Ministry Outreach Mon, 25 May 2015 13:43:10 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb The 10 Most Influential Churches of the Last Century At some level, all Christians want their churches to be influential in carrying out the work of God. One pathway to increased influence is a road we often overlook—the one behind us.

Looking back can be good. It can give us wisdom and perspective. It can also help us look forward to what God is doing next in your churches and ours.

The Ten Most Influential Churches of the Past Century: How They Impact You Today, by Elmer L. Towns, is a helpful book that looks back at 10 historic spiritual shifts of the last century and identifies a church closest to the center of each one. You may not have heard of these pioneering churches and their leaders, but we suspect you have been influenced by them far more than you realize. And we strongly suspect that after reading each of their stories, you'll be glad you did—and you'll have a better perspective on your own church and how God is at work in and around it.

It is hard to imagine anyone more qualified to identify and describe these trends and the personalities behind them than Towns, our friend, mentor, co-author and fellow researcher. Starting in the 1960s, he became the nation's leading figure in creating "top 10" lists and narratives about influential churches. Both of us have a shelf full of his books and magazine articles that we've underlined and dog-eared, gaining important insights about where we've come from and therefore where we're headed.

His motive in this book is to help expand your impact. As he was formulating the idea for this book, emailing us with his thoughts, it was very clear that he believes the most influential churches in the last 100 years can motivate every church to become a church of greater influence. Even his title, The Ten Most Influential Churches of the Past Century, is designed to capture people's attention and help them become more influential.

At some level, all Christians want their churches to be influential in carrying out the work of God.

Overview of the Top 10

The first chapter is about the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. Even if you don't identify with that approach to Christianity, you need to know that roughly 1 in 4 people globally who claim to follow Jesus Christ identify with it.

That explosive growth has occurred in just over 100 years. The Pentecostal movement began with a few churches (usually on the other side of the tracks) that appealed to a marginal population. Mainstream Christianity labeled them such terms as fanatical or excessive. Some called them weird or heretical—or much worse.

It all went viral when a 1906 revival broke out in an Azusa Street mission church located among the poor in Los Angeles, California. Visitors came from all over the world to be touched by the Holy Spirit, and then went back launching Pentecostal/Charismatic denominations/movements that in turn touched the world. Today, some of the largest congregations in the world are Pentecostal driven (see Warren's list at

A second greatest phenomenon in the last 100 years has been the explosive growth of house churches in Communist China. When the bamboo curtain slammed down in 1958, many Westerners thought the light of Christianity would be extinguished and all the missionary work for hundreds of years would be lost.

However, we've learned in recent decades that one of the greatest church movements in the world has been the underground church in China, multiplying exponentially without foreign mission supervision, Western missionaries, seminaries, denominational structure or even buildings. They have none of the physical assets we find in American Christianity, yet the world marvels at what God has done.

A third trend in the Christian church has been the growing interactions of people, leading to multicultural and multiethnic churches around the world. After World War II, the restrictive borders in most nations came down, and the church entered the era of the Interstate and the Internet (i.e., the Interstate stands for an explosion in transportation, while the Internet stands for explosion of communications).

People from various cultures that make up the many nations of the world have traveled extensively, and most of the churches have thrown their doors open to win any and all to Jesus Christ. While America has struggled to overcome its background of slavery and segregation, many churches have led the way in modeling worship that welcomes every tribe, nation, people and language (Rev. 5:9) so that what the children sing in Sunday school is true: "Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world."

Looking back can be good. It can give us wisdom and perspective.

A fourth phenomenon is the largest church in history, the Central Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea. In 2007, the church reached 760,000 members when its pastor, David Yonggi Cho, retired and turned the reins over to a second-generation pastor, Yong-hoon Lee. This church was not built on massive evangelism in large meetings; or through radio, television, or the media; or even through evangelism experienced in the church services of its home on Yoido Island. Rather, 35,000 small groups located in living rooms, laundry rooms, restaurants and apartment building exercise rooms have produced unparalleled growth and influence around the world. Yonggi Cho has said, "Just as the physical body grows by the division of its biological cells, so the spiritual body of Jesus Christ grows by the division of its spiritual cells."

The fifth chapter describes the exponential growth of the Southern Baptist Convention, which grew from a small denomination located primarily in the southeast United States in 1900 to become the largest Protestant denomination in America. While many contributing personalities and policies are responsible for the growth of Southern Baptist, the most illustrative example is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, where Dr. W.A. Criswell motivated and organized lay workers of a large wealthy downtown church to build the biggest church in America through Sunday school visitation. They expanded their Sunday school classes, and as a result the church grew.

A sixth trend among churches is reflective of the ever-expanding educational growth in the United States as well as throughout the world. A history of preaching reveals that most sermons were devotional, motivational and/or topical three-point messages followed by a poem. But C.I. Scofield might have been the man who changed the focus of sermons.

When Scofield edited the footnotes of the Scofield Reference Bible, it became one of the biggest sellers in America and across the English-speaking world, selling more than 2 million copies in 30 years. The Scofield Reference Bible became one of the most influential books of evangelical Christianity in the last 100 years. It gave international fame to Scofield as a Bible teacher who visited the great Bible conferences of the late 1800s and early 1900s to teach the Word of God. He then brought an educational methodology to his pulpit in Dallas, Texas. His Bible expositional teaching became a standard at Dallas Theological Seminary, and it influenced a large section of the evangelical world to use the Sunday morning sermon not as a motivational pulpit, but to teach the Word of God.

A seventh church to influence evangelicalism was not designed for Christians but for the unchurched. Bill Hybels designed a church service where those who did not have a church background would be comfortable and have the gospel presented to them with contemporary music, drama, and messages all found within a contemporary environment. This church coined the phrase "seeker services," where an unsaved person could seek God in the integrity of his or her pursuit. Many thousands of pastors visited the Willow Creek pastors' conferences and went home to duplicate the influence of the church.

Every church leader should read the stories of these 10 churches and compare their own experiences to these trends.

An eighth trend traces the growth and worldwide influence of what some call praise-worship music. Church historian Kenneth Scott Latourette said that whenever there was a true revival among God's people, inevitably there was also a new hymnody—the revived church praised the Lord with music expressing its own genre. In each revival, believers sang to God with the music they sang in their normal lives. No one can doubt the explosive influence of praise-worship music across the churches of the world, and no church better reflects that movement than a church in Sydney, Australia, that changed its name to Hillsong—since its music label was so widely known. Darlene Zschech, who was a worship leader for the church, brought tears to the eyes of many as they sang, "My Jesus ... my Savior ... shout to the Lord."

A ninth trend is the church embracing advertisement, marketing and media to carry out its strategy of evangelism and communicate its message to the masses. Beginning in approximately 1900, many churches embraced a radio ministry. Continuing into the 1950s, many other churches embraced television ministry. Perhaps none was more effective than Jerry Falwell and the Old Time Gospel Hour. During the late 1970s, his church service was televised into every MIA (media impact area) across America. But Falwell did more than preaching; he also used his mailing ministry to rally his viewing audience to the church's causes, and he created teaching programs (the Liberty Home Bible Institute, with more than 100,000 graduates). Eventually, the church's ministry was expanded through what would later become Liberty University Online, where more than 90,000 students enroll in accredited courses, learning through their computer from a uniquely Christian university.

A 10th trend is noted for its transforming influence on church culture as much as its influence on new methods and new programs. After World War II, the parents who were responsible for winning World War II gave birth to the generation known as the Baby Boomers. These children were influenced by television, wealth and changing expectations of cultures. The churches struggled to incorporate the growing numbers of Baby Boomers into their traditional church culture. The young didn't think like their parents, did not dress like their parents, did not sing like them, did not eat like them, nor did they dream like them. Some Baby Boomers were initially focused on "California Dreaming," and they were representative of the multiple thousands of young people who rebelled against what they called the recessive middle class and became hippies in California.

It was there that the 10th church in this study, Calvary Chapel, and its pastor, Chuck Smith, presented the historic message of Jesus Christ in a new package. Many youth were converted and were called "Jesus People." Smith let them sing their new music and dress their comfortable way, and a new counterculture church began to spread across America. No more suits and ties; rather, young people dressed leisurely. A new culture took over from the old traditional church culture. It impacted many.

Types of Influence

Looking through these 10 historical windows that Elmer Towns has opened for us, we note the various ways that the influence of each church was effective. We broke the categories into four realms: (1) inward for spiritual growth, (2) upward to God, (3) relational to other believers and (4) outward to the non-Christian.

First, we see the inward influence of Azusa Street Revival, where believers experienced the Holy Spirit in renewal and revival. Then, the Scofield Church taught members the Word of God, and biblical knowledge became foundational to their lives and service.

Second, we see the upward influences of Hillsong Church and praise worship music that focused on praising God and glorifying Him.

A third area was relational to each another. The most obvious was Ebenezer Baptist Church and Martin Luther King Jr.'s emphasis on racial reconciliation and integration so that all ethnic groups would be one in Christ. Another is the powerful koinonia of the Chinese underground church, where they clung to one another when there was no outward reinforcement of their faith. Then there is the intimacy of the cell groups in Yonggi Cho's Full Gospel Church, which preached spiritual strength. Finally, we observe that Calvary Chapel refashioned its music, dress, programming, and outward expressions of faith so the young people worshiped differently from what they perceived as dead Christianity.

A final area is outward influence of evangelism. Obviously, First Baptist Church of Dallas was Great Commission-oriented in its evangelistic Sunday school-class outreach. So was Thomas Road Baptist Church in its media and advertising outreach to communicate the gospel to every available person, with every available method, at every available time.

Types of Methods

From these 10 churches and corresponding movements, we note the various methods used by each church that made it influential. A church method is the application of biblical principles to the culture where a church is located. Some churches became influential just by "being," while others employed distinct methods that they copied and followed.

The Azusa Street Revival clearly sought the filling of the Holy Spirit and His coming on individuals. The Chinese underground church gathered in house churches, just as the early church did in the book of Acts. Yonggi Cho also applied biblical patterns of small groups when he divided his church into cells to do the work of ministry. Then Hillsong influenced the evangelical world by worshipping God through praise music.

Martin Luther King Jr. used nonviolent civil disobedience as a method to bring racial harmony, and W.A. Criswell used Sunday school visitation to influence his church. Scofield applied a teaching pulpit, and Bill Hybels used a seeker-sensitive methodology. Jerry Falwell used saturation evangelism, and Calvary Chapel used a tool that later was described as contemporary and casual church.

Types of Leadership

Finally, we can't help but observe the role of leadership in the 10 chapters. Two of the trends seemed to grow indigenously from inside the church. The first was the Chinese house church movement, where no one individual leader seemed to be the dominant force behind the influential trend. The second was the Calvary Chapel movement, where the Baby Boomers that founded the movement basically remapped how people would do church.

A church method is the application of biblical principles to the culture where a church is located.

The other eight churches were led by people who conceived of a new idea of serving God and began to implement it in their churches. These leaders were revolutionary ... cataclysmic ... change agents. Their leadership was measured by the obstacles they had to overcome—so much so that their names became symbolic of the influence they spawned.

These were often leaders who prevailed against insurmountable odds, with limited resources, in difficult circumstances, all to glorify God, and might we add, to the influence of other churches. They were leaders who believed God wanted them to do what they did and then influenced others to do the same.

Ask God for Boldness and Courage

Every church leader should read the stories of these 10 churches and compare their own experiences to these trends. This certainly doesn't mean that every church has to become like one of the churches in these pages, but pastors and leaders can learn this: they can gain discernment in what to change (culture) and what not to change (the gospel). Also, as those reading this book will see how one church can influence the world, they might pray to do the same.

What's going to happen a hundred years from now? What 10 churches will be the most influential for the years ad 2000-2100? We have no idea. But if Jesus does not come in the next 100 years, we do have an idea that great churches will be led by great innovators who take a great idea, and with great courage, implement the method that God has placed on their hearts.

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

]]> (Ed Stetzer ) Ministry Outreach Thu, 29 Jan 2015 20:00:00 -0500
Small Group Involvement Can Change Lives At NewSpring Church, we believe that you can't do life alone.

Honestly, I would say that the single most important thing for me in regards to me staying connected in my walk with Christ has been having godly friends in my life that could laugh and cry with me when I needed them the most. 

I hope that one day every person at NewSpring Church is connected with other people and doing life with them. One of the best ways to get connected to other people at our church is through NewSpring Groups.

We have groups launching all across the state in the month of September. I cannot tell you how awesome it is to be able to meet with people, have a bite to eat and have a time of what I call "spiritual refreshing" during the week! 

I have heard countless stories from people about how being involved in a group has changed their life. This is one of the ways a big church can feel small. Groups are not something we do—it's who we are. I've always said that a church is not effective when the pastor ministers to the people but rather when the body ministers to the body.

Being in a group allows you to do life with people on a consistent basis. Groups are people who can come alongside you when times get tough and to celebrate with you when times are happy.

And for all of the singles out there, groups are a great way to meet other single people (Always trying to help). There are several people that I know of that met each other in a group who are now married with kids ... just saying.

Our NewSpring Groups team has made it as easy as possible to get plugged into a group according to their location and age/stage in life. Check out our website to see how we are doing it, or contact the Groups team directly with questions. 

Pastors, if you don't have a small groups ministry in your church, please look into the possibility. It can change the lives of the members of your congregation.

We purchased the study we are doing at NewSpring this September at LifeWay Christian Bookstores, so if you are interested in doing this group study, you can pick it up at your local LifeWay store or order it online here.

Perry Noble is the founding and senior pastor of NewSpring Church in South Carolina. The church averages 25,000 people during weekend services at multiple campuses throughout the state. Perry is a gifted communicator and teacher, convicted about speaking the truth as plainly as possible. God has given him a vision and a passion for helping people meet Jesus, and each week he shares God's Word and its practical application in our daily lives.

]]> (Perry Noble ) Ministry Outreach Wed, 13 Aug 2014 13:00:00 -0400
How Some Churches Grow Outside the Box Since the advent of Christianity some 2,000 years ago, a local church body usually has grown beyond its physical capacity in one of two ways: building or relocating to a larger site, or sending forth leaders to plant a new church elsewhere, often taking with them families who felt similarly called to this new location. In recent years, however, some churches have embraced relatively new methods to expand beyond the boundaries of their current facilities.

Though not without their own challenges and not necessarily the best fit for every church looking at options for managing its growth, these three methods have been used by a myriad of churches across the nation and may be worth a look.

Method No. 1: Multisite

Many churches have embraced a multisite approach to growth. Central Florida's Northland, A Church Distributed; Urbana, Illinois' The Vineyard and Surprise, Arizona's Parkway Christian Church are only a few of the large churches that have expanded their breadth by opening multiple locations serving area communities. Some megachurches, like California's Saddleback Church, have expanded globally, with its multiple sites in Southern California supplemented by satellite campuses in Argentina, Germany, China and the Philippines. Though not exclusively used by megachurches, the staffing, upkeep and ministry offerings of multiple sites at once is a difficult, expensive and time-consuming enterprise that often lends itself to large, financially robust churches.

The multisite approach differs from church planting in that planted churches are usually autonomous bodies with their own dedicated pastors, while satellite campuses share the same name, mission and vision—as well as many of the same pastors and programs—as a multi-site church's main campus. Satellite campuses can help facilitate not only numerical expansion of congregants, but also geographic expansion. Large metropolitan areas tend to be prime markets for the multisite approach, as reducing traffic hassles and traveling distance can open up new groups who might be interested in attending your church.

Multisite is not without its detractions, however. One difficulty can come in reduced feelings of community stemming from a physical displacement from the rest of the church body. Though satellite campuses usually have their own pastoral staff, the main pastors often primarily focus on the main campus. The lead pastor usually delivers his sermon live to the main campus, while satellite campuses have to settle for a live video stream on a projector. The church's biggest events are usually concentrated on the main campus, and though similar smaller events may be held in tandem at the satellite campuses, this can make some congregants feel their campus is inferior.

Further, in a single church, splintered across several campuses miles apart, pastors and staff must work hard to ensure that all congregants feel included in the church body. Large churches can already struggle with the relational aspect, as face time with lead pastors can be far more difficult to come by in a congregation of several thousand. The small-group ministries that many churches use to ensure members feel loved as people—instead of just another number lost in a sea of faces—can also prove key to making those attending satellite campuses feel included and valued.

Method No. 2: Mergers

A church merger is just what it sounds like: two or more churches becoming one. There are several different scenarios that fall under the merger umbrella, and all of them need to be navigated with care.

Reasons for mergers can include a church that has outgrown its facilities, shifts in leadership positions or needs, or simply the belief that a set of believers can do more for the kingdom together than as separate entities. Though mergers are usually initiated with an eye toward greater things to come, some members of the participating churches may feel uncomfortable with the shift as the part of their church's identity is changed in one fell swoop. These feelings can be understandable, and must be navigated with prayer, compassion and understanding as you move the church toward the vision God has given you.

Merging two distinct church bodies into one new body can come with hazards of its own. Each church has unique doctrines, leadership, staff, traditions, ministries, assets and members whose needs should be taken into account. Launching into a merger without careful evaluation of how each element will change during and after the transition could cause the whole process to melt down mid-stream. If you find that the two churches cannot come to agreement on certain points, it may be best to walk away from the merger lest it cause damage and division to your congregations.

Method No. 3: Buy-outs

Perhaps the most controversial of these methods is when a struggling church is "bought out" by a financially healthy one. It is similar to a merger, except that, instead of a brand new merged church resulting, the church being bought out ceases to be, its membership and assets being absorbed into the "stronger" church. Unlike with mergers, there is an obvious "power" difference between the two entities, and the church being bought can feel slighted even if the buy-out is handled with care.

In a buy-out, one church is usually financially unable to continue its ministry as it is. Much like a corporate acquisition, the weaker church's assets, including the building, are incorporated into the healthy church's coffers, as are its liabilities. The leadership is often largely or completely replaced, though the "parent" church may choose to keep a few leaders on staff if they are a good fit for the church's needs. Oftentimes the bought-out church can become a satellite campus for the larger church's multisite goals, or it could even be used as the main campus for a younger, growing church that has expanded beyond its current facilities.

Despite the usually attendant leadership changes for the purchased church, many members may want to stay; it's the closest thing they have to a home church at that point, after all. This influx of new members can be a good thing for the bigger church and for the body of believers as a whole, but bear in mind the doctrinal differences and emotional ties to the previous church that may become barriers to full assimilation. Some, or even most, of the previous church's membership may want to leave, particularly if their doctrines don't line up with those of the larger church, and that's OK. Make sure that, no matter what side of the buy-out you're on, you treat both your members and those of the other church with respect, integrity and, above all else, love.

If you are considering any of these methods for your church, make sure to do so prayerfully, reflecting on what is best for the congregation's present and future needs, as well as the vision God has given you. There are myriad variations on each of these three methods that may crop up depending on your situation. Do sufficient research to ensure you make the right decision with the right people at the right place in the right time. Make sure that, no matter what path you take to grow your church, you never lose sight of the reason you were called to ministry in the first place.  

Jeremy Burns is a best-selling novelist and an assistant editor for Charisma Media.

]]> (Jeremy Burns) Ministry Outreach Tue, 08 Jul 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Tracking With Jesus Mission MinOut-MetricsHow to calculate your church’s true missional impact

A friend of mine who pastors a church of 120 people in a town of 1,000 recently told me about a strange encounter he had with a megachurch pastor in another area about what constitutes a megachurch. The megachurch pastor led a church of 10,000 in a town of 600,000 and told my friend that if your church was reaching at least 1 percent of the population of your town, then you were leading a megachurch.

His assertion made my friend wonder if this was really true or was it just faulty logic. He asked this pastor how he would classify a church that was reaching 12 percent of the town’s population. The pastor was stunned.

“Who is doing that?” he asked.

“Our church is consistently running 120 people in a small town of 1,000!” my friend responded. To which the megachurch pastor quickly replied, “Yes, but that’s a different model .”

Beyond Raw Numbers

In some ways, the megachurch pastor was right. Few people would argue that pastoring 120 people is different from pastoring 12,000 people. And we’d all say that leading a church in a fast-growing suburb is significantly different from leading one in a rural community or complex downtown urban setting. So in some ways comparing the two ministry contexts is apples and oranges. They are different.

But in other ways the megachurch pastor was dead wrong. From the perspective of the people reached and actual community impact, reaching 12 percent of a small town offers a much greater result then reaching 1 percent of a larger city, regardless of the raw numbers’ magnitude. 

This “percentage of impact” number might be a strategic and effective tool to help us equalize our understanding of the missional impact of a church and get away from what I think is a shortsighted idea that the only factor that really matters is how many people gather in one place at one time.

Kingdom Measurements

The “percentage of impact” number is simply the number of people attending the church compared to the number of people in the local community. When you consider this formula, a church of 120 is a significant force in a small community of 1,000. I won’t argue with the idea that a church of 12,000 is certainly impressive. But it’s much less of a force in a community of 600,000. To be equal in percentage of impact to the church of 120 in a town of 1,000, the megachurch would need to be a church of 72,000 attendees.

Right or wrong, the perception in the American church world is that, when everything is said and done, the more people you have listening to you each Sunday/weekend, the greater leader you are. This idea that quantity is always better is an American idea, not a kingdom idea. America is a great nation, but American values don’t always synch up well with kingdom values. 

Kingdom is about impact, and in the kingdom, your percentage of impact number means more than how many you have in the room at the weekly worship gathering.

Other kingdom measurements that apply regardless of the size of the gathering are metrics such as: 

  • Ratio of baptism to attendees.
  • Ratio of leaders being developed to attendees.
  • Ratio of weekly conversations with lost people per member, etc.

These metrics actually tell you something about how well your church is tracking with the mission of Jesus to seek and save the lost.

When you set out to plant a new church or you’re leading an existing one, make sure you measure the things that matter. If you focus on actions and activities that increase your missional impact, you won’t have to worry about how many people show up to hear you speak. The crowd will increase as you stay focused on the mission of Jesus.

Steve Pike serves as national director for the Church Multiplication Network, which collaborates with church multipliers to effectively equip, strategically fund and innovatively network new faith communities in America. Follow him on Twitter @StevenPike.  

]]> (Steve Pike) Ministry Outreach Tue, 28 Aug 2012 19:28:34 -0400
Random Harvest d-MinOut-Sowing
Don't overlook the power of 'mini' ministry moments to reach people

For the longest time the 93-year-old neighbor I help out has been after me to watch one of her favorite classic movies, Random Harvest.
If I had to choose a phrase to describe the kingdom of God, it might be that title.

So much of what we spend our time doing in full-time ministry is planning. And pre-planning. And, of course, post-event planning, in which we determine what we'll do differently next time based on areas that could be maximized to yield more favorable results.

We're right to be diligent and work to prove ourselves good stewards of the fields God has entrusted us with—please don't think I'm saying otherwise. But sometimes I wonder if in our overwrought efforts to reach others we lose God's heart for them.

Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know" (Mark 4:26-27, NASB).

Jesus' Example of Divine Encounters
We think of Jesus as one who ministered to the multitudes, who drew crowds of thousands simply by showing up to speak on a hillside or healing the hundreds clamoring for His touch. And Jesus certainly did both in the context of the masses.

]]> (Sarah Wolf) Ministry Outreach Mon, 29 Oct 2012 13:17:00 -0400
4 Church Growth Secrets From 2,800 Years Ago Most pastors, church planters, and campus missionaries are in the ministry because they want to obey God, serve people, and change the world. Sure, some have messed up motives, but most have pure hearts. And most want to grow in terms of ministering the gospel to more and more people.

Despite honorable motives, the desire to grow and actual measurable growth are not the same. To borrow a word from the prophet Isaiah, many in ministry feel "barren."

Notice what Isaiah said to the barren.

"Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married," says the Lord. (Isaiah 54:1)

After going to the conference, listening to the podcast, reading the book, attempting what the megachurch celebrity suggested, and not seeing results, we usually feel like quitting and complaining, not singing.

Besides singing, Isaiah had clear instruction for those who are being ignored by Outreach Magazine's fastest growing church list.

"Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes" (Isaiah 54:2, NASB).

If you have not experienced the level of fruitfulness you desire, try singing and doing the rest of what Isaiah said:

1. Enlarge your vision ("Enlarge the place of your tent"). Think bigger. Dream bigger. Enlarge your place. Consider getting a bigger facility, or at least maximizing the one you have.

2. Stretch your faith ("let the curtains... be stretched"). Isaiah did not tell them to replace the curtains. Their curtains were OK, they just need to be stretched a bit. Stretching is not comfortable, but is is essential for growth.

3. Lengthen your reach ("lengthen your cords"). OK, you are reaching your campus, your city, your country, but what about the next campus, the next city, and the next nation? When and where is your next campus outreach? When and where is your next church plant? Who is your next campus missionary? Who is your next church planter?

4. Strengthen your foundation ("and strengthen your stakes"). More growth requires more strength. Greater outreach demands greater depth. In a building, the deeper and stronger the foundation, the taller the building. Same in ministry. Deeper and stronger spiritual foundations support greater growth.

Q: Why do we need to enlarge, stretch, lengthen, and strengthen?

A: Because God plans for us to "spread abroad to the right and to the left" and for our next generation to "possess the nations." (Isaiah 54:3).

If you desire growth, whether you feel barren or fruitful, I suggest you get busy enlarging, stretching, lengthening, and strengthening. God will do the rest.

Steve and Deborah Murrell went to the Philippines in 1984 for a one-month summer mission trip that never ended. They are the founding pastors of Victory Manila, one church that meets in 14 locations in metro Manila and has planted churches in 60 Philippine cities and 20 other nations. Currently, Victory has more than 6,000 discipleship groups that meet in coffee shops, offices, dormitories and homes in metro Manila. Steve is co-founder and president of Every Nation Churches and Ministries, a family of churches focused on church planting, campus ministry and world missions.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Steve Murrell ) Church Growth Wed, 20 May 2015 12:00:00 -0400
Is Your Church Designed or Destined to Grow? You may be in charge, but God is in control. As church leaders, we all want our churches to grow; we want to reach more people. But should goals be set and chased, or is it all a divine mystery?

