A Tale of Two Churches: Staying Churches Parts 9 and 10

9. Staying Churches tend to look through the rear view mirror instead of the windshield. Imagine for a moment you get in your car to go somewhere. You get in, adjust your seat, secure your seat belt and take off. You must then choose which glass feature you are going to look through while you drive: windshield or rear view mirror. If your intent is to move forward where you have not been, it would impossible – even unsafe and unwise – to navigate by looking behind you. Staying churches tend to navigate in this manner. These churches spend an unhealthy amount of time dwelling on where they have been instead of focusing on where they are Please notice that I said, “an unhealthy amount” of time. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being proud of what the church has accomplished in the past. It can be helpful at times. If a church lives in the past, consistently looking back to past pastors, programs, and practices, it won’t be long until the phrase, “Our best years are behind us” is uttered.

10. Staying Churches tend to push back against cooperating with other churches when it comes to kingdom work. I want to be careful here. Not all staying churches push back against working with other churches. For whatever reason, many churches- including Southern Baptist churches who tout cooperation as a defining denominational characteristic – are not always ready to cooperate. Perhaps there is a deep-seeded feeling of competition. Perhaps there is a sense of guilt or embarrassment that other churches are doing more. Perhaps it is a fear of other churches stealing members. Perhaps it is easier not to work together. Perhaps it is a lack of understanding of that we are involved in kingdom work and we desperately need each other. I don’t know. Staying churches are content to the pull the entire weight of the Great Commission on their own, and the results are evident.

A Tale of Two Churches: Staying Churches Parts 7 and 8

7. In Staying Churches, excuse-making replaces risk-taking. Staying churches tend to be pessimistic in their attitude and demeanor. They tend to see the glass half-empty. When ministry ideas and opportunities are presented, responses such as, “We tried that once and it didn’t work”, “We don’t have the people”, “We could if we had more money”, “No one will help”, and “_________ Church is already doing that” are the norm. When churches move to an inward focus, they stop dreaming and taking risks for the sake of the gospel. Churches should always be stretching, attempting, and moving forward. Time is too short and lostness is too real for the church to not to take risks when it comes to making Christ known.

8. In Staying Churches, people serve out of a sense of obligation rather than from a sense of purpose. Purpose is linked to service. When one understands their purpose for existence (corporate or individual), opportunities for service that fulfill that purpose are viewed with excitement and enthusiasm. These opportunities are viewed as points of fulfillment. If one does not understand their purpose for existence, service is merely a job, a burden, or an inconvenience. It is the responsibility of church leaders to know the church’s individual purpose and engage its members in the fulfillment of that purpose. When the purpose is clear, there is joy in service.

A Tale of Two Churches: Staying Churches Parts 5 and 6

5. Staying Churches are highly resistant to change. Many churches today are stuck in a rut. They utilize ministries and strategies that worked decades ago that are no longer fruitful. For a local NT church to reach and impact an ever-changing, ever-evolving community, business as usual cannot be the ministry approach. “Business as usual” carries certain unspoken beliefs. It says evaluating what and why are not important. It says the church is willing to accept mediocrity when God is worthy of excellence. It does not consider the real ministry needs of the community. Staying churches prefer comfortable routines over missional uncertainty. Change is difficult because it requires work. Change is difficult because it requires real sacrifice. Change is difficult because it brings with it the unknown. On the topic of resisting needed change, Thom Rainer in his book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church made this observation about the trajectory of a dying church:

“But dying churches are concerned with-self-preservation. They are concerned with a certain way of doing church. They are all about self. Their doors are closed to the community. And even more sadly, most of the members in the dying church would not admit they are closed to those God has called them to reach and minister.”

 FYI: a rut is a grave with both ends knocked out.

6. Staying Churches believe the church exists to meet the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of the member exclusively. Many in the church today believe, whether it is spoken or not, the exists for them and their comfort is of the utmost importance. German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, The Church is the Church only when it exists for others…not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.” For churches to make difference in the communities where they have been planted, there must be a change in the mindset of the congregation. Less inward focus and more outward looking. Less about self and more about others. It is true that churches have a responsibility to minister to members of the congregation in the areas listed above. While it is true, the focus of the church must be on those who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

A Tale of Two Churches: Staying Churches Parts 3 and 4.

