It’s Time to Simplify Church Planting

designMy church planting friends may think that I’ve regressed about 30 years. I have not. Possibly, I am looking ahead a few years into the future of effective church planting.

I am increasingly concerned with how complicated church planting has become. I’m afraid that, in our efforts to systematize the starting of new churches, we have eliminated a lot of would-be planters and new churches.

Think about it:

Sign up for two years of training, travel to conferences, meet regularly with your coach/mentor. Submit to multiple personality assessments. Raise $30,000 – $50,000 (cash). Build and train a launch team. Engage in the latest social media marketing campaign. Do a direct mail blitz. Rent a local school or theater. Have preview services. Start a church.

There are only a few people who can realistically comply with all of these requirements. Do we really believe that they are the only ones who should start new churches? I think not. I personally know guys who want to start a church but they are waiting for everything to line up. If we wait for everything to be just right, we’ll never start.

I am a proponent of building a solid infrastructure before launching a church. I have no beef with the very successful church planting organizations around the country. My concern is that some would-be planters are stuck because they think they can’t plant unless they are immersed in the process with one of these organizations. I think we have inadvertently overcomplicated the process of starting churches.

Eventually, the current church planting pot of gold will run out. All of the school auditoriums in town will be rented. Facebook ads will no longer be effective. I think it’s time to reconsider our approach. While stats prove that a strategic system increases the odds of success, I am not convinced that everyone fits into the mold.

I want to encourage any aspiring church planters who read this. Don’t allow the status quo to hold you back. “Best practices” are awesome but God is not limited to what is considered conventional thinking.

If you want to plant a church, try this:

Pray like crazy. Make sure God is calling you. Start meeting with people. In coffee shops, in your home, just come together for prayer or Bible study. You don’t need permission to get together with friends. If the group grows and the need becomes evident, you can start a church. Successful church planting is simply evangelism and discipleship that results in the need for a new church. Rather than starting a church so you can reach people, reach people so you can start a church.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a 6 digit budget. You don’t need a fog machine. No one has ever come to salvation in Christ because of the amazing countdown video your creative team produced.

Simplify.

I believe that in the future, the big production churches will suffer. People are looking for authenticity and relationships. That can’t be manufactured.

Just love people. If you can love enough people, you can start a church.

It’s time to simplify church planting.


Why Some Churches Don’t Grow

why some churches don't grow 2

It’s not a perfect science. Increasing the impact and influence of a church can be very difficult. We all agree that numerical growth does not necessarily mean spiritual growth. But it is vital that churches around the world reach more people for Jesus. The church is God’s “Plan A” to reach the lost – and we are surrounded by lost people.

Here are 10 simple reasons why churches don’t grow. The list is not complete and these reasons are not written in stone. This is not an attack on pastors who lead plateaued churches. I simply wish to provide some discussion for churches and church leaders who hope to grow.

No passion for growth. Some churches stay the same because there is no desire to reach more people. Possibly there is a lack of awareness or maybe there is a disconnect with the surrounding culture. Many churches seem to be okay with the status quo. It’s business as usual. The tendency is to rely on our abilities more than we rely on God’s miracles. Spiritual lethargy sets in and corrodes a church. Churches that do not want to grow won’t. A lack of intensity will ensure that we stay stuck. We must pray until we receive the fervor; it takes passion to get “unstuck.”

No strategy for growth. It is rare to hear a pastor say that he doesn’t want the church to grow. But without intentionality, a church is not likely to grow. Even when specific strategies are followed, there is no guarantee of increase. But no plan will quickly lead to stagnation. Rather than thriving, our goal becomes to maintain and survive. Have you outlined your blueprint to grow your church?

Unwillingness to change. Some churches know what to do in order to reach more people but they are unwilling to make the necessary adjustments in order to do so. We do the same things the same way – because of tradition. The past is more important than the future; our rearview mirror is bigger than our windshield. This kind of ministry atrophy is especially difficult to overcome. Lack of change will result in lack of growth. Lack of growth will result in extinction.

