Outreach http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach Tue, 09 Feb 2016 15:36:00 -0500 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Remember These 5 Things During Election Season http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/communication/22565-remember-these-5-things-during-election-season http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/communication/22565-remember-these-5-things-during-election-season

During this pivotal year of electing the next president of the United States, we need to be wise with our words and actions. There is much passion rising in America during this season.

These are serious times. It is in the air. We sense it, feel it and know it in our heart. Much is at stake. This is unquestionable and undeniable.

Yet, it may do well for each of us to remember these things during the election season:

1. Keep everything in perspective. God is sovereign over all human affairs. Regardless of who wins the nomination of your preferred party or who wins the election, God is ultimately in charge. Keep everything in perspective.

I am not advocating passivism. I am calling for each of us to keep perspective. Our hope and trust is ultimately in the Lord.

2. Be involved in the process. I am deeply convicted that each Christ follower needs to be involved in the processes of electing our next president. We need to know about the candidates, understand what they believe, measure it by the Word of God, and vote as we believe God is leading us. Yes, we need to vote not only in the general election, but also in the primary of our choice.

It is incumbent upon us to be involved in the process at whatever level afforded to us. If you get a chance to meet a candidate, meet them. If you get a chance to speak into their lives and platform, step up and represent the Lord and His Word honorably. If you are never afforded this privilege, learn what you can by listening, watching, and reading.

I say it again; it is incumbent upon us to be involved. Quite honestly, America cannot afford for us to stay at home. Please be involved in the process of electing our next president.

3. Watch what you say and how you say it. Passion is rising over these matters. In our respective places and positions, each of us will be asked our opinions. Therefore, we need to be deliberate about what we say and how we say it.

People are watching and listening to us. We represent our Lord everywhere, so we need to live up to this wisely. This does not keep us from providing insights and speaking up when appropriate, but it does call us to weigh every word we say and the way we say it.

Do not lose your testimony and influence with others for the sake of pontificating, as if you are trying to win an argument or promote your preferred persuasion. This is difficult for each of us, but we must be wise with our words and gentle in our spirit.

In our congregations, we have people from all backgrounds with all kinds of opinions. This should not call us to silence or intimidate us into fearfulness. Yet, it does call us to be wise with our words and clear in every way, exhibiting at all times, the spirit of Christ.

4. Refuse to be categorized. Election season usually pushes us into categories and labels. Now, it is more than obvious by what we read that even evangelicals are broken into various categories. These categories are labeling different groups and how they will vote with different candidates.

I hope each of us will strive not to be categorized by anyone.

We are one thing ultimately: Followers of Jesus Christ. This is our badge of honor. If we abandon this by our actions or opinions, we will begin to lose our prophetic voice during this critical hour in America.

5. Pray for God to raise up His next leader for our nation. Daniel 2:21 (NIV) says, "He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning." God does have a will for our nation, and He has the power to raise up whomever He desires to lead our nation.

As followers of Christ, while we work in the processes afforded to us as Americans, we need to also pray for God to raise up His next leader for our nation. May He raise up such a leader where His mercy will extend toward us. And regardless of this leader, I pray for the mercy of the Lord to be upon us.

When we know we have worked in the processes and prayed for the Lord's will to be done, when all is concluded, we have the peace to trust the Lord, who is sovereign over all affairs.

Finally, let's pray for one another to remember these five things during the presidential election season.

Dr. Ronnie Floyd has been a pastor for over 37 years. Since 1986, Pastor Floyd has served as the Senior Pastor of Cross Church, Northwest Arkansas, which has baptized over 17,000 people during his tenure. Cross Church was one of the first churches in America to go multisite. In June 2014, Pastor Floyd was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He has authored over 20 books including FORWARD: 7 Distinguishing Marks for Future Leaders, released in 2015.

For the original article, visit pastors.com.

shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Ronnie Floyd ) Communication Thu, 04 Feb 2016 22:00:00 -0500
5 Levels of Why People Will Listen to You http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/communication/22543-5-levels-of-why-people-will-listen-to-you http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/communication/22543-5-levels-of-why-people-will-listen-to-you

When people sit in a chair and listen to you for 30 minutes or three hours, what keeps them in that chair?

It's never wise to assume or take for granted that people are listening as you talk. As a communicator, it's always good to remember that people have a choice about whether or not they will continue listening to you over time.

Chris Huff, longtime colleague and friend on staff at 12StoneĀ® Church, gave me a great idea about how to address this subject in five levels. In fact, it's connected to my mentor and friend John Maxwell's "5 Levels of Leadership" but with a twist from leadership to communication.

So what if we integrate the levels of influence with communication? Then use that as a tool to assess, and intentionally become a better communicator.

This works for both personal and platform communication.

Let's jump in, and keep in mind that each of these levels build on the last; they do not stand on their own.

Level 1—People listen to you because they have to. We've all known a teacher or professor we continued to listen to only because we had to. Or perhaps you've had a boss at work, and the only reason you listened was because you had no choice.

This also takes place with church leaders, and pastors in particular. Perhaps you are new to the church or new to a position, and you are now in charge. You have a title, so people need to listen to you.

