People often say, “If you love someone you should just be honest with them.” While there is truth there, it is a tricky thing because speaking truth can be perceived as an unloving act. In other words, there is a right and a wrong way to speak truth.
It isn’t a new challenge. Paul exhorted the believers in Ephesus (4:15), “Speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ.”
So while there is never a right way to say the wrong thing, there is a wrong way to say the right thing.
That truth could transform you ministry.
A couple years ago, I was speaking to some bishops about the challenge of speaking the truth to some ineffective pastors. As I thought about it, some of what I shared there applies to pastors and how they relate to the leaders of their churches as well. So, I decided to turn the brief talk into a short article.
Saying Hard Things is Hard
As leaders of leaders, in a church or in any organization, you sometimes have to say things that are true and hard, but it is important to do it in a loving way.
All Christians should be loving, so leaders of leaders should also be loving. But they need to provide loving leadership that is honest leadership, and that’s tough.
Culture Affects Communication
There are various factors involved in how you communicate loving, honest truths as a leader. Sometimes where you are will influence how you deal with your people.
Different regions communicate with varied nuance. Some areas generally value directness over courtesy; in other areas, a higher value is placed on courtesy. Both matter, or course, but in different levels in different cultures and contexts.
But in churches and denominations, courtesy tends to be the driving force because “we’ve got to all be in this together.” So honesty can easily end up getting put to the side.
Sometimes, not being honest to leaders make us feel better, but it doesn’t make us better.
Protocol Affects Communication
The authority of leaders varies by church and denomination as well. Some pastors or denominational leaders are just seen as “in charge.” In some cultures, they can bring down the hammer without worrying about courtesy. Others seemingly carry more of a Nerf hammer and don’t get much done.
Regardless of how much authority you have, understand that truth expressed in love with a pathway to deal with the reality is powerful. But, know that how people perceive your role (boss, friend, colleague, bishop, etc.), impacts how you communicate the hard truths with them.
You can always do it in love, but if they don’t think they have to listen, that impacts the conversation. It is much more effective for leaders to give people reasons to follow them than to try to convince people they’re worth following, and that can be done through love.
Communication Affects Relationships
There are probably pastors in your district, or people in your church leadership, about whom you think, “You are not doing what you need to do.”
But you’ve never told them, and you need to. That’s your job. That’s one of the reasons why God has placed you in leadership with them.
Yes, it is difficult to get people on the same page when you have to dance around this church culture, regional cultural differences, and relational challenges. But that’s what God has called you to do.
You can just say to a someone, “You know what? You’re just not cutting it.”
In that scenario, you’re just being a jerk.
But if you say, “You know, we’ve been at this for four years. Can we consider that maybe the current path of action isn’t working? I’ve been thinking and praying about something we could do together on a new path of action. Let me lay out some ideas for you.” Or “Why don’t we read this, why don’t we listen to this resource, or why don’t we connect with this person?”
You can see the difference, can’t you? Your love is being expressed in honesty, and your honesty is being expressed in love. It is very important for both to happen in a relationship in such organizations.
Communicating Well Will Change the Future
For organizations who value courtesy at a higher level, when you get to that place and you look them eye to eye, you’re not just talking about them… but you’re talking to them, and you have the opportunity to say, “We can do this together.”
Now sometimes part of what the “together” you’re going to do is to find something else for them.
In my experience, most of the time people say, “You know what? I know I can’t do this. And no one’s been honest enough with me to tell me. I need to do something else.”
Then, you can help them because you love them.
The most loving thing you can do with some church leaders is to help them find a role. If you are in a denomination where you have authority and responsibility, sometimes the most loving thing you can do is help a pastor help find them a new vocational direction.
That’s hard. But it doesn’t serve anyone to have people who are either unprepared or unwilling or unable to continue to press forward.
That would be a hard conversation for many—I’m a New Yorker so I tend to value directness over courtesy. As a result, when I have these conversations, I have to really focus on courtesy and emphasize the genuine love.
Remember, what matters in communications is not what you think you said, it’s what was heard.
I have found that one of the most important parts of my ministry is helping people who are in the wrong place find the right place, and that requires honesty in a loving way.
