Ministry Outreach Sun, 25 Jan 2015 11:20:46 -0500 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Scriptural Discipleship: Maturity Is the Goal

Lately there has been a lot of talk about spiritual formation and discipleship, and rightfully so. I think we can all agree there's a discipleship deficit in evangelicalism. Perhaps the elephant in the room is that there isn't a whole lot of discipling going on, even though that's precisely what we, as Jesus' followers, were commissioned to do.

So, leaders are asking questions like, "What should we do?" and "How should we do it?" There are plenty of successful models that have been tried in a variety of contexts. But how can we best make disciples right where we are?

What if, before buying the latest discipleship book, we looked to Scripture to find out what God says about discipleship? In this series of articles, we'll look at four discipleship principles found in God's Word:

  • Maturity is a goal for disciples.
  • God wants you and your church on a clear path toward spiritual growth.
  • God involves us in our own growth, as well as our church's growth.
  • God calls you and your church to be spiritual leaders.

Moving Toward Maturity

First, we have to recognize that maturity is the goal of discipleship. Keeping people spiritually immature is never a stated goal, but we seem to be achieving it.

Part of the problem is in the way we sometimes see the maturing process. We should not treat depth and maturity as an enemy. Being deep in the faith is not about being full of obscure details or minutia. Being spiritually mature does not mean you have graduated out of the daily grind of faith, grace and mercy in a fallen world.

True spiritual depth is about understanding the Word of God and living out its truths. That should be the goal for all of us.

Fear of the Deep

I'm sure there are some who are afraid of maturing too much—to a point where there's a chasm between them and the lost. We always want to communicate at a level that is accessible to the unchurched, but that doesn't mean we should remain immature or shallow for the sake of connectivity.

If we have low expectations for discipleship, we end up with churches that are an inch deep and a mile wide. Our task is to keep things simple without engaging in "simplism," which is when we make something so simple it loses its essential value.

After "leaving the elementary principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to maturity," the author of Hebrews tells us (6:1). That doesn't mean we should become better Bible bowl contestants. This isn't about gauging our walk with Christ by how many cities we can locate on a map of Israel. It is about becoming more complete disciples.

So our challenge is to keep the communication simple while not passing on a simplistic approach to the gospel. It is a balancing act for sure—but more than a balancing act. It is only through depth and maturity that we will truly find better methods for communicating the gospel.

A truly deep experience will not move us away from the ones we are trying to reach. It will move us toward them.

We can't be too deep in the faith, but we can be too shallow. God will not bless shallowness when a deeper walk is available. An elementary approach will not produce mature disciples.

Measuring Maturity

A LifeWay Research study on discipleship (Transformational Discipleship) found that only 3.5 percent of the people surveyed over the course of a year had any measurable growth. In other words, only 3.5 percent of people reported that there was something different in the way they engaged the Word of God, shared Christ or served others.

But over 55 percent had perceived that they had grown spiritually. Now, I'm not saying they didn't grow. But I think a lot of people think they're growing spiritually when they are actually stuck at those elementary teachings and need to move on to deeper things.

As a person grows spiritually, they will be more active in the ministry of God, not less.

In the area of discipleship, as in other areas of life, we sometimes want something so much that we begin to think we're doing better than we are. Therefore we must be vigilant to regularly evaluate and measure where we are in the growth process if we are to be serious about our own discipleship.

This isn't a new problem, nor is it simply an issue for the American church to consider. The early church had to deal with the same thing. In 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 Paul writes, "Brothers, I could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to worldly, even as to babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk and not with solid food. For to this day you were not able to endure it. Nor are you able now."

How do we help people move on and move forward from milk to solid food? We see this theme over and over again. In Hebrews 5:11-12 we find that the believers still "need milk, not solid food." In that passage, we also find laziness at play in those who are immature.

As a person grows spiritually, they will be more active in the ministry of God, not less. If you find a person who is not interested in being part of the mission of God, you have likely found a stalled disciple.

Reaching the Goal

So, we want to move people from spiritual immaturity to maturity. That's the goal. And we want to know that growth is actually taking place and is not just imagined.

How can we make sure we are going deeper? It starts with culture. Be a church that wants to go deep with God. Provide ever-increasing opportunities for people who want to go deeper in spiritual formation.

I'll give you an example: I had a gentleman in my church recently say to me, "I'd like to go deeper." And in our church, I think we try to preach in a way that's both accessible to the unchurched and theologically robust. But he wanted me to go deeper, and I love that.

"Let's do this," I said. "Why don't we start reading a systematic theology together?" And so we broke out Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology. He bought a copy. I bought a copy. We started reading.

There are many things that go into a successful discipleship ministry, but one key is that spiritual maturity must be a goal. And if we don't teach the goal and preach the goal, we won't reach the goal.

Don't shy away from maturity. The enemy wants us to remain like babies, never strong enough to be about the mission we've been given. Embrace the shovel. Go deep. And remember, there is no need to exchange numerical growth in our churches for the spiritual growth of its members.

What distractions are keeping you from setting and achieving the goal of spiritual maturity? How do you measure spiritual success in your own life or in the lives of others?

Ed Stetzer is the executive director of LifeWay Research. For the original article, visit

]]> (Ed Stetzer ) Discipleship Mon, 19 Jan 2015 14:00:00 -0500
Evangelical Leaders Cite Intriguing Reasons for Denomination Changes

Evangelical leaders are more likely to have switched denominations than to have stayed in the same denomination all of their lives. Nearly 60 percent of evangelical leaders have changed denominations since childhood, according to the December Evangelical Leadership Survey.

"Evangelical traditions and denominations have more in common than many realize," said Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). "There is a healthy fluidity among evangelicals as they seek to find church and denominational homes where they can worship and serve."

Shirley Mullen, president of Houghton College, said, "As a result of spending extended time in both the Wesleyan/Holiness tradition and the Reformed tradition, I have come to appreciate the particular emphases of each within the larger context of church history. It is as if each of the denominational traditions has been given the responsibility for some particular aspect of the church's message, depending upon the needs of the church and the world at the moment when that denomination was founded."

Leaders cited different reasons for changing denominations, including theological distinctions, and geographical moves. Roy Taylor, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America, said he was converted and called to ministry through a Southern Baptist church, but became a Presbyterian through his own study while a student at a Baptist seminary and has been part of the Presbyterian Church in America since its founding in 1973.

Bill Anderson, President of Bill Anderson Leadership Consulting, has moved between denominations several times. He looks at the individual church's leadership and four basic criteria: worshipful, biblical preaching and teaching, healthy church life, and a missional or outward focus.

Some leaders noted that they have stayed within their tradition but have switched particular denominations. "I still attend and belong to a Reformed church. It is not in the same Reformed denomination as my childhood," said Al Cureton, President of the University of Northwestern in St. Paul.

One noted he had changed denominations "but only slightly—from independent Pentecostal to the Assemblies of God." Another had stayed Presbyterian but moved to the Presbyterian Church in America.

Still a considerable amount of denominational leaders, 42 percent, have not changed denominations since childhood. For example, John Hopler, Director of Great Commission Churches (GCC), became a Christian through the ministry of a GCC church and has remained with the denomination since. 

Ken Hunn, Executive Director of The Brethren Church, said, "My denomination is so woven into the fabric of my life, that I have a hard time thinking of ministry outside the family."

Likewise John Stumbo, President of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, said, "After seminary I considered other organizations/denominations and concluded that I was 'already home.'"

Anderson said, "Leaders have their unique stories of faith that includes a community—or in many cases multiple communities—of believers. The National Association of Evangelicals connects these leaders and helps them interact and engage with those of different evangelical traditions, adding richness and depth to their own."

