Tag Archives: Community Outreach

Why Bigger Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Better

Jul 05, 16
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Different Size Houses In Row On Wooden Table

For companies, the objective is always growth – in size and profitability.  However, as most of us have experienced, corporate growth can actually reduce the quality of products and customer service.  New growth initiatives, whether organic or through acquisition, may excite leadership and shareholders, but usually make customers nervous.

More revenues and customers are appropriate Key Performance Indicators for a business, but not for a church.  Yet nearly all churches closely track “nickels and noses”.  Does ambition for either have the potential to compromise “quality” a church delivers – measured in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission?  For example, church growth consultants often recommend designing sermon content around topics that will attract, but won’t necessarily increase the congregation’s love for the Lord.  Likewise, church growth strategies rarely include boldly challenging members to become sold-out disciples for Christ that reproduce disciples.

Calling for that level of life change, although routinely demanded by Jesus at the heights of His popularity, would certainly have many church members today heading for the exits.  Jesus also modeled demonstrating His love and compassion before telling people who He is – yet pastors today inadvertently try to “outpreach” Jesus when their churches largely neglect that first part.  Yes, Jesus, His disciples and the church for 1900 years viewed the lost in the community as the “customer” – who should be relentlessly served and pursued.  However, most churches instead define members as the ”customer” when leaders compromise “quality” for fear of losing congregants to a church down the road.   “Quality” in Kingdom terms means treating members as the Church personified, and equipping and empowering them accordingly, so they can be effective in reaching the real “customer”.

Both Compromise, but Not for the Same Reasons…

Are smaller or larger churches more likely to see members as “customers”?  Which are more inclined to follow the Biblical mandates spelled out for churches in the last paragraph?  Which are more apt to see community engagement and compassion as core components of their strategy?  Frankly, nearly all small and large churches today have redefined the “customer” – but they’ve done so for very different reasons.  In our recent post “What’s Your Church’s True Purpose?” we contrasted two sets of goals:

  • Transform vs. Attract – Leading people to love and look a whole lot like Jesus, whereby they feel compelled to disrupt “life as they know it” for the sake of bringing others to Christ – the Great Commandment
  • Release vs. Retain – Preparing and equipping them for ministry throughout their spheres of influence, their city and the world – the Great Commission

In that context:

Large Churches – Are better designed to Attract, able to offer first-rate programs, facilities and services

Smaller Churches – Are struggling to Retain, unable to keep up with the “Joneses” in terms of children’s programs, facilities, resources poured into worship services, etc.

On the flip side:

Large Churches – Are finding it difficult to Retain, often becoming a “revolving door” as church “shoppers” fail to connect and slip out the back

Small Churches – Are failing to Attract or simply don’t want to, content with the comfort and consistency of familiar faces at the pulpit and in the pews

Who’s More Likely to Transform and Release?

That’s the other important question.  Most of us have heard about Andy Stanley’s comments (which he has since retracted) about small churches.  A key line from that sermon was “If you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough middle schoolers and high schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult.”  Yes, big churches do a better job of providing an environment where kids will enjoy church.  However, getting youth into a church doesn’t mean they’re doing any better at getting them successfully “out” of the church.  In other words, the strategies behind designing an environment that will attract kids to church could also be the very thing that’s keeping them from graduating those kids to higher levels of spiritual maturity.

Is more fun and fellowship in a church setting more likely to make young people disciples of Jesus Christ?  Are large churches better preparing youth to BE the church between Sundays?  Frankly, small and large churches alike are doing less today on both of those fronts.  Those old enough will remember decades ago when children got in two solid hours of teaching and worship on Sunday mornings.  First, Sunday School followed by the church service – and then another hour on Wednesday nights.  Today, most kids get 30 minutes per week in most modern-day Children’s Programs, which take place while parents are in the church service – and even that has been shortened as well.  Deep-dive Bible education has largely been replaced in churches with keeping kids interested and engaged, hoping they’ll encourage their parents to come back the following weekend.

It’s Your Turn

Do you think large or small churches are generally more effective at Transforming lives and Releasing disciples into the world?

There Wouldn’t Be a Megachurch Movement If…

Jun 30, 16
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Blog Post 53 - Painting Church (iStock_000002459773XSmall)

On this 1 year anniversary of this blog series, we’re excited about launching into a new phase and a new approach that we think you’ll love.  From here forward, we’re going to release short, impactful posts that you can read in less than 3 minutes – 2x per week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Our next topic: The Rise of Megachurches and the Role of Small Churches.  Our findings and insights will surprise and hopefully awaken you to new ways of thinking about the church landscape in America – and how to maximize your church’s impact, no matter how large or small it is.

The Megachurch Movement…

…is a RESULT of the Redefinition of “Customers”

Why is the number of megachurches growing so quickly today?

Why are those large churches thriving while small ones are struggling?

We believe it’s for reasons similar to why Walmarts are taking business away from “mom-and-pop” stores in small towns across America.  Our consumer culture has spilled over into our choices of which church to attend.  Churches generally no longer define members as the church and the community as the “customer” (as was the case throughout church history).  As we’ve shown, most pastors instead treat members much like “customers”, more inclined to cater to them than to challenge them.  Rather than churchgoers seeing themselves as the embodiment of church (between Sundays) most act as consumers of it:

  • They leave if they’re not happy with something
  • They shop for amenities, kids programs, sermons and music that suit them best
  • They serve, give and invite their friends to church – and pastors encourage that institutional loyalty

Small churches simply lack the resources to “compete”.  When a new family is seen walking into a megachurch, they nearly always come from another (smaller) church down the road.  Visitors show up because megachurches offer more of all the above than smaller churches.

Churchgoers ARE the church so they shouldn’t think that way – but most do.

If members weren’t treated as “customers” and didn’t feel like “consumers”, there likely wouldn’t be a megachurch movement in the U.S.  If congregants solely attended to worship the Lord, fellowship with a church family and live out the Great Commission, why would they ever choose a megachurch?  Why endure driving a long(er) distance, dealing with massive crowds, parking far from the building and walking down aisles trying to find a seat in a huge auditorium.  Studies show that those in large churches find it harder to make connections, easier to slip out the back door and feel less accountable for assuming any actual responsibilities – in other words, to reap all the benefits without any of the obligations.