I thoroughly believe that everything rises and falls on leadership. Good leadership is conducive to reaching more people, and poor leadership or the absence of leadership can prevent church growth.

Whether you lean toward designed or destined to grow makes a huge difference in how you lead.

Let me say what I believe and see if you can guess where I land:

1. God intended for His church to grow. If we can call the church a living organism, (a living organization), it's meant to grow.

2. If the church is healthy and has good leadership it will grow.

3. We don't get to decide how large our church becomes. That is up to God. The church belongs to Him.

4. There is nothing wrong with setting quiet, prayerful goals and hard work is required, but ultimately God is in control.

5. If the church is growing, however much or little, be grateful and keep reaching one person at a time.

6. If the church is not growing or going backwards, get aggressive about diagnosing the problem. Don't panic, pray and lead!

7. Nothing living, nothing organic grows forever. For instance, no tree grows forever, no church grows to an unlimited size.

8. In nature, God created seeds to multiply. He provided for continued and long term growth. For a few examples: through multiple services, church planting and multi-site campuses.

OK, it's pretty obvious huh?

I think the church is designed, but not destined to grow.

That dramatically effects how I lead. How about you? I'd love to know what you think.

Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Dan Reiland ) Church Growth Tue, 05 May 2015 18:00:00 -0400
7 Reasons Some Church Members Don’t Want to See Church Growth It is highly unusual to hear church members say that they don't desire their churches to be obedient to the Great Commission. Indeed, it is common for the members of a pastor search committee to tell a prospective pastor that they are looking for a leader who will guide the church toward growth.

And most church members do desire to see their churches grow ... until the growth affects them. It is at that point they can become disillusioned and critical.

So what is it about growth that impacts some members negatively? Let me suggest seven reasons:

1. Loss of familiarity. When a church is growing, it becomes a different church over time. The difference is not necessarily good or bad, but it's not the same as it was in earlier years. Some church members grieve when they see their churches change. They miss "the good old days."

2. Loss of memories. I recently heard a poignant story from a lady whose church was demolishing the old worship center to build a new one to accommodate growth. She and her husband were married in the old worship center. She understandably grieved at the loss of that physical reminder of their wedding.

3. Loss of comfort. Growth can mean that the closest parking spots are no longer available. Growth can mean that the traffic flow in the parking lot is more difficult. Church members can feel that their creature comforts are compromised by growth.

4. Loss of power. New people in a church can mean that power bases are diluted. The growth can result in new influencers in the church. Some of the longer-tenured influencers may not like that.

5. Loss of perceived intimacy. It's a common response: "I used to know everyone in this church. I just don't feel as close to members as I once did." Indeed, growth can mean that all the members may not know each other as they did when the church was smaller.

6. Loss of worship style. New members and attendees might have different worship style preferences. They often influence church leaders to make changes. Existing members may resent these changes. They might also start worship wars.

7. Loss of worship time. Growth in the church may necessitate adding worship services or changing times of worship services. Some members may be frustrated that they have lost "their" worship time.

Obedience to the Great Commission often results in growth in the church. But growth in the church is not always received well by some members.

Some of these members have an attitude that the church is there to serve them and to cater to their needs. Healthy church members understand they are to be giving and sacrificial members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). They will rejoice when more members join the fellowship, and when more people become believers in Christ.

Have you experienced the phenomenon of anti-growth members in your church? How did it manifest itself? I look forward to hearing from you.

Thom Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit

]]> (Thom S. Rainer) Church Growth Thu, 30 Apr 2015 12:00:00 -0400
The Lego Principle: An Interview With Joey Bonifacio Since 1984, Victory Manila in the Philippines has planted 60 churches. Ed Stetzer recently sat down to talk with Joey Bonifacio, one of the pastors of Victory Manila, who explains why the growth has been exponential.

ES: Let's jump right in with my first question, Joey. Where was the idea for calling this discipleship process "The Lego Principle" birthed?

JB: Well, I was looking for a metaphor that was friendly and enjoyable, because a lot of things about church and discipleship have never been discussed from that standpoint. Then, the idea of connecting the top and the bottom, different colors, different shapes, different sizes, different boxes, denominations, different years they were made, it just made sense. There is a universality to it all. Whether made in 1950 or 2011, all Legos still connect.

The idea came to me while I was speaking in Orlando. I was walking in Downtown Disney where there is a gigantic Lego store. In the lake just outside the store, there is a huge green dragon made of legos. As I passed the dragon, it just sort of hit me, "Connect to the top and connect to the bottom. If you can do that, you can create any shape you want." I could not get that thought out of my mind the whole day, "Connect at the top, connect at the bottom."

The burden for me was to understand how you activate the guy in the pew. That was the key. So, with a focus on relationships as the building blocks for disciple-making, it seemed like legos would be the perfect illustration.

ES: So, the Lego Principle is the tool you have used to develop a disciple-making culture within Victory, right? How has it been so transformative for the movement?

JB: Well, first of all, we believe that disciple-making is the thing. It is the business of the church. So, we have focused on the one thing instead of doing all sorts of different things. You know, the more things you do, the more confusing it gets, so we've focused on this one word that people can remember–discipleship. And we've taken the process and broken it down into bite-sized chunks that people can take in relationship, one-at-a-time.

That was what we were looking for and what we have done with the Lego Principle. We've made a way for the guy in the pew to say, "I can do this." It is bite-sized enough for him not to be overwhelmed with commitment, but to actually feel equipped and activated for ministry. I mean, it's all based on relationships. It's as simple as having tea and chips with a friend, falling in love with God together, and loving one another. When people feel that way, it becomes what they do; it becomes their dominant activity without them even thinking about it. That is when it shapes culture.

Build it into your culture so that you can activate every guy in every pew to love God and love people.

ES: OK. So, tell me how it works. Let's say Joey Bonifacio walks into a church service. He is an unbeliever just beginning to check things out. How do you take him from that point to becoming a reproducing disciple?

JB: Well, if the culture is discipleship at every level, then it manifests in various ways. It could be a 12-year-old attending or serving in kids' ministry who connects with a visitor and reaches out to her. So, engagement begins with a new friend in church. It could be—and this is a true story—a university professor who wants to play the saxophone on Sunday mornings and asks how to sign up. The beginning of volunteering in our church is a process called "One to One." By entering this process just to play because he loves music, his discipleship has begun, and he does not even realize it.

I travel a lot, so I think of it like an airport. No matter where you enter the airport, whether the east end or the west end, you still end up at your gate. Why? Because the entire structure of the airport is designed to get you there. Everyone who works there knows that is the end goal, so they work together to accomplish it. That's how we think about making disciples. Whatever gate he enters, we are ushering him to the end goal of being a reproducing disciple.

ES: That is a good analogy. I fly a lot, so I get that. Tell me, though, about the nuts and bolts. What is the process behind the Lego Principle?

JB: Well, again, it's really all about relationships. That is how we motivate the guy in the pew. I mentioned One to One, which is a discipleship process. It is not meant for one person to teach someone else a bunch of information, like a class. It is for friends to walk through and learn by experience together. You can't tell someone how delicious chocolate is; they have to taste it, right? The same is true of God's love. We want people to experience it together.

So, there's an app for that (an actual app on iTunes). We developed a six chapter discipleship program that people work through together as friends that give a foundation for faith and present the gospel. This is the tool our people use to walk through the gospel with friends, which is key. We don't want anyone to begin the conversation with the tool, because that is just a sales pitch. We want people to build the relationship first, and then learn together. We want people to activate the guy in the pew to love people and give him the structure to help them "find their gate."

ES: That's good. You're creating disciples and disciplers at the same time. What comes next?

JB: Right. Well, after One to One, hopefully we have new believers, who we move into something we call Victory weekend. It is a two-day class that the new Christian and the discipler go through together, as well. It deals with building the foundation of Christ, the whole focus of our identity, and it leads to a baptism the following day. It is really incredible to see people baptize new Christians with whom they have walked through the process of leading them to Christ, and it fuels the culture of disciple-making.

Value the same things Jesus valued. Focus less on the systems and structures and processes.

After Victory weekend, people can go together through what we call Training for Victory, which is more in-depth study, teaching people to love the Bible, and involving them in discipleship. The end goal of the training is to get people to start their own small groups and help others grow, as well.

ES: That is great. One final question: What would you say to church leaders in my audience about discipleship and disciple-making that they may not know now?

JB: Sure. I think it's simple. Value the same things Jesus valued. Focus less on the systems and structures and processes. While they are important, we need to focus more on getting entire churches to love God and love others. Build it into your culture so that you can activate every guy in every pew to love God and love people. I think that's still the name of the game.

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

]]> (Ed Stetzer) Church Growth Fri, 10 Apr 2015 18:00:00 -0400
Why Most Churches Don’t Exceed 350 in Average Attendance Nine out of 10. That's a lot.

Nine out of 10 churches in America have an average worship attendance of less than 350. And that percentage has not changed significantly for many years. Yet the unchurched pool of persons is increasing in most communities. There are people yet to be reached.

But most churches will never exceed 350 in attendance. Why?

A Few Caveats

Allow me to preface my analysis. First, big is not necessarily better. A church with more people in attendance is not necessarily more faithful than a smaller church. Second, some churches are in very sparsely populated areas. There may not be 350 people in a five-mile radius (though every community still has people who need to be reached).

My third caveat is key. I believe leadership is indeed a biblical and theological issue. It's really a matter of healthy stewardship. I offer this third caveat because I will be addressing the issue of leadership in this post.

Attendance Levels of Churches in America

We are a nation and continent of smaller churches. And though we have far more small churches than large churches, there is a big migration of people from smaller to larger churches. In other words, many of the smaller churches are getting smaller, and many of the larger churches are getting larger.

Here is a simple depiction of the number of churches at three different levels:

  • 50 percent of all churches in America average less than 100 in worship attendance.
  • 40 percent of all churches in America average between 100 and 350 in attendance.
  • 10 percent of all churches in America average more than 350 in attendance.

Keep in mind that the upper 10 percent tend to include more of the growing churches, while the lower 90 percent tend to include more of the declining churches.


One of the Key Reasons

There is no single reason to explain the apparent ceiling of 350 in attendance of most churches. I do believe, however, that there is a major reason for this barrier. Such is the thesis of this post:

One of the key reasons most churches do not move beyond 350 in average worship attendance is they do not have sufficient leadership and structures in place.

Many smart people have provided analyses of what is commonly known as the 200 barrier. I believe that the 200 barrier is highly elastic. In other words, the barrier is really somewhere between 150 and 350, depending on a number of circumstances. Again, I believe that the key reason stated above is among the greatest inhibitors of growth.


Increasing Organizational Complexity

Moses was an unintended victim of organizational complexity. He was trying the Lone Ranger approach to the leadership of Israel. The nation would implode and he would lose his leadership authority if he kept doing what he was doing.

His father-in-law, Jethro, saw the flaws of his leadership and said:

"What you're doing is not good . . . You will certainly wear out both yourself and these people who are with you, because the task is too heavy for you. You can't do it alone" (Exodus 18:17-18, HCSB).

So, following Jethro's advice and wisdom, Moses became a different kind of leader with a different kind of organization.

Here are the five major levels of organizational complexity in churches according to average worship attendance:

1. Under 100: Family and friends

2. 100 to 250: Basic

3. 251 to 350: Challenging

4. 351 to 750: Complex

5. Above 750: Highly complex

Most churches cannot or are not willing to make the types of changes that are necessary in complex organizations. In future resources, I will share what many leaders and churches are doing to move beyond the 100, 250, and 350 ceilings.

In the meantime, let me hear from you.

Thom Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit

]]> (Thom S. Rainer) Church Growth Thu, 02 Apr 2015 15:00:00 -0400
5 Reasons a Church or Organization Stops Growing I was talking with a church recently that had explosive growth, but things have slowed. They wanted to know why they were not growing any longer.

Honestly, I don't know. There are probably different reasons for every church that stops growing.

But this church is seeking answers. So I decided to share some thoughts to consider. And I'm sharing them here.

Obviously, God is ultimately in charge of a church's growth. There are times when God is giving a season of rest and preparation for a church for something to come. In some situations, God may have even taken His hand from the church.

God is into church growth, however. I'm convinced He likes it when a church grows.

It's our mission as believers to produce disciples, and our model example of the first-century church was a growing church, so outside the God factor, there are usually reasons for stagnation in a church. Because the church is an organization made up of people, these reasons are often similar to those you may find true as to why growth stalls in the life of an organization also.

In my experience, there are some common variables when growth stalls. Here are five of them:

1. You get comfortable. It's OK to be comfortable, but when you hang out there too long, it can be dangerous because you stop trying new things to spur growth and excitement.

2. You quit dreaming. Dreams inspire, challenge and grow people and organizations. What could the church accomplish to reach its community? You'll never dream bigger than the dreams God has for you or your church.

3. You stop taking risks. You can't succeed at anything without a measure of risk. Playing it safe never grows anything. The call of God always involves risk-taking.

4. You start maintaining. When you fall into the mode of protecting what you have, you'll be less likely to encourage growth for fear of losing ground.

5. You fail to walk by faith. Especially for the church—we are a faith-based organization. If you aren't walking by faith in what you are doing, it is impossible to please God. (That's biblical. Look it up!)

Those are my quick thoughts.

Obviously, there is so much more to this issue and to each one of these answers. These are general responses, and there are specific issues with every church or organization. Hopefully thinking through each of these as a paradigm for brainstorming may help trigger thoughts toward actions that can spur future growth.

But I've also learned that activity leads to activity. Maybe just having the discussions will begin to stir new momentum. Pray hard and ask God to stir big.

What would you add?

Ron Edmondson is the lead pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. For the original article, visit

]]> (Ron Edmondson) Church Growth Thu, 26 Mar 2015 21:00:00 -0400
Do You Dare Audit Your Church’s Communication Strategy? Everything your church does is communication, from the condition of the parking lot to the content in your bulletin to the tone of your sermon. Everything you do communicates something about what you really value, regardless of what you say you value.

I'm a church communications nut. I read dozens of blogs on design, branding, social media and marketing. I've designed logos, websites and print pieces for dozens of churches. So I've perfected the art and science of church communications, right? Actually, in the last week, I received an email from someone who couldn't find a location for our services, another who had a hard time finding out how to get involved, and a third who couldn't find details on a couple of upcoming events.

But our bulletin does look kind of pretty ...

Since the publishing and communication of the gospel is paramount, I've learned the value of doing some punch-me-in-the-gut audits of our communication strategy. We're constantly tweaking and improving so that we can put our best foot forward and do the best possible job of getting the word out, connecting people to each other, plugging people in, and staying in touch.

To every lead pastor I would say, you need to perform an audit of your church's communication strategy to see if all those sermons you're studying so hard for will have maximum reach in your community. Here's a questionnaire, divided by areas of communication.


Phil Cooke defines a brand as "the story people tell about a person, product or organization." Your church has a brand in your community whether you realize it or not. The key to understanding your brand is to find out what story people tell when your church gets brought up in conversation. That's your brand.

  • What story do we want people to associate with our church? How would we like people to feel when they think about us?
  • What story do people actually tell about us? And how do we know this?
  • Does the appearance of our building, landscaping and outdoor signage communicate the feelings we want people to experience?
  • Do we have a church logo that communicates the feeling and the story we want people to experience?
  • Does our website, bulletin and other printed materials such as brochures, business/invite cards or postcards uniformly agree with the story we're telling across the board?

Church Website

If you're not found in a Google search for churches in your area, you don't exist to people moving into town. A website is essential, even if it's a free or inexpensively made website. And while not every church can afford the fees charged by professional designers, we still ought to invest in our website with both energy and resources that honor the importance of this crucial area of communication.

Is our website responsive and mobile-friendly?

  • Is our most basic information easy to find on our main homepage (location, service times, etc.)?
  • Do we use imagery that tells people that we're human, we're alive and we're welcoming?
  • Are event listings available and up-to-date?
  • Can people easily know what we believewhat we value and how we function?
  • Do we have links to our Facebook page and other social profiles on our website?
  • Is there a way for people to reach out and get in touch with us without leaving our website?
  • Can people easily know how to pursue next steps such as baptism, joining a small group or volunteering in an area of ministry?
  • Do we have a page dedicated to our staff and/or key leaders so that potential visitors can know who we are?

Social Media

Social media is a weird phrase. Media is just information, and "social" simply refers to how information spreads—from person to person, socially. When we use the phrase "social media" we're generally referring to the websites or web-based platforms used for social networking. While a previous generation got to know social media as an optional activity, an up-and-coming generation sees social media the way we see oxygen—it's just part of the air people are breathing.

  • Do we have a main church Facebook page?
  • Do the header and profile images represent us well? Are they consistent with the branding on our website and print pieces?
  • Are we a location that people can check into when they visit on Sunday?
  • Is our address, phone number and website address displayed in the "About" area?
  • Are we posting regularly? At least weekly if not several times per week?
  • Are we posting a variety of content such as pictures, text and links?
  • Are we offering more than just announcements? Are we also telling stories, giving valuable content and extending the preaching of our church in a positive way?
  • Do we engage our fans and followers by responding to comments?
  • Are our key leaders using social media? Are they on Facebook and Twitter? And do they promote the ministry of the church through those platforms?

Print Design

Many experts claim that "print is dying" but most people walking through the doors of a church building on Sunday still expect some kind of bulletin to know what's going on.

  • Does our bulletin look nice and clean? Does it match the look of our website and other communication mediums?
  • Have we put guests first, using bulletin space to explain what to expect during their visit?
  • Have we made it clear what announcements are really the most important?
  • Do we use valuable space to communicate church-wide what could be communicated via a different means to only a few people?
  • Have we offered clear "next steps," such as were to go online to get more information, how to sign up for events, and who to talk to about knowing Jesus, baptism or church membership?
  • Are we using readable typefaces?

Communication System

A lot of work goes into planning special events and ministries. It's a shame for that work to go to waste when the right people don't know about the event or service we're working toward. Systems are imperative if we're going to communicate effectively.

  • Do we have a process to follow when an event is planned?
  • Do we have a calendar that can be seen and shared by all leaders to avoid scheduling conflicts?
  • Do we have a checklist to glance at to be sure we've communicated events using every necessary means?
  • Have we made it clear that only major, church-wide announcements need to be communicated from the stage or pulpit?
  • Do we have any kind of content calendar or plan for what updates get posted on our website and social profiles and what times they should be posted?

There is more—much more, in fact. But these 33 questions offer a great starting place for the leadership team of any small to medium-sized church. Knowing where we are and how we're doing is half the battle!

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 Fri, 13 Feb 2015 20:00:00 -0500
3 Solid Reasons for Going to Church Some believe the local church is dead and that her best days are behind her. The church is not dead; it is alive.

Her best days are now and ahead. I believe, as Bill Hybels says, "the local church is the hope of the world."

I grew up attending church. Many of my earliest memories are times spent at the Mars Hill Baptist Church of Chicago, with church people, or in church services. So when I meet people who aren't regular attendees, it's a surprise to find that sometimes they don't know exactly why you are.

Why go to church? What are the benefits of regular attendance? When you understand the "why" it makes it easier to understand the "when" and "where."

1. Because Scripture says so. Going to church is not just a "good suggestion;" it is God's will for believers. Hebrews 10:25 says we should "not [be] giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

Even in the early church, some were falling into the bad habit of not meeting with other believers. The author of Hebrews says that's not the way to go. We need the encouragement that church attendance affords. And the approach of the end times should prompt us to be even more devoted to going to church.

2. You'll hear something that will prompt you to do something. More information does not lead to transformation. In Deep & Wide, Andy Stanley suggests "it's one thing to know a lot about weightlifting and another thing to actually lift weights.

It's one thing to know a lot about nutrition and another thing to eat healthy. Similarly, it's one thing to know a lot about the Bible and another thing to actually live out what it teaches.

That's why the Christian life isn't just about knowledge. It's when our acts of faith intersect with God's faithfulness that our faith grows. From Jesus' parable of the wise and foolish builders, we discover that hearing and learning are not enough. The value is in the application, because, in the end, it's obedience that makes all the difference."

3. Be the change you want to see. As the world searches for positive models to follow, you have the opportunity to be that model. When you go to church, others take notice. You are setting an example that other people notice. Examples inspire, so why not inspire others?

People want to do better, live better and be better. For the people around you, whether it's your friends or your co-workers, whether it's your family, when they see that you have a commitment that is leading you to living a better life—that is a positive example that other people can follow.

There you have it! Three solid reasons why you should get up, get dressed and go to church. Be a friend and bring a friend. Remember, our best days are not behind us; they are ahead of us. We'd love to have you be our special guest at Mars Hill Baptist Church of Chicago this Sunday at 8 AM or 10:30 AM.

For the original article, visit

The Rev. Clarence E. Stowers Jr. succeeded his father, Dr. Clarence Stowers Sr., as the pastor of the historic Mars Hill Baptist Church of Chicago in 1999. Mars Hill has experienced phenomenal ministry growth under his visionary pastoral leadership since then. Follow Rev. Stowers' blog, The Urban Pastor or check out Mars Hill's website.

]]> (Rev. C.E. Stowers ) Communication Fri, 13 Feb 2015 14:00:00 -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
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

]]> (Carey Nieuwhof) Communication Tue, 16 Dec 2014 14:00:00 -0500
How Believers Can Distort God's Word Whenever somebody mentions Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, what do you imagine? Likely, your thoughts drift to the painting's infamous stoic expression or its mysterious legacy. What you probably don't think about is the thick bulletproof glass that sits between the Mona Lisa and art gallery patrons. Vandals have attempted to distort the portrait by throwing acid, rocks and red paint at the portrait for centuries. So the world's most famous work of art must be protected.

Our broken world constantly tries to vandalize famously cherished works, so why would we expect God's valued work of art to be any different?  Like the defensive glass in an art gallery, Scripture too must be protected from those who are twisting its contents and damaging its legacy.  

As you might have heard, there is a "millennial problem" within the church. Religion analysts, pundits and preachers alike are struggling to grasp why young adults raised in evangelical—Pentecostal, charismatic, Baptist and nondenominational—churches are departing from the Christian faith at rapid rates. Simultaneously, Christians are watching with shock and horror as the state of America's morality and foundational Judeo-Christian principles follow the trend of descent.

As a millennial myself and public-policy analyst, I can tell you first-hand that the action needed to fix both problems cannot be found digging into complex data, hazy statistics or even lobbying our representatives' offices in Washington, D.C. For too long, Christian culture warriors have been so focused on vandals' threats to our faith from secular society that we failed to notice the damage being done from within our own evangelical community.

It is painful to admit, but within many evangelical churches, campus ministries, and even Christian universities, believers let our guard down. And so, the Christian Left crept in quietly championing liberalism and feeding a damaged and distorted version of the gospel to young evangelicals.

As I explain in greater detail in my new book Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith, the Christian Left must dismantle the authority of God's Word before it can convince young evangelicals that same-sex marriage, abortion, taxpayer-funded abortifacients, feminism, pacifism, Christian discrimination, and the expansion of a federal nanny state are biblically endorsed.

To do this, the Christian Left typically starts by excluding mentions of "sin," "hell" and "transformation" from their sermons, lectures or Sunday school lessons. This way, the need to address and turn away from immorality is intentionally avoided. Next, they incite confusion in millennials' minds regarding the clarity of Scripture. Some among the Christian Left will point to Levitical law outlined in the Old Testament and say that because we do not follow these laws in the Bible, then all Christians may cherry-pick their principles. Therefore, according to the Christian Left, followers of Christ don't have to adhere to everything outlined in the New Testament either. Finally, the Christian Left has dismantled the Word of God so much that they have concocted their own cafeteria-style Christianity; that is, taking parts of the Bible out of context so that it fits their own liberal political activism.

Stay with me here. Right about now I know that these deceptive tactics are probably making your head spin. So I'll give you a clear example. Popular blogger and member of the Christian Left Rachel Held Evans, illustrated this strategy. While writing her book Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband 'Master,' Evans essentially claimed that because it is impossible for women to follow all of the rules pertaining to women recorded in the Bible, then it should follow that Scripture is not an applicable guidebook for Christian women's daily lives.

Thankfully Kathy Keller, the wife of Pastor Tim Keller, pointed out in a book review published by the Gospel Coalition why Evans' formula was deceptive. "In making the decision to ignore the tectonic shift that occurred when Jesus came," Keller wrote, "you have led your readers not into a better understanding of biblical interpretation, but into a worse one. Christians don't arbitrarily ignore the Levitical code—they see it as wonderfully fulfilled in Jesus."

"Not my church," you might be thinking. "We believe in the authority of Scripture." So says Rachel Held Evans and many other Christian Left leaders shaping young evangelicals' faith and worldview.

I pray that distorted liberal theology is not permeating within your church. But a warning: Do not look for liberal political slogans or pro-abortion propaganda pinned to the bulletin board. The Christian Left is much more clever and deceptive than a simple Republican vs. Democrat debate.

America's Founding Father James Madison stated, "I believe there are more instances of abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachment of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." Likewise, the Christian Left's abridgement of the authority of Scripture is a gradual and silent destruction of the Word of God.

At this point you might be wondering how the Christian Left can successfully persuade the millennial generation to buy into its damaged, distorted version of the gospel.

The simple answer is: Young evangelicals simply do not know enough about their faith. Because they are not equipped with knowledge of traditional Christian teaching, history and the social science that affirms it, young evangelicals are unable to defend their faith. Therefore they are likely to fall into one of two camps: Either they buy into distorted theology, or they remain silent.

Early in my college years, I was inclined to buy into this distorted theology. Not because I wanted a more progressive ethos or because I was rebelling against my parents' "outdated" religion. My reason was that I wanted to "fit in."

Having a big heart for those in need made me and other millennials especially vulnerable. While attending a prominent Christian campus ministry, I was taught that social-justice work within the community should be priority, not traditional Christian teachings. Of course, this was appealing.

