Ministry Outreach Sun, 23 Nov 2014 02:31:21 -0500 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Part 2: The 10 Building Blocks of Biblical Community

Churches must grow larger and smaller at the same time. The larger a church gets, the more intentional it has to be about being smaller, and small groups are the ideal way to create micro-communities within the larger church family.

Every congregation is a fellowship of fellowships, a combination of associations, interest groups and constituencies.

Last week, I shared with you the first five of 10 building blocks for biblical community. In this second part, I'm sharing the other five.

6. Humility. This is key because next to fear, pride destroys relationships more quickly than anything else. That's why 1 Peter 5:5 is so important for us as believers: "Be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility" (emphasis added). Humility means being honest about my weaknesses because I have them. Humility is being willing to admit it when I've made a mistake because we all do. Humility enables us to say the four most difficult words: "I need your help." The three most difficult words, "I was wrong." The two most difficult words, "Forgive me."

7. Honesty. Most people don't have anyone in their lives who loves them enough to be honest with them, to be frank with them, to tell them the truth. The Bible tells us to speak the truth in love. Being candid and being connected go together. Healthy relationships and healthy groups are built on honesty and not on flattery or faking it.

8. Mercy. The fact is, every fellowship is composed of imperfect people, so people are going to be hurt. The issue is, how do you handle the hurt? It'll determine whether the fellowship splits up or stays together. How do you handle the honesty of life, the conflicts of life? "You must make allowances for each other's faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you so you must forgive others" (Col. 3:13, NLT). The motivation for mercy? God's been merciful to me. If you call yourself a Christian, you have to show mercy to people when they ask forgiveness.

9. Confidentiality. Fellowship is built on confidentiality. You'll never develop any close fellowship in your small group without confidentiality. In fact, the quickest way to destroy a small group is gossip. There are dozens of verses on gossip. God has a lot to say on gossip. He says, "A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals the matter" (Prov. 11:13, MEV). The church and small groups ought to be the safest place in the world.

10. Unity. This is the 10th and the highest building block. Unity is the ultimate pinnacle of fellowship. Where do we get unity? We discover unity around God's purposes, not around a personality. You can have unity without uniformity. Does God want us all to be alike? No. Does God want us to be unified? Yes. Ten times in the first five chapters of Acts it says that "they were of one accord," "they were unified," "they were all together," "they were of one heart" and "of one spirit." When we have the unity of the book of Acts in our church we will have the power of the book of Acts in our church.

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for pastors.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Rick Warren) Community Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:00:00 -0500
Israel Revival: A Mystery Revealed

In a 30-minute span one morning this summer, Hamas sent a barrage of 13 Qassam rockets at Israel. This is what life is about here in the Holy Land. Considering how much controversy surrounds this tiny sliver of real estate on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, it is amazing that some theologians actually don't believe that the rebirthed nation of Israel is a fulfillment of prophecy.

The Scriptures back that statement up:

  • "For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land" (Ezek. 36:24, NIV).
  • "I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and bring you home again to your own land" (Jer. 29:14, NLT).
  • "For the time is coming when I will restore the fortunes of my people of Israel and Judah. I will bring them home to this land that I gave to their ancestors, and they will possess it and live here again. I, the Lord, have spoken!" (Jer. 30:3, NLT), and dozens of other prophecies).

Biblically, there can be no doubt that God promised long ago that He would bring the Jewish people back to Israel. We know from Zechariah 14 that there will be Jews in Jerusalem, albeit in the midst of war, when Jesus returns.

Paul pleaded with his friends in Rome not to be deceived on this issue. He basically prophesied that the church would be tempted to judge the Jewish people and treat them harshly. He warned them of dire consequences:

"[Israel was] broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches (Israel), he will not spare you either.

"Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again (Rom. 11:20-23, NIV; emphasis added).

It would be easy to simply focus on verse 23—that God can save Israel again—but first we have to be honest concerning a bloody history. Sadly, the church did not heed the words of the rabbi from Tarsus. Instead, it not only judged Israel but also persecuted the Jewish people many times—even to the point of death.

One could say that the Roman Catholic Church judged Israel for embracing a works righteousness based on human tradition. The judgment would be correct, but God has not called the church to judge Israel, but to "provoke her to jealousy" (Rom. 11:11). Did not the Catholic Church become the very thing it judged? I have been to Rome and indeed it is beautiful—but it is dead.

The popes and cardinals forbade the reading of Scripture to not only the common people, but even most priests were denied this luxury. This enabled them to control the people and teach unbiblical doctrines such as purgatory—which in truth had nothing to do with theology, but fundraising. They told their people that when they gave indulgences, their dead relatives would be released into heaven.

They persuaded hundreds of thousands to march in the Crusades by promising them heaven if killed in battle. Add 72 virgins and you've got al-Qaeda or Hamas.

But the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish stance of the church started long before the Crusades. Augustine, the most famous theologian of his time, taught that the Jews are merely left on earth to see the church's triumph over Israel:

"Jews deserved death but were destined to wander the earth to witness the victory of the church over the synagogue."

Replacement theology became predominant in the church—the idea that the church does not merely become co-heirs with Israel, as Paul states in Eph. 2:19, but that the church eliminates the call of God on Israel. Paul said in Rom. 11:29 that the "gifts and callings of God (to Israel) are irrevocable," but Eusebius (275-339 CE) taught that the promises of Scripture were meant for the Gentiles and the curses were meant for the Jews. He asserted that the church was the "true Israel."

Other early church leaders were more blatant in their hatred of the Jew:

  • "Jews are a perverse people, accursed by God forever." — Hilary of Poitiers (CE 291-371)
  • "The Jews are a brood of vipers, haters of goodness." — Gregory of Nicia (died CE 394)
  • "[Jews] are serpents, wearing the image of Judas, their psalms and prayers are the braying of Donkeys." — St. Jerome (CE 347-407 Note: St. Jerome seems to have forgotten that the other 11 disciples were also Jews who spread the gospel to the nations so that he could partake in it.)

This next quote comes from a man called the Goldenmouth. His sermons were so passionate, and he is presented as a very godly man. You be the judge ...

"The synagogue is worse than a brothel ... it is the den of scoundrels and the repair of wild beasts ... the temple of demons devoted to idolatrous cults ... the refuge of brigands and debauchees, and the cavern of devils. It is a criminal assembly of Jews ... a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ ... a house worse than a drinking shop ... a den of thieves, a house of ill fame, a dwelling of iniquity, the refuge of devils, a gulf and an abyss of perdition ... I would say the same things about their souls. As for me, I hate the synagogue ... I hate the Jews for the same reason." — John Chrysostom (CE 344-407)

On this foundation it became easy for Spain to unleash the Inquisitions on its Jewish community. Jews were given the choice to leave or convert. More than 30,000 Jews were murdered during the Inquisitions by the Church—not for the sin of not becoming Catholic, but for the sin of converting and still secretly being loyal to Judaism. Lighting Sabbath candles was punishable by death. A Jewish convert would be burned alive for refusing to eat pork.

It is no wonder that Hitler used to gloat that he was merely finishing what the church had started!

But surely it can't end like this, can it? Can Jesus the Jew return to an anti-Semitic bride? No, the end-times church will love Israel. Even as the Jews brought salvation to the nations, the true church will intercede for revival in Israel.