If you are in your early 20s and have little experience, it's almost impossible to be a highly skilled communicator yet. That's understandable and people will grant you some time, but you can't stay at that level for long.

The key skill to develop is your ability to connect with those you talk to. Be real, be yourself and speak from your heart to their hearts. (Rather than from your head to their heads.) Rise above your fears and insecurities in order to put the needs of people before your own.

Level 2—People listen to you because they want to. When you learn to connect with people genuinely as you speak, they listen to you because they like you, and they want to hear what you have to say. They trust you, and you bring a sense of encouragement to their lives. At this level, you are learning to use humor and inspiration as communication skills. The people may not actually be better, but you do help them feel better, and that's a good start.

The key skill to develop is credibility. In order for people to move from liking you to respecting you as a communicator, you must learn to make things happen. As a communicator, the primary skill required here is the ability to cast a compelling vision.

This is the beginning of truly moving people.

Level 3—People listen to you because you are good at what you do. When you learn to inspire people to action, whether in a one-to-one setting, or from the stage, you are becoming a master communicator. You are beginning to move from helping people feel better, to helping people take steps toward change. For example, it's much easier to give a talk that helps people understand and agree with a principle like generosity, than it is to inspire people to actually give of their financial resources to kingdom work.

This is a great place to be as a communicator, but it lacks something the very best communicators practice.

The key skill to develop is how to let people know you want more for them than from them. No doubt that's been your heart from the beginning, but it doesn't necessarily always come across that way. It's not just about helping the church grow, which is a great endeavor; after all, it's God's church. But as a communicator matures, the emphasis becomes about helping the people grow more than helping the church grow. That's a tough transition for most of us to make.

Level 4—People listen to you because of the value you add to their life. This is where communicating becomes a true art form and requires great preparation and effort. Most communicators can add value to their listeners here and there, but few can do it consistently time after time. At this level, you not only have included connection, encouragement, humor, inspiration and credibility, but you now begin consistently to add insightful content that is truly transforming in a life-changing way. You are consistently making a difference personally for those who listen to you.

Communication is kind of like a golf swing. There are so many elements to a great swing, and if you have to think of each one during a stroke, it just doesn't work. It becomes mechanical, not natural and you send the ball into the trees. But for the pro golfer who incorporates the full swing naturally, the ball just sails on to its intended mark.

The key skill to develop is consistency.

Level 5—People listen to you because of who you are. The difference between level 4 and level 5 is that you have done level 4 for a very long time! Like a Bill Hybels, John Maxwell or Kevin Myers, who have done this for decades ... You have invested in people's lives for so long, and consistently added value. With the help of God's favor and power, you have inspired lasting transformation by what you say and how you say it, so now people listen out of gratitude and respect for who you are.

So where are you in the levels of communication? What is the next step for you to improve?

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 danreiland.com.

shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Dan Reiland ) Communication Thu, 28 Jan 2016 19:00:00 -0500
How to Mic a Guest Speaker http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/communication/22462-how-to-mic-a-guest-speaker http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/communication/22462-how-to-mic-a-guest-speaker

You could put a lapel mic on anyone in seven seconds. An ear-worn microphone might take a little longer. But this isn't a rodeo. You don't win anything for the fastest time. Most of all, the person being miked is already uncomfortable and a quick accosting just makes it worse.

Let's jump into the shoes of the guest speaker. You are Molly, a church member back from a mission trip to Uganda and asked to give a report of the experience. You are nervous. Enter the sound tech, whom you have never met, a few minutes before the service.

Tech: "Here's your microphone. Clip it on your shirt." [Tech walks away]

You are left holding the lapel mic and the wireless pack, now confused and nervous.

Now, let's play out the scenario in a much different way.

[Tech comes up to you 10 minutes before the service.]

Tech: "Hi, I'm Chris Huff, and I need to set you up with a microphone. How are you doing this morning?"

Molly: "A little nervous. I've never talked in front of this many people before."

Tech: "I was told you're speaking about your Uganda trip. What was the best part of the trip?"

At this point, the tech is building a relationship with you and asking you about the event. They want you to know they've got your back and by you telling a story, you are relaxing a little bit, taking your mind off the idea of public speaking. Note they are asking for a good story, not "What was the scariest part?" Would you really want to recall a scary time when you are already nervous?

Molly: [Tells the story.]

Tech: "That sounds like a great trip, I can't wait to hear more. I need to set you up with a microphone and once I've done that, you won't have to worry about doing anything with it, OK?"

Tech: "I have a little microphone that clips to the front of your blouse. It attaches to this cable and this little pack that can clip to your pants or to a pocket or wherever you find comfortable. This cable can either run outside your shirt or inside, it's up to you. Hiding the cable gives a professional look." (Note the use of the word "you" so they feel they have control.)

Molly: "Umm, how does the cable go inside my shirt?"

Tech: "That's easy, you drop the cable down and put the end out. Then, you connect the wireless pack."

Molly: "OK, now where exactly should I clip the microphone?"

Tech: "I'll show you."

[Tech drops his chin to his neck, places a fist below and then puts his finger on the spot.]

[Tech hands you the lapel mic and cable so you can clip it on and run the cable.]

Tech: "If you'll hand me the plug end of that cable, we'll finish this up."

[Tech plugs cable into the wireless pack with the power on and muted on the console.]

