Posts Tagged: Church Growth

Sometimes You Have to Ask More Than Once to Get to “Yes”

I have been married for 11 1/2 years, I would have never even made it to the wedding day though if I had not been persistent.

In the fall of 2000 I called Christina up on the phone and asked her if she would like to go out on a date with me and a few other friends of mine. It was going to be a double or triple date, I don’t remember exactly now; Christina’s answer, I do remember this exactly, “I’m sorry I can’t. I have a big test coming-up and I’ve committed to studying tonight.” Not aware at the time of Christina’s extreme commitment to graduate Summa Cum Laude all three times she graduated (yes you read that correctly) I saw this as a classic brush off.

In the winter of 2001 some friends were having a bonfire, my college Mom Kathy said, “you should bring,” and she named a girl…I said, “no I’m not really that into her, but I know who I’ll invite,” and I ran upstairs grabbed the Joker (Southern’s student directory) looked-up Christina’s room number and gave her call, Christina’s answer, “I’m sorry I’ve already made plans to hang-out with my roommate.” Again to me a classic brush-off.

Spring of 2001 I see Christina walking on the road in front of the gymnasium as I drive by, I swing my car around (I had been going in the opposite direction) roll down my window and ask,

“Hey do you need a ride?”

Christina answers, “I’m not going far.”

“That’s okay get in I’ll take you.” So Christina got in the car and I ask, “Where are you going?”

She pointed across the street…So I drive her 100 yards across the street…and that is the beginning of it all because…

A few weeks later after a Saturday night concert on campus Christina asked me if I wanted to go hang-out with some of her friends…I was less studious and more than willing to cast aside any plans I had with friends, so I said, “Sure I’ll go.”

I am fully convinced Christina would have never asked me that night to go and hang-out with her friends, if I had not asked her out twice and flipped a U to pick her up and drive her 100 yards across the street.

Persistence.

I wish more of us Christians had persistence! I believe if we did Jesus would have a lot more names written in The Book of Life. Each one of us should be consistently, persistently inviting people to our church, to study the Bible with us, to hang-out for the purpose of witnessing and serving these individuals, to pray with us or us for them, but many of us stop at the first “No.”

And not only do we stop at the first, “No” with that individual we often times let that one “No” stop us from also engaging any other individuals ever again.

In witnessing “No” is going to be more frequent than “yes,” but persistence pays off.

It paid off in my love life and I have seen it time and time again pay off in witnessing.

In fact last week an individual I have been developing a friendship with and inviting to connect with for more than 5 months called me and left the following message on my phone, “Hi Chad this is _______ I was wondering if you would still be willing to meet and study with me and my wife?”

What do you think my answer was?

Christians be persistent! Sometimes you have to ask more than once to get to “yes.”

More Than a Voice!

For the past 12 years I’ve had the privilege of working for The Seventh-day Adventist denomination. My prayer is that I continue to work for them until Jesus comes back or I die, whichever comes first. I truly love this global community of faith; that said there are occasions that I become flummoxed by some of the things I am seeing and hearing within my church.

Recently I’ve been reading the biography of J.N. Loughborough by Dr. Brian Strayer. I have thoroughly enjoyed the read, it might be my favorite of the Adventist Pioneer Series thus far.

As I’ve read almost two-thirds of the book however I have found myself getting sideways on an issue…

The lack of inclusion of young adults at the highest levels of leadership within our church!

I have heard, ever since I accepted Jesus and started hanging-out around Seventh-day Adventist leaders the statement, “We need to make sure our young people have a voice within their church.”

Here is what I would say to how well that has gone: if young people truly had a voice in this church, a voice that anyone was listening to, a voice with a vote, then there would be a more diverse spectrum of ages amongst our church leadership at every level.

As it stands now though, at the highest level of leadership, The General Conference, there are currently no administrators under the age of 50…and I would venture to guess that there are not even any under the age of 60, if any of you are I apologize :). But it is not just at the General Conference level, The North American Division has the same problem; we have some leadership in their 50’s, but no one at a significant leadership level is below the age of 50 to my knowledge. The same is true within our Union leadership.