No longer will the younger brother persecute the firstborn. I am reminded of the amazing witness of Casper ten Boom, father of the more famous Corrie. When the Jews in his Dutch town had to take the yellow star, he stood in line with them.

That is the type of love toward Israel that Paul spoke of when he poured out his heart in Romans 9—to the point of being willing to trade his salvation for the salvation of Israel.

"I have great sorrow and continual anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brothers, my kinsmen by race, who are Israelites, to whom belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises" (Rom. 9:2-4, MEV; emphasis added).

Such compassion can only be found in the bosom of the Messiah Himself. And it is this type of selfless intercession that will lead to the revival in Israel—a revival of which the prophets spoke.

"'Surely, the days are coming,' says the Lord, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah'" (Jer. 31:31).

"And I will pour out on the house of David and over those dwelling in Jerusalem a spirit of favor and supplication so that they look to Me, whom they have pierced through. And they will mourn over him as one mourns for an only child and weep bitterly over him as a firstborn" (Zech. 12:10).

"Then I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean. From all your filthiness and from all your idols, I will cleanse you. Also, I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. You will dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers. And you will be My people, and I will be your God" (Ezek. 36:25-28).

We have similar promises of revival from the mouth of Jesus Himself. Speaking to the Jews of Jerusalem, He said: "For I tell you, you shall not see Me again until you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.'" (Matt. 23:39).

In Hebrew, blessed is he who comes (Baruch haba) is a greeting. Yeshua is saying I am not coming back until you welcome me—much like David, when he said he would not return to Jerusalem until his brothers from Judah came and retrieved him (2 Sam. 19:11-18).

Paul is even clearer when he says that after the "fullness of the Gentiles ... all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:25-26).

Interestingly, he begins verse 25 with these words, "I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery." In other words, understanding God's plan for Israel in the end times took revelation—it was a mystery.

Just as Israel was blinded to the truth of Yeshua, the church was blinded to Israel's call and future restoration.

But thank God in these days that more and more believers are honoring the natural brothers of the Messiah—even as more and more Jews are putting their faith in the Messiah.   

Ron Cantor is the director of Messiah's Mandate International in Israel, a Messianic ministry dedicated to taking the message of Jesus from Israel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). He is an author and serves on the pastoral team of Tiferet Yeshua, a Hebrew-speaking congregation in Tel Aviv.

]]> (Ron Cantor) Evangelism Wed, 19 Nov 2014 20:00:00 -0500
The Missing Link in Our Missiology

Decades of annual, clockwork-like repetition had taught John Wilkinson to expect the arrival of the letter in the opening days of each New Year. Wilkinson had founded the Mildmay Mission to the Jews in London in 1876. And not long after the organization launched, he began receiving annually a check in the mail from a particular noteworthy donor. That check always carried the date January 1 and the same four words written on the memo line:

To the Jew first!

That donor was Hudson Taylor, the pioneering 19th-century English missionary to China. Numerous biographies have been penned to document Taylor's profound and lasting impact on the spread of the Christian faith in China. That's right, the Western world's pre-eminent missionary to China made the very first check he wrote each year a donation to a group dedicated to bringing the Jews of Europe the good news that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Messiah.

This poses an intriguing question. Namely, why? Why would a missionary with a legendary passion for reaching the people of China with the gospel start each new year with a donation to a group in London endeavoring to evangelize the Jewish people?

It is because Hudson Taylor understood some spiritual principles very few Christians in today's world can comprehend. In fact, Taylor clearly understood two key missiological truths. (Missiology is the theology of evangelism and missions.)

First, he understood that there is spiritual power in putting first what God has said to put first. The words on Taylor's annual donation check memo line ("To the Jew first!") reveal that he understood and believed the implications of Paul's famous Romans 1:16 declaration: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (NASB).

Secondly, he grasped that the Word of God links the spiritual awakening of the Jews to success in the church's mission to take the gospel to the whole world.

Let's explore both of these principles in the clarifying light of Scripture. As we do, I believe we'll recover a lost key to blessing—for ourselves individually, for our individual congregations, and for the church as a whole.

Let's find what I call "the missing link in our missiology."

'Ethnos' and 'Goyim'

Matthew records a startling prophetic statement by Jesus that I consider the clearest and most concise statement in the entire Bible concerning the Last Days.

"And this gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matt. 24:14, NIV).

Here Jesus directly mentions "the end" and links it to the proclamation of the gospel to the whole world. Put another way, He is declaring that visible, worldwide evangelism will be the event or activity that will signal the last days are upon us—and implies that until this is fulfilled, Jesus will not return.

Please note the word "nations" in Jesus' statement. When most of us see that word we think of countries, or nation-states. For example, we speak of the United States, France and India as being nations. There are essentially 196 nation-states in the world today, but this is not what Jesus was referencing in his statement.

In Hebrew, the word for nations is goyim and refers to the non-Jewish people of the world—the Gentiles, in other words. And the Greek word for nations is ethnos, from which we derive the word ethnic. Matthew uses the word ethnos in relating Jesus' words. Ethnos literally means "race" or "tribe," or as we more commonly say today, "people group." Because we live in a mobile world in which people are constantly migrating, most countries of the world contain a rich mixture of ethnos within their borders. The United States alone comprises a myriad of nations whose people have settled here to find freedom and a better life.

When Jesus declared that the gospel of the kingdom must be preached to every ethnos, He was not saying that we merely had to reach inside the 196 nation-states of the modern world. No, the commission is to reach the distinct ethnic groups that live within all those countries. Just think about the magnitude of that challenge—in the U.S. alone.

With such a huge challenge before us, it is natural to wonder, "Where do we begin?" Thankfully, the Word of God has an answer for us!

First Things First

We have already taken notice of the Apostle Paul's words to Gentile believers in Rome in which he articulated his priority for delivering the gospel—"to the Jew first, and also for the Greek" (Rom. 1:16, MEV). By the way, Paul backed up those words with actions. Throughout his ministry—even though his self-declared calling was to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13)—Paul's first stop in every new city was the local synagogue. This pattern reveals something important about Paul's priorities that is missing in the missiology of most evangelicals.

Most of the cities Paul visited in the Roman world were diverse melting pots as well. There were many ethnos living in Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus, Thessalonica and the other busy trading ports to which Paul traveled. Yet his first evangelistic efforts were always directed to the Jewish community of the city. It seems that only after he was satisfied that the Jews of the city had been given an opportunity to accept or reject the Messiah did he feel released to direct his preaching to the other ethnos.  

Why is this? We don't have to guess. Paul gives us the key in his extensive discourse on the Jewish people in Romans 9-11. Here Paul makes it clear that the Jewish people are a major key (perhaps the key) to reaching the nations. Allow this explanation:

In the 11th chapter of Romans, Paul addresses Gentile believers who had been making the argument that, since the Jewish people had rejected Jesus as their Messiah, God had in turn rejected them—the implication being that salvation was no longer available to them. Paul flatly dismisses this assertion:

"I say then, has God rejected His people? God forbid! For I also am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom he foreknew" (Rom. 11:1-2).

Paul goes on to explain that, although a "remnant" of Israel was currently accepting Jesus as Messiah, the rest had been providentially "hardened" against the gospel message. But Paul declares this hardening was not permanent: "I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid! But through their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression means riches for the world, and their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fullness mean?" (Rom. 11:11-12).

