This week, I had the opportunity to facilitate a Breakout at the Louisiana Baptists Evangelism Conference with three men that lead churches with great Evangelistic culture in Louisiana. Jacob Crawford – Life Point Mansura, Willis Easley – Christ’s Community Denham Springs, & Checkerz Williams – Celebration LaPlace. (See my previous post for a bit of bio on them & their churches). These churches are responsible for 100’s of baptisms each year. We threw out several questions designed to just get them talking, so that we could glean insights & be inspired. These men had never met each other before this conference, but it was interesting to hear how many of the same things came out of their mouths related to creating an evangelistic culture. Here’s some things they said over & over that have stuck with me:
“It’s about casting vision.”
Checkerz Williams said he uses the statement “Can you imagine what our community would be like if…?” to get people to see the possibilities.
“We teach people, ‘It’s not about you.'”
Willis Easley said at least monthly they tell people to turn to the person next to you & say “It’s not about you.” And interestingly enough the other two churches do the same thing!
“Our church looks like our community.”
Life Point is 60% white, 40% African-American, which matches the demographics of the community it is in. Celebration LaPlace is 55% African-American, 35% white, 10% Hispanic, which matches the demographics of the community it is in. Each of these churches are diverse, multi-ethnic churches. A lot of people talk about diversity & multi-ethnic ministry, but what I’m learning is that diversity & multi-ethnic church development is a product of an evangelistic culture.
“We share the Gospel at every gathering.”
Each church makes the gospel an important part of every service. Jacob Crawford said, “Never assume that everyone believes. Assume the opposite & share the gospel.” And these leaders go out of the way to share the gospel in ways that are reproducible & easily picked up by others. Willis Easley says, He uses the Roman Road EVERY time he shares the gospel from the Pulpit, because it’s easily picked up by others.
“We love people to Christ.”
Service & outreach to the community is of course a major part of the ministries of each of these churches. Christ’s Community & Celebration Church both sponsor a big day of service at least annually, where everyone takes on outreach & evangelism projects together.
“We started an additional service to reach more people.”
Each of these churches have started multiple services to add capacity for reaching new people for Christ.
“We encourage people to pray for friends that are not believers.”
Each of these churches have a system in place for people to identify people in their relational network who are without Christ & pray for them. For Celebration it’s the FRAN list – Friends, Relatives, Associates, Neighbors. For Christ’s Church it’s called the High 5’s.
“We network with community leaders.”
Being involved in the community is important to each of these churches. “Building bridges not barriers” – Checkerz Williams.
“We baptize people that become believers quickly.”
Baptisms are down across the Southern Baptist Convention, so I was very curious as to what the process these churches have for baptism. Each said they baptize people very soon after they make a decision. Checkerz Williams says their baptistry at Celebration LaPlace is ALWAYS full & ready. Ushers at Life Point show up early & ask every Sunday, “How many do we have today?” in reference to baptisms. Their is an attitude of expectancy in these churches that people will be getting saved, so lets get ready to baptize them.
“We equip & train members of the church to do the work of evangelism.”
It was clear that for these men, their role is to equip the people & groups to do evangelism. So, from modeling, to training, to keying on reproducible processes, the desire is for the entire church to own evangelism of the lost community.
Great conversation. What do you need to add to your vocabulary this year related to your church’s culture? These sayings will be a great start.
Here’s a few other great quotes from our session:
- Willis Easley – “When I saw that we had only baptized 5 or 6 in a year, I got alone with God, & said, ‘Lord, we’re not doing what you called us to do.'”
- Jacob Crawford – “We cast a vision for community transformation. Avoyelles Parish’s suicide rate is similar to North Korea. We teach people that only Jesus can fix this.”
- Checkerz Williams – “Our Baptistry stays full. We talk about it every Sunday. Once per year we do a Baptism emphasis. You’ve got to keep it in front of people.”
- Willis Easley – “If you’re not sharing the gospel with lost people, you won’t be baptizing many people.”
- Willis Easley – “Southern Baptist have been trying to harvest in fields in which we haven’t sown.”
- Jacob Crawford – “The biggest obstacle to evangelism in our church was ME, the Pastor. I had to get out of the way & equip the members to do the work of the ministry.”
