Tag Archives: volunteering

Proving Christians Actually Know God

Aug 05, 21
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Christians anxiously await the return of Jesus.  But none want to hasten the next advent by repeating what prompted the Lord’s first two earth-shattering interventions.  Malachi, the book immediately preceding the New Testament, reveals that it was mankind’s ignorance of who God is that led to Christ’s first advent.  Jesus cleared up the confusion that had gradually pervaded all of humanity since the flood, even among God’s chosen people, about His true nature.

No one knows the Lord’s timing but seeing how rapidly our world is turning from Him, it would not be surprising if the second coming happens on our watch.  If so and if history is any guide, then many of those who profess to know Jesus intimately will discover they have been either misrepresenting or misunderstanding who He is.

Although non-believers don’t worship Jesus, they observe Christians and churches to see if our actions and behaviors align with what they have heard of Jesus and what they imagine an infinite Creator would be like.  Even avowed atheists and agnostics have a conception of who God, if He existed, would be.  Many rejected Christianity at least in part because their conclusion (based on our misalignment with their expectations) is that we must not know God.

If There Really Were a God, Then…

Persuading the world that Jesus is Lord is largely contingent on Christians living as if we truly believed God is as loving, omniscient, omnipotent, and holy as non-believers would envision Him to be.

  1. If there really were a God, His interests would supersede ours – The will of a God capable of speaking the universe into existence would be much more important than the desires of those who follow Him.  Our indebtedness to a God so loving that He forgives all our offenses by paying our penalty Himself would be so overwhelming that we would pursue only His glory, not our own.  Instead, studies show non-believers don’t feel Christians are less self-interested than their non-Christian neighbors and coworkers.
  2. If there really were a God, we would seek to please Him at all costs – Our thankfulness for the generosity of an unconditionally loving Savior would convince Christians to forego creature comforts to serve Him and sacrifice popularity to lead people toward Him.  However, churchgoers are generally reserved about vocalizing their beliefs in social and professional settings, careful not to offend anyone, content to be kind and well-liked by only bringing up “religion” if someone asks.
  3. If there really were a God, Heaven and Hell, we would be active in sharing our faith – Ironically, although our culture say it is wrong to push personal faith on others, the fact that few Christians do convinces them we don’t actually buy what we’re (not) selling.  If we fully grasped the gravity of eternal life or damnation, it would heighten our sense of urgency to share the Gospel, not just our views on politics and morality, with friends and family.
  4. If there really were a God, He would be perfect but merciful toward those who aren’t – A holy, almighty God would have a standard of performance and perfection that humans could not possibly attain.  Non-Christians cannot fathom how an omniscient God who sees the whole person, not just their sin, could be as judgmental as many of His followers appear to be.  And if Jesus had no sin, they know we have even less reason to be judgmental.  So they assume there is no God, and therefore no standard against which to disprove their presumed “goodness”, obviating their need for Jesus.
  5. If there really were a God, Christians would love everyone, including one another – Existence of an everlasting God would mean humans have an everlasting soul.  Non-Christians wonder why Christ-followers focus so much on outward words and actions when they preach that those who don’t know Jesus are (inwardly) lost souls made in God’s image.  Even more so, they watch the body of Christ divide over what appears to be petty disagreements as if our God wasn’t big enough to be worth uniting around a common mission.
  6. If there really were a God, we would know more about His Word – If the Bible were truly words spoken by the Creator directly to us (which it is) then how can Christians know so few Bible verses, read it so infrequently, study it so casually, and be unable to adeptly defend its authenticity?  Our biblical illiteracy has caused countless people to doubt our faith and turn elsewhere (e.g. to professors, politicians and the Internet) for “truth”.
  7. If there really were a God, Christians would cling relentlessly to their beliefs – Non-believers enjoy tempting Christians to join the crowd in doing wrong, hoping we’ll give in, but secretly they admire us and are attracted to Christianity when we refuse to relent.  When Christians change their viewpoints, adopt worldly perspectives and compromise biblical truths, society breathes a sigh of relief, now having validation that the beliefs we once held must not have been true.
  8. If there really were a God, He would not adapt to suit our preferences – Although modern society says Christianity has failed to keep up with the times, deep down non-believers know that a God powerful enough to form the cosmos would not evolve with the vagaries of culture.  So when they see Christians and churches influenced by culture more than they influence culture, it doesn’t pull them toward faith but pushes them away.
  9. If there really were a God, He would care deeply about poverty and justice – Although non-Christians deny that Jesus was God, nearly all agree that He was caring and compassionate.  They also question whether there can be a loving God if so many bad things happen to “good” people.  A God they would consider worshipping would have a keen sense of fairness and heart for those less fortunate.  They see those qualities in Jesus but not always in Christians, who too often fail to live and love like Him.
  10. If there really were a God, we would trust Him for our provision – Christians claim the Lord of all has a plan for our lives and far greater insight about the future.  Yet when challenges like a pandemic come, society sees most take matters into their own hands, choosing self-preservation over self-sacrifice for others.  We cite Scripture promising the Lord will give us all we need in this life and hope for the next one, but non-believers dismiss our faith when Christians insert their own plans in place of God’s.

