(Part 2 of 2)
After spending months preparing a comprehensive strategic plan for my congregation. . . after a LOT of research, prayer, and entertaining deep thoughts, I presented my grand plan to the congregation. I was having a great time at this congregation. The people were (and presumably still are) a delightful bunch. We all enjoyed many hours of mutual joy and substantive Christian fellowship. So, it was with great expectation that I made my presentation. They LOVED it — (“of course,” I thought to myself). They really did love it. The problem? Their response was: “That’s a GREAT plan, Pastor, go ahead and do that!”
This speaks to the question I posited last week, What is a 21st Century North American Christian To Do? I can’t, in all honesty, blame them. There was something lacking in my leadership. Perhaps there were many “somethings” wrong! After months of self blame and self loathing, ultimately I embraced for myself what I suggested to you last week, to Remember and Re-evaluate:
Remember: The ministry is not yours but God’s.
Remember: You are also a child of God.
Remember: Your limitations.
Reevaluate Your Course.
Reevaluate Your Priorities.
Once one remembers and reevaluates, what activities should almost every Christian congregation be doing that will help us fulfill the Great Commission? What are those activities my congregation is able to successfully engage in, something even “I” can effectively manage? Here is what I have discovered:
Sacrifice. Our culture has, for the most part, tamed the Biblical concept of sacrifice. North Americans live in the wealthiest society in history where sacrifice seems mysterious and extreme. In ancient times people were very familiar with sacrifice. In Biblical times, God’s people were regularly called on to offer their prize-winning breeding animal or their best seed-crop. Instead of easing up, Jesus intensifies this call of God; we are to be a “living sacrifice” which makes sacrifice exceedingly personal. And there’s nothing more personal than the sacrifice of God; who gave us His own Son and while we were yet sinners, sent Jesus to die for us! There is a strong connection between sacrifice and Kingdom growth.
Sacrifice is an act of faith. If our ministry is to grow in a God-pleasing manner, we will need to become familiar with sacrifice. Growing Christian ministry is not centered on convenience and left-overs. Questions we need to ask include: What do we value above anything? What should we do LESS of? What changes in attitudes or behaviors will honor God? Am I (are we) willing to give as Christ has given to us?
Five Specific Ministry Concepts Growing Ministries Fully Embrace.
Have you noticed that mission congregations attract people who, on average, give more time and money than do people in more established congregations? When I was in a mission congregation, the average giving-per-person was almost double the average giving in more established congregations. Additionally, the average person gave a LOT more time-per-week than the typical member found in older congregations. There are a number of reasons for this, but nothing keeps established congregations from becoming more “mission-like” in their ministry approach. In fact, it is my opinion that every congregation must be very mission-minded, and here are a few concepts that will help:
- Manage Change. It’s possible to change and NOT grow, but it’s not possible to grow and NOT change! Change happens with or without our consent, so, we may as well embrace it. Better yet, manage change. How can we manage change?
- Expect change. I had a guy come to the church door one day that said he hadn’t been in church in 30 years but he was thinking about coming back; but, he wanted to make sure nothing had changed in 30 years he was gone. I know of no organization that survives remaining unchanged for 30 years. God’s Word is the same, but our culture sure isn’t. . . expectations change. . . needs change. . . expressions of faith even change in some ways (I remember my Pastor in the 1960’s refused to allow a piano in the sanctuary!).
- Be Proactive. Being proactive doesn’t mean you need to be on the “bleeding edge” of trends, but Christian Leaders need to listen, become a student of culture, find ways for people to express their love for God and one another in fresh ways (that still please God). Regardless of what you might think about non-denominational churches, they have certainly found a place in our culture. What is it about the new mega-churches that touch people’s hearts? Listen, pray, plan, be open to changes that honor God and bless His people.
- Bless Change. Establish a congregational culture where change is encouraged, but as a Christian Leader, be PART of the discussion. Not every change is good, so be discerning, but find ways to bless any attempt to honor God and edify His people.
- Evaluate Change. Give change a chance but seek agreement to evaluate results. Every decision has consequences and there are often unintended consequences. After a trial, evaluate whether the change is ultimately a good one or whether it ought to be modified further.
- Offer Multiple Ways to Connect. Church has always been and always will be about relationships; our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. People NEED to belong, that’s how God created us. A congregation that makes connecting difficult will be in decline. Start new groups on a regular basis. It is socially VERY difficult for a new person to enter a room full of people that already know one another well. New people must be invited and quickly and easily made part of the family.
Find ways for non-members and non-Christians to participate. For many this might sound odd or even wrong, but I believe it is not only effective, but Godly. We’re not talking about changing the criteria for becoming a member, but we must establish sanctified places and events where members develop relationships with non-members and non-Christians. Ask yourselves, how do people typically come to know Jesus? Well, I know the proper theological answer is that the Holy Spirit, connected with God’s Holy Word convicts hearts and brings people to the cross. Absolutely true; but usually God uses a weak and flawed vessel to carry His Word and Spirit, people such as you and me.
Similarly, substantively and intentionally minister to people in your community. Listen a LOT to people in your portion of the mission field. I know of missionaries that go into a culture without knowing the language at all, yet, over time, they learn the language and many people come to know Jesus. Your mission field — even in the suburbs — is no different. Listen, get to know people, find out how to pray for them, serve them as God directs. Learn their language (could be an actual language such as Spanish or Korean, but learn also their culture, what they value, fear, worship, despise, etc.). Develop substantive relationships with people without regard to what they might do for you, but consider what Christ will do for them.
