Tag Archives: empower church members

4 Keys to Increasing Giving at Your Church

Aug 17, 16
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
No Comments

Red, White, and Blue From American Flag Reflected in God We Trust Motto on Vintage, Retro, 1967 United States Nickel

Redefining members (not pastors and staff) as the “church” and the community (not members) as the “customer” would reverse the lens through which churches evaluate nearly every decision they make today.  The most controversial and challenging aspect of adopting a Biblical definition of the “church” and its “customer” is…yes, Money. 

Church giving per attendee is down substantially – and it’s in large part due to the fact that we’ve flipped those two definitions.  Therefore, restoring giving and maximizing the impact of every dollar will require:

Flipping the Script on…”Church Generosity”

Current Lens – Member Generosity

Member generosity is one of church leadership’s greatest concerns and the lens through which leaders view the generosity of their church.  They see the church as the object of generosity, not the instigator of it.  They ask – “What percentage of our congregation is giving?” and “What’s the average giving per family?”

However, members ARE the church so if pastors are worried about whether they’re giving enough TO the church, they’re missing the point.  It’s not about “them” giving to “us” (the church), they are the “us” (the church).  Pastors who have truly empowered the congregation to BE the church will ask a completely different set of questions.

New Lens – Church Generosity

What leaders should instead be asking is whether their church (the organization itself) is generous.  In other words, how much are we giving out of our church’s budget to our real “customer” – the helpless and hopeless outside the “4 walls”?  And how generous are our members in sharing their time, talents and treasures with the poor and lost around them?  Churches should model the behaviors they want members to imitate.  It’s no coincidence that members today give (to the church) at approximately the same rate that the average church gives (to those outside the church) – 2.5%.  Historically, members gave a much higher percentage to churches back when churches gave a much higher percentage to the community.

Flipping the Script on…”First Fruits”

Current Lens – Member Priorities & Obedience

A common complaint among pastors is how churches wind up getting the “leftovers” after members pay all their bills.  The Bible is clear on this subject – the Lord deserves the first and best of what we have to offer.  Pastors know it’s wrong for churchgoers to lock in so many fixed expenses that they only have a couple cents on the dollar available at the end of the day to give to the church.

New Lens – Church Priorities & Obedience

Yet aren’t nearly all churches today doing the exact 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” (“outsiders”).  Churches were the food bank and homeless shelter for 1900 years.  They started the schools and hospitals.  They had far few fixed expenses and allocated a much higher percentage of their budgets to sharing the gospel through serving, as Jesus modeled.  If churches were more obedient in giving their first fruits, members likely would follow suit.

Flipping the Script on…”Investing for Growth”

Current Lens – Reinvest Inward

As we discussed earlier, churches budget roughly the same small percentage for external missions that members budget for their church.  New Christians never plan to short-change God – but then life happens.  Likewise, churches plant with a vision of the Biblical model – impacting the community mightily – but then get sidetracked by the demands of running a church.  Gradually, budgets get redirected toward staff and buildings to attract and retain people.  They replace intensive, personal discipleship with small groups and year-round community engagement with occasional service events.  One day they realize they should have never compromised, but by then it’s too late to extricate the organization from its fixed costs and debt.

New Lens – Invest Outward

The same cycle occurs with nearly all entrepreneurs.  The companies that survive refocus outward at some point on the needs of their target customers.  If they persist in serving internal stakeholders and neglect the marketplace, they go under.  Over 90% of today’s churches are not growing because they fall into the latter camp.  They don’t adequately challenge or equip churchgoers to pursue the real “customer”.

Church is not the end but the means.  Its purpose should be to build disciples and take ground for Christ.  Do either of those objectives require an expensive facility or a big staff?  No.  Decentralizing and empowering is not expensive – but centralization and administration is.  Pleasing consumers is costly – equipping disciples isn’t.  For example, raising up and training lay leaders to run home churches and neighborhood groups covering every block in a city involves very little fixed cost.

What if your church budgeted with the goal of maximizing its community impact and footprint for the Kingdom?  Yes, it would dramatically alter the allocation of dollars but would also radically transform the perception of your church in your city.  Imagine what people would say about your church if you decided to invest in mobilizing members to rescue schools, neighborhoods, and families in lieu of expanding facilities and hiring more staff? 