Paul points out that such a rejection was necessary in order for salvation to be offered to the remainder of the world. But he doesn't stop there. He makes what I believe to be an extremely significant prophetic prediction when he says: "For if their rejection [of Jesus] means the reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?" (Rom. 11:15).

Yes, every non-Jewish believer in the world who has come to experience forgiveness, peace and eternal life through faith in the Messiah has been blessed because of that rejection. But Paul indicates that an even greater blessing will result when that rejection turns to acceptance. Indeed, we are told it will bring life from the dead. And Paul goes on to prophesy that such a day is coming!

"For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, lest you be wise in your own estimation, for a partial hardening has come up until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved ..." (Rom. 11:25-26).

This verse and others suggest a linked destiny between Israel and the church and between Israel and the nations. And that phrase "until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in" also suggests a link between a Jewish revival and the imminent return of Jesus for His bride.

Just as Israel's rejection released the gospel to spread throughout the world, the Jews' return will signal something very special and something very exciting. I do not claim to understand precisely how this will manifest or what it will look like exactly, but I am absolutely convinced that this is a spiritual reality.

No, God is not nearly finished with Israel. Nor has His "to the Jew first" mandate in our evangelistic and missionary efforts expired.

A Missing Key to Blessing

Now, more than ever before, God is calling every believer to reach Jewish people with the gospel. And Jews are responding—in unprecedented numbers. Not since the days of the book of Acts have so many Jewish people opened their hearts to receive the Messiah. Through Jewish Voice Ministries International alone, some 75,000 Jewish people worldwide have responded to altar calls in the past six years.

Has "the fullness of the Gentiles" come in? I don't know. What I do know is that God is opening long-blinded eyes and regenerating thousands of Jewish hearts every single day. And this is something that we should find very exciting indeed.

I also know that God is pouring out special blessings upon people and upon churches that acknowledge God's order of things by honoring the "to the Jew first" principle in their giving to missions.

For example, a dear friend of our ministry is Pastor Robert Morris of Gateway Church in the Dallas, Texas area. Gateway is one of the largest and fastest-growing churches in North America. In his recent book on church growth and leadership, Pastor Morris cites the question he is invariably asked whenever he encounters other pastors and ministry heads. Namely, "What is the secret of the success, prosperity and favor that seems to rest upon Gateway Church?"

Many pastors find his answer surprising. Pastor Morris says he is convinced the key reason Gateway has been blessed is that very early in the church's existence, he and the leadership grasped the "to the Jew first" principle and began ordering the church's missions budget accordingly. The first tenth of Gateway's budget for outreach and evangelism has always gone to support organizations that are endeavoring to take the gospel to the Jewish people.

Hudson Taylor would approve. As I mentioned at the outset, the first check he wrote each new year was to the Mildmay Mission to the Jews. The man who received those checks, John Wilkinson, once described his life's mission:

"From 1854 to this day, much of my time has been occupied in preaching the gospel to the Jews, showing from the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. A considerable portion of my time has also been spent in expounding to Christians, God's truth about the Jews with a view to awaken scriptural interest in the conversion of our Jewish brethren."

That's my mission too. Much more importantly, it's the heart of God.

"To the Jew first ... !" This, I believe with all my heart, is the missing link in our missiology. It's the key to great blessing for us and an extraordinary end-time revival among the ethnos of the world.  

A Jewish believer in Yeshua (Jesus), Jonathan Bernis is President & CEO of Jewish Voice Ministries International. He has worked on the forefront of world evangelism since 1984, taking the good news of Israel's Messiah to the far reaches of the earth, to the Jewish people, and also to the nations.

]]> (Jonathan Bernis) Communication Tue, 18 Nov 2014 20:00:00 -0500
14 Characteristics of Genuinely Friendly Churches

Several years ago, when I was involved in active church consultations, I assembled data on what I called GFCs, genuinely friendly churches. I set certain parameters for GFCs, and then I attempted to measure those churches guest return rates.

A guest return rate is simply the percentage of guests who will return to the church for at least a second visit.

Here is the simple but profound difference I found in GFCs and all other churches: A genuinely friendly church has a guest return rate six times greater than other churches.

Did you get that? If a church meets the guidelines to be a GFC, the probability of a guest returning is six times higher than all other churches. Sadly, only about one of 20 churches meets the criteria necessary to be a GFC.

When I was an active consultant, I had 10 criteria, and the church had to meet at least eight of those criteria to be a GFC. I have since expanded the list to 14, and require churches to meet 11 of the 14 to be a GFC.

Here are the 14 characteristics of genuinely friendly churches:

1. They are intentional about being friendly. Warmth and friendliness are clear values of theses churches. They are articulated regularly. All organizations, including churches, naturally drift toward an inward focus unless they are otherwise intentional.

2. The leaders model warmth, humility and friendliness. The friendliness is not contrived or phony. These leaders have prayerfully become genuinely friendly men and women.

3. The leaders are clear that genuine friendliness is more than a brief stand and greet time in a worship service. The efficacy of a stand and greet time was debated extensively on this blog. Regardless of a church's decision in this practice, leaders in GFCs were adamant that true hospitality and friendliness extends beyond a two-minute welcome time.

4. GFCs utilize a secret guest at least twice a year. One small church of which I am aware budgets $100 a year for a secret guest. They pay the guest with a $50 gift card to come to the church and provide feedback on their experience. I call this process "looking in the mirror" because it gives the church a real opportunity to see itself as others do.

5. GFCs had a guest-friendly website. The website typically sets the tone for a guest. If it did not have obvious information for a guest, such as worship times and addresses, the guest came to the church with a more negative disposition.

6. The church has clear signage. Far too many churches lack this signage. They assume that everyone knows where everything is. First-time guests know nothing about the church or its different facilities.

7. GFCs have a well-organized greeters ministry. They have greeters in the parking lot, greeters in the entrances and greeters in other strategic locations inside. Many GFCs utilize newer members in this ministry.

8. These churches have clear information places. It may be something as simple as a well-marked table manned by a member of the church. The signage points clearly to the information table, booth or kiosk.

9. GFCs have clean and neat buildings. It is amazing how much a clean facility adds to the positive mood of a guest. It is equally amazing how few churches pay attention to this issue.

10. They have a guest feedback process. To the best of their ability, GFCs follow up with guests to get feedback on their experiences. They also encourage the guests to be open and frank in the feedback.

11. The children's area is clearly safe and sanitary. Don't expect young parents to return if the church does not give clear attention to this matter.

12. The majority of church members in GFCs are involved in the community. They thus exude genuine friendliness in the worship services because they are regularly connecting with non-church members other days of the week.

13. Small groups are highly intentional about reaching people beyond their own groups. Thus when these group members are in a worship service, they are already accustomed to reaching out beyond those with whom they already have relationships.

14. GFCs have new-member classes that emphasize the responsibilities and expectations of church members. Members are thus more apt to look beyond their own preferences to serve others. That attitude shows up in the worship services.

In the near future I will be offering a detailed video resource on attracting and keeping church guests. In the meantime, let me hear from you on these 14 characteristics.

Would you like to see your church retain guests six times greater than 95 percent of all other churches? Give your church an honest evaluation of these 14 items. See if you can give an emphatic "yes" to at least 11 of them. If not, what should your church change?

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

]]> (Thom S. Rainer) Church Growth Tue, 18 Nov 2014 17:00:00 -0500
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
Part 1: The 10 Building Blocks of Biblical Community

What the public generally knows about Saddleback Church is that we have a large weekend attendance. But what the outside world doesn't realize is that the strength of Saddleback is really in our small groups.