I got sideways as I was reading  the Loughborough biography because I am reading stories about young adults that are in great positions of influence within our church…oh and when I say young adult, I’m not talking about 40’s and 50’s, I’m talking about 20’s and 30’s, even a few in their late teens. Presidents, GC executive committee members, top theologians, General Conference sent evangelists.

Reading these stories makes me so proud of our early church and so disappointed with our current church.

Young in leadership is just something that is not seen anymore…

Something that is not even given a chance to be seen or experienced at any level other than the local church and maybe, just maybe a local conference or two, at least here in the United States.

There is much talk about giving the young a voice, but folk the young need more than a voice they need to be in on the decision making process, they need at times to be the actual decision makers.

Let me ask what I believe is a very logical question: If the church is trying to figure out ways to retain the youth and young adults of our church would it not make sense for the young to be deciding what actions are going to be taken to reach & retain those demographics? Every successful business in the world has figured this out, why can’t the church?

Hear what I am not saying. I am not saying that we should put those of the older ilk out to pasture. We are a multi-generational church, so we should have multi-generational leadership…AT EVERY LEVEL!

People like Pastor Rodlie Ortiz should be sitting at any table at the highest levels of this church that are visioning and strategizing for church growth, if you don’t believe me ask Pastor Dwight Nelson. Pastor Anthony Wagenersmith I believe would be an asset to the Biblical Research Institute. He has a brilliant theological mind, before we were even out of seminary he was a grad assistant that was delivering lectures to other graduate students. Gina Creek, is a gifted writer, that writes in a unique voice; she should be at the Adventist Review or Signs of the Times or writing copy for The GC. Pastor Taj Pacleb is one of the most gifted traditional evangelists I’ve ever heard, why aren’t we tapping him for global evangelistic events or media posts? Pastor Benjamin Lundquist is in my opinion the most innovative youth and young adult leader out there right now. Every youth and young adult leader should spend time with him. These are just a few, the list could go on and on!

My point is the young adults are out there, out there ready to lead at the highest levels. Just like they were in the first 50 years of our church.

But their church isn’t inviting them to even consider such a step.

Their church, our church, my church just keeps talking about giving them a voice…

but what good are their voices if they are not being heard in the rooms making the decisions?

If their voices don’t actually have a vote when the decisions are made?

Please church that I love, be a church that truly represents ALL of us! Give us more than a voice!

 

 

 

 

Do This ONE Thing To Grow Your Church

It is hard to reduce church growth down to one thing. In fact it probably should almost never be done; but in this post I am going to do just that…

I want to give y’all just one method to grow your church.

Yes it will grow MORE with many other things involved.

It will of course grow MORE if prayer is the driving force behind all the things you do.

Your church will grow MORE if it is a healthy church…

If the music is inspiring…

The Preaching is alive and Biblical…

If there are friendly greeters…

But I am not talking about MORE growth…

just SOME growth!

And so for that I want to give the ONE thing that you can do, that every church member can do to grow their church.

INVITE!

Yep, invite!

Maybe the saddest reality about the lack of church growth in North America is that every church could grow but most aren’t and the primary reason…

NO ONE is inviting folk to come visit their church.

This is truth!

Thom Rainer reports that in their research of the unchurched 45% of all unchurched would say “NO” if someone they knew invited them to church. 5% said they would probably be hostile in their rejection of the invitation.

Wait a second…

Do you see what that means?

It means, 55% of all unchurched people would respond positively to an invitation to church by someone they knew…and guess what? They don’t even have to know the invitee well!

55% indicated they would still respond positively even if the invitee was just an acquaintance! WOW!

We spend time focusing on the 45% that would say, “NO” and more than likely we’re scared to run into one of the 5% percent that have a burr in their saddle…yep I just used that idiom like the old man I’m becoming…

But we should be spending time focusing on the 55% that would say “yes!”

Picture a church of 100 members.

If each of those members invited one person per week that would be 5,200 invitations in a year.

Now applying Thom Rainer’s research we would surmise that 55% of those invitees would accept the invitation and attend church at least once.

