Author Archives: JMorgan

Why U.S. Churches Turn a Blind Eye to Persecuted Christians

Jul 19, 17
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Today we begin examining blind spots obstructing the view of churches to responsibilities clearly spelled out in scriptures.  Pastors and members alike gloss over selected verses, not seeing problems outside the church as their responsibility.  Instead, a topic Jesus and Paul considered among the foremost indicators of our faith and salvation – our love for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ – is almost completely ignored by nearly all churches in America.

As “church” has become redefined as a place and the Church’s “customer” redefined as members (insiders) rather than as those outside the congregation, issues outside the “4 walls” became someone else’s responsibility.  Local and international needs are afterthoughts, nice things to do if we have budget and time left over beyond what’s required to run the church and placate members.

Therefore, the estimated 200 million Christians worldwide who are oppressed and persecuted receive little support from America.  In fact, the budgets of the leading ministries in the U.S. that serve persecuted Christians are eerily small – starting at roughly $40 million (Voice of the Martyrs), dropping precipitously to $14 million (Open Doors), then down to $3 million (International Christian Concern), followed by a few others at around $1 million each.  A ministry advocating on behalf of persecuted believers contacted the leaders of the 150 largest churches and the twenty largest Christian denominational organizations in the U.S.  Only two of the denominations and three of the churches indicated that they consider support for the persecuted a high priority – with only one of those giving significantly toward that cause.  Eight others indicated that they sometimes, albeit infrequently, provide some assistance to persecuted Christians.

Meanwhile, the number of Christians who are persecuted and struggling to survive has never been greater.  In northern Nigeria, hundreds of thousands of Christians have been driven from their homes by the Islamic group, Boko Haram.  They are living right now without food, literally starving to death.  In Syria and Iraq, more than a million Christians are homeless and unemployed because of ISIS.

Helping Persecuted Christians is Not Optional

Persecution was also rampant in the early church.  The New Testament frequently emphasizes the importance of churches coming to the aid of Christians persecuted in other cities and countries.  In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Paul ordered the church to take up an offering on the first day of the week.  This is the only biblical record of Sunday collections and its purpose was specifically to support suffering and persecuted Christians in a foreign land.  2 Corinthians 8-9 is the most comprehensive teaching and example of stewardship in the New Testament.  Pastors preach on 2 Corinthians to exhort Christians to give to their church; however, it was written about raising money for a persecuted church in another nation.  Yet less than ½ of 1 percent of American church collections are used to bless God’s persecuted children – the intended beneficiaries in those chapters.  Even verses about extending biblical hospitality written about providing food and shelter to homeless Christians seeking refuge from persecution are routinely reinterpreted and minimized today to encourage congregants to have neighbors over for dinner.

According to Scripture, it’s our love for one other, particularly those among us who are suffering, that will:

  • Convince the world that Jesus is the Son of God (John 17:21)
  • Show we are disciples of Jesus (John 13:34-35)
  • Produce the fruit that will transform our culture and grow our churches (John 15:1-17)
  • Indicate whether professing Christians are truly saved (James 2:14-20; 1 John 3:10-20)
  • Be used by the Lord to separate the “sheep” from the “goats” on Judgment Day (Matthew 25:31-46)

In Matthew 25, at the culmination of the ages, Jesus will identify those who had saving faith as those who served suffering Christians.  “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  Why did Jesus include those in prison each time in His list of the brethren He expected us to help?  Were those Christians hardened criminals?  No, they were believers persecuted and jailed for their faith, suffering like Jesus for putting their trust in Him.  Hebrews 13:3 also references those in prison, again identifying them as persecuted Christians, telling us to remember them “as though with them” detained behind bars.

Why Few Churches Help Persecuted Christians

Given those compelling mandates, the minimal attention paid to persecution can only be explained by one (or more) of 4 possible “blind spots”.  Church leaders and members are either:

  1. Unaware of it – Our vision could be impaired by other (internal) priorities, although it’s becoming harder to stay in the dark as campaigns and attacks targeting Christians mount
  2. Consciously or unwittingly ignoring it – Turning a blind eye to reports of Christians slaughtered mercilessly just because it didn’t happen here in the U.S.
  3. Don’t sense a responsibility to act on it – Seminary-trained biblical scholars have little justification for believing their church has no obligation to respond to biblical imperatives
  4. Want to do something but not sure how – Some can’t imagine how their church, particularly a small one, could conceivably alleviate persecution occurring so far away

In fact, the first thing we should do is to become more aware.  Knowing how important it is in the eyes of Jesus and Paul we have no excuse for remaining blind.  Sharing persecution news and encouraging prayer should be priorities for every church.  Following Paul’s example, taking up collections for persecuted Christians should be standard practice for all churches.  Persecuted families need money because oppression typically comes in the form of loss of homes, farms, livelihoods, food and education.

Yet our redefinition of “church” and our biblical “customer” provides powerful motivation not to search the news outlets nor the Bible on the topic of persecution.  If we knew more about the atrocities taking place against Christians or what the Lord says we should do to help them, we’d be forced to act.  Giving dollars is a critical way we can help end the virtual slavery and genocide of fellow believers; however, our institution-centric models for running today’s churches leave little left over to help those outside the building.  Allocating more funds to help those persecuted overseas would compete directly with meeting church budget needs here at home.  Therefore, pastors hesitate to make it a big deal, opting instead to emphasize self-serving initiatives couched in terms like “reaching the community for Christ” by sending out mailers, building a new facility, or sprucing up the children’s ministry.

How Ignoring Persecution Brings it to U.S. Soil

Remaining uninformed and unconcerned, blinded by our modern definition of “church” to our responsibilities in our communities and overseas, is the reason why we aren’t we manifesting God’s love to a watching world.  Replacing institution-building with disciple building would lead to awareness and action.  Disciples study, abide, obey and love their brothers and sisters.  Discipleship costs nothing, freeing up funds to aid those who are destitute as a result of their love for Jesus.

The same disobedience that causes us to ignore persecuted Christians is behind the American Church’s declining growth, impact, influence and perception.  The unsaved world is looking and longing for the perfect love that comes from above.  Yet they don’t see love but division among the Church in America, not united in serving each other or churches abroad.  A truly global body of Christ would cause Satan to tremble.  It would spark revival here in the U.S.  It would shake up the Muslim world.  It would stem the rising tide of persecution approaching our shores as those advocating Sharia law begin outnumbering Christians in some neighborhoods, communities and entire zip codes.

Meanwhile churches go about conducting business as usual, not any unusual business.  Rather than reaching out to Muslim populations with the love of Jesus and coming to the rescue of those they persecute, pastors worry about attendance and giving.  Our failure to follow Jesus’ “new command” to love one another is doing what Islam cannot – weakening the body from within, preparing the way for Muslims to twist the knife we have already inserted ourselves.  Ironically, persecution usually strengthens the Church (e.g. the early church and China).  But how weak will American churches be from their self-inflicted wounds of disobedience by the time persecution eventually arrives in earnest here in the U.S.?

In other words, ignoring persecution “there” is helping to bring it here.  If our churches were more compassionate and engaged in society, they would still have a voice.  If they made helping persecuted Christians a higher priority, investing more IN them and advocating more FOR them, our nation would be better informed of the dangers awaiting us one day.  Our government would possibly step in to do what our churches cannot – take political, diplomatic or military action against leaders and nations persecuting Christians in the name of protecting the human rights our country claims to defend.

Building awareness and taking action is the Church’s responsibility.  We cannot expect the government or liberal media to report on that subject.  Journalists are far more interested in writing about those who are “persecuted” by Christians than about Christians who are persecuted.  Our media stands in defense of personal identity and lifestyle convictions yet refuses to defend the Christian religious freedoms our forefathers held so dear.  Despite all this, the Church’s silence on the persecution of Christians is deafening.

It’s Your Turn

Keep up with the latest news and developments on persecution of Christians worldwide at Mute No More.  I also recommend the book Heirloom Love – it has awakened me and thousands of other believers to the severity and extent of persecution of our brothers and sisters across the globe.


This blog post was coauthored by Dominic Sputo, who exemplifies the sheep on Jesus’ right in Matthew 25, refusing to sit still as long as anyone suffers for their belief in our Lord and Savior.

