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Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 265

October 30, 2015 Leave a comment
  1. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you” (John 15:9).

What? Jesus loves us as the Father loves Him? Do we understand the significance of that statement? Throughout the Bible, love operates under two primary definitions–to choose and to sacrifice for. When God is said to love one and hate another (i.e., Jacob and Esau), we understand the idea of choosing. So when we say that God loves us, we mean that He has chosen us. Of course, Jesus revealed that God has opened the door for “whosoever will,” so God loves everyone in this particular manner. But sacrifice? Yes, that was Jesus’ clear destiny–to sacrifice for us. He would, and did, give His life so we could have life. Greater love has no one than this.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 264

October 28, 2015 Leave a comment
  1. “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit” (John 15:8).

“Glory” is one of those terms that suffers from unclear, and perhaps overuse. As such, the true idea it conveys is lost on many believers. In other environments, such as athletics or performing arts, glory is the attention one gets for their excellence. But glory, when applied to the One who truly deserves it, is probably more accurately defined as the demonstration that He is indeed with us. When we glorify God, we demonstrate His presence–we act like Him, thus proving He is truly in us. That’s the idea Jesus conveys here. When we bear fruit, we do so to bring glory to God–to reveal Him and His purposes all around us. It’s almost as though He is hidden in every room until someone acts or loves in such a way that He can be seen by all. Just as Jesus showed us the Father by His words and actions, so we must pursue that same purpose. So why do we remain in Christ and seek to bear fruit? For the glory of the Father!

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Notes from the Journey – 263

October 21, 2015 Leave a comment
  1. “apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

There’s something in these words that we likely find it easy to look past. Jesus didn’t say that your efforts would be more difficult, or, like Adam, you would toil and the fruit would be hard to come by. He said “you can do nothing.” Nothing is a word we use when there is literally nothing to describe. No idea of good effort, or congrats on a few branch blossoms–just nothing. Why is this harsh reality so true? Because Christ’s presence is the necessary element in every equation of spiritual productivity. You simply can do nothing without Him. Sure, some may roll up their sleeves and give their best to pleasing Him, but without His involvement in their efforts, nothing will result. This is why some may say they did all sorts of amazing things in His name and yet He claims to never having known them. What they did, they did on their own and no real fruit was truly produced!

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Metrics That Matter – 8

October 19, 2015 Leave a comment

Before we put a final bow on this series of blogs where we’ve reviewed some of the better church health metrics, there one that’s likely the easiest to calculate, but the most challenging to improve–the church’s adult average age calculation

8. Average age – Adults

How young is our congregation?

Now, this question has many ideas and expectations nestled in its intent. Some want to look at this number to demonstrate that they have all ages worshipping together. Others want to send a message that they are a church for young people. Still others hope the results reveal something other than that their church family is aging at a rapid rate, and one that would seem to have a limited future.

If we’re going to measure the average age of our congregation, we should begin with identifying the question we’re trying to answer. For example, if we want to send a message to young adults that we are a church where they will fit in, then the real focus of their interest would be how many people of their approximate age attend there. Simply averaging all the ages of those who attend our church won’t really address their interest accurately. A church filled with people in their forties and their preteen and teenage kids might have an average age of 29, but that doesn’t mean there are any young adults in the church. In the same way, a church dominated by older adults can have an active bus ministry and bring in dozens of children, making the average age of the church mid 20s, but that doesn’t mean my sanctuary experience won’t be primarily filled with gray hair.

If we want to make good use of an average age metric, we should only include relevant parties in our calculation. That’s why I strongly encourage you to include only the adults (18+) in your calculations. Only then will you have a real picture of what an experience among your people will really be like.

Another age calculation you might make would be the average age of those who serve in various ministries in your church. Since about 1 in 4 people volunteer at most churches, take a look at who these folks are. Their average age likely shows you who has taken ownership of the ministry of your church.

Still another great age calculation is the average age of the church’s decision-makers. How old are the deacons and non-staff ministry leaders? Chances are good that this calculation will show you who you are currently best prepared to reach because decisions are likely reflecting the values of those who make them. Here’s a simple truth–the average age on the platform is not as large a factor in a church’s ministry as the average age of its decision makers. I’ve been to churches where young adults dominated the platform musician slots and they were almost the only young adults in the room. The age of decision-makers reveal “whose church is this?” to your guests.

What is the average age of your hospitality team? Now there’s a group that might be communicating who is welcome here. There must be some young faces on that team if you’re going to convince me that young adults are active here. At the same time, if your greeters are all young adults, then older guests may not feel as welcome either.

Some church leaders believe that the “age” of their music is a key to health. In my experience, real problems start when your approaches to ministry are inconsistent with the age of the congregation. Only when we’re agreed to target a new audience in our ministry effort can such a disconnect between who we are and what we’re doing be managed–and it will still be a challenge.