The press reports what happens on Sunday, but they can't see what happens all week long. The fact is, more people are involved in small groups at Saddleback than attend the weekend services.

Small groups are extremely important at Saddleback because we believe so strongly in the power of community. Community is a bit of a buzzword in today's church culture, and I think that's a good thing. We need to understand it.

It's really a modern term for an ancient word—fellowship. The Greek word for fellowship in the Bible is the word koinonia. And koinonia means being as committed to each other as we are to Jesus Christ.

At Saddleback, we talk a lot about the building blocks of biblical community, and there are at least 10 of them. Here are the first five:

1. Frequency. In fellowship, we meet together often. It's not every once in a while. It's quite frequent. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 10:25, "Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but let us exhort one another, especially as you see the Day approaching." A habit is something you do with frequency. You don't do a habit occasionally. You do a habit frequently. You do it over and over and over.

2. Authenticity. In fellowship, you share your true feelings. There are three fears that cause us to be inauthentic: the fear of exposure, the fear of rejection and the fear of being hurt again. In the light of God's truth, we don't try to hide our faults. So as James 5:15 says, "Confess your faults to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed." In recovery we have a saying that you're only as sick as your secrets. I often say revealing your feelings is the beginning of healing. That's what authenticity is all about. You say, "This is where I'm at," and you admit it.

The quickest way to build authenticity in your life and in your group is this: Study and apply the Word of God. "For the word of God is alive, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intents of the heart." It's not pop psychology that makes you authentic. It's not therapy that makes you authentic. It's not ooey-gooey sentimentality that makes you authentic. It's coming into contact with the Word of God. When I look at the Word of God and let it touch my soul, and I see where I don't measure up and where I need to grow, then it forces me to be authentic.

3. Mutuality. Fellowship is built on mutuality. In fellowship that means we help each other grow. Together we're stronger. You cannot be who God wants you to be without other people. Romans 1:12 says, "I mean that I want us to help each other with the faith that we have. Your faith will help me, and my faith will help you" (ERV). That's like that great theologian Bill Withers once said, "We all need somebody to lean on." We need each other to do that.

There are three parts to mutuality.

  • Mutual accountability. In other words, you get a prayer partner in your group. You have somebody whom you're personally encouraging in their quiet time, in their faith and in their spiritual growth. Someone you get alone with and with whom you commit to checking up on each other.
  • Mutual encouragement. "[Speak] only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen" (NIV). 1 Thessalonians 5:14 says, "And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone."
  • Mutual honoring. Romans 12:10 says, "Take delight in honoring each other" (TLB).

4. Courtesy. Fellowship is built on courtesy. That means in fellowship we show respect for our differences. In fellowship we show respect even when we disagree with each other. You can disagree without being disagreeable. The Bible says, "And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful" (NIV). Show courtesy to everyone.

The fifth building block of genuine fellowship. If you want deep intimate relationships with other people in your group, in your family or anywhere else is:

5. Sympathy. In fellowship we support each other when we're in need. We support each other when we're in pain. We support each other in our feelings. The Bible says in Colossians 3:12, "Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience" (NLT). It says be sympathetic, kind, humble and patient. What does it mean to be sympathetic? Sympathy simply means to understand and affirm your feelings, to understand and affirm your problems, to understand and affirm your pain. That's what it means to be sympathetic.

I'll share the other five building blocks in my next post, but for now, pass this along to those who lead in your small groups and have a conversation about where you're doing well and what you need to work on next.

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for pastors.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Rick Warren) Community Thu, 13 Nov 2014 17:00:00 -0500
12 Ministries Making a Difference in Israel

When Canadian native Wayne Hilsden moved to Israel in 1983 to help establish a fledgling congregation in Jerusalem, he didn't know that he would wind up staying for three decades, or that King of Kings Community Jerusalem would turn into a multi-faceted ministry that has helped give birth to six churches, a Bible college, a thriving prayer initiative and various outreaches.

However, most precious to the former professor at Eastern Pentecostal Bible College are the carefully built relationships that enable him to share the message that Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) is the Messiah awaited by Israelis.

"There's a greater measure of openness about one's faith," says the senior pastor of King of Kings. "When we came to Israel the average Jew didn't believe it was possible to become a believer. Even those who came to Christ believed they were the only Jews in existence who had done that."

From a smattering of 15 messianic congregations around Israel when he arrived, Hilsden estimates there are 150 today. These churches have more than 15,000 Jews who consider themselves followers of Yeshua.

Those numbers may seem minuscule in a nation of more than 8 million. But leaders who focus on providing humanitarian aid, social assistance and spreading the good news in a nation largely resistant to Christ say what God is doing in Israel rivals the exodus from Egypt.

The miracles are occurring "right before our eyes," says Gary Cristofaro, director of development for Ezra International. Since 1995 the U.S.-based ministry has aided the return of more than 43,000 low-income Jews to their ancestral homeland. A similar number are waiting for help securing documents, passports and assorted immigration papers.

"God is gathering His people from the four corners of the Earth," says Cristofaro, a former Assemblies of God pastor. "The miracles are greater than when He brought them out of Egypt. Understanding this can make a difference in people's faith. The things we worry about are pretty tame compared to this. It's a very exciting time. A lot of people's hearts will fail, but if more understand where they are in His economy, it will make a difference."

Ezra International's founder, Mel Hoelzle, points to God's promise in Jeremiah 16:16 to develop a network of fishermen and hunters to help with the return of Jews to Israel.

The former business leader discovered such networks in Eastern European churches and others after the fall of communism. In a vision, God told Hoelzle He brought down the Iron Curtain, but another wall (poverty) was holding His people from returning home.

"That's why we work with poor people," Hoelzle says. "It was unbelievable how in Russia, Siberia and Ukraine, we had people coming up to tell us about dreams and visions that He would call them to help Jewish people. And now they had the opportunity to work with an organization like ours."

Among other present-day miracles is improving Christian-Jewish relations, fractured by anti-Semitism in the church for 2,000 years.

The thaw has been aided by such long-standing efforts as the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, established in 1980 after 13 nations closed embassies to protest the Knesset's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital.

More recently, an 8-year-old ministry that provides portable shelters to Jews, Palestinians and other residents during rocket attacks is also opening doors of understanding.

Rabbi Shmuel Bowman says Operation Lifeshield has attracted support from diverse quarters. When Jews and Christians come together for a unified purpose, the program saves lives while bringing down long-standing walls, Bowman says.

"The Jewish Federation in Birmingham, Alabama, now has a Christian on staff whose job is to connect to Christian communities and talk to them about Israel and why bridge building is important," says the Torah scribe, who lives just south of Jerusalem. "If people can get together and talk about things we care passionately about, that opens doors to conversations and relationships."

Wide-Ranging Outreach

"Ministry to Israel" is a broad term, encompassing everything from church-planting and humanitarian aid to helping soldiers without extended family and protecting people vulnerable to attacks—especially those in southern Israel shelled by a hail of rockets this year from Hamas forces in Gaza.

In a nation prospering amid intense opposition from surrounding Middle Eastern neighbors, it may be hard to see Israel as a land of need. Indeed, during his multiple visits each year, Hoelzle finds a place vastly different from the snippets that appear via network news reports.

"Israel does a good job of protecting their people," he says. "I feel safer there than I do on the streets of Los Angeles or Chicago."

