Archive for Church Growth

Feb
08

Trading in our Canoes

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The year following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Captain Meriwether Lewis to find the most direct and practical water route across the continent from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean for the purposes of commerce. For over 300 years explorers from at least four sovereign nations had been looking for a pathway that would lead from the Mississippi River all the way through the North America to the Pacific. Lewis was joined by Second Lieutenant William Clark and together formed the Corps of Discovery to under take the challenge from President Jefferson.

The Corps of Discovery began with a faulty assumption. Everyone was certain that the water route to the Pacific was there. All they needed to do was discover it. But they were wrong. There was no passage. When Lewis and Clark came to the end of the river they realized that nothing before them was like anything they had experienced that was behind them. There were no manuals, maps or journals that could help them. They literally marched off the map into the unknown.

What the Corps of Discovery learned over 200 years ago is what we are learning today in the life of our church. The world of ministry is not like anything we have experienced in the past. The cultural landscape has changed to the degree that our assumptions about reaching and serving are experiencing diminishing returns.

Today we are recognizing that many of the ministries we found to be effective in the past are no longer having the same impact today. Like Lewis and Clark, we must realize that we are marching into an age where our canoes may no longer help us reach our destiny. Like the Corps of Discovery, we are finding the need to trade our canoes for horses so that we can stay focused on the mission. Those who choose to love their canoes more than the mission will risk becoming stuck at the headwaters of the river and fail to reach the ultimate goal.

Categories : Church, Church Growth
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Mar
19

The National Congregations Study

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I recently received my copy of the National Congregations Study due to my participation in the process. The NCS was directed by Mark Chaves, Professor of Sociology, Religious Studies, and Divinity at Duke University. The study gathered information from 3,185 congregations from across the religious spectrum. What follows are some of the important results from the research.

1. The number of congregations claiming no denominational affiliation increased from 18% in 1998 to 24% in 2012.

2. White mainline congregations, and the people in those congregations, are older than the congregations and people of other religious traditions.

3. Most congregations are small but most people are in large congregations. The average congregation is getting smaller, but the average church goer attends a larger congregation.

4. People in smaller congregations give more money to their churches than do people in larger congregations.

5. Worship services have become more informal and expressive.

6. 10% of church goers worship in a multi-site congregation.

7. American solo or senior pastoral leaders are more ethnically diverse and older, but not more female than they were in 1998.

8.Food assistance is by far the most common kind of social service actively pursued by congregations, with more than half listing food assistance among their four most important social service programs.

9. 13% of all congregations are led by a volunteer solo or senior pastor.

10. Women could, in principle, serve as a senior or solo pastoral leaders in 58% of American congregations. However, only 11% of those same congregations have a woman serving as a solo or senior pastor.

What do you think? Any surprises?

Categories : Church, Church Growth
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Jul
20

Simple Thoughts on Acts 2:42-47

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The church I serve is now nearly a year into a vision process that we began with Auxano. One of the key elements we learned is the importance of developing a cohesive strategy that describes how we intentionally plan to make disciples. A key passages that informed our thinking on strategy is the familiar description of the behavior of the early church following Pentecost.

“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity– all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47, NLT).

Here are five simple observations I shared in worship yesterday.

1. The behavior of the church was an outflow of the Spirit.
The second chapter of Acts opens with the Spirit’s advent on the Day of Pentecost. While one cannot deny the miraculous signs and wonders performed by the apostles, it is my conviction that the core impact of the Spirit’s arrival was the life change that occurred in the masses. If you want a good description of what a Spirit filled life looks like, don’t focus on the margins. Focus on the core behavior of worship, prayer, fellowship, teaching, sharing, ministry and evangelism.

2. The behavior of the church was consistent.
Notice the inclusive language: everyone, every day and all. The Spirit’s impact was so profound that all the people participated in the disciple making process every day.

3. The behavior of the church was simple.
Aren’t you amazed that the early church created such a movement without a building, a budget, or seminary trained staff? What they did was simple enough that anyone could do it; and they did it sincerely enough that it became influential.

4. The text describes the behavior of the church, not the behaviors.
I contend that these first and second generation disciples didn’t divide themselves up into silos or specializations. I believe that each person practiced each element. To pick and choose among the items listed in the text would be akin to baking a cake using only the ingredients that you like. In order for a cake to be a cake you have to include everything. Similarly, in order for a disciple to be mature, each discipline must be practiced.

5. God produced the results.
The final verse summarizes one of the most important chapters in the New Testament pertaining to the church. The Lord added daily. We can plan, program and strategize, but God has to produce the results. When the people committed themselves to disciple making practices, God responded and blessed the early church.

Categories : Acts, Church, Church Growth
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The National Review has weighed in with a good article on reaching Millennials. You can find the article HERE. According to the author, we should perhaps spend less time thinking about how to attract millennials and more time developing processes that help them grow spiritually.

Categories : Church, Church Growth
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From Tony Morgan, a quick but helpful read. Click HERE for this excellent post.

Categories : Church, Church Growth
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The latest Barna report is out and lists ten facts about the churchless in America. You can find the report HERE.

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Skye Jethani has written an incredible piece titled, “The Rise and Fall of Celebrity Pastors.” Its thoughtful, well written, and worth your time. You can find the article by clicking HERE.

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Rainer research is offering more insight on the worship preferences of young adults. To read the research click HERE.