Avoiding the Pendulum
So we are talking about a pendulum, right? Sometimes it is all love and no honesty. Other times it is all honesty and no love.
Loving honesty is helping people find that right place and where they fit best. As a result, the ministry is advanced.
Sometimes churches die, and sometimes they should.
As shocking as this may be, the death of a church might be the best thing that could happen for the sake of the gospel within a given community.
Churches are not meant to be mere holding tanks for folks who remember “the good old days,” and if they cannot or will not fulfill their purpose, they don’t need to exist.
Don’t misread me here. Not every struggling church needs to die. Some churches go through rough spots and come out stronger on the other side.
Many that appear to be in their winter years can be revitalized and become effective again through leadership changes or, more likely, through a powerful move of God that stirs their affections and motivates them to love and good deeds. Revitalization happens and should happen more.
Many struggling churches in their twilight years, however, face issues that may have a chokehold on them spiritually, financially, and/or relationally. In these cases, it may be best to, as graciously as possible, close the doors.
Many churches just need to close. And for many that feels like a failure.
What if Death and Replanting are Connected?
But what if, instead of merely closing the doors and walking away, there was another way? What if there could be a changing of the guard? What if, in the fertile composting soil of the dead church, a new, healthier church could be birthed to pick up the mantle of gospel work the first had begun?
Replanting is a healthy approach to dealing with a dying congregation, and it should be considered as churches find themselves facing death. I’ve written on replanting before here, but today I’d like to quickly discuss what healthy replanting might look like, since it’s becoming a more common practice.
Keep in mind that much of what follows will need to be worked out well in advance before a replant actually happens. Replanting does not happen overnight—at least healthy replanting doesn’t.
Don’t try to force it, but do consider pursuing it.
Here are some short ideas.
First, Create a New Identity.
A new church will need a new identity so the community will know it’s a new church. You see, they’ve already decided the old church was not for them. They may decide the same thing about the new church. However, a new identity is a new opportunity for engagement.
Also, those who come to the replanted church also need to know that they are part of something new.
If you’ll allow me to get a little biblical: You can’t put new wine in an old wineskin.
There must be definitive and purposeful separation between the old and the new. As a general rule, I would say that anything having to do with the former congregation—except the building—needs to be begin anew, even if only for a time.
The new church will be moving in a different direction, doing different things, and hopefully, seeing different results. Continuing with the same name, though it could have some historical significance in the area, will add baggage to an already difficult proposition. Developing a new identity starts with a new name. And a new pastor coming into the area who will have a vision for reaching the community. (If there is no new vision, what’s the point of closing anyway?)
Leaving Behind Some of the Old
There are reasons the old church died, and they will be associated with the name.
To use a common example, if a restaurant has a bad reputation and closes down, it is renamed before it reopens. They often put up a new sign saying they are, indeed, a new place.
Make a point to the community by saying, “This church is under new management.” A new name will communicate that the new church is different than the old.
Building a New Team
The church’s new leadership will also need to communicate and build a core team that resonates with the new mission and vision for the church. That may, at times, mean asking that people who were left over from the former church not be a part of the core team for the new church.
That may seem harsh, so let me put it this way: the team that closed the church is not going to be the team that rebirths it. People from the old congregation may want to be a part of the new, and they will think they are not part of the old wineskin, but they often are.
There may be a time down the road when there can be a healthy re-entry of people from the old congregation into the new, but the core team must share the mission and vision that give the new church its identity.
A new name on a new sign in front of the building changes nothing if all the same people are doing all the same things inside.
(I should add a brief note that multisite changes some things—a new group comes in with the new campus and their numbers, often larger than those who might have stayed from the old church, and that can change the culture while the former church members remain.)
Working a Timetable
The transition from the death of one church to the birth of the next should be well planned, and again, it should not (and cannot) happen overnight.
For example, I’d suggest that the replant should not happen immediately after the closure of the old church.
Let it lay fallow for a while. Take down the sign so it’s clear. And then, after a time, put up a new sign with the new name. From there, treat it like a church plant that just happens to have some resources (the building and whatever other resources were gifted by the old church).
