Category Archives: Church
It’s a new day. New normals will emerge. Our churches are picking up new technologies and new innovations to help us continue to deliver the gospel. In this season of new, of change, of adaptation, there may also be some OLD innovations that we need to circle back to. As we reset our churches over the coming days, consider resetting these five practices and attitudes:
1. The Prayer Chain – Principle: Mobilize Prayer for the Church and the Lost.
Growing up Southern Baptist, every church my family was a part of had a prayer chain. The prayer chain was a phone network built to mobilize prayer quickly when need arose in the congregation or community. How can your congregation be more effective at mobilizing prayer for one another, for the lost, for the community? Today, we have technologies available to us that can greatly enhance the impact of prayer mobilization. We all encourage prayer. How can we move from encouraging prayer to mobilizing prayer? What innovative approaches to prayer can we develop in the new normal?
2. Discipleship Training – Principle: Train the Faithful to Train Others.
The creativity of churches has grown tremendously over the last 20 years. Graphic design, stage design, sermon series design. We have to ask the question: Are these innovations actually helping us make disciples and train the faithful to disciple others. Discipleship Training, or Training Union, was designed to deliver the core truths of Christianity to the faithful. Now is a great time to assess our churches effectiveness at training disciples. A disciple is trained when they can train others. How did that go while the church was scattered? How many of your members were able to train their families, neighbors, small groups while the church was closed? How can your church be more effective at disciple making and training?
3. The Prospect File – Principle: Help People Identify the Lost Around Them.
We often bemoan the fact that people in yester-years were more apt to attend church than they are today. However, we could also argue that churches of the past were more aggressive at pursuing their lost friends, family and neighbors than we are today. Visitation night was common for churches in past decades. Visitation night was driven by the Prospect File compiled by people in Sunday School classes in the church. Prospect lists were a way for churches to identify lost people in their church field and in the lives of the congregation. Today, the Who’s Your One? Campaign has been a new innovation in this regard. How can your church be more effective at helping people identify the lost around them? As we’ve grown more inward, focusing programs on the already saved, the lost have become more distant from our churches, but also from our minds. It’s time to revive the Prospect File.
4. Soul-Winning and Personal Evangelism – Principle: Every believer is an evangelist.
Remember the soul-winning rally? I attended several of these as a young person in a Southern Baptist Church. This emphasis helped rally people to the cause of leading others to Christ. There were concerted efforts to help people know how to share their faith and understand the urgency of sharing their faith. Over the years, innovations like Evangelism Explosion, Share Jesus Without Fear, FAITH Evangelism Training, and our own One to One Evangelism, have helped believers in this regard. With less than 10% of believers testifying that they share their faith regularly, and baptisms down another 20% in 2019 across Louisiana, it’s time for every church to train and emphasize personal evangelism for a new era. How can your church reset the idea and the effort to make every believer an evangelist? More than inviting people to church, we need a revival of inviting people to Jesus through personal evangelism.
5. Start New Units – Principle: The Kingdom Expands through the Multiplication of New Groups and Churches.
For Southern Baptist in the highest growth days of our Convention, a new unit was a new class or congregation birthed through and for evangelism and disciple making. New groups and new churches lead to new people and different types of people being reached. This needs to be a mindset and a practice. The opposite mindset is institutional thinking. This mindset makes us more concerned about available space, protecting inside opinions, and self-preservation. Multiplication and new unit thinking puts reaching the lost through any means necessary and the growth of the kingdom above all else. We have over 2.5 million lost in Louisiana. Their eternity is in the balance. Consider the possibilities for reaching them in your community. How many new groups are possible in your current space? How can you create more space for new groups? Are there areas, people groups, population segments in your community that needs a new church that can communicate the gospel to them?
Mobilizing Prayer, Training Disciples, Identifying the Lost, Winning Souls, Starting New Units. Old Innovations that are desperately needed for this new day. May they be part of our new normal.
The number of Christians in Asia grew from 101 milion to 351 million between 1970 and 2010.
In China, it is estimated that 10k people per day become followers of Christ.
In China, Christianity has grown 4,300% in 50 years.
By 2030, China will have the largest Christian population on earth.
there are no Facebook feeds of sermons.
there are no large gatherings
there are few buildings with padded seats
there are no Eventbrite or Facebook events about what’s upcoming
there are few full bands
some people have to walk dozens of miles to gather with a church of 30-50.
