There’s a growing discontent that adults in their 20s, 30s and even 40s are mostly absent in our churches…and maybe absent from faith in Christ. Many are discouraged that large portions of most communities have no interest in what’s inside the church.
A while ago I started the “napkin test” on the two entry paths you see below. Consistently I was encouraged by the reactions I received. Actually, I was more encouraged by the “now I get it” type of response.
Two “entry paths,” certainly simplified, intended to illustrate how “outsiders” make their way into our ministries and/or into faith.
Both deserve more explanation than they’ll receive here. The first is a familiar one, and well practiced for sure. It centers around Sunday worship and preaching.
In most churches it will continue to be important, not only for those already gathering but also for those congregations that want to welcome Christians moving (transferring?) from other communities and congregations. And it’s important for the dechurched, who used to go to church but stopped for a reason, who still look for the semblance of what they knew.
The “napkin test” response:
“Need to keep it.”
“Isn’t ‘working’ like it used to work.”
That growing discontent about the absent noted above?
The good news is that more and more of the people of God are longing to see the generation of their kids and grandkids reached with the Gospel of Christ.
They’re not content to see a generation lost and they’re willing to act. Right?
If they knew what to do….
This path…not so familiar, if at all…centers around gatherings of people tagged “missional community”.
Since we’re being unfairly simple… Missional community is a little bit like what I remember about Thanksgiving when I was a kid. Grandpa and Grandma Ficken invited all five of their kids and their families. Food. A family prayer. Talk about gratitude to God and a good harvest (it was Thanksgiving on the farm!). A few might have reflected on the sermon and singing at church that morning. Conversations. Cards. Cleaning up. Cousins and football on the Methodist church lawn. And when you went home? You knew that you belonged and that you were loved.
It’s an incomplete illustration, but a start.
It assumes the world is not waiting for a sermon; they’re waiting for a life, and a community that’s living what they’re believing and willing to be and bring “good news” to those without it.
The “napkin test” response:
“If my two sons ever come back to church it will be this path.”
“Serving together on a mission trip was when my own life turned around.”
“This gives me hope. Our church could do this!”
Here’s the beauty of this path:
Churches don’t need to abandon what they’ve always done and they’ve much loved, even if it’s not demonstrating the fruit it once did, to venture into this new world.
It doesn’t take a new building or even a larger budget. No new staff person or strategic plan. It takes a leader with a vision, enough training and support to navigate the new and missional zeal that’s not willing to settle for obsolescence in the Kingdom.
This navigating the familiar and exploring the new very well could be the greatest leadership challenge any of us will face!
Let me ask three things of you!
Do your own “napkin test” and forward it to a few of your leaders and ask them what they think!
PLI is committed to investing training in leaders to press into the missional frontiers around every one of our congregations. Explore if one is right for you or contact Raechel Pfotenhauer today for more information about the learning communities starting this fall.
Make a gift today that invests in the women and men of God who are eager to bring hope and courage and leadership to their congregations so they might bear abundant fruit in the Kingdom!
I’m watching leaders do exactly that every day in the PLI family! And I am encouraged!
So, you’re in the pit. That spot in life and leadership where things unraveled or took a turn you didn’t expect. You ask, “How’d I get here?” Your spirits are broken and your vision seems unreachable.
Yet, God meets you in the pit with an invitation to build something deeper, stronger and far better than you could hope or imagine. So stop, listen and trust.
Often, when your deepest fears and insecurities are played out in the pit your instinct will be to run back to what you already know. Stop. Remember you are loved by your Savior. Your current context does not change or diminish your identity in Christ.
“But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.”
The instinct in the pit is to work on leadership skills and develop better competencies. However, God is using the space to shape your character. Listen to the truth He wants you to know.
“Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
19 Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.”
God desires to rebuild you. However, it takes time and hard work to move through the pit. You cannot rush the process. Remember, through the process God is shaping your personal character and faith. Trust God to bring about something new in you.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.”