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Apr
07

Book Review: Dakota

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I grew up in small towns. The small town that served as my home during my middle school and high school years is all but gone. Beginning in seventh grade, I was bussed some 20 miles one way for my education, but the small town still provided an elementary school. During those years there were two garages, one of which provided gasoline and a vending machine. There was an agricultural co-op that served farmers’ needs with seed and fertilizer. A small grocery made sure that any one could pick up some items without making the long trip to the county seat for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread. The heart of this small town revolved around the restaurant that served plate lunches, sandwiches and gallons of thick, dark coffee. As you sat in that restaurant you could watch people walk in and out of the local post office to pick up or send mail. Two churches graced the town’s landscape, one Christian and the other Methodist, neither of which ever had large attendances and were cared for by circuit riders. Each of these establishments is now gone. Many of the buildings have been torn down, leaving empty lots across the community like a checkerboard.

This memory came back as I read Kathleen Norris’ book, Dakota. The book is not necessarily autobiographical, although it does represent a substantial subset of her life. As a writer based out of New York, she and her husband moved to South Dakota to live on an ancestor’s farm. The most interesting part of her presentation is her depiction of life in and around the small towns of the Dakotas and the observations she offers regarding them. Her theory, one that I am inclined to accept, is that many of the things that small towns do to try to hold on to life and vitality are actually the very things that destroy them. I offer below some of her observations in no particular order for your consideration.

1. The departure of the young.
Many of the community’s young people receive their high school diplomas and leave for college never to return, due to the lack of employment opportunities. These young people are rewarded for stepping into their future and simultaneously punished for moving on by being treated as outsiders. Small towns across the nation are losing their best and brightest resources every year at graduation.

2. The mythology of history.
Many small communities possess a selective memory about yesterday. Stories become legend and the legends grow beyond truth to the point that it is often difficult for citizens to come together and work for things that might benefit all. Says Norris, “Local control, a value to be cherished above all things, makes these communities more, not less, vulnerable to manipulation by outside interests.

3. The belief that a return to the past will heal all present ills.
Somehow the residents of these small towns believe that if the clock could be turned back 20 years or more that everything will be ok. Norris observes that “paradise wasn’t self-sufficient after all, and the attitude and the belief that it ever was is part of the reason it’s gone.”

4. Change is an enemy.
Norris observes that resistance to change and the ability to adapt to change is rooted in diminished points of reference. As the community shrinks, so does its willingness to look beyond its own borders into other communities to see what is working. And the lack of point of reference is devastating. “With resistance to change comes resentment toward anyone who demands change, yet this ultimately shortchanges the community.”

5. Finding refuge in conspiracy theories.
Many who cannot or are unwilling to cope with change will find refuge in the arms of conspiracy theories that provide easy targets of blame versus confronting the present realities of their situation. Unfortunately, these conspiracy theories cultivate fears that cannot be overcome by even their close-knit neighborliness.

6. The reluctance to allow outsiders to benefit individuals and the community as a whole.
Ministers, teachers, librarians and physicians are often grouped as “outsiders,” and their expertise is limited because of that label. In some of these small communities, professional standards are questioned and invalidated which fosters mediocrity. Often these outsiders are made to be scapegoats by citizens that cannot resolve their own internal differences. Writes Norris, “Small towns need a degree of insularity in order to preserve themselves. But insularity becomes destructive when ministers, teachers, and librarians grow weary of pretending not to know what they know, and either leave or cease to offer themselves as resources whose knowledge could benefit the community.”

Norris has correctly observed that “it is the town’s cherished ideal of changelessness that has helped bring about the devastation, and it is the town’s true history that is lost…disconnecting from change does not recapture the past. It loses the future.”

And I suspect what she has observed in small towns across the midwest is also, unfortunately, true of small churches as well.

Categories : Books, Church, Church Growth
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Barna Research has published a new report on the importance of church attendance among Americans. You can read the report HERE.

According to Barna, approximately 50% of believing Americans do not feel that church attendance plays a significant role in their spiritual formation. In fact, church attendance didn’t even make the top ten list of practices believers find helpful in growing their faith. The top two reasons people attend church are to learn about God and feel closer to Him. But according to the report, ” Adults are aware of their very real spiritual needs, yet they are increasingly dissatisfied with the church’s attempt to meet those spiritual needs and are turning elsewhere.” The irony I find in this research is that the more the church strives for cultural relevance, the more distasteful it becomes in the eyes of culture.

So what do we do with this information? First, I believe we need to be unapologetically biblical in our approach to worship and discipleship. When I go to a restaurant I expect food. I’m never surprised or indignant that food is offered to me. Along the same line, I believe people come to church and expect to hear and understand what the Bible has to say. We should not be apologetic to offer the “Bread of Life” to all ages. Second, I think we need to do our best to live the Bible authentically. One of the reasons people in the study cite for their withdrawal from church is the hypocrisy of the members. The word hypocrite finds its etymology in Greek theater. It means, “one who wears a mask.” The Christian faith must be practiced with deep intentionality. When we fail to live within range of Christ’s expectations, we wear the mask of something we profess but don’t actually believe. And that hypocrisy is what makes churches irrelevant.

Next month we celebrate Holy Week and Easter. My hope for us is that we will not limit our celebration to one week a year, but will discover the joys of the power of the resurrection each and every day we live!

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