This blog began in 2006 as a place to discuss answers for better church health. The primary focus is leadership and established churches. My goal is to give church leaders practical insights from research and leadership theories in a way that relates to the everyday church most people attend.
“Some churches just need to die.” I’ve heard some variation of this quote several times. It’s false. Certain congregations may indeed die but not because they need to die. If God can save any person, then He can save any church. I believe any church, no matter how far gone, has the potential to be saved.
Many established churches are in need of revitalization. There are degrees of revitalization, of course. In some cases, revitalization is needed in parts of the church while other areas remain healthy. Other churches could use a complete overhaul.
Regardless of the amount of work required, whether it’s one ministry area or the entire congregation, there are three must-haves of every church revitalization. These three must-haves apply to churches of any size or denominational background. Most churches will require more work beyond these three items, but the vast majority of revitalizations will include them.
Proper expectations. Congregants must have a realistic view of the future. The glory days may not return, at least in the way people remember them. Poor attitudes often arise when unrealistic expectations are present. One of the main responsibilities of those leading the revitalization effort is to align the expectations of the church with a realistic objective for the next five years
Outward focus. A stationary church is a disobedient church. No church can be revitalized without reclaiming an outward focus. An inward focus almost always produces disunity. An outward focus always produces unity. All successful church revitalizations involve an intentional, ongoing effort to reach and minister to those beyond the physical walls of the facility. In almost every case, the outward focus begins with the lead pastor. Evangelistic churches have evangelistic pastors.
Relational skills. Church revitalization often fails because the pastor has poor relational skills. The converse is true as well. Successful revitalization is often led by a church leader with good relational skills. Poor relational skills are driven by either an unwillingness to be held accountable or a lack of self-awareness, or both. A pastor lacking in relational skills will not foster the culture necessary for revitalization.
There are three must-haves of every church revitalization: proper expectations, outward focus, and relational skills. Without them, revitalization efforts will likely fizzle.
For far too long, we’ve been wrong. We were wrong about slavery. We were wrong about Civil Rights. Now many of us are wrong about the #MeToo movement. The Southern Baptist Convention has been wrong about horrifying sins. Obvious sins. Massive sins affecting generations. Right now, we’re a dumpster fire, and we keep fueling it with shovels of manure. We’re full of it, and the world is watching. That’s not hyperbole.
We need repentance, not excuses. God’s wrath is upon us. Our God is a consuming fire. Excuses will work like tiny strands of straw standing against a raging wildfire. There should be no sermon at this year’s annual convention. Leave the pulpit vacant. Let the room be silent and call the messengers to prostrate themselves in repentance.
We need humility, not charisma. Our convention has wrongly elevated charisma over humility. The bold leaders with pithy lines tend to get the most attention. It’s time we submit to humility instead of charisma.
There are thousands of no-name pastors out there faithfully serving the bride of Christ. They get no attention—no book deals, no blog views, no Twitter followers, no positions of power. We need more pedestrian pastors like my wife’s grandfather. He toiled in obscurity among the rolling fields of Kentucky farms, shepherding in poverty without any glory or recognition. He preached the gospel until he died, then was forgotten. Give us more like him.
We need to care about character as much as we do about doctrine. We fought battles over doctrine, and the spoils of war went to power barons who lacked integrity. The conservative resurgence has not even brought about an increase in baptisms, much less revival. Instead, we are now flooded with the moral failures of former foot soldiers.
God is purging us. We need a new era—one defined by character as much as doctrine. Before you label me with assumptions, let me say I’m neither a liberal nor part of any Calvinist conspiracy. I led our church to rework our doctrinal statement to include the word inerrancy and make it a requirement for membership. And I’m a happy three-pointer who can make friends with just about anyone along the sliding scale of Reformed theology.
For the last forty years, we’ve worshiped doctrinal heroes and did not ask enough questions about their character. We assumed they were right in the heart since they were right in the head. Some of them were neither. Now we’re reaping what we’ve sown. It’s time to care as much about character as we do doctrine.