If worship, fellowship, discipleship and engagement were their only desires, most of them would still be in smaller church families.  And if members truly viewed themselves as the living, breathing church:

  • The draw wouldn’t be the speaking ability of the leader, the quality of the facilities, how much fun the kids are having, or the amazing performance by the worship team
  • They wouldn’t “shop” elsewhere if sermons didn’t “feed” them or send them home with practical life lessons – because they’d understand the sermon is only a small piece of what church is about
  • Their focus would be on what they can do for the Lord and not what the church is doing for them
  • They would no longer see what they do for their church as the full extent of their personal ministry – because they (and not the institution) are the “church”

CAPITALIZES on the Redefinition of “Customers”

Once churches begin to realize “economies of scale”, most take advantage of that competitive advantage.  In leadership meetings, they discuss strategies to beef up kids programs and enhance facilities they know smaller churches simply can’t match.  Certainly, the arguments for those improvements are couched in spiritual terms but large churches always want to become larger.  Each must examine its own heart to ensure that Kingdom-building outweighs empire-building.  Three reliable litmus tests for whether a church’s plans are anchored in making disciples or attracting consumers are:

  • Is that church also taking advantage of its scale to maximize its impact on the world around it – equipping and mobilizing the congregation effectively to Prayer, Care and Share lifestyles?
  • Is it “selling” Invite, Involve, Invest – the “rallying cry of the internally-focused church” – as its primary growth strategy?
  • Is its local missions approach based on transactional, big-splash events that build brand recognition – or on relational, behind-the-scenes, year-round compassion that convinces the community that it truly cares?

It’s Your Turn

Do you agree that the advent of the megachurch movement in America is largely an outgrowth of our increasingly consumer-driven culture?  If not, please explain why.

Why Isn’t Your Church Growing? Take our 15 Minute, Free Online Assessment!

Jun 22, 16
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bpm on the Smart Phone

We’ve studied thousands of churches and discovered why so few are growing – not only in terms of size but in impact, influence and public perception.  In other words, experiencing healthy growth where love for the Lord and others is so overwhelming that it can’t be contained within a church building – and bursts out into the streets.

Our Assessment shows you the Biblical, proven keys to revitalize your church and dramatically increase its visibility and reach in your city.

…and the Assessment will only take you 15 minutes!

Get actionable improvement ideas as you complete the questionnaire.  Your responses won’t require any research and are not stored to ensure your privacy.

Start Your FREE Online Assessment

Any organization that defines itself or its target “customer” incorrectly is bound to struggle.  That’s why the church in America is declining in growth, impact, influence and perception.  Not many church leaders today truly treat members as the church and the community as the “customer” – the model followed by Jesus, his disciples and the church for over 1900 years.

Discover whether your church has redefined those terms and is either (inadvertently or knowingly):

  • Challenging vs. Catering
  • Empowering vs. Enabling
  • Discipling vs. Dispensing
  • Retaining vs. Releasing
  • Caring vs. Checking the “box”

Find out how your church scores relative to other churches on each of those contrasting tendencies.

Learn what issues your peers typically face when they disproportionately emphasize the latter vs. the former.

Finally, receive instant access to our recommendations for putting your church back on the road to healthy growth and significant Kingdom impact!

Start Your Quick, FREE Assessment

Were Churches in Orlando Prepared?

Jun 15, 16
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New York, USA - June 12, 2017: Memorial outside the landmark Stonewall Inn in honor of the victims of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando in New York City in 2016.

Horrific tragedies fling the doors open for the Church to embody and portray the love of Jesus.  When that tragedy involves the murder of those who feel rejected by the church by a zealot who vehemently hates the Church, the potential power of a radical display of unconditional love is magnified exponentially.  The grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ should compel His followers to step up and step in.  Some churches are doing so as we speak, but few prepared in advance for the possibility…

This week, we’re wrapping up our 5 part series analyzing responses pastors are often heard giving when asked about community engagement.  We’ve discussed the church’s Perception, Purpose, Priority, Passion – and today will delve into the final “P”…Platform.  Churches have the people, the (Holy Spirit’s) power, and the world’s greatest platform – but are losing their impact and influence because they lack preparation…

Prepared for Prayer

The first response from pastors we’ll address today is “How big of a difference can we really make?”  In other words, the issues in a community seem too daunting for any one church to move the needle.  Many pastors aren’t sure where to start, feeling there’s little they can do beyond prayer.  Last Sunday morning, that was the request of nearly every pastor in Orlando and across the country – “please be praying…”.  However, James 2:15-16 tells us that words without action – even words of prayer – aren’t the full extent of what we should do for those in need.  Yet that’s all church leaders typically know to ask of members when trouble brews in the community.  Pastors and members in Orlando know they should do something – but aren’t prepared or knowledgeable enough to mobilize the church into action.

Prepared to Care

How many churches have an emergency response or disaster relief plan in place – not for themselves but for the local community?  How many have invited experts in to train members on how to be effective for the Kingdom when the unexpected happens in their city?  Your church has prayer warriors, but does it have designated grief counselors, chaplains, and crisis managers – not just to serve the church but to serve the local area?

No, it’s not necessarily the responsibility of the church to be on the front lines when tragedy strikes.  But the church is the hands and feet of Christ – His bride.  If the Lord intervened in countless dire circumstances throughout scripture, shouldn’t His church follow suit.  The church did play that role during much of its history.  In fact, studies show many still expect the church to lead the way – despite acknowledging that few churches actually do so.  Wouldn’t society see churches in a very different light if Christians were the first ones on the scene and the last ones to leave?  Regardless of how that would impact public perception, disciples of Jesus Christ should find it hard to resist swooping in to love others – following Jesus’ example of demonstrating His love before telling them who He is.

