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Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 258

September 30, 2015 Leave a comment
  1. “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit” (John 15:2).

Amidst the individualistic priority of the western world, it actually is possible to be attached to the Vine and bear no fruit. When we think of Jesus primarily as a personal spiritual trainer or that He has entered our lives in order to manage a new flow of blessings our way, we fully compromise His plans for us and risk the pruning this verse suggests. Such a mindset begs the question, if we live a self-focused Christian life, did we ever really know who Jesus is?” Return to the Gospels and you’ll see clearly that personal blessing might have been on the disciples’ minds, but there’s little evidence that they saw much of that before settling into their places in Heaven. Jesus didn’t come to write a bestselling self-help book with His three decades of life. He came that we might find the life that wasn’t already on the path we were chasing.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Metrics That Matter – 5

September 28, 2015 Leave a comment

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been taking a look at the metrics that drive church health. As we have seen, the “nickels and noses” measures of local church life aren’t truly the best measures of church health. In fact, in the U.S. Assemblies of God today, a slightly higher percentage of large churches are plateaued or declining than are smaller churches.

So what is healthy anyway?

For a Pentecostal congregation, it’s hard to argue against the priority of effective reproduction. After all, if the assignment is to make disciples and we, ourselves, are disciples, then reproducing ourselves or establishing others on our same path would seem to be the general idea. Of course, reproducing would also include multiplying ministries, congregations, and every other expression of disciple life we are living together.

5. The AS Ratio

Our next metric to consider seeks to measure exactly that. How are we doing with reproducing Spirit-empowered disciples? After all, if we don’t produce such people, from where will the next generation of Pentecostals find their missionaries, their pastors, their deacons? Since the experience of Spirit baptism is essential for roles of spiritual leadership, the local church must begin to measure how they are doing with the effort to produce such people.

Sadly, many churches struggle to find a sufficient number of leaders who meet these qualifications. Some meet in communities where pastor candidates don’t exactly line up. Others sweat through their annual business meeting preparations, wondering if someone qualified to fill an empty deacon slot will emerge. Let’s not forget the “out there” assignment either. Will we find Spirit-empowered people to send across the globe in the next generation? If we don’t reproduce Spirit-empowered disciples in our generation, the answer will get uncomfortable in a hurry.

The AS Ratio measures average Sunday attendance against annual Spirit-baptisms. In our last blog, we already learned how to measure discipleship and mobilization using a comparison of Conversions and Spirit-baptisms. When we elevate the focus to the entire congregation, we’re asking, “How many of us does it take to produce a Spirit-baptized disciple?” Frankly, if we’re not doing that sufficiently, then we won’t have the Spirit-empowered leaders available in the future.

Since we said that a healthy missional effectiveness ratio (AC) would be one annual conversion for every five attenders, and we said that a healthy discipleship/mobilization ratio (CS) would see one Spirit baptism for between 3 and 4 annual conversions, we can put these two together to find the AS Ratio. The formula works like this:

AC Ratio x CS Ratio = AS Ratio

So, if we’re producing at the healthy levels, the following would be seen:

5.0 (AC) x (3.0 > CS >4.0) = 15.0 > AS > 20.0

This means that if both the AC and CS ratios are healthy, our AS would be between 15:1 and 20:1. Of course, you can do less math and simply divide your average attendance by the number of annual Spirit baptisms to get the AS Ratio, but using the AC and CS Ratios will help you uncover which might be bringing unhealthy results.

What does it all mean? Let’s say a church of 200 in attendance saw 5 people experience Spirit baptism last year. That means the church has an AS Ratio of 40:1. Now we should rejoice over the 5, but we actually didn’t see enough Spirit-baptized to demonstrate healthy reproduction. Using our 15:1 – 20:1 target, we know that a church that is reproducing at a healthy level, would likely see 10-14 such baptisms, if they are discipling and mobilizing their people at a healthy levels.

Now, don’t get lost in numbers. Just understand that the Spirit-empowered future of your congregation will likely be determined by whether or not you’re reproducing the Spirit-empowered reality of your current generation. If your church is growing but you’re producing fewer and fewer Spirit-empowered leaders, how can that future emerge?

