Tag Archives: Serving Others

Proving Your Church Worships the Creator

Aug 19, 21
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Christians prove they personally know the one true God only when they undergo a transformation reflecting that life-altering, seemingly unimaginable possibility.  Likewise, churches persuade non-believers that they know the infinite Creator only when they reflect that miraculous reality by taking an “otherworldly” approach to conducting their affairs.

Unchurched observers aren’t convinced anything supernatural is going on inside of churches whose principles and practices look much like what people see within their personal social circles and workplaces.  The foundations for the belief systems of churches (Spirit) and the world (flesh) are diametrically opposed, so when efforts to attract and accommodate non-believers blur those lines, society doubts our connection to the Divine.

It’s even conceivable that atheists secretly or subconsciously once wished churches operated atypically to provide a ray of hope, an alternative to the emptiness of a life about power, position and possessions.  Attempts to conform church to cultural norms has dissuaded many from seeking answers there because they ironically, inadvertently became too indistinguishable to clearly convey His image.  According to surveys, the primary difference the unchurched notice between Christian and secular organizations is in their criticism of culture.  Conformance nor criticism provide the path to standing out from the crowd in ways that prove we worship the one true Lord and Savior.

Society Would Believe Churches Worship the Creator If…

Our nation would stop drifting from the Lord and gravitate toward Christ if churches had less in common with secular organizations that people encounter every day.  Persuading the world that churches know the promised Messiah who offers forgiveness, reconciliation and salvation would require looking as different as Jesus did.  For example…

  1. If the love churchgoers had for one another exceeded what people saw anywhere else – Scripture says people will recognize Jesus’ disciples by the love they share.  Yes, prevailing definitions of “love” diminish society’s ability to distinguish our love from theirs, but church splits and factions over tradition, leadership, doctrine and even vaccines are apparent to those outside our “4 walls”.
  2. If the metrics churches used to measure success looked nothing like those businesses track – Revenues, headcount and footprint are corporate terms that unfortunately correspond to the primary ways pastors gauge progress – nickels, noses and (multi) sites.  Income, employment and expansion should be byproducts of discipleship, evangelism and compassion – not worldly goals that fuel cynicism about the Church.
  3. If church planters didn’t follow the typical entrepreneurial lifecycle – Companies begin with a mission and engage the community to understand local needs.  That outward focus leads to growth, which spurs a transition to managing and retaining those customers.  Once the entrepreneur has something to lose, turning attention inward can take their eyes off the initial mission, evolving needs, and community engagement.  Sound familiar?
  4. If church leaders stopped treating members like customers – Equipping and multiplying disciples is a longer yet far more certain and biblical path to church growth.  Becoming and making disciples is also more time-consuming than busy, cultural Christians are willing to endure.  So churches invest the vast majority of their resources into providing what Americans enjoy – exciting, educational yet not too challenging “fast food” experiences.
  5. If churches didn’t outsource critical functions like compassion to government, charities and ministries – When corporations outsource manufacturing or customer service overseas to underpaid workers in undemocratic nations it angers Americans concerned about jobs and justice.  Americans also notice that churches have outsourced costly compassion to other organizations for similar reasons – to focus on more engaging, lucrative activities.
  6. If denominations were more united than the world around them – Churches should be an oasis, offering a respite from this highly divisive period in our nation’s history.  If our God were big enough to overshadow our stark differences, non-believers would certainly take notice.  If churches collaborated frequently to move the needle on real social issues (e.g. grade level literacy), they would bridge the sacred/secular divide that defines our culture.
  7. If churches were less political than today’s average citizen or corporation – Most churches find themselves on either end of the Politically Correct or Politically Incorrect spectrum…rarely in the middle.  Both extremes repel large swaths of people, providing progressives with ample examples of churches that arrogantly condemn and conservatives with ammo against churches that cave to convention.
  8. If churches were more forthright than post-modern society about the depravity of all humans, including members – The culture war raging in our nation is centered around one fundamental disagreement…whether human nature is inherently good or bad.  Media drives home the message that every individual is a demi-god while mocking Christians for presumably thinking they’re better than everyone else.
  9. If Christians presented absolute truth with greater abandon than our relativistic culture – Churches can be just as guilty of “living my own truth” when they are selective about what they teach from God’s Word.  Scripture doesn’t leave a tremendous amount of room for omission or interpretation, yet most pastors tend to underemphasize Jesus’ less palatable commands like serving the poor, making disciples, and truly repenting of sin.
  10. If churches were more welcoming but less accommodating than the average social club – Country clubs are exclusive, but then go over the top to cater to those who make the cut.  Places of worship should be holy, designed for those who worship Jesus, and should rally the congregation to meet the needs of other members.  However, churches must be demanding, not offering “cheap grace” (simply attending, joining, and tithing), but challenging members to bear the costs of discipleship rather than outsourcing those responsibilities to pastors.
  11. If churches trusted God enough not to plan and program as meticulously as businesses – Many of the Nones and Dones once attended church regularly but are firm in their resolve never to return because they see it as no different than any other human institution.  They waited for years to witness the inexplicable but instead discovered only carefully scripted choreography of music, sermons and programming behind the curtain.
  12. If we were less anxious than society to return to “normal” post-pandemic – A world clamoring for safety and security watched to see how churches and Christians responded to adversity.  The Church’s impact, influence, growth and public perception were suffering before COVID-19, so society believes it must be desperation to avoid bankruptcy (much like retailers) driving them to want to get back to a “business as usual” that wasn’t working.
  13. If churches were less transactional than our promotional, short attention span culture – Events, commercials, sound bites and Tweets resonate with Americans.  In an attempt to navigate society’s attention deficit, we’ve not only compacted worship services but church activities and outreach as well.  Since poverty is about broken relationships, our seasonal community service events actually do more harm than good, producing dependency, cynicism and shame in those unable to make ends meet.
  14. If churches did a better job than other organizations of responsibly utilizing their capacity – Investors and consumers reward companies for maximizing utilization of their facilities.  Yet churches possess a tremendous amount of square footage that sits largely idle most days of the week.  That waste of space which could be leveraged to serve and engage the community year-round is akin to a wealthy family who rarely visits a second home.
  15. If church leaders and business leaders took a less self-interested view of one another – Many walk away from church with a bad taste in their mouths due to underutilization of their skills.  They hoped to make a significant impact in the lives of others yet felt taken advantage of doing “church chores” beneath their capabilities.  Rather than equipping members for Kingdom work in their circles of influence, members were encouraged to abdicate ministry roles by inviting friends to come to church to hear from “professionals”.