For most replants, I would say a six-month window between the closure of the old and the public opening of the new would be healthy. If there is already a core group in place (if an existing church is sending a core group or an existing church plant is taking over the space), three months may be sufficient.
During that time, the leadership team should be built, made up of people who are committed to and passionate about starting a church to reach the community.For about three months, home Bible studies can start up in order to build and solidify the core group. Then, for the next three months, public preview services may begin to take place each month in order to introduce the new church to the community.
This down time is also the perfect opportunity to introduce yourself to your new neighbors. Send mailers and make phone calls. Let people know what is coming.
Avoid calling back people who have left the old church—at least at first. Remember, you are starting with a new identity, and those folks, especially, need to buy into it. To ensure that sort of buy in, require membership classes for everyone, so the new identity and new DNA is part and parcel of being part of the new church.
Replanting might be the right option for dying churches, but the key, and maybe the most difficult part in the whole process, is separating the new from the old.
That’s certainly not the only issue. I plan to write more on the other issues, but for now, consider that replanting really means that some churches should die and remain dead—and a new church, not a reboot of the old, should be started in its place.
Church revitalization is a very real and important topic to many today because statistics indicate that the majority of churches are plateaued or declining. So, since the majority of churches are not growing, if you’re a church leader, pastor, or Christian leader reading this you’re probably in a church that needs revitalization.
Nine out of ten churches in North America are declining, or they are growing slower than the community in which they are located. Nine out of ten churches need revitalization.
Because of the large number of struggling churches, many people think we should focus on church planting. Others think we should look for new ways to fulfill the mission, such as in missional incarnational communities.
Both of these expressions are good and vital. But there are many churches that are simply in need of revitalization. I am a big proponent of revitalization. I have been involved in such projects as a pastor, and have researched and written about the process as well.
Why outward focus?
Various factors contribute to a transformational church. You can find some of those in the book Transformational Church. One of the things you will find in churches that are growing disciples and growing numerically is an emphasis on outward focus. It is so integral that outward focus should be a part of revitalizing a church.
When a congregation is engaging in ministry and mission it causes people to live not for themselves, but, to quote 2 Corinthians 5:15b (CSB), “for the One who died for them and was raised,” they become again who God designed them to be. When a group of such people are gathered as God’s “called out” ones, they can revitalize a church.
One of the reasons churches are stuck and stagnant is because they have for years pandered to the consumerist mentality of Christians. Then we’re shocked and surprised when people act like customers rather than co-laborers.
If a church is to experience revitalization, the people must begin to think less about themselves and more about God.
A pastor in a plateaued or dying church may ask, “How can a renewed outward focus be a key part of a church revitalization?” or, “How can we turn our church outward?”
One consideration is the issue of gospel proclamation and gospel demonstration. I want us to see gospel proclamation as telling people that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and men and women can trust and follow Him by grace through faith. But I want us also to see gospel demonstration where people live out the implications of the gospel in their community.
Proclamation and demonstration, or message and ministry, are inseparable.
The proclamation and demonstration of the gospel message are two sides of the same coin. If you want to revitalize a church, gospel revitalization will be central to that.
Revitalized churches live the gospel in both word and deed. I have led churches through this process. If a church is to experience revitalization, the people must begin to think less about themselves and more about God, His glory, and His mission.
When people are focusing on that objective, and when they’re serving and ministering to others who are hurting and in need, we’ve learned they’ve got more time for ministry and less time to engage in drama.
Outward focus can solve inner problems
Confucius said: “He who rows the boat has no time to rock the boat.”
(Confucius didn’t say that, but somebody did and it’s true!)
An outward focus can avert church conflict. Instead of having a room full of customers demanding church their way, the music their way, the pastor their way, you have a room full of co-laborers who are receiving training to live out the mission of God.
When churches are living with this outward focus, they’re telling the good news of Jesus Christ. But they’re also engaging people in ministry and mission within the church and mission outside the church. Both of these things are taking place: engaging ministry inside and outside. There’s gospel proclamation and gospel demonstration.
Telling the message is part of living the message
One of the things that we found in research is that people in healthy churches don’t just proclaim the gospel because they are told they should. Rather, it is a natural part of the life of the church.