The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. They include the CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.

]]> (Sarah Kropp Brown) Community Thu, 15 Jan 2015 17:00:00 -0500
Why Are Pentecostals Growing in Number?

There are parts of the globe where the greatest church growth is happening through the Pentecostal movement. One of the most frequently asked questions is: "In a world where the church seems to be declining in many areas, how they are bucking the trend?"

There is never one reason why a movement succeeds. But some factors rise to the surface. Pentecostals will say they are growing because the Spirit is moving in a powerful way. I get that, and actually would affirm that as part of the reason, but from a sociological perspective, other things are happening and worth exploring.

I was recently asked (by Pentecostal leaders) what some sociological reasons might be. So following that meeting, and in this brief post, I want to explore how the beliefs of Pentecostals actually promote and produce growth compared to other more "mainstream" groups.

Pentecostals Value Their Shared Experience

From a statistical perspective, Pentecostals tend to be less "nominal" than other believers. The reason is often obvious—the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

In almost all Pentecostalism (as contrasted to other continualist streams), speaking in tongues follows the Holy Spirit's baptism. After that experience, it's hard to say, "Oh I don't take this whole thing serious, I don't even know if it's real."

When you believe you're speaking in another language, that belief reshapes the way you think about faith!

Being a nominal Presbyterian, Methodist or Baptist is easier, though there are some outward expectations, like baptism (among credobaptists), that can mark a spiritual commitment. But Pentecostal believers and churches constantly emphasize spiritual practice and engagement.

That helps make a more robust faith.

So more often than not, stagnation is not as compatible with a real Spirit-filled experience. The end result—it's harder to be a nominal Pentecostal—the beliefs of the movement tend to weed out nominalism. Because of what is happening in church and the community of faith, people tend not to just hang around as casual observers.

Either you join in it, or you move on. Many join. Movements populated by nominals are usually in decline. Nominals don't populate Pentecostalism, so it grows.

Pentecostals Want to Share Their Values

Not only does a valued distinctive encourage participation and growth in the local body, but it also provides an imperative for growth outside of the local body. When you appreciate what you have as much as Pentecostals do, you aren't satisfied to experience it yourself. You think others should have the same opportunity to partake of the movement of the Spirit of God.

When I meet with Pentecostal leaders, they're strategizing about where to plant a church. They break out the maps and determine where they need to focus their attention.

Never mind there are already six churches in a 10-block community. To them, there's not a Spirit-filled church in that community until they plant one. So they are often avid planters, not just in their own area, but also around the world.

Worth Sharing the Spirit-Filled Experience

Pentecostals believe in their approach. Their Christian walk has benefited, and they think everyone should have access. While others are figuring out what to do now to achieve growth, Pentecostals are focusing on who they are and are achieving growth.

When you think your expression is worth sharing (be it Pentecostal, Calvinist or Anabaptist), you are more likely to share it with others and start new churches.

So What Does It Mean for the Rest of Us?

One key to growth is for you actually to believe what you have is so important that propagation to other contexts in its current version is necessary. The Vineyard Church movement exploded in growth in the 1980s for this reason. They thought that people needed to experience what the Vineyard had to offer.

Baptists thought that way in the 1950s. Methodists thought that way during the Second Great Awakening.

Pentecostals believe they have something worth propagating. And that's worth learning from.

Odd Distinctives

Of course, to non-Pentecostals, all this seems odd. Sometimes for younger or dissatisfied Pentecostals, they want to de-emphasize the supernatural.

Well, I'd have some theological nuances I'd like to bring in, but from a sociological perspective my response is: "I wouldn't downplay what is in the engine." You don't care for some of their expression? That's fine. But Pentecostals are trying to reach the lost and grow the kingdom.

Their distinctives apparently aren't hindering their growth—their distinctives are propelling growth globally.

People Want a Faith With Flavor

One of the dangers today is "bland evangelicalism." Many evangelical churches and denominations are in a state of plateau or decline. Some groups are trying to downplay their distinctives to be more acceptable. Who wants to duplicate that? Nobody.

Sometimes the difference between an expanding movement and one that is retracting is how they deal with their distinctives. Some are in protection mode. They feel like they have to preserve their specialness by locking it down and guarding it. Ironically, they end up smothering the mission by covering the light that would shine through their specially designed glass.

Others embrace and celebrate their unique values and expression. In doing so, they attract people who are seeking something more than bland.

For example, I recently reviewed the stats for the 25 largest faith groups in the United States. In the year I reviewed, the only two orthodox Christian groups growing on the list were the Assemblies of God and Church of God (Cleveland). So what do all of the declining denominations have in common?

Most are mainline, a few are evangelical, but most simply are not as excited about what they believe—and don't think it needs to be propagated as much—as the Pentecostals do.

Ed Stetzer is the executive director of LifeWay Research. For the original article, visit

]]> (Ed Stetzer ) Growth Wed, 14 Jan 2015 20:00:00 -0500
Church Planting: Starting From Scratch

A quarter of a million dollars sounds like a whole lot of money to me. But that's the amount an expert in the field of church planting said I should have in the bank before attempting to plant Grace Hills Church.

With that much money, it's possible to rent an awesome facility, purchase quality equipment and blitz a community with enough advertising to gather hundreds for a big launch. It's the American church-planting way ... and it has the potential to shipwreck us.

We've never had a quarter of a million in the bank. In fact, we've never had even one-fifth of that. So spending $10,000 on a media and direct mail blitz has never been an option for us, and chances are, it hasn't been an option for the typical leader reading this article either. If you're there and you have those kind of resources, great! Go all out for God's glory. For the rest of us, hope isn't lost. It's just found in different tactics.

We made a decision when we started planting that we wanted to be highly relational from the start. While there's nothing wrong, and very much right, with reaching masses of people at once with the gospel, we knew that what would work better for us was starting with a few families and praying for the good news to go viral. So we spent a couple hundred bucks on Facebook advertising.

At our first public information meeting, we met about 30 new people with whom we had connected on Facebook. When six months had gone by, we had a core of about 75, who took on the work of spreading the word of our launch and 176 showed up for that grand opening service in our local movie theater. Fifty of them were friends and supporters who were back at their home churches the next week, and we've grown steadily since that day, a few people and a few families at a time.

The reality for most of us is that we don't have the luxury of doing it the easy, expensive way. Instead, we must pinch our pennies, live by a budget and hack our way forward. Here's the good news: When we are disciplined enough to try to do great things within a humble budget, our faith grows leaps and bounds as we watch the God of the universe come through time after time, providing for us in the moments when we've honestly begun to wonder if we're going to make it.

So, in the seasons when you aren't as loaded as everyone thinks you must be, how do you plant and pastor a church with modest resources? Here's my take:

Redefine Excellence

The typical American church leader wrongly defines excellence in ministry as being comparable to the biggest church in the region—the one with the multi-million dollar budget and the building that resembles Apple's headquarters in Cupertino. But excellence shouldn't be defined by comparison to other ministries. Rather, the pursuit of excellence is a matter of doing our absolute best with whatever God has chosen to provide us, and that often involves us intentionally getting creative.

Even from the dream phase of Grace Hills, we've held onto a value that I learned while serving as a pastor at Saddleback Church in southern California, one of the nation's largest churches. Pastor Rick Warren often reminds the staff that "excellence is not a core value here." That doesn't mean we don't pursue excellence, but we refuse to wait for it. With an entrepreneurial spirit, we launch things before we're "ready." As Solomon once observed, "He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap" (Eccl. 11:4).