Unfortunately, churches can’t make a big difference in Orlando right now if they haven’t invested time and energy into planning ways to make a difference.  Few have prepared in advance – and it’s too late now.  Poor preparation is a natural consequence of our repeated contention in this blog series that today’s church has redefined itself and its “customer”.  Few consider the lost in the community to be their target “customer” and most aren’t willing to challenge members to “BE the church” between Sundays because it would require significant life change.   Therefore they aren’t likely to prepare well to be a light at the darkest time in their communities.

Prepared to Share

The redefinition of the church’s “customer” has also resulted in churchgoers who are less prepared to share their faith when they arrive on the scene there in Orlando.  Church leaders expect less of members and hesitate to challenge them to step too far out of their comfort zones.  Replacing personal discipleship with small groups has meant fewer Christians today are comfortable sharing (or even know how to share) Christ with others, particularly with friends or parents of a homosexual murder victim.  What about the opportunity Orlando presents to show love and share Christ with Muslims?  What percentage of church members understands how to make the case for Christ to a Muslim?

Most would default to the meager goal pastors set for them nearly every Sunday – invite them to church.  However, what are the odds that a gay person or Muslim would accept that invitation?

Christians don’t have to support the causes of homosexuality and Islam to love on those individuals.   Our job is to live out the Great Commandment to love our neighbor and the Great Commission to make disciples.  Those two imperatives reveal how compassion is integral to evangelism.  Jesus modeled both deeds and words.  How can we love the Lord so much and not tell others about him?

In other words, Private Christians is an oxymoron – but they exist.

The labels Christian and Disciple should be redundant – but they’re not.

The blame lies largely with church leaders who haven’t prepared congregations to leverage the tremendous platform the body of Christ has for bringing hope and faith to a world drifting away from the Lord.  Churches should provide all levels of “education” to members – not just the elementary school training fostered by small groups.  All Christians should be prepared to answer the tough questions, not stop at giving their testimony and inviting folks to hear from “professionals” who attended seminary.

…or Prepare for the Worst

No doubt, if most members were truly challenged to live up to the literal Great Commission standard, most would head for the doorways of your church.  That shouldn’t stop pastors from investing heavily in preparing their congregations to respond to a huge opportunity to show and share the love of Jesus – but it does.  There’s so much to lose in asking members to substantially disrupt their comfortable lives.  Why risk it all after the blood, sweat and tears it took to build a church?

The answer lies in the cost of maintaining the status quo.  The final response we’ll address from pastors asked to engage more in their communities is “Our church is on the right track.  Why rock the boat?”  First, consider that only a small fraction of churches are growing and fewer are healthy – if measured by the percentage of members that are truly disciples of Jesus Christ.  Are things really going well with the Church today?  Comfort is not an excuse for complacency.  Rocking the boat is worth reversing several rising tides…

  • Declining influence of Christianity and increasing influence of Islam in America
  • Increasing perception that Christians are judging the sinners, not just the sin of homosexuality
  • General belief in society that churches are looking out for their own interests and care little about the welfare of others

It’s Your Turn

In retrospect, what changes in the Purpose, Priorities, and Passions of Orlando churches would have prepared them to fully leverage their Platform this week?

Has the Church Lost its Passion?

Jun 08, 16
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Miracle recovery: young girl gets up from wheelchair and raises hands up. Overjoyed young girl standing up from a wheelchair outdoors. Shot in meadow. Recovery concept

Passion is what we can’t keep inside.  It spills over and can’t be contained.  We love our kids – we can’t help but talk about them.  We love our favorite sports teams – we talk about them first thing Monday morning at the water cooler.  Christians love God more than anything else – He should constantly be on the tips of our tongues.  Our passion for the Lord should be evident to all those around us.  “Private Christian” should be an oxymoron – our faith should pour out through every fiber of our being. 

That passion should extend to a sincere concern for those who don’t know the Lord.  The fate awaiting those dying without Christ should compel Christians to set off on a rescue mission – to bring our family, friends, neighbors and coworkers toward Christ before it’s too late.  That sense of urgency should drive us to risk our reputations or even lives for the sake of sharing something so valuable with those at such great risk. 

But is that the Christian we see walking out the doors of America’s churches today?

This week, we continue our series about the church’s Perception, Purpose, Priority, Passion and Platform.  Each “P” addresses typical objections pastors offer for no longer making community engagement and compassion core elements of their strategies – as Jesus, His disciples and the early church all did.

Passion for What?

Churchgoers believe their foremost passions line up with scripture:

  • Passion for Christ
  • Passion for one another
  • Passion for sharing the gospel and making disciples
  • Passion for serving the “least of these”

However, society today believes the passions of pastors and church members are:

  • Passion for their church
  • Passion for their views on social issues

Why the disconnect?  Is that perception justified or just an excuse to dismiss Christianity?

At Meet The Need, we believe the Church’s shift toward Attracting & Retaining (Members) versus Transforming & Releasing (Disciples) explains its plummeting reputation:

  • Passion for their church
    • Advent of advertisements for churches (appealing primarily to those who attend other churches)
    • Invitations to church by members (leaving gospel presentations to trained “professionals”)
    • Promoting the church (e.g. “I Love My Church” bumper stickers)
    • Taking care of their own yet doing little to alleviate suffering outside the “4 walls”
    • Placing a higher priority on sustaining and growing the institution than loving and impacting the world around it
  • Passion for their views on social issues
    • Speaking out without “earning” the right to do so (by demonstrating love in commensurate proportion)
    • Applying a moral standard to those who don’t subscribe to that standard in the first place

Churches Once Had Passion

When They Viewed the Community as their “Customer”

  1. Like Church Plants – Planters select a location strategically and cast vision for reaching that entire area for Christ. They engage in community activities and networking – or they’ll never get off the ground. Most get involved in service projects to demonstrate an interest in the welfare of the city.  Yes, it’s all hands on deck in the early going – pastors and members alike must be externally focused or no one would find out about the church.  Church plants are much like recent converts, eager to share their faith with all those around them.  They have passion.
  2. Like the Church During its 1st 1900 Years – Peter, Paul and Jesus’ disciples preached and healed outside the church at every opportunity.  Churches were the food bank and homeless shelter until the last century.  Churches started the schools and hospitals.  They served as the spiritual, educational, and charitable center of town in cities across America and throughout the world.