We need new earthly heroes. We have our heavenly Hero. Jesus is turning our tables of power right now. He’s driving out some of us with a whip of cords. The supreme place is for Jesus, and He will take it one way or the other. But we also need some new earthly heroes. How about the courageous women who have come forward to share their stories of abuse? How about the people of color who have stuck with us despite our gross legacy of slavery and racism? They are the true heroes of the SBC.
The prophet Hosea called for repentance. In order to return to God, the people had to be torn to heal.
We should be appalled. Horrified. Sick. No more “break her down.” We need God to break us down.
Sermon illustrations can be helpful, but many preachers feel inadequate in the area of selecting and delivering them. Sam, Micah, and Josh share a few of the best resources for finding sermon illustrations, as well as some “do nots” on the topic.
Not all my readers are Baptists. For those of you who do not hold to my convictions, I’m not trying to stir the theological pot. For those of you who practice immersion, however, I want to provide some practical tips. I believe the few minutes just before a baptism should be intentional and strategic.
First, I’m assuming a careful process leading up to the baptism. It should be taught. The person being baptized should talk with a trusted church leader or pastor. This person should have an understanding of what is about to take place. But what should happen right before you baptize? What do you say to people in the minutes leading up to the moment?
Pray with them. Always begin with prayer. You should seek God right before baptism! I also use this time to tell them it’s ok to be nervous. The desire for obedience always pushes through the nerves. Prayer helps them stay courageous.
Explain the mechanics. I show them where I will place my hands—one on each shoulder. They place one hand on my arm for grip and use the other hand to hold their noses. I don’t grab their noses. They get to keep their own boogers. We go through one practice round, and I explain what I will say. Our team shows them the entrance and exit area. A photographer takes pictures with the families.
Celebrate. We share high-fives. We cheer. Sometimes people jump up and down with nerves. The kids tend to dance. Let the Holy Spirit celebration flow.
Teach. One last time, I describe to them exactly what is happening. Just as importantly, I tell them it is now their responsibility to make disciples. Someone shared with you; now you must do the same.
Pause. Stop and soak in the moment. The baptism process happens quickly. I encourage them to mentally, spiritually, and emotionally mark the moment. I usually say, “Stop and think about this right now. Try and remember the details. It will be over soon. But now is the time to intentionally remember.”
The time right before a baptism is a powerful moment. Be strategic and intentional with the opportunity.
If you’re a ministry leader, you likely get the request often. It’s an understandable—and often legitimate—request. Most church leaders field a lot of requests from ministries wanting to be mission partners. I can’t blame them. If you believe in your ministry, then you should want as many mission partners as possible. Churches are often the first place people seek help, and I understand the desire to raise a lot of support.
The Internet age makes it much easier for independent missions, movements, and ministries to raise funding, as well as gain access to the decision-makers in churches. Independent works are on the rise. Expect these types of requests to continue and to increase in number.
How do you begin to select a mission partner with so many out there? What do you say when you’re inundated with requests? I’ve created a six-part checklist to help our church begin the decision process.
We start by answering three questions.
Can we put boots on the ground? Unless we can actually send our people to the field, then we are reluctant to form a partnership.
Can we form a long-term partnership? While a one-time, one-week trip may be legitimate, we prefer to form partnerships that last years, if not generations.
Can we fund them? We want to send our people and our money. We desire to be invested both ways.
If we can answer each of these questions affirmatively, we then ask for three items from the potential mission partner if we want to continue the process. These items are requirements. If a potential mission partner cannot provide these items, we will not form a partnership.
Doctrine. The first requirement (and in my view the most important), is a formal doctrinal statement. If a group cannot tell you what they believe, then you have no business partnering with them. Some churches may want narrow doctrinal parameters. Our church has broader doctrinal parameters (we partner with people outside of our denomination). However, I must know what you believe before I ask my church to send people, money, and time to support your work.