Don’t Let These Blind Spots Impair Your Church’s Vision

Jul 12, 17
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It was a grueling drive from Florida to Maryland and back over the past two weeks in summer holiday traffic.  Fighting D.C. gridlock every day was no joy ride either.  My nerves were frazzled dodging speeders who mistook the 495 Beltway for the Indianapolis Speedway and distracted drivers too busy texting to notice they’d drifted into the lane my car occupied.  Not to mention the small windows in the back of my SUV created blind spots, obstructing my view of cars just off my right rear bumper.

Blind spots not only appear on the road but in the human psyche.  We can’t see or don’t want to see what would be in plain view from a different vantage point.  American church growth models have impaired the vision of most pastors, blinding them to church mandates spelled out clearly and repeated frequently in scripture.  For example, every single church member has a supernatural gift that should be used to build the body, but somehow most simply come to enjoy the gifts of the pastors and musicians.  Permitting regular attenders to remain spectators, thinking “let’s go see what the pastor has to say”, isn’t the least bit biblical – yet it’s a common practice among churchgoers in our nation.

C.S. Lewis wrote “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  He could have just as easily replaced the word “Christianity” with “God’s Word”.  Over the next 5 weeks, we’re going to review cases where church leaders aren’t seeing what is right in front of them in God’s Word, either because they’ve forgotten or are selectively ignoring verses that don’t align with conventional church.  When we look through the lens of Jesus’ instructions to His Church without natural human bias, there are no blind spots.  Yet we’re witnessing the decline of the Church in growth, impact, influence and perception as a direct result of turning a blind eye to its biblical responsibility to follow the example set by Jesus and the early church of caring for persecuted Christians, orphans, deserted and widowed women, and those starving for food and the Gospel.

How Churches Develop Blind Spots

As we address each of those topics in the coming weeks, we will show that few church leaders see the persecuted church, neglected children, single mothers, hungry neighbors and lost souls in the community as their responsibility.  Despite the Bible’s obvious arguments to the contrary, pastors have developed these (and other) blind spots because they….

  • Don’t see those outside their church as their “customer” – Jesus healed and fed before telling people who He is, demonstrating His love and compassion daily outside the “4 walls”.  He gave His disciples instructions and power to follow suit.  Peter commissioned Paul to go to the gentiles but stressed remembering to care for the poor.  The church for 1900 years was the food bank and homeless shelter.  The idea of running churches and letting others handle compassion ministry is relatively new and ill-advised – we can’t “outpreach” Jesus so we can’t afford to detach words from actions.  Although churches should take care of their own first, there’s no excuse for abandoning the church’s position on the front lines of compassion over the past century.  As a result of redefining the Church’s “customer” and diverting nearly all of its resources internally, the helpless and hopeless in the community (the church’s intended and biblical “customer”) understandably feel ignored.
  • Fail to recognize members as the embodiment of “church” – Jesus invested heavily in building disciples then sent them out make more disciples. His church growth model was based on exponential discipleship multiplication.  Today, churches invest 98% of their time, energy and money in attracting and retaining members – positioning pastors as the primary evangelists and disciple makers.  The job of churchgoers has been reduced to inviting friends to a Sunday service to hear the Gospel from a “professional”.  That math is simple addition.
  • Focus their attention more on what church members want than on what they need – With roughly 90% of churches not growing and so many small churches struggling to survive, the “balance of power” has shifted from pastors to members.  Whereas traditionally church leaders held members accountable for the Great Commission, churchgoers now hold pastors accountable for a great worship service.  In other words, to keep American church “consumers” coming back, pastors either spearheaded or implicitly allowed “church” to be redefined as a place, assuming ownership of evangelism and discipleship responsibilities intended to belong to those called to be the church personified.  Even growing churches risk emptying the pews if they insist on giving people what the Bible says they need and not what they want…
    • need life change, but want a better life
    • need a spiritual awakening, but want a spiritual experience
    • need deep discipleship, but want deep fellowship
    • need to love others, but want to be loved
    • need to serve the least of these continually, but want to “check the box” occasionally
    • need to trust the Lord and stop worrying, but want reassurance and encouragement
    • need to be challenged, but want to challenge what’s wrong with the world around them
    • need personal commitment to individual growth, but want the pastor’s commitment to church growth
    • need to rely on the Holy Spirit, but want to rely on their own abilities
  • Watch each other more closely than scripture – How could nearly all pastors, churchgoers, consultants, authors and speakers subscribe to the generally-accepted yet fatally-flawed approach to running America’s churches?  Why do so few question the obvious emphasis on institution-building and stand idly by as they witness the decimation of disciple-building?  What will awaken everyone out of the collective stupor clouding our vision, blinding us to the clear biblical definition of “church” as “disciples” and the imperative for those disciples to aggressively pursue the “lost” in the community through undaunted prayer, care and share lifestyles.

Consequences of Blind Spots

That wake-up call may take the form of an eventual disruptive event like federal tax policies disallowing deductions for church giving, court rulings qualifying espousal of fundamental Christian doctrines as hate-speech, or outright and widespread persecution of Christians on American soil.  Or perhaps pastors will be compelled to abandon prevailing institution-centric models once the evangelical church’s growth, impact, influence and public perception decline to the level seen at this point in Western Europe – where it became largely irrelevant for similar reasons.

Redirecting emphasis from community engagement to member engagement has convinced society that churches are exclusive clubs that aren’t concerned with what happens outside the building.  Numerous studies show non-believers associate Christians with hypocrisy, pastors with money, and church with judgment.  They don’t care what we know because they don’t think we care.  Mark Zuckerberg recently characterized the primary value of church as creating community and contended that Facebook could step in to bridge that divide.  Our ineffectiveness in showing love and compassion to a waiting world has opened the door for others to try to take our place.  Millennials, Nones, Dones and countless others search elsewhere for a sense of community.

Yet Facebook won’t be the savior to rescue us.  Nor will small groups and church socials that churches devised to fill the “communal” vacuum they created.  The only answer lies in making disciples that work together to bring the world to Christ – which is true community.

There is a final repercussion church leaders should consider before disclaiming responsibility for persecuted Christians, orphans, widows, the poor and the lost outside the confines of the church.  “Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’ Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’ Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.’” (John 9:39-41)  Church leaders are accountable for their blind spots – accountable to those suffering, to a society doubting their compassion, and to our Father in Heaven expecting those charged with leading His Church to eradicate rather than create blind spots.

It’s Your Turn

What other blind spots are obstructing the view of pastors, keeping them from acknowledging church responsibilities that are plainly spelled out in the Bible?

Churches Shouldn’t Use Business Survival Tactics

Jun 21, 17
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When times get tough, most churches respond with the same survival tactics used by struggling businesses.  Today, we explore the fifth and final reason why churches come down with a cold – the desire to Survive.

The life cycle of a business begins with great hope and anticipation, a keen awareness of market needs and commitment to satisfying those needs.  When that laser focus on training employees to pursue and serve target customers breeds success, attention turns to managing a growing organization and companies often take their eyes off the ball.

That’s when growth suffers and survival instincts kick in.  How the business reacts to downturns determines its future.  If panic drives it to refocus on its intended customers, it will live to see another day.  However, many do the opposite and look for answers in internally-focused strategies designed to cut costs and restructure operations.

Churches today aren’t much different.  They plant in faith and hope, highly committed to discipleship and community engagement.  However, when challenges inevitably arise or growth stagnates, few maintain the same level of focus on making disciples (i.e. training members like “employees” because they are the church personified) and mobilizing them to pursue the intended “customer” (i.e. those who don’t know Jesus).  Instead, nearly all church leaders turn their attention (internally) to attracting and retaining members – wrongly treating churchgoers and not the “lost” in the community as target “customers”.  Therefore, rather than follow Jesus’ model of making disciples characterized by compassionate service and bold evangelism, church leaders panic and employ businesses survival tactics:

1.  Reducing Sales Force

Businesses panic and cut sales staff or commissions – Yet sales is the lifeblood of the company, the only way to increase revenues.  As business consultants, we strongly advised against reducing investments in sales-related personnel, training or compensation.  We viewed that as effectively ensuring the company’s demise.  Typically, the market was still lucrative but the company lacked the sales force to pursue it.

Churches panic and cut discipleship and missions, lowering prayer-care-share expectations of members – Yet disciples are the lifeblood of the church, the only means to live out the Great Commission.  Investing less in building disciples effectively ensures the church’s demise.  The fields are white for harvest but the Church no longer has the “workers” to pursue it.

