What are we going to do about Illinois?

IMG_4837Rest assured. My wife and I love Illinois. It is an honor to live here and a privilege to serve the great people here. This is precisely why I ask the question above.

Those who live here will admit, Illinois is experiencing some real challenges. Recently, there has been a lot of talk in the news about the reducing population here. At the bottom of this article are some links that discuss the problem and they are the resources for data I used.

A few details shared are:

Illinois’ population has fallen for the fifth straight year. The state lost an estimated 45,100 people in 2018. In 2017, around 33,700 people left. That means more than 11,000 more people left the state in 2018 than in 2017.

From July 2017 to July 2018, more than 114,000 Illinoisans left the state, a total population decline of more than 45,000 people.

The population loss is intensifying.

Illinois is the only state in the Midwest that saw a population loss. More than 43,000 people moved to Minnesota this year and more than 30,000 moved to Indiana.

The most important numbers in the new federal statistics involve domestic migration — the number of people leaving Illinois for other states, such as Texas, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Since Illinois’ population decline began in 2014, the state has shrunk by more than 157,000 people. That’s equivalent to losing the entire city of Joliet, Naperville or Rockford.

The primary driver of Illinois’ outmigration crisis is prime working-age residents (ages 25-54) seeking opportunity.

The most important factor in Illinois’ migration problem is the labor market, which has been crushed by the state’s unfriendly tax policy and business climate.

A Southern Illinois University at Carbondale poll from 2015 showed that half of the Illinois residents polled would leave the state if they could.

The result of all of this data and information is troubling for those of us who love the Land of Lincoln. We are concerned about the future. We’re not sure what the future holds. And we regularly encounter people who are somewhat hopeless about any chance to turn the state around.

I realize, this is all fairly negative. But we believe in transparency: it is what it is. But hang in there; we’re about to turn a corner.

We believe that we are right where God wants us, and that changes everything!

What do leaders do when times get tough? They fight for what is right. When we discuss our issues, we’re not whining, where strategizing. Max DePree says that, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” Illinoisans are not stupid – we know full well what is happening.

But there are times that the answers may not be as easy to identify as are the problems.

Of course, we need tax reform. Businesses need a break in order to compete. We must clean up our corrupt politics. We have to change the narrative about Illinois. We’ve heard enough of the complaints. We’re committed to develop solutions!

We’re developing a strategy to rescue Illinois. Sounds grandiose, doesn’t it? Too ambitious? Naïve?

Here’s the thing: we are convinced that our presence here is God’s strategy. He has a solid record of positioning people where they are needed. The good folks in our faith family are not accidents. They aren’t here by chance. God placed them as missionaries to a culture that is in great need of their ministry. A good many of them love their state deeply and wouldn’t leave (regardless of what the SIUC survey reveals).

If God put us here, He has some expectations of us. His idea is not for us to work toward tax reform or to clean up politics. His idea is for us to be representatives of His Kingdom in a place that really needs it. God sends us where we are needed most. If our communities were perfect, we wouldn’t be needed. If Christians abandon the tough places, hope will be lost.

We consider Illinois to be our Mission Field.

As such, our plans center around a few key ideas:

  • Act redemptively. Rather than moan and groan, we will talk answers. We have identified the reality, now we plan to change the reality. We won’t run away from the problem, we will run toward it.
  • Create positivity. Life is more than luxuries and comfort. Our intention is to make life better for people. Where there is a need, God will enable us to meet it. The culture and atmosphere will change.
  • Invest in the future. This investment is not necessarily in the industries of the state; this investment is in our most valuable resource – young people.
  • Intentional inclusion. Our leaders will commit to purposefully and strategically include not-so-likely leaders in our leadership processes. Those who have been marginalized or put on a shelf for a later date will be encouraged, even compelled to lead.
  • Create an atmosphere of hope. Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said, “Hope is a passion for the possible.” We will be authentically passionate about the good things that are possible for Illinois and its people.
  • We are recruiting difference makers. While some want to leave, others want to be problem solvers. While most people run out of a burning building, there are always heroes who run in. Illinois is not burning, but it’s in trouble. It will take some very courageous and passionate people to rush in. I’ve signed up and believe many more are prepared to do so.

