Fellow pastors and church leaders, we are in a battle for souls. The Bible encourages us to “endure hardship as a soldier.”
This is not to say that we are at war with people, and we need to be very careful to realize that the war we are involved in is spiritual in nature. In fact, the war we are engaged in is far more important than any earthly one. The implications of our war are eternal.
Victory is not a matter of who will be in charge politically or who will control natural resources. It’s a battle that will determine how many people we can rescue from sin forever. We’re talking about souls for eternity.
Once you make the decision that small groups will be your primary (or only) delivery system for connection and discipleship, it only makes sense to look for ways to accelerate small group ministry growth and impact.
Recently I was visiting a church in the heart of a retirement community. The pastor got up and was astoundingly relevant. “There are five ways we tell you what’s going on here,” he said. He held up his hand and counted on his fingers: “The bulletin, the sign, the website, our mailer and announcements.”
He paused and then joked, “If you still don’t know what’s going on, then I have a hunch you’re just not with it!”
I don’t know if this was the pastor’s typical practice, but as a guest, it was a huge leg up in knowing where to find the information about how to get involved.
Recently the Table Project, a private social network for your church, announced that it was being acquired by Gateway Church in Dallas. Now Gateway is a big church—one of the fastest-growing in the country, with more than 25,000 people. But a church acquiring a tech company? That’s different.
I love seeing the church do more than Sunday morning. I love seeing the church do more than VBS or neighborhood outreach. I love seeing the church do more than missions. All of those things are great, but I especially love seeing churches giving back to other churches.
In 1999, the company I worked for was acquired by the world’s largest insurance broker, which was based in Manhattan. I was appointed the chief information officer of one of the subsidiaries and began a 10-year period of commuting from Seattle to my office on the 50th floor in the south tower in the World Trade Center.
I was one of more than 1,700 employees from four subsidiaries that were housed in the north and south towers. We lost 376 staff and contractors the morning of 9/11. Many were my friends and colleagues.
Loss is hard. Although everyone handles grief differently, I’m convinced that nobody handles it easily.
One of the ways that Christ comforts His children is through His body—the church. Romans 12:15 reminds us to “weep with those who weep” (ESV). After all, that’s what Jesus did. When His friend Lazarus died, He wept with Mary and Martha over their loss (John 11:35).
So when Jesus gives us, His ambassadors on earth, an opportunity to represent Him through comforting those experiencing loss; we must not take it lightly. That’s why I think it is vital that every church think through their own “care plan” now.
How to use today’s real-time connectivity and community to extend your church’s reach
Last month was my birthday. Because of social media like Facebook, I got more birthday wishes than I ever got cards in the mail. A few weeks ago a friend of one of my friends was in dire straights. Her husband had been in a motorcycle wreck and lay in a coma in the hospital, yet people instantly began praying for him.
Because of Facebook and how connected we are today with smartphones and tablets, we can hear about and respond to the burdens and celebrations of life in real time. Gone are the days of hearing about a prayer request for the first time in the Sunday bulletin.
Church communicators are world changers—or at least they should aspire to be, because that’s the heart of the Great Commission. World changers do three things with regularity. Effective church communicators need to do them too:
1) Build. World changers build things. They build programs, business solutions, and church and nonprofit structures. They build themselves professionally and personally. They’ve learned the difference between building and tweaking. At the heart of building, they’re bringing a new (or borrowed) idea into an existence that can live and breathe in their unique organizational model. Tweaking fixes things. Building creates them. Yes, we need communicators who can tweak and maintain what already exists. But whoever is leading your communications needs to be building.
2) Love. Though building comes naturally to many leaders, loving does not. Yet the cream-of-the-crop world-changing leaders have mastered the ability to communicate love not only for what their team members bring to the organization, but for who they are as humans. Loving the people around them comes in the form of encouraging words (email, text, phone calls, hand-written notes), gifts (a gift card to an employee’s favorite restaurant, iTunes downloads, an unexpected financial bonus, a day off) or quality time (taking an employee out to lunch, a 5-minute pop-in to employees’ offices to check how they’re doing).
3) Communicate. Almost everyone I know thinks they’re a clear and accurate communicator. But just because it makes sense in their mind doesn’t mean it makes sense to everyone else. World changers have learned to clearly express the day-to-day expectations of the people around them.
There are three questions world changers are trying to answer every day in their communications with their people:
Do the people around me know what’s expected of them?
Do the people around me know (as much as I know) where we’re going?
Do the people around me know milestones and deadlines on the calendar?
Not all church communicators can actually communicate well. We know everything there is to know about marketing, but that doesn’t mean it translates to how we work with our team. If you want to be effective, if you want make a lasting impact, you need to communicate properly with your team.
All three of these tasks do not come naturally for anyone. But the implementation of all three is extremely important for everyone. If you don’t build, they won’t feel inspired. If you don’t love, they won’t feel valued. If you don’t communicate, they won’t feel anchored.