Flipping the Script on…”Give More, Get More”

Current Lens – Catering = More $s

In business, you don’t make profits if you ignore your target “customers”.  Yet in churches, many leaders believe their financial viability hinges largely on catering to members – and wind up ignoring their intended “customers”.  For example, a wealthy family leaving is cause for concern in most small churches.  That mentality is natural and expected, but wrong.  It’s also wrong if pastors would be more inclined to challenge their congregations more directly and preach the gospel more boldly if NONE of the church’s funding came from members/attenders and if everyone HAD to come back the next weekend.

New Lens – Challenging = More $s

It may seem counter-intuitive, but your church would actually bring in more income if it were more focused on disciple building and community engagement.  No doubt the reallocation of funds would be painful at first.  When you start boldly challenging members to BE the church between Sundays, you’ll quickly lose some long-time attenders who weren’t prepared to adopt a Prayer-Care-Share lifestyle.  And some of those folks who are quite content with the status quo could be your church’s biggest givers.  The financial risks of calling them to truly live out the Great Commission seem daunting.

However, in the long run your church’s income would actually increase:

  • Evidence shows that members are more generous with generous churches
  • Donors are more compelled by emotional “causes” like orphans and widows than administration and buildings
  • More disciples translates into greater community impact, which in turn produces more visibility, interactions and attendees

Would you give to a charity that essentially gave back 97.5% of its donations to benefit those same donors?  The beneficiary of a church’s services shouldn’t be those who give to it (e.g. members).  In fact, charitable receipts state that “no goods or services were provided in exchange for that donation”.  Charities and churches both share the same “customer” – the community in which they are planted.  A significant percentage of the dollars given to both churches and charities should flow through to the benefit of those they exist to reach.

It’s Your Turn…

Is your church as generous with its intended “customer” as it should be?  Would your church’s members be more generous in giving (internally and externally) if your church‘s budget better reflected a spirit of generosity?

“Lead Better” is Not the Answer

Aug 10, 16
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Blog Post 59 - Pastor1

When the business principles referenced in last week’s post don’t create healthy church growth (and they won’t), many pastors conclude that another business precept is at fault – leadership.  Countless business books, articles and consultants tell company executives how to lead better.  Today, leadership concepts are being pounded into the heads of pastors.  Megachurch pastors are publishing leadership content at a mind-numbing clip.  Many of the largest pastor conferences in America feature leadership as the central theme and advertise prominent church leaders as the main attraction.

The implication is clear – and insulting.  Your church is still small because you’re not a very good leader!

However, rather than view the implication as an insult, pastors gobble up leadership blogs and books.  I’ve seen hundreds of pastors stand in line at conferences for the opportunity to have a megachurch pastor sign their latest book on leadership.  I’ve heard thousands of pastors cheer like fans at a Beatles concert when a “celebrity” pastor steps on the main stage to speak about leadership.

Better leadership isn’t going to fix the Church’s declining growth, impact, influence and perception in America.  A new CEO of a company in the paper industry may make product design, customer service and advertising changes that take market share from competitors, but won’t materially alter its long-term fortunes without adapting the business model to account for market dynamics lowering demand for paper.  A more savvy and eloquent pastor can bring in new attendees and members, but won’t make the church more effective in making disciples and reaching the community for Christ without reverting to the Biblical definition of “church” and its “customers”.

In other words, better leadership of a bad model isn’t the answer.  Identifying the wrong issues has led to the wrong solution.  Churches shouldn’t fix the ineffective application of business principles with more business principles.  Those business principles don’t belong in a church in the first place, but became more prevalent as pastors and staff have assumed greater responsibility for “being” the church and the commitment level of members to act in that role has declined.  That’s the issue.  Leadership is important but it’s not the solution to the challenges facing the Church today.

The Real Issue…

Many large churches got big not because their pastors are more competent leaders, but because they’ve adapted better to the redefinitions of the terms “church” and “customer”.  As a result, some of the fastest growing churches in America place a great deal of emphasis on:

1. LEADERSHIP – positioning pastors and staff as “insiders” (e.g. the embodiment of “church”) and members as “outsiders” (or “customers” to attract and retain).  Therefore, they eagerly consume advice from today’s most renowned experts on church leadership, like:

  • Cast Vision – For the church, its future Growth and expected Impact
  • Track Key Metrics – Emphasizing Growth measures (attendance and giving) rather than Impact measures (# of Disciples Reproducing Disciples or # of Lives Changed by Members)
  • Empower Staff – Delegating responsibilities to staff for enhancing the church experience for select groups of members and visitors (e.g. families with children, men, women, singles, elderly).
  • Leverage Membership – Frequent requests for volunteers to build the institution and serve those inside the “4 walls”, yet few offer intensive (1-on-1 or triad) programs to build disciples who “go” and serve the real “customers” (who are outside the “4 walls”).
  • Deliver Quality – Excellence in communication, worship experience and programs

2. RETENTION – making church leaders more reluctant to challenge members to the level of life change expected of them as the personification of “church” (i.e. treating them as “customers”).