I could focus on caring for others, conveniently follow Jesus, and avoid offending anyone because topics like same-sex marriage and abortion were off limits.

I'll admit that as a new, earnest member of this campus ministry, I tried to take countercultural biblical stands. I tried to confront the excessive alcohol abuse among my fellow evangelical peers and spoke against abortion.

Realizing my Christian friends, and some among the leadership, were uncomfortable with these conversation topics, I found it easier to stick with social justice as my Christian focal point. Seemingly, it was the compassionate route because at least I kept friends that way. Wrong!

Thankfully, my parents and other mentors were committed to speaking all of God's truths in love to me. I finally recognized how I was snuffing out portions of the gospel in order to maintain popularity among my peers.

My experience is not unique. It is the growing trend among millennials raised within the evangelical community. Beyond being a millennial and analyst at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, one of my most important roles is Sunday school teacher to middle school-aged kids My students are bright, funny and bold. But I often hear them explain how many around them—in and outside of our church—bombard their heads with messages of "don't judge," "tolerance," "coexist," and "political correctness." These buzzwords intimidate them.

Seasoned conservative Christians have heard all these empty words before and remain unfazed. But for young kids who have seeds of confusion planted about Scripture's clarity coupled with the fact that they love their non-Christian friends, these words cause fear. So they shy away from mentioning their faith in God and His Word that is inherently offensive to a fallen world. So when popular Christian culture leaders tell young evangelicals that they can appease both the world and Jesus, then, of course this distorted theology captures their attention.

But the Christian Left's damage doesn't end with simply a misguided generation. Their distortions lead back to the "millennial problem" I mentioned earlier. Once young adults buy into the lie that Scripture is not authoritative, then they find themselves drifting toward questioning, doubting and abandoning the faith altogether. After all, why believe in words that hold no tangible or applicable value?

There is good news. Like the art gallery's steps to preserve and protect the Mona Lisa, Christians too can take precautions to guard God's Word. Read your Bible and commit it to memory. Next, ask questions about the theological beliefs of your church leadership, seminary instructors, and the millennials you know. Their answers may shock you. Then finally pray for wisdom and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the absolute truths contained in God's Word.

Popular culture, inside and outside of the church, will try to damage and distort Scripture's value and its authoritative role in Christians' lives. But as followers of Christ, we can stand up and protect all of its contents with good conscience.

Remember that the countercultural messages found in the Bible were not crafted by conservative evangelicals. The Bible is not our words but the divinely inspired work of art produced by the one true living God. Scripture certainly deserves to be protected.   

Chelsen Vicari serves as Director of Evangelical Action at the Institute for Religion and Democracy and is the author of Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel and Damaging the Faith.

]]> (Chelsen Vicari) Communication Wed, 03 Sep 2014 16:00:00 -0400
Greater Expectations: Millennials in the Church At 35, musician Matt Carter is a whisker too old to be classified a millennial, the generation whose eldest members reached 18 at the turn of the century. Still, with most fans in their 20s and early 30s, the lead guitarist for the alternative band Emery maintains a sense of how young adults see the church. It isn't too favorable.

"I get a lot of feedback," says Carter, who two years ago started a sometimes irreverent-sounding blog ( that reflects some of this discontent.

"Things like: 'I know my church is well and good, but there's some messed-up stuff in the system. Am I going to stick around and try to make it better from the inside, or should we speak out against the failures of the church? What's the right way to approach that?'"

Such questions are more relevant than ever after the recent implosion of Seattle's Mars Hill Church. The collapse came about two months after the resignation of Mark Driscoll, Carter's pastor for 10 years before the guitarist departed in the fall of 2013 amid brewing controversy.

Carter sees far-reaching implications from the collapse, including raising the question of whether megachurches will be viable in the future.                                                                    

Regardless of size, he says the fallout should cause pastors everywhere to recognize that those who represent the future of the church largely frown on the image of the lead pastor/CEO.

No longer interested in such figures, the musician doesn't claim membership in any church, although he often attends an independent congregation of about 100 people.

"What I really want from a pastor is to not feel like they have to conform to a traditional pastoral role," Carter says of his expectations. "I want some people to help me understand the Bible and engage deeper. There's a million ways to do that. I don't think there's a prototype or best way."

Two millennials who once called Mars Hill home see other lessons emerging. They agree that while they want strong leaders, they expect pastors who are transparent, good listeners and realistic about their shortcomings.

Shannon Stephens, a one-time home group leader who spent five years in Seattle before heading back east to be closer to family, thinks too many pastors embrace the image of omniscience.

Although saying those who matured during the seeker-sensitive era have dropped a sales-pitch approach, Stephens feels too many retain the attitude that unless they appear infallible, their answers lack legitimacy.

"But that's backward logic," says Stephens, who works at a bank. "If you appear to never mess up, it doesn't give you more legitimacy. It gives you less.

"The ideal would be a pastor who can't only accept himself in the 'sage' category. In his counseling or even from the pulpit, if he's going to be instructive, we want to know he's tried and triumphed over adversity in his life."

Seattle native Sarah Croasdill says it is encouraging to hear how God changes flawed pastors during their journey. That is one reason she finds her current pastor so appealing; she and her husband found their new home after a search that took them to four churches.

"Our new pastor not only has a passion for the gospel to reach the ends of the earth, but he has humility," Croasdill says. "He shares his current trials—big and small—from the pulpit and asks us to pray for him."

Her experience left another deep impression. Were she and her husband to find themselves in another place that wanted to expand, they would favor starting another church instead of another location.

"This is just healthier for leadership and congregants," Croasdill says.

A Closer Walk

Much has been written lately about those under 33—millennials—seeking a spiritual environment that offers more meaningful relationships, discipleship and a deeper sense of intimacy with God. Yet such yearnings can also create conflict with older members who embrace the status quo and are reluctant to yield the reins.

Therein lies the rub for all pastors, who must navigate between differing expectations and the potential conflict that can arise from leaning too far in one direction or the other.

Leadership expert Brad Lomenick says one of the toughest challenges older leaders face is understanding how younger ones seek a family environment where they can quickly assume leadership. This expectation can easily rankle elders who waited for years to step into their positions.

"Part of our responsibility is to give them that chance," says Lomenick, who worked with John C. Maxwell and then as president of Catalyst before leaving to devote more time to writing and speaking. "They'll make mistakes, but we should give them authority and influence."                                          

As they do, pastors must understand that millennials no longer see a career spelling a three- to four-decade tenure in one location. Instead of long-lasting assignments, they foresee seasons that will take them through 10 or more projects, Lomenick says.

He says this reality partially explains the advent of church-planting movements the past 15 years, with many new churches started by young adults unwilling to wait for their chance to lead.

Not only do pastors need to create an environment where young leaders can do something, he says they must accept the likelihood that after they grasp their assignment, these protégés may leave for another opportunity.

"I once heard Andy Stanley say, 'This won't be your only job; I just want it to be your best job,' " Lomenick says. "This is changing the state of loyalty and what teamwork looks like."

As pastors grapple with a new generation of leaders, they also have to develop their understanding of young faces in the audience.

While not everyone "gets it," the Barna Group's David Kinnaman sees an increasing awareness among pastors of changing lifestyles; particularly the challenges of reaching young adults who are later leaving home, marrying and having children.

The author of two books about millennials, the president of the research firm says the shifting realities of 20-somethings mirror the past century's rise of the "teenager," a relatively modern concept that redefined what it meant to be a maturing person.

Just as the Christian community altered its ministries to young people in that phase of life, the same innovative mindset will be needed to reach today's generation, the author says.

Yet Kinnaman sees obstacles ahead, such as pastors struggling to close the gap between work and faith, which the Barna Group labels "vocational discipleship."

"Most churches still have very little or no effective efforts to help millennials understand the deep connections between calling and their faith," Kinnaman says.

"This is an area that could dramatically benefit the spiritual development of today's teenagers and young adults—and it could also significantly impact their sense of purpose in work and their generosity."

Still Scriptural

One misgiving pastors (particularly evangelicals) may have of younger adults is how their more tolerant, permissive attitudes can veer in unhealthy directions, such as openness towards cohabitation and same-sex marriage. Yet that doesn't mean young adults automatically reject the Bible.

Last fall the Barna Group released a survey that found only 65 percent of millennials accept the Bible as the actual or inspired Word of God. Yet, among practicing Christian millennials it is an overwhelming 96 percent.

And, despite their generation's reputation for relativism, 71 percent of active believers affirm the concept of absolute moral truth.

Roxanne Stone, Barna's vice president of publishing, acknowledges there are reasons for the disparaging stereotypes about young Christians becoming less orthodox in their beliefs. Yet she says many grew up in evangelical traditions that placed a priority on Scripture over other faith practices.

"This evangelical emphasis on Scripture has cemented a respect for and continued belief in Scripture as holy among Christian millennials—even while they question many other aspects of their faith," Stone says.

Rob Durst's experience echoes this trend. An Ohio native who serves as the media director at a Church of Christ in the South, he has seen the power of transparency working at a church camp for high school students.

Two years ago the camp started a testimony time, with staff members and campers sharing a story about a difficult time in their life.

This helped touch others' hearts by letting others know they weren't the only people struggling with a particular issue. Many campers have later approached speakers to create a dialogue and offer advice or encouragement.

Such experience reflects the example set by his senior pastor. The 30-year-old bivocational staff member calls his pastor the most transparent person he knows, confessing past struggles and alcohol issues. "The Benefits of Getting Caught" is the highest downloaded sermon in church history.

Durst wouldn't feel comfortable confiding in someone who appears flawless. He wouldn't expect that person to understand his problems nor be able to offer practical solutions.

"I do not want to feel like I'm being judged by someone," Durst comments. "No one is perfect; therefore, the pastor who appears perfect is not. I hesitate to trust anyone that appears that flawless."

Generational Differences

As they seek to reach younger adults, Kinnaman advises pastors to remember that all too often generational differences are overblown, which he calls a sin issue. In other words, divisions over worship, preaching styles or leadership structures gloss over deeper differences of gender, race or class.

"Those are differences that only the gospel in us can sanctify," Kinnaman says. "I always remind pastors that someone's preferences have to be met. I view it as the job of an effective leader to communicate and clarify what it means to accommodate others in a church."

Realize too that older adults have some of the same disappointments and longings for more authentic, biblically oriented leaders espoused by their younger counterparts.

DeWayne Guyton, a 44-year-old production director for a small-town radio station in Alabama, says too many church platforms have turned into stages and performance venues, with leaders' main concerns being hitting attendance quotas.

"More and more pastors are offering an ear-tickling service to bring in a 'tithing crowd,'" says Guyton, who leads the media ministry at an interdenominational church. "It seems it's more about filling seats instead of saving souls. Sadly enough, sugar-coating (the Word) will do that."

Missourian Shelley Swenson feels the same way. The longtime Assembly of God member feels the casual approach that has developed in the pulpit too often reflects a casual approach towards sin and accountability.

"There is now more of a push toward 'life-affirming' sermons with fortune-cookie snippets thrown in for good measure," says the volunteer lunchroom worker at a Christian school.

"This causes the attitudes of people to change and embrace the idea that because 'God is love,' we, as Christians, are entitled to His blessings with no sacrifice or commitment on our part. In the past five years, I have looked around at different churches but have found it increasingly difficult to find one that preaches Scripture and not some sugar-coated fluff week after week."

The managing editor of Leadership Journal says such appraisals show two truths about reaching people of all ages.

Drew Dyck, whose 2010 book, Generation X-Christian, addressed the reasons behind the exodus of young people from church, says the first is that dumbing down scriptural truth won't work.

"That's a failure in history with theological liberalism in mainline churches," Dyck said. "Instead of growing over the years, they've seen a 50 percent reduction."

The other is his view that pastors need to chronicle the absence of young adults in their midst, detail reasons for stepping out of their comfort zone, and convince members that making changes and reaching out to the community are good ideas.

"Tell them they're missionaries now," says the former youth pastor. "Explain they have to make some uncomfortable decisions about their preferences and the way they do church to engage the next generation. If you explain that, those changes will be met with greater receptivity."

Only time will tell whether church leaders are up to the task.  

Ken Walker is a freelance writer, co-author and book editor from Huntington, West Virginia. He wrote about the digital church for Ministry Today's Jan.-Feb. issue.

]]> (Ken Walker ) Communication Fri, 13 Mar 2015 21:00:00 -0400
10 Things You Should Never Say to a Guest in a Worship Service If you want to make certain guests never return to your church, say one of these sentences to them when they visit.

Indeed, these unfortunate and ill-timed comments almost always guarantee that you will offend guests and make them very uncomfortable. Most of the time guests are already ill at ease, since they are in a new place and a new environment.

By the way, each of these quotes was actually communicated to a guest in a worship service. My guess is that all 10 of them have been said many times ... too many times.

1. "You are sitting in my pew/seat." This sentence was actually said to me when I was a visiting preacher in a church. The entitled church member did not realize I was preaching that day. I had the carnal joy of watching her turn red when I was introduced. And, yes, I did move. She scared me.

2. "Is your husband/wife with you?" This question is rightly perceived as, "We really don't want single adults in our church." Members see their church as family friendly as long as "family" meets their definition.

3. "Are those your children?" This question is becoming more common with the growth in the adoption of children who are not the same race or ethnicity as their parents. One parent with an adopted child was asked if he got to choose how dark his child would be. I'm serious.

4. "The service has already begun." This sentence is rightly understood to mean, "You are late, and you will be disrupting the service." I saw that happen recently. The family left. I was late too, but I stayed since I was preaching.

5. "There is not enough room for your family to sit together." I was visiting a church a few weeks ago that did just the opposite. When larger families came in the service, members actually gave up their seats to accommodate them. Now that's true servanthood! I bragged on the members when I spoke that morning.

6. "You will need to step over these people to get to your seat." No! Please request those seated to move to the center. It's a church worship service, not a movie theater.

7. "That's not the way we do it here." Of course, you can't have a worship service where any behavior is acceptable. Most of the time, however, the varieties of worship expressions are absolutely fine. I heard from a lay leader recently who witnessed that sentence spoken to a guest who raised her hand during the worship music. She never returned. What a surprise.

8. "You don't look like you are a member here." Perhaps when this sentence was spoken, the church member meant to convey, "Are you visiting us?" But to the guest it sounded like, "You don't belong at this place."

9. "Have you considered attending the church down the street?" I'm not kidding. Someone shared that comment with me on social media. She was new in town and was visiting churches. She had no idea why the man in the church said that to her, but she never returned to the church.

10. "The nursery is real full." To the young parent, this sentence is interpreted one of two ways: "There is not enough room for your child" or "Your child probably won't get good care."

I would love to hear some similar comments you have heard. And if you're wondering how to help your members not say such unwise things, share this blog post with them. They may simply need to learn some basics of guest friendliness.

Thom Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit

]]> (Thom S. Rainer ) Community Mon, 18 May 2015 18:00:00 -0400
12 Reasons Churches Don’t Practice Discipline Some years ago, I conducted a study and wrote a book on membership classes in local churches. Many of those churches included teaching church covenants in their membership class, but they talked very little about church discipline.

That is, they established expectations but did not always talk about accountability. Since then, I've conducted an ongoing informal survey to see why churches don't do discipline. Here are the primary findings, in no particular order.

1. They don't know the Bible's teaching on discipline. I can only guess what percentage of regular attenders in evangelical churches even know that the Bible teaches the necessity of church discipline. This topic is one that some pastors choose to avoid.

2. They have never seen it done before. Some of the reticence to do church discipline is the result of ignorance. Frankly, I admit my own ignorance when I began serving as a pastor 30+ years ago. If you've never been part of a church that carried out discipline, it's easy to let any of these following reasons halt the process.

3. They don't want to appear judgmental. "Judge not, lest you be judged" takes precedence over any scripture that calls for discipline, especially in a culture where political correctness rules the day. Judging, it seems, is deemed an unchristian act.

4. The church has a wide-open front door. Church discipline is challenging to do if membership expectations are few; that is, it's difficult to hold someone accountable to standards never stated in the first place. The easier it is to join the church, the harder it is to discipline people when necessary.

5. They have had a bad experience with discipline in the past. For those churches that have done discipline, the memories of poorly done discipline seem to last long. They remember confrontation, judgment, heartache, and division—with apparently no attempt to produce repentance and reconciliation.

6. The church is afraid to open "Pandora's box." If they discipline one church member, they fear establishing a pattern that can't be halted as long as human beings comprise their congregation. To put it another way, they wonder how many members will remain if they discipline every member with unrepentant sin.

7. They have no guidelines for discipline. For what sins is discipline necessary? At what point does church leadership choose to make public a private sin? Rather than wrestle with tough questions, many churches just ignore the topic.

8. They fear losing members (or dollars). We hope no congregation makes decisions based solely on attendance and income, but we know otherwise. Sometimes churches tolerate sin rather than risk decline.

9. Their Christianity is individualistic and privatized. Particularly in North America, believers often fail to understand the corporate nature of the church. We gather together on Sunday, but we do so while sharing life with no other believers. Discipline seldom happens if accountability doesn't matter.

10. They fear being "legalistic." Legalism can quickly become rules-centered bondage marked by joylessness. Church discipline assumes some standard to which believers are held accountable—and that standard can become legalistic if unchecked.

11. They hope transfer growth will fix the problem. Most churches are accustomed to members coming and going as congregations "swap sheep." At times, a church is willing to confront a member in his sin—but only enough to encourage him to move his membership to the church down the road.

12. Leaders are sometimes dealing with their own sin. When church leaders are hiding their own sin, they're less likely to engage others about their failures. To discipline others would be to bring conviction on oneself.

What have you seen? Why do churches not practice church discipline?

Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

]]> (Chuck Lawless ) Community Fri, 10 Apr 2015 12:00:00 -0400
10 Ways to Read Your Community I have the privilege of hanging out with missionaries, men and women who have learned how to exegete their communities in order to proclaim the gospel in contextualized and relevant ways. I also hang out with local church leaders, though, that often know far too little about the communities they serve.

Here are 10 ways to "read" your community:

1. Do a demographic study. I doubt this option is surprising, but I'm amazed by the high percentage of church leaders who don't know current data about the people in their ministry area. As a church consultant, I often quiz leaders based on our company's demographic findings—and seldom have I met leaders who know their community well.

2. Talk to public school officials and teachers. Few people in a community see the reality of life like teachers do. Some daily see the products of crippling poverty, broken homes and poor choices. Others work with students whose successful families have little need for God. Let these teachers give you a glimpse into the lives around you.

3. Get to know local government officials. Even if you disagree politically with the leaders, develop friendships with them; you need to know these influencers in your community. They can be reservoirs of information about past community struggles, current needs and future plans. Plus, they will likely need a pastor at some point in their own lives.

4. Intentionally spend one day per week in the community. Eat in the restaurants. Visit the local stores. Read in the library. Study at the coffee shop. Volunteer in the school system. Prayerwalk the downtown area. Get out of your office into the community, and what may sound like a wasted day can become pivotal in your ministry.

5. Talk with other church leaders. Church leaders often offer years of community experience and knowledge, but too many local church shepherds never get to know each other. Competition, distrust, and "lone ranger" mentalities keep us disconnected. Push against those tendencies, and invite a veteran pastor to lunch. Find out what obstacles other churches are facing in reaching your community.

6. Read your community's history. Even if no one has written a full history, many communities have published at least a brief record of their story. Learning that story will not only help you understand the history better, but it will also show others your interest in being a genuine part of the community.

7. Ride with a police officer. Officers who have been in the community for some time will know the streets well. They may not use this language, but they know the sin strongholds in a region. Hang out with an officer for even one shift, and you may see more of your community than you have ever seen.

8. Interview people. Walk the streets, and interview people about the community's needs. Question them about their own spiritual walk. Discover how they define "success." Ask how churches might make a difference in the community. Just talk to people with intentionality—while you listen and learn.

9. Map your faith community. As a church leader, you should know the area where your church folks live. Using a paper map or a computerized process, map the homes of your regular attendees. See where God has already placed believers, and build on that foundation. Find the "holes" where your church has no testimony, and go there. Pray. Look for ministry opportunities. Extend your witness.

10. "Prayer-drive" the community. Begin to use your driving time to see the area with God's eyes. Pray for Christian congregations that meet in buildings you pass. Watch for places of worship for other world faiths, and pray others will hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Be alert for, and pray for, people caught in addictive bondages, abusive relationships and sinful lifestyles. Watch and pray more intentionally as you drive, and your burden for your community will grow.

What other ways to "read" your community do you recommend?

Chuck Lawless serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

]]> (Chuck Lawless) Community Tue, 03 Mar 2015 13:00:00 -0500
How Yours Can Become a Generous Church Our goal is to have healthy churches. There are many descriptions, concepts, books and training products talking about what a healthy church looks like. There is "Simple," "Purpose-Driven," "Sticky," Vertical," "Emotionally Healthy" and many more. 

All of these have great content and biblical directives, but here is something else we need to ask ourselves, "Are we a generous church?" Isaiah 9:6 says, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder. And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace."

What would happen if your church were known as a giving church? What would it look like if you were known first and foremost for your generosity?

If you really want to know the heart of a church, take a look at how they spend their money. This is not about what individuals give to the church, but rather, what a church does with what they have been given. Quite often most of the funds given to a church are spent on church members.

When times are tough, and the budget becomes tight, the last expenditures to normally be reduced are those that keep the members the most comfortable. At the same time, all too often, the first ministries to be cut are those that are outwardly focused.

How much of what God has entrusted to your church is being spent to fund the Great Commission and the Great Commandment? In Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Thom Rainer offers 12 prayer commitments for churches to make who want to be alive and thriving. Prayer commitment No. 5 says, "Lord, help me to grasp that all the money I think I have is really Yours. Help me to grasp that all the money our church has is not the church's, but Yours. Give us healthy, giving hearts to use these funds according to your purposes."

What percentage of your church budget is being used to bless and reach your local community for Christ?

Rainer goes on with prayer commitment No. 6, "Lord remind me that I am to be a Great Commission Christian in a Great Commission church. Remind me that, in your strength, I am to do whatever it takes to reach out into my community with the transforming power of the gospel."

Some churches are focused on how much is being saved and accumulated instead of asking how they can make a difference for the kingdom with the resources God has provided!  We should rejoice when we are able to spend our resources for something beyond ourselves while expecting nothing in return. What does a generous church give?

First, they give the gift of love. This kind of church looks for the lost, the last, and the least. They take Matthew 5:43-45 literally when it says, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven."

A generous church is looking and seeking out those who desperately need to be shown the love of God in practical ways. They are always asking: Who can we help? Who can we feed? Who can we love? A generous church realizes that some will question who they love and how they love but their goal is to love everyone and realize that some, even in church, will not like that.

Second, they give the gift of friendship. A generous church moves beyond their comfortable circles of fellowship and reaches out to those who desperately need a friend.

They are not looking for who can be their friend but to whom they can become a friend. They long to be like Jesus, who was openly accused of being a friend to sinners.

Grace Hills church in northwest Arkansas says it this way in their core values, "We are crazy about broken people. We hunger to see people healthy and growing and we'll get our hands messy to make it happen." A generous church is always asking: Who needs a friend? Who can I be friendly to that no one else even notices? How do I befriend those that are ignored?

Third, they give the gift of forgiveness. Generous churches want to associate with the marginal, the poor, the destitute, the forgotten, the broken and those overlooked by society. They have been forgiven, they practice forgiveness toward others, and they  desire for everyone to experience God's forgiveness.

In Luke 5:31-32 Jesus says, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

James MacDonald, in his book Vertical Church, says it this way, "The core of humanity's sin problem is not a horizontal behavior to be corrected but a vertical relationship to be restored."

A generous church is living on mission to deliver the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ to all. That message is a message of forgiveness, reconciliation and restored relationships.

A healthy church is a generous church.

Larry Barker serves as director of North American Missions for the Baptist Missionary Association of America. He has a passion to see hundreds of BMAA churches planted throughout the USA and Canada, and has also served as a missionary to Romania. You can connect with him on Facebook.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Larry Barker ) Community Tue, 27 Jan 2015 20:00:00 -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
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
3 Steps to Become an Expert Disciple of Jesus Jesus was specific about what it takes to be a good disciple. This isn't a guessing game.

If we want to mature in our walk with Christ, we should pay close attention.

"Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me'" (Matt. 16:24).

According to God's Word, here are three steps to become an expert disciple:

1. We must deny ourselves. Jesus is not saying here that we should not own anything. Or want nice things. He is asking us to align our desires with His desires, even when they conflict with our desires. He is asking us to prioritize our life—with God and others in mind. (The first and greatest command—and the second is like it.) In denying ourselves, we are to look to Jesus and not unto our own abilities and trust Him when we can't find our way without Him. That apart from Him, we can do nothing.

Deny our fears. Deny our inabilities. Deny our sinful temptations by the power of the gospel. Deny me—for Him—knowing I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

2. We must take up our cross daily. I don't have a cross, at least not literally. But Jesus is encouraging us to carry forth His cross. His agenda. His mission. We are to be the salt of the earth. We are to spread the Good News. We are to be Christ's ambassadors to the world, as others see Jesus in us. The message and wonder of the cross—the gospel—is to be evident in us. We should love the unlovable. Forgive the ones who don't deserve forgiveness. Extend grace. Attempt to bring reconciliation through Christ. His cross.

3. We must follow Him. That may seem like the easiest, but it is perhaps the most difficult. It would be easier to write a bunch of rules of what a good little Christian should look like. But we'd only mess that up into some sort of legalism. Michael Yaconelli once wrote, "Jesus said, 'Follow Me,' not 'Follow my rules.'"

I remember when I was younger playing "follow the leader." The guy in front made all the moves. The object was to follow the leader exactly. It was usually easier in looks than in practice. Jesus is our leader and every day we need to mimic the Savior. It won't always be easy. Culture will work against us. Some in the church will still want to write more rules. But Jesus-following will always be best. It's part of being a disciple. In fact, it is being a disciple.

Which of these three steps do you most need to apply to your life today?

