Commentary by Dr. Whitesel, 8/11/22. Take a look at the chart below from my seminar, Growing the Post-pandemic Chruch. On the fourth line you will find research which research reveals two important points:
Churches offering only onsite worship are preferred by 50% (of all ages)
Churches offering both onsite AND online worship: are preferred by 57% (of ages 55 & under)
This chart shows the harvest field has moved with the majority now preferring churches that offer both online and on site options. In my seminars (and book) I give many reasons for having onsite AND online options. Here are just a few:
People who “move away” can still enjoy and participate in the worship service to which they have become accustomed.
People with a disability may be able to attend an online church expression and participate more effectively.
People who are home-ridden due to illness or age can attend.
People who simply resonate with your “church’s personality” can attend your church.
Typically people will only drive 15 minutes to a church. But with an online option people from “anywhere on the globe, for any of the above reasons” can join you for worship.
Digital natives are people raised in a world in which digital communication is the main form of communication. Rather than radio, TV or the telephone, the main way digital natives expect to communicate is over the Internet.
Yet, 30 years of church research has shown me that churches will adopt online communication—but will not raise it to the level of their onsite communication. This causes a problem in seven areas. Here are those areas with suggested solutions.
1. Foremost, those who tune in to online church services usually feel second class.
The leaders speak, the vast majority of the time, to the onsite attendees. Only occasionally do we mention the online attendees. This lack of parity can create the feeling that the onsite is a preferred class of congregant.
2. We communicate a biblical theology that prioritizes face-to-face communication.
Oftentimes church leaders will say a variation of: “There’s nothing like being together face to face.” But if we look at a Bible-based theology, we see that most of the Old and New Testament were not communicated face to face, but by Spirit-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16-17) writings.
Whether in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, or more than 700 languages today, most people learned about the miracles of Jesus, not by being face to face with the miracles He performed, but by reading an account of it. Little wonder that Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to empower us in our communication the message secondhand (John 14:26, 16:15).
The Holy Spirit is still alive and vibrant today, and can anoint our online communications as well. If you’re going to embrace a biblical theology, consider the theological principles of Spirit-anointed online communication.
3. Fully reaching out to guests and getting to know them is largely missing in online experiences.
Almost weekly I analyze online services for clients and colleagues. Repeatedly, I observe they are staffed with only a minimal crew. There might be one or sometimes two people.
Yet most churches tell me that they have a sizable online audience. One colleague has about 80 people in person. But his church reaches double that weekly that through their online service. Yet he only has two people designated to interact with the online congregation.
Now ask yourself, would you have just one or two greeters for an onsite service of 80? So why do we minimize our online workers when online watchers are often double our onsite size? Perhaps we do so because it’s “out of sight out of mind.” Maybe we do so because we have an unrecognized bias toward seeing people’s faces.
Or it can be argued we are unsure how many people are actually watching, because some of the data might be generated by a brief click. Regardless, we need to look at where the sheep are, and shepherd them. Appropriately, Jesus gave us the parable of the good shepherd (Matt. 18:10-14) who leaves the 99 to reach out to the one. And, Jesus tells us to see what the “Lord of the harvest” has sent … and pray for more laborers (Matt. 9:38).
4. This brings us to prayer.
Prayer opportunities are not usually as vibrant or prevalent during online worship services. Flavil Yeakley, a researcher at the University of Illinois, showed that people come to a church because of “needs” in their lives. These needs can be ranked as because of a) grief/bereavement, b) health problems, c) marital/family problems and d) financial problems.
When visitors come with these needs they are usually looking for someone who will sympathize and then pray for them. So, if you have hundreds of people watching your service online, how many do you have designated to pray for their needs they bring?
In my observation, to be a healthy church you need about 20 percent of your service attendance deployed in prayer ministry. If you have 100 online attendees, do you have 20 people reaching out to them online? And it’s not just about praying on Sunday morning, but it also means offering to them synchronous or asynchronous prayer chats during the week.
5. Online ministry reaches people who have physical challenges that make it uncomfortable for them to attend church.
This means many people cannot physically attend the church because of health or physical challenges. But they can tune in. And, we know that people with physical challenges can often feel second class.
Are we contributing to their feeling of being second class when they turn to our online services? Recently a series of articles drew attention to how people needing a wheelchair are often left in planes after everyone leaves. It makes them feel singled out and uncomfortable.