The body of Christ should bear little resemblance to man-made constructs.  Our philosophies, purposes and priorities should be radically transformed because an omniscient, omnipotent God is guiding our every move.  To the naked eye, it’s hard to believe pews are filled with people possessed with power from an indwelling Holy Spirit if we operate much like for-profit organizations.  We’re responsible for miscommunicating the truth of who God is if we compromise to conform to the world’s image rather than His.

It’s Your Turn

How can churches offer a shining alternative to culture by differentiating in ways that reflect the truth about the love and grace of almighty God?

3 Keys to Winning the Culture War

Sep 14, 16
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Iowa City, United States- February 1, 2016: Heavy turnout for the 2016 Democratic Iowa Caucus in Precinct 14 at Mark Twain Elementary School in Iowa City, Iowa with relatively mild for a January Iowa night.

This is not our home.  We should be concerned about the here and now, but not worried.  The Lord has a plan and Hillary nor Donald have any power to alter it.  You and I can’t change God’s will either, but what we can do is help bring as many people as possible with us to our eternal home – in heaven.

Many participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge because they knew someone with ALS.  Others are doing 22 pushups today because they know a veteran with PTSD.  Every one of us has a neighbor, coworker, friend or family member who doesn’t know Jesus.  Isn’t the plight of those lost without Christ far worse than those who suffer from ALS or PTSD?

We only get one vote for President but we can cast countless eternal votes for those we encounter each and every day.  We have far greater ability to impact who’s in God’s House than who’s in the White House.

When you live out Matthew 20:16-28, serving others in Jesus’ name, you’re casting a vote that will endure forever – not just the next 4 years.

To #CastAnEternalVote by election day, November 8th:

  • Perform a simple act of service for someone you know or a perfect stranger in the name of Jesus
  • Tell us your story on our Facebook or Twitter page with the hashtag #CastAnEternalVote or #VoteForEternity2016
  • Directly challenge 3 of your friends on social media to “pay it forward”

Why You Shouldn’t Abstain from Voting

I recently attended my third gathering of Christian leaders from across the U.S. to strategize about ways to reverse the course in America away from Biblical values.  Once again the overwhelming consensus was that the answer lies in Christians recapturing control of the 7 Mountains (government, media, religion, education, entertainment, family and business)In other words, they believe a louder megaphone is the answer to winning the “culture war”.  They are deeply concerned that another 4 years without a Christian in the White House will further undermine the Christian values our nation once held dear. 