None of those principles are about conforming to culture’s expectations of who God should be but aligning ourselves with the Lord’s expectations of His children.  What we say and do as Christians reflect and exhibit characteristics of God that are either true or not true of Him.  If we do not live in accordance with who God truly is, which Jesus modeled in the flesh, then we prove we do not actually know God and inhibit others from coming to know Him as well.

It’s Your Turn

Which of those 10 do you find most challenging?  How have contemporary church growth models contributed to the growing perception in America that God must not be real if most Christians are so casual about their faith? (the subject of our next blog post)

The More Important Election Few Are Talking About

Sep 21, 16
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Sign at Boston Immigration rally

“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.’” (Matthew 20:25-26)

Our high officials occupying and seeking the White House are Gentiles – non-believers.  As Christians, our job is not to imitate them.  Nor should we worry about what they’ve done – or will do.  We can only control what we do.  We are called to action.  Our energy should be directed more toward who ends up in God’s House than in the White House.  Jesus asks us to follow His example – that of a humble servant.  “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

How can you become that kind of servant?  How can you show that your home is not on Earth but in Heaven?  How can you cast a vote that will last far longer than the next 4 years?

By election day, NOVEMBER 8th

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

YOU are the Church

The Church is the living, breathing body of Christ.  The congregation comprises that body.  Each of us is an important body part.

Church is not a “what” – a place.  It’s a “who” – yes, YOU.  The Church’s power is in the vast number and diverse giftings in the body – fueled by the Holy Spirit.  For centuries, those countless parts of Christ’s body recognized their individual roles in expanding the Kingdom – and created an unstoppable, irresistible movement.

So why isn’t Christianity growing in America today?  The explanation we’ve put forward in this blog series is that most members and attenders no longer see…

  • …themselves as the Church personified.
  • …how they weaken the overall body if they don’t carry out their intended functions.
  • …the need to carefully evaluate their giftings and apply them to ministry outside of their church.
  • …their position in their church as important as the pastor’s.
  • …the community as their “customer”, as Jesus did.
  • …a sense of urgency around their role in bringing the lost to Christ.
  • …the Great Commission as an obligation rather than an option.

Because the individual parts aren’t fulfilling their respective roles in the body, the Church today isn’t healthy.  Your toe may be a small fraction of your total mass, but when it breaks your whole body suffers.  In the case of the Church, few parts are functioning as well as they should at their most urgent responsibility between Sundays – the Great Commission.

Imagine if the early Church hadn’t aggressively “gone out” and made disciples?  What if Christ-followers had relied primarily on pastors to evangelize and educate new believers?  Yet that’s where most of us stop today – at extending invitations to church.  What if the early churchgoers had stayed among themselves – rarely venturing out into Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to pursue non-believers?  What if they hadn’t followed Jesus’ model of demonstrating His love and compassion before telling them who He is?  The fact that believers took the Great Commission so seriously was a major reason behind the Church’s explosive growth during its first 1900 years.

How few would be in Heaven if Christians throughout history had seen Church as a place, not as themselves?  Yet my fear is that’s how most churchgoers view Church today.