Ron Edmondson is the senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. For the original article, visit

]]> (Ron Edmondson) Discipleship Mon, 18 May 2015 12:00:00 -0400
7 Questions About the Value of Modern Discipleship I received the following seven questions from someone who is writing a paper for a class about whether discipleship "has value in today's context."

Here are my quick answers to his important questions:

Q. What is a disciple?
A: A disciple is someone who follows Jesus, "fishes" for people and does this in fellowship with other disciples, while carrying a cross. Discipleship is not complicated. Difficult, yes. Complicated, no. It is so simple that a carpenter described it to uneducated fishermen 2,000 years ago in one sentence. (See Matthew 4:19 for that sentence.)

Q: Do you have to be saved to be a disciple?
A: Yes. But since evangelism is the starting point of making disciples, the discipleship journey starts long before one is saved.

Q: Are all Christians disciples? If not, what are the differences?
A: All should be, but unfortunately not all are following Jesus, fishing for people or fellowshipping with others. And not all are carrying a cross and living a life of self-denial.

Q: Does church membership make one a disciple?
A: No. Most churches spend a lot of time, energy and money developing a membership process, but no time developing a discipleship process. Therefore they are successful at making members, but failing miserably at making disciples.

Q: What does a disciple's life look like?
A: Following Jesus (devotion). Fishing for people (evangelism). Fellowshipping with other believers (community). Carrying a cross (self-denial).

Q: Is being a disciple important in today's culture or to one's life?
A: If the Bible is important, then discipleship is important. Of course, if the Bible is no longer valid, then discipleship is an outdated concept and a waste of time—so we might as well do whatever it takes to attract a big crowd and call it a church.

Q: Who is responsible for making disciples?
A: Every person who is a follower of Jesus—no matter how old, no matter how long they have been saved, no matter where they work. Every believer should be a disciple and every believer should make disciples—EVERY believer.

Those are my quick, off-the-cuff answers. If I had time to edit, I might change some of these answers, but I'm out of time.

Are you a disciple of Christ? Are you making disciples?

Steve and Deborah Murrell went to the Philippines in 1984 for a one-month summer mission trip that never ended. They are the founding pastors of Victory Manila, one church that meets in 14 locations in metro Manila and has planted churches in 60 Philippine cities and 20 other nations. Currently, Victory has more than 6,000 discipleship groups that meet in coffee shops, offices, dormitories and homes in metro Manila. Steve is co-founder and president of Every Nation Churches and Ministries, a family of churches focused on church planting, campus ministry and world missions.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Steve Murrell ) Discipleship Tue, 21 Apr 2015 21:00:00 -0400
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 message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity," the author of Hebrews tells us (6:1, HCSB). 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, "I was not able to speak to you as spiritual people but as people of the flesh, as babies in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food, because you were not yet ready for it. In fact, you are still not ready."

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
Stories of Transformation: Making Disciples Most churches do a good job of measuring what Micah Fries calls the "three B's"—budgets, buildings and baptisms.

Those are helpful, he said. But they don't always show whether a church is fulfilling its mission to make disciples.

"Every church should ask two questions," said Fries, director of ministry development for LifeWay Christian Resources. "'Are we healthy?' and 'Are we making disciples?'"

To help answer those questions, LifeWay developed the Transformational Church Assessment Tool (TCAT)—an 80-question, online survey that looks at a church's spiritual health.

The TCAT is based on a long-term, research study of effective discipleship that included surveys of 7,000 pastors and 20,000 churches members from 123 denominations, along with in-depth interviews with hundreds of pastors.

"It's biblical, reliable and data-driven," Fries said.

That kind of research-driven approach appealed to Steve Ballew, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Farmington, New Mexico. The church, which has Sunday attendance of about 300, used the TCAT two years ago.

Ballew said that there's difference between success and transformation. A church can grow its membership and still not affect its community.

"You have to decide—are we here to grow a church, or are we here to make a difference?" Ballew said.

An assessment tool like TCAT can help a church focus on making a difference.

"It's not simply saying, 'Here are some successful models,'" he said. "It is saying, 'Here are some principles that we've discovered in research that are relevant to all churches.'"

Fries compared using an assessment tool to getting a physical. It's a chance for a church to stop and focus on its long-term health, rather than the busyness of day-to-day ministry.

After taking the TCAT, Fries said, many churches are surprised how well they are doing. That's affirming for church members and pastors alike.

"It tells a church what you are doing well and gives you a few things to work on," he said.

An assessment also helps a church focus on things that important things—rather than things that seem urgent.

"Jesus gave us one Great Commission—go and make disciples," said Fries. "We want to help churches gauge whether or not they are really making disciples."

More information about the TCAT can be found online at

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

]]> (Ed Stetzer ) Discipleship Mon, 15 Dec 2014 17:00:00 -0500
What Does an Empowered Church Look Like? It was a privilege to preach at City Bible Church during their Purple People (Purple Book) campaign and to teach WikiChurch discipleship principles at the Ministers Fellowship International (MFI) Focus Conference.

I was glad to see Pastor Frank Damazio on the road to recovery in his fight of faith to defeat cancer. His book, The Making of a Leader, is on my top 10 book list. And I was glad to meet so many MFI leaders who asked me to say "hi" to my good friend Joey Bonifacio.

As I prepared to teach the "Same Ole Boring Strokes" (aka discipleship) to these MFI leaders who do an amazing job of equipping, I decided to focus on the empowering part of the discipleship process. No matter how effectively we equip people to minister, the discipleship process is incomplete until we empower every disciple to make disciples.

A quick read through Acts shows us what an empowering church looks like:

1. The Holy Spirit empowers believers to be His witnesses. Acts 1:8 (NIV) says, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you."

2. Rather than doing all the ministry themselves, apostles empowered others. Acts 6:2 (NIV) says, "The Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, 'It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.'"

3. Empowered churches grow. Acts 6:7 (NIV) says, "So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith."

4. Persecuting or killing top leaders does not stop an empowered church. Acts 8:1 (NIV) says, "On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria."

5. Empowered people minister as they go, and they minister wherever they go. Acts 8:4 (NIV) says, "Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went."

6. Empowered people become leaders of people. Acts 8:5 (NIV) says, "Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there."

7. Empowered people preach the good news even if they are not apostles or pastors. Acts 11:19-21 (NIV) says, "Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord."

8. Barnabas empowered a new believer named Saul when no one else believed in him. Acts 11:25-26 (NIV) says, "Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch."

9. Empowering does not mean there are no authority lines. Acts 15:24 says, "We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization."

10. In an empowered culture we will always have people who are ministering/preaching who don't really have a full understanding of theology. Acts 18:24-26 (NIV) says, "Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately."

Steve and Deborah Murrell went to the Philippines in 1984 for a one-month summer mission trip that never ended. They are the founding pastors of Victory Manila, one church that meets in 14 locations in metro Manila and has planted churches in 60 Philippine cities and 20 other nations. Currently, Victory has more than 6,000 discipleship groups that meet in coffee shops, offices, dormitories and homes in metro Manila. Steve is co-founder and president of Every Nation Churches and Ministries, a family of churches focused on church planting, campus ministry and world missions.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Steve Murrell) Discipleship Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:00:00 -0400
Witness the Transforming Power of Small Groups If you think community is an important part of healthy church life, and I hope you do, then small groups should also be important to you. They are actually crucial to the life of any church. I'm not the only one who thinks so, and I have the research to back it up.

Be sure to read our research reports on Transformational Groups. I've written several:

Ways to Grow Your Group (Part 1): Five Ways to Connect with Disconnected People

Ways to Grow Your Group (Part 2): Seven Ways to Reach out to Your Neighbors

Ways to Grow Your Group (Part 3): Reaching Neighbors through Group-Sponsored Events

The Right Culture for CommunityGroups Matter: My Interview with Eric Geiger on Transformational Groups

The Surprising Truth About Discipleship and Spiritual Disciplines

You can't build community by way of programming, but you can use a program to create a pathway through which community can happen. Maybe you should read that sentence again; the difference in the two is subtle. Programs do not community make. However, programs can create the pathway–the opportunity–for birthing community.

Depending on the culture of the church, community normally happens, or at least begins, in small groups of some sort, including Life Groups that meet in homes, discipleship classes, and Sunday Schools. However it is organized and participated in, believers intentionally put other things aside in order to be together, because life change happens via relationship. We join our lives together for the purpose of maturing in the faith and engaging in God's mission, both of which are key elements in effective and long-lasting small group strategy.

Small groups can become agents of both individual and community change when they are organized around, bathed in, and focused on living out the gospel together. When we are honest, open, and vulnerable with one another, there is opportunity to bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2) and spur one another on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24).

When we preach the gospel to one another in close-knit community, there is spiritual growth that changes us individually and as a whole. We can also begin to position ourselves with an outward focus and encourage gospel transformation in the communities outside the church walls.

As much as I love gathering with the whole of the local church for corporate worship, there is something powerfully unique about an intimate gathering around a living room or a small classroom or a dining room table that forces us to think differently than when we are in the sanctuary for a time of preaching.

Small groups, in fact, are where much of the theology taught in our pulpits begins to be fleshed out in conversation and action. If you want your church to be on mission, teach it from the pulpit and equip your people to wrestle with it in small groups. It's messy that way, but it's fruitful.

The obvious question is how many should be involved in groups. Well, it depends. Here are some suggested rules of thumb.

If you are in a home group church, compare your Sunday morning attendance with your home group attendance (if you count everyone Sunday morning, do the same for small groups, if just adults, do the same ...). Then, look at your ratios:

50 percent passing: Is a passing grade, just getting by

60 percent working: The small groups are working and getting to stronger community

70 percent thriving: Small groups are beginning to thrive and are more and more at the center of church live

80 percent excelling: Small groups are firmly established as indispensable in church life.

I'd add 10 percent to each of these numbers if I had a Sunday School based church because it is easier to come to church and to stay than it is to go on a separate night. I'd subtract 10 percent from each if my groups were primarily defined by mission as that's a greater challenge to participation (see my discussion about Missional Communities with Matt Carter for more on that here).

I would say that 50 percent is passing because it is getting to a majority, but all of the people who are involved in your church should also be plugged into small community in whatever form you offer it. Realistically, though, I don't think that 80 percent is an unreachable goal for churches that rightly emphasize small groups. I've been an interim pastor at a traditional church with 94 percent of their Sunday morning attendance in Sunday School.

Yes, that's a lot, and it's doable. Now, it is likely easier to grow the percentage of participation when implementing a Sunday School-type methodology, because it is more convenient for people than other methods.

Meeting before the worship service and offering childcare gives a distinct advantage over small groups at other places and times. Either way, churches should work toward a healthy involvement for the good of their people and the mission.

Set some goals, cast some vision, and work towards a greater participation in group life—move people from sitting in rows to sitting in circles to see better life transformation.

By the way, Eric Geiger and I have launched a resource to help people start new groups. You can find more here. Tens of thousands of groups have already been registered.

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

]]> (Ed Stetzer) Discipleship Fri, 26 Sep 2014 16:00:00 -0400
8 Reasons People Are Leaving Denominational Churches for Non-Denominational Churches While working on an unrelated research project, I recently came across some data published by the Hartford Institute of Religion Research. Though the information was five years old, it still seemed highly relevant today.

In essence, the data showed that non-denominational churches are now the second-largest Protestant group in America. Only the Southern Baptist Convention is larger.

Here are some of the fascinating nuggets from that study:

  • There are more than 12 million people who affiliate with non-denominational churches.
  • The research found at least 35,000 non-denominational churches in America.
  • Non-denominational churches are in 88 percent of the counties in the United States.
  • Non-denominational churches are one of the top five largest religious groups in 48 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

In light of the growth of these churches, I conducted an informal Twitter poll and asked why people are moving to non-denominational congregations from churches affiliated with denominations. Here are the top eight responses in order. There is obvious overlap in some of the responses.

  1. Denominational churches have a negative reputation. Some respondents used the phrase "negative brand" to communicate this reason.
  2. Denominations are known more for what they are against than what they are for.
  3. There is too much infighting and politics in denominations.
  4. The denominational churches are too liberal. From what I can tell from these respondents, they are current and former members of mainline churches.
  5. There is a general waning of institutional loyalty in institutions such as denominations.
  6. Denominations have inefficient systems and organizations. They are too bureaucratic.
  7. Some of the respondents could see no perceived benefit to belonging to denominations.
  8. Denominations are not good stewards of their financial resources.

I plan on doing a second poll in the near future to see how respondents view denominations positively. In the meantime, let me hear from you.

Thom Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit

]]> (Thom S. Rainer) Diversity Fri, 24 Apr 2015 18:00:00 -0400
In Light of the End of the World, Here’s What to Preach This Sunday "It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine ..."

That's a line from the chorus of a hit song by the band R.E.M. And I think, surprisingly, there's a great deal of truth in it.

I was pulled aside after a Sunday morning service not long ago by an attendee who wanted to know when I was going to be warning the congregation about the impending crash of the world economy that Illuminati would be orchestrating in order to decrease the human population by up to 90 percent. After several minutes of hearing of the danger of vaccines, conspiracies with communist nations and the malicious intent of the heads of states, I finally held up a hand and said, "Even if this were all true, I'd be completely comfortable preaching exactly what I just preached."

I believe, at the time, I was in a series called Roots based on the book of Colossians. We were covering such subjects as how to spot real love, how to grow deeper in Christ and how to live a spiritually fruitful life.

This isn't the first time I've been confronted about my lack of urgency about end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it issues. There are also these pesky blood moons to worry about. And someone is always trying to kill us with vaccines, or aspartame, or a zombie virus, or purple dinosaurs on TV, the numerical value of whose names add up to 666 and therefore must be the antichrist in disguise ... I've heard it all ...

I'm a skeptical believer. I've come to have a sturdy faith in Jesus because I believe the central truths of Christianity stand up under tests of logic, reason, science, history, archaeology and textual criticism. I embrace the Bible as inerrant, as crazy as that may sound to some.

But I'm still skeptical. I don't mind wrestling with big questions and have found it to embolden my faith over time. I'm especially skeptical of teachings and arguments that serve as a distraction from the main thing—the gospel.

Let's say, hypothetically, that the blood moons point to the end of the world as we know it. The Illuminati is planning to trim the human race back a bit and assume complete control over our lives economically and militarily. What I'd want to preach about this coming Sunday is ... the good news that Jesus Christ died to save sinners and rose again.

And if that wild theory is hogwash and poppycock (the direction I'm inclined to lean in), then what I'd want to preach this coming Sunday is ... the good news that Jesus Christ died to save sinners and rose again.

The Apostle Paul once warned a young pastor named Timothy to rebuke some leaders in the ancient church of Ephesus for getting people off track in endless debates about myths, legends and Old Testament genealogies. As Paul put it, "nor pay attention to fables and endless genealogies, which cause debates rather than godly edifying, which is in faith" (1 Tim. 1:4).

And then Paul continued by saying, "Now the goal of this command is love from a pure heart, and from a good conscience, and from sincere faith" (v. 5).

I love that statement. Paul is essentially charging Timothy to avoid motivating people to seek God on the basis of fear, rational or otherwise, and instead to seek him on the basis of love and a desire for purity and real faith.

I don't want people to be afraid of the end of the world. After all, what do we Christians have to worry about in the eternal scheme of things? Though the world fall apart around us and our bodies be destroyed, we live on! We win! We enjoy victory!

I'm not attempting to minimize the seriousness of persecution, which is obviously a real and present danger in our world. I'm simply saying that there are some essentials to be preached weekly regardless of the direction the world around us is headed.

If the world were ending tomorrow, I'd want to preach this Sunday the good news that Jesus Christ died to save sinners and rose again, and that we can live a life of faith in him that matters for eternity. And if the world hangs around a few more millennia, I'd want to preach the same exact message. It's (possibly, at any moment) the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

You can build a congregation in size and collect large offerings by creating anxiety, fear, and anger toward the outside world, but I don't think you'd be on task. In fact, you might just wind up starting a cult, which never ends well.

Instead, lead people to life in Jesus. Lead people to the cross for redemption. Lead people to discover the life worth living no matter what the world looks like around us. Lead people to follow Jesus, emulate his character, and implement the ways and practices conveyed in Scripture.

  • Confront sin and apathy.
  • Point people to redemption in the cross of Christ.
  • Equip believers to live a life of faith.
  • Empower servant leaders.
  • Strengthen families.
  • Reinforce the biblical faith.
  • And hail the triumphant return of King Jesus.

In other words, this Sunday ... Preach. The. GOOD. NEWS.

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) Evangelism Tue, 28 Apr 2015 21:00:00 -0400
Aspiring to the Great Commission Is Not Enough Many church leaders are recognizing a heartbreaking reality. We have received the good news of the gospel but we're not actually communicating that good news. Paul writes to the church in Corinth that we are compelled by love in particular because we know if Jesus died for all, then those who live should no longer live for themselves but for the One who died for them and was raised.

Research shows that Protestant churchgoers in the United States and Canada as a whole are not telling this good news message. According to Paul, part of our new life is that we have been commissioned by God to reconcile the world to Himself through Christ. So we've been reconciled to become agents of reconciliation. Unfortunately, most Christians have become cul-de-sacs on the Great Commission highway.

In the Transformational Discipleship study, we asked 3,000 Protestant churchgoers how many times they had personally shared with another person how to become a Christian. Sixty-one percent said that they had never shared their faith. Zero times. Forty-eight percent said they hadn't invited anyone to church during that period of time.

Evangelism has become an afterthought for many believers.

Evangelism has become an afterthought for many believers. They invite their friends to church at a better rate. But inviting friends to church is not evangelism. It could be a step in evangelism, but evangelism involves a bloody cross and an empty tomb. It involves us telling people about the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The reality is when we look at the facts is that most people aren't doing that. They know the gospel, but they aren't sharing it.

Why Are People Not Sharing Their Faith?

When you find that people aren't doing what they should be doing, there are bound to be reasons, and/or excuses. In the case of evangelism, there are even objections to the way others are doing it. "Well, I don't like the way some people evangelize. It's too reductionistic, or too canned." So they make all these objections on the means and yet they don't have any alternative ways for sharing the gospel.

When someone complained about the way he did evangelism, D.L. Moody supposedly responded, "I like the way I do evangelism better than the way you don't do evangelism."

We have to find a way to get the gospel out. There are plenty of organizations that have put out great and accessible tools. People can always find faults with these means.

We can always find a reason to not engage the lost, but at the end of the day, excuses don't win souls. But in all of those things what we find is people have to find courage, obedience, willingness, to take the step and to use those means. Use the tools or don't. But share the gospel.

On the other side people say, "Culture is too resistant. People don't want to hear the gospel." Yet the reality is the opposite. Our studies show that younger adults are more willing to have spiritual conversations than older adults. They're turned off by the church, but not by spiritual conversations.

So rather than making our primary focus inviting younger adults to church, let's first seek to tell them about Jesus and the good news of the Gospel that Jesus died on the cross for our sin and in our place. When they grasp that, they'll get the church part. They'll understand they can't love Jesus and despise His wife. They'll get that. But let's first bring them Jesus.

I think we're talking ourselves out of evangelizing a whole generation thinking they're not open when they are open, receptive and even responsive to the gospel.

From Nominal to None

So when we look at all of these things I think we are at a key moment, because what's happening is nominal Christianity is fading away. These are people who have moved away from associating with a Christian group, and now are just nothing. They're the "nones"—those who mark "none of the above" on religious identification surveys.

There are many people who used to say, "Well I'm Christian because my mother was Methodist. I'm Christian because my parents or my grandparents were Lutheran." They're now just saying they're nothing. So we're getting clearer about what being a Christian truly is. That's a good thing.

I'm not happy about the decline of percentage of people identified as Christians, but the fact that 75 percent or so of Americans identify as Christians really makes evangelism confusing. With Christianity, there's a new life. There's a born again experience that we speak of when we talk about evangelism and evangelicals. And so we don't think that 75 percent of people are Christians.

Truthfully, statistics show about 25 percent of people, maybe 30 percent, might have some sort of identifiable faith commitment that measures up to Scripture. So what's happening is the squishy middle is collapsing. Nominal Christians are becoming nones, and in the midst of that we have the opportunity to share the good news of Christ.

The Gift of Evangelism

Another reason we've talked ourselves out of evangelism is we tell ourselves that we don't have the gift of evangelism. People even say, "You know, I don't have the gift of evangelism."

Let me just say this, there's no gift of evangelism in the Bible. So don't worry about it. You don't have it—nobody has it. There is the evangelist who equips God's people for works of ministry according to Ephesians 4.

All of us have been reconciled to become agents of reconciliation.

But all of us have the responsibility to share the gospel. All of us have been reconciled to become agents of reconciliation.

I remember sitting in a home of a family who had been regularly attending our church for a while. They were uncertain about where they were with the Lord. They attended my small group. I had shared the gospel with them on multiple occasions. I later had the privilege of praying with them to trust and follow Christ. They were then baptized.

That's what I want my church and your church and my ministry and your ministry to be defined by. Not this agenda or that agenda, but people hearing the good news of the gospel, being changed by its power, and calling out upon Christ who died for their sins on the cross and in their place.

What do leaders need to do to increase the evangelistic efforts of their flock? What do you think gets in the way of people who have a responsibility to share their faith?

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

]]> (Ed Stetzer ) Evangelism Tue, 28 Apr 2015 12:00:00 -0400
Your Story is His Story, So Share It Easter is the most important holiday for Christians. It is a time when we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord. And it is one of the most well attended Sundays at churches around the nation.

Because of the nature of what Easter is and the openness to so many to think about the cross at that time of the year, the Easter season presents a natural opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

But this good news is not just to be shared around one holiday a year. Matthew 28:19-20 commands, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

This verse doesn't say, "Go and make disciples only at Easter when it's easy to talk about Jesus." Rather, it is a continual command to share our faith year-round.

Easter may have passed, but that doesn't mean we should still proclaim and celebrate the sacrifice our Savior made for each and every human on earth.

I am a full-time evangelist, but in reality, so are you. By definition, an evangelist is a "bearer of good tidings." Therefore, we are all called and able to be evangelists.

Many people are fearful to evangelize because they don't believe they have the theological or biblical knowledge to do so, but evangelism is not scary. It shouldn't be something we fear—that is Satan's trickery used to keep you from proclaiming the Good News.

Here are a few tips for sharing your faith all year round:

1. Know your own story of faith. Stories are powerful. Jesus knew this, which is why he often spoke in parables. Your own story of putting your trust in Jesus is powerful. Think this through and put it on paper. Writing how you met Jesus will enable you to remember, refine and recount. This cultivates an awareness of where you would be if you had not come to faith, and where others will be if they don't find His forgiveness.

2. Pray for the Holy Spirit to work within you. It's true that we are not perfect, nor are we fully equipped, but the good news is we don't have to be. We have been given an amazing resource—the Holy Spirit. This is where the power and boldness comes from to make you effective. Without the Holy Spirit's anointing you will be fearful and nonproductive.

3. Befriend the lost. One reason evangelism is often feared is because Christians think they must share their faith with complete strangers. While we should want to share our faith with everyone, it is also important to love on and befriend those who are lost. When you build a friendship with someone who doesn't know Jesus, you lay a foundation of trust which can lead to an opportunity to authentically share your faith at an opportune time. You are also provided the opportunity to live out your faith before you verbally profess it.

4. Ask God for opportunities. Matthew 7:7 says, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." If you are sincere in this request, the Lord will not deny you. He will open doors for you to share His love.

There is no greater joy than knowing God used you to lead someone to Jesus. It is not only the command of Christ but also the most rewarding of life's accomplishments.

You can leave an eternal legacy when you share your story. What we do in this life echoes throughout all eternity because what is not eternal is eternally useless.

Your story is His story. I encourage you to share it often.

Jay Lowder is a full-time evangelist and founder of Jay Lowder Harvest Ministries, an international organization based in Wichita Falls, Texas. He is also the author of Midnight in Aisle 7.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Jay Lowder ) Evangelism Thu, 16 Apr 2015 18:00:00 -0400
4 Keys to Evangelism in Honor-Shame Cultures I'll never forget when an atheist, Chinese taxi driver shared the gospel with me. It was one of the best presentations I've heard.

He didn't believe it, of course, but he had heard the message so many times that he could rattle it off like Billy Graham himself had trained him.

I had spent the past 15-20 minutes explaining the gospel in a way that made better sense in an "honor-shame" culture. Periodically, I would pause to see if he was really listening. Would he change the subject? To my surprise, he kept prodding me to say more. Although countless people had shared the gospel with him, he said no one had ever said anything like what he was now hearing.

I'll never forget when an atheist, Chinese taxi driver shared the gospel with me.

I was curious, so I asked him to tell me what he had heard. That's when he perfectly gave a typical Western gospel presentation: People had broken God's law and deserved death; however, Jesus died to take away our penalty. So, whoever believes in Him can have peace and eternal life.

There is only one gospel (Gal 1:6-8), so what did I say different?

Honor and Shame Are Essential to the Gospel

Traditional presentations mainly use legal language, focus on individuals, stress the futility of works and appeal to people's fear of pain, whether physical or psychological. I didn't do that.

Instead, I highlighted a basic but often overlooked fact: Honor and shame are inherent to the gospel.

What's more, humans have a basic desire for honor. Everyone wants to be accepted and even praised by others. So-called "honor-shame" cultures exist in the East and the West.

With this mind, we should rethink how we do evangelism. If honor-shame remains a blind spot, we won't see fully how the gospel addresses the needs of all people.

Therefore, I will mention four key ideas for sharing the gospel in honor-shame cultures:

1. People. Focus more on who people are, not simply what they do.

There is no "me" apart from a vast network of relationships. No one is truly an "individual" and independent. People's actions are interconnected. Many Westerners see identity in terms of uniqueness, one's differences. Non-Westerners more often stress collective identity, how we're similar. Both are true.

Talk about their relationships. Who are their functional saviors? Which relationships are regarded as most fundamental? Who are "insiders" and "outsiders" (and why)? How do people identify themselves?