Learn Something From Everyone

Vance Havner talked once about the man who wanted to be "original or nothing, and wound up being both." In our small start as a church plant, we've learned from everybody we can. If someone is reaching their community with the gospel well, I want to know about it and seek out any transferable principles. That doesn't mean we copy everything we see or kill ourselves trying to adopt every latest fad. It simply means that we don't have time to make all the mistakes ourselves, so we're open to studying what works in other places.

In 2011, we started what we call "We Love NWA" (locals refer to our area as NWA or Northwest Arkansas rather than the name of any one city). It started as a big Sunday on which we would cancel our corporate worship service and send teams into the community to serve various nonprofits and residents in a variety of ways. We did it twice and now we use "We Love NWA" to collectively refer to all the things we do outside the walls of our church to serve the community. We didn't come up with that. You may have seen the idea in action already. We just decided to do it because 1) it reflects our own core values, and 2) it works.

I keep a long list of church websites bookmarked so that I can look around at what other leaders are doing. I have a shelf full of books by leaders who changed the game in their churches and communities. And I feel no shame at all in not being the originator of any particularly great ideas. I'm content to borrow from the wisdom of others so that more disciples may be made.

Love and Value Volunteers

I use the word "volunteer" loosely. We really just value disciples who serve others within the context of the church body. One approach to church planting involves calling upon a core group of people to relocate to a particular field, or borrowing leaders from other local churches to help get things going. While there can be advantages to these approaches, we chose to do neither but rather to "parachute drop" into our community and start entirely from scratch. The laborers for the harvest would come from the harvest. When we held our launch service, the paid staff consisted of me and our worship pastor, Neil Greenhaw, and both of us had supplemental income from other sources.   

That means the effort of going from launch team to thriving new church was successful because of the investment of time, talent and treasure of people who were coming to know Jesus for the first time, or coming back to Jesus again at Grace Hills. Our volunteer-to-member ratio still amazes me. We'll always need more help—that's the plight of every church staff—but we're incredibly thankful that God keeps raising up those who want to serve out of gratitude for God's grace and love for what God is doing.

Todd West, a friend of mine who planted Oasis Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas, says rather than handing out positions, we need to challenge people to take on a project. When they prove faithful, we offer them another project. After they've shown a heart for serving, an official position may be the next step. When you're doing ministry on a budget, you can't hire all the work done. You must ask God for help and love and lead people into a discovery of their God-assigned role in the body. Then you must celebrate them, congratulate them and express gratitude for them.

Develop a Hacking Mentality

Hackers amaze me. On limited resources with laptops in basements around the world, they learn to exploit security measures that took millions of dollars to build. While I certainly don't condone illegal activity, I do think there's a parallel for church planters and pastors with smaller budgets. Figure out ways to do things that look expensive in inexpensive ways.

We would love to have videos produced for use in worship and promotional materials that are filmed on premium equipment by trained videographers and edited with expensive software by a genius with a room full of Mac Pros. But we're OK buying stock footage, effects and graphics and fusing them together with video shot on a smartphone using iMovie.

We'd love to pay a creative firm tens of thousands of dollars for the ideal, unique website, but for now we're sold on the benefits of using Wordpress, which is open source and free, with a slightly modified premium website theme.

It's too easy to say, "We can't afford it, so why even try?" but leaders whose churches thrive say, "We can't afford it, so let's figure out a way to do it for free."

Spread the Word the Old-Fashioned Way With Social Media

I know what you're thinking. Social media? Old-fashioned? Absolutely. Social media isn't new. Twitter is new. Facebook is new (in dog years at least). But the concept of sharing information socially dates back to the Garden of Eden. God talked with Adam and Eve. He used Moses to motivate the Israelites to pursue freedom from slavery. He sent prophets to speak face-to-face with Israel's leaders. The New Testament is partially the story of 12 guys training a volunteer army of early missionaries to travel the Roman roads to every city in the empire carrying the gospel along the way.

When God wants a movement, He uses people. We want outreach to happen the easy way. We love technologies such as television and radio because they allow us to communicate to masses of people quickly. The problem is, many of the technologies we have rightly chosen to use for evangelism are also impersonal, and in the age in which we live, personal is everything.

Earlier this year we launched a series of messages called Healing. To promote it, we shot a few videos with a smartphone, edited them with inexpensive software and then put them out on our Facebook page. We asked our members to share them and we sponsored some advertising using them. On the first Sunday of that series, we met 70 new people (out of an attendance of 240).

We've used Facebook and Twitter heavily for three years now. We've never done a direct mail campaign or paid for advertising in local newspapers or television stations. We're not in the Yellow Pages because we don't have any landline phones. Yet we have had first-time visitors every single Sunday for three years now, and about 80 percent of them indicate that they heard about us through Facebook. Another 10 percent found us on the web and the rest came because of a personal invitation. That 80 percent actually came for relational reasons. They only discover us on Facebook if their friends like us, share our content and post about us publicly.

A small budget is never an excuse for a lack of effectiveness. We have the truth of God's Word. We have the power of God's Spirit. We have a volunteer army of amazing volunteers. When we add in a passionate conviction about the Great Commission, there's nothing we can't accomplish for God's glory and for the spread of the gospel, even while we're pinching our pennies.  

Brandon Cox is the lead pastor of Grace Hills Church in Northwest Arkansas, which he and his wife, Angie, planted in 2011. He also serves as editor and community facilitator for and Rick Warren's Ministry Toolbox. He's been a pastor at Saddleback Church as well as small community churches. His book, Rewired, was published by Passio in 2013 and guides church leaders in using social media to spread the gospel.

]]> (Brandon A. Cox) Growth Mon, 12 Jan 2015 17:00:00 -0500
Are the Younger Unchurched Still Spiritually Open?

There's an idea that Christianity in America is dying. No serious researcher—not one—thinks that. However, I still am surprised that some people think this. (For a quick analysis, see this article).

Facts are our friends—in this and in every situation—and what do the facts really show about the situation?

The Unchurched Are Open

A few years ago, LifeWay Research did some significant research on the faith of young adults to see where they stood. Here are a few stats from that study:

  • 73 percent of unchurched 20- to 29-year-old Americans consider themselves "spiritual" because they want to know more about "God or a higher supreme being."
  • 89 percent of unchurched young adults say they would listen to what someone believes about Christianity.
  • 63 percent of young adults said they would attend church if it presented truth to them in an understandable way "that relates to my life now."
  • 58 percent of 20-somethings would be more likely to attend if people at the church "cared for them as a person."

What's surprising to me is the degree to which the young "unchurched" believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus, even though it is not having much impact in their lives. But—and don't miss it—two-thirds of those young people who do not attend church outside of weddings, funerals and holidays believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead.

That's fascinating to me because if I thought there was a guy who was dead on Friday but on Sunday was, well, not so much, I'd be going with that guy. However, 66 percent of those who don't go to church believe that yet still don't go.

Perhaps even more fascinating is this: 77 percent of those young people who self-identify as unchurched think that believing in Jesus makes a positive difference in a person's life, yet they seem to be staying away from church.


A lot of it has to do with their perception of church.

The overwhelming majority believes the church is full of hypocrites (67 percent of young unchurched). A significant group, approximately 39 percent, believe their lifestyle wouldn't be accepted at most Christian churches. Finally, about 90 percent of young unchurched think they can have a good relationship with God without the church.

It is a mistake to say that young adults now are as connected to church as previous generations—they aren't. But it is a bigger mistake to think they are not open to spiritual things—because they are.

The younger unchurched are actually more open to the Christian faith than their older unchurched peers.

The Church Needs to Share

We live in a mission field. We need a mission force. Christian influence is on the wane, but as we just saw, the unchurched are interested and open.

Unfortunately, most Protestant churchgoers aren't sharing the gospel.