All Hands on Deck

Jesus, His disciples, and churches for centuries treated the community as its target audience – its “customer”.   For us, the collective Church, to function effectively all parts must work together to pursue our intended “customer”.

In management consulting, we saw countless examples of departments not working in a company’s best interests:

  • Sales – not adequately motivated to convert new customers
  • Marketing – targeting the wrong (i.e. least profitable) customers
  • Operations – processes designed around the needs of internal departments and not of customers
  • R&D – product innovation not keeping up with evolving customer needs
  • Finance – not investing adequately in the optimal customers or products

No company can succeed unless all the departments are adequately staffed and aligned around the interests of its best customers.  What the Bible says about churches is no different.  An entire church – pastors, staff, members, elders, deacons, facilities, etc. – should work together seamlessly to prepare and equip everyone to reach “customers” – those outside its 4 walls.  In this analogy, members are essentially employees, not “customers”.  They are “insiders”, not “outsiders”.

So, how should each part of the body be utilized in this “members ARE the Church, NOT the customer” framework?

  • Members/Regular Attenders – Like Sales, evangelize and serve their true target “customers”, not simply invite them to Sunday morning services.
  • Deacons/Elders – Like Marketing, lead everyone in the church into a deeper relationship with Christ so they can have a greater impact in their spheres of influence.
  • Staff/Administration – Like Operations, yet geared toward equipping and sending disciples, not on keeping the “machine” running.
  • Pastors – Like R&D, cast vision for how to leverage the body to reach more people for Christ.
  • Finance/Facilities – Allocate limited resources to the uses that maximize return on investment – which in Kingdom terms is the # of people who come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

What Body Parts have Atrophied?

1 Corinthians 12:27-28 (TLB); “All of you together are the one body of Christ, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.  Here is a list of some of the parts He has placed in His Church, which is His body:

  • Apostles,
  • Prophets—those who preach God’s Word,
  • Teachers,
  • Those who do miracles,
  • Those who have the gift of healing,
  • Those who can help others,
  • Those who can get others to work together,
  • Those who speak in languages they have never learned.”

As for those first three, it’s clear that pastors occupy the lead role within a church.  However, the remaining parts of the body listed could be any one of us – while inside or outside the building.  We are the hands and feet of Christ, yet too few of us are stretching and working out our muscles – so they’ve atrophied.  Unless we exercise the body part we represent, both in how we serve others within our church and out in the community, the overall body becomes weaker.  Unless pastors are willing to risk rocking the boat by challenging members to be stronger body parts, churches will continue to atrophy in size, impact and influence.

What body parts are underutilized today?  Are there any we are overusing?  Have we invented some parts that God did not even intend for churches to have?

How Can You Rebuild Those Muscles?

Come to the stark realization that you are the embodiment of Church!  Understand just how critical of a role you play once you leave the church building.  To be most effective as the Church personified, follow Jesus’ model of demonstrating His love to people and then telling them who He is.

We are asking 1 million Christians across the nation to Cast An Eternal Vote (#CastAnEternalVote) before Election Day, November 8th.  Please share your stories with us!  And don’t forget to challenge 3 Christ-followers you know to “pay it forward” and Vote For Eternity 20:16 (#VoteforEternity2016)!

3 Keys to Winning the Culture War

Sep 14, 16
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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!

Rescue Your Church from the Slippery Slope

Aug 24, 16
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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
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Red, White, and Blue From American Flag Reflected in God We Trust Motto on Vintage, Retro, 1967 United States Nickel

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

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

Flipping the Script on…”Church Generosity”

Current Lens – Member Generosity

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

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

New Lens – Church Generosity

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

Flipping the Script on…”First Fruits”

Current Lens – Member Priorities & Obedience

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

New Lens – Church Priorities & Obedience

Yet aren’t nearly all churches today doing the exact same thing?  Buildings, salaries, programs, and other costs that accrue to the benefit of the “insiders” leave little left over to engage and bless the church’s intended “customer” (“outsiders”).  Churches were the food bank and homeless shelter for 1900 years.  They started the schools and hospitals.  They had far few fixed expenses and allocated a much higher percentage of their budgets to sharing the gospel through serving, as Jesus modeled.  If churches were more obedient in giving their first fruits, members likely would follow suit.