Lack of “know how.” Don’t believe the “experts” who tell you that church growth is a matter of taking “these 3 easy steps.” You can do certain things that will gather a crowd but true church growth is much more complex and spiritual than simply amassing warm bodies. Many pastors and leaders would gladly do whatever it takes to grow. Many times, church is a matter of doing the right thing the right way long enough that the results finally come. If you don’t know what to do, keep trying. And find out what to do! Leaders must approach the acquisition of this kind of expertise as a life-long ambition.

Intimidation about culture. The world is becoming a scary place for Bible-believing churches. There is now a level of resistance and animosity that many of us have never experienced. It can be easy to see the church as a fortress that serves as a safe place from the evil world. Jesus did not establish His church to be a hiding place. The church is to be a force in our culture. Only the ministries that are confident enough to engage our culture will impact it. Be bold! God has given you the courage you need to overcome.

Fear of increased responsibility. Some leaders dread the responsibility that comes with more people. Let’s face it – fewer people = fewer problems. However, God did not call us to an easy task. While a larger church equates to more pressure and stress, the rewards are that more people find Christ and experience the joy of being His disciples.

Desire to control. There are a few (or many) control freaks who must hold the reigns on everything that happens in their organization. Growth means shared responsibility and authority. Unless a leader is confident and competent enough to share control, new people will be a very limited commodity. A pastor who is in charge of everything won’t be in charge of much. Please don’t limit the size of your ministry to only a few.

Misidentifying relevance as compromise. This one is touchy. Some churches do not grow because they mistakenly think that if they connect with culture, they are somehow being less than true to the Gospel. This simply is not true. Jesus is always pertinent. The Gospel cannot be irrelevant. The church can, however, make the Bible irrelevant. Our job is to stay true to the Scriptures but to preach them in a way that makes sense to the people who hear it. That is not compromise, it is effectiveness. It’s what Jesus did and that seemed to work pretty well.

Ministry schizophrenia. This is where a church gets its identity from other churches. Whatever the next big ministry bandwagon is, they are jumping on! I am all for successful ministry models and I believe that there are principles that apply across the board. But God does not wish to duplicate in every church what works in well-known churches. Be true to yourself and to your calling. Know what will work in your neighborhood, and do it. Know who God called you to be and whom He called you to reach.

A lack of missionality. Churches that exist for their own good are doomed to fail. Inwardly focused ministry is a major turnoff for people who do not go to church. Jesus came, not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28); the church must give itself to God and to the needs of the people He loves. We are on a mission from God; if we fulfill it, our churches will grow.

Here is the truth about church growth: churches that don’t grow will shrink and eventually die. In our post-Christian culture, church growth is getting more and more complicated. We need to pray and work like never before. It is possible that you can pray and work hard and your church may still not grow. But we do NOT want to be the reason our church doesn’t grow!

Let’s get on with the responsibility of reaching the world for Jesus Christ. (Matthew 28:19-20).


Reconnecting the Church with Millennials

Reconnecting the Church with Millennials

We’re hearing more bad news about how young America feels about organized church. Thom Rainer published this article about young church leaders; it also reveals the brokenness that exists between churches/denominations and a major portion of our adult population. While it’s sort of good news for church planters, it’s bad news for everyone for several reasons: The church is God’s plan to reach our culture. If the plan isn’t working, we’re in trouble. It reveals a lack of grace on the part of younger people. My friend Travis Johnson recently preached, “Flaws and all, the Church must be a central priority of our existence as Christians.” We can’t expect the church to be even close to perfect. The church has a lot of good to offer young adults but if we aren’t on speaking terms, nothing will be shared. We shouldn’t have to learn everything by personal experience. Elders have practical wisdom that is needed. Millennials have a lot to offer the church but if we’re not on speaking terms… And one of the biggest reasons this is bad news is – too much of what Millennials believe about the church is accurate. The church can be irrelevant. The church can care more about maintenance than mission. The church can be myopic. As a denominational leader, I can unfortunately respond: guilty as charged!