Evangelism in transformational churches is not viewed as an activity done by a few while everybody else watches. A church needing revitalization needs to understand that evangelism is not a spectator sport.
Christians love evangelism as long as somebody else is doing the work. But in transformational churches, those that were experiencing this revitalization and focus have owned the sharing of the gospel. And the church has often made a conscious decision that their existence is seeing people reconciled to God through Christ. So we see this focus and these practices along the way.
Sharing the Gospel defines us
We have increasingly seen in churches that are growing through conversion, that they were active, even aggressive, about servicing and engaging in their community. That activity was part of their DNA. Church membership even felt the ministry impact.
Transformational churches have a different perspective on church membership. More than signing a card and joining a church, membership in a healthy church often equals a commitment to serve both the church and the community.
Christ followers should be part of a community called church that is facing outward. This outward focus moves into the community with a certain passion for “sentness.”
Most readers of the Mission Group blog have a leadership position of some kind, either as a senior leader or as a lay leader. And those under you likely have leadership responsibilities; and if they don’t yet, they may in the future.
Over the years, I have found that it is both a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to be a leader of leaders. It is a gift to be given the chance to influence a generation of leaders who will come up behind us and do great things for the kingdom.
But one of the responsibilities associated with this calling is to manage our own influence. To say it clearly, wisdom is needed to both manage and extend influence. Whether you are a bishop, a district superintendent, or a pastor, when you lead other leaders, it is only wise to consider how you are stewarding your own gift of leadership.
I think of this in terms of capacity. When we are talking about stewarding influence, leaders have a credibility tank. We can spend that credibility on a lot of different things, and we must choose wisely how we expend our credibility tank. Here are some ways you can be a better steward of the influence God has given you.
Pick Your Own Fights
You don’t have to show up for every fight to which you are invited. Let me be honest: People want you in a fight. Often as I go to speak at various events, people will come up to me and say, “I’ve got a guy who has this problem. What do you think I should do?” And of course they tell me just enough that I would agree with them so that they can then go back and say, “I talked to Ed Stetzer and he said you’re wrong.” I then get an email from this person I’ve never met who is wondering why I took the other side.
Know that there are those in your care who want you to agree with them after they have given you a limited amount of information. By engaging in these kinds of “fights,” you spend your influence on something you shouldn’t be spending your influence on. When we weigh in on matters, we must do so judiciously and carefully, because there are times when we will need to spend our influence on important, big picture issues, instead of petty disagreements.
Pick Your Own Response Time
What I have found is that most (not all) crises resolve themselves within 24 hours without my involvement. Sometimes, allowing people to work matters out themselves is the best thing we can do. And often, if they do sit down and try to work it out, they will. So sometimes, stewarding our influence means waiting to respond.
The caveat is that there are situations in which you need to respond immediately. This is called good pastoral care. But it is critical to remember that people will want your influence before they need your influence, and if you give them that influence, then you may wind up losing influence.
Your Reputation Follows Your Influence
Your influence is given by God. If you are not careful to manage it as you should for God’s purposes, others will misuse it for their own agendas. Some people don’t have the influence you do, but they want it. Some people will hijack your influence and leave your reputation damaged.
We want to be like E. F. Hutton, a financial advisor featured in commercials years ago. The commercial would show many people carrying on conversations throughout a room; however, at one point everyone stopped to hear one private conversation. Everyone leaned in to hear what words of wisdom one man would drop. The tagline read: “When E. F. Hutton speaks, people listen.”
We should be this person of whom others say, “When _____ talks, we’re going to listen.” This only happens when we steward our influence well. We’ve saved it for things that matter most. A leader who has wasted his or her influence is a leader who is putting out fires instead of starting fires under people.
Don’t spend your time on things that keep you from the things you are called to do. Make your influence count in the kingdom. Responding well is better than reacting often. Influence is burned through reaction. It is built through a correct response.
It’s pretty obvious the English-speaking Western world is rapidly changing in regards to faith. The culture is moving in secular and pluralist directions, and away from a more Judeo-Christian influence. As a result, Christians need to re-learn how to lead effectively in our new post-Christian culture.