Christians have bemoaned, campaigned and lobbied vigorously over recent decades – often in tones that come across as angry.  Yet the louder Christians have yelled, the less we’ve been heard.  We’ve lost our voice in America.  The reason is that we haven’t followed Jesus’ model.  We’ve essentially try to “outpreach” Jesus when we espouse our beliefs without demonstrating His love and compassion – something Jesus rarely did.  Being so often heard yet rarely seen has cost Christianity dearly.  The principle is simple – people don’t care what you know until they know we care.  Turning up the volume will only drive the prevailing view of Christians and churches deeper into the ditch.

Just because a Christian occupies a powerful position at the peak of the governmental mountain top will not necessarily amplify our voice.  If not accompanied by a grass-roots movement of mercy, justice and compassion, more decibels may just solidify the opposition’s resistance to our position on social issues.

Are Christians winning the culture war today?  Name a moral issue that the church and Christians haven’t already lost, or appear likely to lose soon.

A Better Weapon to Fight the Culture War

The air war has failed.  Christianity has suffered tremendous collateral damage from years of dropping verbal bombs.

Jesus waged a ground war first of love and service to non-believers, then swooped in to fight an air war with the gospel message once the ground war had sufficiently weakened their resistance.  A ground war requires the right army – prepared, trained and properly motivated for battle – in other words, Powerful Christians.  Passive, Pensive and Private Christians are unfit for active duty.  Only disciples are ready and willing to head to the front lines – of praying, caring and, only then, sharing.

We’re all called to strap on our boots and sling a rifle over our shoulders, ready to get our hands dirty in the ground war of loving service.  People need to know what Christians are for, not what we’re against.  The more we dig our heels in, the less we can connect with them – and the less they can identify with us.

What Will the Battleground Look Like?

Christians and churches face mounting obstacles in the years to come.  Generating meaningful impact, material influence and positive perception will be more difficult as the following trends further unfold:

  • Considering any reference to Biblical perspectives that run counter to what is viewed as socially acceptable to be hate-speak
  • Inability to mention the name of Jesus in public settings, effectively eliminating His name from the “free speech” lexicon (“Jesus“ is the one word I’ve been specifically asked not to mention during a speech I’m giving later today at a public high school)
  • Preventing pastors from expressing opinions from the pulpit that go against court decisions or liberal views on moral issues
  • Requiring Christians to comply with laws that defy Biblical principles
  • “Coming out of the closet” becoming far more applicable to Christians, particularly for kids in schools, requiring courage in the face of the stigma that label now carries with it
  • Shaming of Christians in the media
  • Companies refusing to hire those who do not disavow Biblical views on particular hot-button issues
  • Even physical persecution of Christians will one day occur in America because Muslim population growth and conversion rates will continue to outstrip Christian birth and conversion rates, eventually giving them popular majorities in localities, cities and states

In essence Christians and churches face relegation to a corner, rarely visible in the mainstream, in the not-too-distant future.  Lest you view that as impossible here in the U.S., look at Western Europe where similar internal-focus on the part of churches and social trends led to that same inevitable outcome.

How Can We Win the Culture War?

Christ’s church will prevail.  With increased persecution will likely come greater resolve.  Churches will begin to produce more Powerful Christians.  Lukewarm, on the fence churchgoers won’t persevere when challenges come their way.  Those conditioned for comfort and “consumption” will have some tough decisions to make.  Many passive, pensive and private Christians will run and hide – too afraid to speak or act.  Only true disciples of Jesus Christ will endure the trials by fire – willing to take a stand, refusing to back down when threats to their faith increase.  Only those whose lives are changed can change lives.  The good news is it took just a few disciples of Jesus to reverse the course of history.

Winning the culture war will require:

  1. Redefining “Church” – Seeing ourselves as the church personified and no longer relying on pastors as the “professionals” responsible for bringing non-believers to Christ
  2. Following Jesus’ model – Realizing the importance of linking actions with words
  3. Taking Ground – Masses of Christians infiltrating their spheres of influence with the love and good news of Jesus Christ

A fully trained and effective army that cares and shares could turn the tide of how Christians are viewed in America.  If society begins to see the love of Jesus through the compassion of Christians, a new generation of believers will emerge from the ground up to one day occupy those mountain-top positions.  However, continued efforts to take over the 7 mountains from the top down will further diminish the influence and perception of the church and Christianity, paving the way for the mounting challenges to our faith.

It’s Your Turn…

Cast your eternal vote before Election Day, November 8th and challenge 3 Christ-followers you know to “pay it forward” and Vote For Eternity 20:16!

Profile of a Church “Shopper”

Aug 31, 16
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Famous shopping area in Dublin, Ireland. Grafton Street showing shoppers, shops and church.

Because most churchgoers don’t see themselves AS the church, they’re susceptible to becoming consumers OF the church:

  • “I’m looking for a new church home”
  • “My kids don’t like it there”
  • “I’m not being fed”
  • “The music is too loud”
  • “We don’t feel like we belong”

Americans “shop” because we want more – or something different.  We search for what will make us happy.  We evaluate the available options and choose the one that provides the greatest value.  For many of us today, that also applies when it comes to church.

