Author Archive

Subject to Change – 9

June 18, 2018 1 comment

They’re really good people.

He’d been staring at me all morning with an expression unlike any in the room. I’d been teaching for over an hour. A hundred local church leaders and their pastors were gathered around tables, preparing to dive into a yearlong journey of discovery and discussion. Our goal? Find the future for the dozen or so congregations represented in the room.

Things at his table didn’t look too promising. His pastor looked like a good guy. He’d been at the church for a couple of years now and seemed determined to slow the church’s decade of steady decline. I wanted to believe he could. This pastor appeared enthusiastic and his wife seemed to genuinely enjoy the people at their table. Better days were ahead, I was sure…except for the look on this one guy’s face.

This is what I do. I work with churches, trying to help them navigate a climb to greater effectiveness or turn a downward spiral in a new, more promising direction. Some days I sit with leaders from one congregation. Other days, the door’s been opened to multiple congregations, and I try to aid the unique discovery of purpose and direction occurring at each of the room’s round table. This was one of those days.

But he wasn’t buying it. Every other face showed signs of genuine engagement. These people came to learn. Motivational speeches aren’t usually needed when folks give up an entire Saturday to help their pastor find answers. Each participant had been chosen for this assignment. Pastor needed their faith, their hope, and their ability to dream with him. It’s usually a fun room.

This one man wasn’t having fun. His face didn’t fit with the others. They smiled and nodded and jotted notes vigorously. He pushed his chair back further from the table, folded his arms, and glared at me, as though he’d accepted a mission to prove me wrong at every turn. I could read his thoughts (not really). I could anticipate his complaints (I’d heard them before). I could quote his list of reasons why nothing I suggested would ever work at his church (I figured he was the reason).

We made it to the lunch break without him derailing my confidence. I wanted to embrace the affirmation others in the room extended as I grabbed a sandwich and a plate full of chips, but he was too close. By the time I reached the drink table, he had me cornered and asked if he could sit with me.

Now, I’m a pastor, at least I had been one for quite a while. Most of us know when we’re about to receive someone’s well-meaning correction. You’ve heard it too—the auditorium was too cold on Sunday or the sermon was too long, or in that one announcement we failed to mention the part that everyone really needed to know. Such moments are meant to help us, to make us aware of what people are saying, all the while being sure that the messenger means no ill intent.

So I slid my tray in front of a couple of empty chairs and motioned for my new friend to join me. I quickly took a bite of my sandwich, believing that the chewing motion would hide any other reactions my face might have toward his rebuke. But then something else happened, and I wasn’t as prepared as I had thought for what the next few moments would bring.

He wept. His shoulders began to vibrate and he fought hard to muffle the sobs that wanted to burst forth. “You don’t understand,” he whispered, trying to keep his overwhelming emotion from drawing the attention of the room. “You don’t understand…I can’t see a future…we can’t have a future for our church when we’re all afraid to face the past.”

Suddenly my food didn’t taste so good. I tried to swallow quickly, anxious to console him, wanting to trade in my suspicions for a much-needed dose of compassion. Pastor had seen the tears and slid into the seat next to me. “What is it, Bill?” he asked in such a soft voice that Bill and I could see his concern. In an instant, I went from the center of a conversation to its bystander, and I knew that I needed to do just that.

“Pastor, you don’t know all that’s happened. You don’t know about the Jenkins and the Simpsons, and the thing with the Walkers.” There was no reaction. The names didn’t seem to register in the pastor’s expression. “How can we talk of vision and a future when we can’t deal with all the hurt of the past?”

Good question, Bill.

After a brief conversation and the pastor’s pledge to engage whatever hurt Bill and his other tablemates might be carrying, our afternoon resumed. Bill wiped his eyes with a friend’s oversized handkerchief and pulled his chair back up to the table, seemingly ready to participate now that he was sure his new pastor really cared enough to face whatever ugliness had been a part of where they’d been. Over the next few months, Bill was as pleasant and engaging as anyone in the room. Apparently, he was finding reason to reach for the future again.

But his question underscores something your people want you to know before you lead them in change, Pastor. We’ll go where you go if you’ll come where we are.