The pit can be isolating. When you’re there you need someone to journey with you. PLI’s ongoing coaching between immersions provides the right amount of accountability and encouragement to help you move through the pit. We’d be honored to walk alongside of you. Visit plileadership.org today.
And hey, if you know someone in the pit, share this article AND walk alongside them. The journey gets easier together.
It’s much more difficult to reach the average American with the Gospel today than it was 50 years ago.
Let me illustrate with a variation of the Engle scale…popularized by Dr. James Engle decades ago.
“1” is a person with no faith and quite far in their journey to becoming a Christian.
“10” is a person in whom the Spirit of God has worked through the Word to bring to faith in Jesus Christ.
In 1960, the “average” unbelieving person in America probably knew…
Some basics of the Christian faith, including the deity of Jesus.
Truth exists and the Bible is trustworthy.
Church, Christians, and leaders in a favorable way.
A positive experience of church in their own background.
A sense of guilt when they broke fundamental laws…like a car hitting a curb.
Let’s put 1960s average unbelieving person in America at an 8.
By comparison let’s put the average unbelieving American today at a “3.” Little explanation needed!
The Spirit can work through the Word anyway He wants. Right?
Look at Acts!
Cornelius and his household
Lydia and her household
The jailer at Philippi
(All of them may have been closer to our 1960’s “8” than our 2018 “3.”)
So, the things that simply worked years ago…friendship Sunday…congregational evangelistic campaigns popular in the 1960’s in my own denomination… invitations to Christmas Eve…Sunday school…the Sunday sermon. They don’t work like they used to work.
Most churches keep acting like the world is full of 7s, 8s, 9s.
Today, for the most part, it takes more time. Living in relationship longer. Demonstrating integrity and love…because there’s a longer journey across the scale!
That’s why it’s critical that churches think differently. That they…
Allow/expect their pastor and/or staff to spend time outside the church in relationships scattered across the scale.
Help members winsomely share the hope that is within them.
Create community outside the church where 4s, 5s, 6s can share life with the 10s that love them. Like the Early Church. Like missional communities.
Gail, an evangelist by my experience, patiently follows a simple pattern:
I listen to their story…including their place of brokenness.
I share my own story…in a way that connects.
I share the piece of God’s story that offers good news.
—Passing relationship with an Uber driver? –More permanent relationship with a friend or neighbor?
3s and 4s are sometimes nudged to 5s and 6s and occasionally the Spirit brings someone to believe in Jesus.
Where there’s more sowing of the Word there seems to be more moving of people by the Spirit.
thRED is doing an amazing job of engaging Generation X and older millennials.
Champions (like you) in the PLI family incorporate this into your regular rhythms.
And, 1000 Young Leaders..some of the most wonderful young women and men… will be equipped and sent as indigenous missionaries to a generation that looks nothing like a 1960’s “8.” Any guesses on what the Spirit might do through this bunch?
James Emery White’s book Meet Generation Z introduced me to the scale of comparison.
Dr. Robert Newton, former missionary to the Philippines and current district president and PLI Board member, explained that when they were missionaries in the Philippines they would kneel down, hold hands and pray the essence of these two prayers as they prepared to enter a village.
We have now come with the One you know as Lord. You, Evil Spirits! You must leave. And…
Lord, if you would. Identify for us those that could become Spiritual Leaders in this place.
1 – Would you pray a similar prayer with your group?
2A – If you answered “No,” which answer(s) best reflect your reason.
____ I don’t see the people around our church as a mission field.
____ I/we don’t have any plans to engage our mission field.
____ The Evil Spirits are overseas. No Evil Spirits here.
____ Never thought God might raise up new leaders to energize our mission field.
____ Honestly, it’s outside my comfort zone.
____ Other: ____________________
2B – If you answered “Yes,” which of the following best reflects your reason?
