Tag Archives: Serving Others

The 5 Cures for Pastor Burnout + a Bonus

Apr 20, 16
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WESTLAKE, TEXAS - OCTOBER 18, 2014: A 1941 Packard 120 (One-Twenty) Convertible Sedan is on display at the 4th Annual Westlake Classic Car Show. Front side view.

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

Here’s what I told him…

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

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

Bonus: How to Respond to Adversity

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

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

It’s Your Turn

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

Why are so many pastors burned out?

Apr 13, 16
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Blog Post 41 - Burnout2 (Unsplash photo-1456318019777-ccdc4d5b2396)1

He had it all.  Life as a professional golfer took him from one swanky country club to the next posh resort.  He had big paychecks and a bright future.  But as a Christian, he often wondered – “Is this all there is”?  That question nagged at him for years.  He had finally accomplished his dream, only to find that reaching the top was unfulfilling.  His prayers grew more frequent and desperate, until one day he made a radical decision – to quit the pro golf tour and go to seminary.

He envisioned a more impactful life – leading a congregation, bringing many to Christ, seeing lives change and making a significant difference for the Lord.  Now he’s arrived – at the pinnacle for an aspiring Christian leader.  He’s the Senior Pastor of a large and (by most accounts) thriving church.  But to his surprise, and to mine when he shared with me one day during a round of golf – that same question has now reemerged.  “Is this all there is?”

Here’s what he told me…

Rather than achieving all he’d hoped, he now finds himself:

  • “Preaching to Christians” – the same ones who’ve come nearly every Sunday for years
  • Running an organization – stuck in “administrivia” and countless internal meetings
  • Concerned about keeping the peace – answering criticisms and arbitrating differences of opinion
  • Surrounded by leaders who like the way things are – or were
  • Juggling constant demands on his time by members – like counseling, funerals, weddings and visitation

He left professional golf to see lives and a city changed.  Yet that original vision has been clouded by the complexities of managing an institution with many moving parts.  That’s what seminary taught him how to do – to preach solid messages and oversee a church body.  What seminary didn’t teach him is how to maintain focus on the Lord’s vision when the pressure to keep all the “plates spinning” mounts.

For those ready to offer the advice touted by most articles and books, no amount of delegating tasks or leading better is going to fix this pastor’s burnout.  The issue is much more fundamental.  The problem goes all the way down to the “root cause” for the church’s decline in growth, impact, influence and perception in America today…

He’s not alone…

A conference taking place in a couple weeks advertises that “96% of senior leaders feel burned out”.  Christian publications cite ministerial dropout rates approaching 50 percent.  A New York Times article from 2010 about pastor burnout opens with, “Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans.  In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen.  Many would change jobs if they could.”

Shouldn’t the job of a pastor be one of the most thrilling and rewarding?  What could be more energizing than leading people to Christ and watching them grow in their faith?  True, but that’s not what made the career path so stressful.  The redefinition of “church” and its “customer” is the source of rampant pastoral burnout in America:

Energizing – Defining members as the church & the community as the “customer”

  • Deep Discipleship – Seeing once Pensive, Passive and Private Christians undergo radical life change
  • Closer Relationships – Your church family uniting around common external causes, reducing the infighting typical of internally-focused churchgoers
  • Effective Evangelism – Your congregation bringing their neighbors and friends to the Lord in large numbers
  • Equipping and Empowering – Increasing leverage by encouraging and training your members to take initiative and lead ministries
  • Members Mobilized – Sending Powerful Christians from your church into local and international missions
  • Successful Outreach – Seeing many new faces in your pews every week
  • Networking with Local Leaders – Increasing in influence in your city as you learn about how to help address local needs
  • Having Impact – Making a tangible difference in the material and spiritual welfare of your city
  • Improved Perception – Becoming a church widely regarded as compassionate and caring, convincing those skeptical of church to find out what makes yours so full of love for others

As opposed to the new definitions evident at most churches today…

Stressful – Defining members as the “customer” & pastors/staff/buildings as the “church”

  • Worrying about Paying all the Bills – Many churches have financial issues due to running more complex institutions with higher budgets than necessary.  Ironically, churches would see greater giving and growth if they invested more of their budgets into discipleship and community engagement.
  • Dealing with Personnel Issues – Greater complexity means more staff members.  Alternatively, more willingness to challenge members to be all that Christ intends would mean more of them acting as the church and assuming leadership roles voluntarily.
  • Overseeing Building Projects – Elaborate facilities are largely underutilized all week.  It would be irresponsible of a charity to pay for a facility which was only needed for a 2-3 hours per week or for a family dependent on government support to pay for a second home they only lived in one day per week.
  • Trying to be Someone You’re Not Meant to Be – As the definition of “church” has centralized, pastors have elevated to a level of control, authority and celebrity that God did not intend.  Accordingly, pressure has mounted on pastors to take on great responsibility and maintain a persona because the church’s success hinges largely on that one person.
  • Expected to be Several Places at One Time – Too many obligations to serve members for a single individual to possibly manage, yet too concerned about losing them to not meet their expectations
  • Playing Referee – Mediating differences among churchgoers, which are inevitable but would diminish if they were discipled to the point of seeing themselves as the church, making them less concerned about their personal interests and preferences
  • Running Hard but Seeing Limited Progress – Despite all those efforts to fulfill the pastor’s “obligations” above, the vast majority of churches aren’t growing or having much impact, and their members aren’t undergoing substantial life change
  • Fewer Close Relationships – As churches grow, pastors become increasingly removed from personal contact, unable to find time to invest in fulfilling, enriching relationships with many members
  • Getting Away from the Original Calling – Pastors presumably enter the profession to shepherd a congregation and impact a community for Christ, but find themselves one day overwhelmed with pastoral duties and trying to keep the ship afloat (or manage growth)

“Missed Expectations” – that’s the simplest way to summarize the primary cause of pastor burnout.  Expecting one thing and then getting less than you bargained for is demotivating.  Pastors go into ministry anticipating more of what energizes and less of what stresses, only to find out that there’s a great deal of more pressure to attract, retain and appease (i.e. treat members as “customers”) than they ever imagined.  Likewise, they soon learn they must live up to unreasonable expectations placed on them – caused by most members viewing pastors and staff, and not themselves, as the embodiment of church.  Churchgoers today are more apt to ask “what will the pastor and church do for me?” than “what can I do for the Lord to advance the Kingdom?” – a nerve-racking dynamic for a pastor who entered ministry expecting to build disciples and leverage them to reach a city for Christ.

Here’s what I told him…

What specific actions steps did I give that pastor who for the second time in his life found himself asking, “Is this all there is”?

I’ll share the rest of our conversation next week…

It’s Your Turn

Were you aware of how taxing the mental and physical toll has become on pastors today?  Paul carried the weight of concern for all the churches, but did the Lord expect the position of Senior Pastor to be so stressful or have today’s churches expanded the job description?

New Strategic Planning Workbook for Church Leaders!