Subject to Change – 8

Over the past few weeks, we’ve looked at three ways a leader can build trust–relationship, success, and personal transformation. While one of these three must take place in significant ways before a leader can lead change, there’s one more that can “seal the deal” either in favor of trust or compromise it completely.

The final means for building trust is to act with integrity. When people see that a leader will always do what is right, they begin to trust that leader with what is right for them.

Someone has defined integrity as “what you do when no one is looking.” It’s the idea of what you’re really like when you’re not performing for others. That presents an interesting opportunity for pastors since they are almost always “on.” Their 24-7 life as a shepherd seldom lets them take the pastor hat off.

A pastor can establish his public persona through his wise words, penetrating insights, and the understanding demeanor with which he preaches. People easily say that “he’s just a really good guy.” He shows up when we’re in crisis. He speaks kind words at our grandmother’s funeral. He stands at the church door, always smiling, always listening, always affirming. He speaks knowledgeably about the godly husband when he teaches on marriage and more than a few wish their husband was more like him. He’s a great guy!

But in the private places of his life, the photos may not always match. If people see him yell at his children, become frustrated with his wife, or offer a small fib or two when negotiating a good price with a salesman, the photo of the pastor they think they know gets a bit smudged. And, trust becomes a bit damaged.

I remember attending a conference where an elderly leader held us spellbound for more than an hour as he unfolded the challenges of reaching the next generation. He spoke of younger people with such passion and potential. He called for great steps to be taken to rally his older peers toward a bright and technologically-driven future. I remember thinking “that’s the kind of leader anyone would want to follow. The people who work in his organization have to be excited to have such a leader as this.”

Then I went to the hotel restaurant for a late dinner. There, at a corner table, sat the amazing leader, hidden behind the tall menu he was perusing. I chose a booth, not too far away so the waitress wouldn’t have to walk too far to serve us. The speaker and I were the only customers in the restaurant at that late hour. In a few moments, I was hiding behind my own menu.

When our food was delivered—his before mine since he got a head start on the menu—the speaker’s order was apparently assembled incorrectly. The vegetable was wrong, promised sauces were missing, and there was no butter for his bread. I knew each of these errors because he screamed them at the poor girl who had brought his plate. I sat stunned as he berated her for someone else’s negligence. I couldn’t believe that the man who had seemed so wise, so kind, and so in touch with today’s young people two hours earlier could abuse one such young person only a stone’s throw from the podium where he was so remarkable. Even as I write this, I realize that I remember his behavior in the restaurant, but can’t recall any of the incredible content of his evening message. I’ve apparently lost the notes I took too.

When the message matches the man (or woman), trust grows. A pastor who cuts corners, takes advantage of others, or seeks things for himself undermines such growth. But one who proves to be real, who acts honestly in every transaction, who treats people up close with his same “pulpit-kindness,” and insists on doing what is right even when that truth proves costly—that’s the pastor that will gain our trust.

If our pastor can be trusted in the little things, we will more quickly trust him with the big things. And, if he turns out to be that other guy, we may never learn to trust him at all.

Now, no pastor is perfect and most people try hard to provide him with a little grace to cover an occasional difficult moment. But the spotlight remains on at all times, even when you think you’re eating alone in a hotel restaurant.



Subject to Change – 7

Last time, we discussed the second way a leader builds trust…through success. Let’s look at another way to bring this critical element of trust into our leadership efforts…

A third means by which trust can be achieved is personal transformation. Here, we have decided to trust our pastor because of the impact his or her ministry has had on our lives. In the work of making disciples, those who shape lives establish a powerful influence on the lives they have shaped. So we say, “Pastor, your efforts have changed us. So now, we trust you to change our church.”

Personal transformation builds the most powerful form of trust possible in a ministry relationship. You can see such impact modeled in the relationships Jesus shared with His disciples. After a few years of almost daily interaction with Jesus’ teaching and miraculous moments, the disciples were ready to be world-changers on His behalf. When His work in their lives was punctuated by His resurrection—a moment that made their own deaths look a lot less threatening—they circled the globe with His message, enduring death threats of their own and standing firm when those threats became reality. He had changed their lives so now they trusted Him completely.

Of course, personal transformation is no overnight achievement. In fact, of the four methods for building trust, this one likely takes the most time. But it’s also why most of us became pastors anyway. We want to make a difference, and the lives of people are where we really hope to make it.