That means a church of 100 members inviting 100 people each week by the end of a given year would have 2,860 guests pass through the doors of their church. Not only that but 55 new people would be in church every single week! Can you imagine how exciting that would be to have 55 NEW people worshiping with you each and every week? That would be awesome in a church of 200 or 300, much less 100!

Now I want y’all to pause and think about a couple other statistics very quickly. These statistics come from Pastor Nelson Searcy.

The average church loses 3 members per 100 members each year due to death, a move, apostasy, or just becoming inactive.

So let us go back up to our church of 100 members; in order for that church to maintain it’s membership of 100 people all they would have to do to not decline is win the hearts of 3 of those 2,860 guests that attended their church in a given year.

3 FOLK!

I didn’t say 300 or 30 or even 13…just 3! (Contact me on Twitter @chadnstuart and I’ll share with you just a couple things that you can try at your church to turn three guests into members).

But this blog post isn’t about maintaining, although that would be a huge step for many of our churches since 80% of all our churches are plateaued or declining, no this blog is about growth.

So let me share with you how many guests you need to retain in order to grow your church at a steady pace.

Are you ready for this huge number?

5 per 100 members.

So in a church of 100 members, if every member is inviting 1 person per week, roughly 2,860 of those invitees would become a guest at that church, and if that church retained FIVE individuals per year they would grow at a steady pace.

Because the next year 102 people would be inviting 1 person per week (remember there is an average of 3 members lost per 100 a year) and that means 2,917 people would attend the church as a guest (based on Rainer’s 55% percent rule of thumb) and with more guests there would be more chances of guests becoming members…and so the next year if 5 more joined, the membership would now be up to 104 and 2,974 guests would attend…

And maybe within a few years, because everyone wants to be a part of a growing church your church would start retaining 7 guests or more a year and then your church, believe it or not, with just the retention of 7 guests a year would be considered a rapidly growing church in North America.

So will you make a commitment right now? Will you commit to help grow your church? It takes just ONE thing…

The ONE thing: Love Jesus enough to invite someone to come hear about Him at your church just one time per week!

 

 

 

How Committed is Your Church to the Disney Princesses?

dpIf you think of animated Disney films probably some of the first images that come to your mind would be princesses: Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty (sorry I don’t know her actual name), Ariel, etc.. Disney’s entire history is shrouded with princesses, yet in 2010 Disney recognized princesses were not the success stories they once were and Disney exec of animation informed the world that Disney was putting a moratorium on any new princesses…”at least until someone has a fresh take on it…” and Disney stuck to this until of course the smash hit this past year of a movie entitled “Frozen” (not an endorsement I just know a lot of people are singing the song and it has made a lot of money). But can you imagine the courage it must have taken to announce, to make the decision that “the past was nice, but we have to change if we are really going to move forward successfully”? “So either bring us a fresh idea on a princess or no new princess movies at all.” Wow! The announcement was so large there were articles written about it in the LA Times, Forbes Magazine, babycenter.com, and more.

Why would Disney do such a thing? Because they recognized you can’t grow into the future if you are overly committed to the Disney Princesses of the past.

How committed is your church or your school to the Disney princesses of the past?

In his book, “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” Thom Rainer reports on the analysis of churches that have died and the 12 factors they discovered that lead to these deaths.

The very first trait which Rainer said was, “the most pervasive and common thread of our autopsies” was, they were in love with a Disney princess of the past and hoped she would revive again to bring the church back to greatness. Well not a literal Disney princess and Thom Rainer doesn’t use those exact words, but his meaning is the same.  Rainer uses these words, “the dying churches lived for a long time with the past as hero.”

These churches talked about how many people used to attend their church. They talked about how great their church used to be. And when people would try and change things these churches would resist, insisting that they could still get back to where they were with things just as they are. They were unwilling to change because they were once great and surely they could stay the same and become great again. They were in love with the Disney princesses and wanted to keep making them hoping they would eventually take them back to their former greatness.