Vision. The second requirement is a vision statement or some written document that details the future work of the ministry. If a group cannot tell you where they are going, then you shouldn’t get on board.
Financial Viability. The third requirement is financial statements. Understandably, some organizations are small. But they should still show you something that reveals their financial viability. If a large organization is not willing to send you basic financial statements (at least an income statement), then they are hiding something. Don’t partner with them.
In my experience, the best mission partners are eager to share these three requirements. Why? What they believe drives their mission. Their vision is big and excites them. And they have nothing to hide financially.
While this six-part checklist is not comprehensive, it’s a way to filter the vast majority of requests that come your way, and you can eliminate most requests without sounding harsh with a quick “no.” It will also help highlight those ministries that are the best fit for your congregation.
Sundays require stamina. We have four worship services—one in Spanish and three in English. I preach the three English-speaking services: 8:00 a.m., 9:30 a.m., and 11:00 a.m. I have to train my body and mind to keep the energy up throughout the morning. Often, I have at least one, if not two other speaking responsibilities following the three morning services.
It may seem strange, but I have to be strategic with the time between each of the services. People approach me in rapid-fire succession. There are emergency times of prayer, evangelism opportunities, quick counseling sessions, and, oh by the way, the gym commode is overflowing. Where’s the plunger? I love every minute of it, even the plunging.
How do I manage the time between services? How do I make these twenty minutes strategic?
MBWA. Or “management by walking around.” The term was coined by management expert Tom Peters. Studies show successful managers learn about employees through informal means of communication. It’s the same for pastors. You will have some of your best conversations by simply walking around the campus when everyone is there. I walk the halls every Sunday. And I learn something valuable every time.
Greet. Until you get down off the platform and shake hands with people, you’ll be the one “up there.” Shepherding from the stage is important but inadequate on its own. The best shepherds are among the people and with the people. Pastors should be the chief greeters of their churches on Sundays. It may seem like a small thing, but your church needs to know you’re accessible. Most will never approach you if they’ve only seen you from the stage. Sundays are your opportunity to meet a large group of people in a short amount of time.
Pray. Rare is the Sunday I don’t pray with someone between services. The message is fresh in minds. Worship has softened hearts. It’s a great time to show someone how to seek God in prayer.
Recharge. A big Sunday breakfast is not an option for me because burping in an over-the-ear mic is not the best preaching technique. I eat two granola bars. It’s just enough without giving me gas. Without a lot of fuel, I’ve had to figure out other ways to keep the blood sugar stable. For whatever reason, three or four jelly beans between each service work for me. I sit for five minutes and snack. My preference is licorice.
There are two things I don’t do between services: Hide and check my phone. It’s weird when the shepherd hides from the sheep. Additionally, I put my phone in my desk and leave it there. I don’t want to be the pastor with his head constantly down.
The time between services is strategic. Be a good steward of this time.
I’m preaching a series through the first half of the book of Acts called “Launch.” This sermon covers Acts 4:1-37. Being a good person is not the same as being a bold believer. Bold believers stand where they are saved. Bold believers seize the opportunity to share God’s love with others.
I’m joining my podcast co-hosts, Fries and King, in Dallas for a one-day event. If you are an established church pastor, then this event is for you! Come hang out with others who are as passionate as we are about the established church.
Click here to learn more about the first Est.Church Conference.
Leading the established church requires a different kind of approach. Have you tried to initiate change but keep getting stuck? Learn from others here!
We want your whole team at this event. Attendees can purchase a single ticket, four tickets in a pack, or six tickets in a pack. Bring your entire leadership team and staff and learn how to usher in change for the future while still bringing honor to the past.
The keynote speaker is Dr. Thom Rainer. The day will feature three large group sessions, two in-depth break-out sessions, and a Texas-sized on-site lunch.