Apr 06, 16
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Workbook Pic for Blog Canva

Download Your Free Workbook Now!

There are many church consultants today.  Each promises revitalization and rapid growth.  Renowned pastors publish articles and books giving advice from their experiences turning small congregations into thriving megachurches.  Conferences feature speakers and promise ideas sure to intrigue and excite any pastor whose congregation is not growing – which applies to an astounding 93% of America’s churches.

With all that information at your disposal, who should you listen to?

It also begs the question – with all that advice available how can such a high percentage of churches not be growing?  At Meet The Need we believe it’s because nearly all of the consultants, articles, books and conferences are working under and perpetuating essentially the same fundamentally flawed assumption.

Given that the Church grew at a rapid clip for 1900 years, why has growth ground to a halt in recent decades?  Something foundational has changed.  We believe we know what that is.

In fact, a number of leading church advisors believe Meet The Need has come up with the “root cause” for why such a large majority of churches in America are in decline in terms of not only growth, but also in impact, influence and public perception.  We contend that the church in America has gradually adopted an unbiblical and detrimental baseline assumption – one which has caused the demise of countless organizations of many different types.

Our Commitment

This workbook will:

  • dive deep into that “root cause” issue and explain how the prevailing church growth models won’t produce what they promise – at least not healthy growth
  • be instrumental as a guide for your strategic planning exercises
  • move your church’s leadership team quickly and productively through on-site or off-site planning sessions
  • allow for rapid planning (e.g. a 2 day off-site) or more extended strategic planning efforts
  • help your executive team analyze where your church is now, envision where the Lord wants you to go, and then plot the path to get there
  • give you a roadmap to take you through the transformation process from your current state to your desired future state
  • provide suggestions yet enable your team to come up with its own plan based on a common, shared set of guiding principles
  • facilitate buy-in to the changes, increasing the likelihood of successful implementation
  • focus on translating knowledge into action, not leaving you with just strategy

What to Expect

This Workbook is an exercise in self-discovery.  You may be surprised by some of the realizations you make about your pastors, staff and members.  Meet The Need questions the underlying model for how most churches are run today, believing they don’t align with Biblical mandates, the early church or the best practices of successful organizations of any kind.  Therefore, be open to an entirely new way of thinking about your role in leadership, the role of members, and the church’s role with those outside the “4 walls”.  Without openness to change, strategic planning is unlikely to produce meaningful progress.

Some concepts that this Workbook asks you to consider will be challenging, but warrant honest, careful debate.  For example:

  • Is your church more oriented toward building an institution than building disciples?
  • Are you fully leveraging the capabilities of your members or underutilizing the “power in your pews”, concerned about what would happen if you challenged them to live up to their full potential for Christ?
  • Do your members and attenders act more like “consumers” of church than the living, breathing embodiment of church between Sundays?
  • Are your actions and behaviors inadvertently feeding the perception that your church is not very interested in caring for the church’s intended “customer”?


The Workbook structures your strategic planning exercise around the following 15 modules, each addressing a different component of how leaders manage churches:


  1. Time Allocation
  2. Budget Allocation
  3. Role of Pastors Versus Members
  4. Expectations of Members
  5. Organizational Structure


  1. Marketing
  2. Retention
  3. Discipleship
  4. Programs/Ministries
  5. Local Missions


  1. Member Engagement/Service
  2. Impact on the World
  3. Influence in the Community
  4. Perception by the Community
  5. Success Metrics

The outline for each module consists of 4 sections:

  1. Topic Insights – Thoughts to frame discussions and reset thinking in preparation for step 2
  2. Current State – Assessment and scoring on our Proficiency Model
  3. Future State Vision – Ideas to help your leadership develop your church’s go-forward strategy
  4. Gap Analysis – High level recommendations and detailed implementation planning

The Workbook utilizes an interactive approach – starting with readings and then presenting questions to facilitate open discussion on your end.  Unless pastors, key staff, deacons and elders each believe they’ve been given an opportunity to draw their own conclusions and provide input, your likelihood of success dissipates.  We make recommendations based on our work with thousands of churches but we believe you are well qualified to develop specific action steps for your church.  Only you fully understand the vision the Lord gave you, the people He has led to you, and the community where He planted your church.

Download Your Free Workbook Now!

3 Verbal Cues to Watch out for at Your Church

Mar 30, 16
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Lifeguard chair sitting empty with a red flag streaming in the wind, showing unsafe conditions for swimming, before the background of an overcast sky.

Scott is a dutiful husband, a devoted father and a diligent worker – both in his job and in his church.  A friend invited him to church in his early 30s.  He accepted Christ during an altar call one Sunday and quickly got involved in serving at the church.  Scott senses the Lord’s presence – whether it’s the joy of watching his son run the base paths or the good news from the doctors when his wife had that health scare.  Although Scott’s not the kind to wear his faith on his sleeve, he tries to live an exemplary life hoping others will notice, opening the door to invite them to church.  By setting a good example, caring for his family and serving at the church, Scott feels he’s doing everything he’s supposed to as a Christian.  His church doesn’t ask or expect more of him and frankly, Scott has little time for much else anyway. 

However, what if God expects more – much more? 

It’s hard to argue with Scott or others like him.  How can there be anything wrong with working hard all week to provide for his family, spending every Saturday at soccer games and cheerleading practice with his kids, and volunteering at his church every Sunday?  Why would anyone see an issue with experiencing God most during church services and in special moments with his children – the two places where Scott spends his spare time?

Churches reinforce Scott’s perspective by continually emphasizing serving at the church and taking care of your family.  Entire sermon series are devoted to marriage, child-rearing and relationships – often tying back into opportunities like leading a small group or working in the children’s ministry.  Few services go by without requests for volunteers.

But what about the Great Commission?  What about evangelism, the poor and the lost in the community?  That’s who Jesus, His disciples and the early church spent nearly all of their time pursuing.  What if your children follow suit and only take care of their families and church?  Then your children’s children do the same when they grow up?  Who will ever look out for the hungry, hurting and hopeless?  And what about life transformation?  That’s what Jesus’ disciples experienced.  Where are our broken hearts for those who die without knowing the Lord?  How can we restrict our time and attention to our family and church while those in our workplaces and neighborhoods have contracted a fatal illness for which we have the cure?

Yes, churches have bred a generation of Passive, Pensive and Private Christians.  But do pastors have the courage to tell people to spend less time serving at the church and caring for their families?  How many churches are willing to make that sacrifice, calling members to become less devoted to the church and more committed to making a dramatic impact in their world for Christ (i.e. Powerful Christians)?

Scott’s story resembles far too many churchgoers and churches in America today.  Before you stop reading, thinking that what I’ve shared doesn’t apply to you or your church, scan through the following verbal “red flags” to see if any sound familiar…

Red Flags – Is Your Church Selling Christianity “Lite”?

Listen carefully next Sunday for 3 verbal signals that your church is likely reluctant to challenge the congregation to live up to the Lord’s expectations of them.  If you hear these 3 phrases tossed around, your church is probably calling members to something short of the Great Commission and Jesus’ model of relentlessly pursing the lost, in both word and deed.