In the process, you'll find out what matters most to people. You'll likely uncover their most treasured idols. Also, you'll better identify biblical passages that best communicate gospel truth.

The gospel changes our fundamental identity. We join God's family. Neither ethnicity, gender, titles and not even social media determines our most basic identity.

2. Praise. Find out whom it is that people most want to please. Whose praise (or criticism) do they care about?

A Chinese idiom says it well, "People want 'face' like a tree wants bark." Why? One's "face" refers to how people value him or her. We could use other words like "respect" and "reputation." To belong in a group (i.e. be accepted by others), having "face" is critical. Maybe this explains why a fifth of the world's population is on Facebook.

The gospel exposes the danger of people-pleasing or estimating worth based on the number of one's Twitter followers. Jesus gave similar warnings (Matt. 23:5–13). This doesn't mean that seeking praise and honor is bad (Rom. 2:7, 10). Instead, for the one who believes the gospel, "his praise is not from man but from God" (Rom. 2:29).

Jesus prayed, "The glory that you have given me I have given to them that they may be one even as we are one" (John 17:22). What an amazing contrast to those at Babel (Gen. 11:4), whose fear, insecurity and pride led them to see the wrong sort of recognition.

In Rebecca DeYoung's excellent book Vainglory, she gives a gospel perspective, "Acknowledging that our glory is already given [in Christ] also frees us from excessive attachment to our own accomplishments and reputation."

3. Power. To whom do people give their allegiance? Whom do they follow? For whom do they generally conform?

Honor-shame cultures tend to be more sensitive to hierarchy and social rank. One's "face" is to linked to power. We share the glory (or shame) of those with whom we align. Ask any politician or advertiser.

Honor-shame cultures tend to be more sensitive to hierarchy and social rank.

For fear of rejection or loss of "face," people might respond to authority by either blind conformity or even (in the West) by rejecting authority.

Since Jesus is King, the gospel challenges all other claims to power. Yet, the "King of glory" came as a servant, enduring the shame of the cross. Accordingly, our gospel presentations should make clear how Christ redefines power and honor.

4. Practical. Show people the gospel makes a practical difference.

Relationships are concrete. There is little patience for abstractions. Because image is everything, people quickly become suspect of presentations that promise much but show little.

In part, this will mean being up front about the cost of discipleship, the joy of gaining a worldwide family (Mark 10:30), and the power to obey Christ by faith.

After hearing traditional Western presentations, Chinese often ask, "What does that have to do with me?" To my taxi driver friend, the gospel sounded too philosophical. It made no sense to him.

He wasn't concerned about where he went after he died or whether God accepted his good works. But that day he was interested to hear more about this God who for the first time seemed to care about this life and not only the next one.

Jackson Wu teaches theology and missiology in a seminary for Chinese church leaders. He is the author of two books, including One Gospel for All Nations: A Practical Approach to Biblical Contexualization.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Jackson Wu) Evangelism Fri, 06 Mar 2015 19:00:00 -0500
12 Earmarks of a True Apostolic Movement There is a global apostolic movement that is shaking Christianity and expanding the church as never before! This is an important shift away from the typical denominationally led church movements of the past. It is important for us to understand the difference between an apostolic from a denominational movement.

The following are generalizations that may or may not be true for particular denominations and apostolic movements:

1. Apostolic is usually led by one strong visionary. Denominations are led by a board. 

2. Apostolic is usually mission driven. Denomination are policy driven. 

3. Apostolic is usually missiological in its biblical hermeneutics. Denomination is usually theological, sociological or culturally driven. 

4. Apostolic emphasizes covenantal relationships based on voluntary associations. Denominations emphasize hierarchical structures and business in their gatherings. 

5. Apostolic emphasizes the present move of God in the earth. Denominations emphasize the glory days of the past. 

6. Apostolic emphasizes the movement. Denominations emphasize the institution. 

7. Apostolic leaders are led by the Spirit in regards to ministry placement. Denominational clergy are led by their bishop or hierarchy. 

8. Apostolic believes in biblical inerrancy. Most denominations believe in a higher critical form of inspiration. (Their line of reasoning goes like this: Because the church gave the Scriptures, the church has the right to change them, update them, etc. through church councils and official writings. Another thing said is that only the actual words of Jesus Christ in the Gospels are inspired of God.) 

9. Apostolic emphasizes the power of Christ in terms of releasing faith to fulfill ministry. Denominations emphasize the power of committees to implement strategic plans.

10. Apostolic emphasizes the local church as the primary training ground for ministry. Denominations emphasizes the seminary. 

11. Apostolic empowers the laity to minister (Eph. 4:11, 12). In denominations the clergy are expected to do the work of the ministry.

12. Apostolic movements believe apostolic succession is functionally based upon a divine calling, ministerial fruit and anointing. Denominations believe it is merely transferred through the laying on of hands during an ecclesial ceremony.

Joseph Mattera is overseeing bishop of Resurrection Church and Christ Covenant Coalition, in Brooklyn, New York, and author of numerous books, including Ruling in the Gates: Preparing the Church to Transform Cities. Follow him on Facebook or visit him online at

]]> (Joseph Mattera) Evangelism Thu, 19 Mar 2015 18:00:00 -0400
Attention Apostolic Leaders: Join the Call to USCAL

Using a "4 R Vision," a group of biblically based evangelical leaders has formed and officially launched a movement called the United States Coalition of Apostolic Leaders.

Bishop Joseph Mattera, the overseeing bishop of Resurrection Church and Christ Covenant Coalition in Brooklyn, New York, is the national convener of the affiliate of the International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders, launched last June.

USCAL's mission is to connect apostolic leaders so each member can function more strategically, combine their efforts nationally, and effectively accelerate the advancement of the kingdom of God into every system and sphere of society.

"As the national convener, one of the first things I did was to put together a national council that serve in both the church and marketplace so we can more adequately represent the kingdom of God," Mattera said. "Our focus will be the 4 R Vision, which is to: 1) Restore the church to walk in the way of Jesus and the apostles; 2) Reconcile ethnic leaders, associations and denominations; 3) Revive the church; and 4) Reform society."

Well-known members of the national council of approximately 60 members include (in no particular order) Bishops Dale Bronner, Roderick Caesar, Robert Stearns, Mark Chironna, Harry Jackson, Kyle Searcy, and apostolic leaders such as John Kelly, (who serves as the International Convener) Dennis Peacocke, Steve Fedesky, Lance Wallnau, Jim Garlow, Doug Stringer, Barbara Wentroble, Luis Vargas, and many more. Joseph Infranco of the ADF serves USCAL's legal adviser.

"Our members are committed to maintaining the highest possible levels of integrity regarding personal character and operational methodology among its members," a statement from reads. "The USCAL Advisory Council gives oversight and enforces the code of biblical conduct required of each member to insure the standards of USCAL and maintain unity among the brethren (Ps. 133:1, Eph. 4:3). This does not mean 'oversight.' USCAL does not ordain or give oversight to individuals or groups of apostolic leaders."

Here are ways in which you as a leader can participate. If you are hungry to see the body of Christ united and activated to affect positive change in both the church and culture, you are invited to attend the first national "Future" conference, in partnership with Skyline Church in San Diego, on June 14-17. Click on this link for more information.

Also, if you are an apostolic leader (an overseer of churches and or networks of ministries and businesses) and are interested in joining this great movement please go to our website for an application or call our office at 973-707-6357.

]]> (Ministry Today Staff) Evangelism Thu, 26 Feb 2015 16:00:00 -0500
The Excellence God Deserves at Your Church D-Min-Outreach Facilities

Excellence in all things and all things to the glory of God.

At Prestonwood Baptist Church, you’ll hear this phrase often. Everyone on our ministry team and staff take it to heart because it isn’t just what we do; it’s who we are. We serve a mighty God who deserves all of us and the best of us.

His very name is described as excellent in Scripture: “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth” (Ps. 8:1). And in Isaiah 12:5, the prophet calls salvation “excellent”: “Sing to the Lord, for He has done excellent things.”

So from janitorial to ministerial, we strive for excellence. In ministry, just as in life, there must be a commitment—to rise above the mediocre, to ascend above the average, to soar like eagles. We can flock and honk like geese through life, or we can soar like the royal eagle in the heavens.

Creating a Compelling Guest Experience

To us, excellence in all things is about paying attention to detail. The little things mean a great deal. From the moment visitors arrive at your church building until they leave, do they experience excellence? Is there a winsome feel to your church and worship services? I don’t want anything about the worship experience to take away from the mission of the church, which is to proclaim the gospel.

When we started our North Campus, we met in a high school. Our church members took great pride in the “set up and tear down” that helped transform a school into a warm and engaging service each Sunday. We did little things such as placing signage throughout the school welcoming people to Prestonwood and inviting them to make this church their home. It wasn’t opulent, but it was excellent.

We’ve learned that excellence starts long before someone gets to one of our worship services, beginning with the church website. No doubt, this is a media-savvy world, and it’s our responsibility to engage the culture and communicate effectively. Is your website reader-friendly? Do you keep people engaged through Facebook, Twitter or other social media?

From your website to your parking lot, excellence should be a value for you, your staff and your church. 

Try this exercise with your team: Ask them to spend the week visiting the church website and looking around church grounds. Then get together and discuss these questions: Was it easy to find service times and direction on the website? Does your church parking lot have potholes? Are the trees and bushes overgrown and unkempt? Is the carpet frayed and stained? Are the walls dingy? Do paintings hang crookedly? When someone walks through the doors, what do they see first? What do they smell?

The Worship Experience

Beyond the website and building, evaluate your worship experience. Train volunteers to greet every guest and help direct them. As people enter the sanctuary or worship area, make Bibles and pens readily available for anyone who may not have a Bible. The worship guide or bulletin should be well written and error-free. During the service, make the lyrics for worship songs easy to read on the screens, and provide notes on the screens that complement the message so that first-time guests can easily follow the teaching.

Our mission at Prestonwood is “to glorify God by introducing Jesus Christ as Lord to as many people as possible and to develop them in Christian living using the most effective means to impact the world, making a positive difference in this generation.”

The most effective means for us includes everything available that will help support and strengthen our church as we share the love of Christ and proclaim the message of salvation to a lost and hurting world. As His church, we should proclaim Him with the excellence He so richly deserves.

Jack Graham is pastor of the 32,000-member Prestonwood Baptist Church, with campuses in Plano, Dallas and Prosper, Texas. He also is the voice of PowerPoint Ministries, the church’s international radio and TV ministry known worldwide. Follow him on Twitter @jackngraham.

]]> ( Jack Graham) Facilities Wed, 08 May 2013 20:00:00 -0400
Multisite Children’s Ministry: Launching a First Campus MinOutBox MultisiteYour initial steps into the world of the multisite church can be intimidating—not because you’re unwilling to take them but because you don’t know where to begin. The concept of launching your first multisite location is not difficult; it is simply replicating what you currently do at another location. However, the process itself can be incredibly complex—particularly for children’s ministry.

There are a lot of moving parts within an established kids’ ministry. There are things you do, events you host, processes established and policies understood that weren’t planned or developed overnight. They took time to set in motion.

In fact, when you take inventory of all the things you must replicate in order to launch a multisite location, the list can be overwhelming. I believe there are three major steps a children’s ministry leader must take to ensure a successful multisite launch: 1) Determine your strategy, 2) Build your volunteer launch team and 3) Prioritize your programming.

If your church leadership is moving toward the multisite model, these steps can help you successfully navigate the unfamiliar waters of multisite ministry.

I’ve met a lot of different kidmin leaders who lead within a multisite model. And the reasons or philosophies that led them to multisite ministry are as varied as the churches themselves. But I’ve learned that the ways you find solutions for meeting the needs of your campuses are determined by the reason you launched the campus in the first place.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to ask some clarifying questions to help you determine a sustainable approach to multisite ministry:

What are your non-negotiables?

Do you want a child to experience the same programming no matter which location he attends? If yes, then a clear non-negotiable is curriculum. Curriculum is determined by you or your designee, and the campus leadership does not have the freedom to change it.

How interdependent and intradependent do you want the locations to be?

All locations will bear the same church name. But is it the goal for each location to have the option of becoming independent in the future? If yes, then your staff structure and supporting systems should reflect this outcome.

How will you structure for intradependence?

At, I led a campus kidmin team. Each month I reported projected attendance numbers to a central team who took that information and determined and prepped the materials I needed to implement ministry to kids from preschool through fifth grade. This method required a separate team of people to crank out materials for all the campuses each month. As a ministry leader, my time was more available to meet the [shepherding] needs of the kids, families and volunteers at my campus.

Another option is to pull a percentage of time from each Kidmin leader at each campus to contribute toward the global efforts that benefit all campuses. This is currently the mode at my church in Tennessee. Each Kidmin staff member has a global responsibility. This allows us to leverage a portion of the time and talent of each team member that will work to the benefit the entire team.

Though these questions are not the only ones to consider, they are very important to address. As you plan for your first multisite campus launch, I highly recommend exploring them with your leadership to help you form a sustainable plan.? —Gina McClain

]]> (Gina McClain) Facilities Tue, 07 Jan 2014 14:17:42 -0500
3 Ways to Know if God Wants You to Plant a Church "How do I know the Lord wants me to go here?" is a common question I get from young church planters trying to decide about a planting a church. The answer to that question is of utmost importance.

A Church Planter is Called to a People and a Place

People have different opinions on this, but I'm going to give you mine.

I don't think a church planter should go plant a church until you're called to a specific place and people. This is a little tricky because I actually don't think people are generically called to church planting.

I think they're called to plant a church among a certain people or a place. You can't build your entire view of something on your personal experience, but I will share my calling as an illustration.

My Journey

Even though I got turned down by my denominational missions agency to be a church planter (I was, after all, 20 and had no training), God still spoke to our hearts. I was up in Buffalo, New York, and Donna was at home. I returned and told her when I was at Prospect Avenue and Seventh Street in Buffalo I discerned that the Lord wanted me to plant a church there.

Donna said she was praying and that God told her the same thing. We knew at that point we were supposed to go. It was significant, but that's only happened to me once. I've planted six churches and the level of clarity was not as evident. But there was always a sense of call.

1. Confirmation through compassion. Confirmation came to me in every place when I knew that I could do nothing else except plant the church among the people of a certain place. I could not do anything else or do it anywhere else.

I lived in my current neighborhood for four years before setting out to plant a church. I was reaching some neighbors and inviting them to church, while serving as an interim pastor at various churches. But then God put a burden in my heart that I needed to plant a church for these people and for their friends.

All of the places I planted had one thing in common. I had a spiritual burden that involved a specific people—from the urban poor in Buffalo to my neighbors in Sumner County, Tennessee, decades later.

Church planting and missionary work is a unique role that requires a unique and clearly discerned calling.

2. Fall in love with a specific group of people. Church planting and missionary work is a unique role that requires a unique and clearly discerned calling. The Apostle Paul consistently spoke of the burden he had for different people in different places.

A church planter must fall in love with the place and fall in love with the people. When I fell in love with my wife, I wanted to know everything about her and spend as much time as I could with her. I did things with her that I would not normally do. I learned new things about her interests. I did this fervently because I was in love with her.

The same thing is true about a people and a place where you are going to plant a church. You must fall in love with its interests. You need to learn more about the place than anybody else does because you're falling in love with the place and you're falling in love with the people.

3. Pray and fast for discernment. Pray and fast until God makes your calling clear to you. Wrestle with the Lord until it is irrefutable. I don't want a general calling to plant a church. I want a clear burden for a specific people. I cannot plant a church until my heart breaks for the people where God has called me to plant a church. Don't start a church without this calling.

At the end of the day, I want a type of Macedonian call. Paul had one when he saw a man from Macedonia calling to him, "Come over and help us" (Acts 16:9).

I'm not saying you need a vision in a dream—and I've never had one like that. However, I've never planted a church, and I wouldn't plant a church, unless I had a clear vision for a place and a people that I knew in my heart God was calling me to "come over and help" a certain people in a certain place.

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

]]> (Ed Stetzer ) Growth Mon, 04 May 2015 21:00:00 -0400
5 Words of Encouragement to the Church Planter or Young Leader Recently I was able to share some encouragement with church planters in Chicago. Having been a planter twice, I understand the unique challenges facing planters. They are constantly struggling with leadership issues, finances and simply knowing what to do next.

I get it. Most of what I know now came from experience and the wisdom of others. Many of the suggestions I shared are suitable for young leaders in any field.

Here are 5 words of encouragement:

1. The more specific you are the more we can help. Established churches have systems. Processes. Committees. Structure. Too much you might say and that's why you're planting. But we have budgets that have likely been approved long in advance. The more detailed you can be with what you need the easier it is to meet the need. Otherwise, it seems overwhelming. And, don't be afraid to talk about money. Everyone knows you need it. Just don't be surprised if help is more readily available in other ways.

2. Surround yourself with some encouragers. Make sure you have people who speak regularly into your life. People outside the work you're doing. Some days they'll keep you going.

3. Seek your affirmation among the people God sent you to minister to. Great advice someone gave me. You'll many times feel under-appreciated. You may not feel you're doing any good. You'll second-guess yourself and your calling. Get back into helping the hurting people—the work, whatever it is—God called you to. Be recharged.

4. Everything great starts with a humble beginning. Either in your personal humility or the humble beginnings of your work; take your pick. We all want the grand and instant success. That's seldom the reality. Those who launch big often had enormous stories of previously being humbled. "Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin" (Zech. 4:10).

5. Protect your soul—and your marriage. You have to discipline to decompress. Paraphrase of Jesus: "Come to me all who are stretched, burnt-out, weary and heavy-burdened—I will give you refreshment for your soul. Live this truth daily. Put it as a regular practice of your life.

God bless you, planter, leader and friend.

Ron Edmondson is the senior pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. For the original article, visit

]]> (Ron Edmondson ) Growth Thu, 23 Apr 2015 21:00:00 -0400
An Extreme Sport: Raising Money for a Church Plant Where do you find enough money to start a church during a global recession? Starting a church in good economic times is daunting enough, but starting one now borders on insanity.

Insanity or not, church planting has never been a sport for the faint-hearted. In fact, I have always called it the extreme sport of ministry.

But raising money for a church plant may be THE most extreme part of this extreme sport because it takes vision—plain and simple—and a clear way to communicate that vision. Josh Husmann, lead pastor of a new church plant called Mercy Road in Indianapolis, raised more money in one day than the average church planter does in a year. How? He clearly communicated his vision at the recent Next Nuts & Bolts Church Planting conference in Ocala, Florida. And left with a $20,000 check.

All conference attendees had the opportunity to enter their Church Master Plans and compete through a series of interviews with church planting experts. In difficult financial times, Josh brought the key elements that unlock finances for a successful church plant.

This equation determines a church plant's funding capacity:

(Vision + Leadership) x Networking = $ Capacity

Unless you are independently wealthy, starting a church will take more money than you currently have at your disposal. If you cannot raise money, you cannot start a self-sufficient, sustainable church. The average church plant raises $100,000 in the first four years from outside support. Only 60 percent of those are self-sufficient by year four.[i] If a church is not self-sufficient by year five, it tends to represent a patient on life support rather than a vibrant life. You may love God with all your heart and know His Word better than Billy Graham, but if you cannot raise money you will not have a church in a few years.

Vision fuels finances. Without vision, you will always be driving on financial fumes. Eventually the fumes will evaporate, and the dream will die. One of the biggest lessons to learn in raising finances is that people give to vision, not to need. If you cannot cast a vision that captures the hearts of people, you will never have enough money to fund the church plant. Casting compelling vision is part of a fundamental skill set to raising money.

Several months into our church plant, we hit a financial wall. We needed $18,000 to continue moving forward as a church. Asking our small church plant of 125 to give a one-time offering to meet our $18,000 need was a God-sized request because they had been giving less than $1,000 per week at this point. This was a vision test for me. Could I cast a vision compelling enough to move the hearts and wallets of this small band of believers? Was this worth their investment?

After the service everyone was waiting around to see if we made our goal. I still remember walking in the back room to ask the offering counters, "Did we make it?" I still see one man's face in my mind.

As he turned around, tears were streaming down his face. "Yes, we made it." Relief engulfed me. "How much was the total?"

He looked at me and said the words that are forever etched in my heart—"They gave $50,000!" Vision fuels finances.

Vision must be clearly articulated in a Church Master Plan. The arduous work of painfully writing out a master plan is part of your vision. The vision becomes clearer with each draft of your master plan. When it is complete, it's time to enlist financial support.

Leadership accelerates finances. Financial supporters have to "buy you" before they fund you. Most supporters invest in the planter over the plan. Successful church planters should be entrepreneurial leaders who have a track record of leading people. A pastor can lead an existing church, but it takes an entrepreneurial leader to start a church from scratch.

In a study on the "Top Issues Church Planters Face", leadership was cited as the No. 1 issue. The report was a result of listening to over 40 national leaders who have over 600 years of cumulative experience working with hundreds of planters. According to the study, "Leadership development is viewed by most planters as a non-negotiable obstacle to becoming financially viable and growing the church."

Your leadership ability will accelerate or stagnate your church plant. If no one is following you, you are just taking a walk. A planter must develop their leadership while building partnerships to move forward.

There are three levels of partnerships:

1. Prayer partners

2. Financial partners

3. Launch Team

Some will be your prayer team, which is critical for the success of the church. Some will be your financial team, who will make the dream a reality. Some will be called by God to join you in the new church. Some may be all three, and all are critical for a successful launch.

When God calls an individual to start a church, be encouraged that He is simultaneously speaking to others about funding the church. The Church Planter's job is to find those people and churches. This is the time to cash in all the relational chips in your life. God has prepared you for this season and this calling. Contact every person you know who likes you: friends, family, ministry connections, college roommates and launch team.

Utilize Facebook, Twitter, email, snail mail and any other means to contact everyone you know or have known about the new church plant. Leave no rock unturned. Do not say "no" for them. You have no idea who God is speaking to about partnering with you.

Networking exponentially increases your funding capacity. It's not what you know, and it's not who you know; but it's who knows you that counts. If you have not learned the power of networking, stop what you are doing and read Jeffrey Gitomer's book, The Little Black Book of Connections, and Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. Your networking ability could catapult or cripple a new church start.

Many church planters have limited network relationships. An under-networked planter needs to get involved with church planting organizations, training opportunities, coaching networks, denominational training, and church planting conferences. Meet people and ask questions. Be a learner, not just another church planter looking for a handout. Everybody wants money, but few want wisdom. Seek wisdom, and money will follow.

There are two levels of financial support: individual and organizations, including denominations. Individuals will give because they love you; churches, denominations and larger organizations will give because they trust your leadership and plan. Focus the majority of your fundraising time on organizations over individuals. Individuals tend to give dollars while organizations give thousands of dollars.

Learn to broaden the net of fundraising. After every appointment, ask the question, "Do you know anyone else who may be interested in this church plant or has a heart for this city?" Every person is the potential door to a group of partners in this calling God has put on your life.

The best method developed in recent years is a "Partner Meeting." Steve Stroope, Pastor of Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas, first introduced me to this concept in 2002, when we partnered to launch Journey Church in New York City. We have since partnered with several other church plants together.

A Partner Meeting is an onsite vision tour for financial partners and potential financial partners. This is a time to put your vision on steroids and show how God is going to use you to build a church in this particular city.

Build your partnership team on the mall concept. Malls secure their anchor stores before they begin construction, and then fill in with smaller stores. Work diligently to secure the right "Anchor Partners" for your new church. Partners bring prospective partners. Potential financial partners want to know who else is committed to this plant financially.

For example, when I know that Lake Pointe Church is financially committed to a church plant, I am more confident of the plant's ability to succeed. Ask your financial partners who else they think might be interested.

Set a date and invite all financial partners and potential partners to a meeting in your city. For a successful Partner Meeting, you must plan it carefully and include times to socialize, like lunch or dinner, a vision tour of your area with possible locations you have researched, and a business meeting to discuss your master plan and financial requirements to launch your church. The church planter leads the Vision Tour and Master Plan presentation, and asks the "Anchor Partner" to lead the budget meeting. An Anchor Partner is already financially committed and can invite others to commit financially with them. If a partner does not commit at the meeting, then follow up one week after the meeting to ask for the commitment.

Raising financial support will be one of your greatest challenges, as you ask potential partners to give to the vision that God has called you to lead. As you ask, remember that you are speaking for hundreds that don't yet know Christ in your city. Eternity rides on your audacity to boldly ask people to financially join you.

Ron Sylvia is the founding and lead pastor of Church at The Springs in Ocala, Florida, and Director of NEXT Churches. He is the author of Launching a Purpose Driven Church conference curriculum and authored his story and methods in the book, Starting New Churches on Purpose.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Ron Sylvia) Growth Thu, 05 Mar 2015 19:00:00 -0500
7 Principles for Church Planting According to the New Testament Pattern I recently spent some quality time with one of the best church planters in a particular city. In just a few years he has planted almost 10 campuses or extensions of the original church he started almost 10 years ago.

He was also involved in a prayer meeting with other church planters for several years. When I asked him if this weekly prayer meeting was still functional, he told me that it no longer exists because most of these planters are no longer ministering in the city and that many of the churches are either closed or are led by another pastor. He said that he has almost no pastor friends left in the area.

As I mused over this, I realized that much of what is called church planting by denominations and/or institutions often lacks biblical precedent and principles. The reason why so many fail in regards to church planting, in my particular city, is because potential lead pastors are recruited from other parts of the country and they come into a daunting, complex city that is alien to their own social context.

Hence, they are stepping into a church culture that is foreign to them. Just giving theological/methodological training and sponsoring them financially is usually not enough to trump the other factors related to city planting such as: leadership development, raising a family in a secular environment, the high cost of living, finding affordable places to rent for a congregation, etc.

From my observation, most of the church plants in New York City don't even last three years. Fewer still last a decade. Of course, Jesus told us to go into the entire world and preach the gospel, but we also have to learn the environment before attempting to establish a beachhead. Perhaps many of these leaders would be better off serving as an associate pastor for many years in a city church before attempting to lead one right out of the gate. The exceptions to the rule are if they come with an already established mega-brand (e.g. Hillsong) or they have an enormous amount of resources and can afford to purchase their own building and support full-time staff in addition to the salary of a lead pastor.