Yet, many are left behind in the country's economic development, particularly Palestinians, Russians and Ethiopian immigrants. The latter two groups are part of the ongoing "aliyah" return aided by groups such as Ezra International.

The Messianic Jewish Alliance estimates 1.7 million, or approximately 20 percent, of Israel's residents live below the poverty line. Jonathan Bernis, president and CEO of Jewish Voice Ministries International, says those numbers reflect groups still struggling to adapt to an advanced, high-tech-style economy.

In addition to lacking job skills, people such as elderly Russians and Ethiopians also run into language barriers. While many Israelis speak English, a failure to master the Hebrew language places immigrants outside the mainstream, Bernis says.

Yet, such needs are also creating an opportunity for messianic churches and Christian ministries that have gained credibility in many sectors of society.

"There's still a disdain for Jewish believers among the ultra-Orthodox and a majority in political leadership," says Bernis, who started Hear O Israel Ministries in 1984 before later merging it with Jewish Voice.

"But I think the messianic Jewish movement has gained a constituency. It has done a good job of providing clothing on behalf of the Christian community."

Some of the numbers are impressive. During the past 20 years, Vision for Israel & The Joseph Storehouse has assisted more than 750,000 people and 193,500 students, the latter through its Pack to School project, which provides school supplies to needy children.

Statistics pale in significance, however, when co-founder Barry Segal has touching encounters like his meeting with 64 Holocaust survivors in mid-August. Barry and his wife, Batya, sang to them and provided financial vouchers in advance of the Jewish holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Sept. 24-26, and Yom Kippur, Oct. 3-4).

This tender moment came right before the ministry distributed 8,500 backpacks and other assistance to children. Soon after, 500 members in Vision for Israel's Lone Soldiers program received hiking bags stuffed with personal supplies.

In early September, Segal's staff also gave out thousands of dollars worth of medical kits in backpacks to first responders who deal with the fallout of attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups.

The latter has been even more challenging lately, as more than 2,000 Gazans and Israelis died in two months of fighting with Hamas before a shaky ceasefire went into effect in late summer. In addition to destruction, Segal says the collateral damage has included victims suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Segal shares about projects and topics such as food, culture and the Bible on his weekly Roots & Reflections TV program, which airs in Israel and globally on Daystar. The program's positive message about Israel and its people helps counteract the anti-Semitism that has resurfaced this year around the globe.

"We are not stuffing the good news down people's throats," says Segal, who grew up in the United States and discovered Yeshua as a young musician in the Midwest. "We're introducing people to the Bible and its great author through a relationship with Yeshua, the Messiah.

"We are not trying to convert Jews to another religion but bring them back to repentance and a love for the faith of their patriarchs. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all looked forward to this covenant relationship."

Meeting Needs

The needs Hilsden sees around Kings of Kings' headquarters in an old theater in the heart of Jerusalem prompted the formation of new outreaches this year. Its Anchor of Hope counseling center is based in what used to be a sex shop, while its compassion center, which offers various forms of aid, launched last July. It plans to open a soup kitchen there in January.

"What we've been finding is the recent Gaza-Hamas war caused a quick downturn in the economy, partially due to [lower] tourism," Hilsden says. "There are a lot of needy people, especially in Jerusalem. I regularly see homeless people on the streets, digging through garbage cans to find food. Our hearts go out to them."

That statement can be repeated by numerous ministries that not only help those in need, but also continue to shine a spotlight on the land that occupies a central role in the Second Coming of the Messiah. Some examples:

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ)

Among its outreaches is hosting annual observances of Sukkot (this year observed from Oct. 8 to 15), a Jewish festival commemorating God's faithfulness to the Jewish people during their exodus from Egypt. The ICEJ, which held the first Christian celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles in 1980, helps educate Christians worldwide about Israel's unique calling in God's plans.

The embassy also helps combat anti-Semitism, which has surged this year in places such as Germany, France, Great Britain and Eastern Europe. In September Greece strengthened its laws against anti-Semitism and other hate speech because of the rise of a neo-Nazi Party there.

During a trip to Ukraine last January, Ezra International's Cristofaro encountered flyers containing "Blood Libel" claims. Popular in Nazi Germany, their primary accusation is that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood during holiday rituals, including baking Passover matzahs.

"It's hard to believe this is happening in the 21st century," Cristofaro says. "This happens in the Middle East and then is repeated by the Orthodox Church. Anti-Semitism is not just coming from neo-Nazis and Arabs but what many Jews see as the church."

Maoz Israel Ministries

More than 35 years old, Maoz Israel marked its birth with the 1977 marriage of founders Shira Sorko-Ram and her husband, Ari, a former actor and professional football player for the Arizona Cardinals (formerly St. Louis Cardinals). Now as Israeli citizens, they have founded the Tifaret Yeshua (the Glory of Yeshua) congregation in downtown Tel Aviv.

In addition, they manage a nonprofit publishing company that prints and distributes Bible-based books in Hebrew and a humanitarian-aid organization ( that supports widows, orphans, needy people and terrorist victims.

The organization also provides scholarships to help immigrants with Hebrew studies and career training, as well as college courses for Messianic Jews.

Revive Israel Ministries

Directed by Asher and Betty Intrater, this apostolic ministry is dedicated to bringing revival to Israel by reconciling its people with Yeshua as Messiah. In addition to past involvement with several messianic churches in Israel and the U.S., the couple now helps pastor Ahavat Yeshua (Love of Jesus) in Washington, D.C.

Revive Israel's evangelistic strategy focuses on building personal relationships in the workplace, schools and neighborhoods. It also spreads the gospel through one-on-one street witnessing, broadcasts and literature distribution.

The ministry distributes a third of its donations to helping the poor, widows and orphans, and assisting Israeli business owners whose faith in Yeshua prompts challenges. Based in a residential community just outside Jerusalem, it also is cooperating on projects to develop a messianic industrial park and a residential development.

Operation Lifeshield

Responding originally to disruptions in northern Israel during a 2006 war with Lebanon, this year's attacks from Gaza have shifted its emphasis to the country's southern region. Bowman felt so strongly about the mission to protect residents from disruptions that he left his Orthodox Jewish temple to devote all his time to Operation Lifeshield.

Bowman draws key inspiration from Esther 4:14 and Mordecai's admonishment to Esther that God had placed her in a strategic location to save Israel. He recalls how he and others who helped initiate this effort mused: "Perhaps this is our time."

Since then, the organization has distributed nearly 300 portable bomb shelters that can protect anywhere from a dozen to 50 people. The school, medical clinic or governmental entity requesting one agrees to provide ongoing maintenance.

"We're such a boring organization," Bowman jokes. "We have one mission and that's to prevent Israelis from rocket attacks. Pastors tell me that, for congregants to make a donation and be able to see where that donation has gone—and connect with Israelis—they won't give to something abstract or undefined."

Media Ministry

While their ministries don't have an identical emphasis, two outreaches to Israel stem from those with roots in writing and commentary.

The co-pastor of Tel Aviv's Tifaret Yeshua, Ron Cantor is the founder of Messiah's Mandate, a teaching ministry aimed at raising up leaders for the coming Israeli revival.

The active blogger and author of Identity Theft (Destiny Image, 2013), Cantor is a thorn in the side of both anti-Semites and supporters of "replacement theology." His novel explores how Jesus has been robbed of his Jewishness, while in a weekly podcast and blogs he explores the truth about such topics as Israel's rebirth in 1948.