1.  Initiation to Faith – “Repeat after me…”

Pastors give the invitation, some every Sunday.  They ask new believers to repeat the sinner’s prayer or raise their hands if they prayed the prayer silently.  We celebrate salvations, as we should.  Then pastors encourage them to get involved in the church – small groups, volunteering, giving, and becoming a member.  Expectations are high for church engagement but low for life transformation.  Rather than the radical conversion the disciples experienced, willing to give it all up for Christ, most churches hand-hold new believers hoping to plug them in and bring them along slowly.

Soft pedaling the Great Commission and emphasizing involvement in church activities turns the sinner’s prayer into an initiation pledge.  Repeating the words look like rights of passage into a “club”, where the commitment is to the church family and not to set the world on fire for Christ.  Rather than encouraging new converts to share their excitement with non-believers, leaders indoctrinate and assimilate them into the church body.  Rather than quickly discipling them and sending them out into the mission field, we tell them to Invite their friends, get them Involved in internal ministries and Invest their income in the church.  After reciting the pledge, the new believer’s degree of life change, evangelism and discipleship are not monitored by church leaders, yet attendance, giving and volunteering are tracked meticulously.

2.  Invitations to Church – “Tell your friends…”

…”to come to church next Sunday”.  The sinner’s prayer is initiation into personal ministry.  It’s a calling to bold evangelism – not passive invitations to a church service.  It’s a responsibility to follow Jesus.  Jesus didn’t simply invite people to church – He demonstrated compassion and then revealed who He is.  He served and preached everywhere He went.  He backed up words with actions.  So why are so few churches engaged integrally in their communities?  Why do so many church members leave it to the “professionals” to bring people to Christ?  How can Christians miss countless opportunities to witness to those around them through loving acts of service?  Why are so many bashful about sharing their faith with those almost certainly bound for hell?

I wonder how sincere our professions of faith are if our lives are consumed by work, family and church.  I wonder whether the Lord is pleased with Christians who only talk about Him with their immediate family and church friends.  Did we ever fully recognize the true value of God’s grace and the consequences of sin without forgiveness if we stand idly by, not doing all we can to bring people to Jesus?  I even wonder whether many in congregations who’ve said the “pledge” and never miss a Sunday (yet don’t respond to the dire plight of the destitute and those destined for eternal damnation) are the goats Jesus says never fed, clothed, or gave him a drink.  How can we invite strangers in if we rarely leave the confines of our homes, churches and workplaces?  Encountering strangers requires stepping out of our comfort zones and into the world around us, hoping to rescue some through our loving actions and bold words – not our invitations to church next Sunday.  We’re saved by what Jesus did for us, not in any way by what we do; however, what we do (or don’t do) is evidence of our salvation. (James 2:14-18)

3.  Introductions to Christ – “Tell your story…”

If church members do take the next step, most churches advise them to share their personal testimonies.  No one can argue with “my story”.  Pastors understand the few congregants are prepared to defend their faith against tough questions.  However, instead of providing intensive apologetics training and deep discipleship, churches encourage them to present what cannot be refuted and then default to extending the invitation to church.  Asking members to present the gospel themselves and answer all objections requires a greater level of Biblical understanding than most Christians are willing to acquire.  In that respect again, pastors treat members as “customers”, afraid to challenge and adequately prepare them to BE the church to those outside the “4 walls”.  As a result, few feel qualified to do much more than tell their story.  Yet conversational, personal and inquisitive evangelism by a trained army of evangelists (who understand that compassion opens that door) would be far more effective.

Keys to Removing the Red Flags

If you’ve heard those 3 verbal cues at your church, then chances are it’s not producing a sanctuary full of Powerful Christians.  Truly challenging members to be the hands and feet of Christ to those around them will risk losing some who don’t believe they signed up for that degree of disruption.  However, the path to reversing the decline in a church’s growth, impact, influence and perception hinges on providing:

  • Perspective – Convincing members they are “insiders” and the lost in the community is the “customer”
  • A Burning Platform – A sense of urgency about those perishing in their sins
  • A Wall to Climb – A challenge to step up and step out.  We talk about what we love – our kids, sports, etc.  We love the Lord most of all – why wouldn’t we talk about Him with everyone too?
  • Education / DiscipleshipGraduate members to progressively deeper levels of Biblical knowledge and relationship with the Lord
  • A Call to Life Change – Isn’t it interesting that Jesus nearly always put an enormous stipulation around the offer to “follow me”?  He prefaced “follow me” with either “come” or “take up your cross”.  In other words, the call means leaving where you are, not just following from where you are.
  • Strategy – Teach Jesus’ model for preceding words with actions
  • On-the-Job Training – Toss members “into the pool” to learn how to swim by doing, both in serving and in sharing their faith
  • Ongoing Opportunities – Show internal and external ministry needs year-round through Meet The Need
  • Advice and Cautions – Train members to be “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” in how they help individuals and families.  There are genuine risks to practicing kindness toward strangers these days – and best practices to help keep them from taking advantage of you.

It’s Your Turn

The “sheep and goats” parable is a scary one for many churchgoers.  Do you believe some who made professions of faith, are model parents, and are active in their church, yet do little to bring people to Christ personally through caring and sharing, could be “goats”?

Why Members Have No Business Criticizing Their Church

Mar 23, 16
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Punk guy looking at himself in a shattered mirror in the city streets

“I didn’t like that sermon on Sunday.  Seems like I’m not being fed much these days.”

“So many of our friends are no longer attending.  It doesn’t feel the same here anymore.”

“I wish they would play more of the old hymns.  Have you noticed the music is a little louder now?”

“Did you hear they’re talking about moving service times up a ½ hour?  Not sure that’s going to work for us.”

“I’m not sure I’m a big fan of the new associate pastor.  He hardly said a word to me when I met him last week.”

“Seems like we’re going a new direction with all these changes.  I like how it used to be.”

We’ve all heard comments like those from fellow church members.  Most of us have even said a couple of them at some point in our years at church.

We talked last week about the danger of criticizing those outside the church.  Casting verbal stones at the world reflects a misunderstanding of our role as the living, breathing church.  The Great Commission calls us to help rescue “sinners”, pursuing rather than distancing ourselves from those who don’t know the Lord.  Likewise, criticizing our own church also makes little sense.  It reflects a similar misunderstanding.  Read those quotes again.  Clearly, they mistakenly define church as an institution – the pastors, staff and buildings.  Yet members ARE the church, so complaining about church is an oxymoron.

Customers have every right to criticize a company.  The company is defined as the executives, employees, buildings and other assets.  Customers are “outsiders”, expecting quality products and customer service – anything short of that warrants complaints.  However, every pastor knows that members shouldn’t be customers of the church – they are “insiders”.  When members make those comments above, they’re providing further evidence of our core contention in this blog series – that churchgoers have come to see themselves as “consumers” of church and not the embodiment of it.