In light of that redefinition of “customers”, leaders of large churches have generally become more adept than small churches at “Customer” Experience DesignSmaller churches are typically slower to innovate, many resisting changes that would attract more attendees.  The new pastor we discussed earlier likely will encounter severe headwinds when trying to change the definitions of “church” and “customers”.  Asking members to take on greater responsibility for “being” the church and reaching out to the community (the intended “customer”) won’t go over well in most small churches.  Rocking the boat could quickly result in dissension or a split, led by a few long-time members who have far too much power and control.  Many small churches have become private clubs where new initiatives (or new faces) aren’t necessarily welcome.  New pastors would need to earn a great deal of trust and credibility before introducing any innovations that could upset the apple cart.

Numerous widely-recognized authorities on “Customer” Experience Design (labeled instead as church leadership coaching) stress:

  • Building staff roles around the needs of particular “customer” types to optimize the church experience for each group – a common practice in business but warranting caution in a church setting
  • Devoting significant staff time to putting on a well-organized, professional-grade event every weekend
  • Choreographing worship services down to the minute, unfortunately leaving little room for the Holy Spirit to shake things up
  • Meticulously planning and scripting emotional build-up from the music crescendo, to the announcements, to the message and all the way through to the closing songs and readings
  • Studying and applying the science of “customer” experience design (e.g. ideal # of parking spaces per attendee, % of seats filled to appear full, decibel level, visual effects, even down to seat spacing and cushioning)

A better “customer” experience may mean more attendees, but doesn’t translate into more disciples or greater Kingdom impact.  It can actually have just the opposite effect.  A goal to Attract and Retain will make church leaders more hesitant to Transform and Release.

The Real Answer…

  • Leading Better = Leading Biblically.  In other words, invoke Servant Leadership principles modeled by Jesus.  Flip the definition of “church” and “customer” by reversing the church hierarchy.  Rather than having staff serve pastors, pastors and staff serve members, and members serve the institution, make sure all hands are on deck preparing members to serve and share the gospel with the actual “customers” (those in need of help and hope).  That’s the path to better leadership of the right (Biblical) model rather than better leadership of the wrong (business) model.
  • Resist the temptation to control of the church’s future.  Subscribing to the philosophy that your church’s success hinges on your leadership is alluring – you can always improve and control your leadership skills.  Yet much like we must all resist the urge to think our actions impact our salvation, pastors should surrender control and distribute knowledge, power and responsibility to members.
  • Pastors and staff should commit themselves fully to discipling, equipping and empowering the congregation.  That doesn’t require fantastic leadership, just a deep abiding in Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, compelling them to disclose the costs of discipleship and to hold members accountable to the Great Commission standard.  That’s when we’ll start to see more people showing up who didn’t simply come from another church down the road.  Personal relationships with members who’ve been challenged to become disciples and evangelists can attract even those who otherwise wouldn’t dare darken the doors of a church.
  • Carefully consider which business practices belong in your church, if any.
  • Overcome resistance to change, even when the risks are great.  Church planters are initially bold and externally-focused, but become more risk averse once there’s something to lose.  Isn’t the opportunity to dramatically increase your footprint by challenging your congregation fervently to live out the Great Commission worth risking the departure of those who view church as a social club?

It’s Your Turn…

Do you agree that leadership is overemphasized in the Church in America today because leaders are overemphasized?  Why or why not?

7 Keys to Increasing Your Church’s Footprint

Jul 20, 16
, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Blog Post 56 - Footprint on Railroad (Unsplash - photo-1456894332557-b03dc5cf60d5)1

Last week we defined the “footprint” of a church as the collective impact for Christ of the people within it.  The number of members, budget or square footage don’t necessarily determine how wide or deep a church’s reach extends for the Kingdom.

