years old were least likely to volunteer, at a rate of 18.4 percent.

Those with higher education levels are also more likely to volunteer. Among respondents 25 years old or older, 38.8 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher said they volunteered, while 26.5 percent of those with some college or an associate degree, 15.6 percent of those with a high school diploma only, and 8.1 percent of those without a high school diploma said the same.

Whether or not someone is married with children may also affect the likelihood that they volunteer. Around 1 in 3 married people (29.9 percent) said they volunteer, while about 1 in 5 of those who’ve never married (19.9 percent), and 1 in 5 of those with other marital statuses (20.2 percent) said the same. Parents with children under the age of 18 were also more likely to volunteer (31.3 percent) than people without kids (22.6 percent).

(Some takeaways:)

(Make it easy to volunteer)  Around 4 in 10 volunteers said they got involved with a particular organization by approaching that organization themselves, so make it easy for your church’s members to figure out how they can get connected to certain ministries.

(Current volunteers should be encouraged to recruit more volunteers) Another 4 in 10 volunteers said they started volunteering after being asked by someone else — and most often, that was someone who was already involved in that organization. Encourage those who are currently serving in a particular ministry area not only to keep serving, but to invite others to join with them….

(Serving = discipleship)  Daniel Im, LifeWay’s director of church multiplication, described it as a way to grow spiritually on a recent volunteer recruitment episode of the 5 Leadership Questions Podcast.

“When you serve, that’s actually how you become more like Christ — because that’s what Jesus came to do,” Im said. “So why don’t you do what Jesus did, and why don’t you grow and become more like Him?’”

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2018/07/26/data-paints-a-picture-of-volunteerism-across-the-nation/

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

TRANSFER GROWTH & In the past, churches could grow by drawing nominal Christians as there was still a cultural benefit to church attendance. “That is no longer the case.” #ThomRainer

by Aaron Earls, LifeWay, 6/14/18.

… (Rainer:) “ministry is harder now than it used to be.” In the past, he said, churches could grow by drawing in nominal Christians as there was still a cultural benefit to church attendance. “That is no longer the case,” he said.

Many churches rightly jettisoned a programmatic approach to evangelism, but they failed to replace it with anything else, Rainer asserted. “Instead of reaching out,” he said, “they became inward-focused.”

Yet Rainer was optimistic about the future as he spoke at the breakfast with Jonathan Howe, director of strategic initiatives at LifeWay and co-host of the “Rainer on Leadership” podcast.

Rainer noted the importance of personal evangelism in seeing a denominational renewal. “The way to turn things around is if every member of every church will answer the call of the Great Commission and say, ‘Here am I. Send me,’” he said. That includes pastors and leaders.

…Rainer noted the importance of personal evangelism in seeing a denominational renewal. “The way to turn things around is if every member of every church will answer the call of the Great Commission and say, ‘Here am I. Send me,’” he said. That includes pastors and leaders.

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2018/06/13/thom-rainer-points-way-forward-despite-denominational-challenges/

SPIRITUAL TRAMSFORMATION & Christians more intentional, but less likly to share the message of the Good News since 1993.

by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 5/1

… According to a new study from Barna, compared to 25 years ago, Christians today say they try to be more intentional about sharing their faith, but fewer say evangelism is the responsibility of every believer.

In 1993, 9 in 10 Christians (89 percent) who had shared their faith said every Christian has a responsibility to share their faith. Today, only two-thirds (64 percent) of Christians who had a conversation about faith agree—a 25-point drop.

When asked about how they share their faith, modern Christians are more likely to stick to a set formula or certain strategy than were Christians in the early ’90s. More than 4 in 10 Christians in 2018 (44 percent) say they use the same basic approach each time they have an evangelistic conversation, compared with 33 percent in 1993.

The most common approaches today are asking questions about the other person’s beliefs and experiences (70 percent) and sharing their faith through their lifestyle (65 percent).

Those methods were common a quarter of a century ago as well, with 74 percent saying they ask questions and 77 percent saying they share with their lifestyle rather than their words.

The most common method in 1993, however, has since fallen out of favor. Almost 8 in 10 of Christians who had a conversation about faith (78 percent) said then they spoke about the benefits of accepting Jesus. Today, only 50 percent do that.

Read more at … https://factsandtrends.net/2018/05/16/christians-more-intentional-less-evangelistic-since-1993/