We too often make people feel singled out or uncomfortable when they visit our online churches. Are they feeling like they can worship with their eyes on the Lord and without people’s eyes on them?
6. Online ministry reaches people who have moved away.
Another type of physical challenge is for those who may have attended for many years, but because of family or vocation now live in another city. They often miss the smiling faces, the familiar leaders and the songs of a church.
Again, they can be made to further feel second class when leaders say, “I’m glad you’re here with us. Isn’t it better being together face to face?” For these people who still feel a strong historical and/or family connection to the church, this can make them feel like a hidden figure and even possibly an outcast.
To address this a Presbyterian church in Ohio, after hosting my seminar “Growing the Post-Pandemic Church,” decided to let congregants come by the camera after church and greet those online. The camera became a communication avenue between current and former attendees.
7. Online communication is often seen as a stopgap, post-pandemic measure . . . when in reality it’s the future.
Technology is pushing the quantity and quality of human communication. Online experiences now include holograms and immersive experiences. And in these new digital frontiers more of evangelism and discipleship will take place online.
In fact, some churches already are entirely online. As a professor, I couldn’t imagine such a scenario when I was told over 20 years ago that education would one day be largely online.
I was an onsite professor and enjoying the face-to-face community of my students. But here we are today with the majority of students getting their education online. It’s time for the church to see the future and begin to treat online ministry with equality.
Bob WhiteselBob Whitesel (D.Min., Ph.D.) is a sought after speaker, church health consultant and award-winning writer of 14 books on missional leadership, church change and church growth. He holds two earned doctorates (D.Min. and Ph.D.) from Fuller Theological Seminary. His website is http://www.Leadership.church.Learn More »
In my consulting practice, I’ve analyzed hundreds of church transitions. And, I’m preparing a Doctor of Ministry course for a nationally respected seminary on this subject. I’ve observed that many times a retiring pastor often puts forth, even informally, their successor. This can be a misstep for five reasons.
Strings Attached: The retiring pastor has vested interest in the selection of a successor. The retiring pastor has financial relationships (loans, housing, benefits) and personal relationships (friends, enemies and even status, e.g. titles such as “pastor emeritus” or “founding pastor”), that can cloud, even subconsciously their selection.
Mentor-mentee: The successor has operated in a subordinate relationship to the retiring pastor and the successor may have trouble transforming that relationship. This especially becomes problematic when crises arise and the subordinate may subconsciously acquiesce to the former leader’s view on the crisis.
Culture Changes: The retiring pastor often seeks a successor that will reach a younger generation, a different ethnicity or another such culture. But theretiring pastors often tell me they select a successor, “Because I get along with them.” This is good in a subordinate. But this can be self defeating when you are trying to equip this leader to reach a different culture.
Exceptional Leaders are Rare: The subordinate often will not have the exceptional character and gifts to lead an exceptional church. Leading a large and/or growing church is one of the most skilled and supernaturally empowered jobs on earth. And I’ve seen that men and women who can do so are very few and far between. Often they will not be found in your existing congregation. The best leader may be hundreds, if not thousands of miles away, and possibly in another denomination. The best solution is to use nation-wide search firm to cast a broader net.
Legacy, because if things go bad later you may be blamed. Most pastors want to retire with a legacy that focuses on their successes. When a retiring pastor gets involved in the successor selection, that retiree’s legacy is tied to another.
Check out my other writings on this topic on how to survive (and thrive in) pastoral transitions. And, if you are intersted in auditing or earning seminary credit studying better church transitions, email me.
Here is a video introduction to articles I have written (for anyone) and assignments (for students in LEAD 600, etc.) that deal with controlling change (which we call theories of changing). It introduces the viewer to “The Four Forces that Control Change” and how to manage each.
Worship flows from the audience to the stage, not the other way around.
Inorganic worship: This is usually manufactured with moving lights in the haze of an artificial fog. It may be lead by the worship team with admonitions of “Come on, let’s praise Him” or “Clap your hands for Him.” Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done all of those things (too many times to list).
Organic worship: But, I have observed worship that is more natural and flowing from the Holy Spirit originates from the audience and moves across the stage, not the other way around.
The focus is on what is going on inside of your head and heart, not what is going on on the stage.
Inorganic worship: Often focuses on beautiful slides/videos behind words with moving lights on the walls and the audience.