Flipping the Script on…”Investing for Growth”

Current Lens – Reinvest Inward

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

New Lens – Invest Outward

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

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

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

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

Current Lens – Catering = More $s

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

New Lens – Challenging = More $s

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

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn…

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

“Lead Better” is Not the Answer

Aug 10, 16
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Blog Post 59 - Pastor1

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Issue…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Answer…

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

It’s Your Turn…

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

Small Churches Face Even Greater Temptations to Compromise

Aug 03, 16
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"Scenery from Village of Tadoussac in foggy summer morning, Quebec-Canada."

When we talk about treating members as “customers”, people naturally think of prosperity churches or megachurches.  However in many ways the temptations to treat members as “customers” are even greater within a small church.  In other words, defining the wrong “customer” is less about relying on “attractional” models and more about succumbing to pastoral pressures.  Most small churches lack the resources to win an “attraction” battle anyway.  Instead, the dynamics of small church life create a slippery slope, gradually leading pastors to cater to rather than challenge members.

The Urgency: Prospects for Small Churches

As all pastors know and often repeat, members ARE the church.  They also know that Jesus, His disciples and the early church viewed the community as the church’s intended “customer”.  The purpose of gathering together is to worship collectively and prepare hearts to reach a lost and broken world – the Great Commission.  All hands should be on deck, collectively pursuing the real “customer”.  However, most churches today have changed that definition of their “customer” – shifting a disproportionate amount of time and resources to member retention.  As a result, few adequately train and deploy those “insiders” to pursue “outsiders”.  The unchurched – the Church’s Biblical “customer” – largely feels ignored (at best) and judged (at worst).  No organization can define the wrong target customer and succeed.

Churches had the definition of “customers” right for 1900 years.  Churches were the local food bank and homeless shelter.  They started the schools, ministries and even hospitals.  They were the spiritual, educational and charitable “center of town”.  They invested heavily in building and sending disciples.  They plowed tithes back into the welfare of their cities and reaching all with the gospel.

The fact that small churches are no longer on the front lines of compassion corresponds closely to the decline of the church in America.  Reversing course and getting back on the path to growth won’t be easy.  There are powerful forces in place taking focus off the external and shifting the energies of small churches further internally.  A vicious cycle is at work due to the redefinition of “Church” (was members, now leaders) and the Church’s “customer” (was the community, now members):

Higher Expectations of Leaders (to “feed” and care for members)

+ Lower Expectations of Members (e.g. decreasing contributions to church)

= More Responsibilities Passed from Members to Leaders

+ Fewer Resources to Address a Greater Number of Demands

The road ahead for small churches promises to get still rockier.  Church “shoppers” continue to migrate to larger churches, mainline denominations struggle to reach younger generations, and government agencies are considering increasingly unfriendly policies and tax laws.

The temptation to compromise will only grow stronger in the years to come…

The Issue: What Does Compromise Look Like?

None of the following business principles should be in play at any church.  They’re not Biblical, yet are all too prevalent in small churches (and many large ones as well).  Each of them contributes toward defining members as “customers”.  See if you recognize any of these corporate behaviors at your church:

  • “The Pareto Principle” – Also, called the “80/20 Rule” where 20% of the input is responsible for 80% of the outputs.  In small churches, a handful of members typically have an inordinate amount of control.  Pastors worry about the reactions of the most influential families to any decisions, no matter how basic or simple (e.g. worship music).  Therefore small church pastors seek the implicit or explicit approval of those most prominent or vocal, or risk a disgruntled member threatening the peace and stability of the entire church.  Likewise, companies give preferential treatment to “anchor” customers, surveying them to get feedback on product or policy changes before enacting them.
  • “Who Moved My Cheese” – As we’ll discuss more next week, small churches often become complacent, resistant to changes that would disrupt the status quo.  When “if it’s not broken…” entails more concern for retaining long-time members than reaching the lost, it becomes a problem.  Many small churches not only aren’t growing, they don’t want to grow.  In business, engaging new markets requires innovation, but too many pastors remain content to preach to the same (saved) folks every Sunday.  If church leaders and members saw the community as the “customer” their church was planted to reach, then community needs – and not those of current members – would dictate priorities and worship style.  For example, millennials should be target “customers” but largely feel out-of-place at small churches.  They want to be change agents in their communities and world – but churches are too invested in appeasing members to design local missions programs that meet the compassion “needs” of millennials.
  • “Exceed Expectations” – The formula we laid out earlier in this post showed how the onus for operating churches has flipped from church members to church leaders.  Nowhere is that more evident than in small churches.  Members are generally seen as voluntary participants, not as the church personified.  Pastors are careful not to ask too much of them, yet stand ready to jump when asked to do something for them.  Companies can’t require that customers read the owners manual or share the “good news” about new products as prerequisites for making a purchase – but that’s exactly what churches should be doing.  Church leaders shouldn’t be in the business of providing excellent customer service, but members have come to expect that level of performance.  That shift in expectations is the primary source of pastor burnout today.
  • “The Customer is Always Right” – The redefinition of “customers” also makes small church leaders reluctant to hold members accountable for their actions.  Most are hesitant to approach the patriarch of the church or the largest contributor to confront them about sin in their lives.  Yet those same pastors will readily accept criticisms from those same members and make changes to pacify them.
  • “Create Raving Fans” – Pastors find it equally challenging to address inaction – in other words, to raise the bar for members on service and evangelism.  It’s difficult but necessary to ask members to become greater servants and advocates for Jesus in their circles of influence.  However, rather than pushing those with the largest circles to step out of their comfort zones, disrupt their daily lives and become the embodiment of “church” between Sundays, leaders of small churches are more apt to make simple requests – like inviting their friends to church.  Yet we are all called to be raving fans of Jesus, not a church.
  • “Risk Mitigation” – Businesses continually assess and minimize risk factors.  Issue resolution is important in churches as well, but pastors of small churches are particularly quick to snuff out infighting because a single rift could jeopardize the entire church.  A squabble or difference of opinion between two members or even a member and the pastor can readily lead to a split.  Undue attention to putting out internal brush fires can detract from the external mission of the church to engage and serve an entire community.  Ironically, a greater focus on the external, common cause of pursuing the church’s true “customer” would reduce the concerns of members about their own needs and opinions – the source of most spats.

The Solution: Redefine the “Customer”

Transform and Release Disciples – versus retaining and attracting “customers”

Flip Expectations – Challenge rather than cater to members, with less tolerance for complacency or sin

Unite Around a Common Cause – Put aside petty differences and transform your community for Christ

Increase Your Church’s Footprint – Even a small church can have a tremendous impact, but it will require change

It’s Your Turn…

Which of the business principles above have you observed in a church before?  What negative impact did it have on key Biblical imperatives like the Great Commandment and Great Commission?

Why the Church Dispersed Works

Jul 27, 16
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Pins placed throughout the map of the United States of America.

At its core, a church is a collection of individuals brought into common worship and fellowship.  A church’s impact is largely determined by the cumulative actions and witness of its members between Sundays.  The church naturally disperses when they leave the building.

With that in mind, does the number of churches and how scattered they are really matter?  Is it worth considering whether migration from smaller to large churches (the direction America is headed) will occupy as much ground as a labyrinth of small churches?  In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at two very different church landscapes and see the importance of “the Church dispersed” as well as other factors that influence church growth and Kingdom advancement.

The Church in China versus the U.S.

It’s interesting to contrast the Church in China where Christianity is proliferating at a rapid rate and the U.S. where the percentage of regular churchgoers is dropping:

1. Footprint

China – The Church under persecution is spreading out, forming a maze of small, underground churches.

U.S. – The Church in freedom is consolidating into larger institutions while most small churches are struggling for survival.

 2. Commitment

China – Few lukewarm Christians in an environment where the cost of discipleship is very high.

U.S. – Large percentage of casual attenders are free to come and go as they please without experiencing life change.  Small groups have come to replace more intensive discipleship methods – and studies show that under 35% attend those.

3. Organization

China – Little focus on building an institution.  Members are clearly the definition of “church” because that’s all there is.