Y’all let us be very honest the majority of Seventh-day Adventist Churches and schools (elementary & secondary) are dying or plateaued in North America. Is it because we are more committed to the Disney princesses of the past than looking toward new ideas, methods, structures, & solutions? When someone comments on our decline do we become defensive? Bringing up the past? Making excuses?

  1. “Oh our church used to be full, if we could just get the right pastor.”
  2. “We used to have so many students in attendance and if we just hang-on a few more years I believe we can be back there again.”
  3. “The conference hasn’t given us the support that we need.”
  4. “If we could just keep more of our tithe.”

Many churches and schools are going to die because they were more committed to what they once were, rather than realizing who they are now and adjusting to their current reality.

I believe there are a “big three” things that Seventh-day Adventists should be committed to that came from the past because they are timeless in their ministration unto the people of God in the present:

  1. The Trinity: God The Father, His Son Jesus Christ, & The Holy Spirit
  2. The Word of God
  3. The writings of Ellen G. White

Everything else from the past, while being held fondly in our hearts, should be available to change.

  • Church service times (11 a.m. is not sacred)
  • Church structure (General Conference, Division, Union, Conference, Local Church)
  • Church service format (We don’t have to start with announcements and a hymn)
  • Online campuses
  • Satellite campuses
  • School satellite campuses
  • Merging of schools…or maybe even better if feasible: following Mrs. White’s counsel and encouraging each church to have their own school thus…
  • Dividing of schools
  • Location of schools (see above)
  • Less ordained ministers in administrative positions and more in the field
  • Non-traditional evangelism receiving the majority of the evangelistic dollars
  • Sabbath Schools each day of the week rather than just Sabbath morning
  • The placement of Bible Workers taking precedent over placing associate or even head pastors in churches/districts
  • Tithe distribution
  • Every pastor must plant a church that can adequately support them or they no longer have a job (oh wait that is from the past, but I still love it!)
  • Congregational expectations of a pastor

The list could go on and on. Maybe you have a few?

My appeal to the church I love:

If it’s not one of the big three then let go of all that you think made us great, honor it appreciate it, but to quote the latest Disney princess, “let it go, let it go”; because in North America 1.3% growth is not great and clinging to the Disney princesses of the past hoping greatness arrives once again does not justly serve the cause of this movement that Jesus placed on earth to usher in His Second Coming!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the Church Can Learn From: “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos & the Age of Amazon”

I love business books. Not because I’m in the business world. Not because I have a desire to be in the business world. I love business books because I learn about leadership, organization, systems, vision, management, etc.; all essential things for a pastor to know and grow in.

Yet while I love consuming business books I’m simultaneously saddened by them. I am saddened because I read stories of men and women that were and are willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of their vision. They devote their money to the business (most of the great companies had someone that devoted their life savings in the beginning) their time, all their thoughts and energy. This saddens me because I wonder why every single pastor is not willing to do the same for their church or churches.

I am saddened because I read about how vision and mission drive the direction of these companies & these leaders. While I see so many churches being driven by tradition and “sacred cows.”

I am saddened because I read about leaders that are constantly looking to grow, to improve, to be the best in their field; yet so many pastors are content. They don’t read books, go to conferences, seek mentorship, look for the best in their fields to get better; so many are content with status quo & so many churches let them be, or don’t know that they deserve better!

All of this saddens me because we serve a cause much greater than any business, Jesus’. We have a power on our side much greater than any man made method or model, The Holy Spirit. We have a mission much more important than money, the Salvation of humanity!

We could learn a lot from our secular, business world counterparts, and every time I read a business book I learn much and I am grateful.

The-Everything-Store-Jeff-Bezos-and-the-Age-of-Amazon

Here are some ideas I gleaned from the most recent book I partook of: “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos & the Age of Amazon” by Brad Stone.