When my wife and I planted Resurrection Church in 1984 we had no money and we did not own our own building, but we were used to the culture of our city (we were both born within a few miles of our church plant) and we had already raised up a small team of disciples we led to Christ the previous years through street evangelism. Hence, I can speak from experience as a church planter.

The following are some of the principles necessary to plant churches according to the New Testament biblical pattern:

1. Church planters were sent, they did not just volunteer to go. The apostle Peter was told by Jesus to strengthen his brethren and to feed His sheep (Luke 22:32 and John 21:15-17). He had a divine commission to minister to the flock of God and call the Jews back to the Messiah (Gal. 2:7). The apostles Paul and Barnabas were sent out to plant churches by the leaders of the church of Antioch (Acts 13:1-2).

Consequently, it is important that a person has the blessing and confirmation of their local church before they attempt to plant a local congregation. This is necessary not only for prayer support and accountability, but also as a way to discern the will of God and make sure you are hearing His voice correctly.

2. Church planters were nurtured first under apostolic church leadership. Peter and the original apostles were trained for more than three years under the chief apostle, our Lord Jesus. Barnabas and Paul were trained by the Jerusalem church apostolic team (Acts 4:36-37; 9:26-29) and also refined their leadership skills for several years in the Antioch church (Acts 11:23-26) before they were sent out. Bible school and theoretical training are not enough; you have to serve in a local church for many years under tried and true senior church leadership before you are seasoned enough to plant and lead a congregation.

3. Planters had a clear leading of the Lord that was confirmed by the church. Some folks come to New York City to plant a church because of the emotional excitement of ministering in the most famous city in the world. Some no doubt think they are going to become famous and make a name for themselves in ministry. I would advise against planting a church unless other unbiased mature Christian leaders also confirm it. The risk is too great to miss God in this kind of endeavor.

Planting a church is a life-altering decision that will affect your family, marriage, finances and emotional health. It is hard enough to attempt to do when you have the grace and calling of God, but when you are not sure of this and it is mere emotion, you will not be able to stand firm when the fires of testing come your way.

4. They went into cultural contexts they were prepared for. The apostle Peter generally focused on ministering to the Jews (the religion and people he lived among), and the apostle Paul focused on the non-Jews. Both were prepared for this kind of ministry. Paul was not only educated in the Hebrew Scriptures under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), but he also had classical training and quoted Greek poets when ministering to the educated class (read his Mars Hill sermon in Acts 17—especially note verse 28).

5. They had a leadership team. Paul never went out to plant a church alone. He always had a team that included great leaders like Barnabas, Silas, John Mark, Timothy, Luke and other qualified leaders. Never attempt to plant a local congregation without a faith community supplying a competent planting team to support you.

6. They had financial backing. Barnabas had houses and real estate that he sold to finance the kingdom (Acts 4) and Paul had the backing of the Antioch church as well as the sponsorship of all the congregations he founded that partnered with him to advance the gospel (Philippians 1:3). Also, some scholars estimate that almost one-third of all the men who traveled with Paul were benefactors who financially supported his apostolic ministry. Even Jesus had benefactors who followed Him (Luke 8:2).

It would be crazy in most cases to attempt to plant a church without financial backing unless you have a clear leading from the Lord to do so.

7. They planted congregations that stayed connected to the founding apostolic leader. Although it seems as though each local congregation was autonomous, they all remained under the oversight of their founding apostolic leader. The apostle may come and go, and not stay for long periods of time after the original process of building the foundation, but he was always welcome to come and speak into the life of the church as well as continue to give oversight from a distance. (The epistles of Paul to the Galatians, Philippians, Ephesians, Timothy, and Titus all demonstrate the need for local churches to stay connected to their founding apostolic leader.)

Joseph Mattera is overseeing bishop of Resurrection Church and Christ Covenant Coalition in Brooklyn, New York. Visit him at

]]> (Bishop Joseph Mattera) Growth Fri, 20 Feb 2015 13:00:00 -0500
8 Questions About Church Revitalization I recently was interviewed by someone who is considering church revitalization for his next ministry assignment. My answers are not formalized—it was a casual conversation—but I figured someone else might have the same questions.

There were eight questions. After experience in church planting and church revitalization, let me say neither should be attempted without some ability to laugh. At times—other than praying of course—that's all you can do.

Here are 8 questions about church revitalization:

1. What motivated you to move into revitalization vs. church planting? It's a calling. I wouldn't attempt church planting or church revitalization—or any ministry for that matter—without a clear calling. But, the need is huge. We have more kingdom dollars invested in non-productive, non-growing churches than in church plants. Obviously we need lots of church plants, but we also need to revive some of the older churches.

2. What questions did you specifically ask your current church before taking the position? Here's the bottom line: There's not a question that will answer everything you want to know. You'll have to take a risk. Just like in church planting, you don't know if anyone will show up. In church revitalization, you're going to find things out when you get there.

You are dealing with a very complex structure; the older the church the more complex. The search committee can tell you lots of things—all that they believe to be true—and still some of it won't be true. It won't be that they misled you, but that the culture hadn't been fully tested until you arrived and tried to change some things that haven't been tried previously. That's part of the process.

But a key I wanted to understand the best I could was my freedom to lead. Obviously, Jesus is the leader, but did they want to rely on my leadership as I yielded to God's leadership? Was the church ready? Could I hire my staff—and release staff if needed? How are decisions made? I looked at the budget and bylaws and every policy I could find. (They found more after I arrived—but the policies you won't know are the unwritten ones.)

3. If you could change anything about your transition into your current role as senior pastor of a historically established church, what would it be and why?

I would have asked for some of the harder decisions to have already been done, specifically in dealing with structure and staffing.

4. How did you prepare your family for your role change? It was just my wife and me. That's a huge difference, but I read everything I could about the church. I asked lots of questions. I interviewed the staff. I asked for list of key leaders and interviewed them. Then I shared everything I was learning with my wife. We were very open and transparent throughout the process.

But it's important to know that while my wife is faster to move by faith—she has the gift of faith—she's slower to let her heart change. She can know it's what we are supposed to do, but her heart stays longer where we once lived. She hangs on to the past harder than I do. Navigating through that and giving her time to acclimate was huge.

5. What are the biggest mistakes to avoid in your first year as the senior pastor in an existing church that needs the work of revitalization? Moving too fast to change major things. Not bringing people along and establishing trust. Not celebrating the past. Standing still too long (people need some quick wins).

6. What leadership areas did you focus on first once you arrived in your new role?

Primarily staff structure, strategy verbiage, website, communication and vision-casting.

We also had 7 key initiatives: Prayer, Stewardship, Intergenerational Ministry, College, Discipleship, First Impressions and Missions.

7. What books or resources would you recommend for a senior pastor who is moving into the work of revitalizing a local church? For my people who can't assume the unmentioned, let me say the Bible, of course. And, honestly, that's huge. People want and need sound, clear, biblical teachings. That will revive a church.

Here are a few books I found helpful. And there are probably many others.

  • Switch—Chip and Dan Heath
  • Steering through Chaos—Scott Wilson
  • Change Your Church for Good—Brad Powell

8. What one thing would you want to tell me about the work of revitalizing the local church that I have not already asked? Be ready to embrace conflict, love people and love the vision of a healthy church. Each love will be tested.

What questions do you have? Any of these I should expand upon?

Ron Edmondson is the senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. For the original article, visit

]]> (Ron Edmondson) Growth Thu, 12 Feb 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
Where is the Miracle Healing in the US? With all the traveling I do these days with Impact Nations, I get asked a lot of questions about a lot of issues. However, there is one question that I am asked more often—by far—than any other. In fact, in the past two weeks, I have been asked it in England, New Jersey and Canada: "Why don't we see the same kind of healing here (in England, the U.S., Canada) as you do in Africa and India?"

I usually respond to this in several ways. First of all, I do see God heal in the same way in the West as in the developing world. I have watched in North America, Europe and Australia as deaf ears were opened, cataracts dissolved, cancer instantly disappeared (verified by doctors), and paralysis and pain have gone.

In my living room, the Lord healed a woman who had been totally blind in one eye for 20 years. He is the same God in Canada as Kenya, in the U.S. as Uganda, in England as India.

Although I have seen the Lord open the ears of nine deaf people—one after another—in North America, in fairness, I would say that although the quality of healing that I see is the same everywhere, the quantity seems higher in the developing world. However, I need to clarify this statement.

It is not that I see more people not being healed when prayed for; it seems to me there are fewer people looking to be healed in the West. (To clarify once again, I am not saying the people on the streets of our cities do not want to be healed; it is just that they are not being asked and therefore do not think of healing as an option in their lives.)

This leads to what may be the biggest single issue: expectation. Jesus always looked for faith in people. This is why He sometimes asked, "Do you want to get well?" or "What do you want?" Jesus expected people to be healed, and they expected the same thing.

When I am asked "the question," I usually answer with a question of my own: "Do you expect people to be healed?" One of the ways we can discover how we really feel about this question is to examine how often we step out and ask others if we may pray for their healing.

After all, more people are healed if we pray for them than if we don't. In many cases, we simply don't have a real expectation that God will move, so we stay in the safe zone of keeping quiet when presented with the opportunity to pray for healing.

One of the reasons I take people from the Western world to the developing world to do the gospel is to change their expectations. Again and again I watch as they discover a whole new level of truth about the power and compassion of Jesus and of who they really are because they live in Christ.

How can anyone experience being used by the Lord to heal the sick day after day on a Journey of Compassion and then go home unchanged? Back home, as these men and women continue to pray and expect, God continues to heal.

He is the same God in Canada as Kenya, in the U.S. as Uganda, in England as India. And so is His kingdom, where it seems that what you expect is what you will receive. 

Steve Stewart is the founder of Impact Nations, a Christian organization that brings hope and restoration to the poor and vulnerable in the developing world through both supernatural and practical expressions of the kingdom of God.

]]> (Steve Stewart) Healing Wed, 17 Sep 2014 16:00:00 -0400
A 9/11 Perspective From the South Tower Paul Fox headshot-smallIn 1999, the company I worked for was acquired by the world’s largest insurance broker, which was based in Manhattan. I was appointed the chief information officer of one of the subsidiaries and began a 10-year period of commuting from Seattle to my office on the 50th floor in the south tower in the World Trade Center.

I was one of more than 1,700 employees from four subsidiaries that were housed in the north and south towers. We lost 376 staff and contractors the morning of 9/11. Many were my friends and colleagues.

]]> (Paul Fox) Healing Wed, 11 Sep 2013 16:00:00 -0400
A Greater Calling: Mercy for the Hurting I frequently travel to churches and Christian organizations to share the vision of the need to minister to hurting girls and unwed mothers. Most of the people who hear me speak become enthusiastic about responding to God’s call. Sometimes they commit to supporting Mercy Ministries with their prayers. Sometimes they help Mercy Ministries financially. Sometimes they catch the vision and begin to implement it in their area. Whatever God leads them to do, I am thankful most Christians who listen respond.

Most, but not all.

“I just don’t think the church is responsible for those girls. By having that home available, you are condoning premarital sex. We are simply to preach the gospel.”

I try to reply to such criticisms in a pleasant way. “Don’t you think that the message might mean more if it is backed with actions? And isn’t the message for those who are hurting, not for those who are well?”

Unfortunately I rarely receive a pleasant response: “I still don’t believe the church can possibly care for all those disturbed girls, juvenile delinquents, and unwed mothers—they are the ones responsible for their situations. Besides, we pay taxes for the government to take care of them. Those girls need highly skilled, well-educated professionals. A bunch of Christians with good intentions can’t possibly do much good.”

No matter what I tell them about my own experience, some people have already made up their minds. They simply won’t listen to the voice of reason—or to the voice of God.

There are also many Christians who are aware of the mistreatment and abuse some girls suffer and who want very much to address the problem, but they are not sure what the solution is.

The solution is simple. It is the church. The people of God have the duty and privilege to bring restoration to broken lives.

Loving the Seemingly Unlovable

I think about Tammy and the first time I saw her. The smell almost knocked me over. As Tammy came closer, I saw the filthiness of her clothes. Her hair was matted and looked as though there were bugs in it. I thought, I do not want this girl to sit in my car. In that same moment, conviction gripped me. If this girl sensed my repulsion, we could lose her.

The police had phoned me at the home only minutes before to tell me Tammy’s circumstances.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” the officer said with empathy in his voice. “If you can’t help her, I don’t know where she will end up.”

I receive phone calls like this often. A parent, friend, neighbor, or counselor will call to tell me of a troubled girl he would like me to meet. So getting in my car and going out to bring this girl to Mercy Ministries was not unusual. I had made a commitment to the Lord when this ministry began that where He leads, I’ll follow.

As I drove into the desolate area of the inner city, I recalled the details the officer had given: “We found her at this drug dealer’s house we have been surveilling,” he told me. “We advised her to get out now or she would probably end up in jail. Then we told her about you and Mercy Ministries, and she agreed to get help.”

But now as I stood face-to-face with this seemingly hopeless transient, I saw how much unconditional love I lacked.

I hugged her quickly and tried not to gag from her smell. As we walked to the car, she turned toward me and softly spoke. “Ma’am, I don’t think it is a good idea for me to get in your car,” she said, obviously embarrassed.

“Don’t worry about it, honey. You won’t hurt anything,” I tried to reassure her.

With pleading eyes she added, “Do you at least have something I can sit on?”

“Only this,” I said, and pulled an old jacket out of the trunk.

I crawled into the driver’s seat, and before we were a mile up the road, I felt myself becoming physically ill from the odor. But I couldn’t show my disgust or this girl would think I was rejecting her. As if sensing my dilemma, she said, “I’m sorry I smell so bad. I can even smell myself.”

“We’ll get you cleaned up as soon as we get you home,” I promised her.

Before we got there, I suggested we cut off the air and roll down the windows. Thankfully she agreed.

Uneasiness swept over me. What if the girls don’t receive her? What if they say something inappropriate and Tammy is destroyed? As I pulled in the driveway and got out of the car, the girls were waiting at the door. I had told them I was going to pick someone up, but I feared they would not be prepared for this. Thankfully the Holy Spirit had breathed upon their spirits. I love to watch Him work.

As Tammy took her first steps into Mercy Ministries, she was embraced by examples of unconditional love. For a moment she stood at the doorway, taking in the new surroundings. One by one the girls introduced themselves, and their compassion was evident.

Tammy again apologized for her odor. “I really am sorry I smell this way,” she whispered as she lowered her head.

Sensing her uneasiness, the girls took her hand and led her down the hall.

As the voices trailed off and the girls disappeared into the bathroom, I could hear them offering everything from towels and clothes to shampoo. The conviction I had felt earlier swept over me again. I was supposed to be doing that. After all, wasn’t I the one who stood before congregations night after night telling of the unconditional love we offer here?

But I had not even wanted this girl in my car. That day, as I saw the love of God manifested in its purest form, I realized that the message preached at Mercy Ministries was working. Today it had preached to me.

As I lay in bed that night, the events of the day kept replaying in my head. The girls had not hesitated to touch Tammy’s filthiness, and God has not hesitated to touch ours. I realized the lesson the body of Christ (especially I) could learn from seeing what I had seen that day. If we, the church, could learn to love the seemingly unlovable, our witness would be limitless.

The Mission of the Church

Tammy’s story and others like hers are firm reminders to me that it is not enough for us preach a message, pass out tracts or visit door-to-door to evangelize a neighborhood, though those activities may be the specific calling of some individual Christians. The church is commissioned to do works far surpassing these.

The church is called to do the work of Jesus. During Jesus’ earthly ministry He did more than preach a message; He reached out to a hurting and sinful people. In one of His first sermons, Jesus said He was sent not only to preach the gospel to the poor but also to heal the brokenhearted and to set at liberty those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18).

And that is exactly what He did.

Jesus fed the hungry (John 6:1-12) and gave drink to the thirsty (John 2:1-10). He exalted the lowly (Matt. 11:25). He consoled the mourning (Luke 24:36). He forgave the criminal (Luke 23:43). He released the captive (Mark 5:1-20). He comforted the imprisoned (Luke 4:18). He restored the fallen (John 21:15-19). He fellowshiped with the outsider (Luke 15:2). He suffered for the sake of His people (Rom. 4:25). He died for us (Rom. 5:8).

Not only does the Bible reveal that Jesus ministered to the needs of the people around Him, but it also points out a special group to whom Christ especially ministered.

As Jesus was touring the countryside with His 12 disciples, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of heaven, several women went along (Luke 8:1-3). Until they met Jesus, these women had suffered from physical diseases and demonic possession. As a result of His work in their lives, they were not only restored but also privileged to proclaim the reality of Jesus Christ. One of them, Mary Magdalene, was honored by being the first to see and announce that Christ had risen (John 20:11-18).

Scripture makes it clear that Jesus was actively involved in ministering to people in need through works of compassion. It also demonstrates that the hurt in the broken lives of women was close to His heart.

But that was only the beginning.

Jesus told the disciples, “He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also” (John 14:12). He commanded the church to follow the example of His ministry by not merely sharing a message of mercy but also demonstrating mercy through their deeds.

And that is what they did.

In the New Testament members of the church performed the same deeds as Christ. They fed the hungry and gave drink to the thirsty (Acts 11:27-30). They exalted the lowly (1 Cor. 1:26–31). They consoled the mourning (Acts 20:9-12). They forgave the criminal (Acts 9:26-30). They released the captive (Acts 16:16-18). They comforted the imprisoned (Acts 16:25). They restored the fallen (2 Cor. 2:5-9). They fellowshiped with the outsider (Acts 11:1-18). They suffered for the sake of God’s people (Col. 1:24).

The apostles reorganized the very structure of the early church by adding new offices to sustain widows (Acts 6:1-7). They understood that “pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). Because of their experience in godly living, the church gave the women a special teaching ministry (1 Tim. 5:9-10; Titus 2:3-5).

It is clear in Scripture that from its inception the church was actively involved in ministering to a hurting world. It is also plain that the broken lives of women were of special concern to these servants of Christ.

We who follow Jesus Christ and are part of His church are charged with continuing to carry out Christ’s Great Commission in the midst of our present crisis. We must not only share the gospel with our words; we must also address with our actions the hurts and needs that confront us daily. We, not the government, are commanded to support the unwed mothers. We, not the government, are commanded to release the young women in bondage to drug addiction, promiscuity, and other sins. We, not the government, are commanded to bring young women into the embrace of eternal life. We, not the government, are commanded to bring restoration to broken lives. We, not the government, are commanded to be the hands, the feet, and the mouthpiece of Jesus Christ to the world today.

The Heart of the Great Commission

As the people of God and the followers of Jesus Christ, the church is called to bring the message of salvation to those enslaved by sin. This mission means more than merely sharing a message, as important as that is. According to Scripture, the disciples were given broader instructions: “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matt. 28:18-20).

Clearly, the heart of the Great Commission is not just evangelism; it is also discipleship. Though salvation from sin is an essential element of the gospel, it also includes “‘teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you’” (Matt. 28:20). The Lord has charged His church not only with the task of planting seeds but also with the duty and privilege of being used by Him to make sure that what is planted grows to maturity and bears much fruit (1 Cor. 3:6-9.) Just as Christians are called to apply the gospel to their lives, so they are called to teach others to do likewise. We have the responsibility to lay a foundation on which godly lives can be built.

It is up to us. There is no one else.

Nancy Alcorn spent the first eight years of her career working at a correctional facility for juvenile delinquent girls and later investigating child abuse cases. Out of this experience came a driving passion to help broken girls that led Alcorn in 1983 to found Mercy Ministries, a free-of-charge, Christian residential program for girls ages 13 to 28. Her book Echoes of Mercy, from which this article was adapted, chronicles her journey of transforming lives, as does her latest release, Mission of Mercy (Charisma House). To learn more about Mercy Ministries, visit


]]> (Nancy Alcorn) Healing Fri, 15 Nov 2013 14:00:00 -0500
A Cry for Help We live on the cusp of what potentially could be the greatest revival ever known in the history of mankind. However, statistics indicate that attendance and finances are at a modern-day low in the church.

Humanity is crying out for authenticity in ministry. The problem is that many ministers seeking guidance simply do not trust Christians. They find themselves in the midst of a unique paradox.

They serve a very real God whose Son suffered the supreme sacrifice to redeem mankind. The price has been paid, and God has raised up imperfect men to bring in His harvest. Nevertheless, many believe that salvation and one’s calling both depend on one’s performance and not on the cross.

Within the ministerial ranks resides tremendous frustration. Statistics from the Barna Group reveal that 1,500 ministers leave the ministry each month, never to return. These are individuals whom God has called. He knew their inadequacies when He called them.

A Barna Group study found that 38 percent of those in the ministry have committed adultery, and 77 percent admit to having a failing marriage. According to Dr. Ted Roberts’ Pure Desire Ministries, as many as 74 percent are addicted to Internet pornography. Most leave the ministry because of moral failure or deep frustration.

Why have so many simply thrown in the towel? What is going wrong?

People fashion an image that no human is able to imitate. They can’t live up to the common perception that a servant of Christ must be a spiritual superman.

They may say, “My colleagues all appear to live above the fray. It must be me.” The lack of candidness keeps them from the very things they need—authenticity and deliverance.

As the adversary lies in wait, disillusionment signals him to prepare his trap of isolation. God’s man now gives in to the deception and becomes a master at covering his sin—or so he thinks.

He has seen how others have been treated when their faults were exposed. Rather than facing the public disgrace and allowing God to do an emancipating work when personal sin is unearthed, many today protect themselves via the avenue of “lawyering up.” Though this flawed methodology may save a career, it also ensures that this individual will suffer in his personal sin indefinitely.

The first step in attaining true liberty is to find a safe place to simply “confess.” Many who have attempted to do so in the past have met an ill fate. They have confided in someone whom they felt they could trust. All too often, the individual to whom they have disclosed their deepest sin has responded with exposure and wrath.

This means of dispensing judgment for sinful conduct gained its media precedent with both the Jimmy Swaggart and the Jim Bakker scandals. Rather than choosing to be redemptive, society chose to inflict shame and degradation. Along with the media, the enemy used those incidents to attempt to drive the nail into the church’s coffin.

God’s intention is that the church is perceived as a place for flawed humanity to run to and find His mercy. Instead, the world perceives the church as a hate group.

How can this potentially fatal error be corrected? Can a minister get back on track when he has done the unthinkable?

Helping Pastors Heal

This is where the ministry of Heal Your Servant (HYS) comes in. Part of the ministry’s purpose is to provide the first step on the path of liberation for anyone who desires it.

Heal Your Servant offers four confidential call-in sessions per week. God’s servants can anonymously contact us and be absolutely honest regarding their sin. It offers them a pathway for complete deliverance.

Every step is completely confidential. When a pastor does call in, he is offered a grace-filled plan of restoration that includes his spouse and congregation.

The staff of HYS has heard stories of individuals who struggle with pornography, lust, adultery, same-sex attraction, divorce and an array of other issues. It has received calls from bishops, pastors, evangelists, worship leaders, missionaries, youth pastors, children’s leaders and even a church custodian.

In the last year, HYS has been bombarded with a litany of phone calls, emails and letters from more than 1,700 ministers in 722 cities in 69 nations. More than 1,300 have come from the United States. Most are broken, angry with themselves, and humiliated and don’t know where to turn.

Heal Your Servant has become a shelter from the storm of judgment, says therapist and author Dr. Fred Antonelli.

“Life can be challenging and even downright emotionally devastating at times,” Antonelli says. “Heal Your Servant is a compassionate, agape-centered ministry geared to the weak, beat-up, wounded and painfully burdened people [who] are shuffling along on feet of clay. HYS is a safe place to land.”

Stephen Arterburn, author of the best-seller, “Every Man’s Battle,” agrees.

“Heal Your Servant is an amazing ministry of hope in the storm and help in the struggle,” he said. “If you are struggling in ministry and need to talk to someone who can understand, call today.”

Below is a sample of some of the testimonies HYS has received:

Pastor Mike says: “I have pastored for 15 years. I had never before been unfaithful to my wife. The pressures of ministry had placed a great division between my wife and me. We were both so busy with God's work that we neglected each other.

“I met a woman online. This relationship had developed slowly, and we had made the decision to meet in the Caribbean for the sole purpose of consummating our adulterous affair. I told my wife I was going on a ministry trip.

“I called in to Heal Your Servant several times, and I just talked. I didn’t call them back for two weeks. When I finally called again I was asked what was going on.

“My response was, ‘Well, I did go to the Caribbean, but instead of taking the other woman, I took my wife. I told her everything.

“She then admitted to me she had been in an emotional relationship with another man. We asked for each other’s forgiveness, forgave each other and then had an amazing honeymoon in the Caribbean. Thank you so much for saving my marriage and ministry.’”

Another individual called the ministry because he had been in a three-year affair with a woman in the church. He was tired of hiding it and simply wanted it out in the open. He had developed a love for the woman and contemplated leaving his wife, his children and the church in order to live out his life with the other woman.

He was confused. He admitted that his heart was in missions, and he had felt pressured into pastoring.

His wife had suspected the affair and was an emotional wreck. After a time of counseling, prayer and deliverance, she forgave him, and they decided to press on. He eventually forgave himself and once again felt worthy of his family.

The elders of the church worked very closely with HYS through the entire ordeal. When he completed the process, the elders met with the congregation and invited him back as pastor. He humbly declined the offer and eventually accepted a position as the head of a missions organization.

These are only two of the many stories of marriages being mended and ministries being restored through HYS.

Returning Leaders to Their Callings

Another purpose of the ministry is to seek out the 1,500 leaders who leave the ministry every month and bring them back to the place God has called them to be. If there is to be a great harvest, every laborer is needed.

