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Would You Take Two Steps to Have a Healthy Church? – Part 6

February 26, 2018 Leave a comment

In our journey of “two steps” we have already seen the two steps a pastor must take (grow himself, build a team) and the two steps that only the congregation can take (face reality, create an embracing environment). And last time we saw the first of two steps the two must take together–find your engine.

The final piece of the puzzle is the second joint effort between pastor and people–aim outward.

Inward focus is the bane of the declining church. Like the natural pull of gravity, inward focus is where congregations drift unless they are intentional otherwise. We get focused on ourselves, what ministers to us, what we enjoy, how we get help for our problems…the list goes on and on. Little wonder that after walking a mile or two down this path, we get self-focused.

Congregations that lose their sense of mission have little left to do but look at each other. And after awhile, it’s not hard to start picking at each other and finding flaws in one another. Conflict, broken relationships, and general weariness of each other is quite common in the latter stages of the church’s life cycle. The more inward focused we become, the less healthy the church will be.

Aim outward. The best way to do this is to take the engine (what we developed in the previous step) and aim that engine into the community. If the church’s engine is loving people, then find ways to show love to them out there. If the church has excellent teaching gifts, start aiming those gifts into the needs of the community. If musical talent fills the church, take it to the city park–stop limiting that ability to Sunday mornings inside your walls.

The best things happen when a church is aimed outward. Such moments give the people purpose, create potential for growth, and get us as close as we’ll ever be to living God’s intent for us. Remember, CHURCH ISN’T ABOUT US! It’s about HIM and THEM! When we get that focus, good things can happen.

Of course, God cares for our needs and wants to use His Church to minister to us. But He does that best when we focus on HIM and THEM. “Seek first the kingdom…” Remember?

I’ve yet to be in a growing church that wasn’t focused on those outside their church. Through friendship, ministry effort, and clear passion those churches see a harvest field and often abandon their own comfort to get out there.

At the same time, I rarely see such a church not growing. But it’s a partnership. I’ve met pastors who were driven to reach the lost, but their people weren’t on board. I’ve even encountered one or two scenarios where the passion was limited to the people, and the pastor was blocking the path. The point is that this must be done together.

Take your best efforts outward. Do the things you can do well in ways that your community can benefit. Figure out the engines of your church and drive yourselves beyond your church walls.

An outward focused church is the only church that fulfills Christ’s passion.

 

Would You Take Two Steps to Have a Healthy Church? – Part 5

February 19, 2018 Leave a comment

In our journey of “two steps” we have already seen the two steps a pastor must take (grow himself, build a team) and the two steps that only the congregation can take (face reality, create an embracing environment). So what’s left?

There are two steps that the pastor and people must take together.

The first of these is to “discover the engine.” Okay, that seems a bit unclear at first blush, but every has an “engine” that can generate momentum and drive it forward. There is something that your church was made to do. Baseball players speak of a “wheelhouse,” a place where the hitters strength meets the pitch and maximizes his capacity. A pitcher wants to avoid a hitter’s “wheelhouse” because that’s where the hitter is at his best. For golfers, the idea is the “sweet spot”–that place on the golf club that makes a perfect connection, allowing the golfer to hit the ball where he intended, making his best possible shot.

Okay, maybe the sports analogies don’t clear this up for you, but there is something that fits. There is a focus, an effort, a ministry priority that every pastor is made for. Likewise, there are certain things a church can do very well. When you find these, you find the church at its most effective best.

The “engine” is a merger of three key components. First, is the leader’s passion. Not long ago, I visited with a pastor of a small struggling congregation. He was frustrated to say the least, so I asked him what he was truly passionate about. I figured talking about that passion might lift his spirit a bit. He begin telling me how badly he wanted to bring hope to broken people. His own story of brokenness and the love a church family had brought helped me see how this passion had developed. To see that same thing happen for others was the very reason he felt called to ministry. “I want to see broken people healed,” he tearfully exclaimed.

I instantly concluded that this was an “engine” he could drive forward. So I asked him, “Do you think your congregation could help you do this?” You see, the second component of the “engine” is the people’s abilities. What can we be good at? In most struggling churches, there’s a long list of things we’re not very good at, and when we spend a lot of time doing what we’re not good at, well, frustration is guaranteed (so is lack of growth). No one enjoys watching us try to maneuver our weaknesses.