In short, members can’t judge the “church” without accusing themselves… 

Look in the Mirror

Ending criticism at your church requires a wholesale shift to the proper definition of the church’s “customer”.  When church members truly see themselves as the “church”, they instantly stop evaluating church in terms of what “it” does for them.  The “it” is them.  The question instead becomes what they (as the church) can do for the Lord.  Rather than evaluating the pastors, staff, services and facilities, members should be evaluating themselves.  Are they living up to the standard set for those commissioned to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ with their true “customer” – the lost in Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth?

“Do not judge others lest you be judged” and “remove the log from your own eye” take on new meaning when applied to our personal responsibilities as church members.  Criticizing “sinners” (outside the church) when we’re living in a glass house is not much different than criticizing our church when WE are the church.  Churchgoers wouldn’t feel at liberty to criticize those inside or outside the church if they better understood the role they’re intended to play between Sundays – as the only connection to “church” those “sinners” are going to have.  How well are we doing at that? 

We should each take a close look in the mirror first.  We won’t be looking for things to criticize if our minds are on our own responsibilities as the “church” rather the responsibilities of others.  For example, we expect to be “fed” during church services and if we’re not fed well, then we complain.  However, maybe viewing pastors as “church” (rather than ourselves) has shifted an undue amount of responsibility onto them to “feed” us.  If we better understood that we’re the church, we would take greater responsibility for feeding ourselves.  Have members largely abdicated their intended roles as “church” to pastors because it’s easier to sit back and enjoy the service – and then criticize church leaders if we don’t.  Powerful Christians aren’t built by sermons and small groups alone – it takes a great deal of personal Bible Study, prayer and discipleship.  Church “consumers” never become Powerful Christians – they remain Passive, Pensive or Private.

How Church Leaders (Unwittingly) Invite Criticism

Ironically, it’s church leaders who made churchgoers feel they have the right to criticize them.  Pastors and staff have conditioned members and attenders to evaluate how well the pastor is preaching, how the music sounds, how the political landscape of the church has shifted, and why leadership doesn’t recognize all they’ve done for the church by…

  • Rather than treating them as“insiders” (like employees of a company) charged with living out the Great Commission, they treat members like “outsiders”, hoping they will keep coming back
  • Failing to shift the mindsets of members outward toward their true “customer” – allowing them to continue to focus on their own needs versus those of the hurting and hopeless
  • Saying “you are all ministers” yet not adequately challenging, equipping or providing opportunities for them to minister to those around them
  • Not modeling compassion, service and relentless pursuit of the lost in the community

Sometimes pastors find it easier to take the criticism and try to make changes to appease than to shift the conversation back onto the intended role and responsibilities of the complainer.  It’s particularly scary to tell someone from an influential family or a patriarch of the church who brings up a minor issue to be more concerned with important matters like using that influence to reach more people for Christ.

How to End the Criticism

Implement these 7 strategies:

  1. Discipleship – Change the hearts and minds of your congregation about their role and responsibilities through personal discipleship. Once discipleship convinces them that they ARE church, they’ll stop looking for things to criticize.
  2. Replacement Strategy – Telling someone to stop thinking about a pink polka dotted elephant doesn’t work. Instead, we have to replace thoughts with something else.  To stop churchgoers from evaluating the church, get them to start evaluating their own effectiveness as the church personified.
  3. Redefine the “Customer” – Redirect the congregation’s attention to the dire need to reach the lost with the gospel, taking their focus off of how their needs are being met.
  4. Mobilize the “Troops” – Show churchgoers opportunities to serve as Jesus did, fighting a “ground war” with love and compassion as His first-strike artillery. Consider using Meet The Need to connect with local charities and empower local missions teams.
  5. Boldly Challenge Members – Churches are primarily gatherings of believers so don’t lose sight of the need to challenge believers in order to accommodate non-believers.  Instead, equip believers to reach non-believers on their own turf, which is primarily outside the “4 walls” of a church building.
  6. Model External Focus – Pastors can’t force anyone’s thinking to shift but they can certainly model behaviors they want members to imitate.  Begin spending more time and budget on activities to serve “outsiders” and “insiders” may follow suit.
  7. Speak Honestly about What’s OK to Criticize – Church leaders should be held accountable for how they conduct themselves and their ministry (e.g. humility, doctrines they teach, not showing favoritism, and staying true to the vision God gave them).

It’s Your Turn

Do you agree that most criticisms of churches are clear signs that members don’t see themselves as the church?  Why or why not?

How Churches Fight the Battles is Costing Us the War

Mar 16, 16
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Blog Post 38 - Boy with Bible (Unsplash photo-1442115597578-2d0fb2413734)1

Jesus didn’t have nearly as big a problem with “sinners” as He did with those criticizing them.

The religious establishment of Jesus’ day was fighting an “air war”, speaking out against those not living up to their standards.  The Pharisees occupied the high moral ground, following the letter of the law, yet not the spirit of it – a “ground war” of love and compassion (Luke 11:42).

Jesus didn’t mince words with them or anyone else He viewed as critical or judgmental.  A few familiar examples:

  • “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye…” (Luke 6:42)
  • “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” (John 8:7)
  • “You clean the outside of the cup and dish but inside…” (Matthew 23:25)
  • “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)

How did Jesus do battle?

Compare that to how Jesus felt about the “sinners” those religious leaders condemned:

  • “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Mark 2:17)
  • “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents…” (Luke 15:7)
  • “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2)
  • “Even if they sin against you seven times in a day…you must forgive them.” (Luke 17:4)

Jesus clearly sought out “sinners”, spent time with them, healed them, served them, preached to them, and forgave them.  He did not “come to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47)

The Pharisees were jealous.  They thought – “If Jesus were truly the Messiah, He’d be hanging out with us, not with those people.”  But Jesus didn’t fraternize with religious zealots, instead spending his time pursuing prostitutes, drunkards and other “lower class” citizens.

Chances are Jesus would be doing the same today if He were walking the streets of your city.  He would be on a search-and-rescue mission to find the “lost sheep” and the “lost coin”, going places few church members today would dare to venture.  That’s likely where Jesus is most present and preoccupied right now in your city – with the orphans, widows, homosexuals, alcoholics and drug addicts.  He’s not as concerned about saving the righteous (Matthew 9:13) – those in small group meetings and church services across America.  Jesus calls us to join Him where He is hardest at work at this moment.

How do most churches do battle?

In contrast, the average active church member today:

  • Socializes more with Christians than with non-believers
  • Serves the church more than the lost in the community
  • Rarely evangelizes
  • Is not currently discipling someone
  • Will vote for president primarily based on a “hot-button” moral issue
  • Is concerned about America’s declining morality and values
  • Feels they sin less than those who don’t know the Lord

In other words, church members are too often Pensive, Passive and Private – not Powerful.  Jesus acted AND spoke – preceding the gospel with compassion.   We may love the sinner and hate the sin but every word we speak about our views on moral issues sound like judgment and criticism – because we haven’t followed Jesus’ model of demonstrating His love first.  In that respect, we haven’t earned the right to speak to culture – but we do anyway.

