Culture Change

Warning If You Track Church Attendance: The Numbers Are Lying to You

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There is much conversation in my church right now about whether we are a declining church body and whether or not we will survive this decline.  So, purveyors of statistics tell us that we are in for a long slow, steady dip before we hit rock bottom and recover.  Not exactly the message you want to hear if you are a believer faithfully caring out the work Christ left the church to do.  Here’s the thing, the numbers are the numbers, right?  We have to trust the numbers, the numbers wouldn’t lie, right?  Na, Na I say the numbers are lying. Here is what we know about the church. Chuck Colson summarized it nicely in his book, The Body, 1992, Word Publishing, p. 70.

“Yet membership in a confessing body is fundamental to the faithful Christian life. Failure to do so defies the explicit warning not to forsake “our assembling together.” His understanding of this prompted Martin Luther to say, “Apart from the church, salvation is impossible.” Not that the church provides salvation; God does. But because the “saved” one can’t fulfill what it means to be a Christian apart from the church, membership becomes the indispensable mark of salvation.

“So highly does the Lord esteem the communion of His church,” Calvin wrote,” that He considers everyone a traitor and apostate from religion who perversely withdraws himself from any Christian society which preserves the true ministry of the word and sacraments.””

The Lie.

If we measure the success of the gospel by church attendance and dollars in the offering plate, then we have to also admit that the life-saving message of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins is not working.  That is what the numbers say, right?  No matter how faithfully you preach and teach the gospel and administer the Lord’s Supper and baptize, it won’t change the numbers.  We continue to see a steady decline in the numbers of people coming to church and supporting the work of the church.  What we don’t want to deal with is that if we believe the numbers, our work is ineffective.  The gospel has lost its power.  Stop and think about that for a moment.  Is that what is deflating morale in our churches?  We see the numbers, and our answer to stop the decline is to do what God called us to do, and it is not working.  The numbers do not define the power of the gospel.  Attendance is not a reflection on God’s word.  The lower offering numbers do not mean we have no mission left to accomplish.  It’s lies all lies.  God made us a promise, and God keeps his promises. In Isaiah 55,

10 Just as the rain and the snow come down from the sky
and don’t return there without watering the earth,
making it conceive and yield plants
and providing seed to the sower and food to the eater,
11     so is my word that comes from my mouth;
it does not return to me empty.
Instead, it does what I want,
and accomplishes what I intend.

 

The numbers do not define us, they serve as useful data.  But God’s mission is still needed.  If anything, the numbers prove that God’s mission is needed more than ever.  The church is facing stiff competition for the heart of culture.  This writer captures the challenge well by comparing the church to sports.

“Football in the fall. Basketball in the winter. Baseball in the spring and summer. This pastor has been an avid sports fan all his life. But I’ve had it! I quit this sports business once and for all. You can’t get me near one of those places again. Want to know why…

Every time I went, they asked me for money.
The people with whom I had to sit didn’t seem very friendly.
The seats were too hard and not at all comfortable.
I went to many games, but the coach never came to call on me.
The referee made a decision with which I could not agree.
I suspected that I was sitting with some hypocrites — they came to
see their friends and what others were wearing rather than to see the game.
Some games went into overtime, and I was late getting home.
The band played some numbers that I had never heard before.
It seems that the games are scheduled when I want to do other things.
I was taken to too many games by my parents when I was growing up.
I don’t want to take my children to any games because I want
them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.”- Author Unknown, At Calvary, Covington, KY.

Be Encouraged.

One of the most hurtful things the idea of church attendance has planted in the America Christian psyche is that “if you are not growing as a church you are a failure as a pastor and congregation.” So, we play the comparison game with our younger self.  So, how were we doing 10 years ago today?  Imagine doing that in your life now.  Compare your fifty-year-old body to the body you had in your twenties, how is that comparison going to turn out? And we judge our shepherds on the number of new converts.  And our church body on the number of new churches planted.

If you want to stop that madness, then we need to find new ways to gauge the congregational health and denominational health.  By putting the health report numbers of attendance and weekly offerings in the Sunday bulletin, we are asking those reading it to judge our success based on those measurements.  And we are buying into a false narrative about the effectiveness of the Word of God.  When the church continues to miss the mark of the weekly recording of those numbers it only serves to further demoralize the membership and even an entire church body.   So, if you don’t want to be judged by those figures and feel like you are losing the battle, start tracking other things.  Not to mention the numbers are Holy Spirit driven numbers, and we can’t control His work anyway.