However, do churches exhibit the same degree of passion to reach their communities for Christ today?  Do they care as deeply as they once did about the hardships and injustices of the poor and oppressed?  What aren’t churches and their members as passionate about evangelism now?  Why isn’t intensive evangelism training (e.g. discipleship) a significant Purpose and Priority for most churches?

The actions and behaviors of many churches are (inadvertently) feeding the public perception that they are not very interested in the needs and affairs of those outside the fold.  Society is the disgruntled “customer” that feels slighted and ignored – even judged.  Studies show that people still expect churches to lead the way in compassion – yet those expectations are no longer being met.

What Killed our Passion?

When Churches Started Treating Members as “Customers”

Let’s address the next two common objections heard from pastors when they see articles or books encouraging community engagement.  The two we’re covering this week are “We’ve got too many issues right now to focus on external ministry.” and “We don’t have enough budget for big projects in the community.”

Do those sound like the words of pastors who maintained the same passion for the community that they did when they first planted the church?  Is that the response of someone following the example of Jesus, His disciples and the early church – seeing the lost as their target “customers”?

As a former consultant, those sound more like the words often heard in business when entrepreneurs begin to realize the success that comes from being initially market focused.  One day growth requires greater focus on administration and customer retention.  The passion for sales takes a back seat suddenly there’s something to lose.  Similarly, church planters have nothing to lose either until they face their first growing pains and the temptation to redefine their target “customer” – from reaching the lost to retaining current members.

Budgets have reflected this redefinition of the Church’s “customer” – with roughly 1% of the average church’s budget invested back in the community, where that number was historically closer to 40%.

What Can Revive Passion?

Begin Truly Treating Members as the “Church”

  1. The greatest enemy of passion is comfort. Comfort brings members back next Sunday but doesn’t motivate believers to rock the world for Christ.  Will pastors have the audacity to challenge congregations to step far outside of their comfort zones to live Prayer-Care-Share lifestyles – and risk losing “consumers”?
  2. Shift from fighting an air war to a ground war. It’s easier to speak than act, to protect turf by defending the Christian stance on social issues than to show compassion to the hurting and helpless.  Yet love is the only weapon that will win the culture war in America.  A louder megaphone will only deepen the divide between “us” and “them”.  Society already sees our passion for what we’re against, but not our passion for what we stand for.
  3. Prepare the troops for battle through discipleship and then deploy them into the mission field, locally and around the world.  Inviting friends to church and abdicating personal evangelism is easy – but it’s not passion.  Taking responsibility for sharing what we believe – not leaving that to “professionals” – is far more convincing.  Passion is members acting as the living, breathing embodiment of church between Sundays.

It’s Your Turn

Have you seen passion for a church or passion for social issues bring people to Christ?  Compare that to the effectiveness of passion for personal evangelism and passion for loving our neighbors.

Why Many Churches Do the Unthinkable…

Jun 02, 16
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Alone in a crowd ... image was intentionally softened and colors muted to all but the alone person.

The Good Samaritan story begins with a question by an expert in religious law – likely a leader in a church – about the first and greatest commandment.  In response to his follow-up question, Jesus defines the man’s “neighbor” not as someone who goes to his church, but a random stranger.  The first person to pass by the beaten robbery victim was a pastor, presumably hastening off to take care of his responsibilities at the church.  The second person to step over the wounded, suffering man was a church staff member – likely also heading back to work. 

When church leaders in the story failed to take responsibility for helping someone clearly in dire need, a non-believing Samaritan (someone church leaders in those days disliked and avoided) stepped in to show compassion. 

Jesus could have used anyone as an example in that story of what not to do.  Why did He choose a pastor and a church worker? 

He could have chosen anyone as an example of what to do.  Why did He choose a person reviled by the religious establishment?

It appears Jesus crafted the Good Samaritan story to speak directly to His questioner – a church leader.  Jesus appeared to be cautioning churches against simply taking care of their own and not showing compassion to those around them. 

For the past few weeks, we’ve been discussing objections many church leaders use for not engaging more in serving their communities.  We covered the common Perception that action and evangelism is an either/or decision.  Next we showed how a church’s Purpose is to Transform and Release rather than Attract and Retain.  Today we’ll delve into Priority – the emphasis churches place on taking care of their own versus those outside the church…

The Priority Paradox

Galations 6:10 tells us “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”  That verse clearly says to take care of our Christian brothers first.  However, at first glance the Good Samaritan parable seems to say the opposite – stop to take care of others on the way to church.  So does the warning Jesus issued to church leaders who took money they could have used to help their aging and ailing parents and instead gave it to their church.

How do we reconcile Paul’s command to take care of fellow church members first with Jesus’ repeated cautions that He “desires compassion” (even for those outside the Church) “more than sacrifice” (e.g. obligations inside the church)?

One point of reconciliation is the overwhelming emphasis of Jesus and Paul on relationships versus religion – people versus principles.  Caring for ALL people (Christians and non-Christians alike) is far more important than caring for responsibilities within the church.  In that case, shouldn’t church leaders and members today be more focused and aggressive in pursuit of the church’s Biblical “customer” – the hurting and lost in their communities?

How Churches Set Priorities

How a church defines itself and its “customer” establishes its priorities…

The mere concept that the potential exists for church leaders to “cater” to members (to keep them from leaving) implicitly defines those pastors and staff as the church (“insiders”) and members as “outsiders” (i.e. “customers”).  However, we all believe deep down what so many pastors often say (yet too infrequently live out) – that members ARE the church (“insiders”).  Members can’t be both the definition of Church and also its “customer”.  Someone else has to be the “customer” – those who churches should invest the bulk of their time, energy and money to pursue and retain.  By that standard, Jesus, His disciples and the early church clearly saw the poor, hungry and lost as their target “customers”.

A church that has defined the wrong “customer” will quickly lose sight of the need to show compassion to those outside the church.  In other words, if church leaders prioritize institution building over disciple building, they run the risk of becoming the pastor and church worker in the Good Samaritan parable.  It’s a slippery slope.  Those in churches that don’t see the hopeless and helpless as their “customer” can unwittingly develop the tunnel vision it takes to do the unthinkable – step over them on their way to do “church chores”.