To some degree, personal transformation can seem like a combination of the relationship and success approaches. It begins with a genuine commitment to the existing congregation—to grow them, serve them, and teach them to serve others. As that priority becomes clearer, then the people are strengthened to aid our pursuit of the church’s measures of success. When we feel loved and understood, we will roll up our sleeves with you, and that’s often where we find the life-change we’ve long desired for ourselves.

If you want to grow a church without growing it’s people, you’ll be found out soon enough. Selfish success stories seldom endure in the local church. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine God himself getting on board with such an agenda or allowing one of his local families to suffer one for very long. Congregations are rarely enthused about building a name for their pastor, especially if they get very little from the bargain themselves. I think we can assume God is on their side on that one. Instead, a pastor’s genuine desire to see his people discover life as its meant to be lived keeps the focus where it rightly belongs.

While personal transformation will usually prove to be the most powerful means of building trust, it can also be the most difficult to measure. Pastor’s presence alongside my hospital bed can prove he loves me and there are metrics we can use to identify or church’s successes, but how do I know when personal transformation is occurring? What measuring stick can we use to determine real progress and how can a pastor reach higher on that stick?

The answer is usually told in the stories we’re living.

Pastor, if you’re going to have this kind of impact on our lives, we need to see your passion for the lives we currently have. Regardless of the numbers in the sanctuary, we need to sense your heart for us, and the hope you have for what we can become. Some of us stopped dreaming a while ago and our family members haven’t mentioned our potential in quite some time. When you teach and preach in a way that says you believe in us and want to walk with us into our futures, we know you didn’t come to our church just to reach other people. You want to reach us too.

I love visiting Mt. Rushmore—that chiseled collection of granite presidential heads one can find amidst South Dakota’s Black Hills. As a huge Abe Lincoln fan, I can spend hours at any site where he is in focus. Add Washington, Jefferson, and Teddy Roosevelt, and you have more than tripled the attraction.

Why those four? Actually Gutzon Borglum, the original sculptor at Rushmore, rejected the first list of carving candidates suggested by the guy who dreamed of the monument in the first place. Lewis and Clark, Red Cloud, and Buffalo Bill surely impacted the West, but Borglum insisted on sculpting those who had made their mark on a wider scale. Good call. The four great men he chose had transformed a nation. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt had founded, expanded, and preserved this superpower and stood as symbols of its courage. As such, they are among the most trusted leaders in our nation’s history.

Who would be on Mt. Rushmore if it were your life we were celebrating? For me, the list is easy—my dad, my immigrant grandfather, my first pastor, and his young adult son. I won’t fill the pages it would require to explain how each of these men have transformed my life, but I can think of no one whose head should be carved on my life’s mountain ahead of theirs.

Now, seeing family members on that list shouldn’t be too surprising, but including my pastor and his son seem significant to this context. Actually Pastor Howard held that title in my life for twenty-six years and his ministry has certainly impacted the other thirty-one. He put my growth, and the life advancement of dozens of others ahead of any church growth agenda he might have harbored. His son lived the same way, leading me to my initial faith decision and becoming a valued mentor in my teen years. They, along with my dad and grandfather, shaped my life in ways I can’t fully describe. Rushmore’s reserved for folks like that.

Pastor, we can tell when that’s who you want to be for us. You know our names, remember chunks of our important stories, and help us target a destination for our futures. So you bring the passion and we’ll bring our very lives, and the stories such a merger will write could prove to be the best future our church can find. You may want to change the way we do church, but your greater goal is to change us more into what we really want to be. Frankly, we’ll be glad for you to change both.


Subject to Change – 6

Last time, we discussed the first way a leader builds trust…through relationship. Let’s look at a few more ways to bring this critical element of trust into our leadership efforts…

The second way a leader builds trust is through success. Here, people begin to trust their pastor because he is successfully achieving the church’s goals. When great things are happening, we decide that he must know what he’s doing ‘cause look at the results we’re seeing—Sunday attendance is up, the church’s finances are strong, we’re meeting our missions goals, people are committing their lives to Christ, and whatever else you’re church has chosen as the job we’re trying to get done is actually getting done. People love feeling like winners, and if the pastor is winning, well, he must be doing a good job!