So, 61 percent of Christians haven't shared the gospel in the last six months. However, 79 percent of them know it's their responsibility.

When culturally Christianity declines, convictional Christianity has the chance to shine. We know it's our responsibility to share the gospel with our friends and family, might we have the courage to begin doing so.

For more information and more statistics, please visit

]]> (Ed Stetzer ) Evangelism Fri, 09 Jan 2015 20:00:00 -0500
10 Must-Read Articles for Pastors and Leaders From 2014

I loved 2014. It was crazy busy, but there has also been a sweet rhythm to life.

I haven't blogged as regularly as I have in past years, but my posts have often been longer, more article-length, and at least half of this year's top 10 are actually the top 10 of all time (and this is my 10th year of blogging). Without further delay, here were the best button-pushing, attention-garnering articles I wrote for pastors and ministry leaders this year.

10. "The Truth of the Bible Still Matters, and It Always Will" This has been a bit of a roller coaster year in American culture, from the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case to the various gay marriage cases heard. In the middle of that chaos, I felt a calm assurance because of a decision I made when I started my ministry at age 18—to accept the Bible as God's perfect Word.

Regardless of the outcomes of these and other controversies, I will still carry a Bible in which I completely trust. I believe it to be timeless truth as a whole and in all of its parts. Therefore, I have an absolute truth that guides my moral decision-making and my sense of what is right and true.

9. "When Things Get Real in a Church Plant" This post reflected one of the biggest highlights of our year—a record-setting day at Grace Hills and the life change that came with it. The message I preached that day has done more to set a culture for us than almost anything else.

God is at work, gathering a community of believers who are coming to know Jesus and serving others for His glory. And I can't wait to witness what is next!

8. "5 Reasons Why the Church Must Engage the World With Social Media" I wrote and released a book this year called Rewired, published by Passio (Charisma House). It was all about this subject, and this post is somewhat of a summary of my convictions about social media and the church.

People have real needs that can be met via social media. Therefore, social media is a tool that cannot be ignored as a viable means of extending the Great Commission and helping others heal with the message of Jesus.

7. "Why Talking About Church Growth Matters" Numbers aren't everything, but they can be rather important indicators of effectiveness, or a lack thereof.

When a church stops growing, instead of settling for "good enough," maybe we should diagnose the situation. It's possible that we could depend on God more, pray harder, preach more relevantly or passionately, love families better, organize to reach new people, etc.

6. "You Can Have Growth, Or You Can Have Control" This shorter article communicates a single, timeless principle communicated by one of my friends and mentors in ministry: You can have growth or you can have control. And you have to decide how much of each you want.

5. "God's 5 Purposes for Your Marriage" One of the areas of tremendous personal growth for me this year was in my relationship with my wife. Few people have taught me more about love and grace than Angie. Out of what I've learned, I wrote a post applying God's five big life purposes to the marriage relationship.

God has these five purposes for your life as an individual believer. He also communicates these five purposes to the church, and every local church that focuses its work and ministry on fulfilling these five purposes in the world will be healthier for it. And as I've devoted plenty of thought to it, these five purposes wonderfully express God's design for marriage too.

4. "A Scalable Model for Making Disciples In Small Churches" While Grace Hills is growing somewhat fast, it's still a small church, and aside from my time at Saddleback, I've always served churches of less than 250 in attendance. This post is essentially a summary of the discipleship process I've seen work well in a small church context, but it's also a re-cap of what I've learned about being a purpose-driven church.

At the end of the day, every church is driven by something—money, tradition, politics, fear, etc.—but I want to lead a church driven by God's eternal purposes!

3. "Just How Large Should a Local Church Be?" I think this one was popular because people tend to have a lot of pre-conceived ideas about church size, and because it included a pretty infographic. Whenever you talk about growth or numbers, there will always be the jaded rebuttal as well as the pseudo-spiritual Jesus juke.

When we grow without compromising our message or mission, the kingdom wins. I celebrate both timeless biblical theology and innovative strategies for reaching unengaged people. How large should your local church get? That's really the wrong question. The right question is: How do we make disciples of everyone we possibly can?

2. "From the Heart of One Pastor, I'm Sorry I Let You Down" In many ways, 2014 was a year of healing for me. I feel more whole than I have in my entire life in ministry. In some of the hardest moments, when I've been most disappointed in myself, I learned these lessons.

Here was my bottom line: I love you. Your pastor most likely loves you too. I'm sorry if I've let you down. I'll try to do better. But for my own spiritual and emotional health, and yours too, I've decided to find my confidence in my identity in Christ, my calling by grace, and my commission to leave the 99 in the flock to go after the one who is lost. When I try to keep you happy, I fail us both.

1. "To Every Pastor Who Is Ready to Give Up" This is actually the most popular article I've ever written, which breaks my heart. Ministry is a lonely place at times, and this post traveled across the social web at break-neck speed because there are so many hurting leaders out there.

My hope rests on the fact that Jesus Christ loves the church and gave Himself for her on the cross. He started the church, is the Chief Builder and Shepherd of the church, and will see to the church's survival and success until He comes again. But until that day comes, we we see eras of painful pruning.

Honorable Mention

"Big News ... Grace Hills Is Pregnant! We're Expecting a Daughter Church!" I wanted to mention one more post that ranked somewhere within this list but was a little more personal and newsy in nature. One of the more exciting developments in the life of our church this year was sending out our 1-year resident, Michael Smith and his wife, Jennifer, to begin the work of planting Journey Church as a daughter of Grace Hills. The post I wrote announcing it gathered a lot of attention, which thrills me!

We're asking God to give them favor with the community, financial provision and spiritual protection as they venture into the deep end of church planting. And we're also asking our friends to get involved.

What's coming next year? More of the same, but better, hopefully. I intend to post far more frequently, but to keep the longer article-length posts coming too. I started blogging 10 years ago because I wanted to encourage people. That's still my goal today—to encourage people who lead in the trenches of ministry.

Brandon Cox has been a pastor for 15 years and is currently planting a church in northwest Arkansas, a Saddleback-sponsored church. He also serves as editor of and Rick Warren's Pastors' Toolbox, and authors a top 100 blog for church leaders. He's also the author of Rewired: Using Technology to Share God's Love.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Brandon A .Cox) Communication Tue, 06 Jan 2015 17:00:00 -0500
Evangelism: From Crusades to Soup Kitchens

During some periods of church history, Christ-followers walked around with a nail in their pockets—an ever-present reminder of Jesus' crucifixion. The thinking went, according to historian Leonard Sweet, "Proclaiming repentance is as much about reminding me of my waywardness as it is about setting other people straight."

If we did that today, we'd likely be seen as suspected terrorists. And forget about getting through airport security!

Today, Christians still want to obey the Great Commission. So the question is: What's the best way to practice evangelism now?

The Meaning of Evangelism

One of Billy Graham's greatest legacies is the Lausanne Congress, formerly known as the International Conference for World Evangelization. At the 1983 Congress, Christian leaders from more than 150 nations gathered in Lausanne, Switzerland, to explore new ways to carry out the church's call to evangelize the world. The Lausanne Covenant was birthed from that meeting, and evangelism was defined as "the proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Savior and Lord, with a view of persuading people to come to Him personally and so be reconciled to God." It further declared, "In issuing the gospel invitation, we have no liberty to conceal the cost of discipleship."

In his book Nudge, Sweet offers a simple and direct view of the subject. He explains, "Evangelism is nudging people to pay attention to the mission of God in their lives and to the necessity of responding to that initiative in ways that birth new realities and the new birth."