Through both novels and non-fiction, author Joel Rosenberg has written extensively about Middle Eastern and end-times subjects. His latest novel, The Auschwitz Escape, explores a Jewish prisoner relying on God's power to escape the concentration camp and alert the world to Nazi atrocities.

In 2006, Rosenberg and his wife, Lynn, set up The Joshua Fund to mobilize Christians to bless Israel. They have led numerous prayer and vision trips to Israel, organized conferences and seminars on four continents, and provided food and other supplies to the needy.

Chosen People Ministries

Founded 120 years ago in Brooklyn by a Hungarian immigrant and now directed by Dr. Mitch Glaser, this ministry seeks to evangelize, disciple and serve Jewish people. It operates in 13 nations with programs that equip churches to do Jewish evangelism, support messianic congregations, print messianic materials and participate in benevolent distribution.

Representatives of Chosen People Ministries also conduct "Messiah in Passover" presentations in churches across the U.S. The ministry hosts an annual messianic Jewish retreat in Maryland and leads tours of the Holy Land annually.

The Joseph Project

The Joseph Project is the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America's humanitarian-relief arm. The alliance, which will observe its centennial anniversary next year, has distributed more than $100 million in aid to the poor of all faiths in Israel.

The ministry collects, ships and distributes more than 75 tons of clothing, furniture, household goods, medical supplies and other aid annually. It supplies this assistance through a network of 35 relief aid centers, more than 100 Israeli partnering organizations, and messianic congregations.

Donations have increased in recent years, with the Joseph Project tripling the number of 40-foot containers it shipped to Israel between 2010 and 2013, when aid totaled more than $5 million.

A Divine Mission

Those involved in ministry to Israel cite numerous Scriptures to buttress their support, particularly Matthew 25:31-40, which Segal says in context is a reference to helping Jews. They also cite Genesis 12:1-3, Job 29:11-17, Job 31:16-22, Isaiah 11:11-12, Isaiah 43:5-6, Isaiah 49:22, Isaiah 61:1-3 and the 36th chapter of Ezekiel.

"Ezekiel 36 speaks about how God's name is profaned as the Jewish people have been scattered," Cristofaro says. "God is mocked, and people think He can't fulfill His promises. He reveals himself to the Jewish people and the nations with this (aliyah) process. We have a choice: to sanctify or desecrate His name."

Hoelzle sees encouraging signs that more Christians are warming to the message of support for Israel, saying Ezra International has more churches helping finance the ministry than it did a decade ago. He thinks that stems from more awareness of ancient prophecies about Israel being fulfilled in modern times.

Indeed, during his ongoing trips to Israel, Bernis senses the same kind of openness to Yeshua that he saw among American Jews during the heyday of the Jesus People in the 1970s.

Bernis, whose work in recent years has broadly expanded to establishing a network of medical clinics for Jewish communities in India and some countries in Africa, says he has talked to Orthodox Jews in Israel who have embraced Yeshua after supernatural experiences.

"There is a growing expectation of Messiah," Bernis says. "We believe that ultimately the Jewish people—and particularly those in Israel—will cry out: 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord'" (Matt. 23:39).  

Ken Walker is a freelance writer, co-author and book editor from Huntington, W. Va., and a regular contributor to Ministry Today and Charisma.

4 More Ministries Impacting Israel

Here are some other ministries that are making a difference for the people of Israel:

Dugit: Simply the name of this organization in Tel Aviv is intriguing. The word "dugit" is Hebrew for "fishing boat," like the ones used by the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. Established in 1993 by Avi and Chaya Mizrachi, Dugit likes to refer to itself as "fishers of men" in the heart of Tel Aviv.

The Dugit Messianic Centre has been reaching Israelis with the gospel of Jesus Christ for more than two decades, discipling them to become stronger believers and grounding them in the Word. With 20 percent of Israelis living in poverty, Dugit's Agape Distribution Center helps to provide food and clothing to the needy. Families are sent to the center by social services, including Holocaust survivors and those unable to work for health reasons. During the major Jewish holidays, Dugit distributes "baskets of love," and the organization hands out free Bibles and testimony books in Hebrew, Russian and Arabic to quench spiritual thirst.

Succat Hallel: In the mold of the many sites of the International House of Prayer in the United States, Succat Hallel is a place where anyone can come to worship and pray 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Americans Rick and Patti Ridings were summoned by God to Jerusalem in 1999 and began worship services in their living room. In 2004, the Lord opened the door to Succat Hallel to relocate to a facility overlooking Mount Zion and the Old City of Jerusalem. In fall 2006, a second private prayer room opened in the City of David where the original Tabernacle of David stood. Since 2007, Succat Hallel has hosted a youth/adult conference known as ELAV, which means "Unto Him."

Jerusalem Institute of Justice: This organization is dedicated to cultivating and defending the rule of law, human rights, freedom of conscience and democracy for all people in Israel and its adjacent territories. Founded by Calev Myers in 2004, JIJ was established to provide pro-bono legal assistance for those suffering from illegal religious discrimination, including Messianic Jews. Myers immigrated to Israel in 1992, graduated from Hebrew University of Jerusalem and became a licensed member of the Israeli Bar Association. Since 2007, JIJ has strived to free men, women and children trapped in the sex trade and has been working to change legislation in Israel, which currently allows both the sale and purchase of sexual services. Additionally, JIJ focuses on Palestinian human rights.

Bridges for Peace: Bridges is a Jerusalem-based, Bible-believing Christian organization whose desire is to see Christians and Jews working side by side for better understanding and a more secure Israel. Founded in 1976, BFP is a ministry of hope and reconciliation, giving Christians the opportunity to actively express their biblical responsibility before God to be faithful to Israel and the Jewish community. Its many programs include bimonthly publication of pertinent and positive news from Israel; its monthly teaching letter to bring fuller meanings of biblical concepts from the Hebraic roots of the Scriptures; its Chai Night prayer and study groups, which is a monthly intercessory prayer program for those desiring to pray for the peace of Jerusalem; and Operation Ezra, including a food bank and assistance to Jewish immigrants, Israel's elderly and its poor.

]]> (Ken Walker) Evangelism Tue, 11 Nov 2014 20:00:00 -0500
7 Ways to Plan for Church Growth During the Christmas Season

One of the secrets of growth at Saddleback Church is that we use special days as an evangelism tool and to keep our members motivated toward the growth of our congregation. In a sense, Saddleback Church was built around three days each year: Easter, Christmas and Mother's Day.

Here are some reasons we plan for growth during Christmas:

1. Christmas attracts the community. You are well aware that many people who normally never come to church will come for Christmas services or Christmas presentations. In addition, your whole community is immersed in Christmas, and many people are more prepared to hear the gospel than at other times of the year.

2. Christmas encourages members to bring relatives and friends. Christmas is a perfect time to make a first impression. If your relatives wonder where you're going to church and you bring them to church on the biggest Sunday of the year, they'll catch the excitement of the congregation. Your members will find it easier to invite family and friends to church at Christmas than any other time of the year.

3. Christmas enlarges the vision of your members. This is a time to help your congregation catch a vision of what it will mean for their family and friends to become part of God's family.

4. Christmas builds morale within your congregation. People enjoy being a part of something big and exciting; it develops unity and pride among the congregation and the staff. Over the long haul, it's hard to keep people constantly motivated, but it is easier to get people involved in your church's Christmas celebrations. People who might not ever get involved in anything else will get involved during Christmas.