2.  Making Cosmetic Changes

Businesses, rather than improving products and services during market downturns, typically go the cheaper route and try to make their offerings appear more attractive with surface-level changes.

Churches panic and make cosmetic adjustments like preaching more “relevant” or “practical” messages, sprucing up facilities and developing slick marketing collateral.

3.  Sacrificing Quantity and Quality

Businesses like restaurants and food manufacturers frequently panic by reducing quantity and quality, offering smaller portions and lower-grade ingredients.

Churches panic by reducing quantity and quality through shorter time commitments (i.e. what I call “fast church”, the corollary to “fast food”) and cheap replacements for personal discipleship (i.e. small groups) and genuine compassion (i.e. occasional events, which often do more harm than good).

4.  Target Marketing

Businesses panic and target only profitable customer segments, forgetting that they built their company on the core values of reaching and serving the entire community.

Churches panic and begin to consider how to restructure to attract younger families, forgetting that they planted their church to reach and serve the entire community.  Rejuvenation lowers the average age but does not improve the church’s health, because young families typically have less time for discipleship and community engagement – keys to church health – between soccer games and cheerleading practices.

5. Providing Greater Convenience

Businesses panic and try to make the customer experience more easy and convenient.  They also begin charging for services they used to perform for free and offer new for-fee services to raise revenues – in effect, enabling customers to pay for the right to do less by offloading work onto the company.  Since they can’t afford to hire more employees, this increases the burden on an already overworked staff.

Churches frequently respond to dropping attendance by offering more programs and making evangelism and missions more easy and convenient.  Responsibilities that used to fall on members to share their faith, make disciples and impact their communities are assumed by pastors and staff.  Churchgoers are simply asked to share their stories and extend invitations to church, letting “professionals” handle the tough questions.  In that light, tithes can be viewed as compensating pastors and staff for usurping roles rightfully belonging to them – those biblically intended to embody “church” between Sundays.

6.  Mass Marketing and Engagement

Businesses panic and automate sales and customer support.  Suddenly it becomes nearly impossible to reach a real person when you call for help.  The company shifts from brick-and-mortar storefronts to selling online, eliminating personal touch in a desperate attempt to reduce overhead.

Churches panic and substitute mass appeal for personal touch.  Following prevailing church growth models and the near-universal advice of celebrity pastors in books, articles and conferences, pastors insert layers of hierarchy, bulk mail flyers, run big outreach events, and push engagement in church groups and “chores”.  The Church in America today views personalizing discipleship and unleashing prayer-care-share warriors into personal ministry as anti-establishment, threatening the culture of pastoral dependence.

7.  Reducing Discretionary Expenses

Businesses panic and slash discretionary expenditures, like product innovation to keep pace with evolving customer needs and corporate responsibility programs that were designed to give back to the community.

Churches panic and slash expenses they consider expendable.  Yet churches should model the behaviors they want members to imitate.  It’s no coincidence that members today give to churches at approximately the same rate that churches give back to the community – 2.5%.  Historically, members gave a much higher percentage to churches when churches invested a much higher percentage in the community (i.e. when churches served as the local food bank and homeless shelter).  Pastors complain that churches only get the “leftovers” after members pay all of their bills.  Yet churches do exactly the same thing.  Buildings, salaries, programs, and other costs that accrue to the benefit of the “insiders” leave little left over to engage and bless the church’s intended “customer” (non-Christian “outsiders”).  If churches were more obedient in giving their “first fruits”, members likely would follow suit.

As we said in the opening to this 5 part series, it’s not the unhealthy church “consumers” that infect the rest of the congregation.  It’s the response by pastors to dealing with unhealthy members that turns a cold into the flu or pneumonia.  Splits, squabbles, politics and personnel issues are signs that churchgoers and staff aren’t taking their responsibilities as “called out ones” (the definition of “church”) seriously enough.  But that’s no excuse for church leaders to transmit consumerism to the entire church through rejuvenation or resuscitation efforts that Centralize, Depersonalize, Internalize, Compromise – or as we’ve covered today, tactics designed to help them Survive.  Instead, the proper strategy for church revitalization is to nurse those “consumers” back to health by training them to eat right (discipleship) and work out (put the Great Commission into practice among their families, friends and coworkers).

It’s Your Turn

Have you seen a church implement any of those business survival tactics when attendance dipped, internal rifts occurred or enthusiasm waned?

Why Christianity Has Lost Its Appeal

Jun 14, 17
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A 4th sign your church is coming down with a cold is Compromise. When we talk about treating members as “customers”, people naturally think of prosperity churches or megachurches.  However in many ways the temptations to treat members as “customers” are even greater within a small or young church.

In other words, defining the wrong “customer” is less about relying on “attractional” models and more about succumbing to pastoral pressures.  Most new or small churches lack the resources to win an “attraction” battle anyway.  Instead, the dynamics of being a small church plant create a slippery slope, gradually leading pastors to cater to rather than challenge members. They see other churches growing by designing better “customer experiences” and follow suit, not realizing that better facilities, amenities and programs may fill seats but won’t improve the health of the church.  Only transforming lives by the power of the Holy Spirit and releasing disciples into personal ministry within their circles of influence can do that.

Who’s to blame?  Who compromised first, members or pastors?  It’s likely that consumer, cultural Christians pressured pastors to change the biblical definition of “church” (to a place) to take the onus off of themselves for being the church personified.  Regardless of the cause and effect relationship, it’s stunning that church leaders and members in America alike have become so blind to how the Bible defines the word “church”.  Only through misguided “group-think” could so many pastors, churchgoers, consultants, authors and speakers nearly all condone today’s institution-centric rather than disciple-centric perspective.  It may take a disruptive event that decimates the church’s already declining growth, impact, influence and perception to awaken all those “group-think” victims out of the collective stupor clouding their vision, shielding them from the clear biblical definition of “church” as “disciples and the “lost” in the community as those each disciple should be equipped by church leaders to pursue (i.e. the intended “customer”).

Why Churches Compromise

There are powerful forces at work in America’s busy, consumer-driven culture taking focus off building disciples and shifting energies toward building institutions.  To survive in America today, church leaders sense little choice but to compromise, redefining “church” and its “customer”.  A vicious cycle ensues as struggling, recently planted or perennially small churches succumb to the pressures and adopt a reformulated equation:

Higher Expectations of Leaders (to “feed” and care for members)


Lower Expectations of Members (e.g. decreasing contributions to church)


More Responsibilities Passed from Members to Leaders


Fewer Resources to Address a Greater Number of Internal and External Demands

The road ahead for small churches promises to get still rockier.  Church “shoppers” continue to migrate to larger churches, mainline denominations struggle to reach younger generations, and government agencies are considering increasingly unfriendly policies and tax laws.  Temptations to compromise will only grow stronger in the years to come.  Without revival, there may soon be few churches not showing symptoms of that highly contagious virus – contracted by redefining “church” as an institution and consequently transitioning expectations from the ekklesia to pastors and staff.

How Churches Compromise

None of the following business principles should be in play at any church.  They’re not Biblical, yet are all too prevalent in small churches (and many large ones as well).  Each of them contributes toward defining members as “customers”.  See if you recognize any of these corporate behaviors at your church:

  • “The Pareto Principle” – Also called the “80/20 Rule” where 20% of the input is responsible for 80% of the outputs.  In small churches, a handful of members typically have an inordinate amount of control.  Pastors worry about the reactions of the most influential families to any decisions, no matter how basic or simple (e.g. worship music).  Therefore small church pastors seek the implicit or explicit approval of those most prominent or vocal, or risk a disgruntled member threatening the peace and stability of the entire church.  Likewise, companies give preferential treatment to “anchor” customers, surveying them to get feedback on product or policy changes before enacting them.
  • “Who Moved My Cheese” – Small churches often become complacent, resistant to changes that would disrupt the status quo.  When “if it’s not broken…” entails more concern for retaining long-time members than reaching the lost, it becomes a problem.  Many small churches not only aren’t growing, they don’t want to grow.  In business, engaging new markets requires innovation, but too many pastors hesitate to upset the apple cart.  If church leaders clearly saw the community as the “customer” their church was planted to reach, then they would be willing to risk pushing members out of their comfort zones, equipping and deploying disciples.
  • “Exceed Expectations” – The formula we laid out earlier in this post showed how the onus for operating churches has flipped from church members to church leaders.  Nowhere is that more evident than in young and small churches.  Pastor often do everything, overworked and burned out.  Members are generally seen as voluntary participants, not as the church personified.  Pastors are careful not to ask too much of members – they can’t afford to lose a single, influential family.  Yet those same pastors stand ready to jump when asked to do something for a member.  Companies can’t require that customers read the owner’s manual or share the “good news” about new products as prerequisites for making a purchase – but that’s exactly what churches should be doing.  Church leaders shouldn’t be in the business of providing excellent customer service, but members have come to expect that level of performance.
  • “The Customer is Always Right” – The redefinition of “customers” also makes leaders of small churches reluctant to hold members accountable for their actions.  Most hesitate to approach the patriarch of the church or the largest contributor to confront them about sin in their lives.  Yet those same pastors will readily accept criticisms from those members and make changes to pacify them.
  • “Create Raving Fans” – Pastors find it equally challenging to address inaction – in other words, to raise the bar for members on service and evangelism.  It’s difficult but necessary to ask members to become greater servants and advocates for Jesus.  However, rather than pushing those with the greatest potential to impact the community for Christ to disrupt their daily lives, pastors are more apt to make simple requests like inviting their friends to church.  Yet we are all called to be raving fans of Jesus, not a church.
  • “Risk Mitigation” – Businesses continually assess and minimize risk factors.  Issue resolution is important in churches as well, but pastors of young or small churches are particularly quick to snuff out infighting because a single rift could jeopardize the entire church.  A squabble or difference of opinion between two members or even a member and the pastor can readily lead to a split.  Undue attention to putting out internal brush fires can distract from the external mission of the church to engage and serve a community.  Ironically, a greater focus on the external, common cause of pursuing the church’s true “customer” would reduce the concerns of members about their own needs and opinions – the source of most spats.

The Cost of Compromise

Christianity has lost its appeal.  Not Jesus, but our religion.  Not what Christ invented but what we did.  Jesus is incredibly alluring, but churchgoers look very little like Him.  Our modern-day churches don’t resemble the early church.  The growing population of “Nones” aren’t choosing atheism, they’re rejecting our religion.  The rapidly increasing number of “Dones” in our country aren’t choosing not to believe, they’re rejecting our redefinition of church.  They aren’t buying what we’re selling because we’re selling something we – not God – conceived.

The Lord wants us to assemble and make disciples, then go and make more disciples.  However, today’s church growth models recognize discipleship is too costly for Americans, so they instead teach church leaders how to keep the organization in operation.  “Invite, Involve and Invest” is the rallying cry of the internally-focused church – it has nothing to do with “eating right” or “working out”.  It requires little effort or commitment – just invite a couple friends a year, plug into a small group or be a greeter, and give whatever change you can spare after paying all your bills.  That’s all pastors can reasonably expect and hope for from the average American.  Few pastors are willing to pressure churchgoers to exercise their discipleship muscles and replace the world’s junk food with a steady diet of prayer, care and share – the Bible’s basic food groups.  To do so would risk watching even die-hard members and frequent attenders invite fewer, get less involved less and stop investing.  They may even renege on the one other low-commitment request all pastors are willing to make – coming back next Sunday.

Because few churches are still in the business of making real disciples, fewer Christians are distinguishable from others in their love for one another or their compassion for those outside the church family.  Therefore they’ve become unattractive.  Our light isn’t shining “before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)  Most churchgoers are “overweight” and “out of shape”.  They’re often less attractive than the non-believers people hang out with.  They’re the ones lashing out at what’s wrong with the world while their non-Christian friends seem less judgmental. 

People are attracted to people, not institutions.  However, in lieu of making attractive disciples, church leaders instead try to make their institutions more attractive (e.g. greeters and banners).  But their efforts to conform and compromise, to look like everything and everyone else, are backfiring.  For the ever-expanding throngs of “Nones” and “Dones” church just doesn’t appear as “cool” as their non-Christian friends and coffee shops.

The Solution to Compromise

Transform and Release Disciples – versus retaining and attracting “customers”

Flip Expectations – Challenge rather than cater to members, with less tolerance for complacency or sin

Unite Around a Common Cause – Put aside petty differences and transform your community for Christ

Increase Your Church’s Footprint – Even a small church can have a tremendous impact, but it will require change

It’s Your Turn

Which of the business principles above have you observed in a church before?  What negative impact did it have on key Biblical imperatives like the Great Commandment and Great Commission?

Nearly All Organizations Partner – Why Don’t Churches?

Jun 07, 17
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Is your church decentralized, empowering disciples?  Or is it depersonalized, entrusting responsibility for being “church” to the few rather than to many?  A third way to know if your church is healthy or coming down with a cold is the degree to which it has internalized.  In other words, has it become an entity unto itself, operating independently, or is it still engaged with other organizations?

Like children, church plants grow up.  They may have been launched and supported by another church, but at some point they feel they’ve reached a level of “maturity” where they no longer need someone to nurture them.  They’ve become larger and more self-sufficient.  However, when it comes to churches, size and independence are not indicators of health.  Churches can be big, but need to drop a few pounds – e.g. long-time members unwilling to commit to genuine life change.  Small churches can be just as unhealthy – e.g. possibly operating in a bubble, deviating from sound theology.

No organization is meant to subsist on its own.  Nearly all businesses and charities have partners, but few churches do. Why?  

Companies ink memorandums of understanding and form joint ventures with affiliate partners, distributors and value-added resellers.  Corporations never become independent, no matter how profitable or “mature” they become.

Charities welcome opportunities to work collaboratively to deliver services and share referrals, knowing funding is inadequate to do everything for everyone.  Few charities would survive in a vacuum without cooperation and support from for-profit and non-profit partners.

However, churches generally resist partnerships.  I’ve heard countless ministries bemoan their inability to establish relationships with churches.  I doubt the future viability of the many start-up charities that begin their elevator pitch with “our mission is to work with churches to…”  I caution many aspiring, naïve executive directors who expect churches to be their primary source of financial support.

There are many reasons why churches are reluctant to partner.  Some pastors fear theological intrusion – imposition of ideas conflicting with their teachings.  For example, a church may be willing to promote giving to a child sponsorship organization but won’t permit a foster care organization to conduct classes there.  Others worry partners will distract members from church priorities.  That’s why perhaps the most common partner churches will allow inside the “4 walls” are financial education programs that encourage saving and paying off debt, freeing up more funds to give to the church.

Once churches reach break-even or some other measure of self-sufficiency, they face the temptation to assert their independence from one or more of the following…

Independence from…the Body of Christ

The words “Kingdom-minded” and “body of Christ” are used today to describe anything involving multiple churches.  Churches are labeled as “not Kingdom-minded” if they don’t work with other churches and ministries.  Why did it become necessary to invent the term “Kingdom-minded”?  The word “Church” (capital C) is supposed to be our natural state – united and collaborative.  “Church” and “Kingdom-minded” should be synonymous, but they’re not.  The phrase “Kingdom-minded church” should be redundant, but it’s not.

When young churches are dependent on the goodwill of other organizations to get off the ground, they operate as a united member of the body of Christ.  Those partnerships are vital – staying Kingdom-minded is not an option.  Once church plants break even, they often break ties – and both the plant and planter celebrate that independence day.  Collaboration is no longer necessary because it no longer appears to serve a material purpose.  Likewise, an increasing number of churches in America are leaving denominations, or maintaining looser affiliations, as denominational labels have come to be viewed by many as a liability rather than an asset.

Independence from…Community Engagement

Most pastors or upstart churches had to interact and get involved in the local community – otherwise, the church would never get off the ground.  Many churches even launch through a series of compassion projects or events to bless the local area, meet new people, and build some name recognition.  They correctly defined the lost in the community as the “customer” and focused their energies on building a small base of disciples and deploying them to maximize Kingdom impact.  It was easy to stay externally focused when there was so little to lose.

However, as that powerful, biblical approach to church growth proved effective, attention got diverted to managing and maintaining a budding organization.  The church began to assert some measure of independence from its initial focus on “loving neighbors” and “making disciples” – early signs of an impending cold.  On top of that, frustration may have crept in, wondering whether all those compassion efforts really made a dent.  Gradually, the definition of “customer” shifted from the “lost” to the “saved” as the emphasis on member engagement transitioned from needs outside the church to those inside the church.  The meaning of the word “outreach” may have become redefined as well – more about arms-length marketing to bring people in than being the hands and feet of Jesus living out the Great Commission.