The staff at HYS encourages people to let them know who these ministers are and where to find them. Pastor Kris shared his testimony:

“I don’t know how you found me. I pastored a wonderful church for 10 years. It was Camelot, but then the devil hit hard and strong and took out my marriage. And when I reached out for help, everyone—I mean everyone—turned their back on me and kicked me to the side of the road and left me for dead. It was the most devastating experience a human being could go through.

“My wife left me and took our four children. I resigned from my pastoring because I was too devastated to lead my congregation, even though I loved them with all my heart. When I went to minister-friends I thought I could trust and poured my heart out to them, they all walked away because they didn’t want to be associated with someone who was having a ‘failure experience’ because it might tint their ‘success’ appearance.

“I went into a spiral of depression and total shock to the point of attempt[ing] suicide twice, and there was no one there. It was and is amazing to me that as ministers, we are on the front lines of battle. Yet when the enemy is able to hit us and wound us, our ‘fellow soldiers,’ instead of reaching out to help us in our wounded condition, turn instead and aim their weapons at us and seemingly ‘finish the job.’ I was amazed that the devil wounded me, but it was my brothers in Christ [who] finished me off.

“It is interesting that there is an organization that is reaching out to our wounded veterans coming home from war named ‘Wounded Warriors,’ yet we don’t do anything for our wounded warriors [in the church]. They [the veterans] tell the stories of how they were hit with a roadside bomb and it blew their legs or arms off. I have sat with tears down my face saying to myself, ‘I know what that is like, only my wounds were unseen, but just as painful and life changing.’ God bless your ministry.”

Why does HYS seek out these wounded pastors? The ministry has chosen to be obedient in recognizing and honoring a precious calling.

“Heal Your Servant exists to encourage the fallen leader,” says best-selling author Max Lucado. “They step in when others have stepped back.”

God Uses Imperfect People

“The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). We all understand that the specificity of this text refers to Israel. It also refers to the nature and character of God.

He is not frivolous regarding whom He calls. He places a holy calling on unholy individuals. The cross and His grace are the only things that brand us as His own.

He knows the human frailties of those called into ministry. He knows their imperfections. He also knows that greed, lust and envy will pervade their very beings.

My dear friend Ruth Graham (daughter of Billy Graham) brings home the truth that God has a history of calling and using flawed individuals to do His work:

“What would the biblical history be without Abraham? King David? Peter?

“What if God had disqualified them for service because of their failures? It would be a sad, thin narrative indeed. God in His mercy and grace included rascals in the biblical story to encourage us because we are all fallen and flawed. And in His grace He fits us for service.

“God loves to redeem the broken. He creates order out of chaos—He began that in Genesis and still does. He doesn’t stop at ruins; that’s where He begins. That is why Heal Your Servant is a ministry whose time has come. The church must be a model of the nature of God!”

It is true; many of the great leaders of the church through the ages have been associated with some sort of scandal. This does not disqualify them. In many cases, God uses their encounter along with His mercy and grace to refine them.

Called to Restoration

If we truly are “the body” of Christ and parts of our body are wounded, it’s imperative that we rush to protect and heal those parts that are sickly. It is our responsibility to get them healed.

Galatians 6:1-3 gives us a very clear perspective on how to distinguish those who are truly God’s servants in such a time: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

This Scripture very clearly indicates how God’s man will instinctively respond. The most spiritual among us will be those who run to restore.

Jesus dealt with this same issue when confronting the woman caught in adultery. He exchanged our concept of “accountability to” for that of His concept of “accountability for.” He took personal responsibility for the woman. And after driving away the accusers, He spoke words of forgiveness and healing.

“Falling in a moral pit or getting stuck in a slew of despondency is just one of the realities of living in a fallen world,” says Randy Frazee, senior minister of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas.

“Here’s good news—you don’t have to stay there. Heal Your Servant offers a safe, grace-filled, confidential way to experience freedom again.”

Those who have truly tasted the mercy and grace of God are always the first to run to the aid of a fallen comrade. For those who have a tendency to judge and condemn another man’s sin, I have one simple question: “If your most fatal flaw were made public, would you still be allowed in ministry?”

It’s something to think about.  

David Vigil is CEO and founder of Heal Your Servant. His life focus is to serve those who have been called of God and see to it that they are free to be exactly what they have been designed to be.

]]> (David Vigil) Healing Thu, 09 Jan 2014 20:00:00 -0500
Ron Phillips: When the Diagnosis Is Defeat Ron-Phillips-Headshot-Blog“When adversity comes, you praise God.”

That was what my friend Terry had always been taught. When those tough times come, you just stand there, stare down the storm, and praise God.

However, on January 8, 2012, praising God was not very high on Terry’s priority list. After experiencing some problems, and noticing a lump that had developed only over a couple of days, and that ran from his chest up toward his shoulder, Terry decided to visit his doctor. His doctor was pretty blunt with the assessment:

“You have extensive small cell carcinoma (a very fast growing and aggressive form of cancer). You probably only have 6 to 12 months to live.”

]]> (Ron Phillips) Healing Mon, 04 Mar 2013 14:00:00 -0500
Rick Warren: God’s Acceptance Is All You Need Rick-Warren-Saddleback-Church-small“The LORD is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one. The LORD protects me from all danger; I will never be afraid.” (Ps. 27:1, GNT)

The fear of rejection is based on two things. First, we all need to be loved. That’s a fact. We all desperately need massive doses of love in our life to be healthy individuals. God says, “I want to love you.” God is love, and he knows you need to be loved.

But, second, we develop the false idea that our need to be loved is solely dependent upon one person or a group of people. When you expect someone else to meet 100 percent of your need for love, you’re asking for trouble. You’re setting yourself up for hurt and opening the door for the fear of rejection. When you look to any other person besides God to meet all your love needs, he or she can’t. There is no human being alive who can love you as completely and as fully as you need to be loved, and there never will be. Only God can do that.

]]> (Rick Warren) Healing Tue, 19 Feb 2013 17:00:00 -0500
Church Health: How Do People Learn? Kim Martinez 2Editor’s Note: This is the third and final in a series of articles by Assemblies of God Pastor Kim Martinez on church health. Part 1 Part 2

Jeffrey squishes his car into a parking spot, grabs his bible and heads for the church.

He is on his Sunday-best behavior. He dropped his wife and kids off at the door before parking on the back 40 and slogging through the slush to get into the sanctuary. As he enters the church, his brain starts to switch off. He has walked into the presentation zone. Jeffrey wants to engage in church, and he works hard at it, but every Sunday, he fights a simple problem—his mind tries to turn off when he enters the building. He hasn’t figured out the cause, but perhaps with a bit of thought, we can change the environment so that he finds himself energized and focused instead.

]]> (Kim Martinez) Innovation Tue, 22 Jan 2013 21:00:00 -0500
The Biker Church Revving up the gospel ... on Harleys

]]> (Paul Wahl) Innovation Fri, 13 Feb 2009 14:14:44 -0500
The Cowboy Church Jesus CowboyBarrel racin', bull ridin', boots 'n' hats ... in Jesus' name (with a twang).

Gary Morgan is an iconic cowboy. Tall and lean, clad in jeans, a Western shirt and boots, his look embodies the Code of the West—justice, fairness, honesty. Morgan leads the 1,500-member Cowboy Church of Ellis County in Waxahachie, Texas, the largest such congregation in the world.

Nearly everything about the church has a cowboy connection. "We have something going on pretty near every night," Morgan says with a typical Texas twang. Other churches might build a gymnasium to draw young parishioners; not Cowboy Church. They built a riding arena instead that's open and available for riding after Sunday services. Barrel racing is held Tuesday evening, and team roping practice on Wednesday evening.

]]> (Paul Wahl) Innovation Fri, 16 Nov 2012 17:00:00 -0500
Church Unplugged If your church were stripped down to its core, what would be left?

]]> (Brad Abare) Innovation Mon, 20 Apr 2009 14:53:10 -0400
The Karate Church Everybody was Kung-Fu fightin’ (sort of) in these two kickin’ congregations
]]> (Paul Wahl) Innovation Sat, 01 Nov 2008 00:00:00 -0400
The Surfer Church Bibles and the beach fit perfectly together for this coastal congregation.
]]> (Paul Wahl) Innovation Tue, 01 Jul 2008 00:00:00 -0400
4 Keys to Creating an Irresistible Church in 2014 Let me preface what I’m about to write by saying that basic and foundational things like prayer, discipleship and evangelism (having an externally-focused church as I’ve stated before) are all a given. Each church should take the Great Commission seriously and have an emphasis on the “Go” and on the “make disciples.”

I start everything with prayer, and so please know that what I’m about to discuss is with the above stated things as must-haves and what I consider foundational to a healthy church.

With that being said, let me share with you the “big four” that I look for when I visit a church, secret shop a church, or consult with a church. As the Scriptures encourage us—we should “compel them” to come in.

The big four that I look for when I do a secret shopper are first impressions, children’s ministry, security and worship. Yes, worship is last and I have listed them in the order that I weigh them.

As many studies have shown us, people make up their mind whether or not they will return, long before the worship service and especially the sermon. Most visitors will know in the first 10 minutes if they will return to your church.

First Impressions

Let’s start with what I consider to be the most crucial of all ministries at a church. Whether you call it first impressions, hospitality or guest relations—it matters and is paramount to breaking down walls and making guests feel welcome at your church.

“You’ve got 10 minutes. Somewhere between the parking lot and the children’s center, the ten minutes pass. They should know they matter to us before they hear how much they matter to God.”—Mark Waltz, Granger

Something I tell all the churches I work with is: “You must be strategic and intentional about breaking down any barriers of intimidation. You must be strategic and intentional about creating warm, welcoming environments.”

Now, I could spend an entire series on just first impressions. This is everything from your online presence (social media like Twitter, Facebook—as well as your website). For example, when I do a secret shopper visit, I create 10-15 pages in my report on just online presence before I ever leave to attend their physical campus.

Once one comes to your physical campus, the real fun begins. First impressions then include the parking lot, greeters, ushers, and people who greet you at your church’s Welcome or Information Booth. First impressions also include things like smell (your church may stink), signage (your church may be intimidating and confusing for new people), and how your facility is kept up and maintained. All these things play subtle parts in a guest’s first impression of your church and their subconscious.

Children’s Ministry

Maybe I’m biased because I have three young kids, but I believe in having a strong and attractive children’s ministry. A lot of churches target parents in their mid-20s to mid-40s and the best way to compel them is to offer a children’s ministry so dynamic that kids drag their parents to church.

Let me suggest that you make children’s ministry a priority. I’ve seen churches that spent millions on their worship center and have dumpy children’s facilities. I’d never return with my family to churches like that. Show me and your community that kids are important and that you care about partnering with parents to be a help in their spiritual growth. We all know the statistics on the likelihood of people accepting Christ after age 18. Student ministries (children’s through youth) are vital to fulfilling the Great Commission.


This is probably the most overlooked part of most churches I visit. Most church leaders have never sat down and intentionally and strategically thought through how and why they do security. I wish this wasn’t important and that you didn’t have to have some kind of security presence, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. If there had only been one church shooting, that would be enough. I’m sad to say that several churches have experienced the tragedy of shootings—not to mention molestation and kidnapping.

Bottom-line: If I’m worried about my kids’ safety, I’m not going to enjoy the worship service and I will miss what God wants to do in my heart through the experience of corporate worship.

Security includes everything from people’s cars in the parking lot, to the safety of infants in the nursery, to children’s facilities, check-in and check-out procedures, mentally ill people acting out in the middle of a service, and protecting the senior pastor. Every great church with a well-known senior pastor that I’ve worked with had a bodyguard standing next to the pastor for his protection. This is not for show or something for rock stars—this is something real and needed to protect that man of God from people that mean to do him harm. When you stand for truth and speak against sin, you become a target for many that live in darkness. If you haven’t done so already, think through every aspect of security in your organization. I just returned from a church in California that had security people covering every single entrance and exit to their children’s ministry. It was a beautiful thing to see and made me feel safe as a parent.

Attractional Worship

I know there’s a lot of discussion and debate about whether a church should be attractional or missional. I’ve talked extensively about it all over the country. I’m a both/ and person and like for a church to seek to be both, but when it comes to the corporate worship service—I look for an attractional model. Again: COMPEL them to come in. Blow your people and your community away with excellence and an environment that allows the Holy Spirit of God to move.

I never got over Sally Morgenthaler’s book, Worship Evangelism. I think lost people can be moved by genuine and authentic worship. I also know God moves through the preaching of His Word. Please know I’m not talking to just large churches. I work with several small churches. They do things with excellence and, for a small church, blow me away.

Regardless of what size church you have, you should think through worship flow, song selection, authenticity, communication/ preaching and every aspect of what you want people to experience each week when you gather. Are sound, video and lights important? I think so, but you don’t have to have the best of the best to see God move. One of the most special and memorable services we did at Bent Tree when I was there was have a stripped down music set with no technology.

Whether you’re in a school, movie theater, gym, or worship center—you can seek to create an environment where people encounter the Living God.

Please know these are not biblical laws or scriptural requirements. These are just four keys that I look for when I visit a church, and I’ve found over the years that the churches that do these four things well will see God bless their church in amazing ways. Think through each as a team and prayerfully consider how you can do each to the best of your ability.

Note: The preceding is an excerpt from Greg Atkinson’s latest book, Church Leadership Essentials, available on Amazon through Rainer Publishing.

Greg Atkinson is an author, speaker, consultant and the editor of Christian Media Magazine. Greg has started businesses including the worship resource website WorshipHouse Media, a social media marketing company, and his own consulting firm.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Greg Atkinson) Marketing Wed, 01 Jan 2014 17:00:00 -0500
Why We Shouldn't Let Social Media Distract Us Ever look at the clock and realize you’ve spent the last two hours surfing the Internet, reading Twitter posts or commenting on Facebook?

In this social media-obsessed age, typical water-cooler banter and pointless meetings are no longer the greatest time wasters at work. A recent uSamp study found that nearly 60 percent of workplace distractions involve social networks, text messaging, instant messaging or email. In fact, navigating between multiple tabs and windows to keep an eye on a variety of applications is a huge distraction in itself.

In the end, nearly half the employees surveyed in the study said they worked only 15 minutes or less without getting interrupted or distracted. More than half said they wasted at least one hour every day due to distraction. We live in a disruptive, tech-obsessed world.

That’s the data. But data rarely motivates or inspires us to make the types of behavior modifications and lifestyle changes we need to eliminate the distraction of social media. We have to choose to be in control of how much time we spend—and how we spend it—on social media.

I know people who have punted and just said no to using social media. While that is a solution, it’s not a very relevant one for those of us who do want to be effective in connecting with people near and far.

A better one is making a conscious choice about how you use your time moment by moment. Here are my top actions for avoiding social media and personal technology distractions:

  • Turn off alerts and notifications.
  • Check e-mail only three times a day.
  • Use a second monitor (to decrease window-switching time).
  • Schedule regular blocks of time to turn off my smartphone.

In a video titled Slow Tech, Google Ventures general partner Joe Kraus made these comments about our constant culture of distraction and the crisis of being disconnected and losing ourselves: “We all face distractions on a daily basis. Distractions not only lower our productivity; they also increase our stress. You probably already know what distracts you the most—phone calls, emails, instant messages, Internet browsing, interrupting co-workers and so on. Strategies like scheduling email checks, turning off your phone and leaving the office for a quieter environment may eliminate distractions so that you get more done.”

In an article he wrote on avoiding social media distractions, PC World contributor David Daw suggests turning off the push notifications on your smartphone for social media updates from sites such as Facebook and Twitter. “Setting up a way to tune out mobile email notifications is well worthwhile,” he says.

To keep from getting sucked into a vortex of endless surfing the web, San Francisco-based writer and publisher Genevieve DeGuzman offers three tips:

1. Close news and social media sites. Another helpful tip is to create an aggregated feed of all your favorite news sites. This helps you avoid wasting time wandering the Internet for headlines and updates.

2. Close your Internet browser when you’re working. The precious seconds it takes to load the browser when you feel tempted to go online may be just the moment you need to become conscious of the time you’re wasting. If you must be logged in on a continual basis, try restricting yourself to three or four browser tabs for work-related sites. Close everything else.

3. Try online quarantine. For extreme measures, install Freedom, Anti-Social, or RescueTime, which put a temporary barrier on your access to certain websites on the net. Add all your social media sites to the blacklist.

More than at any other time in history, technology—specifically social media—affords us the opportunity to connect faster and in unprecedented ways. We can meet and talk to people we otherwise would never have met. But with that opportunity comes the responsibility to steward these resources in productive and healthy ways.

DJ Chuang hosts the Social Media Church podcast, a place for conversations with church leaders about social media. He’s the editor of two books, Asian American Youth Ministry and Conversations: Asian American Evangelical Theologies in Formation. He has been blogging at his personal website ( since 1999, curating many links to resources pertaining to churches, technology and multiethnic or Asian-American ministry.

]]> (DJ Chuang) Marketing Mon, 11 Nov 2013 14:00:00 -0500
Did You Miss This in the News? Charismanews app android-photo

Check out some links below to recent stories from Charisma News that you'll find interesting and informative. You can also sign up to receive stories on your smart phone by signing up for the free app Charisma News by clicking here.

IHOPU Student Confesses to Murdering a Former Intern
Christians May Be Forced to Contribute to Sex-Change Surgeries in San Francisco
Mob Violence Erupts After Boy Urinates on Quran
Goodbye Christian America ... Hello, True Christianity
Batman Actor Christian Bale Takes a Stand Against Forced Abortions

]]> (Shawn A. Akers) Marketing Tue, 13 Nov 2012 17:54:00 -0500
Target Marketing: Finding Your Focus bincolulars-man-searchingPaul spoke about being “all things to all men” (see 1 Cor. 9:22). His missionary journeys proved his ability to understand different people groups and adapt his message to meet them where they lived.

On the other hand, Paul considered himself called to be an "apostle to the Gentiles” (see Rom. 11:13). Sounds slightly targeted doesn’t it? How do we reconcile these two pursuits: to reach all and yet focus on only a segment?

Paul understood his strengths and his calling. Every church has strengths at reaching a “type” of people in its community. Though that might strike some as unjust, its truth defines both our strengths and the areas we need to grow.

Whether you are a church that is known for young families, old money, the upper class, the working class or the struggling class—whether you are known for deep followers, surface seekers, empty nesters or down-and-outers—there are tendencies as to whom you draw.

]]> (Richard Reising) Marketing Mon, 11 Feb 2013 14:00:00 -0500
Target Marketing: Defining the Target God wants to reach all, and He’s equipped you to reach certain ones.
]]> (Richard Reising) Marketing Sat, 01 Nov 2008 00:00:00 -0400
What If Starbucks Marketed Like a Church? ]]> (Richard Reising) Marketing Thu, 13 Nov 2008 21:53:15 -0500 6 Traits of Effective Missions Programs Guaranteed to Impact the Future Ever wonder what missions might look like 10 years from now? Will we be supporting digital missionaries that holographically appear to unreached people groups using technology that interprets their spoken words into a remote people group's previously untranslated language?

I never would have imagined at OneHope that we would be creating digital missions tools that put God's Word in the hands of kids around the world through apps like the Bible App for Kids. Or that we would create a platform where users can type a text to send money to support a church or organization. Or that we would be developing gamificiation strategies for children's ministry using cutting-edge programs.

I don't know exactly what the future is going to look like, but I do know what every church ought to be doing today to poise their missions momentum to be successful in the future.

Intentionally maximize the role teens play in the life of the local church. Many church-going American teens are falling into the category of ""Moralistic Therapeutic Deists" when it comes to the depth of their faith. Unless we instill a sense of destiny into our spiritually homeless youth, giving them avenues to exercise and increase their involvement in the mission of the church, there won't be a next generation of believers passionate about or equipped to carry out the Great Commission.

Instill a strong missiology that reflects your ecclesiology. While most American churches believe they are God's institution for reaching the world, they have separated this ecclesiology from their missiology. This belief must be expressed as a core value in your missiology so that the mission, vision and core values of your church are reflected and connected to your missions strategy.

Be proactive instead of reactive. Are you intentionally partnering with the highest caliber of people and "best in class" to carry out your missions programs, or are you merely continuing to draw from your existing pool? Saying "yes" to every opportunity that comes along is not going to allow you the freedom for blue-sky sessions in the future, where you dream around your purpose and begin establishing relationships to build the dream team so you can collaborate with the best of the best and cultivate fruitful ministry.

Cultivate the spiritual gift of giving. Do we recognize and appreciate those who have been given the spiritual gift of giving? Ministries who intend to be successful five, 10 or 25 years from now need to understand how to properly serve those who have been gifted with the ability to make money and generously give it in support of God's Kingdom. Rather than shying away from them, you need to be nurturing major donor programs with the same intensity that you put toward pastoring people and stewarding resources.

Implement means to measure your outcomes. In the past, most programs were built to attract attendees to events and count the bodies in the room but failed to seek out and measure true life change. We have seen how implementing an outcome-based ministry model—where we start with the end in mind, design programs to that end, then measure for effectiveness—has revolutionized the fruitfulness of our ministry.

Teach missiology. Any discipleship vehicle—from small groups to seminars, weekly classes and teaching—should be used to do more than evoke people to respond out of emotion. They should be leveraged to integrate missions discipleship theology throughout the entire calendar year. Teaching a theology of mission informs the mind. When you help people understand the "why", they will then be inspired to become the "who" that is excited to be a part of the "how."

I feel like this list could go on and on, but if you are a new church, if you have inherited an old program, or are proactively assessing your programs because you want to be a game changer, going through this list will provide a pretty accurate gauge of whether or not you are set up for missions success, no matter what the future looks like!

For the original article, visit

]]> (Rob Hoskins ) Missions Tue, 29 Jul 2014 12:58:28 -0400
How to Prepare Your College Students for Missions Trips College ministry in the summer can be an interesting beast to tame. Some of our ministries aren’t really affected by the summer months; others blow up with all their college students coming back home, while others go dormant because students go back home.

But one thing is common across the country when it comes to college ministry and summer: mission trips. So, what I thought I’d do here is issue a caution, a suggestion and then a focus point for you as you prepare your teams.

Caution. Mission trips can be wonderful things for everyone involved. Our churches can be impacted, those that go on the trip can certainly be changed, and those we serve can really be helped. But it’s important to make sure we are not teaching the wrong thing.

The mission field is not somewhere other than where we live! We all live on the mission field; it is called Planet Earth. So, a quick word of advice as you prepare your teams: Make sure they are beginning to view themselves as missionaries where they live now. The trip can be a part of that process, but we must be intentional with making sure our mindsets are correctly aligned with God on this. God is doing things all over the world and, like every other missionary on the planet, God uses us where we live. If we don’t think God wants to use us where we currently live, we need to move.

Suggestion. Mission trips are packed with service opportunities, which is a wonderful aspect of these times. However, we often miss a fantastic opportunity with college-age people on our mission trips: exposure. Many people, especially in America, have huge misconceptions of what it means to be a missionary. We think missionaries are all people working out in the bush somewhere with people who have bones in their noses.

Well, college students need to experience otherwise. They should meet someone with a 4-year degree volunteering in a nursery, holding, changing and feeding babies. They should meet someone who is a computer whiz running the IT for a school. They should spend time with someone who is teaching orphans the construction trade or mechanics. It would be wonderful if they met a person with a 4-year art or music degree teaching children in an orphanage.

This type of exposure is critical for college students. By being exposed in these ways, they can literally see how their field of interest could potentially be used for the benefit of someone else rather than just for themselves. This is so critical that I would even suggest doing trips with the sole purpose of exposing students in this way.

Focus point. A critical aspect of college ministry is helping students move from only having relational connections in the student ministry world to having relational connections in the adult world. By doing so, they are exposed to older adults whom they can learn from, glean wisdom from and look up to.

That being said, invite an older adult or three to go on the trip with you. Handpick a few that you think would be great for college-age people to be exposed to. Don’t invite them to be chaperones. Invite them to join the trip as your friend, and have them be a part of the team just like everyone else. This way they can actually build relationships with no barriers.

These types of relational connecting points have to be taken advantage of when working with college students. And time away for a week or two on a trip like this is pretty much the prime time for lifelong relationships to start.

Thanks for loving college students!

Chuck Bomar planted and is lead pastor of Colossae Church in Portland, Oregon, and is founder of both CollegeLeader ( and iampeople ( He is the author of six books, with the most recent being the highly anticipated work titled Better Off Without Jesus.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Chuck Bomar) Missions Mon, 05 May 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Should Every Church Be a Recovery Ministry? Some churches don’t want a recovery ministry—a ministry that specializes in helping people deal with their addictions and pain—because of the messes they’d have to get involved in. That’s tragic.

Most churches in this category are less than a generation from their graves because they’ve forsaken the ministry of Jesus.

Other churches get that reaching broken, messy people matters, and they’ve launched recovery ministries to reach out to people with hurts, habits and hang-ups. But often the recovery ministry is the part of the church we’re happy to have on the side while hoping the broken, messy people don’t find their way on stage or into the mainstream of our leadership. Recovery ministry is seen as a good cause and an evangelistic tool, but perhaps little more.

There is a third category of churches rising up. These churches understand that we are all broken by sin, that we all make messes and that recovery is something we all desperately need.

These churches may or may not have an organized program for recovery, but they’ve determined to be a recovery ministry from Sunday morning to small groups to staff and leadership development to volunteer placement. Everything is seen as an ongoing process of helping broken people find healing and redemption.

The Grace Hills Church staff has spent the past five weeks studying through an excellent little book that surveys various churches around the country that take recovery issues seriously. One of my favorite quotes thus far is this:

“There is a stirring in churches of all theological stripes to wed a red-hot passion for personal evangelism and discipleship with a compassionate love for the poor, marginalized, and addicted. The world is standing on tippy-toe to see this kind of church!” —Pastor Jorge Acevedo, Grace United Methodist Church, Cape Coral, Fla.