Tech: "Here is the pack, where would you like it?"

Molly: "I'll just clip it to my pocket."

Tech: "Perfect. You don't need to worry about turning it on as I control all of that."

[Tech has either locked the transmitter in the ON position or placed tape over the switch.]

Tech: "I look forward to hearing more about your trip."

As a tech, miking a guest is part of our job. Put the mic on the guest, and then you're done. What the guest needs from us is trust and confidence. They need to trust the microphone will work when they talk, that it will stay in place, and that everything will be OK. Call it a pep talk. Call it a confidence booster.

Miking a guest isn't about turning in the "fastest miking time," it's about recognizing public speaking is the second-highest fear, just behind flying, and you have the opportunity to minister to that person before they step on the stage.  

Chris Huff is the author of Audio Essentials for Church Sound and writes on church audio production at behindthemixer.com.

webmaster@strang.com (Chris Huff) Communication Mon, 25 Jan 2016 22:00:00 -0500
How Much Does Evangelism Cost? http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/evangelism/22524-how-much-does-evangelism-cost http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/evangelism/22524-how-much-does-evangelism-cost

I believe one of the reasons so few churches engage in outreach is because they ask the wrong question. Too often, the first question asked is, "How much will it cost?" The right question is, "Who will it reach?"

How much is a soul worth? If you spend $100 on a Facebook ad that reaches one unbeliever for Christ, is it worth it?

If your church gets serious about developing a comprehensive evangelism strategy, it will cost money! With this in mind, let me share some insights about financing your strategy, based upon my experiences as Saddleback grew from four members to well over 20,000.

First, money spent on evangelism is never an "expense;" it's always an investment. The people you reach will more than repay the cost you invested to reach them. Before we held the first service of Saddleback, the people in our small home Bible study went about $6,500 in debt preparing for that service. Where did we get the money? We used our personal credit cards! We believed the offerings of the people we reached for Christ would eventually enable everyone to be paid back.

One of the "miracles" of our dress rehearsal service was that a man who had not attended our home Bible study came to that first service gave a check for a thousand dollars when we took the offering. After it was over, the woman in charge of counting the offering came up and showed me the check. I said, "This is going to work!" Sure enough, we paid everyone back within four months. (Please note: I'm not advocating that your church use credit cards to finance it! I'm just trying to illustrate how willing we were to pay the cost of reaching people for Christ.)

Often when finances get tight in a church, the first thing cut is the evangelism and advertising budget. That is the last thing you should cut. It is the source of new blood and life for your church.

Second, people give to vision, not to need.  If "need" motivated people to give, every church would have plenty of money. It is not the neediest institutions that attract contributions, but those with the greatest vision. Churches that are making the most of what they've got attract more gifts. That's why Jesus said, "It is always true that those who have, get more, and those who have little, soon lose even that" (Luke 19:26, LB).

If your church is constantly short on cash, check out your vision. Is it clear? Is it being communicated effectively? Money flows to God-given, Holy Spirit-inspired ideas. Churches with money problems really have a vision problem.

Third, when you spend nickels and dimes on evangelism, you get nickel and dime results. Do you remember the story about the time Jesus told Peter to go find money in a fish's mouth in order to pay the Roman taxes? In Matthew 17:27 (NIV) Jesus told Peter, "... go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin."

I believe there is an important lesson in that story: The coin was in the mouth of the fish! If you'll focus on fishing (evangelism), God will pay your bills!

Fourth, remember that "God's work done God's way will not lack God's support." This was the famous motto of the great missionary strategist, Hudson Taylor.

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 best-seller 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 Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.

For the original article, visit pastors.com.

shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Rick Warren ) Evangelism Tue, 19 Jan 2016 13:00:00 -0500
How to Overcome Church Planting Barriers http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/church-growth/22514-how-to-overcome-church-planting-barriers http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/church-growth/22514-how-to-overcome-church-planting-barriers

I have yet to meet a church planter who hasn't faced a growth barrier. I also haven't met a church planter who is OK with that barrier holding them back from what God has placed in their heart.

This is why I'm excited about the Breaking Barriers pre-conference event at Exponential East this year. Church planters bump up against a number of different growth barriers (volunteer base, small group development, weekend attendance, finances, adding service & sites, multiplying plants, etc).

After coming to Christ in college, I ended up at a church plant that was all about planting more churches. There's no doubt that God used this time not only to grow in my walk with Him but also forming my call to church planting.

After finishing college and seminary, my wife and I loaded up the U-haul and moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to plant epikos church in 2005. We started in our living room, but even after one year post launch we were under 80 attendees, our annual offering was $40,000, and we were desperate for volunteers. There were amazing stories of people coming to Christ and experiencing great life transformation. There were also times of discouragement and questioning whether epikos could be able to sustain itself long term. 

I specifically remember one summer Sunday when only about 30 people were in attendance, we had half a worship team and my sermon reflected the amount of time I put into it. I was angry at the launch team, I was frustrated with the lack of commitment of attendees, and most of all disappointed with my own ability to lead this church.