So, how do we repair the disconnect? I think that, if these breaches are going to be healed, the church has to do a few things; here are just a few:

We have to go to them. I am bothered by people who say/think, “Here we are, if they need us, let them come.” The title of this article reflects a strategy. The church must take the initiative to reach out. In case we haven’t noticed, no one is beating our church doors down to get in.

We have to be willing to talk. This can be intimidating because many 20 and 30 somethings are accustomed to critical thinking. They aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions. Sometimes their attitudes can be perceived as arrogant (and sometimes they are). But these open and honest conversations must take place. These talks are not lectures. They don’t happen during the preaching – they are over coffee. And they may not conclude with a neat little box with a ribbon on top. These talks can be messy, but they are necessary.

We have to be willing to change. Robert Quinn says, “People must surrender some of their previous attitudes, behaviors, positions, and comforts for their organization to advance.” An attitude we’ve heard in the church is, “This is our church, if they don’t like how we do things, they can just stay away.” I’ve heard this or similar attitudes from people who claim to know the exact way that church should be done and are unwilling to consider any adjustments. Without doubt, this is wrong. While the Spirit of Christ will never compromise on the Word of God, there is great flexibility on the part of God when it comes to reaching people. I do not believe that we should ever change the meaning of the Bible, but our methods of doing ministry must change. A church that refuses to change methods in order to connect with the next generation will soon be a former church.

We must do more than just include. My friend Mel Stackhouse recently tweeted, “There’s a big difference between being embraced, and being included; being welcomed vs belonging.” Millennials aren’t stupid; they know when they are being placated. We must care more about people than we do the compliance of the people. They must be valued and respected. We must embrace them; they must know that they belong. And young leaders want to lead! While wisdom and discretion is required for leaders, let’s not wait until someone is too old and tied to lead before we empower them to lead.

Most of all, we must be real. By real, I mean authentic. There is little tolerance for hypocrisy in today’s culture. Churches that preach what they live and live what they preach will find a following. Don’t be afraid to tackle tough topics and offer real-life hope.

I understand the fears of the boomers/leaders of the church. We fear losing something we love very much. If we do nothing about how Millennials feel about the church, that loss is certain.


Smart Things that Churches Should Do

Smart Things that Churches Should Do

Church is not a building or an institution. Church is people. Because church is people, we have the choice to either do smart things or dumb things. If we do smart things, more people can be led to Christ. Leading people to Christ is a simple way of describing why the church exists.

Here are a few smart things that churches can do that will lead more people to Christ:

Be intentionally multigenerational
Youth are not the church of tomorrow; they are part of the church today. We must provide the resources necessary to reach them now. Quality leaders, authentic compassion and giving them a voice in the ministry process will result in young people who connect with the church. Smart churches know this; they don’t just talk about it, they do it. They invest in young people. But they also respect older people. Those who have paid the price to help get us where we are now need to know that they are treasured. Smart churches value people even if they appear to no longer be on the cutting edge. Smart churches value all generations.

Stay out of ruts
Doing something simply because that’s the ways it’s always been done is the fast track to extinction. Hold to traditions and creeds but do so with purpose. Smart churches change in the right way at the right time for the right reasons.

Stay off of bandwagons
We always have something to learn from others who are succeeding but trendiness and fads can spoil ministry. It appears that God blesses different methods at different times but He doesn’t run out of ideas. Imagination and creativity are spiritual gifts. Smart churches don’t spend a lot of time and energy trying to be another church. Be original, innovative, fresh.

Be real
Speak the language of the people. Do everything with authenticity. Operate with impeccable integrity. Own up to mistakes. Repent often. Be transparent. Smart churches are not manipulative or condescending or disrespectful of people.