I’m extending an invitation. If you are currently living in Illinois, let’s join forces to make this state as awesome as possible. If you used to live here but left, the door swings both ways. Consider coming home to help in the renovation. If you’ve never been here, if you drove through one time, if you know a lot or very little about this great state, we invite you to be a part of something remarkable.

Anybody can jump on a winning bandwagon. It’s easy to ride the coattails of others to easy street. It doesn’t take character to inherit the fruit of others’ labor. But only a chosen few experience the thrill of helping to redeem and rebuild a really struggling state that has endless potential.

We have a team of gifted and impassioned women and men, young and old that is committed to do whatever it takes to save and redeem our state. They know that this is their mission field. They don’t expect it to be easy and they know it won’t be quick. They realize that they are desperately needed. They have zero intensions of quitting. You can join us.

What are we going to do about Illinois? We’re going to turn it around! Who is with us?

https://wrex.com/category/2018/12/19/data-shows-more-people-are-leaving-illinois/

https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-edit-illinois-population-loss-madigan-exodus-20181219-story.html

https://www.illinoispolicy.org/illinois-population-loss-worsens-for-5th-straight-year/

https://foxillinois.com/news/local/45000-people-left-the-state-of-illinois-in-2018-12-20-2018

https://www.ilnews.org/more-people-leaving-illinois/article_5fec216e-0ae3-11e9-a136-7bd1db46ea6f.html

The Future of Church Planting in North America

design-2Based upon current trends and what some experts are saying, we will see an increase in a change of approach and methodology in the planting of new churches in America. These changes may not be good or bad per se, but we should be aware and consider our approach. These are all in practice in many places, perhaps we are not aware. Below are a few observations about some new approaches:

  • More house churches. More small churches will be established in homes and will stay there, by design. Once they reach a certain numbers, they divide in order to multiple in additional locations. We have seen this tendency in Latin America for many years; the results are remarkable.
  • Fewer large church buildings built. Most church planters want to avoid the strangulation of big debt. Fewer worshipers want to pay big mortgage bills. They prefer instead to invest in life-changing ministry.
  • More opportunities to worship on days other than Sunday. Like it or not, there is a move away from Sunday as “the day” to worship.
  • Large churches planting new churches in other cities and states, even other countries. This is nothing new but it seems to be on the increase. These large churches sometimes serve as a mother church on an ongoing basis.
  • More church planters planning to remaining bivocational. Perhaps out of necessity, but partly because of strategy, many church planters have no desire to be in full-time ministry.
  • Less glamor and glitz in church planting. Many worshipers are unimpressed with expensive and entertaining worship. “Keep it simple” is becoming more of a mantra for some church planters.
  • More marketplace churches. Factories, stores, businesses and coffee shops are increasing becoming the venue for new church plants.
  • “Second career” church planters. More folks are retiring early or are strategically entering ministry once their kids are raised.

I believe that we should consider any and all methods of planting healthy churches. There is no “best” model; the one that is best is the one that works.

For more details about church planting, click here.

Let’s plant churches!

Who Should Be A Pastor? (10 things a pastor must be able to do)

There are a few jokes about the perfect pastor that continue to make the rounds:

35 years old with 30 years experience.

Doesn’t dress too flashy or too trashy.

Has a lovely but modest wife, and 1.5 well-behaved children.

Can preach, teach, sing, play, administrate, cut grass, clean toilets, visit all the sick and elderly, attend all the church kids school plays and ball games and find time to pray for 3 hours every day.

These are jokes.

But it’s not funny when we see a person trying to serve as a pastor when they lack some basic necessary gifts and abilities.

From my 30 plus years in ministry, I have a few (10 for now) indispensable skills a successful pastor must possess. Please, let’s take some for granted. In other words, don’t scold me for omitting praying or whatever. These things are obvious. The points I want to cover may not be as obvious.

1. Must be able to personally lead someone to Christ. It is shocking to learn that some pastors have never led anyone to salvation outside of a church service. If the pastor doesn’t, the people won’t.