Rather than pursuing “sinners” as Jesus did, too many Christians maintain both a physical and moral distance.  Physically we don’t go near many of the dens of depravity the lost frequent.  Morally, we speak out about what we’re against, rather than exhibiting well what we’re for – which is the gospel, whose central tenet is love.  In God’s eyes the distance between “us” and “them” is minuscule – we’re the same, just forgiven.   We’re equally as sinful, just redeemed.

When Christians fight battles over values with words alone, they lose the war for hearts and minds.  In fact, we’re on the short end of nearly all of those battles as well.  As we said last weekName a moral issue that the church and Christians haven’t already lost, or appear likely to lose soon.”  

Keeping our distance, voicing our concern without adequately showing our concern, isn’t growing the church or helping its public perception.  The challenge Jesus issues to all church members is to BE the church even to those who stand for all that they’re against.  Those alienated by the condemnation they hear (through their filter) from Christians are less likely to step into a church building than ever.  So the only way to reach them is to leave the comfortable confines of our church buildings and small groups and stand in close proximity to them – but will we?

The problem with our battleplan…

What if Jesus no longer sees most American churchgoers as the “good” characters in the stories He told?  What if He associates them more with…

  1. the proud Pharisee who thanked God he wasn’t like the cheating tax collector (Luke 18:9-14)
  2. the brother who couldn’t figure out why His father would celebrate the return of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
  3. the stunned crowd wondering why Jesus was having dinner with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)
  4. the priest or the church worker who unlike the Good Samaritan walked by the beaten robbery victim (Luke 10:30-37)
  5. the goats who didn’t care for the hungry, the sick and imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46)

Yes, it’s hard to dig far into any of the gospel accounts without coming across a case of Jesus illustrating the importance of pursuing rather than judging “sinners”.

In Jesus’ eyes, are Christians today walking by on the other side of the road?  Does Jesus feel His church is doing a good enough job of building disciples and mobilizing them to be a bright light to those living in the darkest corners of society?  The general public feels churches have become skyscrapers and warehouses, distant from the world yet judgmental of it.  Does Jesus agree with them?

How can your church adopt Jesus’ battleplan?

Flip the script and become the “good” characters in those 5 stories:

  1. Repentance – Like the cheating tax collector who never dared think of himself as morally superior to anyone else
  2. Rejoicing – Like the compassionate father who wildly celebrated the salvation of his wayward son
  3. Generosity – Like Zacchaeus who responded to overwhelming grace with breathtaking kindness
  4. Compassion – Like the Good Samaritan who not only stopped, but stuck around until all was well
  5. Mercy – Like the sheep who took time out from their busy lives and church activities to care for complete strangers

The Lord calls us to be Powerful Christians – not Passive, Pensive or Private.  He “desires mercy” (relationship), “not sacrifice” (religion).  In other words, He wants churchgoers to aggressively seek the lost exactly how He did – courageously stepping into possibly hostile territory rather than criticizing from afar.

It’s your turn…

Churches have the cure for “cancer” and know how to administer the prescription (because Jesus showed us), so why aren’t more churchgoers desperate to save lives, particularly of those who are most ill?

Are churches paving the way or setting up a roadblock?

Mar 09, 16
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Blog Post 37 - Road (Unsplash photo-1454678904372-2ca94103eca4)1

The American church is feeling the effects of several decades of no longer viewing the community as the “customer” and members as the embodiment of church.  Changing the definition of its “customer” has taken its toll:

  • rather than building a broad base of world-changing disciples, churches have built throngs of “consumers”
  • rather than growing and uniting a diverse “body”, what has grown is a small number of very large institutions
  • rather than attracting younger generations, youth are leaving the church in droves
  • rather than increasing in influence, an increasing number of Passive, Pensive and Private Christians have damaged the church’s public perception
  • rather than having a significant impact, the dearth of Powerful Christians has left communities wondering whether churches still care

In the past couple years, I’ve attended two gatherings of Christians from across the U.S. to strategize about ways to reverse the current course in America away from Biblical values.  Nearly identical, broad-consensus conclusions were reached at both events – churches are too busy taking care of their own affairs, whether in survival mode or growth planning, to play a meaningful part in the turnaround of American culture.

Instead, they believe a louder megaphone is the answer.  If Christians can recapture leadership roles on top of the 7 Mountains (government, media, religion, education, entertainment, family and business) then we can win the “culture war”.  It’s an election year and churchgoers are hoping a Christian will sit in the White House to shift the values of our nation back to those we hold dear.

Ground War or Air War?

We contend in this blog series that it’s that megaphone, used without first earning the right to do so, that has largely made Christians inaudible in most pockets of society today.   We’ve lost our voice because we haven’t followed Jesus’ model of compassionately serving before saying who He is.  Trying to “outpreach” Jesus, being so often heard yet rarely seen, has cost the church dearly.  The strategy of grabbing an even bigger megaphone – hoping people will care about what we know when they’re still not sure we care – will only drive the prevailing view of Christians and churches deeper into the hole.

Just because a Christian occupies a more powerful position at the peak of a mountain top does not necessarily amplify our voice.  In fact, if not accompanied by the mercy, justice and compassion Jesus demonstrated before speaking, more volume may just solidify the opposition’s resistance to our position on social issues.  Are churches and 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.

Why not choose a different weapon to fight the culture war?  The air war has failed.  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 the opposition.

However, 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.

It’s no wonder so many Christian leaders no longer consider the church a base from which to build an army.  Churches provide some “basic training” but lack the deep discipleship and commitment to rapid deployment necessary to establish a powerful military force.  Pastors rarely if ever step into the drill sergeant role, willing to challenge even long-standing church members to charge boldly onto the battlefield, no matter what the cost.  They believe those faithful church members form the foundation upon which to build the institution – and fear pushing them too hard may risk toppling the entire structure.  It would also be risky to unite with other churches in battle – yet making a significant dent in the fight against social issues like hunger and homelessness requires more soldiers than any one church has at its disposal.

So like Rusty, the Pensive Christian in last week’s blog post, most churchgoers engage only at arms length in the culture war.  They join the air war, the chorus of so many Monday morning quarterbacks, bemoaning the declining moral fabric of our nation.  They are quick to speak out on moral issues, drawing those battle lines.  Yet few strap on their boots and sling a rifle over their shoulders, heading into the trenches, getting their hands dirty in the ground war of loving service.  The unchurched knows what Christians are against, but don’t believe we stand for them.  The more we dig our feet in, the less we can connect with them – and the less they can identify with us.  We can win the battle but lose the war – which is our calling to love.

Yes, the hesitancy of pastors to lay out the costs of discipleship and call members to the level of commitment Jesus intended in the Great Commission has paved the road that our nation is now on.  It’s a slippery slope – with the opposition to Christian values and ideals firmly entrenched against us at this point.  It may not be too late to set up a roadblock, a ground war of loving compassion, but after decades of launching air attacks, the runway is getting short.

