Tag Archives: Growth

Rescue Your Church from the Slippery Slope

Aug 24, 16
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
No Comments

Conyers, GA, USA - August 22, 2015: Competitors carefully make their way down a large slippery dirt mound at the Rugged Maniac Obstacle Course race in Conyers, GA.

After college I spent 2 years on Capitol Hill working for a U.S. Congressman, got an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, served for 15 years as a management consultant to business executives, and invested the past 13 years running a ministry devoted to serving churches.  Yes, quite a varied career, but the Lord had a plan throughout.  He showed me that there are similar, hard-to-resist forces at work in all three…

Entrepreneurial Life Cycle

  • A company begins with a solid understanding of customer needs
  • Founder sees an opportunity to provide better products and services
  • That commitment to serving target customers leads to success
  • Infrastructure struggles under the weight of the resulting growth
  • Spurring process improvement and restructurings, turning focus inward
  • Becomes more out of touch with evolving customer needs and competitors step in
  • Either refocuses on the market and innovates before it’s too late or goes bankrupt

Political Life Cycle

  • A community activist holds ideals dearly that resonate with other citizens
  • Recognizes an opportunity to seek office and make positive changes in the city, state and country
  • Rallies support for his/her candidacy and gets elected
  • Quickly realizes that powerful party forces are at work that restrain the ability to make those changes
  • Acquiesces for the time being, hoping the party’s promises to one day have real power come to fruition
  • Becomes a “politician”, gradually losing touch with those original ideals and constituency
  • Finally arrives at the point of less restrained power and influence, yet by then has little positive impact

Church Life Cycle

  • A church plants in an area with a vision for reaching and impacting that community for Christ
  • Evaluates local needs and ways to bring help and hope to the lost and needy
  • Starts to grow because of those efforts to engage and reach out to the community
  • Reallocate energy and budget to accommodate that growth, adding buildings and staff to meet the needs of the congregation
  • Interactions with those outside the church become more sporadic and arms-length (e.g. mailers)
  • Slowly loses sight of the needs and issues in the community, feeding perception that the church is busy taking care of its own
  • Must refocus externally at some point or (healthy) growth will cease and impact will diminish

Why Too Much Internal Focus Doesn’t Work

Organizations (and leaders) that retrench into their own confines atrophy until they decide to reconnect with the outside world.  A club closes its doors to new members, enjoying the comforts of exclusivity, while its members age.  A business divides into departmental “silos” and the accompanying politics and posturing ensue.  A charity gets short on funds and begins to compromise its original mission for the sake of raising money.  A church plant grows to the point of realizing it has something to lose, becoming more about attracting and retaining than transforming and releasing.

All of those scenarios involve an inordinate degree of self-absorption.  None of them lead to long term success because they redirect attention to the needs of those on the “inside” and away from target “customers”.  When the Church in America redefined its “customer”, increasingly catering to members rather than equipping them to pursue the real “customer”, it ensured its decline.  It violated the most critical mistake any organization can make – largely ignoring its intended “customers”.

The most common church growth model in America is Invite-Involve-Invest – the “rallying cry” of the internally focused church.  It has been a key catalyst in the shift toward the “member is the customer” mentality:

  • INVITE – Ask members and attenders to invite their friends because invited people “stick”.  Friends want to spend time with friends.
  • INVOLVE – Make the church even more “sticky” by engaging people in deep relationships or entrenched in serving at the church.
  • INVEST – Because where their money goes, their hearts will go also.

Nearly every aspect of the Invite-Involve-Invest model perpetuates an internally focused church.  For example, “Invite” relegates members to “customer” status, asking them to extend invitations and leave conversions to the “professionals” rather than entrusting members with the responsibility to BE the Church.

As churches became increasingly reluctant to challenge members to live up to the Great Commission standard, worrying they may not come back next Sunday, they:

  • Broke a Sacred Trust – Diverted resources away from the community it was established to reach and serve, making the intended “customers” think the Church stopped caring about them
  • Ignored a Time-Tested Adage – “People don’t care what you know unless they know that you care”

The consensus view is that churches tend to “take care of their own”.  Society frequently hears the Church speak out on the social and moral issues of our day, but rarely sees it engaging with those outside the “4 walls”.  An air war fought with a louder megaphone has replaced a ground war of compassion – and we’re therefore losing the culture war.  More talk and less action explains why most now view Christians and churches as more legalistic than loving, more about judgment than justice.  As a result, the Church is on the short end of those moral issues – the courts, schools and public opinion have moved in the opposite direction.  Meanwhile, the number of frequent churchgoers in America is shrinking.  Clearly, the Church’s growth, impact, influence and perception today are diminishing.  No, internal focus rarely works – not in business, politics or in a church.