Now, first, we all know that no pastor deserves full credit for the victories a local church might be celebrating. His efforts may be a part of the whole picture, but first applause are rightly aimed at God himself. He’s the one who’s doing the real heavy lifting.

Beyond that truth, we all know that it takes a team. Pastor might be doing all the preaching, but he’s not been doing all the inviting, all the giving, all the serving, all the praying, and all the other stuff we’re currently celebrating. Still, if we stare at him when the church is struggling, it only makes sense to glance his way on the good days too.

It’s hard to argue with success, especially if we haven’t been succeeding for a while. Pastors who step in to lead plateaued or declining churches find resistance often melts away quickly if there’s an influx of new people in the pews or in the altars. Those who argue for the status quo find the argument more difficult if what they oppose actually seems to be working. Of course, there are usually valid reasons for those past struggles so suddenly finding a winning approach isn’t as easy as writing about its possibility might be.

Success in our limited circumstances can cause us to feel like you know what we didn’t, and that’s something most of us will admit to if it means we can have a better day. You see, it’s the promise of that better day that’s not convincing, especially when few of us can remember the last time we lived in such blessing. The reality of such a better day sends an entirely different message.

Now, what “works” is an awkward proposition for a local church’s efforts. We can’t afford the arrogance that puts too much confidence in methods or any other pride-feeder that has us thinking we’ve got this church thing figured out. But new ideas frequently spark new life, and if that life can be sustained and even expanded, well, spread the word! We’ve got a pastor who “knows what he’s doing.”

Trust that stems from success is quite different from the trust that relationship brings. In relationship producing trust, the pastor earns my respect and confidence because I feel connected to him and the mission he lives by. Conversely, in trust that’s created by his perceived success, that sense of sharing in his efforts isn’t always a factor. So, we may trust pastor, but I’m not sure that I do. No, I’m not looking at him suspiciously or harboring negative attitudes that others don’t possess. I’m not being negative at all. It’s just that I may not feel like we’re succeeding together. He knows what he’s doing so let’s listen to him is a great deal different than he’s proven he loves us so let’s help him achieve the goals he believes are right for us.

Success-generated trust is often the necessary path for a pastor in a larger congregation. As we have said, the larger church doesn’t allow for hundreds of relationships to sprout between people and pastor. Instead, these settings require that a pastor prove himself if he’s going to make significant changes, and such proving can only be accomplished through measurable success. That’s why pastors in larger churches may attempt change more quickly. They need to show the validity of their ideas and direction to gain people’s confidence. But, even in the large church, moving too quickly, before we feel like we know this leader, can prove catastrophic. For now, let’s just say that the faster you try to implement change, the more critical it becomes to make the right moves.

Change initiatives at church will always be evaluated against some measure of success. In Old Testament times, prophets had to be on target every time if the people were to conclude that God was the Voice behind their messages. Pastors don’t have to meet such a perfect standard. Their ideas don’t have to succeed every time, but perceived failure today will affect how much we trust your next idea tomorrow. Add in a history of failure from someone else’s previous efforts, and you have a congregation that may keep you from trying new steps, regardless of the success your convinced that they could bring.

While success can bring trust, there are some pitfalls. First, not everyone uses the same scorecard. More people attending services may cause some to rejoice, but others might see the larger crowd as intimidating or stealing from the attention they crave for themselves. More people signing up for the worship team seems like a good thing, but those already on the team may not rejoice that they’re now needed a little less often.

When people want to resist change, they may deny any suggestion of success, ignoring good signs while magnifying less critical areas of continue struggle. So, you may hear “Sure, Sunday attendance is up this month, but that won’t last long. Besides, there’s been no growth in our midweek service, so these new people aren’t really the committed kind.”

To tackle the scorecard issue, you need to establish one. If people get to choose their own idea of success, those who resist change will focus on areas that make any new efforts seem unsuccessful. But don’t play the game the other way and simply highlight areas that make your ideas look good. There’s more to a church’s forward movement than nickels and noses, as important as such measures might be. Let your vision for change define your scorecard in the healthiest way possible and then you can start celebrating he right wins.