____ It’s a mission field around our church and I/we feel called to reach it.
____ Spiritual strongholds overseas. Spiritual strongholds here. I get that.
____ Mission field overseas. Mission field here. Same thing.
____ We need the Spirit of God to breakthrough and accomplish more than we can imagine.
____ It might feel weird at first but I/we can get over it.
So, a couple of things…
Thanks for being in the PLI family. Gail and I are blessed to be partners with you!
Don’t think right or wrong answers. Just honest answers.
Forward this to the members of your group/board//study/congregation. Seriously! Just do it.
If you’re not already taking some type of action, what action could you agree to take?
It’s possible that we’re so focused on our congregations and what is or is not happening that we’re failing to see a U.S. missionary world exploding before our eyes. And, because we’re looking through the wrong lens, we’re seeing the wrong things.
We just heard last week about a lay leader in Iowa who started looking through a different lens in his neighborhood. Two men came to faith and were baptized! Mission field lens adjustment. Spirit working through the Word!
PLI’s 1000 Young Leaders will recruit, train and release “indigenous missionaries“ to their own generation that’s gone from the church. They all have names! Some are our own sons, daughters, siblings, grandchildren.
PLI’s Missional Leader starts next month in Florida and will train women and men of any vocation and any age. Maybe it’s time for you or for a whole group of you to share the excitement and start to think, see and act like a missionary in your own community.
The narrow, rickety bridge to Generation Z is being washed away because we’ve lost their parents! Thanks for spreading the word about 1000 Young Leaders. Gail and I are so pleased to introduce Phil and Kyrie to you as they join in leading 1000 Young Leaders.
Join the 1,000 Young Leaders Initiative - Vimeo
Here are two big things!
All those emerging adults that have left the church and/or have checked “None” for religious connection?
1. Each one has a name.
God knows their name. Loves them. Sent His son for them. But you know their names, too. This is personal for most of us. It’s not based on abstract demographic data. They’re our friends. Brother. Sister. Cousin. Son. Daughter. Grandchild. Great-grandchild, etc. We want them to know and believe in Jesus, His life, journey to the cross, suffering, death and resurrection. We want them to experience the warmth and growth of Christian community around the Word…even if it looks a bit different than we’ve known and valued ourselves. They have names. And it’s personal for us.
2. They have kids…or are having kids.
Again. It’s personal. They’re our grandchildren. Nieces and nephews. Great-grandchildren Again, no Pew Research. No Barna Survey needed. It’s personal. And not only are their children being raised outside the church…but as a result they…
Don’t know…haven’t experienced… the stories of the Bible.
Don’t know…haven’t experienced…the life, death and resurrection of Jesus!
Don’t know…haven’t experienced…Sunday school or church.
Don’t know…haven’t experienced…a transcendent God greater than themselves.
And we’re losing whatever narrow, rickety relational bridge to the kids…Generation Z!… of this emerging generation of adults. …because their parents have said “no” to the church and the church has been slow to say “yes” to doing anything about it.
After leading a congregation for many years with 100+ years of tradition I know how challenging it can be for a congregation to become something different than it feels like being. Because, this is fundamental shifts in values, and behaviors. Right? Not just the addition of a young adult “something.” And people inside churches don’t easily shift values and behaviors to align themselves with the MIssion of God! I get that. I frequently wanted to raise a surrender flag and simply say: “It’s not fair.” So, maybe you and your leaders can help your church take on its greatest challenge. (PLI is currently training hundreds of leaders to do exactly that!) Or, maybe not. Or, maybe you’ve got someone(s) who possesses the stuff to be one of the 1000YL who can be your own indigenous missionary that God will use to reach someone else’s son or daughter.
So, would you join us?
Start seeing this emerging generation as a vast mission field white unto harvest.
Start praying for the wonderful, gifted, god-fearing young women and men that can pick up the mantle as indigenous missionaries to their own generation.