In the Good Samaritan parable, you have a recipe for disaster – a church that has as its highest priority caring for its own while at the same time seen by outsiders as condemning anyone who isn’t one of its own.  Doesn’t that fairly accurately portray the current state of the church in America?  How many homosexuals feel welcome by the Church and would dare venture into one?

Jesus accuses the church of that double-standard by specifically inserting a hated Samaritan as the “good guy” in the story – and church workers as the ones who kept walking on the other side of the road.  The moral is that if people who churches considered “heathens” had the decency to stop and help, shouldn’t the church do the same?  Moreover, the Good Samaritan did all that for someone who labeled him a “heathen”, turning the other cheek.

Jesus told that parable as instruction for not just the first century church, but for the church today.  Pastors and church workers should prioritize compassion toward all “neighbors” (even those who want nothing to do with church) above responsibilities within the church – to stop and help rather than pass by and miss the opportunity to be Jesus to them.  Churches should serve the community where they are planted, reaching out to even its most alienated “neighbors” as Jesus did – using loving acts of service to demonstrate His love and then telling them who He is.

And that is what the Church did for 1900 years – and it experienced exponential growth.  It’s no coincidence that the growth of the Church in America has slowed to a crawl now that churches no longer reside on the front lines of compassion.  Most non-Christians no longer believe churches care so they don’t care what we have to say.  Our commentaries on society sound to them like condemnation and our preaching sounds like proselytizing.  They fall on deaf ears.

How to Reset Your Priorities

  • Realize that the secret to church revitalization is not a program or a process – it’s your priorities!!
  • Redefine and truly treat members as the “church” – not meaning less investment in them but different investments in them.  Rather than worrying about whether they’ll come back next Sunday, prepare and equip them to BE the church to “customers” who have felt ignored by churches for far too long.
  • Take care of fellow believers as the top priority but commit greater church resources to meeting the material and spiritual needs of the community and world.  A rule of thumb is to care for churchgoers when they’re in need and challenge them to care for others when they’re not.
  • Understand that caring for one another within the church first presumes but does not supplant the Great Commission or second half of the Great Commandment.  In other words, let us love each other in the church but make sure that love bleeds out into the streets so it truly will attract our “neighbors” around us.
  • Measure church health by the number of churchgoers living a Prayer-Care-Share lifestyle – not stopping at compassion but maximizing Kingdom impact by openly sharing their love for the Lord

It’s Your Turn

Is your church a Good Samaritan to your community, lovingly serving year round, breaking down the walls of cynicism surrounding churches and Christians today?  How should your church’s priorities shift such that its impact in your city could increase further?

What’s Your Church’s True Purpose?

May 27, 16
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A giant swallowtail butterfly in a man's hands.

Our Purpose is helping you align with Your Purpose.

For a church, it’s easy to slip into building a comfortable environment where complacency is acceptable.  Pastors regularly challenge members to connect, volunteer and give – building the institution.  Yet pastors are more reluctant to challenge them to the level of life change required to effectively minister, serve and witness to those around them – in other words, building disciples.

The purpose of a church is not to attract and retain people to worship and do life together.  Attraction and retention are business principles.  Businesses advertise, innovate and serve customers.  They don’t dare ask customers to step out of their comfort zones.  However, churches are called to do exactly that:

  • Transform vs. Attract – Lead people to love and look a whole lot like Jesus, whereby they feel compelled to disrupt “life as they know it” for the sake of bringing people to Christ – the Great Commandment
  • Release vs. Retain – Prepare and equip them for ministry in their sphere of influence, their city and the world – the Great Commission

The basis upon which most pastors make decisions today is whether it will attract or retain.  Yet ironically, Transforming lives and Releasing into ministry in the community do a far better job of attracting and retaining (and growing a healthy church) than America’s prevailing Attraction and Retention strategyInvite, Involve and Invest.

Yes, inviting friends to church and getting them plugged in socially and financially within the church is “sticky”.  The Bible says some will be attracted to groups of believers by their love for one another.  But in an era where there is so much skepticism about churches and Christianity, it’s far less likely that a non-Christian is going to venture into a church building just because they are invited by a friend or looking for new friends.

In other words, chances are they’ll be more attracted to a Christian than to Christianity – to an individual than to a church.  Church members are called not just to love each other but to love their neighbors too (which we will discuss more next week).  As they do so, those who are not Christians will become more receptive to Christianity.  Churchgoers need to be the first encounter for non-Christians with “church” – and need to be much better trained by their churches to become more powerful embodiments of church between Sundays.  Yet churches have pulled back on discipleship and ratcheted up requests to simply invite neighbors and leave ministry to the professionals.

What is Your Church’s Purpose?

To see if your church’s purpose is more aligned with Attract and Retain or Transform and Release, let’s go back to the blog post before Meet The Need’s launch.  We were looking at how some pastors respond to books or articles about increasing their churches’ engagement and impact in the community (i.e. Transform and Release):

  • “Oh, that’s the Social Gospel – but we’re about evangelizing.”
  • “We teach salvation by grace alone, not by works.”
  • “How is that going to grow my church?”
  • “Maybe we’ll get a few good ideas for community outreach.”
  • “The Bible tells us to take care of our Christian brothers first.
  • “We’ve got too many issues right now to focus on external ministry.”
  • “We don’t have enough budget for projects in the community.”
  • “How big of a difference can we really make?”
  • “Things are going pretty well right now. Why rock the boat?”

We discussed the first two responses in our two posts on the Social Gospel.  We challenged the Perception of many pastors that Caring and Sharing is an either-or decision.   The next two bullets touch on our topic today – Purpose.

Reaching a community for Christ is not the sole purpose of church – but it’s certainly up there somewhere.  Therefore, it’s concerning that so many pastors respond to articles about local missions with “How would addressing social issues in our community grow our church?” or “Maybe doing a couple service events will be a good way to build awareness of our church.”

Jesus acted out of a genuine concern for the welfare of those impoverished or ill.  He knew that His witness would be more powerful if He demonstrated His love and compassion before telling them who He is.  Yet churches rely primarily on occasional events in their local missions efforts.  Events make a big splash yet don’t convey a sincere heart for those who are still hurting and hopeless long after the event is over. 