What Will the Battleground Look Like?

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

  • Persecution in the form of:
    • Shaming in the media and politics
    • Viewing any reference to Biblical perspectives that run counter to what is considered socially acceptable to be hate-speak
    • Inability to mention the name of Jesus in government settings, selectively eliminating His name from the “free speech” lexicon (Jesus was the one word I was specifically asked not to mention at the “Great American Teach In” at my son’s public school)
    • Preventing pastors from expressing opinions that go against court decisions or publicly-held views on moral questions, even from the pulpit
    • Refusing to hire those who do not disavow Biblical views on certain hot-button issues
    • Making “coming out of the closet” far more applicable to Christians today, particularly in public schools, requiring courage in the face of the stigma that label carries with it
    • As population growth and conversion rates among other religious groups outstrip the birth and conversion rates of Christians, physical persecution of Christians will ensue once those groups grab popular majorities in localities, cities, states and some day even nationally
  • Forced removal of Christian objects and symbols from all public venues except for church buildings and private homes
  • Requiring Christians to comply with laws that defy Biblical principles

In essence churches and Christians 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 similar 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 persist 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 requires:

  • Taking Ground – Training and mobilizing masses of churchgoers to infiltrate their spheres of influence
  • Redefining the Church’s “Customer” – Viewing the community as the “customer” and building disciples on fire to reach the lost with the gospel through service and evangelism
  • Raising Expectations of Members – Viewing members as the church personified and emphasizing that the cost of discipleship will be high
  • Following Jesus’ model – Realizing the importance of linking actions with words (James 2:15-16)
  • Building an Army of Powerful Christians – Who truly live out the Great Commission
  • Serving Relationally, not TransactionallySegue events into year-round service, focus on outcomes and outputs, and be there for families in need

The church must turn nearly all members into ministers – making that more than a trite catchphrase.  A fully trained and effective army that cares and shares could turn the tide on how churches and Christians are viewed.  If society begins to see the love of Jesus through the service of Christians, a new generation of believers will emerge from the ground up to one day occupy those mountain top positions.  But attempts to take over the 7 mountains from the top down will further diminish the influence and public perception of the church and Christianity, continuing to pave the way for the mounting challenges to our faith.

It’s Your Turn

Is your church building and deploying an army capable of withstanding the assault on the gospel that’s forthcoming?

Which of These 4 Types of Christians is Your Church Producing?

Mar 02, 16
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Blog Post 36 - Train Tracks (Unsplash photo-1434871619871-1f315a50efba)

Churches should model the behavior they want members to imitate.

Yet as we’ve discussed the past three weeks, few churches are having a continual, relational and meaningful impact in their communities.  Instead, most:

It’s not surprising that church members and attenders have followed suit when it comes to living out the Great Commission, falling into one of four camps:

1.  Passive Christians


Bill hardly misses a Sunday.  He volunteers as a greeter one weekend a month, gives regularly and hosted a small group last year.  By all accounts, Bill’s an active church member.  Considering how busy he is with career and a young kids, he does his fair share.  There’s not much time left over for charity work, nor is that something Bill thinks much about – and it’s not a big emphasis at his church.  However, his pastor does mention inviting people to church pretty frequently and Bill loves his church so he’s done that a few times.  When it comes to evangelism, that’s about as far as Bill typically goes – he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing his faith and rarely broaches “religion” with coworkers or friends.

2.  Pensive Christians


Rusty is concerned about where America is headed.  Unlike Bill, he’s not afraid to talk about religion or politics.  As a Christian since the early 1980s he’s watched the country go downhill, increasingly upset as our moral foundation crumbles under the weight of every secular, liberal court decision.  Rusty’s church recently held a ministry fair inviting members to express interest in local causes like hunger relief, the homeless or foster care.  However, what caught Rusty’s eye was the Christian conservative radio ministry asking for support to continue fighting for the values that made our nation great.  Rusty signs up and notices that over 150 others had done so as well, whereas none of the other compassion ministries had more than 20 on their lists.

3.  Private Christians


Stephanie is one of the nicest, most compassionate people at her church.  She’s always there for anyone who’s going through a tough time – a family at church, a neighbor, coworker, friend or even a complete stranger.  In fact, Stephanie is so caring that she would never want to offend anyone.  If she knows that person is a Christian, she’ll talk about her faith and offer to pray for them.  Otherwise, she keeps her personal beliefs to herself because they’re just that – personal.  Her husband, Jeff, is just as kind-hearted, frequently donating money to local charities, but equally reluctant to impose his ideals on others.

4.  Powerful Christians


Unlike Bill, Rusty, Stephanie and Jeff, Tamara isn’t passive, pensive or private – she’s both personable and public.  She’s a disciple, following Jesus’ model of meeting felt needs to open the door to sharing who He is.  Tamara never misses an opportunity to do both, seeing wherever she happens to be at the time as her designated mission field.  She understands she IS the church between Sundays.  Tamara is deeply concerned not only with each person’s welfare in this life but also their assurance of eternal life.  She knows the Great Commission doesn’t stop at a single good deed or the planting of a “seed” – it’s about investing in longer-term relationships.

Which of the 4 are Most Common Today?

Church leaders play a significant role in influencing whether its members are passive, pensive, private or powerful.  Churches today are producing far too many of the first three.  Few churchgoers see themselves as the embodiment of church once they walk out the front door.  They may be active participants in church but they’re not the personification of it outside.  In effect, they’re “customers” of churches who fear most would leave if asked to endure the level of commitment and discipleship required of those entrusted to BE the church all week long.

Yes, Powerful Christians are a rare breed these days, not often sighted in churches that:

  • cater to members, hesitant to challenge them with the reality of what it truly means to live out the Great Commission
  • emphasize serving inside the church continually but offer few chances to reach out to the poor and lost in the community
  • focus more on build an institution than building disciples that “take ground” outside the four walls

Joining a church alone doesn’t make someone a Powerful Christian any more than simply joining a gym makes someone a powerful weightlifter.  Both require hard work and endurance.  Only intensive and extended training will dramatically change their lives.  That’s why a large or growing church isn’t necessarily a healthy church – showing up, serving and giving doesn’t mean a churchgoer will make a difference for Christ between Sundays.  Active church members are not necessarily disciples.  Disciples would never stop at being passive, pensive or private.  Disciples are healthy, impactful, forever changed – in other words, powerful.

Implications for the Future 

Why do so many Christians fall into the first 3 categories?  Why do most no longer have an acute sense of urgency to see the lost saved?  Jesus didn’t intend for churches and the Christian walk to be as comfortable as they are in America today.  Never did He expect His followers to be complacent or content – “consuming” church on Sunday and doing little to serve the Lord Monday through Saturday – while surrounded by the helpless and hopeless.  How many churchgoers realize they’ve stepped into a mission field the second they get back in their cars in the church parking lot?  How many try to win people to Christ and spend time making disciples each and every week?