The second challenge with trust that’s achieved through success is what can happen to that trust when the success slows down. Momentum can be a wonderful thing, but once it slows, getting progress started again can be difficult. If we used success to convince people that pastor knows what he’s doing, then a lack of success can send the opposite message.

For this reason, a success path to trust can be exhausting for the leader. When next week must top this week in order to maintain congregational confidence, unhealthy expectations will form. Congregational life has some natural ups and downs. If too much confidence depends on our weekly successes, the challenge of continually increasing victories will soon become unrealistic.

Subject to Change – 5

A leader builds trust in one of four ways—relationship, success, unblemished integrity, or personal transformation. Let’s consider each of these, discover how they build a foundation for change, and identify how much change each will allow a pastor to achieve before the ice beneath his feet begins to crack.

First, trust is built through relationship.

This used to be the pastor’s wheelhouse. A new pastor would join his congregation, knowing that the best first step would be to engage the people, get to know them and the extending branches of their families, and understand their worlds from an up-close perspective.  Pastors once launched their ministries with plans for people rather than plans for change, believing they needed to walk in the former pastor’s shoes for a while before being certain of any new steps to take.

Sunday sermons and Sunday dinners, wedding rehearsals and their subsequent receptions, graduation parties, hospital visits, kids’ ballgames, family funerals—these, and other moments like them, prove to be the construction sites where a pastor’s relationships are built. Pastor’s influence in our lives is established by his presence in our lives. Experienced pastors understand that their preaching is a job requirement, but they really become “pastor” by their presence in the midst of life’s major moments, especially its crises. Preach a great series on the Beatitudes and folks will appreciate you, but sit in the Intensive Care Unit and hold their hand as doctors remove dad’s ventilator and your role in their family changes forever.

And, as that influence grows, trust grows as well. Through relationship, pastor has proven that he’s one of us. We’ve come to know him as he has prioritized knowing us. So we attach ourselves and our family’s spiritual futures to our pastor because we know him, we like him, and we trust him. Will we, then, let him direct changes in our church? Yes, at least to a point—the point that our relationship can withstand.

You see, when pastor has established healthy relationships with us, we come to believe that he understands us and our needs more fully. He does. So we are willing to trust his heart for us because he has proven that heart in our cemeteries and hospital wings. He’s laughed at our jokes and eaten blueberry pie in our dining rooms, so he has proven his commitment to us and we like him. Change? Go ahead, pastor, we trust you…to a point.

When your influence or leadership is built on relationship, we let you lead because we like you. But change too much or go too fast and we start liking you less. “You may have done an amazing job with grandma’s memorial service, but decide to discontinue my Sunday school class, and we’re back to square one!”

This “zeroing out” of the love bank often catches pastor by surprise and inflicts some of his deepest hurts. He’s caught off-guard when the family that he’s held together by the bailing wire of his late-night counseling efforts suddenly decides to leave the church.  He doesn’t understand how his long-time friend and fishing buddy withdraws his membership over last Sunday’s song selection or why the babies he’s held and slipped candy to for a generation now want the Associate Pastor to replace him.

Yes, at times we the people can be a bit fickle. We may sometimes allow our mole hills to become mountains you can’t climb, but there’s something we need you to understand. In a journey of change, relationship is essential, but it will only take you so far. If we let you lead because we like you and the changes you’re making lead us not to like you anymore, well, you can see that your recent withdrawals from our love bank have overdrawn your account. So we close it.

Funny thing about relationships, though, they won’t let you make a lot of change, but we won’t let you make any change without them. Making changes at church without first building relationships is like trying to cash a check when you’ve never made a deposit. If you do that, the bank teller’s going to frown at you, and shake her head until those horn-rimmed glasses fall from her ears.

Now, there are two modern realities that work against a pastor’s priority of making relationships. The first of these is the increasing size of today’s churches. A half-century ago, a pastor would typically arrive on scene and be welcomed by eighty to a hundred people, ready to launch life’s journey together. Today, that average has almost doubled and there are many places where the assembled well-wishers could fill the local high school’s gymnasium…twice. To build relationships with hundreds would be overwhelming. Keeping this size of a crowd happy requires a politician, not a pastor.