Organic worship: The focus is on what God is doing in each congregants’ head and heart. The lights on the stage often come from the back of stage, illuminating the worship team as silhouettes so the faces are not illuminated (so that the expressions of the worship team do not distract).
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.
Eschatology, the study of one’s final destiny, will be of increasing interest as the world grows smaller and waves of illnesses travel the globe at increasing speeds.
In recent years the church shifted away from eschatology, to topics of how to live a better life here and now. And while that may be important, it is eternal questions that will begin to dominate people’s interest as catastrophes circle the globe.
Start preparing now: churches need to be prepared with orthodoxy and in clarity to address the issues of life, death and the afterlife.
Jesus told us, “Take a lesson from the fig tree. From the moment you notice its buds form, the merest hint of green, you know summer’s just around the corner. And so, it is with you. When you see all these things, you know he is at the door. Don’t take this lightly” (Mark 13:28-29, MSG).
Christ knew today’s catastrophes would happen. He is not surprised (John 16:30, Rev. 2:23). So, as knowledge of a fig tree tells an orchardist about the coming season, so too must Christian leaders discern the season we are in. It is time for church leaders to carefully adapt electronic tools, the way it once did the printing press, to better communicate the Good News.
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.
The cure for the ingrown church is to keep a church focused both inward and outward. In fact, history indicates that churches that stay connected to outsiders often do a better job at inward ministry too. For example, an Anglican pastor named John Wesley was so ashamed and alarmed at the depravity of the people outside of his church, that he took his sermons outside the church walls and began ministries to better serve their spiritual and physical needs.[i] Balancing this emphasis upon people inside and outside the church required a rigorous structure his critics mockingly called: “Wesley’s Methods.” Soon his followers were know as “Methodists,” a term which endures to today and should remind us that we need a clear method if we are going to avoid focusing only on people inside the church. After 20+ years of consulting, I believe this method here lies in three organic remedies. These cures, if taken together, can foster a healthy balance between inward and outward focus.
RX 1 FOR THE COMMON CHURCH = GROW O.U.T.
In this cure, as well as in all of the cures in this book, the remedies spell out the name of the cure.
CURxE O: Observe whom you are equipped to reach
CURxE U: Understand the needs of those you are equipped to reach.
CURxE T: Tackle needs by refocusing, creating or ending ministry programs.
CURxE O = OBSERVE WHOM YOU ARE CALLED TO REACH
TWO COMMON OPTIONS
The main reason most churches become common is because they forget (and sometimes just don’t know) to whom God has equipped them to reach out and minister.[ii] They know they aren’t supposed to be ingrown, but exactly who should they be growing out to serve? Usually, there are two options that can be discovered by asking two questions:
Has God equipped your church to minister to peoplein a geographic community?
If you answered yes, you might be a “Geographic Church.”
Geo- means “of an area.” This is a church whose ministry has been directed toward people in a geographic area (often those who live nearby).
These churches meet the needs of people in one or more geographic communities.
Examples: a neighborhood church, a village church, a rural church, a church in a housing development, a downtown church, etc. (For more examples see Figure 2.1.)
Has God equipped your church to minister to people like us?
If you answered yes, you might be a “Demographic Church.”
Demo- means “of a people.” This is a church whose ministry has been directed toward a people group (e.g. those who share common characteristics).
These churches meet the needs of one or more sections of the population that share common characteristics, such as age, ethnicity, socio-economics, common interests, etc.[iii]
Examples: generational churches, ethnic churches, aging traditional churches, blue-collar churches, middle-class churches, Café Churches, college churches, etc. (For more examples see Figure 2.2.)
Your road to uncommon church life begins with understanding if you are a church equipped to meet the needs of a specific “geographic” area, or if you are equipped to minister to one or more “demographic” sections of the population. Both geographic churches and demographic churches are legitimate and both are needed. And, the process begins by observing your surroundings, your history and how God has moved in your church’s history.[iv]
Are You a Geographic Church?
Some churches are primarily equipped by God to reach a geographic area such as a neighborhood, a borough, a small town, a rural area, a township, a neighborhood, a school district, a suburb, an urban district, etc. Geographic churches often have a long history of ministering in a specific area. And, if the culture of the geographic area changes, because the geographic church is called to that locale, the geographic church will stay put but change with that culture.
This is not always easy, nor quick. In Appendix 2.A you can find the story of Kentwood Community Church, a Michigan congregation that has successfully changed ethnicity and grown while remaining in the same (changing) geographic area.