Jesus modeled discipleship and community engagement as an example for His Church to follow.  He felt a small number of highly effective disciples would cover much more ground than a slew of casual followers.  A larger church does have a greater opportunity for community impact, but will only realize that potential if it applies Jesus’ model of building Powerful disciples and equipping them to demonstrate His love and compassion before telling people who He is.  Jesus had the perfect words, yet knew they wouldn’t be enough.  No pastor, no matter how eloquent, can “outpreach” Jesus.  Smaller churches can make a tremendous difference as well if they remain committed to that path Jesus laid out for expanding their “footprints”.

In our experience working with thousands of churches of all sizes over the past 15 years, we’ve observed that few remain as committed to discipleship and community engagement as they were when they first planted.  Once there’s something to lose, the realities of managing the organization and keeping it funded tug at the vision of member and city transformation pastors had when they first opened their doors.

To increase your church’s footprint and take more ground, leading to numerical growth and cultural revitalization, we recommend the following 7 ideas:

  1. Decentralize – …power, knowledge and responsibility. Empower, equip and train leaders to take ownership of discipleship, outreach and local missions.  Turn small groups into neighborhood groups, charged with caring not only for each other but for entire city blocks.  Reorganize into Mission Shaped Communities, entrusting lay leaders with the task of mobilizing members to generate collective impact.  When pastors truly define members as the Church personified, it won’t hesitate to challenge them to assume those leadership roles.  Only distributing power, knowledge and responsibility throughout the congregation will enable a church to fully leverage the power in its pews. 
  2. Deconstruct – …the skyscraper and tear down the warehouse. Stop trying to build A church and build THE Church.  Knock down the 4 walls; they aren’t keeping people in, they’re keeping people out.  Society perceives an “us” versus “them” attitude on the part of churches as Christians speak more and act (in compassion) less – pushing people away rather than drawing them in.  Meanwhile, other religions are taking ground in America, seeing the importance of taking action, infiltrating all facets of society – getting directly involved in neighborhoods, local causes, politics, and service projects.  As other religions expand their footprints, Christian churches can’t afford to pull inward, which they do when they become more concerned with retaining than transforming, making church the “end” and not the “means”.
  3. Disperse – In the skyscraper analogy, at the end of the workday, employees go down the elevator, walk briskly past the homeless in the park downtown, get in their cars and drive straight home. Many churches seek to provide a protected environment, apart from the moral decay around it.  Christians have even formed a subculture where we’re only exposed to acceptable versions of everything educational or entertaining.  When churches engage in compassion activities, most only go into the world on their own terms, doing controlled, supervised service events where members stick close to others from their own church – with limited contact with those they are serving. Yet Jesus and His disciples did not shy away from the world, instead going out to serve and evangelize the hurting and lost at every opportunity.  It was dirty, hard work with danger around every turn.  They didn’t leave the temple, head home and shut the proverbial garage door behind them.
  4. Disciple – Leaders should train members as if they truly ARE the church, essentially like the employees of a company.  A business would never rely on a 30 minute weekly presentation and 1 hour discussion led by an uncertified volunteer as the full extent of its training program for new hires.  Yet that’s what most churches do today, concerned that congregations don’t have an appetite for a greater commitment than that.  As a result of not being challenged directly with all that the Great Commission entails, too few become disciples or disciple-makers.
  5. Depend – …on one another, uniting as the body of Christ to advance the common mission of maximizing community impact. Resolving social ills in a city like hunger and homelessness isn’t a job any one can church can do by itself.  In fact, to make meaningful progress, churches will need to band together with those already working in those trenches, including government agencies and secular charities.  Each church acting independently doesn’t form a cohesive footprint.  How shocked would citizens be to hear that all of the churches in town are working together to eradicate child abuse and neglect?  Would that quickly change the prevailing perception that churches are primarily concerned with taking care of their own?  Why should the term “Kingdom-minded” ever need to be used to describe a church willing to work with other churches when that should be our natural state?  Instead we see competition over a shrinking pool of frequent churchgoers – the opposite of unity, resulting in a contracting overall “footprint”.
  6. Deploy – …troops to fight a “ground war”, not an “air war.  That’s the only way to win America’s “culture war”.  Dropping verbal bombs only serves to further alienate those who don’t care what Christians know (because they don’t know we care).  Only the Church can mobilize massive troops, with love as their chosen weapon – as opposed to a louder megaphone.  Only a united Church that’s spread out over a wide expanse can cover the entire battleground.  But that alone won’t get the job done.  Pastors will need to do more to enlist soldiers to join this army – challenging members to be the living, breathing church between Sundays, with hearts breaking for the hopeless and helpless.
  7. Dedicate – Unfortunately, few churches see local missions as a critical function, allocating less than 2% of their budgets to following Jesus’ model of leading with compassion.  Community engagement also occupies a very small amount of time at staff meetings.  Local missions pastors (if the church has one) are typically the least influential voice at the table.  Pastors and staff in charge of media, singles, youth, music, communications, small groups, and finances all have more say in the direction of most churches.  Priorities and dollars follow goals.  A good indication that a church is building a skyscraper and not maximizing its “footprint” is if it’s closely tracking the number of people in the pews yet not the number of lives changed by those in the pews.  As pressures mount to manage and grow, the temptation increases to prioritize “noses and nickels” metrics over member and city transformation.