Age in a church is a big deal. There are many uses for such a calculation and there is no magic number that automatically makes a church healthy. So make a few calculations and think through how your ministry is affected by what you see. Then make choices that can help you more effectively reach those you’re reaching for.

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 262

October 14, 2015 Leave a comment
  1. “I am the Vine, you are the branches” (John 15:5).

There is no confusion in our relationship to Christ. He is the Vine–the Source of our life. He is the Means by which we will bear fruit. He is the Provider, the Sustainer–what keeps the branch alive and functioning. As a branch, my focus must be two-fold. I must maintain and strengthen my connection to the Vine–no blockages, nothing to hinder the flow of that life. Second, I must let that life flow through me. Only as Christ flows into and through my life will I be able to bear the kind of fruit that He desires. Only then can I be a productive branch. Any other path to “fruitfulness” will fail to produce that which endures.

Categories: Leadership Journeys

Metrics That Matter – 7

October 12, 2015 Leave a comment

Times have changed. Cultures have shifted. The landscape of just about every community has experienced some level of ethnicity change. America’s melting pot has become more of a hearty stew, with various chunks of population bringing extraordinary, and sometimes overpowering flavor, to a single city block. In many places, the dream to be an American has morphed into a desire to maintain one’s culture within the shores of economic opportunity. In a very real and amazing sense, America has become a much more colorful place, even in towns once marked by a single identity.

How is your church doing with that reality?

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Church Growth movement brought us the principle of homogenous congregations. Committed to growing congregations, sometimes at the expense of producing healthy ones, pastors and other local leaders were encouraged to target specific populations, believing that people who shared much in common would be more likely to populate and produce a growing church. And there were some significant successes.

But there were also a large number of people who came to conclude that such ideas ran counter to the nature of the Church. In fact, many observers frown on the days of such growth pursuits, believing that more than a few biblical ideals were compromised in the pursuit of sheer numbers.

Homogeneity is a common reality in human organizations. Like begats like. We are naturally more comfortable with people who look like us, think like us, and act like us. Yet, somehow the Church is designed differently. The Book of Revelation anticipates a day when folks from every “tribe and tongue” stand together around God’s throne. And there are many congregations that have figured out how to get a head start on that day.

7. Ethnic Ratios

Some have suggested that the faces sitting in your local church each Sunday should at least mirror the diversity of your community. Now that’s a worthy goal, but it’s probably not reasonable. You see, rarely does your community just wander into your church at average rates. Instead, churches that are reaching various ethnic and racial groups are doing so on purpose. And when these new friends begin to respond, they often do so in numbers. So a white church that launches ministry into their now Hispanic neighborhood may ultimately see more than an average number of Hispanic folks begin joining them for worship. The flow of international friends (those born in other nations) may quickly accelerate once you make a real effort to welcome them and care for their needs.

The goal of ethnic ratios is to recognize who we have made welcome, to whom we have shown we love, and who have we desired to know. Often these folks don’t get that kind of welcome elsewhere, so the church can see its diversity follow its effort, regardless of the percentages of your community’s latest demographic study.

The math isn’t hard. Just ask: What percentage of our Sunday attenders are Korean? How many students in our youth group are African-American? In a community that is increasingly diverse, there are a variety of people to reach, so how are we doing with that? If your congregation simply decides such folks can “come if they want to,” you may actually be insisting that those who do find their own way to fit in with us.

As a pastor of a congregation with more than 50 nations attending, I can tell you that these new friends may quickly prove to be the most committed, faithful, and supportive people in your congregation. In many cultures, the local church is also a centerpiece of community activity, so church is a place to bring friends and meet others. If you open your heart to people from other cultures, you may ultimately see several of these families come be a part of your church.

So, how is this a church health metric? The ethnic ratio of your church reveals the openness and true outward focus of your congregation. You may have various outreach events, but if the people we meet at those don’t feel accepted among us, how long will they stay? A diverse church is likely a healthy, open, and outward thinking church.

Perhaps the inverse question is the one we should be asking. If our church lacks diversity, is there a health reason why?

Notes from the Journey with the Disciples – 261

October 9, 2015 1 comment
  1. “No branch can bear fruit by itself” (John 15:4).

Jesus is the Source of life–of all the enduring fruit we could possibly produce. It is possible to produce fruit without Him, but that fruit doesn’t remain. Many, today, build great edifices or expand remarkable ministries only to see their efforts dwindle the minute they stop giving every ounce of their strength. They built in the name of Jesus but not in the power or with the direction of Jesus. They didn’t infuse themselves with His life. That’s how the day of judgment will reveal some who did great works in His name, but somehow Jesus didn’t know them. When we build for ourselves, we build by ourselves.

Categories: Leadership Journeys