This cultural shift has resulted in the loss of what I refer to as the Christian’s home court advantage. We’ve see it in the last fifty years.
For example, early in the last century, nearly the entire population of the United State self-identified as Christian (though, not in the way we talk about being a Christian). Perhaps more importantly, as historian Sydney Ahlstrom has observed, religious communities in the 1950s and 60s experienced “a remarkable popular desire for institutional participation” (Ahlstrom, 952). Yet, things are changing—and this institutional participation (defined as weekly church attendance) stabilized at around 40% of the adult population while self-identification as Christian remained as high as 81% by 1990 (Gallup Poll Reports).
Beginning in the early 1990s, researchers have noticed a growing shift from religious observance and identification. Calling this new group of those with no religious affiliation the “Nones,” many believe that the 90s represented a turning point in American religion.
“The most significant influence on American religious geography over time has been the increase in the Nones, or No Religion bloc. As noted earlier, nationally the Nones more than doubled in numbers from 1990 to 2008 and almost doubled their share of the adult population, from 8% in 1990 to 15% in 2008.” (pg. 17, ARIS Report 2008)
In 2014, the Pew Research Center found that this trend seemed to increase rather than plateau. While the share of various Christian groups across the board has declined, Nones had risen to 22.8 percent of the population.
So who are these Nones and what does this mean for the church? In American Grace, Robert Putnam and David Campbell explain that only a minority of Nones identify as an atheist or agnostic. In fact, many Nones may still express some belief in God, the afterlife, and a spiritual basis for morality even as they reject traditional religious affiliation and participation (Putnam and Campbell, 124-6). In essence, they are the tired cliché of that “spiritual but not religious” person you may meet at your local Starbucks.
Many Christians now confront a culture which is no longer as friendly to our beliefs. In many ways, our home-field advantage is over. The challenge that now confronts Christians is the kind of leadership which the church needs in light of this new post-Christian culture. This begins with first urging Christians to stop fighting for the perception of cultural dominance that gives the appearance of success without the substance of Christian practice. In essence, Christian leaders need to shift their thinking towards missional and evangelistic ends. This requires two steps.
First, leaders need to rethink how we engage our communities. As the culture continues towards secularism, Christian leaders need to become bilingual; demonstrating fluency in both the public sphere of secularism and the message of the Gospel of Jesus. As traditional Christian ethics are marginalized, leaders need to learn how to speak prophetically from the margins, remaining faithful to Christian theology and practice while effectively translating the Gospel to the world around us. Black evangelical leaders have excelled in this respect for centuries and it will take greater demonstrations of effort, nuance, and humility from white evangelicals. Through being students of the public sphere and the Gospel, leaders can speak powerfully from the margins of a secular society.
Second, leaders need to rethink how to approach American culture. I’ve written about three approaches to culture: culture defenders, culture creators, and culture engagers. Culture defenders will fight for cultural expressions that really matter for human flourishing. Many won’t appreciate them, but they will need them as they stand up, for example, on issues of religious liberty. On the opposite end of the spectrum, culture creators will create new culture—showing the world what human flourishing looks like, and why it matters. Finally there are the culture engagers. These leaders are those who interpret culture as a missionary, prophetically speak into the public sphere, and testify to the gospel of Jesus as the true satisfaction for the deepest desires of the human heart. All three have a role, but for most readers, it is the cultural engagement that matters most.
We need to see our role as shaped by mission and defined by love. That’s what Christians have done in past times when the culture turned another way—and some remarkable moments and movements of gospel transformation followed their faithfulness from the margins.
As we move forward into our cultural moment, we must do so with thoughtfulness and careful engagement. We must not only stand fast amid the marginalization of the Christian faith— which matters, but it not the only thing that matters—but we must also embrace the opportunity to become more explicitly on mission.
The mission field is changing, but the mission force needs to keep on engaging. That’s how we respond to a changing culture with an unchanging gospel mission.
It’s fascinating that a lot of Christians don’t seem to like non-Christians, often referred to as the lost or the unchurched. Often we want to keep away from messy people—perhaps missing the obvious that we are messy as well.
Who’s on Your Friends List?