Instead, track numbers that help hold your church accountable for those things that the church in Acts was measuring: people studying God’s word, the number of individuals engaged in living life together in community, the number of people helped with the offerings of God’s people, the number of prayer gatherings and the number of answered prayers.  Imagine measuring in church what God is doing among his people vs. the number of individuals coming on one day a week?  Isn’t faith a 24/7 thing not just one hour on Sunday?

More on Metrics:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/08/09/new-metrics-for-the-small-congregation/

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Creating a Multiplication Movement, Culture Change, Leadership

The US Factor Barrier in Church Planting

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At my last congregation in Milwaukee we had reached a critical place in our ministry, it was year six of our ten-year vision plan. As a church, we had reached a point where God had given us an opportunity to do something bold for the kingdom.  We had the chance to plant an African immigrant church.  Unfortunately, we also ran into four considerable hurdles to clear.  In this post, we will look at the four barriers you must navigate to create a church multiplication movement in your congregation.

  1. The perception of scarcity of resources.

Many churches do not take the leap of faith into church planting because members worry they don’t have sufficient resources to share with a church plant and still meet their current obligations.  Though our God is a generous God, we live life much like Hattie Green.

It was 1916, and Hattie Green was dead. Hattie’s life is a sad demonstration of what it is like to be among the living dead. When Hattie died, her estate was valued at over $100 million; yet Hattie lived in poverty. She ate cold oatmeal because it cost money to heat it. When her son’s leg became infected, Hattie wouldn’t get it treated until she could find a clinic that wouldn’t charge her. By then, her son’s leg had to be amputated. Hattie died arguing over the value of drinking skim milk. She had money to meet her every need, but she chose to live as if it didn’t exist.   Turning Point, March 1993.

Do you genuinely believe that if we asked God for the resources to carry out the mission He gave to the church, He would deny us?  In John 16, Jesus reminds us of God’s generosity.  23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask, and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

2) Silo thinking

Silo thinking produces part-time disciples.  Part-time disciples are partially committed to the church and God’s mission. Part-time disciples are defined in the Bible in this manner:

  • More concerned with what people think. “Am I trying to win over human beings or God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I wouldn’t be Christ’s slave. Galatians. 1:10
  • More concerned with their public image.  6The influential leaders didn’t add anything to what I was preaching—and whatever they were makes no difference to me, because God doesn’t show favoritism.” Galatians 2:6
  • More concerned about bringing people into the church (Jerusalem). While this is not a wrong motive, the mission is larger (Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth) than growing your church attendance. As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?” Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority.  Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:6-8

 

3) Being too church centric.

In the book “Multiplication Today, Movements Tomorrow,” by Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im, they warn against having a church-centric mindset. A church-centric mindset is the temptation to focus so much on the needs of the local church that you forget to include space, time and resources for those outside your walls. “We must overcome the church centricity barrier by moving from an ‘inward focus’ to an ‘outward focus.’ So, what does an ‘outward focus’ look like? In our research on transformational churches, churches that met our criteria as a transformational church had 67 percent of members agree that, ‘our church leaders think as missionaries and work to understand the cultural context in our region.’ In addition, 71 percent believed, ‘our leadership senses a call to our local city or community,’ and 77 percent said, ‘Our church leadership understands the context.’”

Imagine have a congregation that understands the mission is outside its walls.  What happens far too often is that these numbers are in reverse.

4) We have enough churches attitude.

The final barrier to starting a church planting movement is that most churches believe multiplication is not for their congregation.  Many just don’t see the need.  Their argument being we have too many churches now, why don’t we just focus on getting our own wayward members back, then we will be just fine.  To be fair, many understand the vision behind church planting but just don’t have a personal conviction to participate in a multiplication movement.  Leaders need to not only get their people to buy into this vision but often need to be convinced themselves.  Which means as a leader you need to share this vision clearly, consistently, and creatively in various forms and fashions.  The research shows that “Churches who regularly communicated a commitment to multiplication were more likely to multiply within their first five years than those who don’t.” [1]

What we communicate most often, most passionately gets done.  What are you communicating to your congregation on a regular basis?  Of course, we better be communicating Jesus and Him crucified, but how are we communicating His mission?

 

[1] “Multiplication Today, Movements Tomorrow.” E. Stetzer & D. Im, p. 37

 

Other posts on Church Planting:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/12/14/how-to-start-a-church-movement/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/12/19/the-fear-factor-in-creating-a-church-multiplication-movement/

 

Culture Change, Racial Healing

This is Much Deeper Than The Flag

Gavel and Justice.