New churches tend to be more evangelistic. As a matter of fact, data has shown that established Southern Baptist churches baptize 3.4 people per 100 members, and new SBC churches baptize 11.7 people per 100 members. Why? I believe, one simple reason is in the way we plan. As the pastor of a local church, I started my week with this mindset – “They’re coming, how do I get ready?” That is, the members will be coming to church on Wednesday & Sunday, so get ready for them. The insiders. How’s the sermon? How’s the building? How do I make the insiders happy?
When I became a church planter, that changed subtly to “They’re NOT coming, how do I get ready?” That motivated me to different means. How will I invite people & let them know about the gathering? How will I communicate so they will understand what church is about? How will I present the gospel? How will I GO into the world? How can I get this message out?
Creating and evangelistic culture is about living for those who are NOT there yet. And helping get ready for those who are NOT coming. When we can get every person, every ministry, every sermon, the longing of every heart in the church geared toward THEM, an evangelistic culture is beginning to blossom.
I want to live by, “They’re NOT coming, how do we get ready?” and get out & do all we can to invite, share, invest, & serve, so that they’ll do much more than just come to our church, but so they’ll be part of that great throng surrounding Jesus in worship for all eternity.
And folks, the reality is, THEY’RE NOT COMING. Evangelical church attendance is around 10% of the population or less across Louisiana. The assumption that most people go to church somewhere is just false.
So how are you planning this week?
People in the water being baptized serves as a highlight & significant spiritual marker in the life of an individual & a church. Recently, I polled a few of our highest baptizing church plants in Louisiana & found that they have 5 intentional practices that every church can do to increase baptisms:
Pray & Share the Gospel.
If you don’t have anybody to baptize, you need to ask the question, “Are we communicating the gospel clearly to our community?” It may be that you are in a hard soil area & cultivation will take time. That’s fine. But the promise of the word of God is to produce results (Isaiah 55:11). God’s working in all our communities to bring people to himself (1 Corinthians 5:19-21). As we pray & share, planting seeds in our communities, eventually we can expect a harvest (Psalm 126:6). If you need some ideas, see my post Proven Ways to Cultivate Relationships & Plant Seeds in Your Community.
Keep a current list of potential candidates.
Write down the names of people in your fellowship that you’re not sure of their relation to Christ &/or if they’ve followed the Lord through believer’s baptism. Share it with core leaders & ask them to pray. Plan on systematically talking with them about making this important step in their faith journey. Also, teach parents how to look for signs of God’s work in the lives of their children & when they begin to respond, put them on the list & begin to pray for them. (Check out this helpful article on How to Tell If Your Child is Ready for Baptism).
Put it on the church calendar.
As you do calendar planning, go ahead & put at least two dates for baptisms on the calendar. Announce these regularly. Expect to have candidates. Pray & share the Gospel. Work the list.
Get info out about Believer’s Baptism.
Teach on it regularly. Produce a brochure & keep it in a well trafficked area in your building & on your website. I’ve also heard of churches doing brief Informational meetings about baptism before & after church. Don’t assume people realize the importance & Biblical reasons for baptism. Here’s the brochure our church utilizes.
Make it a celebration.
Baptism is an opportunity to celebrate God’s work in the heart of human being. Jesus died so that work could be done! A person has left the kingdom of darkness & entered the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13)! Even the angels in heaven throw a party when this happens (Luke 15:10)!. Let’s celebrate! Make it a big deal. Send out invitations, post pics, share videos! We throw parties for much less, so a thing that makes heaven party & busts people out of the kingdom of darkness should instigate a celebration!
An evangelistic culture must be cultivated & maintained with intentionality. We have a command from Jesus to go & baptize (Matthew 28:18-20). We have so many people without a relationship with Christ. Get intentional about moving people to understand & respond to the Gospel & celebrate it through baptism.
A lot has been said & will be said about the recent Pew Report on Religion in America, but it confirms the premise behind the book The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated by James Emery White. I posted one of my best take aways from the book earlier. It also makes the book that much more important for the church leader that’s serious about reaching the unreached in our day. Here’s a few quotes from the book that have stuck with me:
- The nones now make up the nation’s fastest growing and second largest religious category.
- this trend is only an American phenomenon, not a global one.