It’s interesting that after coming to Christ and growing in knowledge, we often distance ourselves from former friends. We seem to have less time for the hurting and struggling. We’ve found the thing that meets the need in our lives, but keep our distance from those who need the very thing we’ve found. I don’t think this separation is intentional, but it happens, and in the end, our intentions don’t matter.
Jesus lived differently.
One of the common criticisms Jesus faced was that he spent too much time with sinners. How many of us could be accused of spending too much time with the unwelcomed and unappreciated?
It wasn’t that Jesus was waiting for Paul to write, “Bad company corrupts good morals” in 1 Corinthians. No one better understood the importance of spiritual maturity, scriptural knowledge, a robust prayer life and positive influences than Jesus.
But he also knew these things were not for his personal benefit, but need to be shared with the lost. The Christian life is not about safety and comfort, but rather about finding yourself in a dangerous place of vulnerable compassion.
Separated From the Separated
One day, I was talking with one of my daughters about the dysfunction I experienced growing up. That kind of life is hard for her to imagine because our family doesn’t have those kinds of dysfunction.
She asked why some families go our way and others go the way of dysfunction. I told her there are several factors that determine personal and family stability, but in our case, we were changed by the power of the gospel.
I praise God my girls don’t deal with the problems that come from such brokenness, but I think my daughters may, in a sense, be representative of what many Christians experience—they don’t know what it’s like.
Many Christians have grown up in a Christian home. That is their reality and they forget there’s a hurting world out there. We drive through it on the way to school, work and church, but we don’t come to terms with the vast brokenness surrounding us.
Hurting people sometimes make their way into our pews and, by grace and through faith, respond to the good news of salvation. But too often, the only connections Christians have with broken people are made outside of church.
That’s why I love to hear a pastor say, “We’re going to be a church that cares about the hurting and serves those in need, showing the love of Christ to the lost.”
The true test of our maturity is not measured in how much we leave behind, but how much we love.
To Serve and to Save
I’m struck by the fact that Jesus talks about his ministry in two ways. In Luke 4:18, he says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me.” He goes on to talk about preaching the good news to the poor and the captive.
In fact, this type of ministry was a sign that he was the Messiah. Prophecy was being fulfilled as he showed kindness to those who were hurting. Throughout Scripture we see the work of Christ among the widows, the blind, the broken—whoever had a need.
Jesus came to save.
In Luke 19:10 he says he came to seek and save the lost. And the same Jesus who came to serve and to save then says to us in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
We have been sent by Jesus to join him in his mission. We are to serve others in his name, and we are to share the good news of salvation so that people might trust in Jesus’ work on the cross—his death in our place, for our sin.
Serving and saving were marks of Christ’s life on earth. They should be marks of his people as well. But to do that, we must engage the broken and hurting people around us.
That’s hard. But a church without the broken is a broken church.
How does your church engage the hurting? What have you done in your own life to avoid insulating yourself from brokenness around you?
Church revitalization is hard work, but very rewarding when done well. I’ve probably written more on revitalization than anything else because of my growing love for it and the current need for it.
I’ve long desired for a way to coach more pastors and church leaders through the process of revitalization based on my experience revitalizing as well as coaching several revitalizers. With my new Mission Group initiative, I have the perfect opportunity to coach many. So I’ve created my new resource, Renewing Your Church, to help you.
Renewing Your Church is a 19 session online video resource to help you bring renewal and revitalization to your church. I will walk you through the 4 Circles of Renewal: renewed focus, renewed leadership, renewed community, and renewed mission. As you lead renewal in these four areas in your church, you will revitalize your church.
The first 100 to purchase get to join me for video conference calls where I will answer your questions about your church and situation. Calls start this summer so don’t delay.
Many people have slipped into the mindset that evangelism is a gift that some believers have and others do not. The reality is that when someone becomes reconciled to God, He sends them out to reconcile others. That’s not a gift—we all have the responsibility to take Christ to others.
Pastoral leadership can go a long way in shifting those mindsets. Pastors can and should equip the church body to understand their role in evangelization. Among other things, a church can do four things to encourage the spirit and practice of evangelism.