Unfortunately, many have come to view church as a “safe” place to worship and fellowship, not courageous enough to act and speak in the light of day.  Yet we’re called to live boldly in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to our faith.  Ironically, it is likely our lack of impetus and preparation to be the hands and feet of Christ that have largely precipitated and fueled the attacks on Christianity that have already occurred.

What will happen if churches remain hesitant to challenge members to adopt the level of commitment and courage demanded by Jesus?  How much longer can we remain satisfied with most Christians being passive, pensive or private? 

The road is about to become much more rocky for followers of Jesus Christ.  Only Powerful Christians will be ready for what’s coming next.  We must be ready and willing to take a stand.  But will we?  We’ll discuss those topics more next week…

It’s Your Turn

Which of those four types of Christians is your church primarily producing?

Why do churches turn away families at the door?

Feb 24, 16
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Blog Post 35 - Single Mom (iStock_000000535682XSmall)

A single mom with two young children walked into a 200 member church looking for help.  Her lights are going to be turned off next week if she doesn’t come up with enough cash to pay her power bill.  She also needs clothes for the older of the two and a better stroller than one she has with the bent wheel.  From the way she’s looking down when making the request, the staff member picked up a sense of shame and an expectation of rejection.  It seemed likely she’d been to few other churches in the neighborhood and received a polite explanation from each as to why they weren’t in a position to help.

How would most churches respond?

“We don’t have enough in our budget.  Sorry, it’s been a tough year.”

“There’s a charity down the road that can help you with that.  Have you checked with them?”

“If you start coming to our church, I’m sure we can find a way to do something.”

What’s really going on is the church…

…didn’t make any room in its budget for benevolence for local families

…is not willing to share needs of non-member individuals and families with the congregation, even though some of them could likely help

…has no way to easily communicate needs to members even if it were willing to do so

…isn’t sure who those walk-ins are and is worried about being taken advantage of

Today, the vast majority of families approaching churches for help are quickly, yet courteously, turned away.  Churches miss those opportunities because they don’t see them as just that – opportunities.  They’ve redefined the “customer”.  Attention, funding, facilities, and programs have been redirected to attracting and retaining – building an organization.  Struggling individuals and families in the community are no longer recognized as valued “customers”.  Few churches still follow Jesus’ model of leading with service and compassion, then telling them who He is.  Consequently, the role of church in society has changed – with the pastor’s blessing.

What would your church do if this young mother walked in the front door?

Should your church do something?

  • Biblically – Jesus healed and fed those who weren’t his followers – at least not yet.  Once they experienced His love and power, most became followers.  Jesus also sent the disciples out not unarmed but fully supplied with the artillery necessary to open ears and eyes to the gospel – the ability to heal.  Numerous times Jesus, Paul and Peter spoke of the importance of helping the poor, linking it inextricably to the sharing of the good news of hope found in Christ alone.
  • Historically – Since America’s founding, churches have been the “center of town” – the cultural, charitable, academic, and spiritual hub in cities across the country. Government and secular charities weren’t the “go to” sources of assistance when times got tough.  Families could walk into a church and leadership and/or members would do what they could.  As the local food bank and homeless shelter, a significant portion of the church’s income went toward supporting the “least of these” – and not just those attending on Sunday.  Rather than offering “hand outs”, churches formed relationships with those hurting and helpless, working with them to extend a “hand up”.

Whether a church will do something depends on its:

  • Definition of the “Customer” – If leadership and members see the lost in the community as their “customers”, clearly they will sense an obligation to serve those who don’t know the gospel – many of whom would never step foot into a church building. Yet church leaders are unlikely to be as conscious of their responsibilities outside the “4 walls” if they’re busy placating members and attenders who are conditioned to evaluate how well the pastor is preaching, how the music sounds, how the political landscape of the church has shifted, and why leadership doesn’t recognize all they’ve done for the church.  Bible verses that begin with “I desire compassion…” and “Pure religion…” won’t be ringing in their ears if criticisms are on the tips of their tongues. 
  • Definition of the “Church” – If leaders and members truly see those in the pews as the embodiment of “church” – a decentralized army rather than a centralized institution – then suddenly the burden to help local families is dispersed among the many versus the few.  Even if a church has budget for benevolence and is willing to bless a non-member, maybe the impact would be far greater if members assisted families in need directly.  Pastors and staff don’t have capacity to build long term relationships with many local families – but that kind of leverage does reside there in the sanctuary.  In this scenario, the task of leadership is only to communicate needs and prepare members to BE the church at every opportunity.  That responsibility should also carry over throughout the week, where each congregant acts as the church personified – caring and sharing with neighbors, friends and coworkers in need of help and hope.

What if churches don’t do anything?

Fewer people in need approach churches for help today because they don’t think churches are willing to help.  However, studies show that people generally believe churches should be among the first to help.  That dichotomy creates the prevailing poor perception of churches and Christians by society.  Every family in need that churches turn away at the door drives home the idea that they’re more about judgment than compassion – deeper and deeper into the American psyche.  Every time a pastor speaks out on cultural, social, or moral issue when that church hasn’t demonstrated a commensurate degree of mercy to the needy – the ditch widens.  To the unchurched, Christians haven’t earned the right to be heard.  Jesus realized people “don’t care what you know until they know you care” – they traveled miles on foot to hear what Jesus had to say because He proved He cared each and every day.  The gradual detachment of caring from sharing – abdicating that role to others – is possibly the most damaging trend in the history of the church in America.

What exactly should your church do?

Because of that growing perception, churches simply can’t keep turning people away.  Instead churches should:

  • Assist families even if they don’t go to that church – Imitating the first church at Antioch and being wary of abuses are valid reasons to focus more assistance on congregants.  However, as we’ve discussed the church is clearly called to serve the poor regardless of their religious or church affiliation.  As we’ve contended throughout this blog series, churches today invest disproportionately in catering and caring for members versus challenging and mobilizing them to bless others.  [Note: Remember the “Alternative View” we mentioned a few weeks ago which holds that corporate worship is only for those whose names are registered in heaven (Hebrews 12:23).  Under that interpretation, all churches that won’t help families who aren’t part of that church, assuming that the church is only supposed to be made up of believers, are logically precluding doing anything to help non-believers.  In this case, the only way churches can follow Jesus’ model of caring then sharing is if members individually act AS the church and choose to help those who aren’t Christians.]
  • Don’t be so quick to refer them to an agency or charity – Follow this sequence to show your true “customers” that your church and the Lord cares for them when they ask you for help:
    • Step 1 – Show Respect: Take the time to get to know them.  Listen to their story, ask questions, learn their name, and pray with them.
    • Step 2 – Show Compassion: James 2:15-16 warns that simply saying “Go in peace” or “Be warm, be fed” isn’t enough.  Make some effort to help, like sharing their need with members via Meet The Need, which manages all communication logistics.
    • Step 3 – Make Assistance Relational: Don’t do a “transaction” and send them on their way (outputs).  Ensure a member gets to know each individual/family personally (outcomes).
    • Step 4 – If You Refer, Follow up: If your church/members can’t provide all they need, refer them to a local agency, but contact the agency yourself about the family.  Ask for an update on what the agency was able to do for them.
    • Step 5 – Stay Connected: Church should be the place the family lands when they get back on their feet.  An agency or charity can’t put them in relationship with believers and lead them closer to Christ over time.
  • Carve out more for benevolence – The modern day model for running a church that attracts and engages “consumers” leaves little over for assisting members in need, much less those outside the church.  Remember, the lost in the community, not members, are your “customer”.  Cut operational costs that are not playing a direct role in equipping and challenging members and regular attenders to BE the church to those around them (see blog post on Generosity).