U.S. – Tolerant environment allows for organized religion.  Pastors, staff and buildings have become the definition of church while less is asked and expected of members.

4. Expense

China – Few dollars and resources required to run a church.  No amenities available to attract people from other churches.

U.S. – Significant funding and volunteers needed to operate a large church.  Ability to offer programs and facilities that smaller churches simply can’t match.

5. Outreach

China – No liberty or staff to run public events.  Relegated to quietly building personal relationships.

U.S. – Churches moving increasingly toward event-driven outreach and local missions in hopes of building name recognition.  However, as we’ve discussed church events often do more harm than good.

6. Growth Model

China – Pastors don’t subscribe to or advocate a particular strategy or approach to growing their church.  Growth occurs organically as disciples share the gospel and bring others to faith.

U.S. – Pastors of large churches tout Invite, Involve and Invest – the rallying cry of the internally-focused church – in books, articles and at conferences; and export it to other countries.

7. Challenge

China – Churchgoers won’t risk their lives or freedom for anything less than life-saving truth, and pastors ask a great deal of them in the face of clear and present danger.

U.S. – Leaders are cautious about holding members and attenders accountable or challenging them to step too far out of their comfort zones.

Key Takeaways and Considerations

  • Was the first century church more like the church in China or the U.S.?  Yes, it was heavily persecuted, forced to disperse, fiercely discipleship-driven, highly evangelistic – and consequently grew at a torrid pace.
  • Persecution impacts the growth of the Church in the short term because it scares off those not fully committed, but it does not kill the church – and actually results in more rapid growth over the longer term.  Persecution against Christ’s church eventually backfires.
  • It’s better to have a few disciples than a slew of casual church attenders.
  • Love is localized, not institutionalized – the best growth strategy for a church is always love pouring out into the streets through the lives of its individual members.  Jesus modeled demonstrating His compassion and power through serving others before telling them who He is.
  • Companies can get too organized as well and forget about their intended customer – they must either refocus their energies externally or go bankrupt.
  • The most successful organizations of any kind decentralize and empower leaders to extend their reach.  Centralizing power, knowledge and responsibility always results in contraction.
  • Some say, “A church dispersed is the only church that works”, but I believe it’s more about what kind of disciples that church produces, regardless of its size.
  • Churches can disperse by turning their small groups into Neighborhood Groups, forming Mission-Shaped Communities and planting new compassion ministries (not just new campuses).
  • Launching a new campus or plant only effectively disperses the church if leadership isn’t trying to build a bigger institution but to build and release more disciples.
  • Fully leveraging the capabilities of your members requires aggressively challenging them to live up to their full potential for Christ.
  • Never forget why your church was planted in that community.  The Lord put you there to reach your “customer” – the hurting and hopeless all around you.
  • Planting more churches who wind up largely ignoring their Biblical “customer” will only further accelerate the Church’s decline – actually shrinking the Church’s footprint.

It’s Your Turn…

What do you see as the characteristics of a church worth planting, a campus worth launching and a church growth model worth exporting – in other words, actions contributing toward “the Church dispersed”?

7 Keys to Increasing Your Church’s Footprint

Jul 20, 16
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Blog Post 56 - Footprint on Railroad (Unsplash - photo-1456894332557-b03dc5cf60d5)1

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

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

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

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

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

It’s your turn…

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

More Big Churches, yet a Smaller Overall Footprint

Jul 12, 16
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Blog Post 55 - Footprints (Unsplash - photo-1456374407032-6e4baf58fb62)1

The collective footprint of the Church (capital C) in America is shrinking in terms of:

  • Growth
  • Impact
  • Influence
  • Perception

We have more huge churches than ever before.  Church planting organizations are launching new churches as quickly as they can.  Yet the “pie” isn’t increasing in size.  The percentage of Americans regularly attending and joining churches is in decline.  Mainline denominations are seeing record numbers of church closures and pastors walking away from the pulpit.  There are enough “Dones” (with church) to warrant a label for the movement.