In the larger church, people soon figure out that close relationship with the pastor isn’t realistic. So we don’t expect him to officiate the kids’ wedding or show up at the clinic to pray before each colonoscopy. Instead, we like our pastor because he seems likeable—from a distance. We know him (or think we do) because of what he shows us in the pulpit. He’s kind because he seems kind. He’s smart because he sounds smart. He cares about us—you can tell that by the way he crafts each week’s benediction—but we really don’t know him. We may, however, know some people who know him, and they say good things.

In many larger churches, relationship isn’t a realistic means for building trust. Those pastors will have to look to one of the other two options we’ll consider in a moment.

The second reality is our principal subject in this chapter—time. Building relationships takes time, there really are no shortcuts. It’s this requirement that has many pastors growing impatient. They’re attending conferences where the latest idea looks like the perfect solution to an aspect of congregational weakness, and waiting a few months or even years to try it out doesn’t seem appealing.

When I first became pastor of our congregation in Wichita, a fellow pastor told me that I wouldn’t really be the pastor for the first five years I held the title. That’s about how long it takes to build the needed relationships to lead. He ruined my evening—several of them, in fact. I decided right there not to like that fellow pastor, and it had nothing to do with the fact that his congregation was six times larger than mine!

But he was right.

Relationship building is time consuming work. And pastors, especially those leading congregations of 400 or less, have no choice but to make that investment. You simply cannot lead change until you have proven your love and care for the people, and that requires you to live some life with them before launching us all forward onto new avenues.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve some change until you’ve entered year number six. Change can be achieved more rapidly if you can work effectively with those in the church who currently possess the influence you haven’t had time to build. Often, those sitting around the deacon table or others among your leadership team have put in the time and proven their care for the congregation. If you can respect and value these friends, and learn to trust their sense of judgment and timing, you can make some earlier progress on the future—steps you could never successfully take on our own.

Still, even with the help of these friends, you need to be prepared to spend some time before we’ll trust you enough to let you determine our direction. Sheep follow their shepherd’s voice, and it takes a little while for that voice to become familiar—time spent bringing us to green grass and extricating us from life’s thorn bushes. We want you to lead us, but we need to be sure that you really know us before we can be sure that you know what is best.

Subject to Change – 4

Few things in life actually move at the speed we want them to.

Most of us would speed up traffic, unless you’re that little old man in the farm truck that’s raising his bony fist at any who are crazy enough to drive more than 45 miles per hour. Generally, we would like for meetings to move faster through their agendas, and some of us would like our spouses to do their hair more quickly when we’re headed out to dinner, though we have only verbalized such thoughts once.

But we don’t live every moment with both feet on the accelerator. Some moments find us wishing life came with brakes. So we stand at the bus stop on our child’s first day of kindergarten, heartbroken that we’ve arrived at this occasion so soon. We plead with the math teacher to “slow down” when our algebraic questions are multiplying faster than our undivided attention can manage. And most of us have tried to slow the clock on our last day at the lake, last goodbye at the airport, or just about any other “last” that we’d like more of.

Truth be told, few of us are pleased with the way time ticks on its predetermined cruise control. So we live each day begging our children to slow down and our parents to hurry up. We even find ourselves wanting to mess with God’s speed. Every one of us at church has asked Him to move more quickly when unanswered prayers are on the line, or blessings feel long overdue.

But pastor, we need you to move more slowly. When the issue is change and the victim is church, the people generally need their pastor to hear them when they say give us time to trust you.

Time is an endangered resource. Though we get the same amount of it every day, we never have enough of it. Once, my wife and some women from our church were chatting with a kindly, old gentleman as they walked along the coast of the Irish Sea. They were taking a break from the construction work of our missions trip—something I didn’t think there was time for, but there really wasn’t a good time to bring that up. Anyway, after an hour of chatting about the history of the quaint little village nearby, the beautiful flora and fauna of the overlooking hillside, and the possible identity of a distant boat, our ladies thanked the Irishman for taking the time to teach them so much about his homeland.

He replied, “O dearies, when God made time, He made plenty of it.” That sounded so profound, and we subsequently found that phrase to be adorning many of the plaques, mugs, and key chains one finds in Ireland’s souvenir shops. It also explains why the Irish never achieved world domination. Everyone knows there’s never enough time.