You may have heard it said before that the church isn’t merely a retirement home for the frozen chosen but an emergency room for dying sinners. It’s important for members of every local church to realize that every single last one of us has been a sinner, broken and devastated by sin’s effects and bound for hell forever. The grace of God that has saved us from such a fate should be motivation enough to fuel our compassion for people trapped in their problems.

I’m convinced that when churches embrace the mission of rescuing the broken, we won’t have a growth problem anymore. We’ll have a space problem.

I’m broken. And I’m shamelessly trusting Jesus as my healer. And thankfully, I’ve found a church that is a recovery ministry—a family that will faithfully love me through my own hurts, habits and hang-ups and give me space to minister to others who are wrestling with the same.

I’m praying, like Pastor Acevedo, “God, send us the people nobody wants or sees.”

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 Cox) Missions Fri, 21 Feb 2014 20:00:00 -0500
Aliyah: Order in the Chaos A recent report by the Jewish Agency revealed that a greater number of Jewish people have been "dying to get out of their home countries—or, in some cases, getting out so they don't die." The report also stated that the 28 percent increase in Aliyah to Israel has been more a factor of being pushed than pulled.

The two countries that combined for a third of those immigrating to Israel were France and the Ukraine.

At first glance, these two countries seem worlds apart. The Russian invasion and ongoing war makes it quite easy to understand the increased desire for poor Jewish people to leave the Ukraine, but what about France? Jewish people have enjoyed a high level of influence and affluence there for many years. Isn't anti-Semitism supposed to be politically incorrect?

But there is an easy solution. Many simply veil their anti-Semitism with a more acceptable approach. It appears that being anti-Israel is all the rage. Israel's Operation Protective Edge in July ignited a firestorm of protests and violence in France and in nation after nation.

The violence initiated from Gaza and Israel's response helped unite the global Israel-hating cause. The Anti-Defamation League recently published many of the disturbing proclamations, events and headlines from around the world, and it seems no country is exempt. These are all manifestations of thinly veiled anti-Semitism.


In August, six teenagers boarded a bus transporting a group of Jewish students ages 5 to 12 years old and threatened "to cut their throats." The teenagers also shouted "Heil Hitler," "Kill the Jews," "Palestine must kill you Jews" and "Free Palestine."


In July, a swastika, accompanied by an obscene word, were spray-painted on a bus shelter in a Jewish neighborhood of a Toronto suburb.


In July, following an anti-Israel demonstration, a protester threw two Molotov cocktails at the security kiosk of the Jewish Community Center. Additionally, a kosher store was attacked with Molotov cocktails during an illegal anti-Israel demonstration, and several other stores were damaged in the violence.


Molotov cocktails were thrown at a synagogue. An 18-year-old was arrested; he was identified as a Palestinian.


The Rabbi of a Jewish community was attacked by an assailant and suffered a broken nose and ribs.

The Netherlands

Two people wearing keffiyehs beat a woman who displayed an Israeli flag on her balcony.

United Kingdom

"Free Gaza" was spray-painted on a synagogue. And the list goes on ...

Consider what Russian Jewry must be making of the recent statements made by the Deputy of State Duma Elena Mazulina from the United Russia Party. She declared that the modern Russian Federation is not eager to see the representatives of Jewish people on its territory.

Violence, protests, anti-Semitism, hate rhetoric and terror threats together have camouflaged the divine order in all of this chaos. God has promised to regather His people from the four corners of the earth. Therefore, upon closer examination, one can see how all of this is working together to fulfill that divine purpose.

Anti-Semitism is not simply an attack on Jewish people. It is a direct affront to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is in essence a mocking of His faithfulness and ability to fulfill His promises.

Therefore we can take heart that the turmoil in and around the world is further evidence of God's faithfulness. It is through this chaos that He is stirring the hearts of His people to return to Israel once more.  

Rev. Gary T. Cristofaro serves as director of development for Ezra International. He pastored First Assembly of God in Melbourne, Florida for 14 years.

]]> (Rev. Gary Cristofaro) Missions Mon, 24 Nov 2014 20:00:00 -0500
What Does It Mean to Optimize Ministry? An established executive in branding and marketing in the retail world, Sam Smith realized the need for compassionate yet professional business acumen within ministry leadership and coined the term “Optimizing Ministry.”

Smith used that focus to achieve record results in fundraising and volunteer support as the CEO at Mercy Ships. He was then approached by Medical Ministry International (MMI) and is now able to make an even larger impact on the poor as CEO of that global organization.

MMI has staff and programs in more than 23 countries that utilize health centers, residency training and project teams to serve the poor using Jesus as their guide. Sam is the author of the book When Love Heals and blogs at Recently, filmmaker and media consultant Phil Cooke interviewed Sam about his insights on leadership and international ministry.

Phil Cooke: You’re a nonprofit leader with a long background in business. Has that been a help or hindrance?

Sam Smith: It’s definitely been a big help, and I believe it is the reason I have been called into ministry. There are a lot of really good nonprofits operating out there that have good, if not great, intentions. Unfortunately, many of them were started by a charismatic person who, through sheer will and determination, [was] able to achieve good results, but lack[s] the business acumen to optimize all the gifts they have been provided. I am not a doctor, but I have the ability to provide the processes, accountability and execution to ensure that those with medical skills can do what they have been gifted to do.  

Cooke: What can a business mindset bring to ministry?

Smith: You can have passion for what you do, but you also have to optimize every single gift that God has provided. Many people in ministry get caught up in the passion to serve but are willing to sacrifice accountability and process because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. The sad part is that the opposite is actually what is needed. If you don’t have the courage to tell people they aren’t helping the ministry but actually holding it back, you aren’t helping either one. One of the hardest aspects of my job is to tell people that it's time for them to go volunteer somewhere else. The amazing thing is that over time, nearly every one of them will come back and thank me for telling them what others did not have the courage to do.  

Cooke: Most of your ministry experience has been with medical relief. What is it about that kind of work that attracts you?

Smith: I am a branding and marketing guy and have zero medical skills. What I do have is the experience and ability to run multibillion-dollar organizations and ensure that those with the ability to make miracles happen have a solid foundation to work. You may be surprised to know that half of the roles at Medical Ministry International are non-medical. We have teachers, farmers, plumbers, carpenters, engineers and more that join forces with our medical teams to do amazing things. I know that if our team works really hard today, somewhere around the world our team is giving someone the chance to live. It just doesn’t get better than that for me!

Cooke: MMI has experienced significant growth in a short time under your leadership. What new ideas and leadership techniques have you brought to the table?

Smith: Medical Ministry International started out as primarily a relief organization, but we have refocused the ministry to more of a development mindset. This means that every one of our health centers, project teams or training programs are developed for the long-term benefit of the communities we serve. We have staff on the ground working 365 days a year to provide assessment of need, execution of services, and follow-up and analysis of the work we have done.  

Another interesting aspect is that we charge the poor for our services. Now, don’t get me wrong. We charge very little but have found that if you charge something, the people believe it’s worthwhile and will follow the doctor and staff directions to get well. So many organizations give away services only to find equipment and donated items being underused or sold on the black market. If you have an investment in your care, you own it, and no welfare mentality is created. It works well, but if someone doesn’t have any money, we take care of them anyway.

Cooke: How do you connect the gospel message with medical relief work?

Smith: The main focus of our ministry is not to evangelize directly but to serve people the way Jesus directed. We don’t care what your political or religious background is, but God always finds a way for someone on our team to be asked, "Why do you come all this way to serve us?"  

A wonderful story that sums this up is there was a group of Muslim villages in Africa that were having a difficult time surviving due to lack of access to the outside world. We started an agricultural co-op that involved the chiefs in all 30 villages to come and work alongside us to farm their land. We taught them how to increase their yields, and over time we were able to provide enough food to feed every person in all 30 villages. They even have produce left over to serve as an income source. The best part of the story is that we were asked why we came to help them, and we shared what motivated us to serve. Soon we were asked to start a Bible study, and now over 300 people attend twice a week to learn about the Jesus who serves as our guide.

Cooke: Are you seeing an impact where MMI has been? Can you give us an example?

Smith: I have thousands of stories, but one is related to our dental work in Bolivia. We are working with the Bolivian Ministry of Health to address the lack of dental care in a community just outside of Santa Cruz. Where once we had a 3-extraction-to-1-restoration ratio on dental patients, we have seen a total reversal, and smiles are being saved. This is a huge deal! The presence of sugar cane, cola, etc., in the diet causes major tooth decay, and we are seeing our dental focus in Bolivia totally reversing the trend. We want to prevent disease as much as address the current illness.

Another example is in Leticia, Colombia. We operate Clinica Leticia, which is on the border of Brazil, Colombia and Peru across the Amazon River. This is a full-scale hospital that serves 47 emergency cases a day, births over 70 children, and provides more than 70 percent of the total health care available to this region of over 300,000 people. We also have the only CT scan within 1,000 miles. Talk about being an island of hope in a sea of despair!

Cooke: You just produced a 30-minute TV special on the work of MMI that will be broadcast on Christian networks around the world. Why do you feel Christian leaders should be using media in today’s culture?

Smith: There is nothing worse than to be doing God’s work and no one know anything about it. If you think about it, there is plenty of negativity on television today, and the world needs to be aware of the good that is happening. They also need to be aware of the need.

I am a firm believer that God has given each of us special gifts, intelligence and resources to use as we determine. If we just sit in our own comfort zone and don’t engage, or at least support those that do, are we not utilizing God’s gifts in an optimal manner? It is our duty to get the message out to all to hear, and TV, Internet and video are powerful tools to make this happen. It’s easy to understand why we do what we do when you see a child’s life changed before your eyes!

Cooke: You’ve written a book about your experience so far with MMI. Tell me about it.

Smith: When Love Heals is a book that tells the stories of the work of MMI. It has provided an opportunity to take the reader on a journey through the eyes of our volunteers and patients. The book is a love story of how God has engaged those with talents and gifts to dramatically change the lives of others through love. We are very excited about the book and are already being asked to expand the concept in the future.  

Cooke: What’s next for Sam Smith?

Smith: We are driven at MMI to continually seek to get better every single day. The lines continue to be filled with thousands of people seeking help, and there are still many places where we don’t have the resources to help them all. We expect to triple the number of people that we currently serve in the near future, but it will take money and people to make that happen, and it’s our job to work to make this a reality.

In many ways, MMI is becoming similar to the “Good Housekeeping” seal for the work of nonprofits, especially in the medical world. We are currently in negotiations with multiple medical facilities in many countries to bring our expertise, oversight and accountability standards to their operations. You can rest assured that if they are flying our flag, they will be operating in a very sound and accountable manner.

Feel free to follow my blog, Facebook page Facebook page or website to get regular updates on our progress. This is God’s work, and we are honored to serve.

Phil Cooke is a filmmaker, media critic and adviser to some of the largest churches, ministries and nonprofit organizations in the world. He's the founder of the Influence Lab.

]]> (Phil Cooke) Missions Wed, 30 Oct 2013 16:00:00 -0400
Pastors, Avoid These 5 Traps Richard-Stearns-World-Vision

As I have had the opportunity to speak to groups of pastors over these past few years, I have identified five different traps I believe churches often fall into—traps that prevent our churches from realizing their full potential to change the world for Christ.

Most churches will find they have slid into one or two of these traps to one degree or another. Some will have avoided them all. Either way, just being aware of a trap helps keep one from falling prey to it in the first place. 

Below are the five traps to consider. Do one or more characterize you or your church?

]]> (Rich Stearns) Missions Thu, 28 Mar 2013 20:00:00 -0400
A Passion for Prayer If we don’t pray, how will we really know what God has for us?D-MinOut-Prayer


Passionate spiritual zeal is one of the most important, evident qualities of having an authentic relationship with God. It is key to our witness. It is vital to moving His church forward. Passionate Christianity should be the norm for every believer—not the exception. Our spiritual passion should be something we fight to protect.

It has been through times of drawing closer to God through prayer and fasting that I have received some of the most precise, specific direction for my own life, my family and our church. Without fail, each time I fast I look back in amazement at what God has done in my heart and what He has revealed to me, and I wonder, What if I had not fasted? I would have missed out on what God had for me and our church.

The first 10 years of my ministry at Celebration Church felt like life with Jesus in the fast lane. I ran so hard and so fast. My relationship with God was great, but the church grew so rapidly I had to sprint to keep up. I suppose it’s OK to be in the fast lane, but it is so important to ensure we are making regular stops along the way to get alone with God. If not, the other voices, business and pressures of ministry crowd out the voice of God.

]]> (Stovall Weems) Prayer Mon, 20 Jun 2011 13:08:53 -0400
God's Army Takes the Marriage Battle to the Front D-MinOutResourcingIntheBattle

As president of the ministry my dad, Jimmy Evans, founded, I’ve been serving him for almost a decade. This year, we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of MarriageToday, so I’ve been along for a good portion of the ride. From day one, MarriageToday has always focused on equipping the local church to succeed in the area of marriage. My dad, who has been a pastor for 30 years, frequently says, “The local church is the hope of the world.”

We sincerely believe that. We see our broadcast ministry as the “Air Force” in the battle to save marriage and the local church as the “Army,” with its massive supply of ground troops. We absolutely know that we can’t win this war without strategizing with each other.

]]> (Brent Evans) Resourcing Tue, 02 Jul 2013 13:00:00 -0400
Why ‘a Cup of Water’ Can Mean So Much I'm the only person I know who picks up stray pennies. I add them to my coil cup, which will eventually be given to missions.

Every little bit counts.

The gospel song goes: "If just a cup of water I place within your hand ... Then just a cup of water is all that I command. ... "

What could be smaller than a cup of water? What gift could be less costly when given or more appreciated when received? What more insignificant act could the heavenly Father possibly take note of and enter into His records for judgment? And yet, there it is, from the mouth of the Savior Himself.

This means possibilities for everyone. This means excuses for no one.

We pastors hear it all the time. "My gift is so small, it could not possibly matter. It could not make that much of a difference." "My little pittance would be an insult to God."

Wrong; very wrong. No gift is too small for the Father to take note of it.

The widow's gift of two pennies—the account is told in Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4—should forever testify to the Lord's recognition of the smallest gift from the least of these. Surrounded by wealthy donors with bags of coins, this woman gave more than anyone else that day, said Jesus.

Clearly, God does not count the way we do.

He does not look at the numbers of our checks or currency to tote up what we are contributing. He has other ways of "counting the offering." God sees the heart, considers the intent and places great weight on both what the gift meant to the donor and the difference it made to the recipient.

A cup of cold water could mean life or death in some situations. In other less dire situations, it means refreshment for the journey and encouragement along the way. It all counts.

"Will never lose his reward."

No mention is given of the nature or size of that reward, only of its certainty. Our Lord promised something of a similar nature in another place.

"When you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame or blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:13-14).

You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

Our Lord does not hesitate to promise amazing things. And He's not even running for office.

He wants to encourage faithfulness and generosity, grace and mercy, in His children.

Let us write it on our hearts in huge letters so that we will never forget it again: God sees what we do.

God cares what we give.

God values the slightest gift.

No one is without excuse.

All have eternal possibilities.

I keep remembering a story from a preacher from the distant past. The pastor called a businessman in his church to ask if he would like to contribute to the support of a young ministerial student who was headed to Bible college.

"I will be glad to, pastor. How much do you need?"

The pastor expressed surprise at his quick response. So, the man explained:

"Some years back, your predecessor called me with a similar request and I turned him down. That young man went on to become a powerful preacher of the gospel. Every time I think of him, I remember how I could have had a part in his life and shared in the reward for his ministry. And I determined if the Lord ever gave me another opportunity, I would grab it."

My single addition to the story is that the opportunities are all around us and not just awaiting a phone call from a pastor. Every Bible college and Christian seminary on the planet has students who are struggling financially who would rejoice at the gift of a few dollars. Some have to drop out because they cannot afford to take two or three years or more for their theological education when their families have pressing needs.

A few dollars in an envelope sent to that school with a note saying,  "For some ministerial student in need" will honor Christ and bless the Lord's servants. Then, some day in the future, you will get to see just how well the Lord keeps His promises.

"God is not so unjust as to forget your work and the love that you have shown toward His name in having ministered to the saints, and in still ministering" (Heb. 6:10).

Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Joe McKeever ) Service Fri, 14 Nov 2014 14:00:00 -0500
5 Keys to Keeping Volunteers Long Term Enticing volunteers to stick around for the long haul can be a challenging proposition. What's the secret? Here are 5 suggestions that might help:

1.  Sweet Spot. Make sure you place volunteers in their "sweet spot."  In other words, place them in roles they are gifted in and passionate about.

When you ask most new volunteers where they want to serve, they will say, "Wherever you need me." But don't place them "where you need them."  Place them where they are gifted and passionate. And a month later, go back and ask them if they are in their sweet spot. If they're not, let them try another area.

People who are in their sweet spot will stay long term.  People who are not in their sweet spot will eventually catch the "burnout" germ.

2.  Relationships. Relationships are the glue that keep people serving in your ministry.  Create an atmosphere of family. People who do life together will continue doing ministry together long term.

3.  Time off.  Give your volunteers breaks. Create windows of margin that will allow them to be gone. If you don't allow them to take a vacation occasionally from serving, they will retire early from serving in your ministry.

4.  Increased responsibility. Many times volunteers will get bored in their role after a number of years. Challenge them to go to the next level in serving. Give them a fresh challenge or more responsibility. If you don't, they'll go looking somewhere else for it. 

5.  Appreciation. Take time to regularly show your appreciation. Honor them. Thank them. Tell them. Your thank yous may be the difference between a person serving for 10 years instead of 1 year.

What are some other tips for keeping your volunteers long-term? Share your thoughts and ideas with us in the comment section below.

Dale Hudson has served in children and family ministry for over 24 years. He is the director of children's ministries at Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach, Florida. He was recently named one of the top 20 influencers in children's ministry. He is the coauthor of four ministry books, including Turbocharged: 100 Simple Secrets to Successful Children's Ministry.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Dale Hudson) Service Wed, 04 Jun 2014 19:00:00 -0400
How to Recruit a Steady Group of Positive Volunteers Recruiting volunteers for your church or religious group is a time-consuming process, especially if only one person has taken on the responsibility to do so. Recruiting and maintaining a good group of volunteers can make things much easier when you hold community events, church services, fundraisers, and other occasions that require the help of others.

Here are some tips that can help you recruit and hold on to volunteers for the long-term:

Start By Advertising
Most people won’t know you’re actively looking for volunteers unless you make it known. Advertising your need for volunteers can be as simple as a reminder during normal church services, a request in your church newsletter, or an advertisement on a bulletin board that’s viewable when people walk in or out of the building. If you’re actively recruiting for new volunteers, make sure you take advantage of all three right off the bat.

If your church has a website, post an advertisement that you’re looking for volunteers on the home page. Place it in a noticeable spot so it’s one of the first things your visitors see when they visit your website. If your local community has a website with a free classifieds section, try posting an advertisement. The same goes if you have a sign at your location that’s visible from the street. Make it well known that you’re actively looking for and recruiting volunteers.

Ask People for Their Help
Advertising that you’re actively recruiting volunteers is a great place to start, but you may find that people just aren’t responding. In addition to advertising as much as possible, get out there and ask people in your community or congregation if they’d be willing to volunteer on either a short- or long-term basis. Don’t push for an answer on the spot - give them a chance to think about it by scheduling a follow-up conversation after a few days.

It may be a good idea to get to know people before asking for a commitment. You’d be surprised at how willing people are to volunteer once you get to know them on a more personal level.

Don’t Recruit By Yourself
After you have a few volunteers committed to helping the cause, ask for their help with the recruitment efforts. If all the recruitment efforts fall back on to you or one other person, it’s most likely not enough. Take a few minutes to train your current volunteers on how to effectively recruit others. Ask them to reach out to their personal network, like family and close friends who may share some of the same common interests.

You’ll find it’s much easier to maintain a group of volunteers if you share the same morals, values, and goals.

Don’t Limit Yourself to Word of Mouth
Take advantage of technology to reach out to people and ask for their help. If you have a community newsletter or email, send a quick message to your list of subscribers asking for their help in volunteering or passing on the message to those who can.

Social networks are a great way to spread the message, as well. If your group has a Facebook page or Twitter profile, advertise your recruitment efforts on these social networks to get the word out.

When you hold local events or community service, try to recruit others to join you during the event itself. Don’t be afraid to use prayer as a way to recruit others and bring your current volunteers closer together.

Start your recruitment efforts by advertising during service; on your website; and via local bulletins, newsletters, and emails. Reach out to people individually and ask for their help once you get to know them. Bring your faith into the events you hold—prayer is a powerful tool for yourself and those around you. Recruiting people that share the same values as you can help maintain them in the long-term.

Brian Flax holds a master’s degree in education technology and a bachelor’s in entertainment business.

]]> (Brian Flax) Service Tue, 28 Jan 2014 17:00:00 -0500
How to Create a Culture of Serving One of the ways I use social media is to keep an eye on other pastors and churches and see what they’re up to. Through the years, I’ve noticed that several churches highlight a Volunteer of the Week (VOW). I first saw Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C., do this. After keeping my eye on this initiative for quite some time, I was inspired to start it at my own church.

I believe in this idea so much that I actually own it at my church. Eventually I’ll pass it on to another leader, but for now I’m putting all my effort and energy into getting it started. We’ve been doing this for about a month now. Here’s a sample of what we post in my weekly blog and email to the church (and also include in our handout):

Volunteer of the Week

“This week’s VOW is Darin Cooley. Darin serves in a number of ways at Forest Park Carthage, including working on our First Impressions and parking lot teams, preparing Communion, unlocking the church doors each Sunday morning, collecting the offering after the second service and leading a LifeGroup. Darin is a true servant, and we are blessed and encouraged by his cheerful spirit and servant’s heart. If you’d like to serve on our First Impressions team, please contact Pastor Matt.”

There you go—short, sweet and to the point! We always end each writeup with a call to action (e.g., “If you’re interested in our First Impressions team, please contact Pastor Matt.”)

Why did we start this feature at our church? We saw no negatives and all positives. It highlights great servants in our church and allows us to brag on them. It gives them a shot in the arm and fires them up to keep serving. And it reinforces our culture of serving.

After people in our church see these types of notices multiple times, I’m confident the idea will be part of what God uses to bring new volunteers to our teams. Here’s how we made it happen:

  • I asked all our staff and team leaders to send me a list of 10 volunteers they’d like to see highlighted and recognized and why.
  • We asked a volunteer photographer in our church to go around on Sunday morning and take pictures of all the people on the list I compiled.
  • We looked through the pictures and list and considered how these volunteers serve and then laid out our future VOWs. (Note: We try to rotate between male and female volunteers as well as among different ministries, such as Kid City, students, worship, tech, First Impressions, cafe and so on).

In addition to featuring volunteers, here are a few other ideas for making sure volunteers are recognized and appreciated:

  • Send a personal thank-you note from the pastor.
  • Set aside preferred parking for the VOW.
  • Film a video highlighting a volunteer.
  • Assign a strong volunteer to represent the church for a community event.
  • Develop "Volunteer Sunday," and use it to acknowledge all volunteers.
  • Post a thank-you note in a volunteer’s work area before he arrives for his shift.
  • Create a photo wall in a hallway recognizing volunteer years of service.
  • Plan an annual volunteer appreciation dinner.
  • Take advantage of National Volunteer Appreciation Week (usually the second or third week in April). 

Try these easy ideas in your church as soon as next week. We’re seeing positive takeaways as people feel appreciated and more people start to ask, “How can I serve in my church?”

Greg Atkinson has been in ministry for two decades and has been writing, speaking and training thousands of church leaders since 2000. He now serves as the campus pastor at Forest Park Carthage, a multisite church in Southwest Missouri.

]]> (Greg Atkinson) Service Wed, 13 Nov 2013 14:00:00 -0500
8 Suggestions for Improving Your Church’s Grief Care Grief-church-careLoss is hard. Although everyone handles grief differently, I’m convinced that nobody handles it easily.

One of the ways that Christ comforts His children is through His body—the church. Romans 12:15 reminds us to “weep with those who weep” (ESV). After all, that’s what Jesus did. When His friend Lazarus died, He wept with Mary and Martha over their loss (John 11:35).

So when Jesus gives us, His ambassadors on earth, an opportunity to represent Him through comforting those experiencing loss; we must not take it lightly. That’s why I think it is vital that every church think through their own “care plan” now.

]]> (Scott Attebery) Service Mon, 09 Sep 2013 20:00:00 -0400
How Great Is Your Faithfulness? Greg-Mauro-PreachingWhile we live in a world that celebrates jumping from one relationship to the next, faithfulness has taken a backseat to self-interest. And sad to say, the church world appears to be not far behind, as Christians hop from one church, one ministry and one message to the next.

All of that is motivated by the bottom line—what’s in it for me and what’s best for me?

Like honor, faithfulness is big in God’s eyes yet certainly not valued highly in the day and age we live in.

]]> (Greg Mauro) Service Mon, 29 Apr 2013 13:00:00 -0400
12 Hot Spots For Holy Ghost Revivals praying-woman-headscarfThe Holy Spirit is working in places you might never expect. The move of God happening in these 12 locations is notable, and these hot spots are great places for evangelists and missionaries to set their sights.

China.  Nothing in the history of missions rivals the success story that is China. Mao Zedong tried to wipe out Christian faith in the 1970s when there were only 2.7 million believers. Today, the most conservative estimate is that China had 75 million believers in 2010. A few years ago the greatest growth was among rural “house churches.” Today Christianity is also growing in China’s major cities, and charismatic renewal has infiltrated state-sponsored churches.

India. Despite language barriers, tribal divisions and violent attacks by Hindus, indigenous church-planting movements have flourished all over India in the last 40 years. Fifteen years ago in Andhra Pradesh, a woman who heard a gospel radio broadcast, asked if someone could plant a church in her remote village. Within the first year after a pastor came, the church had 75 converts. After a church building was constructed in 1994, this church planted 125 churches with a combined membership of more than 5,000. This type of growth is occurring throughout India today.

]]> (J. Lee Grady) World Mon, 26 Nov 2012 17:00:00 -0500