1. Build Relationships
Only a very few hear the gospel or show up at church without first being in relationship. Most people who come to Christ are invited by a person they know.
God calls us to evangelize, including our family, friends, and neighbors. He invites us to invite others. Personal relationships are the best way to reach out.
Your friends trust you when you talk about restaurants, plumbers, and baby sitters. That same trust gives each believer an open door to introduce their friends to Jesus.
2. Encourage Engagement
Sometimes the world gets the wrong idea that being a Christian means our lives are perfect. They feel disconnected and unworthy. So whenever we can remind our people and those looking in that we are all in need of a Savior, it breaks down walls that keep people from Christ and the Church.
The church and its people must understand that no one gets through a broken world unbroken. So as they go back out throughout the week, they should connect with broken people as broken people who have met the One who restores. They should offer restoration through Christ. That is evangelism.
3. Inclusive Events
Some parts of church are more exclusive. The Lord’s Supper, baptism, even some small groups are just for believers. But a church has the freedom, and really a responsibility, to have gatherings where seekers feel welcome—places where they are ready for company.
One of those low-threshold events is an annual Easter egg hunt. You ramp up by involving the whole church. They bring their friends, neighbors, and families.
Do these events where everyone can be involved. Why? Events can show love for our community and increase visibility to invite people to our church. Multiple relationships can form in these open and inclusive events. These relationships can ultimately lead back to Christ.
4. Teach Well
The Easter egg event mentioned above is an inroad. But the greater thing happens when we actually preach on the resurrection—we want to bridge relationships from something as simple as a children’s event, to something as important as the gospel.
And, we don’t just preach about the resurrection on one Sunday.
Our people understand that after they bring their friends to the church community event, there will be an intense Gospel thrust in the following weeks. We call each other, and the Life Group leaders make calls. Everyone knows that everyone should invite their friends to hear about Jesus.
We teach the gospel well and over and over.
It’s a full-court press. We do all of these things in waves at the same time, but we don’t do them all the time. Spring and fall, summer and winter, on mission to share Jesus.
Everyone is on board. Everyone understands that our church leadership will provide opportunities for their friends to hear the Gospel, but their friends are their responsibility.
I don’t know their friends. They do. I can’t invite their friends. They can. And they must. Evangelism is everyone’s responsibility.
We can complain about the lack of evangelistic activity in our churches, but this goes back to leadership. We as leaders create the culture of evangelism. When the church sees we are intentional and serious about creating a pathway, they will be more likely to engage their friends and invite them on the pathway.
What has your church done to make sure everyone participates in evangelism? Why do you think people often drop the ball in the area of evangelism?
My Mission Group tool for getting everyone in your church involved in evangelism is Maximizing the Big Day. It’s an 8 video session tool you can use with your leadership and build rhythms of outreach. Check out this and other tools for revitalization, breaking growth barriers, and strategic leadership at Mission Group.
In many corners of the church today, there’s an unhelpful and unhealthy division between theology and practical ministry. This division is damaging to both the discipline of theology and the practice of ministry because one without the other causes an imbalance.
Part of the cause of this division is the large number of theologically-minded people who spurn practicality as pragmatism. This can be seen as an overreaction to the Church Growth Movement of the 1980s.
Such critics rigorously decried a methodological mania as devoid of theological foundation. They took aim at folks in large, growing churches, accusing them of having only a modicum of theology accompanied by mountains of methodology.
Unfortunately, those theologically-minded people concerned with too much practicality, strategy, and leadership, threw the baby out with the bath water. Rather than looking for the proper place of practicality, strategy, and leadership, they found no place for it.
There are theologically-minded people who are producing large bodies of literature attempting rebuff any emphasis on the practical. They are teaching a whole world of people—a whole generation of pastors—that practical ministry, leadership strategies, and coaching don’t matter. I feel like some think practicality in any degree is heretical. It’s ecclesiology that matters, they say. All that matters is theology, they say.
They are creating a division, where no necessary division exists.
Contrary to that line of thinking, you have to consider the effectiveness of your ministry as well. Effectiveness isn’t only measured by the straightness of the angles in your division of the word of truth. Resist the urge to cluck your tongue when the topic turns to statistics and best practices, even if you just want to rush straight to ecclesiology and soteriology.