New group ideas are plentiful: new members, seekers, parenting, newly single, youth, ESL, various music groups, all kinds of Bible Study groups, confirmation, finance and budgeting, preparing for retirement, marriage preparation, reading the classics, and (if you are courageous) political discussion groups — just to name a few. The potential is infinite; when you get to know your mission field, you’ll know what to offer. The point is, OFFER SOMETHING to get people involved in dialog.
Growing congregations are always starting new groups.
- A Culture of Invitation. While serving a mission congregation “Sara” and her kids came to Church one Sunday morning. Even though Sara didn’t know ANYONE in the congregation, she went around introducing herself and her kids to EVERYONE. Sara was the last person to leave the Church campus that day, and on her way out she said: “Wow, this is the friendliest congregation I’ve ever been to!” When Sara and her family joined this small but growing congregation, EVERYTHING got a LOT better. Although we weren’t the friendliest congregation before Sara, we certainly were after she arrived.
Growing congregations cultivate people like Sara and they create an atmosphere of invitation. The “Sara’s” of the world make life worth living, they bring joy and encouragement wherever they go.
Invite people to get involved, don’t assume people “just know,” about a Bible Study or where the donuts are, invite them. Make it personal by inviting people to go WITH you and encourage other members to invite in the same way. Invite people to a deeper commitment as well. My racquetball partner just recounted the story of how he became and Elder (some 40 years ago); someone invited him to a deeper commitment to Christ and service. Although he was hesitant at first, he began to realize God’s calling through those invitations and said “yes!”. Although it might seem inefficient, God often uses people to do the inviting and encouraging!
- Disciple People. The Great Commission of Jesus is to “make disciples,” not “make members” of all people groups. Growing congregations raise disciples; people growing into Christian leaders, people who place Jesus first in all things, people intently engaged in spiritual growth and ministry deployment.
Yet, most congregations focus on membership rather than discipleship. Why? There are, no doubt, many reasons, but here are a few reasons I’ve thought of:
Discipleship is difficult. There are no two people the same, so we can’t easily use an “off the shelf” discipleship program that works for everybody. (There are many materials that are useful, of course; it’s just that we live in a custom world and often have only off-the-shelf resources.) This means that in order to disciple people, we must be in close relationship with them as individuals. It’s a LOT easier to teach a group than disciple a few.
Most were not trained to Disciple. We ARE trained to teach, preach, lead groups large and small. But few schools and systems teach Biblical discipleship. The easy answer, of course, is to just do what St. Paul did. The difficulty with that simple answer: to learn to disciple someone we need to be discipled ourselves. Few of us were ever discipled.
Discipleship requires vulnerability. Part cultural and part fear: I have usually preferred a “professional distance” between me and those in the congregation. When we add the word “professional,” emotional distance seems almost noble, but it is not! Christian Leaders are called to be open, allow others to see our good, bad, and even the ugly — to “live out loud” where people will hear our genuine confession and our ache for absolution. Christianity is a life of vulnerability, and that can be unsettling to say the least.
Growing Churches disciple the few, as did Jesus. Those few, in turn, disciple others who later disciple still others. How did the first-century Church grow? To a large part by people becoming both a disciple of Jesus and one who disciples others.
- Action Orientation. It is easy to become complacent in a congregation based on “knowing” stuff and not “doing” stuff. Christian Leadership is a call to rally the Church Militant; we are to call people to action. That action might be confession and to hear God’s Word, but it is also a call to much more. By definition, a call to action cannot be a call to “maintain.” [Being an “old time Pastor” I am sensitive to those who’s health or circumstances prevent marching with the Church Militant; at the same time we cannot build a growing congregation solely on those with special needs or those who resist commitment.] Most people in your congregation already know enough to share Jesus with someone else. Most people have enough data (after 20 or 30 years) to TEACH a Bible class. Your Confirmands already have more knowledge about the Bible and about the Christian faith than most college students. After a certain point, learning should be related to the need to address new ministry situations, not just knowledge for knowledge’s sake.
Where possible, establish a call to action; then anticipate a response from those you lead.
It would be cool if someone could just write an article called something like: “Ten Things to Do To Guarantee Ministry Success” and have it work! Alas, that’s not how things work. I do stand by what I’ve written, but also know the severe limitations of my puny words. God, however, will lead His people. So, what’s more important than anything I have written is the fact that first and foremost, we must strive to know God as we are known by Him. That, of course, takes an eternity, but through His Word, we can know and practice NOW everything we need to know. I will end this article with words from St. Paul: “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:11-13)”
Dr. Phil Pledger is The Higher Calling Coach and writes a blog entitled Christian Leadership Matters each week. Through his blog and coaching practice, Dr. Pledger seeks to help Professional Church Workers discover and enhance the leadership skills needed to make positive changes in their lives and in the ministry they serve. The goal is to find new ways to meet challenges, overcome roadblocks, and to find joy in serving Christ and His Church.
Click TheHigherCallingCoach.com to sign up for Christian Leadership Matters. If you would like to set up a no-cost/no-obligation consultation or would like to ask a question, email Dr. Phil at: Phil@TheHigherCallingCoach.com.