Perfect grace
Make room at the table for sinners. Don’t demand perfection. Practice forgiveness and model second chances. Smart churches know that the ground at the foot of the cross is level.

Reach as many people as possible
It’s OK to have a “target market” based on demographics. But smart churches don’t eliminate people because they don’t fit the niche. Specialty churches eliminate people who are different. Jesus doesn’t eliminate these people – neither should we.

Act outside of the local church
Embrace other ministries. Do life in the neighborhood. Minister with a global mindset. Be sure to connect with people outside of your immediate circle. It’s a big world and God is doing amazing things. Smart churches don’t want to miss that!

Promote justice
Don’t tolerate the mistreatment of the innocent. Stand up for victims. Speak out on behalf of the marginalized. Smart churches act as part of the solution to society’s ills.

Release people into ministry
We should encourage people to practice their spiritual gifts. Empower people. Entrust people with responsibility. Smart churches understand that every person and gift is necessary for a fully functioning church.

Be comfortable with not pleasing everyone
Smart churches know that they are not for everyone. Let people disagree and let some leave, if necessary. Pursue those God has called you to reach.

Insist that people dream
Life beats the hope out of people. Smart churches spend a lot of energy building up people. Encourage them to dream again, to chase the vision that God put in them. “Remember who you wanted to be.”

Know what we’re supposed to do and do it well
What is the end goal of church? Jesus summarized our job description in Matthew 28 by telling us to make disciples; we help people by showing them how to be authentic followers of Jesus. That’s it. If we’re smart, we’ll focus all of our attention on that task.

Smart churches do smart things and lots of people come to Christ. You and I are the church. Let’s do smart things.


The 5 Hardest Things I’ve Done as a Pastor

The 5 Hardest Things I've Done as a Pastor

When you are a pastor, you have a lot of really great days. But you also have your share of bad ones. These are the times when your responsibilities force you into spots that you’d rather not be in. In thinking back over the last 25 plus years, I have mostly good memories, but some difficult times stand out.

Warning: the list below may not be what you’re expecting and it may be difficult to read.

The 5 Hardest Things I’ve Done as a Pastor:

Watch a child die. While we’ve had that unfortunate experience a few times, the day a little boy hemorrhaged to death while his mother held him in her arms is burned into my memory.
Inform two children their father had died. This is a conversation that no one wants to have. I still recall their response.
Identify the bodies of a father and his four-year-old daughter who died in a fire. The sight and smell created lasting trauma for me.
Watch a young leader and friend die a slow and excruciating death. I still argue with God about that one.
Preach the funeral of a 17 year-old suicide victim. There is no adequate way to prepare for that.

No, these events were not about me. But I was there. This is not an effort to garner sympathy. Of course, I did not hurt as much as the family members of these people hurt, but I did hurt.

Notice something about all of the above events – they all involved death. They did not involve a church fight or an argument over money or even a moral failure. Here is the purpose of this article: Sometimes the things that we think are serious are not. The things that really matter involve life and death and eternity.

I hope that the Church can begin to focus more on issues of eternity.


5 Ways Pastors Frustrate Church Members

5 Ways Pastors Frustrate Church Members

My last post, “5 Ways to Discourage Your Pastor” generated a good amount of interest. In keeping with that theme and in an effort to look at the other side of the issue, we are publishing this quick look at things pastors do that church members dislike. This is not a comprehensive list. It is not an attack on pastors. In fact, this list comes from my personal experience. The goal is to encourage both pastors and church members in ways that they can be more supportive of one another. The goal is unity in the church.

Here we go:

Don’t prepare for message. Pastors who “wing it” aren’t fooling anyone. Modern worshipers are savvy. They know when we have not given 100% in preparing for the message. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been preaching for 25 years; the church, and more importantly, the Lord deserves your very best. Pray, study, get ready! Preaching is a huge responsibility and it should be approached with utmost sincerity and preparation.