My wife was certain that when I came home from service that Sunday that I would suggest bringing the church plant to a close and get a "real job" somewhere else (I didn't know she was thinking this at the time—she told me five years later!) As discouraged as I was, I actually wasn't thinking of quitting at all. I firmly believed that God had called me to plant this church and that greater impact was still possible. I just needed some help to turn some things around.

My Converge church-planting coaches were a tremendous help to, first of all, identify those things that were tripping me up, and then, secondly offering different ways to grow through the challenges. Ten years later we are now 2,000 in attendance, have over a $1.5 million dollar yearly budget, have a thriving small group network, and get to help plant churches in Milwaukee.

The Breaking Barriers pre-conference will discuss a spectrum of solutions and strategies to prepare for and overcome growth barriers. It's been through coaching, and the growth of our plant that I've recognized some groupings of growth barriers that I will share.

Tactical: These are often the very practical things that can be done to help break certain barriers. Especially early on as a planter there are a number of small things that will make a big difference in growth. For example, I remember one of my Converge coaches advising me on something so basic that I almost dismissed him for exaggerating its importance. When I followed through on his simple recommendation, our yearly giving almost doubled.

Structural: You can pretty much count on having to reorganize every time you break a certain barrier. There are no permanent fixes because the structure is set up only to take you to the next level and once you hit that level you must readjust. As a planter you are probably wired to adjust leading growth through an organization requires understanding some basic principles of change management theory and organizational scalability.

Personal: One of the biggest barriers to the church's growth is the planter's own self-leadership. This is the most difficult, and unfortunately doesn't come in an A+B+C formula. But it's also not so elusive and mysterious that one can't be intentional about working on it.

This category deals with our relationship with God, our calling, our giftedness, and our identity in Christ. Growth doesn't happen organically, and if the leader isn't constantly growing the church will have difficulty too. This requires being honest and exploring some of the shadow sides of leadership.

As we talk about growth barriers we'll also discuss how these pertain to becoming a Level 5 Multiplying Church. We will caution against superficial growth so as to focus on growth that produces true disciples and multiplies healthy churches. Todd Wilson talks in his book (Becoming Five) about going from scarcity, to addition, to multiplication. 

Many of the principals from this pre-conference will position church planters to become Level 5 churches. Multiple church planters will be contributing to this discussion to give a wide range of experience towards breaking growth barriers, and we look forward to engaging anyone who wants to hit that next level!

Click here for more information and on how to register for the Exponential East 2016 Conference.

For the original article, visit pastors.com.

shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Danny Parolee) Church Growth Mon, 18 Jan 2016 19:00:00 -0500
Uncensored: Daring to Embrace the Entire Bible From the Pulpit http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/communication/22456-uncensored http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/communication/22456-uncensored

The entire Bible—from "In the beginning" to "Amen"—sings of one overarching story, like a multipart ensemble supporting one another's voices in a unified oratorio. In it, we see God's manifold wisdom displayed as a multifaceted, beautiful tapestry of truth and love. No color is missing. No voice is flat.

Unfortunately, pastors in the American church have too often cherry-picked from the Scriptures those warm and fuzzy verses that make us feel good. In so doing, we functionally ignore the other "difficult" or "embarrassing" portions, leaving them behind. To be sure, the Bible is full of passages that make many of us blush and squirm: Israelites stoned adulterers, God told Israel to kill whole people groups, and Jesus taught that people go to hell. All of these texts (and many more) have led some to simply abandon Scripture altogether.

But for those pastors who truly affirm that "all Scripture is breathed out by God" (2 Tim. 3:16) for our profit, joy, knowledge and salvation through Christ, we humbly embrace the entire Bible. Or do we?

Not long ago, as I flipped through the Psalms in my Bible, I noticed something disturbing. I had underlined and highlighted those passages that communicated God's steadfast love, His gracious care and the joyful praise of His people. At times, my red pen seemed to hum along in a triumphal ink-letting until I hit, "Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God" (Ps. 139:19).

That's when it stopped. My pen did a hop, skip and jump to "and lead me in the way everlasting" (v. 24). Looking through other portions of my Bible, I noticed the same trend. From Genesis to Malachi, Matthew to Revelation, it seemed as though I didn't want to read the offensive and edgy. I didn't want to ponder the scientific improbability of the sun standing still (Josh. 10:13) or why the man with crushed testicles wasn't allowed to enter the assembly of worship (Deut. 23:1). It seemed as though I wanted to run from the historical creation account of Adam and Eve like those loonies running from the bulls in Pamplona. Am I embarrassed by the Bible?

Cherry-Picking the Scriptures

Many self-professing Christians today cherry-pick the Scriptures for a feel-good faith without realizing they're doing it—and their pastors don't help. This type of churchgoing, John 3:16-affirming picker is oftentimes "functionally embarrassed" by the Bible. We're not openly or blatantly embarrassed by Scripture, but we functionally reveal our embarrassment of the truth of the Bible by affirming, discussing, quoting and preaching only certain passages while overlooking many others. Let me give you a few examples.

Some of these onward-Christian pickers march into cultural wars with their unashamed condemnation of one or two social evils (such as homosexuality or abortion) to cover up their functional embarrassment of other offensive and seemingly archaic portions of the Bible. Others simply don't see the inconsistency. For example, what does a red-letter edition of the Bible really communicate? For many, it subconsciously communicates the lie that the words of Jesus are more important than other inspired words in the biblical text.