People are seeing football players kneeling during the National Anthem and are getting upset,  turning off their televisions, demanding refunds on their NFL Sunday Ticket packages, and burning their favorites player jerseys.  Unfortunately, because people wrongly assume this act of kneeling is about respect or the lack thereof for, the American flag, our great country, or our amazing dedicated military veterans and active duty servants (who are my real heroes), or our perceived unity as a nation.  What gets lost in all these quiet demonstrations are the deeper issues at hand.

I have a higher tolerance for disrespect.  I see the burning of the flag as disrespect.  These protest, started rightly or wrongly, with the right champion or not, as a way to bring attention to a rip in the social justice wormhole.  Athletes have power, they have an influence; they have a powerful voice.  Athletes wanted to draw the nation’s attention to the injustice, lack of fairness, and inequality facing so many in our great country. All the things America is known for, being the land of opportunity, a land of prosperity, a nation where you can come with nothing and become a success, by worldly standards.  That is not true for so many trapped in the dark corners of our urban centers.  That elusive American dream has passed them by, and many are trapped in an American nightmare.

The world sees America as a beacon of freedom and the land of opportunity, but that is not the reality for many of the people I served when I was in urban America.  Far too many, living in the shadows of some of the greatest architectural designs on earth are struggling to survive, and living lives of hopelessness.  Can you imagine that, being hopeless in America?  Their children live in fear for their survival on a daily basis.

In Chicago, we achieved a new milestone.  But it is not a milestone we are having a parade to celebrate.  As a matter of fact, we are trying to bury that story in the newspaper and the media.  Chicago just hit the 500 mark for homicides for the year, it’s September.  Five hundred families have been ripped apart by gun violence.  Has the nation stood up in outrage?  Not that I have heard.  Have we called for an investigation into the causes?  Not that I can find.  Have we started a GoFundMe page to help the victims?  I can’t find that on Facebook.

What we do have is football players taking a knee to remind us that while America is the greatest country on earth, but we are not without our flaws.  We don’t need to burn it down, but we do need to come together to reform it.   What makes America great is that we have the capacity to tackle any problem and solve it if we put our collective minds to it.  It reminds me of what God said in Genesis 11.  When the people came together to build a tower to reach the heavens, God stepped in to stop them, And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”     God is right as always, we can solve the problems plaguing our country.  Maybe the awareness of the problem is just the beginning.  Once we put our collective minds to it there is nothing we can’t accomplish.  And this would be a God-pleasing venture.

A chart showing the violence in Chicago.  This is a story that is getting lost in the debate.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/data/ct-shooting-victims-map-charts-htmlstory.html

Other related posts:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/09/05/enough-already-its​-time-to-defeat-racism/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/08/22/are-statues-really-our-biggest-problem-in-america/

Culture Change, Mission, Vision

When Vision Takes a Back Seat on the Church Bus

 

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In the first post, we painted the picture of what it looks like when vision and relationships are driving the direction of the church.  Now let’s reverse the drivers.  Appearing now in the front seat are structures and ministry.  More about these two elements.  I don’t want you to misunderstand me.  These two components of the church are vital, but they need to be seated in the right place on the bus.  When I talk about ministries, I am referring to ministries that focus on outreach and structures that anchor accountability.  These are talented players but when structures are driving the church bus and ministry is in the front seat here is what a typical meeting agenda looks like.

 

Call to Order

Opening Prayer

Review of Agenda  

  •  Reading of the Minutes from the last meeting

Treasurers Report –

Pastor’s Report –

Committee Reports –

Old (Unfinished) Business

(Items that have been postponed from or not finished from previous meetings are handled here.)

New Business

Adjournment

 This meeting may take two to three hours to complete this agenda and somewhere along the way the meeting gets derailed by older members of the church who go into a church version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days.”  This is how the song goes.

It was the time in their congregation’s history that every single program and event seemed to work. Whether it was the Ladies’ Aid sewing circle or the men’s workday. They were never at a loss for volunteers, and the building was abuzz with activity. The Sunday School classrooms were standing room only.  The former pastor was a ministry rock star.  And you, being the new pastor will never live up to that legend.  The church had money to burn, and there were multiple services because they could not fit all the people into the building in just one.  Everyone was happy, and the church was growing.  But now your meetings are dull, dry, and long.  Nowhere in the agenda above can you find vision or a plan to build relationships with unchurched people.  You entire meeting revolves around taking care of the people who are already connected to Christ and maintaining the building that houses the already converted.  A vision that could add energy and direction and relationship with those outside the walls have taken a backseat to ministry to the already heaven bound.