Today many churches are forced by their location and/or history to be geographic churches. Figure 2.1 lists some more common examples of “Geographic Churches:”
Churches located in small towns and/or rural districts with very little outside traffic may have no other option than to become geographic churches meeting the needs of those people living nearby.Churches that are elsewhere off the beaten path.
Churches constrained by natural features
Churches located in wilderness areas, valleys, etc. with very little outside traffic. Churches located in back road areas.Churches located on river deltas, islands or peninsulas.
Churches constrained by traffic patterns
Suburban churches may be geographic churches if they are in an area of a suburb not traveled by many people from outside of the area. Suburban churches can be geographic churches if their buildings are hidden in a housing development or subdivision.
Churches constrained by owned assets
Churches that own their own facilities (and market or geographic conditions make selling and moving impractical)Churches that own significant or valuable acreage (and market or geographic conditions make selling and moving impractical)
Churches constrained by image
Churches that are located in a neighborhood with its own identity (e.g. blue-collar, artist, urban, young professional, college student, etc.)A old, established downtown church that cannot move to the suburbs because there are other denominational churches already there.A church residing in one of the inner city’s labyrinth of neighborhoods, may be limited by that neighborhood’s identity.
Special Attributes of Geographic Churches
Geographic churches will stay put and change as the cultures around it change. If the cultural makeup of a community changes, a geographic church will change to reflect those changes. Rather than moving out of an area if the culture changes (like a demographic church might do), the geographic church is a chameleon, staying put and changing its appearances to reflect its changing environment.
Geographic churches can reach out to several cultures at the same time. A geographic church in an urban area might be comprised of a Mexican congregation, an Asian congregation and a young professionals congregation.
Geographic churches may be the majority of churches today. From Figure 2.1 we can see that most churches today may be geographically limited, and thus are best able to reach out to their geographic communities. But now let’s look at another increasingly popular option, Demographic Churches.
Today people can drive a great distance to attend a church they like. As a result more and more churches are drawing people from several sections of the population rather than just ministering to those in the geographic area nearby.
Demographic groups are sections of the population that talk alike, behave alike and in which members can tell who is in their group and who is not.[vii] Thus, though the names and designations are always evolving, Figure 2.2highlights some examples of Demographic Churches.
Senior adult (b. 1945 & before) churches[x] also called Silent Generation or Builder Generation churches[xi]Boomer (b. 1946-1964) churchesGeneration X (b. 1965-1983) churchesGeneration Y (b. 1984-2002) churches, etc.
Latin American churchesHispanic American churchesAfrican American churchesAsian American churchesNative American churchesCaucasian churches,[xiv] etc.
Affinity churches(focused around a common interest)
Cowboy ChurchesNASCAR churchesMotorcycle churchesEmerging-Postmodern ChurchesCafé ChurchesArt Churches, College Churches, etc.[xv]
Special Attributes of Demographic Churches
Demographic churches (like geographic churches) can reach out to several cultures at the same time. A demographic church could be comprised of a Latino/Latina congregation, an Asian congregation, an aging retiree congregation and an Emerging-Postmodern congregation.
Demogrpahic churches will change locations, following a people group as they leave to live in new locales. If the demographic group they are reaching moves out of the area, a demographic church moves along with the culture. For example, a Boomer church may move from an urban area to the suburbs as its congregants move to those suburbs. And, an Asian church I know moved to a nearby town when most of its Asian members moved to that town.
Can Churches be Geographic and Demographic? Yes!
Many churches are reaching nearby geographic areas, as well as several far-flung demographics. In fact, this may be one of the healthiest ways for a church to grow, because the church maintains a strong local ministry while reaching out to more and more far flung people groups. Such congregations create a wonderful region-wide ministry coupled with a strong local foundation.
St. Thomas’ Church in Sheffield England is a good example of a demographic church that has a robust ministry to its local geographic area too. England’s largest Anglican Church (where most churchgoers are under the age of 35) calls itself “a church of churches” with worship services at different locations around town for varying people groups (e.g. a young professionals church, a student church, a church for internationals, and different churches in different neighborhoods). It also has a robust local ministry in the geographic area of its first church, called the “Mother Church.” This Mother Church was the original Anglican congregation that gave rise to “a church of (six) churches” around town.[xvi]
Still, for many small churches being both a geographic church and a demographic church may not be an option. Because the average church in North America is only 75 attendees,[xvii] most of these churches do not have the numbers to be both a geographic and a demographic church. Thus, the common church in North America must first determine if it is called to stay put and reach out to its geographic area or if it is go move, following a people group it has been reaching. Figure 2.3 will be the key to determining this.