5. Christmas increases your pool of volunteers. We've found that a special time like Christmas mobilizes the congregation. And once people are involved, there's a good chance they'll stay involved. For instance, we'll get lots of new volunteers to be greeters at Christmas. Then, we ask them to come back and greet on a regular basis.

6. Christmas increases your prospect list. Because the congregation brings so many visitors, we receive hundreds of names and contact information during Christmas. Put a plan in place to follow up and see who is most open to evangelism. We also find that Christmas helps to focus people's prayers as they pray for their friends and family.

7. Christmas stretches people's faith. "Without faith, it's impossible to please God." We've found that our Christmas plans often force us to move in faith. God wants us to reach people for Christ, so there is nothing wrong with praying about attendance goals or seeking God's wisdom about the money to invest in reaching people during this holy holiday.

Let's pray for each other as we prepare for this Christmas season.

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for pastors.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Rick Warren ) Church Growth Thu, 06 Nov 2014 20:00:00 -0500
10 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests

If you attend a church regularly, you've probably noticed the phenomenon. A guest shows up for a worship service, but he or she never returns. It is, unfortunately, a common issue in many churches.

I did a Twitter poll to ask these first-time guests why they chose not to return to a particular church. While some of the responses were anticipated, I admit being a bit surprised with some of them.

Though my poll is not scientific, it is nevertheless fascinating. Here are the top 10 responses in order of frequency:

1. Having a stand up and greet one another time in the worship service. This response was my greatest surprise for two reasons. First, I was surprised how truly uncomfortable guests are during this time. Second, I was really surprised that it was the most frequent response.

2. Unfriendly church members. This response was anticipated. But the surprise was the number of respondents who included non-genuine friendliness in their answers. In other words, the guests perceived that some of the church members were faking it.

3. Unsafe and unclean children's area. This response generated the greatest emotional reactions. If your church does not give a high priority to children, don't expect young families to attend.

4. No place to get information. If your church does not have a clear and obvious place to get information, you probably have lowered the chances of a return visit by half. There should also be someone to greet and assist guests at that information center as well.

5. Bad church website. Most of the church guests went to the church website before they attended a worship service. Even if they attended the service after visiting a bad website, they attended with a prejudicial perspective. The two indispensable items guests want on a website are address and times of service. It's just that basic.

6. Poor signage. If you have been attending a church for a few weeks, you forget all about the signage. You don't need it any more. But guests do. And they are frustrated when it's not there.

7. Insider church language. Most of the respondents were not referring to theological language as much as language that only the members know. My favorite example was: "The WMU will meet in the CLC in the room where the GAs usually meet."

8. Boring or bad service. My surprise was not the presence of this item. The surprise was that it was not ranked higher.

9. Members telling guests that they were in their seat or pew. Yes, this obviously still takes place in some churches.

10. Dirty facilities. Some of the comments: "Didn't look like it had been cleaned in a week." "No trash cans anywhere." Restrooms were worse than a bad truck stop." "Pews had more stains than a Tide commercial."

There you have it. The top ten reasons first-time guests said they did not return to a church. I can't wait to hear from you readers. You always have such good additions and insights.

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

]]> (Thom S. Rainer) Church Growth Thu, 06 Nov 2014 17:00:00 -0500
2 Big Reasons Why People Reject Our Evangelism Efforts

One in five Americans don't believe in a deity. Less than half of the population attends religious services on a regular basis.

People simply find our evangelism unbelievable. Why?

While a person's response to Christ is ultimately a matter that rests in God's sovereign hands—something over which we have no control—a person's hearing of the gospel is a matter over which we do have control and responsibility.

"Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season" (2 Tim. 4:2, ESV). "Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person" (Col. 4:5–6, emphasis added). "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17, emphasis added).

The first reason our evangelism isn't believable is because it isn't done in grace for each person. Paul isn't just saying evangelism is our responsibility; he's telling us to do it "in person." Unfortunately, a lot of evangelism is an out of body experience, as if there aren't two people in a conversation. It's excarnate, out of the flesh, not incarnate—in the flesh.

I'm reminded of the more passive Christian who looks to get Jesus off his chest at work and into a conversation. "Check." Or the time in college when I pretended to share the gospel with a friend in Barnes & Noble so others would overhear it. Alternatively, an active evangelist might troll blogs and start conversations to defeat arguments, while losing people in the process. "Aha!" The comment section on a blog is the new street corner.

These approaches are foolish because they treat people like projects to be completed, not as people to be loved. Have you ever been on the other end of an evangelistic project, perhaps from a Jehovah's Witness or Mormon at your door or a pushy pluralist at work? You don't feel loved; you feel used, like a pressure sale.

Paul says to know how you should answer each person. This means that most of your gospel explanations will be different, not canned. It also implies a listening evangelism. How can we know how to respond to each person if we don't know each person?

When Francis Schaeffer was asked how he would spend an hour with a non-Christian, he said: "I would listen for 55 minutes, and then in the last five minutes I would have something to say."

A second reason people find our evangelism unbelievable is because it is foolish. Paul isn't just telling us evangelism is personal; he's telling us to do it with wisdom. Wisdom possesses more than knowledge; it expresses knowledge through understanding. It considers life circumstances and applies knowledge with skill. Another word for this is love.

Love is inefficient. It slows down long enough to understand people and their objections to the gospel. Love recognizes people are complex and meets them in their need, suffering, despair, indifference, cynicism and confusion. We should look to surface these objections in people's lives.

I was recently having lunch with an educated professional who had a lot of questions. After about 30 minutes he said, "Enough about me. You're asking me questions. I should ask you questions." I responded by saying, "I want to hear your questions, but I also want to know you so that I can respond to your questions with wisdom." He told me some very personal things after that, and it shed a lot of light on his objections to Christianity. It made my comments much more informed, and he felt much more loved, declaring at the end, "I wish every lunch was like this. Let's keep doing this. I have a lot more questions."

Rehearsing a memorized fact—"Jesus died on the cross for your sins"—isn't walking in wisdom. Many people don't know what we mean when we say "Jesus," "sin" or "cross." While much of America still has cultural memory of these things, they are often misunderstood and confused with "moral teacher," "be good" and "irrelevant suffering."

We have to slow down long enough to explore what they mean and why they have trouble with these words and concepts. Often they are tied to some kind of pain. We need to explain these important truths (and more), not simply assert them. When we discerningly separate cultural misunderstanding from a true understanding of the gospel, we move forward in wisdom. But getting to that point typically doesn't happen overnight.

We need to see evangelism as a long-term endeavor. Stop checking the list and defeating others. Be incarnate, not excarnate, in your evangelism. Slow down and practice listening in love. Most conversions are not the result of a single, point-in-time conversation, but the culmination of a personal process that includes doubt, reflection, gospel witness, love and the work of the Holy Spirit.

And remember, don't put pressure on yourself; conversion is in God's hands. We just get to share the incomparable news of Jesus.

In summary, how you communicate the gospel matters. 

Jonathan K. Dodson (M.Div, Th.M) founded City Life Church in Austin, Texas, with his wife and a small group of people willing to take a risk for the kingdom of God. Jonathan is the author of The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing, Gospel-Centered Discipleship and Raised? Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection. He enjoys rowing, reading, writing and playing with his kids.