World changers are doing all three, increasing in all three and forcing all three. Not just once in a while, but every week. It’s part of their job. It’s part of their routine. As church communicators, you’re working to change the world. If you want to be effective, you need to intentionally build, love and communicate every week.
There is a lot of talk about discipleship these days—and it is about time. Jesus seemed to think discipleship was a big deal, putting it as the heart—and the verb—of the Great Commission to "make disciples of all nations." Yet it seems discipleship has fallen on hard times in many churches in the West—for example, English-speaking places like the U.S., Canada, Australia and England, where there are Christians who are just not as desperate and committed as their sisters and brothers in the Two-Thirds World.
I would go so far as to say that our discipleship model is broken. I would like to suggest some areas where we are broken and hopefully provide some solutions about how to fix them.
When pastors Paul and Andi Andrew made the decision to move with their kids from Sydney to New York City to plant Liberty Church, they only knew two people in the city.
That was 2010, and just a few short years later, what started as a dream has flourished into a dynamic, growing community that is making a difference in NYC and beyond. Here are 10 lessons they learned in urban church planting while starting Liberty Church in New York City.
10 Lessons in Urban Church Planting
1. Churn. Although people tell you to expect turnover as a church plant, we discovered in New York City that it was multiplied, since millions of people move to the city just for a season of their lives. It was our biggest surprise, and as many as 30 percent of our core members left last year not because they didn’t love Liberty Church but because they were moving to another city.
Here is an example of a common question I receive:
My church is not growing. People come, but they do not stay. We’ve analyzed all the majors and feel we are doing what we should, but they do not stay. Any thoughts, please?
I receive something similar almost weekly. I wish I had answers every time. I don’t. Most of the time, I know they can’t afford a consultant (or don’t think they can but should consider the investment), so I try to give them a few suggestions, in the limited time I have, to think through their issues.
Based on research and anecdotal evidence, I estimate that nine out of every 10 churches in America are growing at a slower pace than their communities—if they are growing at all. That is not a good sign for the church in America.
Through the feedback I’ve received on my blog over the past two years, it has become overwhelmingly evident that the spiritual health of churches and pastors is of great concern. Many have asked how to transform the churches in the 90 percent that are not growing into ones like the 10 percent that are.
Recently, Leadership Journal interviewed me about social media, publishing it under the headline: “Not Tweeting? Repent!" So, in light of the fact that I basically called pastors sinners for not being on Twitter, I thought I should share some tips for getting started in social media.
One of the reasons why Saddleback Church has grown over the years is because we have maintained a harmonious atmosphere. When there is a church that loves, it attracts people like a magnet.
When a church really loves, really offers love to each other and those who are welcomed into it, you’d have to lock the doors to keep people out. Because Saddleback is a loving church, we continue to reach out and we continue to grow.
Growth is automatic. All living things grow, and if a church is alive and living, it will grow naturally. The question, if a church isn’t growing, is, “What is keeping it from growing?” If you remove the barriers to growth in your ministry or in the church as a whole, it will automatically grow.
Discipleship is cycling to the top as a priority for many pastors. Many churches are trying to change their culture to one of making disciples. But how would you actually implement a change of that magnitude—especially on a sustainable basis?
I’m a men’s discipleship specialist, but what we’ve learned working with 35,000 churches also applies to discipleship in general. What follows is a plan I shared with a pastor recently. Of course, you can adapt this in many ways:
Here’s what I would do if I were in your shoes. My thought is to keep the plan as focused on discipleship and as simple as possible. The following represents a plan to help each person understand and implement discipleship for themselves and others in three ways (salvation=call, growth=equip, service=send).
One of the best ways to grow is by hearing critiques about yourself from peers and mentors in relationships you trust. But not all criticism is constructive, and even when it is, it can still be hard to receive.
How you do you know which criticism should be taken to heart and which should be dismissed? And how do you respond to each in a way that promotes growth?
I think there are three things to remember when it comes to dealing with criticism in your life.
Discipleship has become quite the buzzword. Books, conferences and writings abound on the topic. Most churches understand the need for discipleship but many are struggling to create effective discipleship strategies. Here are 5 reasons why your discipleship strategy may be stuck:
1. You Don’t Actually Have a Strategy. Most churches claim to have a discipleship strategy. Midweek meetings, Sunday school classes, small groups and other gatherings are frequently mentioned when asked to describe the strategy. Meetings don’t entail a strategy. Churches need a discipleship plan that encompasses everything they do based on their congregation’s specific biblical needs. Leadership teams should ask, “What will it take for our people to take the next steps toward maturity in Christ?” A specific plan should be created based on the answer to this question.
In article in a 1972 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, the Rev. Billy Graham was quoted as saying, “The vast majority of American young people are still alienated, uncommitted, and uninvolved. There is a deep vacuum within them. They are searching for individual identity. They are searching for a challenge and a faith. Whoever captures the imagination of the youth of our generation will change the world. Youth movement of the past have been perverted and led by dictators and demagogues. Perhaps the American young people will be captured by Christ.”