3. In Staying Churches, programs become the end rather than a means to an end. If you have been involved in a local church for any length of time, you have likely been exposed to a plethora of church programming. In Southern Baptist life there is no shortage of programs. Church programming is like television programming. Cable companies offer channels that satisfy the interest of the viewers in almost every conceivable way (music, fashion, sports, cooking, travel, news, DIY, etc.) Churches utilize programs to minister to a wide variety of people (children, students, adults, seniors, single-moms, military, etc.) There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach. One size does not fit all. One single ministry approach does not fit all. Problems arise when churches view the programming as the end and not the means to an end. Staying churches fiercely defend their programs. As churches stack program atop program atop program, resources such as time, money, people, and energy are stretched and exhausted.

The question to be asked is not, “What program should we add now?” The real question is, “Do the programs we currently use aid in fulfilling our purpose?” I’ll talk more about evaluation later in this series. For now, let me share one thing about evaluating programs. The nostalgia of certain ministry programs makes it difficult to honestly evaluate their effectiveness. Statements such as, “My son was saved in AWANA”, “We have always had Sunday School”, and “We’re Southern Baptist, we must have…” speak to hold that programs can have on the congregation. I am not advocating stopping ministry programs for the sake of stopping them. Any stoppage of programs should come after careful consideration and study. Why be careful? Do you remember how you felt when your favorite television was canceled? It’s the same for the church.

4.  Staying Churches prefer sending money so others may “do ministry” instead of doing ministry themselves. This is common. Throughout the church year, most churches take up offerings for various missions causes. As Southern Baptists, we collect at least three. Staying churches believe simply giving money is sufficient as far as missions involvement. Why? It is easy. It is clean. It is guilt-relieving. It is the path of least resistance when it comes to mission work. I had a former church member tell me, “That’s what we pay missionaries for.” This tells me that people believe ministry belongs to “professionals.”

It is one thing to give money to a cause or ministry. After all, ministry requires funding. It is something different to involve yourself in the lives of others and get your hands dirty. There is a blessing in serving people, sacrificing time and comfort, and seeing first-hand the gospel at work in the lives of others. There is a blessing missed when we only write a check. As far as giving to missions offerings as our sole involvement in missions, think about this. The majority of missions offerings that churches collect are not for the benefit of their local community. Who is reaching them?

A Tale of Two Churches: Staying Churches Part 1 and 2

I will begin this series by looking at the 10 characteristics of staying churches. What does a Staying Church look like? Some of these may hit rather close to home.

1. The budget of a staying church reflects an inward focus. It has been said that you can look at person’s checkbook and calendar and determine what has their heart. The same is true for churches. Churches budget money according to a value system. The budget of a staying church reflects an unspoken desire to keep the membership comfortable and happy. Their budgets are heavier in fellowship and ministries that essentially take place within the walls of the building and lighter in the areas of evangelism and missions. In times of financial struggle, staying churches often make cuts to ministries, programs, and expenditures that keep the membership comfortable last. In his book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Dr. Thom Rainer noted that an inward focus was a symptom of dying churches. Speaking to the choices available when cutting budgets, he observed:

…most cuts were made to ministries and programs with outward foci. So a particular ministry to the community is no longer essential. Funds to reach beyond the church are no longer available. The decision is justified by declining receipts. Fair enough. But notice that the outreach and community ministries are the first to go. Not those ministries for church members.

2. Staying churches see the protection and preservation of the church building as more important than building the church. I believe it is fair to say that one of the largest expenditures in most churches is the maintenance and upkeep of their facilities and grounds. Because of this huge monetary investment, staying churches fiercely guard the building from anything that would bring it harm. An unhealthy attachment to the physical building can hurt the effectiveness of the church’s outreach and missions ministry. Let me offer an example. Think about children for a moment. Children are messy. Children spill things. Children write on the wall and run in the hallway. To prevent all of this from happening and to keep them from “hurting” the building, staying churches decide to be less aggressive in pursuing families. Buildings should be viewed as places of ministry and not a ministry themselves.