That’s why a newly minted pastor wants to get moving on his plans to fine tune or completely rewire his church’s ministry. He can see what they’ve been overlooking. He wants to prove his capacity to lead them toward greater effectiveness, and some of the needed steps seem quite obvious to him—rearrange the order of service, rip out some aging carpet, discontinue a few poorly attended programs, launch a couple new ideas…

Slow down!

One of the lessons pastors tend to learn the hard way is that there’s a definite gap between being the leader and earning the right to lead. The former can come as easily as being handed the ministry appointment and printing a box of business cards. There it is, in black and white, my name next to the church logo with the “p” word alongside for all to see! But if you think that those business cards somehow give you the right to start using that carpet knife, well, you’re probably going to cut off a few of your ministry fingers—and most of us have.

Earning the right to lead requires trust—a commodity that will be meted out slowly, at a pace that’s affected not only by your actions, but often by the behavior of the others who previously sat in your chair. In a healthy church that’s enjoyed a relatively bumpless ride on the ministry roller coaster, the road to building trust can be clearly marked, but among those who’ve been jolted or even flown off the rails a few times, trust is often handed out with an eye-dropper.

Tune in next time as we discuss the four ways a leader builds this necessary trust… 

Metrics That Matter – Part 1

NOTE TO MY REGULAR READERS: This week I am with Kansas Assemblies of God pastors, explaining these church health metrics. These five blogs are posted together for their benefit.

Numbers are a somewhat controversial topic when it comes to the local church. Some chase them, believing the size of the crowd will speak volumes about their own effectiveness. Others simply insist that Jesus wants to reach everyone, so everyone is the goal. Still others focus their energies on smaller gatherings, searching for an intimacy the crowd can seldom achieve. Church isn’t a numbers game, and yet it really is.

Okay, now that’s a confusing paragraph. But the life of the local church can’t be summed up in an attendance board or income statement. The so-called “nickels and noses” measures seem to be commonly used to evaluate churches, while we simultaneously insist there’s more to it than that. We want to insist that a healthy church is a growing church, and yet there are enough examples of unhealthy growth to give us caution. So how do you really measure effective local churches?

Like the annual trip to the doctor’s office for a physical, a real health evaluation is going to be comprised of multiple measures. You just can’t say you’re healthy if your weight is in line with your height. You don’t get a good health diagnosis for blood pressure either. There’s cholesterol to count and a heart rate to measure. And truth is, all these could be at perfect levels only to discover a cancerous tumor growing within. In truth, health measurement requires a number of inter-related measures.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at some of these. Taken together, they can provide a better picture of health than the simple chart of last week’s attendance.

  1. The AC ratio.

The AC ratio actually takes that attendance number (annual weekly average) and sets it over the number of conversions occurring each year. So if your church averaged 100 in attendance last year, and you saw 10 people choose to follow Christ in that same year, the math is fairly simple–Avg. Attendance / Conversions or 100/10, which equals 10.

What the AC ratio means is that for every ten people attending your church, one person became a Christian. Another way to say it would be, “it takes ten of us to lead someone to Christ in a year.” Now, we understand that ten of us didn’t actually target the same person over a twelve-month period, but you get the idea.

In church health circles, we can call the AC Ratio a measure of missional effectiveness. Since the mission Jesus passed to us is to make disciples, this metric gives us some insight into how we’re doing with that. So…how are you doing with that?

In the Assemblies of God in 2014, the AC Ratio across the United States among all 12,849 churches was 4.2. So, across our Fellowship, it took four of us to lead someone to Jesus. Back in 1980, the national AC Ratio was 5.5, so you can see that we’ve been more effective with this first part of our Great Commission assignment in recent years. However, this ratio may show us something about church size too. In 2014, churches under 200 it takes about six of us to produce a convert each year, while the average for churches over 400 in attendance hovers around three of us.

Now there are a number of factors to consider if we’re going to determine a “healthy” rate, but given the increasing U.S. population and the likely number of unchurched folks in your community, surely an AC of at least 5.0 should be achievable in most places–if we’re really trying to reach people.

It’s just one measure, but it’s an important one. There are, however, several others to consider if we’re going to get the full health diagnosis, so go ahead and calculate your AC Ratio, but stay tuned…