- The nones are NOT made up of seekers who are looking for a spiritual home but simply haven’t found it yet
- Until we think about conversion growth as the way to grow our churches, we won’t make a dent in the fastest growing religious demographic of our day.
- Most churches have as their primary focus reaching and then serving the already convinced. So the mission isn’t making disciples but rather caring for them.
- When it comes to evangelism, the efforts of the church need to be like an incubator. Every approach, every program, every service furnishes a particular environment that will either serve the evangelistic process or hinder it.
- Church is often like “a fishing expedition in which people put bait on a hook, place it in the middle of the boat’s deck, and then join hands to pray for the fish to jump in and grab the hook.”
- If you are going to reach the nones, they are going to come to you as a none. That means they will come as couples living together, as gay couples, pregnant outside of marriage, addicted, skeptical.
- If nones ever come to your church uninvited, it will probably be for the sake of their kids.
- This is no time for cross-town church competitions for transfer growth and then patting ourselves on the back for reaching the already convinced as if we somehow made a dent in hell.
- This is no time to cave to spiritual narcissism, in which the primary concern is whether people are fed, are ministered to, or “get anything out of the worship experience,” as though the mission is caring for believers as consumers instead of dying to ourselves to reach a lost world.
Recently read a great book called The Rise of the Nones by James Emery White. It’s about the fastest growing religious affiliation in the U.S., which is the NON-affiliated. In St. Tammany Parish, where I live, best research shows that we have 116,000+ in that number (http://ow.ly/Ll3D0) or about 50% of our population. And in Louisiana, best research indicates that at least 1.8 million people are in that number.
As Christians, this is an UBER important thing for us to consider, since our mission from Jesus is “to seek & save the lost.”
White talks about how most churches that grow, grow by BIOLOGICAL (natural family growth) or by TRANSFER (Christians swapping churches) or by PRODIGAL growth (Church goers returning to church after years away) & NOT by CONVERSION (reaching nonbelievers with the Gospel). And he says there are 6 kinds of churches in regard to the Nones:
- Hostile – openly antagonistic toward the nones who venture in.
- Indifferent – not hostile, but apathetic and unwilling to answer the nones’ questions.
- Hopeful – want to see the nones reached for Christ, but unwilling to change their environment to do so.
- Sensitive – want to reach the nones for Christ, willing to change their environment, but still primarily catering to the already convinced.
- Targeted – high priority placed on the needs of the nones and make every effort to remove all barriers that made impede their exploring life in Christ.
No Man’s Land – not being targeted enough to reach the unchurched, but being too targeted to the unchurched for the churched.
A few questions:
- Where would you say your church is on this list?
- How many none’s do you know?
- What do you think it would take for a church to reach them?
When starting a new church or wanting to impact a community for Christ through evangelism, scattering seeds should be one of your primary missions. On Church Planter reports we ask for the # of contacts made each month. No coincidence that often the church plant with the most salvations & baptisms is also the one with the most contacts made in the community over the course of the year. That’s not always the case at first, because some communities will take more of the spiritual work of cultivating the ground through prayer & serving before seeds can be planted & harvest gathered. But if a church planter aggressively devises a strategy of seed scattering & planting, eventually a harvest can be expected (Psalm 126:6).
What is scattering seed for a church planter? Seed scattering is any activity that intersects believers &/or the gospel with the lives of people in the community. The more directly evangelistic the better. But considering that it probably takes 20 touches for someone to become a Christian, plan for activity that cultivates, plants, & draws the harvest.
Here’s 5 Proven Ways to increase your contacts & seeds planted in your church plant:
1. Invite Cards – Always have something to invite people to & a card with the time & place with you. Print hundreds at a time & make sure your core team & congregation take a stack with them to give out or place on community bulletin boards as they go each week.
2. Direct Mail – Direct mail can be done on a small, affordable scale. You’ll need a Bulk Mail permit & someone who can do at least basic graphic design. Keep it simple. It’s the two color postcards that stick out in today’s mail boxes. Get to know Vista Print & Outreach.com for affordable starting points. Even better, get to know a local printer & include seed scattering to building relationships in the community. Also, check out the Mapping Center for Evangelism to get your communities addresses plus much more.