  1. Balance between the member & the not-yet member: Amazon’s passion is customer service. They are vigilant about retaining their committed customers (members), even willing to sacrifice revenue at times to avoid making the member (customer) feel unappreciated or uncomfortable. Yet, they never take their eye off their ultimate goal which is to win other people to their “family.” To create new “fans” of Amazon. They work to keep both of these goals in harmony with one another. I find that many churches struggle with the balance Amazon has seemed to achieve. In the larger churches I’ve worked at and been a part of I’ve found that they tend to be imbalanced towards the ability to gather and attract new people, all the while the already committed members are silently slinking out the back door without any real notice or fanfare. Because of our system in the North American Division and maybe even around the world we’re allowed even encouraged by the example of our World Church to inflate reality. We broadcast that our membership numbers in North America are 1.2 million members yet we know that truly only half, if even that attend church on a consistent basis. This creates a system where we care about the growth of that number, not the retention of that number. We never see the article on the cover of the Review, “Membership at 1.2 Million…But We Have No Idea Where 623,000 of Those Members Are.” So our larger churches a lot of them are like our organization. On the other hand I’ve worked at smaller churches that seem to enjoy their close knit of community so much that they don’t really have a great earnestness to attract new “customers.” New disrupts what is and disrupting what is, is tantamount to apostasy. And while they won’t brag about their numbers, they will brag about how they know everyones name in the church; of course you do it’s not hard to know 30, 40, even 75 names. Obviously both cases are not the universal absolute; I’ve seen large churches that are great at retention & small churches great at evangelism. But Amazon shows me how we all are better off with balance towards both!
  2. Word of Mouth Evangelism: Jeff Bezos’ goal is to one day be able to completely eliminate Amazon’s marketing department and just grow by word of mouth. In fact Bezos believes that the best “evangelism,” the best way for a company to grow is when the customer shares their experience with a non-member through word of mouth. The church needs to develop the same attitude. In fact Amazon is so committed to their committed customers with the belief this commitment will be rewarded with those people being personal evangelists for the company. Our churches and church members need to embrace this same idea as the best form of evangelism. Bring a friend to the “store” please!
  3. “Complaining is not a strategy” & Hard work is strategy: The former is a direct quote from Bezos, and I love it! Nothing changes with complaining! If someone wants a change they should apply the latter lesson from Amazon, “hard work is strategy.” If you want things to be different then they should work hard to be a part of the change they want to see. Oh how this could be learned in the church; less letters, less emails, less phone calls, more active engagement to strategically move things in a positive direction! This applies to Pastors as well, far too often we spend more time complaining about our bosses than really working for positive change. I’ve found that most folk I have worked for if they see a pastor working hard and committed to the growth of God’s Kingdom, then they’ll reward this and give greater ear to the ideas of those hard working pastors. “Complaining is not a strategy.”
  4. Innovate, Innovate, Innovate! : Normal human beings fear change. In church though a far greater fear should be stagnancy, and without change, which comes from innovation a stagnant and eventually a dead church will be the ultimate result! Innovation is not the creeping compromise that folk think it is. There were many that were not comfortable with the innovations that HMS Richards was initiating through his radio ministry Voice of Prophecy back in the day. There was an overall fear of technology and the potential evils of associating with the radio & eventually through George Vandeman the television mediums. You know who may be utilizing these mediums of technology most in 2014 within the Adventist Church? Groups like Amazing Facts & the 3ABN folk. Isn’t it funny, what was once thought as potential evil liberal compromise is now widely embraced, endorsed, and funded by those within our church that are perceived to be of the more conservative bent. Jeff Bezos said, “What is dangerous is to not evolve.” I would say to that a very loud “AMEN”! And I hope all the church echoes that “amen.”
