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Would You Take Two Steps to Have a Healthy Church? – Part 1

January 22, 2018 Leave a comment

With thousands of churches plateaued or in decline, many of which are aging with the future growing more ominous each day, I’ve been searching for simple and powerful steps in a new direction. Many struggling churches are overwhelmed by a culture of “can’t.” They hear the ideas that turn around other congregations, but find most of these beyond their current abilities, resources, and people. There has to be a “can” out there with every church’s name on it.

There is!

Suppose there were just two things that everyone in the church could do that would make all the difference. Would that interest you? I am convinced that those two things exist. In fact, here’s how it works–there are two things the pastor must do; and two things the people of the congregation must do; and two things the pastor and people can do together that will create momentum in a new direction.

Let’s start with the pastor’s two things…

First, the pastor must commit to grow himself. One of the truths I learned as a pastor is that if you don’t have a strategy for growing yourself, no one will bring you one. Fact is, nobody will grow you but you. So every pastor must create a strategy for developing himself to be more effective and knowledgeable about the work of ministry.

Many years ago when I was settling into my first full-time ministry role, a deacon stopped by my office with a challenge. He encouraged me to commit to read one book a week. Now, I love to read so the challenge resonated with me. I said “yes” and told him I would report to him each Sunday with the title of the book I had read that week. He said, “no.” He told me that he would be able to tell if I was reading by listening to me preach and watching my ministry. I realize now how profound that was. Since that day in 1986, I have read at least 50 books each year and believe my life has been greatly enhanced by that man’s recommendation.

Now, not everyone is a reader or wants to read at that kind of pace, but each of us can take charge of our development. Video learning is available to the visual learner. Books and magazines can help the reader. Podcasts are the way the auditory person makes it work. Even enrolling in a class can help me grow and provides some good accountability. Somehow…build a strategy for learning and growing yourself.

I have scheduled three learning times in my day–morning, afternoon, and evening. Typically I have a different book waiting for me every time I can steal a few minutes during these parts of the day. Most days, I get to the office 30 minutes early for my morning growth, take an hour in the afternoon when my mind needs recharging to open my afternoon book, and keep a book handy in the evenings. I’ve found that “vegging out” with a book is far better than the TV. Of course, every day doesn’t allow me to spend time with all three such moments, but having a plan means I get there more often than not.

Here’s the bottom-line. If you’re growing, what you touch will grow too. I learned early on that the people who are following my leadership can’t grow past me. If they do, they won’t be following me anymore. I also learned that when I’m growing, the world around me looks and smells better. Fact is, a growing leader more naturally grows the people around him/her. I’ve been at this ministry leadership thing for nearly three decades now and I am fully convinced that nothing affects my ministry effort nearly as much as my own personal growth.

Build a plan and do it today! If you’re not sure where to start, contact a trusted friend or mentor and gain their help. If you don’t make time to grow, you’re church will never have time to be healthy. If you want to discuss this topic with me, I’ll be glad to share more about the steps I’ve taken toward this critical priority. (Email me at mclarensau@ag.org.)

So, for the pastor, that’s the first of two things you must do. Next week, I’ll unveil the other key ingredient a pastor must pursue in order to have a healthy church.

Little Ones are Still Coming…

Occasionally Jesus flipped typical life on its ear by demonstrating the importance of children in the kingdom of God. I would imagine that when He put His arm around a young child and mentioned that the kingdom of God belonged to these, He likely stunned and confused the adults around Him. Seeing Him welcome children to His lap makes us like Him a lot, but does it impact our ministry thoughts?

Truth is, our care for children and the priority we give to their ministry needs reveals a lot about our connection to the ministry focus of our Savior. But that priority also speaks volumes to the crowd around us.

People seek the best for their children. That’s why they often choose brutal schedules of ball games, music recitals, and a host of other activities their kids enjoy. Providing children with opportunities is what parenting seems to be all about in our culture.

Churches need to be aware of this priority and demonstrate their own love and care for children. Attractive classrooms, newer (and clean) toys, quality teachers and leaders, all say, “We were expecting your children,” to moms and dads. Creating kid-friendly environments in our churches elevate the expectation of the child and the contentment of the parents.

Additionally, providing a safe environment is essential. Making sure your classroom workers have been screened appropriately and trained for their work, and making sure safety issues in the classroom are addressed shows that the church takes the care of children seriously.

Do you realize that when we offer a nursery or children’s classroom to a guest family, we are asking them to entrust their children to total strangers? For many parents, that isn’t as easy as it might have been a few decades ago. Children cry when they experience separation anxiety. Parents sit in the auditorium distracted when they feel that same anxiety.

Excellence in children’s ministry is an absolute essential for the growing church. Yes, it can be a lot of work, but there may be no other effort that can most effectively strengthen your church and connect you to the heart of the One we seek to worship.

Give your children the very best…

New Friends Can Bring a New Future – Part 3

As we’ve been discussing, 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. A church must invest in its new life, then begin to follow where that growth is leading, and finally, the third step emerges into view.

Now we must EMPOWER that new life!

If step one is investing in new life, and step two is to start allowing that new life to reshape our ministries, then step three is to begin moving that new life into the leadership structure of the church. Many years ago, I taught a Sunday school class filled with young couples. It was an amazing group of nearly fifty couples–the kind of group that any pastor would think his church could enjoy for decades. But in spite of the fun we had together each Sunday morning, I could see an emerging problem. All of the leadership roles in the church were filled by an older generation. Not one deacon slot had been opened to anyone under the age of fifty. The result? My group didn’t see the church as their church, but instead saw themselves as attending someone else’s (the older folks’) church.

Ownership is the ultimate assimilation goal. When people see the church as their church, they will fully invest their lives in its efforts. I don’t mean “theirs” in the sense of possession or control, but there is a sense of deep connection that occurs when someone speaks of the church as “us.” We had that ownership in our class, but because leadership hadn’t transferred to this younger group, the larger church wasn’t theirs–at least in their thoughts.

The result? After my wife and I moved away the class broke up and in less than three years, only a handful of those couples were still in the church. Most had moved to a congregation where the leadership was vested in others their age.

A church that reaches younger adults must find a way for those young adults to step into leadership roles. Too many church boards are dominated by the older members of the church. We may argue for their experience, and that experience must be valued, but we must begin to integrate the new life of our church into leadership roles. If that new life is a different ethnic group, steps must be taken to bring some of these new friends into leadership.

Look around the conference table at the next deacon meeting and you will see the representatives of the groups that have ownership in the church. If the new life you’ve achieved is missing, you’re only a few months or years from losing their contribution to the future of your church.

So three steps must be taken to turn new life into a new life cycle for your church–Invest, Follow, and Empower. This is the road to leading your church into a future greater than its current reality.