Regardless of the definition we're most comfortable with, the call to evangelize is inescapable. Whether a huge organization launches a multimillion-dollar crusade or friends talk about Christ over a cup of coffee in a kitchen, evangelism must be practiced today like never before.

The challenge is finding not one—but many—effective methods of evangelism. It is a weighty issue because if we don't succeed, the Christian church risks losing its ability to influence society and keep future generations engaged. Out of the search for evangelism methods that fit today's postmodern culture, many approaches have emerged, such as:

  • Prayer evangelism
  • Generosity as evangelism
  • Acts-of-kindness evangelism
  • Missional communities as bridges to evangelism
  • Service-based evangelism
  • Crusade evangelism
  • Online blogging as evangelism
  • Social media evangelism

The list is endless, and we all realize historic methods of evangelism often no longer work. Let's take a look at five effective evangelism methods in use right now. While not in any order of success or proven effectiveness, these five methods have verifiable results. The principles they embody are also transferable to different denominations and geographical settings.

Method 1: The Invitational Model

Relationship is the most significant access point into the private lives of others. Spiritual conversations are viewed by most people—Christian and non-Christian alike—as exceptionally private. Most people need to personally know the individual who wants to hold a conversation with them about God, faith, the Bible or any other spiritually related topic.

The invitational model of evangelism happens when a believer invites a friend, neighbor, colleague or family member to an evangelistic social outing. The real focus is not on the event—be it a concert, play or worship service—though that serves a vital role. The believer's primary goal is to expose their friend to a gifted person who can share the gospel in a culturally relevant way. The Christian's hope is that their friend accepts Christ as their Savior.

Warren Bird, the Leadership Network's director of research and intellectual capital, shared the findings of the organization's 2011 study of 25 megachurches. They received 50,000 responses to questions like, "What drew them to the church? What kept them there?"

Of the results, Bird says, "On average, megachurches do better than other churches at evangelism, and it's often as simple as people inviting their friends to church."

This finding does not discount the value of evangelism or the social impact of small churches. The research simply underscores the effectiveness of the invitational model of evangelism.

On a personal note, Christ Church—the church I pastor in Rockaway, New Jersey—grew by approximately 1,000 people in 2013 through this method. We discovered the effectiveness of this model lies in the church's ability to do the groundwork. This entails the creation of a worship environment where people feel comfortable bringing their unsaved family and friends.

The invitational model also requires training Christians in the ongoing practice of establishing growing relationships with the unchurched. My congregation has a long way to go in perfecting this model, but we are committed to using it alongside other effective models of evangelism.

Method 2: The Service Model

General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, built that global organization on the evangelistic principle that says, "A man cannot hear you when his stomach is empty. Feed him, and he will listen." In other words, meeting people's felt needs through acts of service gives power and eternal meaning to your words. Acts of kindness open a heart to the gospel.

Many local churches have positioned themselves as ambassadors of goodwill and advocates in their communities. For example, Christ Tabernacle—a multisite church based in Glendale, New York—began serving families of special needs children within its community. In September 2013, the church hosted a conference in partnership with the Center for Autism and Related Disorders. The invitation was extended to the entire community.

Adam Durso, the church's executive pastor and the dad of a special needs child, says hundreds of families came who had "battled with rejection from the public and social sector because of their special needs child."

Through this ministry, called the Champions Club, Durso says, "Christ Tabernacle has grown in credibility and the right to speak into the lives of many people who have never heard the gospel before."

The church is an ally and a resource to these families who struggle silently to care for their special needs children.

To demonstrate real commitment to them, Christ Tabernacle is now completing a sensory room—a learning space for children with autism, Down syndrome, ADHD and other needs. Last December, the Champions Club hosted a Christmas party, and more than 195 children came, accompanied by their parents and family members.

Roughly 90 percent of them had never darkened the doors of Christ Tabernacle before, nor did they have a relationship with Christ. They toured the sensory room and were quickly hooked, finding themselves at home in God's house.

"We're seeing the congregation empowered to serve a demographic that is greatly underserved throughout our city," Durso says.

The service model is used in a slightly different way at Liquid Church—a fast-growing multisite church in northern New Jersey.

"Hundreds of men in our church stepped up to donate over $50,000 and 5,000 hours of labor to do an 'extreme makeover' of a battered women's shelter in New Brunswick, New Jersey," says Tim Lucas, the church's lead pastor.

"A battered women's shelter exists for one reason—because men abuse their God-given strength. We wanted to demonstrate in word and deed the power of men surrendered to Christ using their strength to selflessly serve women and their children," Lucas says. "The executive director [of the shelter] was so impressed, she began attending our church, gave her life to Christ and was publicly baptized! She is now a key leader in our church, attending seminary and bringing her newfound faith in Christ to her leadership at the battered women's center."

Lucas adds, "When hardened cynics witness the church financially sacrificing and selflessly caring for abused women, neglected children or homeless families, they are inspired to ask, 'Why are you doing this?' and 'How can I help?'"

The beauty of the service model is the discovery that serving people without an agenda other than loving them becomes a launching pad for conversations on faith. The broader community becomes willing to listen to matters of salvation, God and redemption. Regardless of the focus your church takes with the service model, God's love in action through His people is irresistible.

Method 3: The Crusade Model

Major citywide evangelistic events get a lot of press. They're exciting because the big guns come to town—popular preachers, famous singers—and because crowd-drawing, gospel-centric activity takes place that most churches don't have the resources to host.

In most cases, these stadium-sized meetings are planned over a couple of years and cost millions of dollars to pull off. Though they seldom last more than a few days, they require a lot of work—through the training of partner churches and parachurch organizations and through administratively gifted leaders, all of whom ensure the event goes off without a hitch.

I know it takes a lot of work because I served on the executive committee for evangelist Billy Graham's final bow—his New York City crusade that took place June 24-26, 2005. New York park and police officials tallied the crowd at some 242,000 people over the three-day crusade. More than 1,400 churches representing 82 denominations provided an estimated 20,000 volunteer workers. Drawing about 700 media representatives, this event that took a year to prepare—with a $6.8-million-dollar budget—and yielded approximately 9,445 decisions for Christ, half of which were first-time decisions.

Another well-known example of crusade evangelism is Battle Cry—a Teen Mania International event conducted by Ron Luce, its president and founder. This Texas-based parachurch organization conducts crusades across the United States and in Canada to win teenagers to the Lord. In a concert-like atmosphere, teens turn away from darkness into God's marvelous light.

Jack Redmond, an executive member of the Battle Cry steering committee, says, "The engagement of teenagers from hundreds of local churches each year is phenomenal. The 2011 crusade, for example, drew some 15,000 people, and between 1,000 to 1,500 decisions were made for Christ."

Granted, crusade evangelism requires a lot of prep work and resources, but it is still a viable method today.

Method 4: The Testimonial Model

Sharing your faith in a one-on-one setting maximizes the spread of the gospel. Unlike the invitational model, the testimonial model—more commonly referred to as witnessing—empowers the believer to close the deal. By sharing your life with your friend, co-worker or neighbor, you as a believer get a firsthand opportunity to bring people to Christ. Through spiritual conversations, including the sharing of your conversion story, unbelievers are evangelized.

Although this model does not carry the glamour of the crusade model, it is by far the most powerful evangelistic method, resulting in the greatest degree of church growth and discipleship. As statisticians explored sources of church growth over the recent decades, they discovered the web of personal relationships is the primary driver.

In 1986, C. Peter Wagner, professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, reported his survey finding that 86 percent of churches grow because of friends and relatives. As evidenced in the list below, the testimonial model, reflected in the category of "friends and relatives," markedly outperforms other sources of church growth:

Sources of Church Growth

Advertisement: 2 percent
The pastor: 6 percent
Organized outreach: 6 percent
Friends and relatives: 86 percent

Tim Massengale, author of Total Church Growth, recently confirmed this in a new poll. He surveyed some 8,000 Christians across America and documented their answer to the question, "How did you come into the church?"