He said, “Yes!” He knew that his people cared deeply for broken people and he’d seen them respond in love again and again.

The final element is community need. I guessed that such an engine could connect powerfully with many people in his community. So we begin talking about how to shape the ministry of his church around this vision–healing broken people. It seemed to be the perfect merger of leader passion, congregation ability, and community need.

That’s where you find your engine. I attend a church where that engine is “life-change.” Everything is driven by this single priority. I pastored a church where “belonging” was the driving force. I’ve seen others where “investing in the next generation” or “passionately teaching truth” fire them up. Every church needs to find its wheelhouse or sweet spot–the central focus that can become their very best effort of ministry.

So together–pastor and congregation–the search for its “engine” becomes paramount. In church life, many books or assessment surveys try to tell you that addressing your weaknesses will get you where you want to go. But remember this: Momentum and growth flow from maximizing your strengths. Endurance is achieved by addressing your weaknesses.

Find the engine, but do it together. Both pastor and people have to bring their contributions to the same table. When you find the spot where the leader’s passion, congregation’s abilities, and community’s needs merge, you will find the path that can bring the momentum you crave.

Next time, we’ll take a look at the second step for this pastor/people partnership.

Would You Take Two Steps to Have a Healthy Church? – Part 4

February 12, 2018 1 comment

We’ve already seen the two steps every pastor must take toward a healthy church–grow yourself and build a team. Now let’s continue our look at the two steps only the people of the congregation can take. Last time, we saw the first of these–face reality. Today, Part 4 of our discussion calls for the people to create an embracing environment.

I’ve been in many plateaued and declining churches, usually as a guest. I pastored a couple of these, but more recently, I’ve been the guy that the fella at the door doesn’t recognize. And usually…it shows. Now, first of all, I’m glad when there’s someone at the door because that’s not always the case. But a few weeks ago, a tall man held the door for me but didn’t say a word as he pressed the bulletin in my hand. Then I walked through a foreign hallway, flowing with the traffic toward my apparent destination. No one spoke to me, welcomed me, or said a word in my direction, until the pastor instructed such a moment in the service and the old couple in front of me obeyed.

Now, I’m a church kid. I have so much experience walking into churches that I seldom feel confused or uncertain as to what to do. But I’m the exception. The extremely rare exception. In fact, I’m the dinosaur of church life. People like me just don’t exist anymore. Instead, an entire culture drifts into a worship service with absolutely no knowledge of what to do or what will happen. And if we treat them the way many churches have treated me, well…

As a guest, I can tell whether or not the people of the church want me there, have any interest in knowing me, or could ever care about my life. I can make that judgment in minutes. Now that may not seem fair, but that’s what your guests do every week. Where are the people who love people? Where are friendly folks who have a hope that their church might grow? Is the pastor the only guy hoping for that?

Each week, the people of the church create an atmosphere for the guest experience. I’m not talking about making sure the greeters all showed up or have their cues down pat. If welcoming new people is someone else’s job, then my church is failing at it. Now I’m all for trained greeters and the systems we put in place to extend a good first impression, but friendly people–genuinely friendly people–create the best environment.

Sadly, in many struggling churches, the members come in each week more concerned about themselves than their church. They wonder if they’ll see their friend or if someone will notice their new outfit, or if the pastor’s sermon will be what they need. And they wonder why the pastor isn’t growing their church. Maybe he’s just not doing a good job.

In the church I pastored, we did a little experiment. I asked 40 people to commit to a six-month challenge. Each week, when they attended the weekend service of their choice, I asked them to MEET someone they had never met, PRAY for someone or promise to pray for them when they heard or saw a need, and HELP someone in even the simplest way (carry a diaper bag, point out restrooms, etc). We called it MPH and thought such an effort would help us “pick up speed” in becoming the church we wanted to be. We even filled out cards each week, listing the names of those we met, prayed for, and helped.