3. Facebook Page – likes & shares. Facebook is a great tool for spreading seeds about the gospel & your church. Start a Page, post regularly, & encourage your core team to like & share, which spreads the message to their network. Love what the Church at Addis did with Facebook. They found out one of the biggest needs in their community was help with blended families & they started a Facebook Page called Blended Family Help to connect Gospel resources with the need in peoples lives.
4. Facebook Ads – for $5 you can get your message to 1,000’s of people in a small town or neighborhood. Facebook Ads are easy to use, simple as posting about an event, then hitting a button to “boost” it & make sure it gets out there with a little bit of cash. Check out this helpful post from Outreach Mag on 6 steps to a Facebook Ad.
5. School Newsletters – Few people subscribe to newspapers anymore, everybody hates spammy email advertising, direct mail is a low % read for most. How can I get into the home of almost every young family in my community? Consider an ad in the local elementary & Jr. High newsletter. Goes home with every student. Even if it reaches no one, you’ve done something that supports the local school & administrators won’t forget you for that. Our local schools allow a business card size ad for about $25 per issue.
What are some other ways that you scatter seeds in your community? I’ll share 5 more next week.
From our Basic Training for Church Planting module on Context & Cultivation:
Billy Graham once said that it takes 20 people to lead someone to Christ. The first person thinks they had nothing to do with it. The last person thinks it was all him. The work of cultivation was those first 19 people. And if they’re not careful, they can think their effort was all for nothing.
Smile. Learn to say, “Hello!” Introduce yourself. Be interested in others. Bake cookies for the new neighbors. Get involved in a community organization. If it takes 20, somebody has got to be #1.
Great article on evangelism from Facts & Trends Mag – Go + Tell: Taking a Personal Approach to the Gospel:
“If you know how to pray, if you know how to be a friend, if you know how to help people experience God, and if you have learned how to tell the story of the gospel, you can do evangelism,” he (John Teter) says.
When it comes to evangelism, that kind of personal approach works best, according to a 2009 report from LifeWay Research. Most Americans are open to hearing about faith from a friend or neighbor (56 percent), or from a family member (63 percent).
Other approaches seem to turn off most Americans. Three out of four (76 percent) say they are unwilling to hear about matters of faith from people going door to door. Americans are also unwilling to receive spiritual information from door-hangers (66 percent), a letter in their mailbox (55 percent) or social media (66 percent).
Less than half are interested in a TV ad (40 percent) or radio spot (41 percent) on faith.
A personal approach is also a better way to invite people to church. Nearly two out of three (63 percent) Americans surveyed say a personal invitation from a friend or neighbor was an effective way to be asked to visit a church. An invitation from a family member was rated as effective by 67 percent of those surveyed.
Less than a third (31 percent) say a door-to-door invitation would be effective. Radio (33 percent) and TV (34 percent) also received low ratings. So did email (30 percent) and social media (30 percent).
About half (52 percent) say they might visit a church after receiving a postcard on a topic that interested them.
Time of year and current events also impact Americans’ openness to spiritual conversations. Americans were most open to matters of faith at Christmas (47 percent), Easter (38 percent) or after a natural disaster (34 percent). They were least open in summer (11 percent) or fall (11 percent).
Transfer Growth is the term church leaders use when members swap churches. It’s not the preferred method of church growth, but accepted as part of ministry in our “church of your choice” culture. This topic makes for a lot of hallway conversation at Pastor’s conferences & is brought up as issues of concern for pastors in regard to church planting & revitalization efforts. I’ve written about the Transfer Growth Boogie Monster & its implications for church multiplication. There ARE good reasons for Christians to transfer, i.e. moving to a new community, being led by the Spirit to connect with another church’s mission, or being sent out by a church to start something new. And bad reasons: “I’m not getting fed”, difficulty in relationships, “they’re too judgemental” – i.e. the church confronted my sin, wanting to disconnect from responsibility to serve. Here are some of the issues that transfer growth creates and has created for the church:
- Designing ministries for Christians. As church leaders, it’s easy to strategize & plan either out of fear that people might leave for another church, or in hopes that Christians will notice our church & jump on. So, instead of equipping/releasing people for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12) & focusing on the needs of the unchurched culture, we slowly begin trying to hold onto or attract people by giving them what we think they want.