There are at least five ways for people to be regular, sacrificial, and cheerful givers to your church, no matter what.
- Give at a Sunday Worship Gathering. Placing an offering in the plate, basket, bag, or box is the most traditional way believers have given for generations.
- Give Online. By connecting with a few outside partners, online giving can be done safely and easily today.
- Text to Give. By connecting with a few outside partners, members can text in a gift to your church.
- Give through a Bank’s Online Bill Pay System. Many people are paying bills online. If they have your church’s mailing address, they could include their regular giving through their banks bill pay service.
- Give by Mail. With a mailing address, giving can still be received through “snail mail.” You could even provide a stack of pre-addressed and already stamped envelopes to make it easy.
Notice, only one of these paths to giving requires the church to be gathered. So, when crisis or disaster strikes, limiting the gathering capacity of your church, YOU CAN be ready by offering pathways for continued generosity.
Getting Started with Online Giving
To get started with online giving, you will need to set up an account with one of many online giving platforms. It’s possible that your church already has an account with one of these. If you have a Church Management System, like PlanningCenter.com, FellowshipOne.com, Shelbysystems.com, ACStechnologies.com, or others, you simply need to add the capability. There are also church partners like Tithe.ly, EasyTithe.com, and PushPay.com, that focus on helping churches with online giving. Lifeway also offers a service called Generosity – https://lifewaygenerosity.com/ – that provides opportunities for online and text to give for churches. Paypal.com also is often used by churches for online giving and other transactions. These services will have small transaction fees and possibly monthly membership charges. However, churches that utilize these, usually see a 25%-40% increase in giving, making the fee and charges worth the cost.
Communicate the Pathways to Giving
The church that my family attends communicates the Five Ways to Give regularly. Here is a letter sent out with contribution statements each quarter. There are also flyers placed in foyer areas. Five Ways to Give can be a convenient provision for people during busy seasons, but a lifeline during crisis or disaster when the church can’t gather.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus told the disciples to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the world. But as you read the next 7 chapters, you don’t see that happening with great fervency. The disciples seem to be taking their time with developing the Acts 1:8 strategy, while enjoying the big crowd and the miracles in the temple courts. In Acts 8:1, it says that persecution broke out against the church and in Acts 8:4, the believers scattered to Judea, Samaria, and the world, taking the message of the Gospel with them – “the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.” God always wanted the message and the people dispersed and scattered. Persecution was the scattering agent that led to exponential growth.
Today, church attendance is at an all-time low. I read recently that church attendance declined in every county in the United States in 2018. The fastest growing religious affiliation is the non-affiliated. Among Louisiana Baptist churches, baptisms dipped another 20% in 2019. Worship attendance was down another 6% in 2019. Methods and strategies that worked a few years ago are no longer as effective at reaching people and growing our churches.
Could Covid-19 serve as a 21st century scattering agent? And how do we utilize this opportunity for exponential kingdom growth?
Yes. Let’s prepare Online Services, Online Giving, Streaming opportunities. But, let’s also think about Online Training for having Gospel Conversations, leading home Bible Studies, house worship, and impacting neighbors for Christ during this crisis. How can we assure that “the believers who were scattered during the Covid-19 outbreak of 2020, preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.” Acts 8:4.
Like these, the church should be the connection point for disciples heading out into the world. The church helps us cross boundaries, refuel, grow and develop. But the pew should not become the final destination.
Do we talk about church as the destination or the connection point? Do we count Sunday attendance and Bible knowledge or 24/7 servanthood and obedience as the height of maturity? Are we connecting missionaries to the world or providing entertainment and services for consumers in our churches? Where we place the destination and the goal for people matters.
Ever thought about taking your churches Kids Ministry to the streets? I think we should. Most children’s ministry is focused on reaching/teaching/discipling kids that show up at my church on the weekends or midweek. Some of the questionable outcomes of this:
- Are we teaching kids that church is all about them and most importantly, about them having fun, falling just short of disciple-making?
- In wanting to grow our churches, are we talking about kids as only hooks to get their parents “butts in the seats” (to quote Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act)? “If the kids have fun, the parents will come back” ~ church growth quip.
- Children’s facilities can cost mega bucks. No matter how hard we try, we CAN’T out Disney, Disney.
- Are we cutting the rug out from under parental responsibility for discipling kids as they become more and more dependent upon the “professionals” down at the church?