In those cases, community outreach becomes more of a tool for Attraction (brand awareness) and Retention (checking the box to make members feel better about having done something).   In fact, the very word “outreach” has been redefined in recent years generally to mean church advertising rather than personal caring and sharing.  Churches will see local missions primarily as an attraction and retention strategy unless they:

  • Truly define members as the church and the community (not members) as the “customer”
  • Believe all hands should be on deck pursuing that “customer” (the hurting and lost)
  • Understand that loving their city to Christ is integral to its operations, e.g.:
    • Assign a staff person to lead local missions (a material portion of their job)
    • Give that person a meaningful voice in the direction of the church
  • Prepare, equip and challenge members to effectively carry out the Great Commission – i.e. Transform and Release

Getting Back on the Path to Purpose

Aligning with your purpose requires an honest review of what the Bible says about the purpose of church and not what conventional wisdom, seminaries and church growth consultants are telling you.  It also requires an openness to change (despite certain resistance) and possibly an entirely new way of thinking in three areas:

  1. your role in leadership
  2. the role of members
  3. the church’s role with those outside the “4 walls”

Meet The Need provides extensive advice in those areas – putting churches on a path to health, not just growth.  The importance of reversing the decline of the Church in America is why we give away all that content for free:

Meet The Need also provides personal coaching to churches that aren’t growing or having a great deal of impact in their communities.

And we don’t stop there…

Meet The Need provides tools to back up our coaching.  Many church consultants identify issues but don’t provide an effective, Biblical means to get churches back on the path to health.  However, Meet The Need spent over a decade and millions of dollars developing systems to help churches equip and mobilize their members to pursue their intended “customer”.  The consequences of churches continuing to ignore their “customers” are so serious that we give all of those systems away!

It’s Your Turn

Worshiping the Lord as a collective body is clearly a core purpose of a church.  Does your church treat Transforming and Releasing into ministry as key purposes as well?

By the way, in the coming weeks we’re going to continue evaluating that list of objections.  We began with Perception, today addressed Purpose, and are moving next into Priority, Passion and Platform

Exciting News!! Releasing Revamped Software and Coaching Next Week!

May 11, 16
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Blog Post 46 - Bell Shoals MTN

My Story…

Meet The Need began fifteen years ago, during a long drive back home to Atlanta from a vacation in Jacksonville.  Weeks earlier, I had asked my church where I could serve somewhere in the community.  I told them my passions and interests, hoping for direction.  I was surprised but they weren’t sure where to point me in the city.  As I was driving, I was thinking about how the Fortune 500 corporations I consulted all had those types of answers – they knew where to direct people when they wanted to buy something.

As I dug into the issue, it didn’t take long to figure out…

  • it wasn’t just my church that had this problem
  • the Church had been the food bank and homeless shelter for its first 1900 years, but was no longer on the front lines of compassion

So, how could churches, even one as large as mine, be so disconnected now from the needs in the community?  Jesus, His disciples and the early church modeled the power of demonstrating love in sharing the gospel.  They knew people don’t care what you know until they know you care.

Meet The Need’s Mission

To MOBILIZE and EQUIP the Church to lead millions more to Christ
by following Jesus’ example of meeting those in need exactly where they are.

That was the mission statement we came up with soon after I got back to Atlanta that day.  And it remains the same today.

We heard from many churches that they wanted to engage much more in the community but had no efficient way to share local (or even internal) needs with their members.  So we spent years and millions on the EQUIP portion of our mission – designing, building, testing and rolling out systems that empower churches and charities to communicate needs to those who could help.

EQUIP – New Enhanced Software!

Our commitment to EQUIP your church and charity continues to this day!  In fact, we’ve just completed a 2 year project to make all of our tools EVEN MORE accessible, user-friendly and state-of-the-art.  

We’ll be rolling out our brand new systems next week, including…

  • Smart Phone & Tablet Compatible – Displays conform to the devices being used!
  • New Functionality – Best practice features around group signups, real-time reporting, live check-ins and customizable emails!
  • More Simplicity – Faster registration, easier administration and automated self-service!

MOBILIZE – New Strategies and Coaching!

We developed Meet The Need’s comprehensive suite of software based on the assumption that churches would move beyond seasonal events (which often do more harm than good) if MTN could be the first to bring tools for them to manage and communicate needs on a year-round basis.  For many churches that has been the case.  MTN expanded nationwide and has had tremendous success in many cities.

However, the general trend among churches in America today is not toward unleashing members into year-round ministry in their communities.  Systems don’t change heart and minds.  We continue to see far too many unmet needs in cities across the country.  The greatest source of help and hope available to those hurting and lost resides, largely idle, in the pews of America’s churches.  

That’s why we plan to spend much of our time going forward on the MOBILIZE half of our mission encouraging churches to follow Jesus’ example of demonstrating His love before telling them who He is.

As many of you know, my background was in management consulting – solving strategic problems for large companies.  So for the past couple years I’ve put my management consulting hat on and done extensive research, trying to find out why:

  • the role of the Church in communities across America has fundamentally changed
  • American church growth models encourage internal, not external, focus
  • the Church (overall) in the U.S. is not succeeding on any significant metric – growth, impact, influence, or public perception

After all that digging, it turns out that organizational behavior best practices, which align very well with Biblical principles, held the key all along to why the Church is struggling.  There is a flawed assumption underlying most decisions churches make today.  The modern American church is violating one of the most basic tenants of all successful organizations, including the early Church.

Making that groundbreaking discovery would not have been possible without extensive experience in consulting followed by years of work with churches of all sizes.  Little did I know the Lord was preparing me all that time to understand and disclose the root cause issue behind the Church’s decline.

Next week, we’ll be unveiling those findings to you and launching our new coaching offering on our NEW WEB SITE in hopes of fulfilling the 2nd half of our mission – to MOBILIZE the Church!

Are You Ready?