2. Must be able and willing, even eager, to work hard. Sometimes the work is manual, sometimes it is intellectual, but it is always strenuous. In my opinion, pastors cannot work less than 50 hours per week on average if they hope to build a growing, effective church. While we must prioritize our family and health, excessive television, golf, napping or any other “recreation” is a sign of slothfulness. Please don’t be guilty of adding to the “lazy preacher” perception. Of course the above numbers are considering full time pastors.

3. Must be humble. Arrogance, pride and an inflated ego by a pastor will destroy a ministry quickly. Get over yourself.

4. Must be a learner. Whether the education is formal or informal, there is no space for intellectual anemia. You never know it all so learn until you die. You speak on behalf of God; know what you’re talking about.

5. Must not be a racist. Now, this should be a given, but it is not. Pastors cannot discriminate against people of other races or nationalities. Mistreating anyone is not allowable. If you cannot love all people equally, and minister to anyone, you disqualify yourself from effective ministry, and perhaps Christianity altogether.

6. Must be compassionate. Some score higher on the mercy scale than others, but a hard-hearted pastor is an oxymoron. Shepherds must care.

7. Must value other generations. If you can only lead people who are close to your age, you have a very limited harvest field. If multigenerational ministry doesn’t come naturally to you, work on it. The long term effectiveness of your ministry is at stake.

8. Must not fall in love with methods, style or genres. If you simply must preach a certain way, or if you only allow a certain type of worship music, or if you insist that church ministry be conducted in your preferred method, perhaps there is an ownership problem. The ministry does not belong to you; the ministry belongs to the Lord. God never changes. But times change, people change, and what’s effective in ministry changes.

9. Must be accountable to and for others; must be responsible to and for others. Independent pastors (those who answer to no one) are operating outside of biblical guidelines. Followers should not follow this type of a leader.

10. Must be able to increase the impact of the church they serve. If a pastor cannot lead the church to grow, the church will die. A pastor that leads a church to die isn’t a good pastor.

Well, there is the list of 10. Of course, there are tons more, perhaps they will come in the future. In the meantime, pastor on!

How Can We Get More People at Church?

32327067_10156408424934214_8372441171867205632_nWe beg, we plead, we guilt trip and we promote. Still, the vast majority of people in our communities will never set foot in our churches. Some statistics reveal an all-time low in church attendance. We can blame the people – their priorities are wrong and they don’t love God. Or we can consider offering a more “entertaining” worship experience. But does this actually solve the problem?

I talk with Pastors who get discouraged when they put on a community event on Saturday and no one from the event shows up at the church the next day. The reason they aren’t there on Sunday is because you invited them to an event on Saturday. If you can connect the event with an actual worship service, your numbers may increase. But we still may not see the long term result we desire.

In my opinion, the best way to get people to attend your church is to minister to them before they attend. By “minister”, I mean actually making a difference in their lives. I’ll talk about that more in a moment.

We must understand that “hyping” a worship service probably doesn’t help in the long run. Without coming across as critical, some churches appear to prefer a hard sell approach. Making all kinds of promises about having the most exciting service in town is counterproductive. It may result in a quick bump in attendance but eventually people will tire of the hype. Additionally, if you try to impress people into coming, you’ll then have to impress them to keep them coming. And I have visited the website of a church I planned to visit. The pictures portrayed an exciting atmosphere and the verbiage described an energetic and life-transforming ministry experience. Then I visited the church. Let’s just say that some churches may get sued for false advertisement.

Big promises had better be fulfilled or irreparable damage could be done. But big promises, even fulfilled, don’t necessarily result in more people showing up at church.

Here is a key to this entire topic: more people at church shouldn’t be the goal. More ministry is the goal. And more ministry results in more people in church services. So everybody wins.

Let’s understand that people simply coming to church may not be the solution. For the average person who is unfamiliar with church, the idea is frightening. They don’t know what’s going on, they are uncomfortable and the experience can feel awkward. And once the service concludes, they hightail it out of there. So, they’ve, “been there and tried that”, with no plans of coming back. All that work to get them there is wasted.