Which Church Are You?
Use Figure 2.3 to begin to investigate what type of church God may have equipped you to be. Neither the geographic approach or the demographic approach is better than the other. They are simply two basic ways that God equips his church to reach out. And, each approach has pros and cons (see Figure 2.4).
The starting place is to look at your history, your situation and under what circumstances God moves in your midst. To begin this process, check the boxes in the columns of Figure 2.3 that most represent your church and its vision.
Figure 2.3 Are you a Geographic or a Cultural Church?
You have a burden to reach a geographicarea for Christ. Needs in a geographic area (e.g. a neighborhood, etc.) dictate your ministry.
You have a burden to reach one or more people groups for Christ. The needs of certain people groups (which may be spread across a region) dictate your ministry.
Your pastor feels called to your geographic community. Your pastor has stayed (or is planning to stay) for a long time in the church’s geographical area.
Your pastor feels called to a certain people (ethnic, generational, etc., see Figure 2.2). Your pastor is open to moving out of the area if most of the church’s attendees live or are moving out of the area.
Most of the church staff live in the church’s geographical area. Most of the staff have long histories in the church’s geographical area.
Most of the church staff does not live in the church’s geographical area. Most of the church staff does not have a long history in the church’s geographical area.
Your church owns permanent facilities in the area In the past five years you have built new facilities in the area. In the past five years you have renovated or updated facilities.
You change facilities as need arises, leasing or renting church facilities rather than owning them. You have multiple auditoriums or venues to accommodate different worship styles.
Your location is hemmed in by geographic features that sometimes thwart visitors from finding you, such as:A valley, hill or riverA small town surrounded by farmlandA neighborhood with its own identity.
Your churchgoers are aging. Your churchgoers are moving away from the area, to an area where there are churches similar to yours which they may attend.
Your church is in a small town. Your church is in a neighborhood that has a specific identity. You church is in an urban area of a city.
Your church is in a middle-class suburban church. Your church is a church with attendees primarily under the age of 35. Your church is known for blending several people groups together.[xix]
Your church name reflects the geographic area you are called to reach, such as:Smithville ChurchPine Lake ChurchFirst (i.e. downtown) Church Harris Avenue Church, etc. Your church name has not been changed in a long time.
Your church name reflects the language of a people group, such as:Overcomers’ ChurchFamily Worship CenterCommunity Church[xx]A Greek or Latin name (e.g. The Crux- Latin for cross; or Missio Dei). Your church name has been changed in the last decade.
Your church experienced a period of growth between 1950 and 1970.
Your church experienced a period of growth since 1970.
(total checked in this column)
(total checked in this column)
(If you have equal checks in both columns you may be geographic and demographic church)[xxi]
When you tally up the columns in Figure 2.3, you will begin to see a congregational trajectory. But remember, there are strengths and weaknesses to each approach. Write in the box in Figure 2.4 which culture or geographic area you are called to reach:
Figure 2.4 Who’s needs are you called to meet? (Circle one)
Who’s needs are you called to meet?
A geographic area
(describe it here)
(describe it/them here)
Remember these pros and cons:
Pros of geographic church:Builds a strong connection with an area.Can more readily bring about racial and cultural reconciliation within a changing area.[xxii]Does not need to move facilities as often.Can invest in local facilities enjoying ownership privileges.Cons of geographic church:Encounters change more often because geographic areas regularly experience cultural transitions.Staff and leaders usually do not stay for a long time, rather transitioning in an out as the culture changes.
Pros of cultural church:Builds a strong communication connection with sections of the population that share common characteristics.Provides relevant ministry.Can move with a people group, leasing or renting facilities in lieu of purchasing or building them.Encounters change less often.Staff can remain a long time.Cons of cultural church:Can become culturally prejudiced.Can become separatist (i.e. siloed) unless it grows into a church where different people groups partner in the same church.[xxiii]
Figure 2.4 should give you a general indication of the direction of your church’s recent ministry.[xxiv] Before you move ahead to the next remedy, it is important to reflect back upon what kind of church God has equipped you to be.