If your church could get its hands on a Biblical roadmap to increase in size, impact and influence and perception, would you be willing to take a look?  What if your church or charity could get a complete suite of best-practice tools for managing all of its charitable activities – all at no cost?  Would you be open to checking out what we have to offer?  If so, get ready for MTN’s launch of our new tools, materials and web site next week!

3 Keys to Effective Evangelism

May 04, 16
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Blog Post 45 - Yelling (iStock_000024257625_Medium)1

Part 2 (of 2)

Based on the invitation I received to yesterday’s pastors’ luncheon, I thought the topic was uniting around the social issues facing our city – like homelessness and hunger.  I should have known better.  Each time I’ve joined a gathering of prominent Christian leaders about America’s “culture war”, the discussion has quickly evolved from a “ground war” of love and compassion to an “air war” aimed at our nation’s escalating immorality.  It’s a path quite similar to the evolution of the Social Gospel movement.  The word “Social” in the movement largely came to mean ensuring society obeyed God’s laws – rather than making sure society felt God’s love.  Never one to believe in coincidence, it seemed providential that I was seeing that same evolution of the “Social Gospel” played out right before my eyes while writing blog posts on that topic.

Last week we made an argument for removing the term “Social Gospel” from the Church’s vocabulary.  The actual Movement largely died out a century ago.  Utilizing the outdated term has become an excuse for churches to make an either/or decision between “words” and “action” when it comes to evangelism – a distinction that shouldn’t exist.  Today, many have adopted the version of the Social Gospel that the original movement was never intended to become – more about imposing (social) standards and less about sharing the gospel.  Unfortunately, speaking out about what’s wrong with society is always easier than “caring” or “sharing”.  That evolution from caring to criticizing shortly preceded the Movement’s demise – and foreshadowed the struggles the vast majority of America’s churches are having today.

“Gospel” in the Social Gospel

Most pastors say their churches are about evangelism and not the Social Gospel, but then provide inadequate training and impetus for their members to share their faith.  The “pew potatoes” most churches cultivate rarely bring anyone else to the Lord.

What percentage of church members actively witness to acquaintances and coworkers?  How many are disciples, taking on the attributes of Jesus – like vigorously pursuing the lost?  Are there more than a handful of true disciple-makers in your church, not counting those on staff?

Most pastors give members a free pass on evangelism, reducing it to handing out invitation cards or “telling your story”.  Challenging churchgoers to take on the uncomfortable task of personal evangelism risks losing them to countless other churches who would expect much less of them.

Clearly, we’re not doing evangelism well. 

However, most churchgoers are vocal in expressing their opinions on the state of our nation.  Like the church leaders I met with at the luncheon, they’re upset at how few seem to be following God’s laws anymore.  They believe that having a bigger megaphone, shouting from the top of each of the 7 Mountains (government, media, religion, education, entertainment, family and business) will turn this country around.

Why did “Social Criticism” or “Social Commentary”, the final phase of the Social Gospel movement, not work at the turn of the century in America?  It failed for the same reason legalism didn’t work in Jesus’ day and why it isn’t working now.  Applying our moral standard to those who do not subscribe to that standard is illogical.  Peter and Paul knew better than to take Jewish law and try to apply it to the Gentiles – it’s a cultural legal system that was completely foreign to those who weren’t Jewish.  Why would we expect those who don’t believe in Christ to live according to His laws?  Attacking society’s moral failures misses the point that they need Christ first.  Once they accept Christ then we can evaluate them according to His standards.  We can’t expect them to change their behaviors unless they first accept our foundation for right and wrong.  Until then, they likely don’t even recognize what they’re doing as sin.  Yet we judge and condemn non-Christians for not obeying laws they don’t acknowledge.  Therefore, they see our Social Criticism as irrelevant, unfair and inappropriate – as anger or possibly hatred, but certainly not love.  We succeed only in creating and widening a chasm between “us” and “them”.

So the question is how do we get them to accept Christ?  Jesus didn’t do it through words alone, but first made sure people paid attention to what He said by demonstrating His love, compassion and power.  In fact, Jesus spent far more time criticizing those who criticized “sinners” than criticizing “sinners” themselves.  Yet we continue to try to institute our way of thinking in a world that doesn’t like what they believe we stand for, nor respect our institutions.  Is it any surprise that such a small percentage of churches today are growing – in size, impact, influence or public perception?

“Social” in the Social Gospel

Not only are churches sliding down the same legalistic slippery slope that ended the Social Gospel movement, but they’re also failing at the original intent of Social Gospel – caring for the pressing needs of those around them.  As we’ve discussed throughout this blog series, churches are no longer on the front lines of compassion and most have limited year-round involvement in alleviating pain and suffering in their cities.  Our eBook The 5 Steps to Revitalize Your Church makes a solid case that churches no longer follow Jesus’ model for evangelism and provides action steps to dramatically increase your church’s impact in your community.

Combining the two sections above (“Gospel” and “Social”), it seems churches today aren’t excelling at either words or actions – the two components of evangelism.  First, pastors choose sides – believing evangelism and concern for social welfare are incongruent they select words or works.  Then they dabble in the one they chose while maybe doing a little of the other – but not doing either one very well.  Then pile on top of that widespread criticism of society by churchgoers and you have a recipe for disaster…

Rarely Showing We Care (by Serving) + Infrequently Sharing (the Gospel) + Loudly Criticizing Non-Believers = Shrinking Churches

Imagine a company following that model…

Poor Customer Service (remember, churchgoers are not “customers”) + Limited Sales or Marketing + Employees Criticizing Those Who Aren’t Customers = Bankruptcy

3 Keys to Effective Evangelism

1. Change our Perception

…that churches must choose between words and works.  Christ didn’t separate words and works, nor did the church during its first 1900 years.  Compassion and evangelism are inextricably linked and core purposes of any church.  The words “Social” (care) and “Gospel” (share) are redundant – you can’t effectively share the gospel without showing you care about people and their problems.  “Social commentaries” certainly won’t be heard in the right light if we haven’t first earned the right to voice our opinions.