Tips for Regaining an External Focus

Act More Like Millennials than Boomers – Churches should share the deep concern millennials have for social justice and the welfare of those less fortunate.  Many boomers I know focused on building careers and only began thinking more seriously about addressing social issues upon retirement. The trick is for churches to think about impact throughout their “lives” rather than turning their attention to giving back only when they first plant or after reaching a point where “success” provides disposable time and money.

Reallocate Budget to Community Engagement – It’s difficult today for most churches to cover expenses because average giving per family is dropping.  Yet ironically, clinging to those limited dollars only speeds a church’s demise.  Investing back into the community actually would bring more funds into the church.  Using the business analogy, companies who fail to reinvest in sales, marketing and customer service quickly find themselves in financial straits.  Similarly, churches should invest generously in equipping members to serve and share the gospel within their circles of influence – the real “customer”.  But that’s not the case today with only 2.5.% of the average church’s budget invested in missions and small groups almost entirely replacing more intensive discipleship methods.

Convince Members that they ARE the “Church” – Share the cold hard facts about the costs of discipleship and responsibilities to make disciples.  Expect members and frequent attenders to live out the Great Commission.  Do all that even at the risk of losing church “consumers” to another church down the road.

Use Health, not Growth, as a Barometer – 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.  Likewise, planting more churches that simply replicate the same flawed growth model doesn’t strengthen the body of Christ.  A few healthy churches full of disciples would have a far greater impact than scores of unhealthy ones.

Stop Thinking “My Church is Ok” – Back on the topic of politics, people often say, “Congress is completely dysfunctional, but my congressman is fine.”  Too many Christians defend their church but don’t blame the “Dones” for walking away from other churches, failing to realize that their own church likely is among the vast majority that in many ways no longer follows Jesus’ model of building Powerful Disciples and challenging them to demonstrate Jesus’ love before telling them who He is.

It’s Your Turn

Have you seen the life cycle mentioned at the start of this blog post play out in a church before?  Did the church regain an external (discipleship and compassion) focus in time to restore it to healthy growth?

Were Churches in Orlando Prepared?

Jun 15, 16
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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?

Time for the 2nd Half of Meet The Need’s Mission!

Jun 30, 15
, , ,

First Blog Post Pic (600 wide)

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 didn’t have an answer for me. As I was driving, I was thinking about how the corporations I consulted all had those types of answers – they knew where to direct people when they wanted to buy something.

It didn’t take much of an understanding of church history to know that the Church had been the food bank and homeless shelter for its first 1900 years. How could churches, even one as large as mine, be so disconnected from the needs in the community? Didn’t Jesus and the early church model the power of demonstrating love and compassion in sharing the gospel? People don’t care what you know until they know that you care, right?

The 2nd half of MTN’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 after I got back to Atlanta that day. And it remains the same today. We quickly learned back then that even if churches wanted to engage much more in the community (and we hoped they did), they lacked any modern day tools to help them share local needs with members. So we spent years and millions designing, building, testing and rolling out systems that empower churches and charities to show needs to those who could help. Meet The Need expanded nationwide and has had tremendous success in many cities.

However, #1 Equip – building systems that enable churches to do more – wasn’t our entire mission. Our mission statement also calls MTN to #2 Mobilize – encouraging churches to follow Jesus’ example. That 2nd part of our mission is where MTN plans to spend much of our time going forward. The systems are built, powerful and have recently been made much more accessible, simple to use and state-of-the-art. Now it’s time to focus more of MTN’s energies on mobilizing and encouraging because…

There’s a problem….

We developed MTN’s systems based on an assumption – churches would move beyond seasonal events if MTN could be the first to bring the tools they need to manage and communicate needs on a year-round basis. For many churches that has been the case. However, with or without MTN, the general trend among churches in America today is not toward unleashing members into year-round ministry. Systems don’t change heart and minds. We continue to see far too many unmet needs in communities across the country. The greatest source of help and hope available to families in need resides, largely idle, in the pews of America’s churches.

As many of you know, my background was in management consulting – solving strategic problems for Fortune 1000 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 perception

We’ve made a huge discovery…

After all that digging, it turns out that organizational behavior best practices and principles, which align very well with Biblical principles, held the key all along to why the Church is struggling today. There is a flawed assumption underlying most decisions churches make. 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 management 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 unveil the root cause issue behind the Church’s decline.

Going forward, we will dedicate this blog primarily to exploring and unveiling those findings in hopes of fulfilling the 2nd aspect of our mission – to Mobilize the Church.  We look forward to sharing these concepts with you over the coming weeks and months.

It’s your turn…

Why do you think the Church in America is losing ground in terms of growth, perception, impact and influence? In other words, with 93% of churches today stagnant or in decline, what changes do you think they should make to turn the tide?