AND the big one: WHAT ABOUT THE MAJORITY KIDS THAT ARE NOT COMING TO THE FULL COLOR KIDS MINISTRY EVENTS AT OUR CHURCH EVERY WEEK?
In my region of 345,000 people, demographic reports show that around 21% of the population is age 14 or below. That’s around 69,000 kids!!!! In my denomination, which is one of largest in the region with 11,500 worshipers on any given Sunday, approximately 18% of that number are children under 14. Meaning on any given week only 2,500 or so kids are attending. Which is only about 4% of the population in the 14 and under age bracket. We average about 7,000 each year for Vacation Bible School, which is a 1-week, 4-hour overdose of Sunday’s Kids Ministry. That gets us to 10%. Add the other evangelical groups to the mix and best figures, after consulting with other church leaders, give us a number of 4,500 kids in an evangelical church each Sunday for faith and fun. That’s only 7% of the kids in our community. And many of these kids are growing up with absolutely no or very little Gospel story or Christian witness in their lives. Are we losing a generation as we strategize on how to improve our children’s facilities? and preach loudly about God being taken out of schools? and continue to think of kids ministry as a facilities focused ministry? and considering the # of kids that need to be reached, can we even build a big enough facility to do what’s needed?)
A New Vision for Kids Ministry
What if we began to consider the 93% in our Kids Ministry strategy? Not neglecting the 7%, providing faith and fun on Sunday’s as we are, but also thinking of new ways to get God’s story into the lives of kids in our community. When you think of it like this you’ll realize there are more opportunities then you might imagine. Here’s a few ideas:
- Encourage your congregation to get involved in schools on their terms, not yours. There are a variety of mentoring, tutoring, encouraging opportunities that will equal relationships with unchurched families in the community and opportunities to invest in kids. Our church recently provided free popcorn for an area schools open house and met several families in need.
- Partner with local kids organizations that are serving children and asking (if not begging) for volunteers. In my community, there’s the Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, local multi-housing complexes, private schools. And we’ve found many of them are open to you sharing THE story as part of your work.
- Get involved in local recreation and sports leagues by encouraging adults to get involved in coaching kids. Volunteer coaches are usually desperately needed, especially in inner cities. Provide some training on how to be a character building influence on kids and keep relationships going. These opportunities can lead to lifelong relationships of encouragement and mentoring between a child and an adult, who will forever be know as “Coach” to the kid.
- Multiply what you do on-site, off-site. You’ve made great backdrops and costumes, produced cool videos and posters, you’ve bought expensive curriculum, and prepared awesome crafts. And you’ve trained volunteers who are loving it. Why not look for an avenue to multiply that in the community? Do the VBS at a local multi-housing complex or another church that would not be able to do it for the kids in their neighborhood. Do a one day kids ministry event at a local park or multi-housing complex utilizing all the stuff you’ve done over the past few months. One church in our state, extends their VBS every Summer to a private daycare with over 200 kids, multiplying their efforts to reach more kids.
- Local Festivals provide opportunities to show kids and families that faith is fun by providing some of the crafts or games or other elements you do each week. This is a great way also to build trust with community leaders and parents. And you can say, “if you like what we do here, you’ll love our Kids ministry at ______ Church on Sunday.” Our local associations have Block Party Trailers with many of the supplies you’ll need for this type of outreach.
- Get the Kids involved. Instead of seeing them as hooks to get more “butts in the seats.” See them as missionaries who can invest in their friends and demonstrate that faith is fun and meaningful in the community. Teach kids that it’s important to serve and that faith is not just about them but others, by taking them on a local mission trip to the park or festival or multi-housing complex for Kids Ministry Day.
- Start or get involved in a mentoring program for children without dads, grandparents raising grandchildren, foster children, etc.
- Instead of VBS. I heard of one church that instead of VBS they encouraged neighborhood Bible Clubs during the summer and trained and empowered people to reach the kids and families around them, utilizing the same curriculum sets and production quality, but in yards and subdivision common space all around the city.
- Other ideas?
We’ve reached a point where we can’t keep preaching about culture decay, how God has been kicked out of schools, and bad parenting. We’ve got to get involved. The doors are open in our communities. It won’t be easy, but salt is no good left in the salt-shaker.
How could your church take kids ministry to the streets?