It is time to Flip the Drivers.

 To be clear about this point, vision is from God. Vision may seem far beyond our reach and, if so, that may be an indicator that we are heading in the right direction. If the vision is comfortably within our capabilities, God does not receive the glory. But if the vision is “God-sized” in scope, meaning impossible without God’s intervention, then God receives the Glory and Him alone!

So, what do you need to do? You need to start with asking the right questions. At your next leadership meeting flip your agenda.  Put new business first.  Start exploring these type of questions: Do you have a good vision statement that points you clearly to your reason for existence? Who are the people God has called you to connect within your community? Once you figure out if your vision statement is pointing toward those outside your walls you will know it is from God. These are the fundamental questions a compelling and inspiring vision statement will answer:
 What are the end results you will see when this vision is accomplished? (End results being who are the people, stories, events or works of the Holy Spirit that are on full display in your ministry?)
• Who in the community is being impacted by this vision?
• How are you developing a discipleship culture? That is a culture of equipping the saints, multiplying and sending the saints of God into the mission field. 
• How are the members living out the vision and what impact does it have on them and the community we are called to serve?

The first post in this series:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/09/12/how-to-identify-who-is-driving-the-church-bus/

 

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Culture Change, Leadership

Four Steps to Shift Your Culture

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What is culture? It is the ways of thinking, living, and behaving that define a people and underlie its achievements. It is a nation’s collective mind, its sense of right and wrong, the way it perceives reality, and its definition of self. Culture is the morals and habits a mother strives to instill in her children. It is the obligations we acknowledge toward our neighbors, our community, and our government. It is the worker’s dedication to craftsmanship and the owner’s acceptance of the responsibilities of stewardship. It is the standards we set and enforce for ourselves and for others: our definitions of duty, honor, and character. It is our collective conscience.  – Robert P. Dugan, Jr., Winning the New Civil War, p. 169.

One of the biggest barriers to organizational change is culture.  You have a big, bold, new vision for your group but until you solve the culture issue, nothing will ever change.  In this post, I will give you four key steps you can implement to shift the culture of your team and members.

  1. Describe your God-given vision repeatedly.

Vision is an elusive concept.  A God-given vision is one that flows from intense time with God in prayer and study.  It is always larger than ourselves. You can only accomplish the vision with the power of God driving it.  That being said, here is a great quote about vision. “All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds awake to the day to find it was all vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for the many act out their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible…” – T.E. Lawrence.  To move your people forward you must help them see their future selves in the vision you are communicating.

  1. Set up a structured training system.

Where most churches fall short is training its members for service.  If you want to observe this first hand at your next large gathering ask former elected officers, “What orientation and training did you receive when you were elected?” To add to the conversation share the results with us in the comment section.

  1. Model Transformation.

Paul’s counsel to young Timothy, “Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”- 1 Timothy 4:11-13 (ESV)

My mom’s favorite saying was, “You can talk until you are blue in the face.”  As you attempt to get people to follow your vision, know that people will follow what you are modeling.

One Sunday morning in 1865, a black man entered a fashionable church in Richmond, Virginia. When communion was served, he walked down the aisle and knelt at the altar. A rustle of resentment swept the congregation. How dare he! After all, believers in that church used the common cup. Suddenly a distinguished layman stood up, stepped forward to the altar, and knelt beside the black man. With Robert E. Lee setting the example, the rest of the congregation soon followed his lead. – Today in the Word, September 1991, p. 15.

People need to see the standard you are trying to achieve lived out in you first before they will follow.

  1. Reinvest in People.

Finally, to change your culture you must be willing to die to self over and over again as you invest in the lives of those around you.  When the vision becomes about you and not God, you are reaching a danger zone.  At every level you and your organization climb, a piece of the old you dies to allow you to reach the next level.  Let me give you an example.

I am not the same pastor I was when I graduated from the Seminary.  In 1993, I was a “wide-eyed, transforming the world, rookie pastor.”  Now some twenty-four years later I still desire to change the world, but armed with bruises from battle, I know change comes at a high cost. The cost of the death of past failures, broken relationships based on overzealous passion, and the death of a rookie’s enthusiasm, yet better positioned with a balanced view of my role in transformation.

You must not take this journey alone.  No one should hang around you for an extended period of time and not experience transformation.  They could be transformed by the God-given vision, or the training system to equip them for service.  Some will be transformed by the ministry itself, regardless if this is from God.  Lives will be changed.  Go, change the world with the unique vision God has implanted in your heart.