Independence from…Jesus’ Model for Evangelism

Jesus, the Lord incarnate, spoke the perfect words.  Yet He knew the words were not enough.  So Jesus almost always served, healed and fed, demonstrating His compassion and love, before telling people who He is.  He spent time in the temple, but the bulk of his preaching was done out in the community.  He engaged those in need – not just with words, but with deeds – where they were.  He didn’t wait for them to darken the doors of a church building.  He went to them.  He didn’t just preach.  He served.  Likewise, Jesus sent the disciples out into the world around them, giving them the power to perform miracles and instructing them to follow His lead, preceding words with action.  When Paul was called to go to the gentiles, the one thing Peter told him not to forget was to serve the poor.  Paul said it was the one thing he was most eager to do (Galatians 2:8-10).

However, few churches today follow Jesus’ model.  No pastor can “outpreach” Jesus, yet most churches have separated words from action.  They’ve replaced care then share with attraction then retention.  The Church in America has lost its voice because it is so often heard yet rarely seen.  Society doesn’t care what we know any longer because it doesn’t think we care.

Restoring Healthy Dependence

For a church to regain its health, it must humbly confess and accept its need to partner with other churches, ministries, marketplace leaders and Jesus to accomplish His mission in that community.  A church that asserts its independence as soon as it feels capable of standing on its own two feet may feel vibrant and alive, but instead is exhibiting the first symptoms of an illness that will eventually suck the life out of it.  Reversing the decline of a church in growth, impact, influence and perception requires reestablishing a connection to the power cords of…

  • Conducting intensive, 1-on-1 or triad discipleship – no longer centralizing, depersonalizing or internalizing but equipping church members to BE “church” between Sundays
  • Deploying those disciples to reach non-believers where they are – not simply inviting them to a worship service (that shouldn’t be designed for non-believers anyway) to hear from the “professionals”
  • Forming relational year-round ministries that transform lives and genuinely show they care – stop doing transactional compassion events, which do more harm than good
  • Bridging the divide that centralizing, depersonalizing or internalizing has created – decreasing the distance between “us” and “them” through preceding life-giving words with loving acts of service
  • Partnering with churches and ministries around critical local and international “causes” – there may be no greater example of disunity among the body of Christ than the lack of support churches in America provide for persecuted Christians overseas
  • Placing Kingdom priorities above institutional goals – not worrying whether partnerships will divert attention and funds from church needs

It’s Your Turn

Does your church have enough formal, ongoing partnerships – working collaboratively with other local churches, ministries and community organizations to reach more people who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Savior?  If not, why do you think it is acting too independently?

Few Churches Play to an Audience of One

May 31, 17
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Healthy church members play to an audience of One (God).  They’re consumed, not consumers.  Their engagement in evangelism doesn’t stop with inviting non-believing friends to church.  Their dedication to discipleship doesn’t end with sermons and small groups.

Healthy church leaders play to an audience of One.  They disciple; they don’t perform.  They decrease so Jesus can increase.  They realize the veil has been torn and don’t dare insert themselves or the institutional church between saved and Savior.

Unhealthy churchgoers occupy some of the seats in every church.  They’re the ones complaining about messages and music, more concerned with what they’re getting from church than how they’re being the church.

Unhealthy church leaders respond to unhealthy congregants with unbiblical strategies that infect the rest of the congregation.  Colds are contagious.  In churches, colds can quickly spread and become the flu or pneumonia.  Even healthy believers can contract the most deadly disease debilitating most churches today – unwittingly redefining “church” as a place and treating members instead as “customers”.   Pastors risk transmitting consumerism, contaminating the entire congregation, when their response to unhealthy members is to:

  1. Centralize
  2. Depersonalize
  3. Internalize
  4. Compromise
  5. Survive

Last week, we discussed the side effects of overdosing on centralization.  Today, we diagnose the underlying symptoms of depersonalization.

Why Church Leaders Depersonalize

What does a depersonalized church look like?  When people speak of their church as a place they go, it’s already too late.  When occasional small groups have replaced ongoing 1-on-1 or triad discipleship, the church is already sneezing and coughing.  When expectations have flipped from congregational responsibilities to pastoral performance, the common cold has already mutated into a far more serious illness.

Depersonalization is an over-performed procedure for church leaders.  When pastors begin seeing self-centered behaviors like infighting and consumerism, they fear factions and splits.  It seems reasonable to prescribe greater emphasis on the collective good to combat self-interest.  That course of action is appropriate for football teams and businesses, but not for churches.  Sports teams and companies are entities in and of themselves.  The Bible defines churches differently – each Christ-follower is the hands and feet of Christ, His church personified.  Each “called-out one”…”belonging to the Lord” bears personal responsibility for being the embodiment of church at all times, as opposed to quarterbacks and executives who only perform their jobs while on the field or at the office.

Therefore, when pastors call for members to focus on organization goals, like size or brand loyalty, it may grow the institution at the expense of personal and Kingdom growth.  Advocating loyalty to a brand may get in the way of loyalty to God and to each other.  For evidence of how loyalty to organized religion can stifle personal ministry and relationships with the Lord, look no further than Western Europe.  Rallying around a cause does get people’s focus off of themselves if the goals are winning or profits, but church is not a football team or company, so it should not be the “cause”.

Otherwise an event mentality may start to pervade worship services, outreach and compassion efforts.  Rather than giving members what the Bible says they need, focus can shift to giving them what they want.  Pastors risk inserting themselves and the church brand as a “middle man”, rebuilding the veil that Jesus tore, when they ask members to simply promote and invite.  Instead of asking churchgoers to place “I love my church” bumper stickers on their cars, they should equip members to be walking billboards for Christ.  Rather than leaving the Great Commission to the “professionals”, they should push each congregant to own that responsibility individually.

Appealing to the masses versus discipling the few also leaves leaders with more work to do and more bills to pay – making churches less spiritually and financially healthy.

Why Churchgoers Depersonalize

Far too many Christians take the wrong aspects of church personally…

  • “I didn’t get that message today.”
  • “I’m not sure I like the new worship leader.”
  • “I can’t believe she had the nerve to say that to me.”
  • “I wish I had more time to get involved.”
  • “I’m going to find another church.”

…and fail to take the right aspects personally…

  • “They should do a better job marketing our church.”
  • “They aren’t doing enough to help the poor in our city.”
  • “They need to plant another church on my side of town.”
  • “They could attract more young families by making the children’s ministry more fun.”
  • “They want me to take discipleship classes, but I’m too busy.”

Each of us is called to be the living, breathing church.  It’s not about what “they” did or what we’re getting out of “it”.  It’s not about how well the pastor or musicians perform; it’s about how well we perform in representing Christ as His church.  Do we sneak out the back door and rarely engage?  Do we accept personal responsibility for leading our friends and neighbors to the Lord?  Or is that a role we’d prefer pastors and staff assume on our behalf – defining church as a place and not as ourselves – while we tread water trying to manage our jam-packed lives.

How to “Repersonalize” Church

Restoring a depersonalized church to health requires that each individual “called-out one” belonging to that church family adopts the biblical definition of “church” and as a result returns to playing to an “Audience of One”:

Pastors and Staff

Stop encouraging consumerism (taking the wrong aspects of church personally) by:

  • No longer putting on performance-based events for audiences of “many”, instead leaving room for the Holy Spirit to intervene as He sees fit
  • Empowering and equipping an army of disciples to fight the culture war with the love and mercy of Christ as their chosen weapons
  • Carefully avoiding insinuations that God will give us a good life or get us through hard times (the message of so many Christian songs today)
  • Keeping the veil torn by flattening the church hierarchy, putting structures in place that “multiply the small” and deploy disciples into ministry (e.g. house churches, neighborhood groups, mission-shaped communities)
  • Challenging believers to live prayer, care, share lifestyles rather than catering to their lifestyles
  • Instead of “warehousing” Christians, pointing out opportunities to serve others using each person’s skills and interests, unleashing the church to follow Jesus’ model of leading with compassion before telling them who He is


  • I Corinthians 14:26 says every single churchgoer should participate in church and as the church, “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.”
  • No one should be a bystander watching a show from the back row, then leaving to enjoy the rest of the day
  • Live out the Great commission, a discipleship mandate for every day of the week, not a task to entrust to pastors on Sundays
  • Truly love our neighbors, inside and outside our church family, as we love ourselves
  • Turn all eyes to Jesus, our audience of One, and away from the stage, also looking in the mirror to ensure we reflect Him

It’s Your Turn

Has your church become depersonalized?