Rev. Graham hit it on the head. He did not go into great detail about the symptoms of the youth crisis. He did not detail the issues of pornography, suicide, depression, self-injury and hopelessness, but he did highlight the core issue. He reminded us that their problems are spiritual in nature.
As president of the ministry my dad, Jimmy Evans, founded, I’ve been serving him for almost a decade. This year, we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of MarriageToday, so I’ve been along for a good portion of the ride. From day one, MarriageToday has always focused on equipping the local church to succeed in the area of marriage. My dad, who has been a pastor for 30 years, frequently says, “The local church is the hope of the world.”
We sincerely believe that. We see our broadcast ministry as the “Air Force” in the battle to save marriage and the local church as the “Army,” with its massive supply of ground troops. We absolutely know that we can’t win this war without strategizing with each other.
The rise of the Internet, new media and mobile technology has ushered church communications into a new digital era. As a result, churches have worked hard to create a flawless user experience, engaged social networks and search engine-optimized websites. But while churches are working hard to keep up with the changing digital culture and reach emerging generations, I fear we’ve left behind a large group of people.
Meet the “unplugged.”
Myth: The unplugged are all senior citizens.
Truth:The unplugged are not just those eligible for the AARP. Simply put, the unplugged are those in our churches who are not regularly visiting the Internet or socially engaged online. They think Facebook is a mystery or a joke. They may have an email address, but they rarely access it. They tend to be employed in vocations that don’t require frequent computer use. To label any one age group as the unplugged is a vague generalization that dismisses the idea that everyone needs access to information despite their tech level.
So, how do we keep up our online strategies while still caring for the unplugged? Think hub and spokes. I look at communications as a bicycle: two wheels move the bicycle forward (online and offline). Just like you use Facebook, Twitter, email and other tools to bring everyone back to key points on your website, use platform announcements, signage, posters, people and other efforts to point the unplugged toward one central hub that hosts all your communication pieces.
Tips for Creating a Central Hub
Designate a central area in your church where all your communication pieces can be found (ie., an information kiosk or visitor center). If this doesn’t already exist somewhere in your space, it’s time to create one.
Determine whether the space should be staffed or stand alone by considering the pros and cons of each option.
Place the hub centrally in your space and visible from as many areas as possible.
Begin With the End in Mind
Undoubtedly, you’ve spent much time thinking through and strategically addressing your online audience. If you haven’t already, consider creating content that can translate easily from web to print. Each page on your website exists because it presents valuable information to the curious churchgoer.
Display the information found on the website on printed cards, recycling web text and adapting the information as needed for an offline audience. Remove the hyperlinks and include any titles of documents to pick up, the name of a person to contact or how to register.
For dynamic online content that changes week to week, such as calendars, blog posts, email campaigns and prayer requests, compile a stapled booklet of printed copies and make it available as a weekly or monthly touchpoint.
Maintain a Simple Event Registration Process
Keep the offline registration process simple, universal and immediate. Rather than coming up with a different way to register every time, create a one-size-fits-all system that people become familiar with, and point them to the same system for every event.
Each time you announce an event from the platform, be sure to have a universal event registration card in the seatback that can be completed and placed in the offering plate.
One church leader recently told me about a huge push they were doing for an event. They had promoted it, then set up stations in their lobby for people to sign up immediatately. A seemingly brilliant idea! The only problem was that all of their stations had MacBook Pros. People wanting to sign up kept looking for a mouse, a click button and couldn’t navigate the “two finger scroll.”
“We walked away knowing that we ‘over-teched’ the process for our audience,” he said.
Use Face Time
Never underestimate the power of a staff member’s personal invite or time spent casting vision for involvement. Communications is every staff member’s job. Full buy-in from your senior leadership is vital for the rest of the staff to jump on board.
Convince senior leaders of the need to be involved in the communications process, as well as the need to promote and use it.
Be sure they are familiar with any systems of recruitment or registration. Do this well in advance.
Craft clear objectives for weekend service conversations between staff and congregation members. Make sure they communicate volunteer needs for upcoming church-wide events, event attendance goals and other pertinent important points.
Some Final Cautions:
Don’t reinvent the wheel. The unplugged typically represent a small percentage of your overall audience. Create a simple, sustainable way for them to have access to the same information the “plugged in” do.
Avoid conflicting systems at all costs. Someone will always want to post a sign-up sheet for something, even if you’ve created a thoughtful process for collecting registrations. Conflicting systems only confuse people and weaken the system.
Remember, it takes both wheels spinning together to make the bicycle move forward, and it takes an online and offline system to move the people in your church toward the unique calling God has for them.
Jon Rogers works with numerous organizations, specializing in communications, graphic design and social media. He is a Creative Missions missionary. Adapted and used with permission from churchmarketingsucks.com.