Sources of Church Growth

Advertisement: 0.1 percent
The pastor: 6-8 percent
Walk-ins: 4-6 percent
Door-to-door visitation: 1-2 percent
Church program: 2-4 percent
Friends and relatives: 70-90 percent

As you can see, the testimonial model embodied in the "friends and relatives" category still contributes significantly to church growth today.

In order to capitalize on this model of evangelism, the local church must spend significant time training its members in the art of sharing their faith. These equipping sessions must take place through a myriad of teaching opportunities beyond the Sunday morning hour.

In our church, we train the congregation to create 10-minute, three-minute and one-minute versions of their conversion story. Becoming skilled at telling the story of your journey to faith in Christ is critical for success.

Method 5: The Event-Driven Model

Churches that experience success with evangelism and growth regularly host events that attract nonreligious people. Whether a seasonal event, such as a Christmas musical, Easter play or harvest festival, or something like a marriage and family seminar, these activities entertain with a clear evangelistic component.

In the above tables, we saw how a church's programs and outreach impact its growth. Though a small percentage of the source of church growth, these organized events work hand in hand with the invitational and testimonial models used to attract lost people to Christ.

Churches that experience growth from conversion—not simply transfers—work hard to develop a culture of evangelism. Their sermons provide God's answers to social issues, relationships and the other areas of life in practical ways. Weekend services are streamlined and fall typically within a 75- to 90-minute timeframe. A well-designed worship experience allows the Holy Spirit to engage the heart of attendees—believers and unbelievers alike. This practice creates ease in the members' hearts to invite their unsaved family and friends to weekend meetings and special events.

The success of the event-driven model lies in the ability of the church to create a culture where God's love for lost people is easily evidenced and experienced. Equally important to the effectiveness of this model is what Durso shared when asked to contrast Christ Tabernacle's experience of the service model with other evangelism methods.

"Our street ministry outreaches, seasonal concerts, preaching in parks and on street corners are great events," he says. "They are exciting. People come to the Lord. But our experience is that they are like a flash in the pan if not backed up with ongoing service-based evangelism that meet people's needs."

Durso is correct. Events are good at attracting people to the church and even at helping people investigate the claims of Christ. However, if we want people to move beyond conversion and experience discipleship, which includes responsible local church membership, our ministry events must guide people to become fully devoted followers of Christ.

Evangelism practices today are certainly different than the models of yesterday, and these five models also have a shelf life. Unlike items we purchase at the grocery store, we don't know their exact expiration date.

But we do know that as culture changes, so should our methods. We cannot get angry at lost people if our evangelism methods are unappealing. We must continue to engage in good social research and in collaborative efforts, and we must continue to be sensitive to the nudge of the Holy Spirit as we strive to see relevant models emerge. 

 David D. Ireland, Ph.D., is senior pastor of Christ Church, a thriving 7,000-member multisite and multiracial congregation in northern New Jersey, and author of The Kneeling Warrior: Winning Your Battles Through Prayer.

]]> (David D. Ireland) Evangelism Mon, 05 Jan 2015 17:00:00 -0500
Here’s a New ‘15-Hour Rule’ for Church Planters and Preachers

The idea of the singular professional pastor running a church, doing all 18 spiritual gifts (depending on how many you read in the New Testament), has fallen out of favor. No one believes this is possible anymore. This is a relic of the hierarchies of Christendom where such consolidation made organizational sense (if not ecclesiological sense).

Any pastor trying to do this will expire from burnout. It is a denial of the Holy Spirit's work in the body (1 Cor. 12). (Should we then get rid of the Master of Divinity degree as well?)

Why then would we think about planting a new missional church with a singular leader/pastor at the head of the ship? The only reason is if we are comfortable with the notion that we can recruit enough already existing Christians to be subservient to said singular leader and form a Christendom organization for managing and distributing Christians goods and services to them. But is this church planting or church reconfiguring? Is this mission or marketing?

This is why when planting a missional church/community, I prefer the leaders implement "the 15-hour rule." The "15-hour rule" says that, "no pastor/leader cultivating a new missional community should work more than 15 hours a week on missional community organizational functions (including preaching, organizing, leadership, etc.).

Of course, this is heresy in the traditional world of evangelical church plants. Most assume the new pastor works 15 hours per week just on the sermon. Over against this traditional model, I believe "the 15-hour rule" works to do the following:

1. It says no one pastor/leader can nurture a Christian community. It requires a minimum of three pastor/leaders who know the inter-relationship of their giftings according to the Ephesians 4 APEPT schema (Apostles/Prophets/Evangelists/Pastors/Teachers). These pastors must work together in mutual submission to one another modeling the life of submitting one to another in Christ. I'm of the mind you put three mature leaders who know their giftings in one place for 10 years who can lead out of mutual submission to Christ and His mission, and you will have a fresh expression of the gospel (not dependent upon already existing Christians) in that place 10 years later.

2) It promotes bi-vocationalism. This is obviously a bi-vocational model where each pastor has a job sufficient to provide a level of support which can sustain these three pastors together in the work for 10 or more years to come. Yet this also reinforces the idea that to do bi-vocational ministry as a singular pastor is impossible. To do bi-vocational ministry—15 hours a week max—requires at least three leaders together on the ground, praying, discerning and leading.

3. It prevents any pastor from thinking the work of the Kingdom is dependent upon how hard he/she works. Instead, I have 15 hours to give and that's it. It is God who will do this work, not me. I do not have to worry about results, people in the pews, offerings, because by and large I am being supported in and through a job and a community. I can exercise the patience necessary to see God work among new and unreached peoples.

4. It promotes an active body dependent upon the Spirit discerning what God is doing. Because every one in the community sees "the body" modeled by the pastorate, this kind of leadership automatically fosters a "body mentality" in the rest of the church that regularly depends upon the Spirit. We become participants in the rhythms of God's grace in His Spirit, no meglamaniacal leadership that has predetermined goals (financial and otherwise).

The community therefore becomes the arena in which and around which the Spirit can work. Leadership does not control the organization. It fosters an organization of a different kind, an organization that post facto the Spirit facilitates what God is doing.

5) It says that there should be more than one preacher/teacher. If it is true that it takes 15 hours of prep for a good sermon, then we need to rotate it among the three pastors (and others gifted as well) so that theoretically the 15 hours are spread out over a longer period of time than one week. This keeps the mission from being centered around one personality. It keeps the preaching grounded in the mission and life of the community (not a single person studying 20-30 hours a week for the most brilliant exegesis).

Let us be sure to recognize that there will be times when "the 15-hour rule" must go by the wayside. As the church grows, as one's gifts become more fully recognized, as the fruit of one's ministry dictates more devotion to the work on the ground in fostering the kingdom, more hours will be appropriate. This happened all the time in the New Testament.

But I'm of the mind that every pastor, no matter how much he/she is working within the structures of the church, must always have the ability (i.e., another job skill) to go back to "the 15-hour rule." Because it simply redisciplines the church to be the arena of the Spirit from which it can participate in God's Mission in the world.

Your thoughts on "the 15-hour rule"? Outrageous? Impractical? This can't be done?

David Fitch is a bi-vocational pastor at Life on the Vine and the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary. Visit David at

For the original article, visit

]]> (David Fitch) Church Growth Wed, 31 Dec 2014 14:00:00 -0500
4 Principles of Gospel-Advancing Collaboration

As I type these words I'm at a mountain retreat with 10 other youth ministry leaders from around the nation. We are collaborating around a vision that we pray will result in every teenager in America engaged in a gospel conversation with a Christian peer.