My daughter loves the Berenstain Bears books, especially The Forgiving Tree. When we read before bed, she often reaches for this book. Not long ago, I opened the cover and read, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you." Bring out the fuzzies! It's a wonderful quote from Matthew 6:14. But notice that the publisher left out the second part of Jesus's instruction: "But if you do not forgive men for their sins, neither will your Father forgive your sins" (v. 15). Ouch. You see, it's fine to rally around the glowing reminder that our heavenly Father forgives us when we sin, and we should! But we don't want the nagging reminder that if we don't (or won't) forgive others, God won't forgive us.

Several years ago, I was invited to speak at a conference for a church in Philadelphia. As I engaged in worship with their community, I noticed something rather unusual, at least to me. The people stood for the reading of the Bible out of reverence for God's Word (which I loved!) but only for readings from the Gospels. When they read from an Old Testament passage or from one of Paul's epistles, they remained seated. Was it because Luke's account of the life of Jesus was "holier" than Genesis, a book that Jesus Himself considered inspired text? When I asked my host why we stood for only the Gospel readings, he said he didn't know. It hadn't even crossed his mind.

As a "recovering picker" myself, I'm not suggesting that you join your local chapter of Pickers Anonymous (if there were such a thing). But I am suggesting that we take an honest evaluation of ourselves as pastors  before God.

Making God in Our Image

One of the main areas that we "censor" in the Bible is the full character of God. From a casual survey of the American landscape, it seems that we like certain attributes of God (His love, grace and so on) but not others. Many self-professing Christians prefer a tame, cuddly, grandpa-like god to God as revealed in the pages of Scripture. We're embarrassed when we read that God "shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked" (Is. 11:4). Then—like a televised version of an R-rated movie—we bleep out the bad parts, "creating" a new god in the process. Sometimes  pastors are as guilty of this as their church members.

But we are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) not the other way around. He is the Creator, and we are the creation. He is the Potter, and we are the clay. By His grace, He molds and forms us into the likeness and holiness of His Son. Oh, how the American church and its leadership need to reclaim a God-centered faith—one that begins with the freedom and glory of God, not the freedom and glory of man.
Again, we may not intentionally aim to censor the Scriptures, but we functionally do this without realizing it. We functionally proclaim the half-counsel of God.

Swinging for the Fence

Growing up, I had what you might call a "little-man" complex. My friends labeled me "Small Fry" at an early age, and I made it my mission to prove them wrong. While I loved soccer and running—which came naturally to me—I wanted to play baseball. But because I lacked the natural faculty to stay calm and stationary, my dad (rightly) insisted that I get my energy out running after a soccer ball rather than standing in the outfield and waiting for a ball to come my way. Thus, my high school baseball career found an outlet in PE class.

During PE, the students converged on the diamond to choose teams, which I hated. Yes, I was that nervous last pick, impatiently waiting for the makeshift draft to end. When I stepped up to the plate, however, I wanted to overcome my little-man complex, and so I would swing with all my might. I believed in swinging for the fence—go big or go home—but I always struck out.

Many Christians today believe in swinging for the fence. They want to be passionate, "sold-out," radical followers of Jesus, but they're giving their all for the wrong god. Just because some people are passionate doesn't mean their lifestyles are healthy or right. You can be passionate about all sorts of unhealthy, harmful things, such as mullets, porn or the mysterious McRib sandwich. When we invent a god in our image—like a divine buddy who is at times weak, pouty and needy—we are no longer talking about the God of the Bible.

A number of years ago, my wife and I bought a house in Atlanta—one that the real estate agent called a "handyman special." She told us that the "bones" were structurally sound; it just needed some TLC. With my handy-dandy DeWalt drill in one hand and a paintbrush in the other, I got to work! The daunting project, however, quickly became a fund-raising program for my local Home Depot. Despite my lack of carpentry and plumbing skills, I felt empowered by Home Depot's slogan, "You can do it. We can help." I kept telling myself, "I can do it!" My wife wasn't so sure.

It's a bad day, however, when the church begins taking its theology from a home-improvement store. I sometimes listen to sermons from TV preachers or skim through their New York Times best-sellers, and when I do, I seem to hear Home Depot's slogan in the back of my head, but with a twist: "You can do it. God can help."

The message in many of these sermons, books and blogs is simple: You and your efforts can earn God's blessing. If you're in a pickle, just pull yourself out (what the Reformers might have called sola boot-strapia!). With a dash of God's help and a sprinkle of Dr. Phil, you can achieve anything! If you just have enough faith, God will reward you with health, wealth and prosperity. That's right, friend (cough), no harm will come to you if you really believe in Jesus! Try selling that to Jesus' disciples.

Home Depot theology, simply put, is idolatry—magnifying the gifts of God above the Giver Himself. It's like the prodigal son wanting his father's possessions but not the father. In the end, the subtle "You can do it; God can help," message puts the positive spin of self-help in the place of Scripture, covering it up like a fig leaf.

But we need to teach our people that God is not their co-pilot. Jesus doesn't take the wheel when we hit a patch of ice. Our Lord isn't standing outside in the cold and rain just waiting for you to bring Him in. He's El Shaddai, God Almighty, who lives and reigns as the sovereign and self-sufficient triune God of all eternity. He uses His disciples in His mission on earth not because He needs us but because He loves us.