  5. Imitate What Works: “We watch our competitors, learn from them, see the things that they were doing for customers and copy those things as much as we can.” -Bezos. Our church (Seventh-day Adventist) is far too scared of imitating the methodologies of those outside our own movement. If it is not challenging our theology & it is working elsewhere we should grab it and run with it! In our church we’ve incorporated many an idea that came from a business book I read or a church growth book I read from authors of another denomination. In no way has this watered down our theology, in fact what is most often communicated to me is that our church has become more (for lack of a better term) “conservative” in my tenure at this church. We don’t imitate theology, but we do imitate some methodologies, obviously within reason. We also try to learn from our fellow Adventists, another area I feel we have drastic deficiencies as a church. Sharing, receiving, and implementing the best practices even within Adventism.
  6. No One is More Important than the Vision: In Amazon’s culture what this means is that no one gets to keep their job simply because they were there from the beginning. No one gets to keep their job because it is going to cause tension to replace them. No one gets to keep their job for doing an adequate job. The vision rains supreme and if folk don’t want to run with the vision then the vision will move on without them! Many a church is hampered by a person that feels entitled to a position, entitled to be the road block to change. There is only one irreplaceable person at Amazon, Jeff Bezos; and there is only one irreplaceable person in the church and that is Jesus. Any pastor, any teacher, any administrator that is not charging ahead with the vision should be removed. Any elder, deacon, or treasurer that is not on board with the vision should be willing to step aside. This doesn’t mean that they see all eye to eye. But the overall vision and mission of Jesus “to seek & save the lost” if that is not embraced and pursued with reckless abandon then in the view of Amazon it is time for change. I think this view would move the church forward too.
  7. Take Little Steps Every Day to Get Better: I think in the church there are far too many “major” initiatives, I’ll include myself in that theory. In this book one of the ideas I appreciated was the idea of incremental changes made daily to try and get better, to try and be the best they could be. It hasn’t been the big moves we’ve seen like Kindle or Amazon Prime that have pushed Amazon to the top, but the daily unseen changes that have pushed Amazon up the retail mountain. Bezos demands of himself daily growth and expects nothing less of those around him. What would happen if every pastor, every conference administrator, every elder, every Bible Worker, every departmental director, every teacher, ever member said I want to learn one thing today that will help me to be a better witness for Jesus than I was yesterday. I think that would revolutionize the church a lot more than initiatives like “Let’s Talk” or even “Revival & Reformation.” These have there place but I fear they are too often strategies that help the membership to hide the fact that far too many are ok with status quo.
  8. It’s Okay to Be Misunderstood: I would love to see more pastors live by this principle. I think far too many of us worry about what others, primarily our church members think about us. We capitulate to the complainers. We don’t step out for fear of losing our job or our influence. Amazon has been misunderstood at the point of every major positive step they’ve ever taken. They’re okay with that. They’d rather be misunderstood than being bold for their cause. Pastors wouldn’t it be better for us to be misunderstood than to be stuck in the rut?! Now let me share one caveat; pastors, don’t use this as an excuse if everyone misunderstands you! If you look around and realize no one is following, it’s no longer about being misunderstood, its just about being a bad leader. But don’t back down to the few, run with the many even if it means, being misunderstood!
  9. “Make History!”: Jeff Bezos wants to “work hard, have fun, and make history.” I want to be a part of a history making movement. The church is of no value if it is not making history. In our world, in our communities, in the individual lives of our people and the people we are reaching.