What do shoppers do at a store?  They find what they want (or not) and then leave.  There are two ways in which “shoppers” leave a church:

…Walk out the door after weekend services

  • and don’t see themselves as the church personified once they’re outside the “4 walls”

…Decide to stop going to a particular church

  • and start looking for another one

Christians shouldn’t stop being the church on the way home.  They may disperse, but that should only serve to permeate the culture with the love of Christ.  Nor should Christians leave a church family because they’re unhappy with it – any more than we can leave the family we’re born into.  God chooses both families for us – and for good reasons.

Chicken or the egg…

Why do so many church goers look for something better?

…Did our advertising-driven culture turn us into consumers of churches as well?

  • and force churches to adapt, catering to rather than challenging members

…Did churches turn us into church consumers?

  • using the latest church growth strategies to drive up attendance

In other words, did churchgoers become finicky on their own or did churches make them that way?  For example, are most church ads today aimed at enticing non-Christians to try out (any) church or convincing Christians to switch over to a new church?  Advertising a “casual environment” or “fun for kids” isn’t going to attract someone who isn’t interested in church.  People can find more relaxing places to go and more fun things for the kids to do elsewhere.  Those kinds of ads would only pull in those who aren’t happy with those aspects of their current churches.

If we’re not careful, church membership can look a little like a country club or health club.  Consumers are accustomed to working within a membership framework.  They pay dues are entitled to certain benefits.  Yet that sort of thinking causes folks to join another “club” when their current church doesn’t meet their expectations.  Too many consumers within churches have turned many from life-saving stations into social clubs with a life-saving motif.  As church has become too comfortable, members have reverted from search-and-rescue squads to partakers of church services.  Intensive life-saving courses have been replaced by small groups.  Churches are no longer first responders when local families are in need, instead resorting to occasional outreach events.   Most church members have lost their sense of sense of urgency for the plight of unbelievers.  They are less cognizant of the dire peril facing those who don’t know Jesus.  Nor do pastors consider obedience to the Great Commission mandate a prerequisite for church membership.

The other way to reach the lost…

Today, instead of “go and make disciples”, we build first-rate facilities, design engaging worship services, post attractive signage and place friendly greeters at the door.  Build it and they will come.  Will they?  Maybe, but when they get there what will they find?  Friends – very likely.  Jesus – hopefully.  The kind of radical life change expected of disciples of Jesus Christ – probably not.  Churches today are producing far too many Pensive, Passive, and Private Christians.

Quick story:  A 3,000 member church hired consultants from one of the country’s largest megachurches to rejuvenate its aging membership.  The prescription:

  • shut down local missions – young families don’t have time to serve the community
  • upgrade the band and raise the decibel level – give it a concert feel
  • gear the sermons toward counseling rather than discipleship
  • more candy and games for the kids – no more boring memory verses
  • fun banners and bulletins
  • get everyone involved in an activity or group inside the church
  • change the “ask” message from Matthew 5:16 to Malachi 3:10

The scary part – it worked!  Smaller churches in the area simply couldn’t provide the same “customer” experience for consumers.  The church grew – in numbers, although not in disciples or impact.  New visitors came, but nearly all were from other churches.  Larger didn’t mean healthier.

Unfortunately there are still many people who won’t dare to darken the door of a church.  They’ve tried church, had a bad experience, and wouldn’t step back into one if their lives depended on it (and they may).

In those cases, the only choice is to “go” to them.

What if we built Powerful disciples who acting as the embodiment of church all week long?  How many more people could we reach with the gospel if members didn’t wait for them to show up at the building?  What if pastors scrapped tightly choreographed “consumer” retention strategies and threw caution to the wind?  What if we turned the table on church consumers?  What if pastors dared do some (or all) of the following?…

…increased service times

…reinstituted Sunday school and expected all to attend

…started an intensive 1-on-1 discipleship program for all congregants

…allocated 40% of the church budget to local outreach and missions

…told members to stop simply inviting non-believers to church and take personal responsibility for bringing people to Christ

…turned small groups into neighborhood groups tasked with BEING the church to the community where they meet

…asked all members to serve in Jesus’ name somewhere in the community at least once every month

Yes, it’s true that nearly all the “consumers” would soon take their business elsewhere.  However, would the church be healthier if disciples were the only ones left in the building?

It’s your turn…

What happened first?  Did most churchgoers become consumers (and then churches adapted to accommodate them), or did churches turn people into church consumers?

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?

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?

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?

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?