Now let’s get back to ministering to people before they arrive at church. This is almost always accomplished in relationships. Pastors must know people outside the church. They should be involved in the community. They should have friends that don’t attend their church. Church members and leaders should be fully engaged in community life. This means we can’t spend all of our time at the church.

So Pastors, ministry leaders and church members: think about who you know outside of the church. Now, what needs do they have that you can address? Pastor, they probably don’t need you to write and deliver an excellent sermon and they won’t be impressed by your level of ministerial credentials. Your advanced degrees mean very little to anyone other than you. Church leaders and members: hurting people in the community are not looking for another commitment or something to do on Sunday morning. People need something more.

At the risk of putting off some, let me use some alliteration to make my point.

If you hope to minister to more people, embrace the “3 C’s.”

Connect: Get to know people. Don’t stay in your church building. Get out into the community. Know and be known.

Care: People can spot ulterior motives a mile away. If you are connecting with someone just so you can get them into your church, well – please don’t. Genuine care is impossible to fake and impossible to ignore.

Compassion: Connecting and caring is motivated by true compassion. Everyone needs it. As spiritual shepherds, Pastors must be moved by hurting sheep. Church members who practice grace and mercy are a church’s greatest advertisement. Compassion opens the door to effective life-changing ministry, and at times, is ministry itself.

I believe that, at this time in our culture, more people are being brought to Jesus outside of the church building than inside. This certainly is the New Testament model for evangelism. If we lead people to Christ before they even arrive at church, our desire to assimilate into the family them will be easier.

We all want a full church. But more than that, we want people to know and love the Lord. The best way to see this happen is to love people right where they are. Think about it; it’s what Jesus did for us. He didn’t wait for us to come to Him – He came to us!

Be blessed!

Why Does My Pastor Want Me to Attend Every Church Service?

20799375_10155681399684214_8063187496515257957_n.jpgChurch attendance is on the decline in America. Most statistics point to a reduction of commitment to local congregations. Some feel that church attendance is overrated and others believe that attendance is not a reflection of one’s faith. Regardless of your opinion about or practice of church attendance, we must admit that things are changing.

According to an article by Kelly Shattuck on Churchleaders.com, less than 20 percent of Americans regularly attend church. David Murrow writes about how church attendance is declining even among “committed” church members. A church surveyed “their young families and discovered they attended church an average of 1.6 times per month (out of a possible 4.3 weekends/month). In addition, only 20% of their members attend at least 3 times a month. And just 4 percent are “full attenders”, attending at least 48 Sunday out of the year. You can read the full article here.

I am processing this phenomenon from the perspective of a local church pastor. Having pastored full time for over 25 years, and now working in a leadership role among pastors, it is my hope that the average church attender will look at things from a pastor’s point of view.

Your pastor wants you to attend every service! Here are 7 of the reasons why:

Your Pastor cares about your soul. Spiritual transformation is a process; the more you engage in spiritually uplifting activities, the more consistent your progress will be. When you attend church services, you engage in worship with others. You sing with the church family. You give with your peers. You learn more about the Bible and God. Obviously, when you do not attend church services, these things do not happen, at least not in the church setting. It would be a negligent pastor who doesn’t care enough about your soul to want you in church services.

Your Pastor knows that the church is stronger with you there. Other people are inspired by your participation in church services. Your possess gifts and talents that the other church members need. If you are not there to exercise these gifts, perhaps no one will – and the church will do without.

Your Pastor knows that others need you. If we believe what the Scripture says about the value of each member of the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:12), we know that we are of value. We are important and our presence matters to others. Perhaps it is as simple as a handshake or hug, or maybe it is as complex as a mentoring relationship or a spiritual parenting need that is filled. Other people need you and if you are at the church service – you can be available to them.

Your Pastor believes that you need what is being presented. The music, the message, the fellowship, the tithing and giving – are all necessary parts of your faith development. As a Pastor, I prepared messages with particular church members on my heart. I could envision how a particular attender would respond to a certain part of the sermon. I would pray and prepare keeping the needs of the people at the forefront of my mind. Imagine the disappointment when those who were on my heart did not attend the service. Perhaps the essence of the message was exactly what they needed at that time in their life, but they were not there to receive.