These are some of the things I learned from the book, “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos & the Age of Amazon”

I hope they’ll help you in your ministry, in your church, in your life.

Ten Most Read Blog Posts for February 2014

In this past month of February, my blog was viewed more times than any other month in it’s history and more times than the entire first year (2011) of “Outside the Pulpit.” This was due to the fact that three of the blog posts are in the top ten viewed of all posts in the 3 1/2 year history. So here are the most viewed posts on “Outside the Pulpit” for February 2014. Thank you for being a reader of this blog! I hope if it is a benefit to your life that you will share it with others.

If you missed any of the following posts I hope you will enjoy your read.

The Top Ten:

  1. “Why the Recent Rhetoric in the Church Makes Me Want to Shout About “Spiritual Formation” This post was not only the most viewed post of this month, it is the new number 1 viewed blog in “Outside the Pulpit’s” 3+ year history.
  2. Help! Adventist Ed is Dying: I was criticized by some for this article and I believe some of the criticism was fair, a point I made then about that post and I make it again here about the opinions I had in this post, “Take ‘em or leave ‘em as a parent that will soon have three kids in Adventist Ed, these are my thoughts.” They were just my thoughts.
  3. How I Hope Adventists Will Respond to the Kenneth Copeland/Pope Francis Video.
  4. Why I Get Defensive
  5. Please Count! This post to me is so important and can be a real help to folk, I hope more will read it!
  6. Please Move to The Middle
  7. A Response to Elder Stephen Bohr’s “Reflections on Deborah & Huldah”: This post was written back in October of 2013 but due to of course the nature of the ordination debate and the attention it continues to receive this blog has remained well read each month.
  8. Faster Pastor’s Episode # 7: “Is Christmas Compatible w/ Christ?” This was the most recent Faster Pastor Episode we did and also the most viewed of any of the episodes we have done. Dr. John Reeve joined us and we were blessed by his insights. David has moved off to Australia that may actually make it easier for us to do more Faster Pastor’s since he’ll be more permanent and not roaming all over the world now that he is the Senior Pastor of a church down there.
  9. Glad to Know I’m Still a Child of The King: I’m always a little saddened that my spiritual posts are not nearly as well read as my “controversial” posts. I guess that is just human nature. Though I hope we all realize, a controversy will never enhance our lives only the love of Jesus will. With that in mind I hope you’ll read this post for the first time, or 2nd time if necessary!
  10. The Superiority of Adventist Education–Please Read & Respond: This post was written back in 2011; yet at times it still pops up in the top ten list. What can I say? People are passionate about Adventist Ed, as well they should be!

Those are the top ten. Some new posts coming soon in March. Thank you again for being a great group of readers. I’d love to have you share any or all of these posts if you feel others would be interested.

 

 

 

Please Move to the Middle

This blog isn’t a discussion of my political views, nor is it a discussion on conservative or liberal church views.

No this is a short blog with some free advice on a little thing every church can do, no matter how big or small, to make their church a more comfortable environment for guests.

And this piece of advice involves one simple act…

…a move to the middle.

When a guest arrives at my house one of the first things I do, if they are going to be there for a while is to invite them to, “sit down” or “have a seat.” If other guests are there and all the seats are taken we say, “let me grab you a chair.”  If my kids are in a seat that would be more optimal for the guest to sit in I say, “please move Dayton/Landon, so our guest can sit in that chair.” If there is only one seat left and I was sitting in it, I say, “Here take my seat, I’ll just grab another chair” or “I can just sit here on the floor.”

Why?

Because the comfort of my guest is of utmost comfort to me.

Why should it be any different in a church? Our guests, after God, should be our top priority. But so often, probably without any forethought or malice in very little areas, maybe seemingly insignificant areas we actually show a lack of regard for our guests at church.

One such place we show a lack of regard for our guests is in where we choose to plant our behinds during the worship service.

In most churches I have been to, most members immediately gravitate towards the back rows & the aisles.

In both cases I would urge members…please move to the middle!

Why to the middle? Because just like in our homes our guests should have priority in their seating to what would be most comfortable to them; and there are definitely two things which are not comfortable for a guest:

Needing to crawl over or push past people in a row to get to a middle seat…

&

Being forced to walk towards the front of the church to find a seat.

Most guests, especially the truly unchurched, want to come into a church & sit without any notice or recognition–yes they want to be greeted and treated warmly at the door and in the foyer; but once they are in the sanctuary they want to draw as little attention as possible. Something which cannot be accomplished as easily if all the members are sitting in the aisles seats and in the back rows.

So this weekend when you attend church, I would like to encourage you dear church member…

…Move to the middle

Unless you are a Mom or Dad with young children, or someone with an extremely small and active bladder there is NO reason you have to sit in the back of the church, nor in an aisle seat.

So for the sake of the guests, make a big difference with a small movement…

…to the middle.

Maybe even move all the way up front. I promise the preacher won’t bite & maybe, just maybe this one little act will make the guest feel more at ease to come back for a second visit…isn’t that after all our hope with all our guests? That they will feel comfortable and want to come back?

 

Please Count!

Whether it is self preservation or ego that makes us do it, most pastors/members I know fudge slightly on the high side when it comes to their church attendance numbers. I don’t believe people do this maliciously or to intentionally deceive but innocent or not this self-deception regarding church attendance numbers is detrimental to the growth of the church.