Embracing the Whole Counsel

The apostle Paul proclaimed, "I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). He preached Christ crucified from both easy and difficult texts of Scripture because he understood that—while the Holy Spirit led him to communicate God's revealed will (2 Pet. 1:21, 3:15-16)—he was not the arbiter of truth.

Paul's task was not to censor the Scriptures in hopes that people would be saved by hearing a partial gospel; his task was to preach the whole counsel of God because "faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). When we as pastors censor the Scriptures for a feel-good faith, we snub the authority of Christ.

When I question or decide which passages to preach on, I can miss out on the truth that sets my church free. When we avoid the biblical practice of church discipline, for example, we miss out on the joy of seeing wayward sinners reclaimed or seeing Christ establishing greater peace and purity in His bride. When we avoid the doctrine of hell in our preaching and teaching, we miss the experience of gratitude for what we are saved from and the hope of what we are saved for.

Jesus didn't call us to a halfhearted, partially committed, self-empowering journey called "Christianity"; He called us to deny ourselves, take up His cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23). This is nothing less than the electric chair for our flesh. Pastors need to put to death our fear of man—to be accepted by the world—and return to a right fear of God, who didn't waste words when He gave us His Word. Jesus calls us into an upside-down kingdom, where we die to live, give up to gain and worship a King who wore a crown of thorns not gold. Embracing the entire Bible acknowledges Him as the everlasting author of truth, the Bulwark never failing.

The beauty of the gospel is that our sin is no match for God's grace. Pastor, if you've been guilty (as I have) of censoring the Scriptures in your preaching and teaching, you can take rest in the promise that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Take up your dwelling in the promises of God, humbly confess your sin and thankfully receive His forgiveness—maybe even search out those difficult passages and set up camp beside them. Ask God's Spirit to teach you new and wonderful things in His Word, and share them with your congregation. And as the old hymn reminds us, "The things of this world will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."  

Brian Cosby serves as senior pastor of Wayside Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Signal Mountain, Tennessee, and is a visiting professor of church history at Reformed Theological Seminary, Atlanta. He is the author of numerous books, including Uncensored: Daring to Embrace the Entire Bible (David C Cook, 2015).

webmaster@strang.com (Brian Cosby) Communication Tue, 12 Jan 2016 22:00:00 -0500
6 Early Warning Signs of Church Dropouts http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/church-growth/22501-6-early-warning-signs-of-church-dropouts http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/church-growth/22501-6-early-warning-signs-of-church-dropouts

If everyone who had dropped out of our congregations in the past decade returned, the typical church would triple in worship attendance.

Read that previous sentence carefully. One of the most significant reasons for stagnating and declining attendance is church dropouts.

The most challenging problem is church dropouts rarely return. Reclamation ministry is exceedingly difficult.

Stemming the tide of church dropouts begins before they drop out. And we have an abundance of information that informs us about those who are in danger of dropping out. Here are six of the most common early warning signs, with suggestions to address the issues earlier rather than later.

1. Decreased frequency in attendance. If your small group or Sunday school class does not keep attendance records, please begin doing so. It's not about the numbers per se; it's about ministry to the body of Christ. With good records, you can tell when a person begins to attend less frequently. You can contact the member to ask if there is anything you can do for him or her. Decreased worship attendance is more difficult to discern because records are rarely kept. But it is not unusual to hear church members say they aren't seeing someone as much as they once did. Those casual comments are a call to action.

2. No longer attending a group. If someone stops attending a church altogether, there is an urgent need to contact him or her to see how you might minister to that person. Those who drop out of small groups typically leave the church completely within three months.

3. Decreased giving patterns. Most pastors and church staff do not have access to members' giving records. But those leaders can ask the person or persons who do see the records to let them know if a member has a significant decline in giving. When I was a pastor, our financial secretary did an excellent job of keeping me informed of potential needs. I would typically take the person to lunch. In every case, I did not bring up the giving issue. But in every case, I discovered the ministry need that precipitated the decline in giving.

4. Major participant in a church conflict. There are, unfortunately, some church members who are constant complainers and conflict creators. If you, however, see church members get involved in a conflict for the first time, watch them carefully. Their involvement in conflict goes against their more peaceful nature. They may be embarrassed, ashamed or just plain weary about their involvement. They see exiting the church as their best resolution to the problem.

5. Family problems. Too many church members are embarrassed when family problems occur. They fear the church will be judgmental rather than redemptive. Church members need to know there is a safe place or person with whom they can share their problems and needs.

6. Moral failure. Those who are involved in moral failure are the most likely to drop out of church life. Some of them do not want to change their lifestyle and repent. Others do not see the church as a place to confess and be restored. Too many churches do not know how to deal with members involved in moral failure.

Reclamation ministries, seeking to get those who dropped out active again in church life, are worthwhile. They are, however, very difficult with low success rates. It is much better to deal with dropout issues before dropout actually takes place.

Let me hear about dropout issues in your church. What are your challenges? What are your solutions?

