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New Friends Can Bring a New Future – Part 2

December 18, 2017 Leave a comment

As we pointed out last time, many churches fail to invest in the new life opportunities that come their way. They continue to pour their resources into familiar holes, often because the long-term members demand it. But once a church wisens to the need for investing in new life, a second step begins to rise on the screen.

Now we must FOLLOW where that new life leads us!

If step one is investing in new life, step two is to start allowing that new life to reshape our ministries. Most pastors will tell you that the people most excited about the church are those who started attending in the past two years. There’s something about familiarity that often takes the enthusiasm out of us. That’s why most of the people bringing their friends to church just started attending our church in the past several months.

So, if we will have a new life cycle, we need to begin building outreach efforts, missions priorities, ministry programs, and every other forward movement initiative around the new life God has brought. Don’t expect your new people to simply plug into the outward priorities of the old bunch. Yesterday’s projects tend to smell like yesterday and they rarely provide the excitement your new friends can generate with projects of their own.

You must FOLLOW new life!

Listen to your new friends as they dream of ways to impact your community. Listen to their conversations about people they know who can be reached. Listen, and look for ways to follow where they might lead.

Now, realize that people who hop from church to church often come in with their ideas of what your church can do. These transferring friends like what they like, but most of their ideas are old ideas too. And, there’s probably a reason why their former church stopped doing “their thing” or why these new friends stopped doing “their thing” over there. In other words, your future isn’t to be found in their past.

But your future is to be found where new life can lead you. Let me illustrate. Suppose an older congregation welcomes two new young couples to their church. First, they begin to invest in new ministries toward young couples (maybe a small group, ministry to their children, etc.). But now, the young adults have an idea for a community outreach effort that can reach other young couples. Of course, it’ll cost some money and most of the current resources are aimed at an annual church picnic that’s been declining in attendance for the past few years. What do you do?

The church that wants a new future will FOLLOW where new life leads them. Doing new things with new priorities is what chasing new life is all about. Yes, there will be loss as the church lets go of some of yesterday’s priorities, but that’s the only way to get to a new life cycle and a new future.

Step one in a new life cycle is to INVEST in new life; step two is to FOLLOW where that new life leads. Next time, we will look at step three – EMPOWERING new life…

New Friends Can Bring a New Future – Part 1

December 11, 2017 Leave a comment

With upward of 70% of churches today either plateaued or declining, and the growing 30% wanting to grow more, every pastor looks forward to the possibility of new people attending his church. Both numbers and common sense tell us that growth can only happen with new people (or more baby dedications than funerals).

But many struggling churches see guests in their services on a regular basis. A few stay with us, if they feel they fit in, but most don’t. Some even attend for several weeks before moving on in their spiritual journey. In working with many older congregations, most will tell of occasional opportunities with younger families or a short-term burst of teenage life in their church. But before long, the new growth fades away, and we’re back to the same old bunch as before.

Sometimes these bursts of new life come when a new pastor is at the helm or a ministry campaign brought some tender new fruit to the church’s baskets. But a church on an attendance descent usually sees these new friends for a few weeks and then sees them no more. Why did they leave?

Probably the better question would be, “How can we keep this from happening again?”

Certainly a church needs to do a good job extending itself in friendship. Comments on effective greeter ministries and such belong in a different blog entry than this. Here my focus is on a bigger picture.

When a few young families wander into an older congregation, the church will likely want to celebrate this new life. But celebrating alone won’t keep these new friends around. We must INVEST in this new life. What ministries are in place for them? What steps will the church take in caring for and training their children. What ministry programs will they connect to?

When young couples started coming to the older church I pastored, we had to get busy starting new ministry efforts. And that required taking some of the resources we were using elsewhere and aiming them at this new life. Unfortunately, in many churches, there’s reluctance to shift resources toward new people. Those who’ve been paying the bills for years can get a bit resistant if the focus of the spending shifts away from them.

Such thinking dooms the opportunity. If we won’t invest in the new life, we won’t see that new life for long. Too many churches seem glad for new friends, but they respond with the expectation that those new friends just “fit in” to the old stuff. Seldom does that work out, especially if the new friends are a lot younger or a lot different from the old gang. “Be like us and you can be with us” is frequently the song sung in struggling churches. Such a song might as well be a funeral dirge for the future of those who sing it.

Remember that the first question we must face if we will see a turnaround in our church is do we know we need to change? Until we can say a strong and committed “yes” to this question, we will not find the congregational energy to be any different than we’ve been. AND, in most plateaued and declining churches, one of the first things that must change is our attitude toward new people.

You must invest in new life. It’s the critical first step when the opportunities for growth come knocking on your door.

A Real Path to Real Change…

December 5, 2017 Leave a comment

We aren’t very patient people. Life has encouraged us to insist on getting what we want somewhere close to the minute that we ask for it. We get our food fast, retrieve our mail in seconds, and have little patience for the moments those processes slow down. We want what we want…NOW!

So when we begin to pursue change in our church, we’d like to find some quick answers. Somehow another Sunday in what has always been seems unbearable. So we scour the internet shelves for someone’s key to effectiveness and hope we can quickly just add water for best results.

But change…real change…doesn’t come.

If a church has been plateaued or declining on its life cycle curve, the change needed probably goes deeper than we might expect. While a few program adjustments or maybe a creative addition or two would be helpful, the deeper issues that can truly change the feel of our church won’t be touched by these surface remedies.

Relationships must begin to change. The years together under the steepled roof have left us with certain relational realities that people can sense when they worship with us. Unresolved conflicts that may be a decade old still linger in the air like a musty smell. We may not be battling those things on the surface, but a guest can tell if the people of the church are truly connected or not.

Time also has a way of bringing several different ideas of the church’s purpose, vision, or road to effectiveness into play. People who just want to change a program or two and hopefully see sudden growth often aren’t ready to revisit deeper questions before finding the right path. But, the real road to change has to start by choosing a deeper destination and agreeing to ride in the same car to get there.

Real change starts with people loving people. Now, I’m not talking about loving the first-time guests. The first people we have to start loving is each other. Old walls need to come down. Old hurts need to mend. And as they do, we can find a road to walk that can lead to real change for our church.

Fact is…the only way for our church to change is for us to change. And as God begins to change our hearts toward one another, something else begins to change…OUR CHURCH!