Dave Travis and Leadership Network have given us a great, short look into the future of church in North America with the book What’s Next: 2020 Edition. Many have sensed that the future may require some adjustments and new thinking about some of the methods we have relied on. Churches are either digging in, hanging on for survival, or making adjustments to meet the future. The short book What’s Next: 2020 is a good short primer that will help church leaders adjust thinking for the future. It would be great to go through as church staff or to give to key leaders in your church as you think about the next 10 years.
Most of the book is confirmation of things we’ve heard over the last few years:
- Reaching Millennials is both a must and a huge challenge.
- Tax breaks and incentives for churches and parishioners will probably go away in the future.
- Church buildings will get smaller and less traditional.
- The church must embrace multi-ethnic ministry in the future.
There are a few surprises in the book. Here’s a few takeaways from my Kindle Highlights:
- In 2019, Millenials will overtake Boomers as the largest generation group.
- Almost one in three Americans is Millenial.
- 45% of Millenials are non-white, making them the most racially diverse generation. 20% of Millenials are Latino, 14% Black, 6% Asian.
- Millenials have a stronger desire to excel at Parenting than any generation before. And kids come first in priority for this generation more than ever before. (Think Helicopter Parenting).
- Millenials are delaying, but not rejecting marriage. 57% are unmarried, compared to 43% of Gen X’ers.
- Millenials have the highest percentage of households in poverty. The are also more likely to rent their homes. And they are less likely to migrate or move than previous generations.
- They are more educated, at least have more degrees than previous generations.
- Millenials are underrepresented in even the most thriving, fast growing churches in America.
- Travis notes several things that are working in efforts to reach millenials. I’ll affirm one here, that we definitely see in Louisiana – Churches planted by and led by millenials tend to reach more millenials.
On Decline of Christianity in America:
- Nominal Christianity is dying. Faithful Christians are still faithful to attend, pray, serve their neighbors, and accept the Bible as wholly true, and in the same numbers as prior generation.
On Outreach and Evangelism:
- Travis notes the opportunity to reach people with technology, giving great examples of churches who have effectively used tech for evangelism and outreach.
- Family ministry is on the upswing. We have the opportunity to help people get married and help young parents pursue effective parenting. “young people today may be confident about many things, but not about the daunting task of raising a child.”
- The role of Groups in reaching people. Travis asserts that radical hospitality becoming a core value will help us reach the future generations. The longing in today’s culture is for social connections. Groups and gatherings in homes provide that necessary element like few other things.
- “We have to be willing to be radical in extending ourselves, our homes, and our group life to those who don’t yet believe and may never believe or walk with Jesus. This can feel disruptive in a group. But those who can handle the tension will yield kingdom fruit.”
- Travis discusses in detail the role of media, Youtube, AI, Instragram in outreach and church ministry in the future. “We need to be thinking visually all the time, because that’s how people are reached emotionally today.”
On Church buildings:
- “Build it and they will come” is giving way to “take your show on the road.”
- We will see less 3,500 seat auditoriums and more 800-1200 multipurpose buildings.
- There are now and estimated 65,000 multi-site congregations in North America, with over one third of them beginning as the result of a merger.
- Growing churches are becoming more multiplication minded, thinking about a second and third site out of the gate.
- “healthy, vital churches should be multiplying, because that’s what creates a future for our beliefs, and hope for those whom we’ve yet to reach for Christ.”
On Tax Issues for Churches:
- Travis sees the future being dire for Property Tax Exemptions, Gifts from attenders to churches not being taxed as income or being tax-deductible for the giver, and Pastor’s Housing Allowance Tax Breaks.
- Implications: Church Building construction will be affected. Buildings will become smaller and less noticable. We’ll see more shared facility arrangements with churches and business and churches and non-profits.
- A Huge Implication: Churches must adjust to the non-tax incentive for givers by teaching attenders the eternal value of true stewardship beyond tax implications. The question I’ve asked: Will lukewarm people give without an earthly incentive? We will definitely find out in the future.
There is much more in this short book that will make for meaningful conversation among church leaders and staffs. Put it on your reading list for early this year.
What do you think will change over the next decade? How do you think these issues will affect your church in the future? Are you thinking differently about church than you were in 2009-2010?