[i] Wesley urged discipleship via small groups which he called “class meetings” to help non-churchgoers grasp the basics of Christianity. These “class meetings” were a type of discipleship group, which we shall discuss in greater detail in the next chapter.
[ii] A depiction of God equipping a church to best reach a specific geographic area or demographic is an unpleasant image for those who wish all churches to be all things to all people. But, even in New Testament times we see congregations emerging with specific calls, such as Antioch’s emphasis upon missionary training, Corinth’s impact upon the Roman intelligentsia, and Jerusalem’s influence upon the structures and doctrine of the fledgling church. While churches should not limit themselves as to what God can do, it is helpful for churches (just like people, c.f. Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4) to ascertain how God has gifted them and to whom they may best be able to minister.
[iii] “demographic,” Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011).
[iv] This is not to say that all churches are called to a geographic area or to a demographic. Some churches are mixtures. Yet, observing how God has equipped and empowered your church is the first step toward ascertaining whose needs you are called to meet.
[v] When using the term constrained I am not saying that God cannot call and equip a church to overcome a restricted geographic area and reach an entire region. There are many examples of such congregations (see Bob Whitesel, Inside the Organic Church: Learning From 12 Emerging Congregations, [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2008].) However in my consulting practice I have observed that God often calls churches to a geographic locale and does so in part by geographically delimiting their sphere of impact. Because many churches are not aware of a call to a locale, they often stumble ahead trying to minister to a demographic that has left the area, and subsequently refuse to adapt and minister to the changing demographic in their neighborhood.
[vi] See Appendix 2.B for an explanation of John Perkins’ “3 Rs.” These three lessons from this pioneer in civil rights and Christian community development can ensure that cultural churches do not become mono- demographic enclaves. It is the conclusion of my case study research and this book that a healthy church is not a mono- demographic church but a congregation partnering across cultural boundaries to produce a reconciliation between cultures that modern society so desperately needs.
[vii] The phrase “talk alike, behave alike and can tell who is in their group and who is not,” is expanded by Paul Hiebert in more detail as a matrix of behaviors, ideas and products (Cultural Anthropology [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1976). P. 25.
[viii] These demographic examples are not meant to be exhaustive nor definitive, because demographic designations are still evolving (for more on this see Bob Whitesel, Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church [Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing Company, 2007], pp. 50-62).
[ix] For characteristics of generational churches see lists and charts in Bob Whitesel, Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church (Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing Company, 2007), pp. 52-65.
[x] Today, probably the most widespread church demographic are those who prefer “traditional worship” (and all of its various permutations), Hispanic Churches (and all of their wonderfully diverse Hispanic cultures), African American Churches (with their many vibrant variations) and youthful churches (orientated toward attendees under 35 years of age).
[xi] This generation has been labeled the “silent generation” to emphasize their stoic nature in the midst of the Great Depression and World War II by historians William Strauss and Neil Howe in their seminal book Generations: The History of American’s Future, 1954-2069 (New York: Quill, 1992). Tom Brokaw popularized them as the “Greatest Generation” in his book, The Greatest Generation (New York: Random House, 2004). They have also been called the “Builder Generation” for their propensity to honor God with their handicraft as exemplified in their church buildings (Gary McIntosh, One Church, Four Generations: Understanding and Reaching All Ages in Your Church [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2002] and Bob Whitesel and Kent R. Hunter, A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000).
[xii] For more on socio-economic levels see David Jaffee, Levels of Socio-economic Development Theory (New York: Praeger 1998), and Organization Theory (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001).
[xiii] Defining ethnicity can be challenging, with terminology and designations constantly evolving. I have employed here (only as an example) ethnic designations used by the US Census Bureau.
[xiv] Historically, many of the churches in America began as churches reaching out to specific demographics. For example Norwegian Lutheran Churches were started in the small towns of Wisconsin and Minnesota to offer culturally relevant worship for non-churchgoing immigrants in their native language and music. But these immigrant churches also displayed many of the characteristics of geographic area churches because in those days most demographic groups were located in specific geographic communities. This fact is sometimes hard for congregants with long histories in a church to understand, for they may want to retain their cultural and geographic focus long after their culture has moved to another part of town.
[xv] For examples of affinity churches see Bob Whitesel, Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church [Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing Company, 2007], pp. 56-58 and Bob Whitesel, Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 1 Emerging Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006).