First, a word of thanks to you. We’ve been having an unusual number of leaders…aspiring and otherwise…coming to us and saying: My aunt, my dad, my vicarage supervisor, my friend, my pastor, etc., etc., told me to get connected with PLI. So, to all of you who have been inviting leaders into the PLI conversation and extending its wider influence… “Thank you!”
Second, please continue to pray for our international work! Scott and Lori Rische are finishing three weeks of mission oriented leadership training with teams in Uganda and Ethiopia. Once again, your relationships have helped open doors in Africa and elsewhere. Thank you.
Finally, Gail and I want to introduce our 1000 Young Leaders directors to you. Meet Phil and Kyrie Klopke.
Join the 1,000 Young Leaders Initiative - Vimeo
So, here’s reality!
Without some intentionality churches just naturally get old. The loss of vision. The choices they make. Who they prioritize. It all leads to the disappearance of one generation and then the next and then eventually they find themselves one generation away from closing their doors.
Out of fairness, the world around our congregations has made it extremely difficult to contradict this natural tendency. It’s a challenging proposition today.
The statistics are daunting!
The religious preference for over one third of millennials is “no religion.” None. And the numbers are growing rapidly among emerging adults!
Today there are now four former Christians in the U.S. for every one new Christian.
Only two in ten Americans under 30 believe attending church is important.
Increasingly, most emerging adults in most communities simply ignore our congregations and mark them as “irrelevant to my life”.
The future does not look like an extension of our past! And we don’t need to resign ourselves to demographic destinies.
The Spirit still works through the Word. Jesus is still Lord of the Church. Maybe it’s time to read the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles with fresh eyes and look for clues to creatively and boldly become a people that prays for and sends out workers into the harvest field.
At PLI we’ve seen that it’s extremely difficult to make effective change in isolation. The gap between the change you want to see and the actual change you experience is often wide when no community surrounds you. To experience real life transforming change in your life and ministry you need a community that can provide accountability and encouragement. In this environment, effective change happens.
Accountability in Community
This person/people care so much about you that they won’t let you stay the same. As a result, they spur you on to pursue the change God is calling you to.
Encouragement in Community
Everyone needs an encourager. This person/people will point out the small wins that are often hard to see and provide encouragement when you experience failure that always accompanies change.
So, who will make a good accountability and encouragement partner for you? Here are a few questions to help you discern who might be a good fit.
Who already knows what direction you want to go in life and ministry?
Who is a little ahead of you on the same path?
Who is not afraid to ask you the tough questions?
Who believes in you before you believe in yourself?
Who listens well?
This is our sweet spot. PLI provides a safe space for accountability and encouragement through ongoing coaching. If you are ready to make effective change in your life and ministry join us for a learning community launching this fall.
Leadership Essentials 2018 Chicago
Because it matters what you build on.
Missional Leader 2018 Panama City
New eyes for the new world.
Discipleship to Missional Community 2018 Chicago
Launching and multiplying new communities of believers.
As leaders we are supposed to have the answers. Right? But the world is ever changing and this leaves us feeling off balance. Uncertain.
It takes courage and skill to step out and move into the unknown. We would like to offer five adaptive skills you need to practice in 2018 to lead in this ever changing world. We’ll dissect one each week. See previous posts:
Adaptive change ultimately rests on the ability of a congregation to internalize a change and demonstrate a shift in fundamental values and behaviors.
Changing circumstances around us always presents competing values within us.
It’s why congregations call new pastors to…
Lead us into the future,
Reach young families,
Help us change, grow,
Etc., etc., etc.
…and then proceed to resist every step of the way.
The challenge of making fundamental shifts of values and actual behaviors is more than they bargained for.
It’s why most congregations and most leaders seek to preserve their past and shrink away while they circle the wagons.
While only a relatively few congregations and their leaders do the hard work of clarifying their true identity and taking the best of it courageously forward into an oftentimes undefined and uncertain future.
Pass this around to some of the leaders in your congregation.
