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?


The Driving Force Behind Ministry: Part #3

In part one of this series I spoke about the available ministry options for churches, limitations, and the need to focus precious resources on what matters the most. In part two I highlighted the first of two common ministry models: event-driven ministry. Today, community-driven ministry. I’ll place my proverbial “ministry cards” on the table here. I believe the overall ministry of a church should be driven by a concern and care for the community in which the church is planted. This concern should serve as the basis for all the church does for God’s glory.

The prophet Jeremiah ministered during a dark and difficult time in Israel’s history. His message of hope and confidence must have been hard to hear considering their captivity. His centuries-old words to Israel are worthy of the church’s attention today. He wrote, “Seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace” (Jeremiah 29:7). He spoke of the Lord’s placement of His people and their proper response to that placement. Essentially, God told them to be concerned about the welfare of the city that was holding them captive. A revolutionary thought for sure.

In the community-driven ministry model, churches perform an exegesis of the community. Simply, the church performs a thorough analysis of its community. from this analysis, a community’s history, needs, hurts, goals, strengths, and weaknesses are discovered so ministries can be tailored to make the most impact. The church reads out of the community asking, “How can we help you?” instead of reading into the community saying, “This is how we are going to help you.” Why is this important? Not all communities are the same. Different communities require different strategies and methodologies to be reached. The ministry that flow from the traditional downtown First Baptist Church will look different from the inner-city church plant in Detroit or the Cowboy Church in Cheyenne. The ministry that flows from the rural county church will look different from the suburban church plant that meets in an elementary school. Why go to all this trouble? When a church studies the community and takes the time to understand it, the message received by the community is they matter. The message to the community is their uniqueness matters. The church cannot seek the peace of the city until they know how their community is conflicted.

In part two, I shared some of the challenges the event-driven ministry model churches may experience. The community-driven ministry model has its own challenges.

1. Community-driven churches will need to have the “we are not doing as much as other churches” discussion. It easy to allow another church’s activity and busyness to become our standard. Activity does not equal life change. It is here the church must choose deep over wide. Allowing someone else to chart a church’s ministry course is harmful. A community-driven church may not appear as busy as an event-driven church. That’s okay. It is more important to be fruitful than busy.

2. Community-driven churches will need to have the “this is not very glamorous” discussion. When a church thoroughly analyzes their community and discovers hurts, needs, and obstacles, the corresponding ministry may be messy and long-term. It’s not easy. The church must have the understanding that nice, neat, and uncomplicated ministry to community is not the normal.

3. Community-driven churches will need to have the “we are not seeing any physical results” discussion. We live in an on-demand, results-based society. When it comes to properly caring for its community, the church would be well served to view their ministry efforts as a long-term investment rather than a short-term fix. A community-driven church must understand the results of its labor, sweat, and love may not be seen this side of eternity.

Let’s go back to Jeremiah for a moment. Churches whose ministries are driven by the community where they are planted understand two critical realities.

The church does not get to choose where they minister. Jeremiah told Israel to pray for the peace of Babylon, even though they did not want to be there. Part of the church’s ineffectiveness is a desire to be somewhere else. God reminded Jeremiah how Israel found themselves in Babylon, “where I have caused you to be carried away.” Churches should grow where planted instead of always wishing to be transplanted somewhere else.

The church does not get to choose who they minister to. Israel had been carried away to an oppressive, hostile, and aggressive people who did not genuinely care for them. Healthy churches should reflect their given demographic. Churches are to love who they are given and never forget the community is its responsibility.

The Driving Force Behind Ministry: Part #2

In my last post, I spoke about the options churches have in fulfilling their individual missions. As I mentioned before, I believe the focus of a church must drive its ministry – not the other way around. I suggested two types of ministry models that drive churches today: event-driven and community-driven. Today we will examine event-driven ministry. When I speak of events, I am referring to special activities and productions that require time, planning, promotion, manpower, and finances beyond day-to-day ministry. Examples include concerts, illusionists, car shows, strength teams, sports camps, fishing tournaments, and monster truck shows (Yes, that’s what I said). I know what you may be thinking right now. Are these not good things? The answer is yes. Is a church wrong for utilizing them? Absolutely not. Can lost people be reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ through events like these? Yes, and they have been.