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

shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Thom S. Rainer) Church Growth Tue, 12 Jan 2016 13:00:00 -0500
Why Your Church Outreach Depends on Change http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/communication/22468-why-your-church-outreach-depends-on-change http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/communication/22468-why-your-church-outreach-depends-on-change

We like change that directly benefits us—a promotion, a new home, marrying our dream mate and so on. But we're terrified of change that threatens our sense of stability, security or significance. Having been a pastor for 18 years, I've seen my share of missed opportunities for growth resulting from the fear of taking risks that might cost our comfort.

God is living, active and dynamic. Furthermore, He is sovereign. We like to treat God as a product—apply, rinse and repeat—who will give us the same results forever as long as we never change the way we use Him. But God has a tendency to be elusive, calling us out of our comfort zones and drawing us into the sometimes crazy adventure of following Him on His terms, not ours.

Growth and forward momentum are created by significant catalytic changes. We've watched this already in the short life of Grace Hills Church. We started meeting in an office building with about 30 people. When we moved to a local hotel, we grew to 70. When we launched in our first movie theater location, 174 showed up and we averaged 120 for the first six months. We added a second service and grew to 200. This year, we moved to a different movie theater and have had an average attendance of 240. We've seen the same thing as we've added staff.

In my personal life, I can look back at the greatest moments of spiritual growth and can see that, in general, they align with unexpected changes in my life. These changes included when I met my wife, surrendered to ministry, started Bible college, had kids, moved to Arkansas, to California and back to Arkansas again. It isn't that we should thrust ourselves into constant chaos and instability. It's just that moments of transition lend themselves to more intense transformation for our souls.

I get asked by many church leaders a rather basic and heartfelt question: How can we grow? How can we reach more people? How can we bring to life a seemingly dying movement? And my answer is always the same, generally speaking: change.

I'll be accused of being too pragmatic, but I find great biblical precedent for this principle. God moved Abraham from Ur, Joseph from Canaan, Moses from Egypt to the desert and back again, David from the field to the palace to the cave to Hebron and finally to Jerusalem, Nehemiah from Susa to Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, Paul to Antioch and more. You get the picture.

God even allowed great persecution to hit the church in its early days in Jerusalem (Acts 8). Why? To force them from their comfort zone out to every nation with the Good News.

Yes, I know some things must never change. The central message of the gospel of King Jesus and all of the truth that God has revealed in His Word, the Bible, is forever perfect and never in need of editing. But the culture around us is in a constant state of flux, and our method of communicating eternal truth must be adapted to each new generation or we risk irrelevance and obsolescence.

The gates of hell stand no chance at all of prevailing against the beautiful bride of Christ—the church. But each church must have the courage to change the nonbiblical dynamics of its approach to a lost culture, which means leaders must be bold and courageous and embrace the pain of change for the win of seeing more people brought into the family of God.

Henry Blackaby wrote in his book Experiencing God: "Once you come to believe God, you demonstrate your faith by what you do. Some action is required. ... You cannot continue life as usual or stay where you are, and go with God at the same time. ... To go from your ways, thoughts and purposes to God's will always requires a major adjustment. God may require adjustments in your circumstances, relationships, thinking, commitments, actions and beliefs. Once you have made the necessary adjustments, you can follow God in obedience. Keep in mind—the God who calls you is also the One who will enable you to do His will."

If you want your church to grow—and you should, if you take the Great Commission seriously—then you'll have to change. Period.  

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

webmaster@strang.com (Brandon Cox) Communication Tue, 05 Jan 2016 22:00:00 -0500
2 Major But Under-the-Radar Changes in American Churches http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/facilities/22489-2-major-but-under-the-radar-changes-in-american-churches http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/facilities/22489-2-major-but-under-the-radar-changes-in-american-churches

I never would have predicted these changes to take place so rapidly. Indeed I am surprised to be writing about them today as major changes. But they are a growing reality.

The two major changes have a similar theme: decentralization. The first is a decentralization of facilities. The second is a decentralization of leadership. Let's look at each of these major shifts.

Decentralization of Facilities

Just ten years ago, you could count on 99 percent of churches to have a singular address. All of the church's buildings were at one location. Most churches had their groups or Sunday school classes at that same location. Though it was biblically errant to say so, many people referred to the one location as "the church."

Today, a growing number of churches have multiple locations. Among megachurches, those congregations with an average worship attendance of 2,000 or more, the move to the multisite model has been dramatic. Just ten years ago, 27 percent of megachurches were multisite. Today the number is 62 percent! Such a massive change is breathtaking.

But the multisite model is not limited to large churches. More and more medium and small churches are moving to this model as well.

Further decentralization of facilities is evident in where small groups meet. The most common sites ten years ago were in classrooms at the singular address. Now home groups and other off-site groups are becoming normative.

Decentralization of Leadership

Though many churches have had a plurality of leadership for years, the trend toward decentralization of leadership has become more common.

For example, in multi-staff churches ten years ago, the pastor was either known as "pastor" or "senior pastor." But the label "lead pastor" has become normative in a plurality of churches today.

The leader who was a senior pastor was often perceived to be at the top of an organization chart. "Senior" thus referred to the person at the pinnacle of an hierarchal system.