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 257

September 25, 2015 Leave a comment
  1. “for the prince of this world is coming” (John 14:30).

Here is one of the underdeveloped themes of Christendom–Satan is the prince of this world. What does that mean? It seems that while there is no doubt that God is the sovereign Ruler of the Universe, Satan was cast into the Earth for his rebellion and established his footing here. But God won’t even allow this small planet to be excluded from His love and purpose, so the work of redeeming the Earth has been launched. Still, Jesus acknowledges the unfinished nature of that work and the breadth of influence and power Satan has established in the Earth. He is the Prince of this world…for now. But he has also been conquered…a truth that will blossom into full reality very soon.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 256

September 23, 2015 Leave a comment
  1. “I have told you now, before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe” (John 14:29).

Here, of course, Jesus is speaking of His death. He has tried repeatedly to prepare His disciples for what they could never be prepared for. But He knew that such a trauma would overwhelm and potentially do irreparable damage to their faith, so He continues the effort of explanation. Usually in life, however, we don’t get such warning. In fact, most of life must be interpreted in the moment. We didn’t know an illness or a loved one’s death was just around the corner. We weren’t expecting a job reversal or a relationship begin floundering. We didn’t know, we weren’t ready, but we must continue to believe. Later, Jesus would say of the resurrection that “blessed are those who have not seen (meaning His resurrected body) and yet believe.” Perhaps we could also infer that those who had no warning of life’s impending difficulty, but yet believe are also to be blessed.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Metrics That Matter – 4

September 21, 2015 Leave a comment

Well, we’re back at it today. taking a look at the metrics that drive church health. As we have seen, the “nickels and noses” measures of local church life aren’t truly the best measures of church health. In fact, in the U.S. Assemblies of God today, a slightly higher percentage of large churches are plateaued or declining than are smaller churches.

So if bigger isn’t always better, what is better? We’ve considered a few metrics that measure things like missional effectiveness, assimilation, and true kingdom growth. These have shown us how we’re really doing at doing the job Jesus gave us to do. How many of us does it take to reach someone with the Gospel each year? Are we maintaining contact with those converts long enough to get them into the waters of baptism? Are we adding to the kingdom of God, or just to our numbers in a single local setting?

4. The CS Ratio

Next up, is a ratio that’s unique to and essential for the Spirit-empowered Church, one that measures how many of our converts are taking the next step of experiencing Spirit baptism. We call it the CS Ratio–or Conversion to Spirit-baptism ratio–and we insist that it’s truly a measure of both effective discipleship and mobilization.

Let me explain. In the Spirit-empowered local church, we first want to know the ratio of converts to Spirit-baptism because such a calculation will tell us how we’re doing at discipling our converts and guiding them to this critical experience. Like the Apostle Paul’s question of the Ephesian believers, “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” They hadn’t, but soon did receive–and we have the same goal for our converts.

So, this ratio measures our progress in leading our converts to this empowering relationship. Like our convert to water baptism ratio, we want to see at least a 4:1 result, allowing for the fact that our wider conversion net may “catch fish” that don’t normally swim in our neighborhood. If we’re effectively discipling the new believers that connect with our church, we’ll see them water baptized and Spirit-baptized, so we use a similar target ratio for both the CW and CS–in this case, 4 to 1.

But we can’t stop there. You see, someone might get excited if they discover that their CS Ratio is actually 2:1, or even almost 1:1. YES! We think. Because such a ratio would mean that nearly ALL of our converts are taking this important discipleship step. There is, however, a second side to consider with this ratio. Since Spirit-baptism was given to us principally to empower us for witnessing, shouldn’t growing numbers of Spirit-empowered believers lead to even more rapidly growing numbers of conversions? Spirit-baptized believers are fully equipped for significant impact in their families, their communities, and around the world.

That means a CS that’s too low may be telling us that we’re failing to mobilize the Spirit-empowered folks we have. Some churches treat Spirit-baptism as though the experience is their little secret or private possession. They celebrate the presence of the Holy Spirit inside their walls, but fail to connect with the true purpose of the encounter. So they shout and celebrate together, but limp their way from Monday to Saturday, seldom making an impact on the world around them. Such churches have a mobilization problem.