My intent is not to degrade, minimize, or lessen the importance of events in the church. The churches I have pastored have utilized events in ministry. I am not opposed to them. My intent is to examine them their effectiveness as the driving force behind a church’s ministry. Events such as those above have an attractional element t them. They can draw a crowd. The underlying desire is to bring the community to the church campus, have them interact with the church membership, introduce them to ministries of the church, and make meaningful connections that will lead to further involvement. Churches use these types of “come see” events to ensure the community knows where they are.

I will concede that events can produce positive results within the church. Anytime you can connect those who are far from God to believers, it’s a win. However, there are certain negatives that must be considered. Three traps are possible.

  1. The “one size fits all” trap. The danger here is assuming that an event will minister to everyone equally. The larger and more diverse a community is the less effective this ministry model becomes.
  2. The “everyone else is doing it” trap. It would be very easy for a church to see the apparent success of another church due to an event and think, “if it worked for them, it will work for us.” This can lead to frustration when the same success is not experienced. Churches cannot be carbon copies of each other. Each one is unique and uniquely fitted for ministry.
  3. The “where do we go from here” trap. Event-driven ministries face two pressure points. First, there is pressure to grow the event bigger and better. This includes additional funding, manpower, and time. When the community has taken part in an event, the natural tendency is to want more and more. Second, there is pressure to add something new and unique. The thought is something like, “Okay, I’ve seen that, what’s next?” The world we live in changes by the minute. People are fickle and easily bored with what they have already experienced. If the church is not careful here it can become nothing more than an entertainment company for the community.

Every church must determine for itself what it allow to drive ministry. As far as event-driven ministry, there question that must be answered is this one, “Is the church using the event as a means to an end or is the event itself the end?”

The Driving Force Behind Ministry: Part #1

Churches today have many options when it comes to the way they will carry out their individual mission. Every day there is a new model or idea that claims to be a “can’t miss.” Churches may choose to be involved in ministry that deals with addiction recovery such as Celebrate Recovery. Churches can choose to be involved in ministries that speak to the competitive nature of children such as AWANA and Upward. Churches may invest in compassion ministries such as Samaritan’s Purse, Disaster Relief, and Habitat for Humanity who seek the meet the most basic human needs. Churches may sponsor medical ministries such as Doctors Without Borders and Nurses on Mission. Churches may even invest in ministries with very specific goals such as promoting clean drinking water through Blood Water Mission, shoes for children through Soles 4 Souls, defeating human trafficking through Abolition International and End It, and child sponsorship ministries such as Compassion International and Clubhouse Guatemala.

In a room of competing voices, the church must focus. The church must tune out everything that does not support and fulfill its mission and purpose. The church must be good stewards of its resources. There are some areas in which every church is limited. Let’s begin on the other side and look at how the church is not limited. The New Testament church does not lack power. “And I also say to you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The church is empowered for ministry. The New Testament church does not lack purpose. Jesus told His disciples to go and “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). The church is commissioned to minister. The New Testament church does not lack a presence. Again, Jesus told His disciples, “I am with you always, event to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b). The church is accompanied in its ministry.

On the human side, all churches are limited by finances, time, and energy. Ministry requires funding – no way around it. Churches rely on the monetary gifts of its membership and must choose how to utilize it best. Time and energy work together. Families juggle multiple calendars daily (family, work, church, etc.) There are a limited number of hours in a day to accomplish what needs to get done. When it comes to ministry opportunities, the decision to invest precious money, time, and energy is one the church must take very seriously. There needs to a central driving force behind the decisions made. This is what author Simon Sinek referred to as, ‘knowing your why.” For example, the driving force behind private business is to make money. The driving force behind schools and universities is to impart knowledge. The driving force behind the military is to ensure the nation’s safety and freedom. Whatever the identified driving force is, an institution/organization commits the limited resources to its fulfillment. Schools and universities do not invest their resources in national defense. The military does not invest its resources in making money. Private businesses do not invest their resources in imparting knowledge. If you miss the why, you miss everything.

For years I have read about the successes and struggles of churches through denominational publications, ministry blogs, and church health books. Two types of ministry models emerged: event-driven ministry and community-driven ministry. Over the course of the net two days I will examine these models and offer my preference. Let’s discuss this.