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]]> (Jonathan Dodson ) Evangelism Wed, 29 Oct 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Pastor, Stop Worrying About the Back Door

"Everybody is leaving someday!" When my pastor and friend of almost 40 years made that declaration, I was a bit shocked. He could see the look on my face, so he clarified, "We shouldn't get too bent out of shape when people leave our church because everybody will end up eventually leaving or dying."

If that didn't come from a guy who pastors a very large congregation, I might have suspected he was just bitter about a struggling church.

Frankly, I wasn't sure how I felt about that blunt statement then, but I know how I feel about it now. He's spot on; no one (except my wife) is with me until the end.

For years, I've read articles and books and listened to brilliant mega-church pastors tell me, "You must close the back door to grow your church! It doesn't matter how big your front door is if you're hemorrhaging folks out the back." In other words, if you don't have a dynamic small group ministry, an effective way to plug people into service and a strong discipleship program, people won't stay long.

For years I believed them, but not so much anymore. (Hang in there and let me explain.)

Of course, I value connecting people to others in the church and helping them find their ministry niche. Without question, I value discipleship and spiritual growth.

For a very long time, I've had a pastor of discipleship on my staff, and he's great at what he does. But over the past 12 years of ministry as the founding pastor of a fairly large church, I've discovered a few things:

1. Sometimes the most invested people in your church have the most unrealistic expectations. Their attitude is, "You owe me because of all that I have done for you." They look at church like I look at paying insurance. My premiums are paid. My deductible is met. So, I have a right to file a big claim when I need something. If the company (church) doesn't pay up, then I'm taking my business elsewhere.

Problem: Self-centered expectations replace selfless service and create an unhealthy and ungodly "What's in it for me?" attitude.

2. Sometimes the people who are the most connected demand a position of authority even if they don't have the character or skills to handle it. Unfortunately, they think their longevity (or the size of their tithe check) gives them the right to lead. If the pastor doesn't see it that way, parishioners seethe and eventually bolt.

Problem: It's not wise to promote the proud no matter how long they've been around or how much they've given.

3. Sometimes the people who are the most regular attendees gripe the most. Perhaps you've heard these statements from members: "How many times do I have to hear that vision message again?" "I'm tired of the same old money talk!" "Seems like you're recycling messages, and I'm no longer getting fed anymore." Sadly, they've lost their awareness and compassion for the harvest, so they move on to the latest hot church or newest pastor in town.

Problem: They suffer from the curse of knowledge, meaning they have forgotten what it's like to be new and to not know everything. Tragically, they've also lost their heart for the lost.

Two things are consistently taught in the New Testament:

Otherliness. In the kingdom of God, it's not about me. In fact, the needs of the many always outweigh the needs of the one (Rom. 12:10; Phil. 2:3).

Outreach. The primary purpose of the church is to reach out to those not yet in it (Luke 19:10; 1 Cor. 9:22).

Let me repeat, I value discipleship and caring for the sheep. But I wonder if we sometimes worry too much about the back door when we live in communities filled with people on their way to hell who have yet to enter the front door. The harvest is still ripe. Where I live, nearly 80 percent of the people don't attend church anywhere. In fact, Washington is one of the most unchurched states in the union. How can I not focus on the lost?

I will go after wandering sheep that have lost their way, but I'm no longer going to worry about wandering worshippers who move from church to church. In fact, I'm going to do everything I can to have the biggest front door possible. I'm going to challenge the already convinced to actively and regularly engage in the lives of those without a relationship with God. I'm going to design our Sunday morning services for people who are not there yet.

That may mean some "church people" get frustrated. It might mean my once greatest fans turn into my greatest critics. I will still love them, and I understand, but I must "become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some" (1 Cor. 9:22, NIV).

Frankly, it's all about a lost world God loved so much that He gave up everything to reach them. Everything. Perhaps it's time to stop worrying about the back door and make the front door as big and inviting as possible.

Kurt W. Bubna published his first book, Epic Grace—Chronicles of a Recovering Idiot, with Tyndale Momentum in 2013. Since then, Bubna has published three other books, including: Mr. & Mrs.: How to Thrive in a Perfectly Imperfect Marriage. He is an active blogger, itinerant speaker, regular radio and television personality and the senior pastor of a large and community-focused church in Spokane Valley, Washington.

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]]> (Kurt W. Bubna) Church Growth Tue, 28 Oct 2014 19:00:00 -0400
Church Planting: How Will You Gather People?

There are a number of models for gathering people. For instance, will you develop a small or large group model?

Small groups permit a closer, more relational, focus, which allows small group leaders to develop more easily. Large groups allow the focus to be on the planter who directs the programs, projects and systems. It is important to consider in the pre-launch days whether or not you intend to gather and train people in one large group or split them up into differing groups as more people become involved in the ministry.

You can either take the approach of training all the people at once or focusing on your initial leaders in order to grow the team. In other words, will you lead from the front or will you mobilize individuals to spread the workload? How you decide this will play a huge part in determining what kind of church you are going to be.

Will you meet in your home initially? This is a model that will certainly attract the middle classes, but it is a bit of a cultural no-no in schemes (however, there are always exceptions). You may get better traction by meeting in a public building which, in the schemes anyway, would mean that the locals would view you with less cult-like suspicion than in a home.

Obviously, meeting in your home keeps down costs and means less work than paying for renting a building and the hassle of packing and unpacking every week. Of course, you have to weigh up the benefits and negatives of each situation. Remember, always keep your options open on the ground.

In gathering people, it is always best to know yourself well. What kind of person are you? What kind of people are naturally drawn to you? What kind of people are you normally drawn to? These will help you understand your weak/blind spots. Whom do you need to recruit in order to achieve balance? If you are a man in your 50s, then the chances are you are unlikely to attract anybody under the age of 30.

That is a problem, and so you would need to recruit a younger team member to fill that gap. If you are only good talking to drug addicts and the unemployed, then you will need a member who can reach the more educated demographic. This is not to say that we cannot reach people outside of our own culture (God can and will use all people), but it just means that we have to be realistic when gathering in the early days because time is precious.

Talk to people. Many church planters fail to gather people simply because they fail to talk to people. If you want to figure out a balance between reading, prepping, doing newsletters and making a cool website and meeting people, then DROP EVERYTHING and meet with people. Here are some tips:

1. Go to places where people naturally congregate in your community. So, for example, is there a local cafe?

2. Join a local group with which you share some sort of affinity (then it won't be a chore but something you take great delight in).

3. Always establish contact with the extended family of new friends. Remember names and pray for them.

4. Have a good sense of humor and be able to poke fun at yourself. Humor carries so much weight in the schemes that it is practically a prerequisite for acceptance as part of our interview process.

Here is the number one tip when gathering people: Don't be a creepy, axe-murdering freak. Just chill and be normal with people. If you are awkward around people, then they will be awkward around you.

A church planter will gather people around his godliness, character, vision and likeability. You can be as godly and disciplined as you like, but if you are a social plum then you will find it difficult to gather a group around you who will take momentum into the schemes.  

Mez McConnell has been the Senior Pastor of Niddrie Community Church in Edinburgh, U.K., since September 2007. Prior to that he spent four years with UFM Worldwide working with street children in Brazil, and planted the Good News Church in one of the most deprived parts of the country.

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]]> (Mez McConnell) Church Growth Thu, 23 Oct 2014 19:00:00 -0400