The impact was unbelievable. During those six months, the church became one of the friendliest places I’ve ever been. I never saw a guest by themselves. New people were making friends faster than they could have hoped. In fact, a year later (we tracked it) our visitor retention rate more than doubled. 48% of those who visited are church in that 6-month period were actively attending and involved in the life of the church one year later.

A deacon’s wife remarked, “Pastor, I’m starting to think that seeing our church grow is more about what we’re doing than even what you’re doing.” I wanted to jump up and down in agreement. When we are intentionally friendly, good things happen. People want to be in those places where they feel cared about and see the potential for friendships.

If there was a guest at your church last week, and you didn’t meet them…you dropped the ball!

Does that seem harsh? I’m not trying to offend you, but if a family came to your house for dinner and you didn’t speak to them, you’re wife would be furious at you! Why is that someone else’s job when that same family comes to your church?

Creating an embracing environment is one step that the people of the congregation can take to demonstrate their desire to see their church grow. It’s their most powerful step. So get some people together and start figuring out how to do it.

When we face the reality of our declining church, most of us immediately want to know what to do. Well, here it is…create an embracing environment in your church. The two churches I pastored, experienced remarkable turnarounds and growth. I’m convinced this was the single most important step in both situations.

 

Would You Take Two Steps to Have a Healthy Church? – Part 3

February 5, 2018 Leave a comment

So how can there be a Part 3 if there’s only two steps to a healthy Church?

We have already seen the two steps a pastor must take to help his congregation get stronger–grow himself and build a team. But there are also two steps the people of the church must take to contribute to the same journey. Many congregants know the frustration of a revolving door of pastors with their unique visions, ideas, and strategies. Just when things seem to be coming into focus, something causes a pastoral change and we feel like we’re “back to square one” with someone new.

A frequent change in pastors can lead the congregation to forget that they have some responsibility for what their church is becoming. Frankly, it’s easier to sit back and wait for the new pastor to prove himself or to come up with the right plan that can lead us forward. But churches that move toward health have discovered that the people must get involved and contribute to the new day, often just as much as the pastor.

There are two things that only the people can bring to this equation. The first is the readiness to face reality. Well over half of America’s churches have plateaued or are in decline and the moral drift of our culture is away from the influence of the church more and more each year. Things simply aren’t going to get better at our church unless some intentional steps are taken.

Leadership gurus call it urgency–the “what” that motivates us to see the need for change in our church if we are going to succeed in ways we aren’t succeeding now. Most have heard insanity’s definition–doing what you’ve always done and expecting different results. But, sadly, many congregations seem content to maintain failing ministries and practices that no longer connect with their community. Perhaps like nowhere else in our culture, failure is acceptable at church as long as the remaining members are happy.

I often speak of four questions a church must say “yes” to before a new day can emerge: 1) Do we know we need to change?, 2) Are we willing to change?, 3) Do we know how to change?, and 4) Are we willing to do that? I am always amazed at how unwilling a declining church can be to say “yes” to those first two. Honestly, having the right answer to #3 doesn’t matter if you can’t get a “yes” to the first two.

Yes, we like our church and we like the way things are done at our church. That’s a big part of why we find ourselves attending our church. But if the way we do things isn’t helping us fulfill our mission of reaching people for Christ, are we willing to face that reality? Many aren’t. Even the most amazing pastors can’t help a church get healthy if the people won’t look clearly at the need.

Now, facing reality doesn’t have to mean we take on a “doom and gloom” spirit. Instead, ours should be a determination to fulfill our mission, one that is willing to shift gears if necessary to get back up that hill. Jesus established His Church not to simply be about us, but to be a vehicle through which we can be about the “them” currently outside our walls.

Pastors will often try to call their people to change and new expressions of ministry that can bring a better future, but that pastor often lacks the influence he needs to lead change until he’s been around at leas five years. Since the average tenure of a pastor is typically a but less than that…well, you can see why the people must take responsibility for this attitude toward change.

At the current rate in the Assemblies of God, we will close nearly twenty percent of today’s 13,000 churches in the next ten years. That’s the future unless congregation members are willing to step up and face a reality that can lead to change.

Next week, we’ll consider the second step congregation members must make toward a healthy future for their church.