Is Your Church Coming Down with a Cold?

May 24, 17
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Most churches are born healthy.  Church plants are small, underfunded, and grow slowly at first – but they’re normally healthy.  How can that be?  That doesn’t sound like the description of a healthy organization.  Don’t most pastors and church consultants associate size, budget and growth with health?

However, the Bible does not define church as an institution but as collective and worldwide bodies of believers.  Therefore, church health is not a measure of its organizational characteristics but of how healthy its members are.  Are the believers who attend your worship services out of shape or are they so spiritually fit that their love for Jesus pours out of them between Sundays?  Do they consistently eat right (e.g. dive into scripture) and work out (e.g. practice the Great Commission)?  Are they passive, private, pensive or powerful – sharing their faith eagerly and serving others generously?

In those terms, church plants are typically healthy because their leaders and members haven’t yet faced the expectations and temptations that accompany large congregations, big expenses and rapid growth.  Aspiring pastors have little to lose.  They’re hungry to listen and learn.  They have time to invest in personal discipleship.  They get involved in local causes and reach out to help families in need.  They’re unwilling to be diverted or dragged down.  They make sure to surround themselves with those with deep faith and pure motives.  When the church launches, it’s healthy because the pastor and his humble entourage are each individually healthy.

A church plant is like a newborn – it can’t subsist on its own.  It needs the care and nurturing of strong leaders, dutiful servants and faithful supporters.  It won’t be alive at the end of the week without constant attention.  We wouldn’t consider such a fragile being strong and healthy.  However, if the members of that church – even if it’s just 10 people – are each disciples who are making disciples, then what the Lord sees is a church that’s extraordinarily vigorous.

Where the infant church begins coming down with a cold is when it starts to grow.  Similar to when entrepreneurs start a new company, at first they’re heavily focused on understanding the market need, reaching out to the community, serving customers, and training the first few employees well.  Freshmen congressmen likewise listen closely to constituents, make campaign promises they intend to keep, and are eager to fight for the district on Capitol Hill.  But soon the political parties get their hands on those naïve newbies and the lure of power makes them forget the ideals that led them to run for office in the first place.  Entrepreneurs soon get caught up in the bureaucracy of running the business and take their eyes off the evolving needs of customers, despite the fact that it was that laser focus that led to the company’s early success.  Our newborn, once-healthy church follows a similar cycle, battling increasing influence by anchor families, splits, squabbles, personnel, and politics.  It’s all a pastor can do to keep all the parts of the church body moving in united fashion in the same direction.

Those internal struggles are signs of unhealthy members, meaning the church is catching a cold.  However, it’s the response of church leaders to those challenges that determines whether that simple cold will turn into the flu or pneumonia.  Over these next 5 weeks, we will discuss five of those responses that are sure to turn a few sneezes into an ambulance ride to the hospital or terminal stay in hospice…

  1. Centralize
  2. Depersonalize
  3. Internalize
  4. Compromise
  5. Survive

For each of these we’ll discuss alternative responses that can nurse the church body back to health.

Symptom #1: Centralize

As the newborn church becomes an adolescent, it experiences growing pains.  We’ve seen leaders choose one of three possible paths to provide structure for growing congregations and overcome barriers that threaten to tear the fragile youngster apart:

  1. Add layers to the organizational hierarchy and give senior staff more control
  2. Grab greater pastoral control
  3. Flatten the hierarchy and turn over more responsibility to lay leaders and members

The preponderance of blogs, articles and books today suggest variations of #1 and #2, wrongly defining church as an institution and not as the “called out ones” (i.e. ekklesia), “those belonging to the Lord”.  Rather than seeing members as the individual stones that collectively serve as a Church without walls in 1 Peter 2:5-9, they reference that verse to encourage pastors to bring those stones together to build a physical church with walls.  Because they look at church and see an organization run by leaders, they attribute growing pains to poor leadership and recommend institution-building strategies for leaders to follow, like:

  • attract more non-believers through big events
  • get people to do “church chores” or to join small groups
  • be more bold in asking for money
  • hire staff and delegate responsibilities
  • add more services, seating and parking spots to give the appearance of “health”

They say ailing churches should centralize more – the worst possible prescription – because they define “church” incorrectly.  In a manner of speaking, centralization takes the big “C” off “Church” and makes it a little “c” – more about building a single church rather than building the Kingdom.  Because the overall pie of frequent churchgoers in America is shrinking, one church’s growth typically comes at the expense of other local churches (i.e. “transfer growth”).  The big “C” for many churches has now become “Control”.  Too many pastors in our experience hire young “yes” men and women, don’t disciple members, and hesitate to release members into external ministry without staff oversight, instead pushing only internal service options.

A Better Alternative

Rather than institution-building, Option #3 recommends disciple-building.  It suggests empowering and equipping members to take “ownership” of their rightful, biblical roles as the living, breathing church.  There is far more growth potential in a church where members are given some authority to lead as opposed to a pastor-led “genius with a thousand helpers”.  Churches need less centralized control, not more.  As opposed to the advice of nearly all so-called “experts” today, revitalizing a church is not about leading better, it’s about leading less and empowering more.

It’s Your Turn

How healthy is your church?

How (Not) to Rejuvenate an Aging Church

May 17, 17
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Society has been programmed to associate health with youth.  The underlying message of countless television and magazine ads today is that their products will make you look or feel younger.  Men’s health publications are filled with “ED” and “Low T” remedies.  Skin care and hormone replacement therapy options dominate the pages of women’s health web sites.  Cosmetics and plastic surgeries promise surface-level reversal of the vagaries of time and age – making us feel better about ourselves even when we aren’t actually any healthier.  All the emphasis on rejuvenation has even convinced many Americans that how healthy they appear is more important than how healthy they really are.

Church leaders are not immune to the power of those ubiquitous, subliminal messages.  We’re launching a new 5-part series on church health, and rejuvenation is the ideal place to begin.  Many pastors believe rejuvenation is the key to restoring and maintaining the health of their churches.  The addition of young families makes churches feel youthful again – stronger, growing and vibrant.  Yet similar to plastic surgery, seeing more kids in the children’s ministry and fewer grey hairs in worship services do not mean the church is any healthier.

Only pastors who define church as an institution would think to link the recovery of youthful exuberance to the average age of the church members.  For them, attracting younger members is about ensuring the future viability of the church as older members pass away and must be replaced or the church dies with them.  Pastors of aging churches realize how challenging it is to survive on the meager giving capacity of those on fixed incomes.  They understand that building an exciting children’s ministry is a prerequisite for attracting young families, knowing it will have the same effect as TV ads for the latest toy – getting kids to beg their parents to come to church.

However, church is not an institution.  The Greek word “ekklesia” means the “assembly” of “called out ones”.  The English word for church means “those belonging to the Lord”.  Therefore, church health is not about the physical state of the organization – it’s about the spiritual state of its members.  The path to church health is not rejuvenation, just like the path to individual health is not cosmetics or ED pills.  Nursing a church back to better health requires the same prescriptions necessary to restore the health of most people:

  • Eating Right – Diving into scripture, through sermons, group study, intensive discipleship, and individual worship
  • Working Out – Practicing the Great Commandment and Great Commission through following Jesus’ model of serving others and sharing the Gospel

As a result of challenging members to eat right and work out, the collective church will lose weight – and get healthier.  Shedding unwanted pounds is a key to better health for many Americans and for churches as well.  Perennial fence-sitters and church consumers who will never commit to giving their lives fully to Jesus, but simply shop for the best “customer experience”, do immeasurable damage to the body of Christ.  Their lukewarm, disingenuous attitudes poison other parts of the body.  Their presence tempts pastors to make efforts to retain and appease them to avoid losing members and income, depriving mature Christians of the “deeper truths” Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians.  Asking them to “eat better” and “start exercising” would drive many toward the exits, but the church would become healthier as each “morbidly obese” Christian left the building.