- Low Commitment, Disposable Relationships. Our low commitment culture has crept into the church & produced shallow relationships that are disposable after one difficult conversation or awkward moment. We grow spiritually & relationally through such conversations & moments. Without them, shallow, superficial, non-confessional faith could result. Seen this in church lately? How can we teach that commitment to Christ & a community of followers, not a cooler church with more going on is the pathway to spiritual growth?
- Greener grass thinking. Today, we have people that have transfered two to three times and found the same issues at every place and have given up completely on church. What if leaders could have used it as an opportunity to teach about commitment, that relationships are tough & messy everywhere & that God wants to use these issues to shape & form us? Grass gets green because you water & fertilize it. In church that means commit to Christ, obey his word, & do it with others – consistently.
- The appearance of success. Churches growing by transfer growth appear successful & can be the envy of ministry circles, but the real measure is the influence on the community. Only allowing the gospel to infuse the cultural context & change indigenous unreached people will result in a transformed city. What difference does it make if our church grows, but the community around us remains the same?
How can we fulfill the Great Commission, teach people to honor commitments, be a unified church in our cities, and make room for those swapping churches? A few ideas from a sojourner:
- Develop a vision for expanding the kingdom, not growing one church. When your church grows by transfer growth it may be at the expense of another church. If that church is small, big holes may be left to fill. How does that help the kingdom? Can I help that Pastor? Should I hold these people accountable to fill the commitment they made at the church? I heard Bob Roberts say years ago, “What’s good for my church numerically is not always best for the kingdom, but what’s best for the kingdom is always best for my church.” I think that applies well to transfer growth.
- Get to know other pastors in the area. When people know that you’re not in competition with Pastor ____ & that you actually like him, want to see him succeed, & intend to honor him at every turn (Romans 12:10), you will help them get a vision for the kingdom & release any ill will they may have. Especially those who are coming with an axe to grind. I learned pretty quick in ministry that when someone comes to my church with an axe in the back of a pastor down the street, it won’t take long for that axe to be in my back. If you ARE in competition with Pastor ____, REPENT, & get a kingdom mindset, then invite an area pastor or two to lunch or join or start a network of ministry leaders working for the good of the region.
- Assuming you have intentional process for developing members – When people are transferring ask, “Have you talked with your current pastor about this?” If we believe that church membership is a spiritual decision, then God will confirm it. Encourage them to talk with their current pastor about how God is leading them. This is a another way to honor our brothers in arms pastoring other congregations in our area. It also communicates that this is a serious decision & that you’re more interested in spiritual growth than gaining another satisfied consumer of your particular religious goods & services.
- Assuming you have intentional process for developing members – When people are transferring ask, “Have you made any pledges or commitments that you need to honor or be released from at your current church?” If we believe that church membership is a spiritual decision, and if we believe what scripture says about commitment (Proverbs 20:25; Ecclesiastes 5:4-6), this is a great question to ask of transfers. Especially if churches in your area are in the middle of building or capital campaigns. Pastors, we have little right to complain about lack of commitment in our congregants, if we welcomed them in at the expense of their commitments to another congregation.
- “…do the work of the evangelist…” 2 Timothy 4:5. The evangelist is concerned about growing the flock from those outside of it. And that’s what we must do to turn the tide of decline in Western Christianity. In their book On the Verge, Dave Ferguson & Alan Hirsch, outline the strategic problem facing the church in North America. “The majority of churches in the US are using a model of church designed to reach 40% of the population. This leaves around 60% outside the reach of the church.” Simply put, we’re all fishing in the same pond. We need churches that design ministries for the 60%. Churches that will step out of the church of your choice circle of influence & send people to the hard places, to have hard conversations with people who have little inclination to be impressed by our music, programs, building design, or clever sermon outlines. Churches that won’t be as concerned about size as they are about reach into the unchurched community. Churches that see the opportunity to take mission trips into their communities just as they do into foreign countries. Churches that will ask “Where is the church not?” & go there until the gospel message has been heard by all.
Not all transfer growth is bad or bad for the kingdom. But my desire is for commitment, honor, evangelism, kingdom growth, community transformation to take precedence over a bigger crowd at my church next Sunday.
What are other issues created by Transfer Growth? What do you do as a ministry leader to disciple transfers? Does this matter at all?