Your Pastor sees that you are an example that others will follow. Never underestimate the influence you have among your church family. Someone is looking up to you. Whether or not we like it, someone will follow in our footsteps. If we attend, they are more likely to attend.

Your Pastor knows the Scriptures indicate that you should worship in a corporate setting. “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25 CEB) You will be blessed if you attend faithfully.

When you don’t attend worship services, your Pastor is concerned about your perspective. I am of the opinion that church attendance is a direct indicator of how one feels about God’s family, and therefore God. While you may not care what your pastor thinks, your pastor cares about what you think.

I could go on. But you get the point. I hope you can consider your pastor the next time you contemplate missing a service. One statement I hear a lot from Pastors: “If I could get everybody here at the same time…” Imagine it. I wonder what would happen if we would all show up at the same time, for several services in a row.

On second thought, your Pastor may have a heart attack!

Empty Nest Churches

What Do We Do About Our Kids Leaving the Church?

designThe problem was been well documented. Lots of analysis and research reveals that the generation gap in the church continues to widen. There is an issue, especially in the North American church, in that many younger people are not staying or they aren’t coming in the first place. The statistics are alarming. It’s a concern for many Baby Boomer parents and a dilemma for church leaders.

As far as I can ascertain, no one else has coined the term, “empty nest church.” You get the concept: the kids leave, and mom and dad are left alone. In the home, though adjustments need to be made, this can be a refreshing and fun time for couples. In the church, it is a sign of looming extinction. If adjustments aren’t made, the church will soon no longer exist.

Conferences and ministry forums are addressing this problem. Books are being published and denominational leaders are deep in dialogue. It’s baffling, however, that others seem to be unaware of the problem. Or perhaps they are aware but are clueless about solutions. But make no mistake, this matter is not going away, and sooner or later, we will deal with it.

So, what are we to do when the next generation disengages from the church? I would like to discuss 3 possible responses.

Would we allow our kids to walk away from our home and their relationship with us without pursuing them? Most parents would make every effort to assure their children that they are loved and valued and an integral part of the family. It’s unthinkable that we would stand idly by as they depart the house, promising never to return. Would we refuse to go after them in the name of “tough love?” (Sometimes tough love is a cover-up for a hard heart). Would we accuse them of being entitled or spoiled? Why then do we see this in the church? All indicators point to a several year crisis that has developed in many evangelical churches. The problem is not new – but where are the solutions? When discussing the issue of the younger generation leaving the church, we hear people say things like, “it’s up to them to come back” or “we’re not the ones who left.” In a recent social media discussion, an article addressing Millennials leaving the church created a lot of dialogue. The author of the article encouraged churches and ministry leaders to take the initiative to go after people who leave the church. One commenter, a Christian leader said, “Instead of: “it’s your move church,” I keep saying, “it’s your move millennials.” Stop looking for others to change things for you and just start being the change you want to see.” While I concur with the concept of personal responsibility, when it comes to spiritual disengagement, this type of thinking creates more problem than solutions. We cannot expect those who have left the church to assume the responsibility to make the needed changes.

It seems to me that older Believers have the responsibility to go after, even pursue younger Believers who walk away from the church. I think that is what the Father would do.

By “go after”, I don’t mean simply trying to talk them into coming back. While this is an excellent place to begin, we must be willing to face the difficult truths behind the decisions being made. Rather than being defensive or dismissive, we must be open and willing to learn. Teenagers and young adults should know beyond any doubt that we love them enough to come find them – wherever they are. We can’t wait for them to come home; we must go after them with our words and our deeds. And once this dialogue has begun, we must be solutions oriented.