It’s your turn

What would happen to the perception of churches, Christians and the Lord if all churches in America followed the 5 step process above?  Do you know of a church that has implemented that process, or something similar?

Why churches should care more about outcomes than outputs

Feb 17, 16
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Blog Post 34 - Feed the Bay Food

A large church in California decided it was time to stop relying on the county to represent the “front line” of compassion – while churches stood idly by.  Government can’t deliver hope – only help.  The church approached county leadership, offering to be an outpost for job training and placement services.  Not only did the county accept their offer, the church experienced a higher success rate than the agency was having!

Stepping forward to do something to help struggling families is commendable.  Delivering in such a way that those within ear-shot sit up and take notice changes lives – and transforms communities.

Churches shouldn’t simply provide assistance and be satisfied with any level of achievement.  Businesses seek to maximize customer satisfaction and loyalty because that drives profits.  Churches should seek to maximize their effectiveness in making a difference in the lives of its “customers” – the lost in the community – because that’s what Jesus did.

What are outcomes versus outputs?

Outputs are what an organization does.  In business, outputs may be making a sales call or responding to a customer complaint.  In local missions, outputs may be serving a meal or handing out a toy.  Missions directors prepare ministry reports, primarily holding them accountable for outputs, judging their productivity based on those numbers.

Churches who look through the lens of how much it does, and not the long-term impact of what it does, are giving members an easy out – treating members as “customers”.  In other words, it’s much more difficult to persist in doing good to the point of changing lives than to “check the box”, satisfied with having done something good.   However, as we discussed last week, churches are hesitant to challenge members to do the “hard stuff” because there are always churches down the road willing to pat members on the back for merely doing the “easy stuff”.

Outputs are about us – the church.

On the other hand, outcomes are what happens as a result of what we do.  Outcomes don’t focus on how much activity but how much impact.  For churches, community engagement should be about seeing lives changed.  Yet how do we know if lives changed if we don’t maintain long-term relationships?

Only churches who see the community as the “customer” will be so genuinely concerned with outcomes that it will invest materially and spiritually in the lives of those who don’t (and may never) attend their church.  Only churches who see members as the church personified will adequately disciple them to endure in serving others over the long haul, and taking personal responsibility for making disciples – not stopping at extending invitations to church next Sunday.

Outcomes are about them – those hurting and hopeless.

Is your church about outputs?

  1. What do you measure? – It’s much more difficult to track qualitative outcomes than quantitative outputs. Measuring the true effectiveness of a compassion ministry requires understanding where people are now – are they better off today, with food on the table in Christ in their hearts?  If “how many…” is the first question asked, then chances are your local missions activities are more about outputs than outcomes.
  2. If you do events, how do you follow up? – When the dust settles, is the church catching its collective breath, celebrating the successful event, or racing to follow up with all those it encountered?  When a conference ends, businesses immediately start chasing down every person they met and entering every business card in their database.  Yet churches run events and crusades come through town, leaving behind a trail of new seekers or believers with little to no further contact.  Even those making professions of faith are largely left to their own devices unless they decide to show up at a church.  It’s staggering to see the statistics of how few people who accept Christ at concerts or revivals are still walking with the Lord, living out their faith, just a few years later.  Event leaders are quick to cite attendance and professions, but not how many actually got plugged into a local church.
  3. How does your church invest its time in members? – Maybe event leaders were counting on whoever invited each person to answer their questions and disciple them. However, as we’ve discussed sermons and small groups haven’t proved adequate for building disciples – or disciple makers.  Most churchgoers don’t view themselves as the embodiment of church, instead seeing their task as inviting people to church, leaving the rest to pastors and staff.  However, someone who comes to faith after hearing the gospel at a Christian event (because the gospel is powerful) may have preconceived notions and wariness about stepping into church (because in their minds churches haven’t reflected that gospel well).  We have to go to them, meeting them where they are – not wait for them to come to us.
  4. Do you have long term service programs? – Are your church’s local missions activities designed to be transactional or relational?  Are there a few sporadic campaigns or sustained compassion initiatives?  Has your church adopted any causes that it feels strongly about addressing?  If so, is a significant percentage of the congregation involved?  All of this to say, how sincere is the church’s concern with the welfare of its intended “customer”?

How can your church become about outcomes?

Success in any venture hinges on following a proven process for generating desired outcomes.  There is no greater venture for a church than following Jesus’ model of demonstrating His love and sharing His message, bringing help and hope to a world desperately in need of both.  If more churches evaluated the success of their local missions work based on the actual difference made over the long term (outcomes) versus what they did (outputs), we would see a reversal of the Church’s declining growth, impact, influence and perception.

Let’s look at the outcome-driven process utilized by successful organizations of any kind:

  1. Focus – on target “customers” (i.e. the lost in the community) and their felt needs. No venture is successful if it pursues the wrong “customer”, or ignores their most pressing issues.  Determine where your church can make the biggest difference in your community for Christ.  For more insights on this step, read our eBook Transform Your Community Forever in 6 Months.
  2. Align – leaders within the church around the need to shift greater focus outward despite certain resistance by “institution builders”
  3. Set Goals – or expectations for desired outcomes as more members engage in cause(s) and live out the Great Commission
  4. Rally – the entire congregation around the need to apply their skills and interests in some way toward the critical cause and goal of being a light to an ever darkening world
  5. Train – members to each do their parts through discipleship emphasizing that they should be the living, breathing church to those around them between Sundays
  6. Organize – the troops, putting staff and lay leaders in positions of authority and holding them accountable for outcomes, not outputs
  7. Challenge – even infrequent attenders and visitors to get involved. Many are millenials who left church because churches didn’t share their concern for justice and compassion.  Life transformation occurs as seekers turn their attention to the needs of others and witness God’s love in action.
  8. Invest – dollars strategically in creating relational outcomes rather than tactically in transactional outputs
  9. Track – whether the church is actually making a dent, in alleviating homelessness, hunger, illiteracy, etc. and in bringing the community to Christ
  10. Maintain – the emphasis on outcomes, evaluating and repeating steps 1 through 9 as necessary

Churches take internal aspects of their ministry that seriously – following that entire process – because most treat those in attendance as “customers”.  Have you seen churches take their engagement with the community – their intended “customer” – just as seriously?

It’s your turn

If your church closed its doors tomorrow, would it be missed by your community?