So, when we consider the mobilization side of things, we really don’t want to see a CS Ratio below 3:1. If the ratio moves below that threshold, we are likely discovering that many of our people are experiencing Spirit baptism, but the number of our converts aren’t being significantly affected. On the Day of Pentecost, 120 Spirit-empowered folks witnessed 3,000 conversions–on a single day! And that was in a culture just as hostile to our message as most of our communities, if not more so.

Ultimately, a healthy CS Ratio will likely land somewhere between 3:1 and 4:1. While some could argue the finer points of this target, it seems likely that this range will allow us to continue reproducing Spirit-empowered believers at a healthy rate–and that’s critical for the Spirit-empowered local church’s future.

The beauty of this ratio is that when our numbers are outside this range, we can determine if we have a discipleship problem or a mobilization problem. If the CS Ratio is higher than 4:1, we know ours is a discipleship need. We simply aren’t getting our conversions to this point in their discipleship journey. If we fail to do that, how long will ours continue to be a Spirit-empowered congregation?

And, if our CS Ratio is below 3:1, we know we must work to activate our people toward the reason God has given such power. We must mobilize them or they will continue to view this gift as something for their own private blessing.

In the U.S. Assemblies of God, smaller churches (under 200) have shown greater success with this ratio, keeping theirs near 4:1. But we’ve already seen that many of these churches aren’t producing converts at a healthy rate (AC Ratio), so this bit of good news might be a bit misleading. If many of these churches had healthy AC Ratios, they would likely have CS Ratios under 3:1, revealing a mobilization problem.

Large churches are on the other end of this challenge. In our largest churches (1000+), the CW Ratio is nearly 8:1, meaning that only 1 in 8 converts WILL EVER become Spirit-baptized at current levels of discipleship. Now, these churches see a very high level of conversions, so perhaps the message here is that the ministry emphasis has shifted so significantly to a conversion focus, that discipleship can’t keep up. No matter the cause, it’s difficult to imagine a church with a CS Ratio this high remaining a Spirit-empowered local church into the next generation.

For Spirit-empowered local churches like ours, the CS Ratio is a critical measure of health. If we’re not producing Spirit-baptized believers, what will our future truly be? The CS Ratio can help any size church take a close look at their effectiveness both in discipleship and mobilization. This number can reveal if we’ve become so focused on conversions and church growth that we’re missing true people growth or if we’re allowing our Pentecostal doctrines and practices to create a sub-culture in our congregation that makes little difference in its world. Either option will reveal unhealthy realities that, in time, will prove cancerous to our future as a Spirit-empowered force.

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 255

September 18, 2015 Leave a comment
  1. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Don’t be afraid

Even as I said those words to my trembling granddaughter, I knew them to be unrealistic. Fear doesn’t succumb easily to the will. Nothing in my somewhat extensive arsenal of words can truly slow the onslaught of real emotion. Fear is…scary–even if it’s source is an imaginary monster in an otherwise empty closet. When Jesus offered peace to His disciples, one would think them anxious to grab hold. They now had peace–His peace–and any real justification for fear was melted away. So…do not be afraid. In truth, this is a directive toward faith. It’s a live-by-what-you-know that can replace even the most intense of uncertain feelings. It’s a choice to look potential anxiety in the eye and grin with the knowledge that you have everything you need for the challenge. It’s the memory that victory has already been won and celebrated. The monster has been removed by one bigger than a loving grandpa.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 254

September 16, 2015 Leave a comment
  1. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you” (John 14:27).

Peace may be the most elusive of Christ’s concepts to fully grasp. What does He mean? At His birth, angels announced peace on Earth as though heavenly invaders were coming with a benevolent mission. But surely they meant more. Often we see this verse and ascribe an inner settlement and ease as its definition, but surely it means more. Is it a release from striving? Is it an acceptance that stills our greatest insecurities? Is it a promise given to us by a God who would otherwise judge? Or is it even more? Today’s best answer is “yes” to all the above. Jesus came to restore us to the peace we were designed to know. He took sin’s devastation on himself, extending forgiveness and a cleansing that would bring us…peace.

Categories: Leadership Journeys