In addition to pursuing them, we should be willing to explore new ideas in regard to ministry. So many of the conversations I have observed between the generations involve an assumption that “my way” is the best way. I think every generation is guilty of this. Until we are ready to explore a different way of doing ministry, the potential of the harvest will be limited. Adjusting methods is not a matter of watering down the Truth. Let’s not fall prey to the claims of our unwillingness to compromise our standards in order to reach people. Many of us compromise every day in order to keep the people we have. Let’s be honest with ourselves.

If I can adjust my preferences, be flexible in my approach and possibly compromise on my methods, and thereby win a younger generation to the Lord, why would I not do so? (Previous experience compels me to state that I in no way propose lowering the standard of God’s Word!) By the way, I am simply providing for others what was provided for me. My elders didn’t insist that I do it their way – they allowed me to connect in a fresh and new way. I owe this gift from an older generation to a new generation.

In addition to going after the new generation and compromising on methods, one more consideration may be helpful.

This week I once again heard someone refer to today’s youth as “the church of tomorrow.” We simply must stop saying this! The message implies waiting. While younger people certainly will be the backbone of the future church, they must be viewed as an indispensable part of the church right now. We wouldn’t think of segregating our children in our home when it is mealtime, only to let them join us for special occasions. I believe that young people should be integrated into every worship experience. Youth Sundays are awesome but highlighting the new generation a few times a year is inadequate. Allow them to serve now. Respect their gifts and talents. While they may not be mature enough to lead every ministry, there must be a place for people of all generations in the family of God. Young people must be a part of the church of today!

One more thought: prevention is key. Let’s not wait until there is an exodus of young adults from our churches. Let’s be proactive rather than reactive. Start the dialogue before the bridge is burned.

In summary:

When we observe the problem of younger generations leaving the church:

  1. Go after them
  2. Consider a shift in methods
  3. Recognize them as an important part of the church today

I think we (the church) should accept the responsibility for fixing this problem. If we refuse or fail to do so, it is likely that we will lose a majority of people age 30 and younger. No one, especially the Lord is good with that.

No more Empty Nest Churches!

Honest Church Names

design10Have you ever wondered what would happen if there was a rule that required churches to use names that actually and accurately described their ministry? Think about it. The churches that select an exaggerated name (ex: The Glorious Tabernacle of Blood-Bought Saints of God) or an ethereal name (Ex: Transfiguration Church) or an ambitious name (ex: World Transformation Church) may have some adjustments to make. While church names may be used to describe a location or a denominational affiliation, some are designed to give us some insight into the church before we ever walk through the doors. While simply in a jest-mode, I think it may be interesting to require some authenticity when naming a church. I can image that some people have been shocked when they see the name of a church (and see the great exploits on their website) and then visit the church. I get it – it is common for churches to be named in way that reflects the vision and aspiration of the church leaders. We want to be identified in the way that we wish we were. But this thought is worthy of consideration.

Some suggested honest names for churches, along with some tag lines:

Tired Church (we’re too exhausted to care)

One Generation from Extinction Church (no young people allowed)

Desperate church (we’ll tell you anything you want to hear)

Anything Goes Church (we have no standards)

Crabby Church (there’s no smiling allowed in church!)

Clique Church (no, you won’t fit in here)

Money Church (that’s all we talk about)

Latte Church (caffeinated for Christ)

Rules and Regulations Church (you’ll never measure up)

Holier Than Thou Church (you’ll still never measure up!)

Wannabe TBN Church (Lots of gold on the stage and hairspray on the hair)

To Be Like Joel Church (Smiles all around)

Wannabe Hipster Church (skinny jeans and beards required)

Stuck in Our Ways Church (we don’t care what reaches people for Christ)

It’s All About Me Church (have it your way)

1970’s Church (no explanation needed)

While we shouldn’t intentionally mislead people with church names that cause people to doubt our integrity, addressing this issue is not my goal. The serious point of this post is not that we should change the names of our churches to accurately reflect our challenges. Nor am I trying to make fun of ministries. Rather, I would hope that we would all aspire to make our churches as healthy and productive as possible.

What if the name of our churches revealed what really is going on at the church? While not so glamorous, wouldn’t it be great to see names such as:

Healing Church

Restoration Church

Hope Church

Forgiveness Church

Jesus’ Church