Honestly, it seems in some instances the “love” for theology is an excuse for failed discipleship, failed attendance growth, or failed discipleship, failed attendance growth, or failed outreach efforts. And, of course, that’s not what they say—they say they are just being faithful. The problem is they are not working in such a way to also be fruitful.
Here’s the danger. If we raise up a generation of theologically-minded people who have no tools for applying it to practical ministry, then reproduction stops. If we become so theological to the neglect of the practical, then ministry will be hindered.
That doesn’t mean we embrace the practical to the neglect of the theological. It’s also dangerous to go too far in the other direction. Practicality cannot be the driving force. Pragmatism cannot be the central focus of what we do. You have to be theologically-minded as well as practical.
Some essentially say, “I just want to do anything I can to reach people for Jesus.” That’s a bad idea. Don’t do anything you can to reach people for Jesus, because then you will end up losing the gospel.
The way we do ministry has to be driven by what we believe about the gospel and about theology. But if all we care about is theology and not how we might best apply theology in the world then we’re not taking seriously the gospel and theology.
It’s long been said the seven last words of a church are “We’ve never done it that way before.”
The effect of holding onto bad tradition, bad habits, and bad strategy is ineffective evangelism, stagnation and eventually death.
How can churches avoid holding onto mechanisms, strategies, traditions, and the like, past their expiration date? How can churches be constantly effective in reaching their communities?
In light of modern cultural realities, here are three methodological shifts churches should consider to more effectively make disciples and reach our communities.
Consider scattering over gathering
Why not push more of the functions of church life to the periphery of church, including the amount of times we gather? I know this may sound counterintuitive and I don’t want to completely de-emphasize the large gathering. Gatherings are biblical.
But it would make more sense in our current context to do less gathering and more scattering. We are beyong the place where saying “Everyone come!” will bring unbelievers to a gathering. Churches need to have more of a “Let’s go!” mentality.
To be successful, leaders need to empower people. Church members need to be released as witnesses in their everyday lives—to be the “church scattered.”
In some cases, it’s helpful to empower small groups to have a broader functionality, even to the point of these groups functioning almost like little congregations. Some can be pre-church plants.
When ownership and responsibility is distributed, the more likely you are to have greater impact in a community.
Consider how to use pathways
We need a simple and regularly applied approach to what I call “pathways.” A pathways strategy is shown when a church moves people from sitting in rows to sitting in circles. This simple rearrangement is a means of changing members from consumers to participants. Rows tend to focus everyone on a single person. Circles tend to focus everyone on each other.
Pathways transitions people away from apathy into groups where they’ll provoke one another to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24). We need to help people live as agents of God’s mission.
Sometimes you have to stop doing good things to do the best things. That’s always a hard call, especially for churches. Churches that refuse to budge on inerrancy of Scripture should be commended. Churches that confuse inerrancy with methodology should be corrected.
That tendency can be applied to aspects of ministry that have outlived their usefulness. We need clearer systems and processes that lead people from passivity to activity in involvement in the mission of God and serving one another.
The declergification of ministry
Within our theological understanding of church and ordination, let’s de-emphasize the role of clergy. Ironically, many low church denominationa are not a clergy-driven people, but we certainly function like a clergy people. Many low church congregations have a leadership culture that is essentially a hierarchial priesthood. There’s one man who is the only one who has the authority to interpret and teach the Bible. To them, the pastor functions almost as an intermediary priest.
If you are a Protestant, you probably agree clergification is a bad thing, even if you believe, as I do, that pastor is a biblical role. And, you probably agree the Protestant Reformation emphasis on direct access to God was a reflection of the biblical teaching that Jesus is the one mediator between God and man.
I want to see a de-clergification of ministry in evangelical churches where God’s people own the ministry collaboratively and corporately and pastors serve as equippers of the saints in accordance with Ephesians 4:11—to equip God’s people for works of service to the building up of the body of Christ.
In the new ministry environment, churches need to scatter more, develop better pathways to encourage active members, and combat clergification by equipping the entire body of Christ for service.