"Lead pastor" is a move toward decentralization. In most cases, the title refers to a person who is a leader among equals. If that sounds like an oxymoron, it was intended to be so. The lead pastor is on a team of peers, but one person is deemed to be the "greater equal" on the team. Churches with lead pastors typically shy away from the traditional organization chart that has a pastor as the senior most person in the church. Decentralization of leadership is thus becoming more common.

The Reasons for Decentralization

Sometimes decentralization is simply a practical solution. For example, a church may discover a better use of stewardship by starting a second site rather than building a larger worship center. Or some pastors may pick up the title of lead pastor because others have moved in that direction.

At the core of these changes, though, is a desire to move away from centralization. And this trend may be one of the most significant trends of the American church in a century. I will share the profound implications of this trend in an upcoming podcast.

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

shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Thom S. Rainer ) Facilities Mon, 04 Jan 2016 13:00:00 -0500
LifeWay Study Reveals Some Encouraging News About God's Church http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/church-growth/22483-lifeway-study-reveals-some-encouraging-news http://ministrytodaymag.com/outreach/church-growth/22483-lifeway-study-reveals-some-encouraging-news

America is launching new Protestant churches faster than it loses old ones, attracting many people who previously didn't attend anywhere, new LifeWay Research studies show.

More than 4,000 new churches opened their doors in 2014, outpacing the 3,700 that closed, according to estimates from the Nashville-based research organization based on input from 34 denominational statisticians.

On average, 42 percent of those worshiping at churches launched since 2008 previously never attended church or hadn't attended in many years, LifeWay Research finds in an analysis of 843 such churches from 17 denominations and church planting networks.

The church planting study indicates newly planted churches are more effective than existing ones at drawing people who aren't connected with a church, said Ed Stetzer, LifeWay Research executive director.

"In winning new converts to Christ, church plants are light-years ahead of the average church because of their focus on reaching the unchurched," Stetzer said.

Characteristics of success

Successful church launches have several factors in common, the 2015 National Church Planting Study shows:

  • Meeting in a public space. New churches meeting in schools have significantly higher worship attendance than other new churches, report more new first-time commitments to Christ, and are more likely to become financially self-sufficient.
  • Focusing on outreach. New churches offering sports leagues, social gatherings and children's special events are significantly more likely than other startups to be congregations with a majority of people who previously did not attend church.
  • Supporting their leaders. Adequate compensation and health insurance for the church planter are linked to higher worship attendance and a greater likelihood of financial independence for the new church.
  • Starting more churches. New churches that invest in church planting and launch at least one additional new church in the first five years report higher worship attendance and more new commitments to Christ.

"Healthy new churches have an outward focus from day one, communicating every month that the goal is to be a multiplying church," Stetzer said.

Back to Basics

Though some pastors bristle at new churches coming into their community, they have more to learn—and less to fear—from the startup down the street, Stetzer said.

One lesson is the value of time-tested methods. While most church plants use the Internet for outreach, 77 percent say word of mouth and personal relationships are the most effective forms of publicity. Only 6 percent say social media is most effective. Nearly two-thirds of new churches (63 percent) say Bible study is their primary small group activity.

church-planting-publicity-300x272"It's not the most innovative things that matter most. It's the nuts and bolts," Stetzer said.

"An existing church can take notice and ask, 'Hey, are we doing those things? Are we making sure people in the community know we exist? Are we inviting people to come and making them feel welcome and all those things a church plant does?'"

In addition, Stetzer said, new churches can attract demographic groups that may be largely unreached by existing ones. Sixty percent of church plants aim to reach a cross-cultural or multiethnic group of people from the outset.

"It takes multiple methods to reach a diverse population," Stetzer said. "The United States from its founding has been a very diverse population. A one-size-fits-all church has never been part of the American equation.

"As much as ever, we need different approaches to reach different types of people."

Additional reports from the study will be available at NewChurches.com.

The 2015 National Church Planting Study report analyzes 843 churches started in 2008 or later that continue to exist today. The study was sponsored by 17 denominations and church planting networks that participate in the Church Planting Leadership Fellowship: Assemblies of God, Baptist Missionary Association of America, Center for U.S. Missions (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod), Christian and Missionary Alliance, Converge Worldwide, Evangelical Free Church of America, Free Methodist Church USA, International Pentecostal Holiness Church, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Texas District, New Thing Network, North American Mission Board (Southern Baptist Convention), Presbyterian Church in America, Project Jerusalem, Path1 (United Methodist Church), Southern Baptists of Texas, Vineyard Church, and The Wesleyan Church. Lists of church plants were provided by the sponsors and the Church of the Nazarene and the Missionary Church. From May-August 2015, planters were individually invited to complete the online survey by email, phone, and postcard. Factors associated with church planting success were determined after controlling for church demographics, denomination/church planting network, U.S. state, church planter characteristics and other characteristics.

Estimates of the number of 2014 Protestant church starts and closures are based on unofficial reports LifeWay Research gathered from 34 denominations that represent 55 percent of U.S. Protestant churches. The pattern in this large sample was applied to the non-reporting and non-denominational groups to provide the overall estimate.

For the original article, visit lifewayresearch.com.

shawn.akers@charismamed.com (Lisa Cannon Green) Church Growth Wed, 30 Dec 2015 19:00:00 -0500