Why Rejuvenation is So Misunderstood…

The prevailing model for running a church is deeply rooted and perpetuated by articles and books by well-known pastors, seminaries and church consultants.  Their teachings and assessments of church health implicitly define church as an institution rather than as “called out ones” or “those belonging to the Lord”, therefore recommending improper remedies based on that flawed assumption, such as:

  • Bring in Young Families – by investing heavily in facilities and programs for children
  • Invite, Involve, Invest – Reach out and pull in (attract and retain) rather than build in and send out (disciple and commission)
  • Multiplication – not of disciples (individuals) but planting more church or launching more campuses, replicating institutions with the same flawed definition of “church” that ignore their intended, biblical “customers” (the lost in the community)
  • Lead Better – leadership is today’s buzzword and hottest selling church-growth concept (yet a solution that simply puts a bandaid on gaping wounds)
  • Measure “Health” – such as nickels, noses, number doing church chores, and average age, all of which see “health” as dedication and loyalty to the institution

When church is defined biblically, suddenly those barometers of organizational health give way to a renewed perspective where the health of individual members of the church takes precedence.  For example, an aging church can be healthy and remain so if:

  • They consume a steady diet of God’s Word, and elderly retirees have more time for personal discipleship than busy families with small children
  • Retirees also have more bandwidth to live out their faith by serving the Lord outside the “4 walls”, whereas every spare minute in the lives of young families is consumed by soccer games and cheerleading practices
  • Healthy older Christians will naturally attract and will be more active in bringing in a whole new generation of healthy younger Christians

Unhealthy Christians of any age are more likely to spend much of their time around other unhealthy Christians, meaning they would probably invite other unhealthy Christians to come to church.  In fact, most unhealthy church members probably don’t invite anyone to church, leading to the same eventual demise experienced by unhealthy aging churches.

Ironically, the oldest members of a church may be some of the healthiest believers in the building.  Rather than push them out (in the ways we’ll discuss next), why not just make them (and everyone else) even more spiritually healthy?

How NOT to Rejuvenate…

This 3,000 member church was aging.  It was located in a wealthy suburb but most young families were heading to the three other megachurches down the road, particularly the one across the street listed among the fastest growing in the country thanks to its strategy of building the city’s “best” facilities for kids.  Although the aging church was growing, well financed and actively engaged in the local community, the pastor was getting increasingly concerned about its future.  He hired consultants who had worked with several well-known megachurches to help them rejuvenate.  Their recommendations were drastic and implemented swiftly:

  • Shut down local missions, releasing those employees and slashing giving to local ministries – because young families have so little time to do any “charity” work
  • Upgraded the band and raised the decibel level – giving it a concert feel
  • Geared sermons toward parenting, relationships and the victory that the Gospel provides to churchgoers
  • Gave out more candy and played more games with the kids – no more boring memory verses
  • Pitched everyone on getting involved in an activity, either serving or a fellowship group
  • Changed the “ask” message from what you should do for God to what He’ll do for you
  • More advertising, touting an exciting kid’s ministry and practical messages
  • Spruced up banners, bulletins, grounds, signage and facilities to make them more attractive
  • Launched a Public Relations strategy promoting the “good” the church is doing in the community
  • Began a heavy push for taking membership classes and joining the church
  • Changed its name to something “consumers” would want (like new life, victorious life, fresh start, hope) and dropped the word “church” when mentioning its name in conversations
  • Removed denominational references and crosses from logos, signage and the outside of the building to appeal to more non-believers
  • Started searching for dying churches to plant campuses under its new brand and attractional approach

The most concerning part is… it “worked”!  Older people left in droves.  Young families started showing up to window “shop” in response to the heavy marketing – although nearly all came from other churches.  Some of the elderly who left were great men and women of God – gone forever.  Discipleship and community impact suffered immensely.  Larger and younger certainly didn’t mean healthier in this case.  Many of the “called out ones” at the church felt it all seemed way too corporate, less like a church and more like tactics a business would use to target a profitable customer segment.

It’s Your Turn…

What concerns you about how that church tried to rejuvenate its aging congregation?  Do you believe it’s possible for a church to get younger and larger but at the same time become far less healthy?

Church is Work, and Work is Church

May 10, 17
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Part 5 of 5

In this last post in our current series on decentralizing church, let’s discuss bringing church beyond just where we live, but also to where we work.  Expanding the footprint of your church means training up disciples and planting outposts in every street, neighborhood, condo building and apartment complex – as well as every job site – in your community.  Most Americans spend far more time at work than at home.  Many of us are with coworkers more than we are with family or friends.  The time we invest in church or volunteering pale by comparison.

In fact, church has been confined and redefined as a place we go on Sundays or an event to invite our non-believing friends.  Christians have largely abdicated their personal responsibility to take the Gospel OUT – instead most simply ask people to come IN to hear it from the “professionals”.

The starting point for decentralizing church is to revert to seeing “church” as people, not a place, and to reclaim our duty to practice prayer, care, share lifestyles wherever we live, play and work.

Who Do We Really Work For?

Christians are the “called-out ones” – the embodiment of “church”.  In a corporate sense, churchgoers are “insiders”, integral parts of the organization – much more like employees than customers (who are always “outside” the company).  Employees have responsibilities; customers have options.  All believers work FOR Jesus and His Church – because they are His Church.  They are not casual participants IN church or “customers” OF church (to attract and retain).

Jesus referred to Christians as workers several times in scriptures.  For example:

“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’” (Matthew 9:37-38)

“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.  Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts – no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.” (Matthew 10:8-10)

Why did the Lord put you in your current position?  Maybe it’s not only to make money.  Maybe it’s not just to increase shareholder value.  Maybe it’s not for a sense of accomplishment and worth.  Maybe much of the work God has given you to do at your job is to reach out to coworkers who don’t know Jesus.  When Christians get a job offer and feel the Lord wants them to accept it, there’s a dual purpose – to work with excellence using the talents and gifts God has given them, and to seek out those at the company they’re supposed to lead toward Christ.  It’s God’s plan that if we do the first (work with excellence) — being “fruitful and multiplying”, performing every menial task “as if working for the Lord” – then we’ll have more opportunities for the second.

Christian Employees Have Two Jobs

Many Christians struggle with doing jobs they don’t see as ministry.  My last consulting project before leaving the business world was with a credit card company whose objective was to convince people to accumulate as much credit card debt as possible – not exactly a Christ-like, fulfilling career.  Yet there, like everywhere else I worked, I saw myself as the corporate chaplain for my company, client and coworkers.

There’s no need to separate the sacred and secular.  Should I live my personal life apart from my Christian walk?  No, both should live in perfect harmony.  Otherwise, I’d have a split personality.  I love my son so I talk about him.  I love golf so I talk about it.  I love Jesus more than all of them, so why wouldn’t I talk about Him?

When asked to give my testimony to groups of business leaders, I’m cautioned by event organizers to avoid influencing the audience to follow my lead and leave their jobs to go into charity work, instead helping them understand that their jobs are ministry.   In other words, wherever you’re employed you have two jobs:

  • the one you were hired for and the one you were (re)born for
  • the first pays in cash we quickly spend; the second in eternal currency we can never squander
  • as we already discussed, as church “insiders” we’re more like employees of church than its customers, so we’re on the job both for Jesus and for the company at our workplace
  • ironically, fellow employees who are not believers are “insiders” of the company but “outsiders” from church – so they become the primary “customers” that believers (“insiders” of church) should be pursuing

Or maybe we just have one job with a ministry addendum in every Christian’s job description.  In either sense, “called out ones” should assemble and live out the Great Commission at their place of employment – otherwise, they’re shirking those biblical responsibilities to BE the church where they spend most of their waking time.

Living out our calling at our workplaces turns work into church – and makes church our work.  The office becomes our mission field.  Still, too many Christians are careful to keep their faith to themselves at work, fearing that simply speaking their first boss’ name (Jesus) could put their second job at risk.

How to Become a Better “Employee”

If few Christians are doing well at being the personification of church at work, boldly living out prayer/care/share, then they’re underperforming in their occupation as Christ-followers.  Members are Jesus’ workers yet they aren’t worthy of promotions or pay raises when they refuse to call on “customers” – coworkers who have no relationship with our CEO.