2. Redefine the Church’s “Customer”

If members viewed themselves as the church and the lost in the community as the “customer” then:

  • Pastors would be more aggressive in equipping and mobilizing them to reach the church’s true “customers”
  • Members would be more willing to step out of their comfort zones and live out the Great Commission

3. Live a Prayer-Care-Share Lifestyle

In Mark 9, Jesus modeled this for us:

  • Prayer = Jesus said His disciples couldn’t heal the boy because it required prayer
  • Care = Had compassion on the boy and his dad
  • Share = Jesus asked the boy’s dad to proclaim faith in Him before healing his son

Powerful Christians live accordingly, not content simply to invite people to church or stop at “telling their story”.  They understand that bringing people to Christ involves taking personal responsibility for all 3 – praying, caring and sharing.  Yet today’s churches are reluctant to challenge churchgoers to become and make disciples – producing generations of Passive, Pensive and Private Christians who act as consumers of church and not as the church personified.

It’s Your Turn

Please share any examples of churches that are doing a great job with the 3 Keys to Effective Evangelism.  We want to hear your stories and possibly highlight them in future blog posts.

What’s wrong with the “Social Gospel”?

Apr 27, 16
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Blog Post 44 - Let Your Light Shine (iStock_000000153399Small)

Part 1 (of 2)

It’s tempting to put concepts into a mental box.  Many pastors and other church leaders see articles or books about the importance of serving their community and think…

  • “Oh, that’s the Social Gospel – but we’re about evangelizing.”
  • “We teach salvation by grace alone, not by works.”
  • “The Bible tells us to take care of our Christian brothers first.”
  • “How is that going to grow my church?”
  • “Maybe we’ll get a few good ideas for community outreach.”
  • “We’ve got too many issues right now to focus on external ministry.”
  • “We don’t have enough budget for projects in the community.”
  • “How big of a difference can we really make?”
  • “Things are going pretty well right now. Why rock the boat?”

Today, we want to address the first couple objections…

Misuse of the Term “Social Gospel”

Social Gospel was a movement that peaked around the turn of the century led by pastors who got involved in the pressing social issues of that day (e.g. workers’ rights).  Factions of the social gospel movement drifted into legalism, shifting their battlegrounds from injustice to issues like prohibition and prostitution.  Over the past few decades, we’ve seen the church make a similar shift – largely replacing proactive compassion with reactive outcries against legalized immorality.

We hear the term “Social Gospel” frequently today.  Yet most do not understand its roots.  Some assume it advocates salvation by works, likely citing Matthew 25Others associate it with the secular Social Justice movement – and therefore infer that the Social Gospel does not involve sharing one’s faith.  Many of those equate it to the quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

Is the term “Social Gospel” still applicable today?  Church historians do not consider the Social Gospel movement to still be viable.  However, the term is still widely utilized by church leaders, largely because it introduces an EITHER-OR variable into the equation.  In other words, by associating “Social Gospel” with belief in salvation through works or action without evangelism, churches can ignore what is good and Biblical about the concept.  Those pastors contend “Well, we’re about preaching the gospel using words”, and thereby feel justified in remaining on the sidelines in the fight against injustice and poverty.

Yes, the math is:

Salvation = 100% by faith through grace + 0% works

…where works don’t save you but are only evidence of your salvation, proving the sincerity of your profession


Evangelism = Prayer + Care + Share

…where works do matter as a door opener for sharing the gospel

Both equations are true.  Works can’t save you but they are critical for bringing others to Christ.  We will unpack that delineation in more detail next week in Part 2.

Both/And, not Either/Or…

Due to the misuse of the term “Social Gospel”, many pastors think they must choose between evangelizing via words or works.  Some believe too much emphasis on doing good things for others will creep into the psyche of the church – causing many to question salvation by grace alone.  Others don’t push members hard to do either – share their faith or serve outside the church.

Applying the label “Social Gospel” allows pastors to categorically dismiss the responsibility their church has to play a role in dealing with injustice and poverty – disposing of it in their mental wastebasket because “Social Gospel” is not aligned with their philosophy or mission.  Throwing around the term “Social Gospel” and calling it a movement makes it sound like an ongoing school of thought – but it’s not.  For all those reasons, I believe the term should be removed from our vernacular.  Its ongoing (mis)use opens the door for too many churches and Christians to abdicate the role Jesus expects them to play in society.

Look at the life of Jesus, His disciples and the early church.  The words “social” and “gospel” went hand in hand.  Of course they taught salvation by faith in God’s grace alone, yet they healed, fed, and fought injustice at every turn.  Jesus had a special affinity for the downtrodden and abused.  He loved and had compassion for them.  He wanted to draw all men to Himself – and knew words alone were not going to do that.  He gave the apostles power to heal, knowing their words would never be enough either.  Likewise, churches were the food bank and homeless shelter for 1900 years – and the Church grew exponentially because people “cared what we knew because they knew we cared.”

Pastors can’t outpreach Jesus or those who were with Him personally.  However, that’s exactly what they inadvertently try to do when they preach without accompanying acts of service.  Imagine going to an unreached people group to share the gospel without doing some good.  How much trust would those missionaries engender?  How would the unreached view them, waltzing in spouting off religious beliefs without demonstrating concern or providing assistance?  Planting a church in a community is no different.

What if we stripped off the “Social Gospel” label and simply applied Jesus’ model for evangelism as the standard for all churches and Christians?  What if we believed that caring about injustice and for the poor, all while sharing our faith enthusiastically, is the best way to reach those who don’t know Jesus – simply because that’s what He did.

Unfortunately founders of the Social Gospel movement had to come up with that term because too many pastors were ignoring injustices.  Business owners of that day who were guilty of violating workers’ rights were attending their churches, and often were the largest contributors.  In other words pastors were afraid to lose them and therefore treated them like “customers” – hesitant to challenge them to follow Jesus’ example in their workplaces.

Before we scoff at those pastors, consider that we’ve had to come up with a similar term today – “Externally Focused”Eric Swanson and Rick Rusaw coined that phrase because so many churches are once again too interested in retaining “customers” – hesitant to challenge them to step out of their comfort zones and follow Jesus’ example of serving and seeking the lost.

It’s Your Turn

Does your church consider caring a necessary precursor to sharing, or view those as distinct approaches to evangelism?