Ask them where they spot “circle the wagons” in…
“Circle the wagons” usually wins the day when people are stalled because they…
Grieve the LOSS of what they’ve known.
FEAR the uncertainty of what they don’t know.
SURRENDER the Mission of God that should be central to their existence.
Pick the one that’s most plaguing your congregation’s ability to move toward a fruitful future.
To punch through a well guarded status quo mentality, leaders need to “go first.” Ask questions that expose conflicting values. Stay engaged relationally in community.
Leaders must steward well the respect, trust and confidence of the people in their congregation. Leaders that struggle oftentimes have not fastened down the fundamental building blocks that make significant investments in these three accounts.
Many leaders are not good at building relationships.
Many leaders don’t know how to harness the creative energies of people to work together to take on their greatest challenges.
Out of fairness, it’s probably as difficult today as it’s ever been.
The church in the U.S. today is being crushed by stifling institutionalism. Leaders oftentimes champion…
5 Point Plans for the future…
…mostly because it gives the feeling that they’re in control and “taking charge,” all to limited fruitfulness. It comes at the expense of inviting the community of believers into the hard work of challenging conflicting values and making fundamental shifts in behavior that could lead to greater fruitfulness.
Consequently, the PLI family invests in leaders who can lead with clarity and character and competence. This not coincidentally results in confidence, trust and respect in guiding congregations through the messiness of making fundamental shifts of values and behaviors.
Ultimately congregations that press through these adaptive challenges seem to discover a deep dependence upon God. They find a prayerful heart asking the Spirit to blow fresh wind into the dry bones of our crushing institutionalism.
Finally, churches will never take on their greatest (adaptive) challenges without leaders that can invest deeply in relationships and be connected in congregational community and fundamentally be able to manage the conflict that will always result.
If congregations are going to pilot their way into the new world we find ourselves in, then leaders must go first.
Here’s your reality:
Leaders start leading when no one else is following.
Leaders start by acting on conviction.
Leaders pursue clarity about their own sense of purpose and calling. (They don’t carelessly trample on relationships.)
Leaders don’t allow themselves to be dragged along by congregational opinion. They don’t allow themselves to conform convictions to the affirmations of members.
The good news is that all of this can start with us! You don’t have to wait for a new budget, new building, new board, new plan, new pipe organ, new program, new….
The bad news is that all of this can start with us! No ducking responsibility just because we don’t have a new budget, new building, new board, new plan, new pipe organ, new program, new…
You see… If our churches are going to navigate forward and take on their greatest challenges, then the leader needs to go first.
It’s hard to imagine the church as a system that if…
The leader changes,
And the leader maintains good relationships within the congregation,
Then… change will result.
That’s it! Not flashy. Not fancy. Usually not fast. Effective? Yes.
Two big hurdles!
Way too many leaders don’t know how to build and maintain quality relationships
Way too many leaders have never done the hard work of gaining clarity for themselves and stop making excuses.
This type of leadership can be risky and lonely.
My guess is that you’re not quite ready to fully buy the “leaders go first” path!
So, here’s the plan I’d like you to follow first:
Resolve with your leaders to keep doing what you’ve been doing and try harder.
Don’t waste time asking the difficult questions. Confronting conflicting values. Amazon a book. Go to a conference. Launch the program that promises to solve everything!
Yes. Do that first…unless you already have!
Leaders go first!
Some of what’s right about your congregation today is the result of a leader(s) (maybe you!) five or ten or twenty years ago making the investment in what’s bearing fruit today. If you take the “Leader Goes First” posture it’s likely that the greatest fruitfulness will come when you might be long forgotten. And that would have been a worthy investment!
When I came to my first church it was a mess. Of course, I was a mess too. Funny thing when I started to change, it changed, too. –A PLI pastor
Check out PLI Missional Leader launching this Spring in Florida if you’d like to pursue this sometimes risky and lonely adventure with a guide and in community with other leaders like yourself. Raechel can tell you more.