How do we reconcile the onset of the megachurch movement with a smaller overall footprint for the Church in our nation?  Is centralizing into a few large churches where we’re heading?  Is that a good thing?  Is absorbing members from smaller churches into larger ones that can offer more programs and amenities expanding the Kingdom or contracting it?  Those questions aren’t dissimilar to asking whether Walmart setting up shop in a small town and putting many “mom and pops” out of business is good for its residents.

The answers to those questions will hopefully lead us to the path to expanding the Church’s footprint.

How is the Church’s “Footprint” Determined?

…Not by the Number of Churches

We can’t plant churches fast enough to atone for a flawed model.  Any organization that defines the wrong “customer” puts its future in jeopardy.  As we’ve discussed throughout this blog series, the “root cause” for the Church’s decline today is the radical shift that took place over the past few decades:

  • Churches no longer view the lost in the community as their “customer” – the target audience where they should invest the bulk of their energy and dollars.
  • When churches were the food bank and homeless shelter during their first 1900 years, they plowed as much as half their income back into the community.  Today that number stands at an average of less than 2%, with many churches allocating no budget to local missions.
  • Churches no longer rigorously prepare members to BE the church, training them like “employees” to pursue the real “customer”.   Instead, they worry that some may not come back next Sunday, threatening the church’s survival or growth plans.

Ignoring the intended customer is a losing proposition for any organization.   It’s like trying to sell more widgets when you’re losing money on each one.  As they say, you can’t “make it up on volume”.  If each new church is unwilling to upset the apple cart and risk challenging members to pursue and serve the real “customer” – then we can’t “make it up on volume”.  Each new (internally-focused) church will only perpetuate the prevailing view that the church cares more for itself and for its own than for those outside the “4 walls”.

…Not by the Size of a Church

A church may be enormous, yet occupy a very small footprint.  In other words, it may grow vertically but not horizontally, much like skyscrapers that:

  • are tall, but take up very little ground – they go up, not out
  • gather a lot of people together into a confined space
  • house those whose goal is to help their organizations grow
  • provide a nice office environment, far removed from the dirt and poverty just outside the ground floor
  • try to attract tenants and keep them as long as they can
  • measure success by the size of the building and number of occupants
  • block the view of neighboring buildings and scenery

The key consideration when measuring a church’s footprint is whether it’s “taking ground” – not its member rolls, budget or square footage.  A large church that has defined the wrong “customer” and therefore doesn’t transform and release won’t take much ground even if it plants new churches.  Each new campus simply replicates the same misguided “skyscraper” model.  Crowding more churchgoers into a single institution that doesn’t effectively build and send disciples further contracts the overall footprint of the Church.

…Not by the Physical Space of all Church Buildings

Think of the vast physical space represented by all of America’s churches.  Historically, those buildings were utilized all week long to provide services, education and shelter to the community.  Now, hundreds of thousands of church buildings sit nearly empty Monday through Saturday.  A company measures its footprint by how its branch offices are utilized throughout the week to serve its target customers.  Churches only fully leverage their buildings for 3 to 4 hours each week and do so for the wrong “customers” – even shortening service times to further “cater” to those members.  Instead, churches should be maximizing the productivity of their physical space all week – providing programs for the real “customer” and conducting discipleship classes to equip members to expand the church’s footprint between Sundays.  Yet, we see too many churches ask only that members invite friends to come to the church building for that one hour next Sunday.

…It’s the People

The footprint of a church is the cumulative impact for the Kingdom of the members who make up the church.  It’s how much ground they collectively cover for the Lord as they live out their lives among their spheres of influence.  A churchgoer isn’t occupying much space for Christ if they rarely share their faith or serve others in His name.

In fact, Jesus intentionally scared everyone off whenever He was on the verge of becoming a megachurch pastor.  He “preached it down” or disappeared to go pray each time He built a huge following.  Jesus thought the best strategy to take ground was to build a few disciples.  He chose to narrow His following down to the real Powerful (vs. pensive, private, passive) few.  He didn’t worry about hanging on to anyone.  Jesus felt a small number of highly effective disciples would cover much more ground than a slew of casual followers.

It’s Your Turn

Are there enough pastors willing to disclose all the costs of discipleship and ask churchgoers to endure everything that becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ entails, knowing many will never return again?