Church leaders are the corporate trainers for Christian employees, preparing them to be effective evangelists in their workplaces.  Pastors should be evaluating how well its members are performing at that job – serving as lights in workplaces so often filled with the darkness of greed, backstabbing and apathy.  Yet today intensive discipleship has given way to small group meetings and churchgoers now evaluate the performance of pastors rather than the other way around.

Instead of viewing churchgoers, even mature believers, as those with a responsibility to obey the Great Commission, too many church leaders just hope they’ll show up next Sunday.  It never occurs to them that church members were essentially employees who could be “hired” or “fired”.   In Romans 16 (vs. 3, 9, 21) Paul refers to those he “hired” as trusted co-workers.  In Matthew 18 (vs. 15-17), Jesus gives instructions for “firing” church members who persist in sin.

Seeing members as “employees” charged with doing the work of the church at their respective workplaces would encourage leaders to recruit, challenge, disciple and evaluate.  Employees of a company must be trained effectively to sell and market to customers or the business goes under.  Is your church adequately equipping members to serve as effective ministers in their places of business?  If not, it’s encouraging a pastor/event/building-centric definition of “church” rather than a decentralized view where believers understand it’s their role to bring church into their office buildings on Monday morning.

It’s Your Turn

Like me, have you found that being vocal about your faith in the workplace, while generally frowned upon, makes you the person coworkers come to when they’re going through health struggles, marital problems, or other personal issues?

Check out these valuable resources:

Institute for Faith, Work and Economics

Theology of Work Project

Made to Flourish

Christian Employers Alliance

Does Your Church Care About the Poor?

May 03, 17
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one comments

Part 4 of 5

So far in this series on decentralizing church, we’ve discussed the power of infiltrating communities by planting house churches and neighborhood groups in every street, apartment complex and condo building in America.  Institutional church is not going away – nor should it.  However, bringing church closer to the doorsteps of non-believers is biblical and more effective than hoping those who don’t worship the Lord will show up at a worship service.  Reverting to the scriptural definition of “church” where members ARE its embodiment would put the body of Christ in direct contact with more non-believers.  Knocking down the proverbial “4 walls” would also overcome the rampant skepticism, past disappointments and poor perception of institutional church.  Finally, more house churches, neighborhood groups and disciples would help alleviate another critical impediment to effective ministry – understanding local needs.

Somewhere along the line, the challenges of running brick-and-mortar churches and understandable inclination to “take care of their own” distracted leaders from another imperative Jesus, the disciples and the Church modeled for 1900 years – caring for the poor.  Jesus had great compassion for the poor outside His “church” family.  He found it difficult to walk past the ailing and hungry without stopping to help – typically healing and feeding before telling people who He was.  Jesus also gave the disciples instructions and power to follow His example.  When Paul left Peter to witness to the gentiles, “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” (Galations 2:10)  Until the past 100 or so years, churches were the food bank and homeless shelter, and started most hospitals and schools.

Through history, churches knew the needs because they were on the front lines of compassion.  That’s not the case today.  Most churches only run occasional service events – which many would argue inadvertently do more harm than good by providing a temporary hand out, not a sustained hand up.

However, there is good news.  In addition to launching more house churches and starting neighborhood groups, there are other ways brick-and-mortar churches can gain a better understanding of local needs and follow Jesus’ model – reclaiming a central role in serving the poor.

But it will require a significant change of heart, priorities and budgets.  Does your church’s leadership need to undergo those changes?  Does your church truly care about the plight of the poor in your city?

To help you answer those questions, review the following five criteria and decide for yourself…

1. Leaders “OWN” What They Care About

If consulting hundreds of companies and serving thousands of churches has taught me nothing else, it’s how to recognize what’s important to the leaders of an organization. The first sure indicator of a leader’s priorities is the responsibilities they personally choose to “own”.  In looking at churches in America today, pastors have assumed a number of responsibilities that were not intended to be primarily theirs and abdicated others scripture calls them to “own”:

  • Abdicated Compassion – …to the government, secular charities, ministries and even denominational associations.  Jesus exemplified Prayer/Care/Share, knowing people “don’t care what you know until they know you care”.   In effect, pastors unwittingly try to out-preach Jesus when their churches don’t open the door to the gospel message by leading with compassion.
  • Assumed Roles of Members – …for evangelism, discipleship and caring for other members.  Pastors have become more hesitant to ask churchgoers to step out of their comfort zones.  For example, rather than risk losing members to the church down the road by insisting they take personal responsibility for sharing their faith, most pastors simply ask them to invite people to church to hear from the “professional”.  It’s no wonder record numbers of pastors are burning out considering how many responsibilities they have usurped from the rightful “owners”.

2. Leaders SEEK HELP WITH What They Care About

Meet The Need began 15 years ago because I asked my church where I could serve in the city of Atlanta to make a difference for the Kingdom.  Their response – be a greeter next Sunday.  When I prodded about opportunities to help the poor in the community, they were stumped, referring me to a local ministry.  History recently repeated itself.  My current church hadn’t mobilized members to serve in the community in the year since I started attending.  So I offered to organize three service days at a homeless mission and orphanage over the holidays to get the ball rolling.  The events went well but leadership hasn’t mentioned anything about doing any local missions activities since then.  However, they just asked me to serve as a greeter.

Meet The Need’s own Board of Directors has suggested on many occasions that we market Meet The Need as a system for recruiting and managing internal volunteers rather than as a local missions system, realizing “church chores” are of far more interest to pastors.  Yet I have refused, insisting we continue hoping church leaders will one day assume greater responsibility for the biblical imperative to serve the poor.

3. Leaders ORGANIZE AROUND What They Care About

Pastors hire staff to lead music, finances, communications, child care and small groups – nearly all focused around managing church affairs.  Key staff roles report up to the senior pastor.  Few churches today shake up the contemporary organizational chart, flatten the hierarchy and empower members in ways that would exponentially increase the church’s ability to serve and pursue its intended “customer” – the hopeless and helpless in the community where it is planted:

  • Forming neighborhood groups, as we discussed last week
  • Planting ministries run by lay leaders to fill cause-related gaps in the city
  • Restructuring into semi-autonomous, medium-sized subgroups around geographic or cause lines to generate collective impact (since entire congregations are hard to engage and smaller groups lack the scale to make a significant difference)
  • Form internal teams to work with particular local ministries and/or issues
  • Specifically assign staff or lay leaders to manage local missions and discipleship, and elevate those positions to a high standing within the church

These organizational structures involve entrusting, equipping and releasing members into ministry.  They require pastors to relinquish some control.  They mean risking the consequences of asking for more commitment from the congregation.  They force leadership to rethink budgets.  Yet all of those changes are necessary to fully leverage the power in the pews to maximize community impact.

4. Leaders INVEST IN What They Care About

When churches were the food bank and homeless shelter, as they were throughout church history, a substantial percentage of their budgets were poured back into supporting and serving the community.  Today that number stands at under 2%.

Allocating a higher percentage to serving the poor typically makes the most sense to pastors who see a connection between local missions and growing a congregation.  If the latter is the primary goal, then why plant a new ministry when you could launch a new campus?  Why create mission-shaped communities when you could kick off more fellowship groups?  New campuses and small groups build the brand and increase loyalty, while decentralizing threatens to distract members from the normal business of church.  Planting ministries and forming mission-shaped communities do more to reach those who won’t darken the door of a church than planting another internally-focused campus or small group.  If non-believers are increasingly uncomfortable coming to church, leaders should invest more in going to them.

5. Leaders MEASURE What They Care About

Organizations always measure what they see as their primary intent, purpose and strategy.  As we just discussed, because church growth usually takes precedence over community impact, the predominant metrics among churches today are “nickels and noses” – giving and attendance.  Someone reading the prior few sections of this blog post could even draw the conclusion that:

  • Church leaders assume the biblical responsibilities of members in order to avoid overburdening congregations and keep the church growing
  • Members give money to the church to compensate church leaders for assuming those responsibilities

What if a church assessed its “performance” using a set of metrics that exhibited a Prayer, Care and Share mindset?  That church would measure disciples built and sent, total lives impacted for Christ in the city, and the dent it has made in local hunger, homelessness and child neglect.  Adopting those metrics would bring grave challenges and raise difficult questions – like how that would alter the prospective use of the church’s funds?

It’s Your Turn

In looking at those five criteria, have you determined that your church does not truly care about the poor?   If so, what could and should you do about it?