“They devoted themselves to vision clarity, organizational alignment, clarity of vision, great preaching, monster outreach events, massive marketing campaigns, world class children’s ministry, the best music in town, leadership development, new sites, and the latest growth strategy to break the next growth barrier. Some of the believers came together weekly for an excellent Sunday morning show; others opted for overbooked schedules of travel sports and long work hours to pay increasing debt, leaving no margin for living in common. With divorce, addiction, and crime rates similar to society at large, outsiders mocked the church, wondering why they should be part of something so judgmental, hypocritical, and irrelevant. Rather than praising God for the abundance of blessing and being the fullness of Christ in everything and in every way, church members spent their time praying for deliverance from the same crazy, empty lives as their outsider friends. When numbers were not added daily, they looked for the next silver bullet to catalyze growth and make the church more relevant. They desperately sought to do church without being the church.”
Instead, let’s try… Acts 2:42-47
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Sounds a lot simpler and a lot more fun. Proved to be fairly effective at changing the world as well. Which one are you and your church pursuing?
via Todd Wilson in his excellent book called More: Find Your Personal Calling and Live Life to Your Fullest Measure.
If the elements of God’s mission can be compared to a football game, we might say that the focus has become the huddle instead of the line of scrimmage. The line of scrimmage is where the action happens. We have prioritized huddling over playing our part on the line of scrimmage by purchasing fancier uniforms for the huddle, composing cooler songs for the huddle, writing more speeches to inspire the huddle, positioning every person in the perfect spot for the huddle, holding conferences on how to build a better huddle, even getting the perfect brew to pass around the huddle.
But Jesus’ commission for the church was about going, not huddling. The huddle is vital, but it’s only a brief moment to receive the playing directions from the quarterback. If you stay in the huddle too long, you get penalized and moved backward. The church is getting shoved backward on the mission field… the problem is an overemphasis on the huddle. The church must be mobilized, it must be sent to the scrimmage line.
Margin is defined as an amount by which a thing is won or falls short. And margin creates opportunities.
In sports – “We’re winning by a 25 point margin, so we can allow our substitute players to get playing time.”
In business – “Our sales have created a substantial margin this month, so we can afford to take a few advertising risks if we want.”
In church, margin can be more than enough money, more than enough volunteers, more than enough space to take risk and expand into a new area of ministry.
Multiplication requires margin. That’s the problem. Most churches today have little margin. We have too little or just enough money, volunteers, and space in the calendar, leaving very little for risk or new mission and ministry ventures.
It has gotten harder to create margin. Building and staff expenses have increased. People are harder to reach today than ever before. People are giving less to churches than ever before. People have less time, or believe that they do, than ever before. Churches must work harder and get creative in building, protecting, and strategically utilizing the margins for the growth of God’s kingdom.
“I just don’t have enough _____ to get involved in church planting right now.” He’s right. The margin for the multiplication of ministry is diminished for most churches.
How can we create margin?
- Assess ministries to determine their effectiveness and work to eliminate those that are no longer fruitful. This could create some margin and momentum for other areas.
- Look for margin that may be unrecognized. Can you duplicate a ministry that your are preparing already into another sphere. Example: One church does VBS at their location, then at local private daycare’s. That’s multiplication, that took little extra prep by volunteers.
- Take an assessment of the amount of time people spend on ministry inside the church. If its more than 12-15 hours, its probably cutting into the time they have for ministry in the neighborhood, marketplace, or community. People work 40 hours per week and probably have another 10-12 to volunteer. Explore ways to help people put ministry and volunteer hours toward the unchurched around them. This is the least common denominator of kingdom growth. This is the path to margin for our churches.
- Assess empty space around you. Most communities have lots of empty space that can be used for ministry. Instead of always thinking about building new (which almost always robs us of margin, or will in the future), consider ministries that may can fit empty space around you. Example: I visited one church that turned neighboring empty buildings into ministry space, saving the church a ton of money in new construction costs and building good will in the community by sparing potential blighted property.
- Margins are created by healthy growth, facilitated by healthy systems. Consider working on strengthening the systems of your church. Check out this Systems Analysis Tool to get started.
If multiplication is desired, margin should be on your mind as a ministry leader.
What other ways can we create margin for ministry, missions, and multiplication?
- Is your church creating margin through healthy growth of disciples?
- What are you planning for future margins?
- What is the thing keeping you from having margin for multiplication and ministry right now?
- What are of your ministry has the most margin right now? How can you multiply it?
- Do people have enough margin in their life to perform the least common denominator of kingdom growth – Gospel Sharing with Friends and neighbors?