[xvi] See my case-study of “St. Thomas’ Church Sheffield, England” in the following three sources: Inside the Organic Church: Learning From 12 Emerging Congregations (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006), pp. 1-12; “A Process Model for Church Change as Reflected in St. Thomas’ Anglican Church, Sheffield England,” The Great Commission Research Journal (La Mirada, CA: Biola University, Winter 2010). pp. 265-280 and “The Perfect Cluster: For Young Adults, St. Tom’s Sheffield Creates Extended Families, and Everyone Knows Where They Fit” Outreach Magazine (Vista, CA: May/June 2005). See also http://www.stthomascrookes.org
[xviii] It is important to note that “demographic churches” can be comprised of more than one demographic. For instance, a demographic church can have a Boomer subcongregation, a Generation-X subcongregation, a Hispanic subcongregation and an Asian subcongregation. Called subcongregations because they are sub-sections of the church, their cultural heritage is honored by allowing their worship/teaching/etc. to be culturally distinct, while at the same time working together to manage one organization. Thus, worship/teaching/etc. can be culturally distinct in the sub-congregational model, but the responsibility for management and assets is shared. Thus, unity is created in leading a church, not in worship at that church (for worship by the definition of the very term means encounter with God see Bob Whitesel, ORGANIX: Signs of Leadership in a Changing Church [(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011], pp. 130-131.) Thus worship’s focus is God, not the creation of unity. There are plenty of opportunities in the sub-congregational model for unity to be created in management and ministry cooperation. One young emerging leader put it this way, “you can’t create unity in a worship service, the chairs are facing the wrong way.” He made a good point.
[xix] See footnote 17 for an explanation of two types of multi-ethnic churches.
[xx] Even though the term “Community Church” would seem to designate a geographic church, the author has found that when the appellation “community” is added to a church name it usually designates a Boomer church (i.e. a demographic church) rather than a geographical-orientated congregation. For example, one of my client congregations named “Community Church of the Nazarene” (comprised primarily of Boomers) broke away from Taylor Avenue Church of the Nazarene (at the time comprised mostly of the Builder Generation). Despite the inclusive name, Community Church of the Nazarene became a church that primarily attracted Boomers from across the region, while Taylor Avenue Church of the Nazarene continued to primarily attract the Builder Generation from the neighborhood in which it was located. Happily, both the neighborhood and church are today growing into a vibrant Hispanic community.
[xxi] There actually may be two prevalent types of multi-ethnic churches.
Multi-ethnic subcongregational churches. These churches are comprised of a partnership of sub-congregations that are all part of one legal non-profit organization. This would be analogous to a local church that was comprised of Asian, Hispanic, African American and Anglo congregations with different staffs and different worship encounters that are equal partners in the same nonprofit organization. Their various worship encounters resembles a multi-site or multi-venue church and their evangelistic prowess is a result of their ability to connect multiple demographic concurrently (for more examples see Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church [Indianapolis: Wesleyan Publishing Company, 2007], pp. 68-70). While it has been my observation that evangelistic proficiency is increased in “multi-ethnic sub-congregational churches,” unless there are at least quarterly “unity events” a silo effect (see footnote 19) can occur. However, this model’s evangelistic proficiency probably trumps the following model’s multi-ethnic harmony.
Multi-ethnic homogenous churches. There are many multi-ethnic churches which are in essence one worshipping congregation attended by multiple cultures. It can be argued that these latter congregations are really not multicultural churches, as much as they are a homogenous congregation made up of people from different cultures who like a blended demographic format (see Tetsunao Yamamori “How to Reach a New Culture in Your Community” op. cit.). While some of my friends would disagree with this conclusion (see Mark DeYmaz and Harry Li, Ethnic Blends: Mixing Diversity into Your Local Church [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010]) it is important to note that churches where multiple cultures rub shoulders and learn to get along are needed today, and both Yamamori’s and DeYmaz’s models are relevant.
[xxiii] The “silo effect” has been described by Patrick Lencioni as “the barriers that exist between departments within an organization, causing people who are supposed to be on the same team to work against one another.” Silos emerge in the demographic church when a church evolves in demographicly-centric silos with little contact or unity experiences for other subcongregations. For more on the silo effect and how to overcome it, see Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors (Hoboken, NY: Jossey-Bass, 2006), p. 175
[xxiv] Remember, simply because you are called to a culture, does not mean you should ignore other cultures or neighborhoods. But, this focus will determine who you will canvas to ascertain their needs in Cure U: Understand the Needs of Those You Are Called to Reach.