To accomplish this we need to inspire, equip and deploy at least 30,000 churches/youth ministries to join us in this quest. That's right 30,000!

Humanly speaking this big vision seems well beyond our capacity to achieve. But we are convinced that, through God's strength and the power of collaboration, it can be done.

As we brainstorm and work together to synergize our efforts toward this exciting vision there are certain realities I'm discovering anew about the power of collaborating for the gospel.

So, whether you're on a church staff that is collaborating to reach your community for Christ or a youth ministry network that is brainstorming how to reach the teens of your city for Jesus here are four principles of gospel advancing collaboration that may help:

1. It is best when bold. Bold vision fosters strong collaboration. As a matter of fact, the bigger and bolder the vision, the more it necessitates working together for your common and audacious cause.

And I submit that there is no cause bigger or bolder than the spread of the gospel in a community or on a campus. The gospel transforms people from the inside out (Rom. 1:16), and the results can change everything.

The power of Jesus' bold vision is still being felt today. He told his disciples in Matthew 28:19-20, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

As a result of the bold vision of Jesus, entire societies have been transformed. The poor have been fed. The broken have been healed. The hopeless have been given hope. Nothing else changes everything else like the gospel.

So get a bold vision from God that centers around the advancement of this powerful message. Which leads us to our second point:

2. It is birthed out of prayer. The ultimate collaboration is birthed out of prayer together as brothers and sisters in Christ. Prayer is the ultimate team-building exercise. It opens up vertical channels of divine wisdom so that the horizontal interchange of ideas and strategies are full of impact and effectiveness.

As we have been brainstorming for the last three days, we have salted our times together with extended times of prayer. Why? Because the vision is so bold and so big that we need God to give us the ideas to make it happen! Without his wisdom surging through our hearts, souls and minds there is no way it can be done. With it there's no way it can't be done!

That's why I love James 1:5-6. He promises to give us the wisdom we need if we ask him in faith, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men liberally and without criticism, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, without wavering. For he who wavers is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed with the wind" (James 1:5-6).

We must collaborate with God before we collaborate with each other if that collaboration is going to stick.

3. It is built on the God's Word. Every morning we have started with a devotional time where a principle of God's Word was unpacked that was relevant to our subject that day. These principles have created the trajectory of our time together and helped us to make sure we are seeking to accomplish God's will in God's way.

One morning Doug Holliday talked about "The Jethro Principle" in Exodus 18. Yesterday Zane Black talked about the power of Christ to accomplish this bold vision.

Every morning as we've unpacked God's Word together the principles we have talked about have shown themselves to be crucial in our collaboration. They have formed the foundation of our plans on solid rock, not sinking sand.

4. It is bolstered by strong relationships. Between playing broom hockey, eating meals together, hanging out in the hot tub and chatting it up around the pool table a band of brotherhood has been formed and forged. God made us social creatures and when we spend enough time getting to know each other, then we can be more vulnerable, share more ideas, deal with necessary conflict and get more done.

I have found that when a group of people know, love and like each other, mountains become molehills. And when they don't, molehills can become mountains.

This whole experience has been a great privilege for me. As we wrap up our time together today we are literally coming down from the mountains with a clear vision and some practical plans to accomplish it for the glory of God.

I challenge you to unleash the power of collaboration for the cause of Christ with your team. As you dream, pray and play together God will clarify your vision and give you the wisdom to accomplish it for his glory!

Greg Stier is a husband, a father, a preacher, an author, a twitchy revolutionary and a fanatic for Jesus. He's the president of Dare 2 Share Ministries which has led thousands of students to Jesus and equipped thousands more to reach their world with the gospel. He blogs at

For the original article, visit

]]> (Greg Stier) Evangelism Fri, 26 Dec 2014 14:00:00 -0500
11 Types of Churches You Are Excited to Bring Your Unchurched Friends To

A dark reality exists for many Christians that deep down they don't talk about at parties. Many Christians, if they would be totally transparent, are extremely nervous to bring their unchurched friends to their weekend services.

This concern comes from a variety of things. Lack of excellence, outdated music, rude members and boring sermons are just a few of many hurdles Christians must overcome before inviting their friends who are unchurched.

This past Sunday my wife received a phone call from a friend who joyfully said, "The young couple we just met came to church today. They had a great time. I am so proud of our church." I immediately followed up to find out what were the key factors in this young couple, who also had a newborn baby, having such a great experience.

The following are 11 types of churches you are excited to take your unchurched friends to:

1. Church members that act like they are expecting unchurched people to show up. This church had clear signage upon entering the property that directed them directly to easy-access Visitor Parking.

2. Church members that are genuinely glad unchurched people showed up. Upon entering their parking space, an attendant opened the door of the wife and helped them get their newborn baby out of the vehicle. As they walked toward the building, the attendant said, "We're glad you're visiting with us today."

3. Churches that have people designated to serve them. Upon entering the church building, the attendant handed the family over to a nice female greeter. This was the second point of contact in just a few moments.

4. Churches that give unchurched people multiple options. The greeter then provided the family multiple options on what to do with their baby—nursing room, nursery or the best places to sit in the sanctuary.

5. Churches that are proactive and well-informed. After presenting the mother with the three options, she then gave her a tour of each area. The greeter was well-informed on both the church as well as the needs of this young family.

6. Churches that are concerned with their children's safety. Security and the safety of children are big deals to both church and unchurched people. The greeter went over how the entire security process worked if they chose to leave their baby in the nursery. This included a numbering system which would be shown on an overhead screen. The visiting mother was also introduced to another lady stationed just outside the sanctuary doors who would escort her back to the nursery if she needed to leave the service and see her baby.

7. Churches that are generous to unchurched people. After taking her on a tour and making sure their baby was adequately cared for, they were given a gift which included a wrapped mug with a Starbuck's gift card.

8. Churches that meet the needs of unchurched people. After receiving their gift, the couple was taken to the church cafe where they were served quality (not cheap) complimentary coffee and muffins. At this point they are ready to attend the morning worship service.

9. Churches that create services unchurched people love to attend. The young husband was ambushed by a worship service unlike anything he attended as a boy. What a pleasant surprise.

10. Churches that create memorable events for unchurched people. The church happened to be taking family photos this past Sunday. With their baby just being a couple of months old, the family received a tangible memory for their first outing together.

11. Churches that unchurched people come back to. The couple told my wife's friend, "This was great. We'll be back next week."

Is your church a place Christians are excited to take their unchurched friends to? Use this list of 11 practices to judge how you are doing.

Brian Dodd's daytime job is as a Generosity Architect and leadership consultant for INJOY Stewardship Solutions. During the last 10-plus years, he has spent each day having one-on-one conversations with many of the greatest church leaders in America. He also has over 25 years of church volunteer and staff experience. Check out his blog: Brian Dodd on Leadership.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Brian K. Dodd ) Community Tue, 23 Dec 2014 20:00:00 -0500
Stories of Transformation: Assessment Tool Gives Washington Church a Spark

For Pastor Dave Chandler of Lake City Foursquare Church, an assessment provided the catalyst to address the areas in his church needing change.

Lake City is in Moses Lake, Washington, a growing community located in a rural area in the center of the state with an agricultural history, but a burgeoning manufacturing and technology companies.

Averaging around 350 people today, the church had gone through "some pretty hard times" according to Chandler.

So when his denominational district decided to use the Transformational Church Assessment Tool (TCAT), he thought it would be a good time to take a check.