Preaching to those not in attendance. It is tempting to pour out frustration while preaching and many times it can be directed toward people who are not in the worship service. Here’s the thing: if the topic you are addressing only addresses the people who are not there, those who ARE there may regret their decision! Don’t preach your frustrations and do preach to those who are there.

Doing everything themselves. Some pastors are control freaks, some are insecure and some simply have not learned how to delegate. But many church members get frustrated when they see their pastor be the “jack-of-all-trades” at church. God has gifted every member of the body to contribute something of significance. Let’s let them.

Being unapproachable.
While it is not practical or even safe for all pastors to be available to members before and after worship services, no one likes to see a pastor whisked away after service like a celebrity. Pastors, make yourself available on some level. Remember that we are shepherds and we should know the sheep.

Make big changes, then leave. Name changes, vision/direction changes, building projects, incurring debt, hiring or firing staff…all of these big issues should be followed with an increased tenure on the part of the pastor. Don’t make someone else pay the price for your decisions. If possible, stick around and see the thing through.

To our former church members: I am sorry for the times I failed, and thank you for your patience.
To pastors: Do yourself and your church members a favor and assess this list. If no adjustments are needed, that’s awesome! If you need to tweak a few things, let me encourage you to do so.

By the way, this is round one. Another list of 5 is coming soon!

God bless you!

Photo by Jenny Kaczorowski


5 Ways to Discourage Your Pastor

5 Ways to Discourage Your Pastor

As a pastor of a local church for over twenty-five years, I had my share of buildups and letdowns. Sometimes I recall the discouraging times more. I know that I was not supposed to get down because of people and circumstances, but it happens. I also know that the people who discouraged me did not always mean to do so. But it happened.

The purpose of this post is to let you in on a few things to avoid (unless you want to discourage your pastor). If you are bent on discouraging him or her, here are 5 surefire ways of doing so:

1. Be a no show at Sunday service. Vacation, kid’s sports, sleeping in … pretty much any excuse for not going to church serves as a way to frustrate a pastor. Of course, there are legitimate reasons for missing church. But the general lack of commitment to the church by members is a major source of discouragement for most pastors. Here is why: non attendance is a statement that whatever we chose over church is simply more important to us at that time; that is discouraging to a pastor, and understandably so.

2. Don’t support the church financially. Statistics show that an overwhelming majority of church attenders give little (or nothing) to the church. Although they are limited in what they can say on this topic, pastors get upset about this for a few reasons. There are spiritual implications and consequences. Lack of generosity indicates a lack of gratitude to God. Lack of giving limits the blessings that God will provide for individuals and churches. It’s no wonder why Pastors get discouraged about this issue.

3. Don’t grow as a disciple of Christ. Good pastors will want to measure the progress of the church members. We preach, teach, pray and counsel with the goal of spiritual maturity for the people. While we see with physical eyes and spiritual growth is difficult to measure, it is frustrating to perceive people as stagnant and stuck in their relationship with Christ. It’s sometimes enough to make a pastor want to quit.

4. Fight progress and growth; refuse to accept change in the church; don’t welcome new people into the church. I once had a church member say to me of our church, “the smaller, the better.” Spiritual leaders take people on a journey. They are assigned by God to move people toward God. They discover where the church is and where God wants to take it. There is no such thing as a leader who remains motionless. When God places a vision for growth in the heart of a leader, it can be devastating if people refuse to go. Certainly, there are many conditions that are required which pastors must observe. They must earn the trust of the people and be able to discern the direction of the Spirit. But once this is realized, the refusal of participation by church members is one of the greatest sources of frustration that a pastor can experience.

5. Leave the church. Although many people approach church as consumers and change every time something happens that they don’t like, pastors hope for more dedication. When someone leaves the church, it hurts personally. It is rejection. Pastors suffer when people leave.

The list could go on…

Most people don’t want to hurt their pastor; I hope you don’t. But please don’t overlook the possibility that you may be doing so inadvertently.

Grace and peace to you!


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