It’s your turn…

How many more could be reached by the church dispersed?  How many would be caught off guard seeing far more love and hope lived out in front of their eyes?  How many more would want to check out church for the first time in quite a while?

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

Jun 22, 16
, , , , , , , , , , , ,
one comments

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

Has the Church Lost its Passion?

Jun 08, 16
, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
one comments

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.

What’s Your Church’s True Purpose?

May 27, 16
, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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
, , , , ,

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
, , , , ,

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
, , , ,

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?

The 5 Cures for Pastor Burnout + a Bonus

Apr 20, 16
, , , , ,
No Comments

WESTLAKE, TEXAS - OCTOBER 18, 2014: A 1941 Packard 120 (One-Twenty) Convertible Sedan is on display at the 4th Annual Westlake Classic Car Show. Front side view.

We understand what you’re facing.  Being a pastor is one of the toughest jobs out there.  Church leaders are burning out in record numbers.  However, we have great news!  There is a path to more growth, more people coming to Christ, more fulfillment and less frustration.

Here’s what I told him…

Last week we told the story of the former professional golfer turned pastor who found himself asking the same question in both professions – “Is this all there is?”  We went through the primary sources of pastoral burnout in that blog post.  Now, as promised, here’s the rest of my conversation with that pastor, including 5 steps to revitalize his ministry and his church:

  1. Remember the Vision – “Think back to when it all began. The Lord gave you a clear picture of what He wanted to accomplish through your church.  You probably wrote down a vision statement that involved building disciples and impacting the city and world for Christ.  Maybe it was something like, ‘Leave no soul in our city untouched by the love of God’.   You envisioned a church that would make a tremendous difference and be sorely missed if it ever closed its doors.  Then it sounds like you got caught up in the day-to-day of running a church – personnel, factions, building projects, obligations to members and staff meetings.  None of those were why you got into ministry.  Somewhere along the way, those began to dominate your schedule.  No leader ever intends to deviate from their mission but it happens to pastors and entrepreneurs alike.  Maybe it’s not a big deal in business, but a pastor losing sight of the original vision from God is huge.  Can you get back to fulfilling that initial vision?  Wouldn’t that reinvigorate and get you excited again?  Yes, it would rattle some cages, but you started or joined the church with that vision in mind, so refocusing everyone on it shouldn’t be a big surprise.  One of your primary jobs as pastor is to protect and promote that vision, and that’s what this suggestion is all about.”
  2. Only Do What Contributes Directly to that Original Vision – “Can you let go of anything that distracts you from what the Lord gave you to do?  Look at your calendar and see what directly relates to the vision God gave you for the church – hang on to those.  See what indirectly relates and think hard about any you can offload.  Then, figure out which activities don’t contribute to the vision and role God assigned you and delegate or eliminate them entirely.  You’re not called to spend so much time ‘waiting on tables’.  Ask other leaders and members to take greater responsibility for handling non-urgent needs of members.  Most pastors try to do too much in order to accommodate every request, concerned about upsetting members if they opt out.  Every leader must prioritize the strategic over the tactical.  Yes, being there for members in their times of urgent need is strategic – yet impossible in a larger church.  Maybe what’s more ‘strategic’ is to give others opportunities to lead in those situations.  For example, if the number of weddings, funerals, and visitations prohibits you from building disciples and impacting your city for Christ – then you have to trade in good for great.  The more you equip and leverage others, the more your church will grow – so you can get off the hamster wheel and make real forward progress.”
  3. Be Yourself – “Part of why it takes a special person to be a pastor is the need to be equally effective from the pulpit and one-on-one. Pastors are teachers but also shepherds.  That means they are called to speak well yet listen better.  Yet as many become better organizers and preachers, they often become worse listeners.  Pastors are typically wired to be intensely relational.  Yet the demands of the job and growth of churches often leave less time for personal relationships with many members.  Interactions become shorter and more sporadic.  In a church your size, it’s easy to slip into the position of a public persona, particularly when many members and staff are reluctant to speak frankly with the pastor.  Do you miss the honesty of hanging out with close friends and hearing what’s really on their hearts?  Most pastors don’t even have other pastors they can confide in.  It can be lonely at the top.  Other pastors begin to believe their own press.  They’re the object of so much reverence and adulation that they lose touch with the vision, accepting elevation to a higher, less accessible position.  Somewhere in their dark recesses they know they’re unworthy of that status and crave deeper, real relationships.  Trying to be something we weren’t meant to be always eventually burns us out.  It’s hard work living up to the expectations of others.”
  4. Define Members as the Church – “Walking on egg-shells is no way to go through life. Yet most pastors are concerned about what they say, even if it’s biblical, for fear some may be offended.  Many take on too many responsibilities because members expect them to step up.  Yet as we’ve contended throughout this blog series, members are the church – ‘insiders’ who are much more like employees than ‘customers’.  So expectations should be reversed.  Rather than overburdening pastors by putting the onus on them to care for members and run a complex institution, we should be boldly equipping and challenging members to BE the church.  They should be assuming greater responsibility (and accountability) for pursuing the real ‘customer’ – the hurting and hopeless in the community where the church is planted (i.e. ‘outsiders’).  Imagine how that would alleviate the burden on pastors – a less ‘codependent’ body sharing much more of the discipleship, service, administrative, evangelism, counseling, caring, etc. load.  But far too many pastors are concerned about losing people to the church down the road.  Therefore, far too many underutilized ‘workers’ sit idly in the pews, ready to walk away if they’re not happy with the sermon, music, demands on their time, etc.  Pastors, staff and buildings do not define the church, yet that perception by most churchgoers today is a key source of pastoral burnout.”
  5. Rekindle Your Willingness to Take Chances – “Remember when you had nothing to lose. Often we look back on those as the ‘good old days’.  When you first planted your church, you had a vision but few members or bills.  You stood by that vision and knew your core group had to be fully aligned around it.  You had to challenge “insiders” and get out in the community to meet people or your church would never get off the ground.  Most entrepreneurs start that way too – very aware of customers’ needs and engaged in the marketplace.  The trick for pastors is to maintain the same principles, external focus and fearlessness when there is something to lose.  Just because there are more members and financial commitments at stake, the focus and resolve shouldn’t change.  Challenging members to live out the Great Commission risks losing church ‘consumers’ – which is scary when they may be key contributors or patriarchs.  Yet Jesus preached His most challenging sermon near the height of his popularity.  What Jesus was left with were a few disciples who changed the world.  Church growth is not always healthy.  Like people, churches often need to lose some weight to get healthy.  The trajectory of a thriving church is typically down before it follows the hockey stick back up.  Fear of taking chances is why so many pastors never get to relive the excitement they felt back when the church first started.”

Bonus: How to Respond to Adversity

“So Jim, I already spend so much of my time dealing with internal issues.  Your recommendations would spark a lot of contention and controversy within my church.  People like the way things are now.  No one’s complaining, but they will if I follow your suggestions.”

“Yes, there’s always calm before a storm.  When challenges hit, most pastors shift their focus inward to fix problems, asserting more control.  But rather than turning in, I think you should turn your attention outward.  Lead by example.  Get the minds of your members and leaders off of their own interests by showing them what it means to BE the church to those around them.  Confronting opposition, arbitrating internal differences, upgrading products/services and increasing advertising are what business leaders typically do.  Those attempts to ‘fix’ the organization distract them from truly engaging customers and seeking new opportunities.  Likewise, individuals who dwell on their own issues only drive themselves deeper into a hole.  The best advice for them is often to get out and serve others who may be worse off to put everything back in perspective.  Yet most pastors ‘dwell’ when the going gets tough.  They seek advice from ‘successful’ pastors, but most articles and books promote the same flawed model touting better internal leadership rather than redefining the church’s ‘customer’.  Instead of leading more (which increases burnout), pastors should be leading less and getting out more to advance the mission in the city (which is invigorating).

It’s Your Turn

If you’re a pastor, would these steps help alleviate any burnout you’ve been experiencing?  If you’re a staff or church member, how would you feel if your pastor followed those 5 suggestions?