A Tale of Two Churches: Introduction

About three years ago, I wrote the material for a training conference dealing with transferable principles for community engagement. A portion of the conference examined two kinds of churches: staying and sending. There are all kinds of churches in all kinds of places with all kinds of people with all kinds of activities and all kinds of strategies wanting to do all kinds of things. Many types of churches exist today. Churches may describe themselves as missional, contemporary, non-denominational, traditional, emerging (whatever that means), seeker-sensitive, established, simple, etc. At end of day, they are either staying or sending. I believe there are more staying churches than sending ones.

In my examination of these two types of churches, I offered 10 characteristics of each. Each day I become more aware of the condition of the church and I am burdened by that reality. Over the next few weeks, I am going to share in detail the descriptions of staying and sending churches. Let me be up front and honest. In my 19 years of pastoral ministry, I have pastored both staying and sending churches. What I offer does not come from a classroom and is not solely academic. Instead, what I offer comes from practical experience with real-life congregations involved in real-life ministry. My hope is to begin a conversation about the condition of our churches. I long for the “A-ha” moment when we realize the need for change. Please leave your thoughts in the comment stream below and we will talk about this. For now, allow me to offer my definition of staying and sending churches. I believe you will be able to see where we are heading with this series.

Staying Churches are those who devote the great majority of their resources, time, and energy to keeping those who are already a part of the church happy and satisfied. They acknowledge their community, but the acknowledgment doesn’t necessarily translate to responsibility.

Sending Churches are those who are externally focused and intentional when it comes to sending people and resources into their community for the sole purpose of introducing people to Jesus Christ. The acknowledgment of their community translates to responsibility and action.

Missional Monday: The Wisdom of Considering Your Community’s Calendar

mmCalendars reflect priorities. They reflect what an individual or an organization chooses to do with its time – a precious commodity. Most churches have a master calendar that contains all ministry events, facility reservations, service times, and ongoing ministries to its membership and others. Churches have leadership groups whose responsibility it is to coordinate these activities. An important task in planning is to ensure as little overlap as possible. The last thing a church needs is to schedule multiple ministry opportunities on the same day that cause the people to have to choose. There is another calendar, a calendar often overlooked by churches – the community calendar. Local communities have a calendar that lists events, news, festivals, and other functions unique to them. Town and city councils publish these calendars far enough ahead to the ensure the residents can participate.

Why does this matter? For far too long the church and its community have been content to exist and function as if they have no need for each other. This is simply not true. If a church believes their community matters, the two should work together as often as possible. The church needs the community. The community is the place and the people into which God has planted the church as agents of light and ministers of grace. God has called His people to their community to flavor and influence it positively with the good news of the gospel. The community needs the church. Whether they acknowledge it or not does not negate the truth. The community needs the influence and care the local church offers. The community needs the church to serve it and make a difference.

Please hear me closely. I am not advocating allowing the secular community to determine the actions and direction of the church. I do not believe that would be wise. I am certain the community would not allow the church to determine its activities and direction. Does the church have a responsibility to be involved in the life of their local community? Absolutely. Can both parties benefit when this happens? No doubt.

I have given a great deal of thought to this and the what I have found has shaped my ministry philosophy. When planning ministry opportunities, the church should consider what is happening in the community at that time. The purpose is to determine the possibility of the church’s involvement. When there are special events in the community, the church would do well to seek ways to involve itself. As the church involves itself in the everyday life of the community, trust is built and relationships are formed.

The goal for the church as it relates to the community is to be an agent of change and hope through the message of the gospel of Christ. When the community sees the church cares about the people and their future with no strings attached, credibility is earned. Must the community acknowledge the church for the church to be credible? Of course not. Jesus Christ established the New Testament Church and needs no secular approval. However, the old saying is true here, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Credibility is a bridge by which the gospel travels. Consistent involvement is necessary if we hope to make a difference and a lasting mark on the community where the church has been planted. Why compete when we can cooperate?