Much of the assessment provided encouragement to Chandler and his leadership. "Generally, everyone gave us high marks," Chandlers says, "much higher than I would have given us."

What did not surprise him were the areas that came back lower than they would like—discipleship, community and small groups.

Realizing these areas were the weakest provided an impetus for the church to make changes that had previously been resisted.

"We were doing a traditional Wednesday night service and people wanted to keep it," Chandler says.

"But when we came back with the results and showed them that people wanted small groups and we didn't have any, that gave us the ammunition to start doing what we needed to do."

Having previous negative experiences with small groups, Chandler says he was hesitant to start them at Lake City, but he knew they needed to do more with discipleship and community.

Instead of making haphazard changes, Chandler and the church decided to be deliberate in the adjustments to make sure things were done right.

TCAT "gave us the impetus to chart a path and took the pressure off to do things quickly," he says.

Moving forward, Chandler sees real growth at Lake City. "For the first time in the 12 years I've been here, I can lay out exactly how we are taking somebody in through the front door and disciple them out," he says.

The TCAT process has been so beneficial to the church, Chandler says they expect to take it again next year.

For pastors considering using an assessment, he would encourage pastors to do it even if they believe they know what areas need to be changed.

"If a pastor's been at it very long at all, he knows what needs to be done," Chandler says. "But TCAT gives the kick in the pants needed to get going on what needs to be done."

More information about the TCAT can be found online at

Aaron Earls is the online editor at LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit

]]> (Aaron Earls) Community Wed, 17 Dec 2014 20:00:00 -0500
7 Questions Every Volunteer Asks, but Not Out Loud

So you'd love to see more volunteers serve in your church or organization. Who wouldn't?

And yet when it comes to volunteers, a surprising number of leaders struggle. Many leaders suffer from:

  • A chronic shortage
  • High turnover
  • Mediocre or poor morale

Ask most leaders why this is, and they can't tell you. And yet the reasons are not that difficult to figure out. Often you just need to shift perspectives.

Start With This One

Here's a simple place to start. If you're always short on volunteers, ask yourself:

Would you volunteer for you?

Answer honestly. The response can be very telling.

If the answer's no (or you think the answer is yes, but almost everyone else would answer it for you differently), then the next step is to figure out why. Why aren't people stepping up or sticking around?

That's where the next seven questions can help.

Seven Questions Every Volunteer Asks

Almost every volunteer at some point probably asks variations of these seven questions, whether they ever say them out loud or not. If you've volunteered for someone else, you've probably asked them whether you realize it or not.

Develop great, healthy answers to these seven questions, and volunteers are far more likely to stick around.

Better yet, they're likely to grow and flourish under your leadership.

1. Is this really about the mission? Most people want to give themselves to a cause that's bigger than themselves. In my view, no cause is greater or more worthy than the mission of the local church.

Yet many churches lose focus on the mission. Volunteering ends up being about:

  • Filling a slot
  • Meeting a need
  • Doing your duty
  • Or in the worst case scenario, volunteering can become more about serving the ego of the leader than it is about serving Christ.

When you keep the true mission of the church or your organization central, people rally. For example, in addition to leading a local church, I sit on the board of directors for an extremely well-run local food bank. Their mission? A city in which no one is hungry. That's inspiring.

When you lose focus on the mission, volunteers lose heart. Every volunteer wants to give their time to something bigger than us or bigger than themselves. So give them that opportunity.

2. Are the relationships around here healthy? No community should have better relationships than the local church.

After all, our faith is based on a Savior who reconciled the world to Himself, forgiving our sin. What could we possibly hold against one another?

And yet often the local church has some of the most fractious, passive-aggressive relationships out there.

We have a savior who came full of grace and truth, yet often church leaders will swing to either extreme: all grace, so issues are never dealt with, or all truth, so people get hurt.

Even if you don't lead a church (leaders from a variety of backgrounds read this blog), realize that many people love the mission of the organization they work for, they just can't stand the personal politics and dysfunction.

One of the greatest gifts church leadership can give to a congregation is healthy relationships. So be healthy.

Not sure what that means? Start by changing one thing. Talk to people you disagree with, not about them. That will change far more than you think.

Additionally, almost every organization has toxic people in it. Here's a primer on how to spot and deal with toxic people.

3. Will serving help me grow spiritually? It's ironic that in many churches and organizations, people equate serving with burning out, not being renewed.

And yet Christian service should be a paradox of renewal: When we give our lives away, we find them. When we serve, we grow.

Part of growing is providing a healthy environment. Pay attention to the issues addressed by the other six questions and you'll have an environment that favors growth.

But you also need to care for volunteers spiritually, or at least provide an environment in which spiritual growth flourishes.

Pray for them. Pray with them. Share your journey. Encourage theirs. Mentor your key leaders.

You can't guarantee spiritual growth will happen, but you can provide the conditions in which it can easily happen.

4. Am I just a means to an end? I wish I could get some of my early years of leadership back. As much as I would have denied it at the time, I think I naturally saw people as a means to an end.

The end was (and is) a great one: fulfilling the mission of Christ's church.

But people matter. A lot.

Nobody likes feeling used, but that's often how churches and other organizations treat people.

Care about them. Encourage them. Ask questions. Listen to their stories. Pray for them.

When you have a healthy, Christ-centered, energized team who knows they're valued, the mission advances further and faster anyway.

5. Will you help me develop the skills I need? I had a friend who has visited a lot of churches and nonprofits tell me recently that—as well-intentioned as leaders are—the vast majority of organizations are, in his view, poorly run.

That's a tragedy.

Why is the local Wal-Mart better run than the local church? Seriously. One is selling products that last a day, a month or a year. The other is brokering life change that lasts forever. The church should be the best in the world at recruiting, training and releasing people into ministry and their calling.

Many volunteers who come your way are highly capable people who just need a little training to know how to master the specific task you're giving them.

A good heart just needs to be supplemented with a good skill set. Set aside an evening or a Saturday to properly train volunteers as they start serving, and then top up their training from time to time to help them get better at what they do.

6. Are you organized, or are you going to waste my time? Disorganization is epidemic among church leaders and nonprofits.

Too many volunteers show up to do their job only to discover that they also have to do yours because, once again, you've dropped some balls.

The more organized you are (on time, prepared, other holes plugged), the more your volunteers will be able to excel at what you've asked them to do.

As I first outlined in this post, disorganization is one of the six reasons many leaders lose high-capacity volunteers. Here are five more.

7. So, am I signing up for life? In many churches, serving is like the Hotel California. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

You're a Christian for life, but that doesn't mean you have to serve in one role for life. But many churches just assume people will.

What if you start putting a time line on every role? What if your conversation sounded more like:

  • Why don't you try this for a season?
  • Can you serve with us for this semester/year?
  • People in this position typically serve for a three-year term. You can try it out for a month before you commit to that term.

We definitely have some long-term serving roles at Connexus (for example, we ask our high school small group leader to serve for four years), but we're clear on the term from the outset.

Most other roles can easily be shortened to a few months to a year. If you start providing end dates for roles, you'll notice something surprising. Many people stay after their term has ended. They sign up for more.

Surprisingly, when you give volunteers an out, many lean in.

Want More?

In churches and nonprofit world, leading and managing volunteers is one of the most important tasks you'll have.

If you're looking for more tangible resources, my friends at Volunteer Rocket will help take you in depth. It's a year's worth of resources to help you gain, train and retain volunteers that can help you completely change your volunteer culture.

What questions do you ask when you volunteer somewhere? What other unspoken questions do you think volunteers are asking?

Carey Nieuwhof is Lead Pastor of Connexus Church north of Toronto, Canada, blogs at and is host of The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast available for free on iTunes.

For the original article, visit

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