If we don’t know our actual numbers we can be deceived about the health and growth of the church. I first realized this when I was a member of a very large church many years ago. To my casual eye and I am sure to most the members eyes this church seemed like a healthy growing church. There always seemed to be a healthy number of folk filling the pews each week. The foyer seemed crowed before and after church. The quality of the service was great. If someone had asked me, “Are you a member of a growing church?” I would have responded with a firm, “Yes!” But one day I thought to myself, “I don’t remember seeing very many baptisms at this church in the last few years.” And I began to question, “Is this church really a growing church?”

I decided to do a little research and what I discovered was this: at the beginning of the year we had just finished the church membership was 3000…now a couple months into a new year the church membership was…wait for it…3003. The church had grown by a net gain of 3 people in more than a year. I was astonished, I was disappointed, I was sad. I thought I was a member of a growing church. What I discovered is that I was a member of a very kind, a very busy, a high quality church…but not an evangelistic, growing church.

When we count (this is especially for the pastors) we are forced to take a true account of whether or not we are leading our churches to be healthy growing communities. If we don’t count, we can remain deceived; thus limiting the urgency to develop the evangelistic fervor needed within every church.

Now there are always those that will resist the value of counting.

They will say:

“Numbers don’t matter!” I would respond, “That if we see each number as representing an individual that Jesus died for, then they certainly do matter!!”

They will say:

“We shouldn’t be driven by numbers!” I would respond, “I agree. We should be driven by the heart of Jesus wanting to reach lost sheep. And one of the only ways to know if this is happening is to count.”

They will say:

“Numbers are relative.” I would respond, “They are indeed! A church of 16 that adds 3 new members in a year should celebrate. A church of 3000 that adds 3 new members in a year should recalibrate.”

Please count! Count every Sabbath to see if you are growing.

Then after you finish counting, start analyzing. There is no point in gathering data, unless you’re going to use that data to help improve in specific areas.

Due to the fact that we don’t just count at our church, we also analyze; these numbers take on extra value to our ministry. Let me give an example.

This past year, 2013, our average attendance was 356 individuals attending per week; that was an improvement of 16 people per week over the previous year. We are growing. Not as much as I believe we could, but we are growing. There is more though to those numbers than just growth; as we analyze the numbers we see that our 1st service grew by an average of 15 people, and our 2nd service grew by an average of 1. This has helped us to have discussions about what is appealing to people about first service and what may be unappealing to folk about second service? What are the demographics of the two services? Is the 1st service growth new member/visitor growth or long time members just choosing to go earlier in the day? All this is looked at because we count.

Also because we count we have found that we are unhealthy as a church in some areas. Last year we baptized or brought in through profession of faith 60 new people. Yet our average attendance for the year was only up 16 people per week. Our attendance definitely increased after all those baptisms, but that means we were actually a little below the previous years averages prior to the baptisms. Why was this? What was happening? Also, are we keeping all our new baptisms? Yes, for the most part we are. Then that means previous members are no longer attending as much? Who? And why not? We discuss this, look at this, try to work on this, and we know about all this; why? Because we count.

Another area counting has helped is that based on the data collected the past five years, analysis tells us  there are 4 months that are exceptionally high months of church attendance & three months that are exceptionally low in attendance. So what do we do with this information? We schedule for our strengths. We don’t actually try to improve the attendance for the months that are low; five years is enough to show us that these are months that folk just don’t attend church. Rather than wasting time trying to get people there those months we accept reality and instead focus on growing the average months the rest of the year. We also take advantage of the exceptionally high months by making those services as evangelistically appealing as possible. How many churches plan big events in months that are traditionally low and then wonder why no one showed-up? Too many I’m afraid! Why? Because they don’t count.

Has this made you decide to count?

I hope so, because…

…a lack of counting will lead to acceptance and even an over glorification of the status quo.

A lack of counting can prevent growth.

A lack of counting thwarts strategic planning.

A lack of counting may cause you to miss the members that are missing even though you’re adding new folk all the time.

A lack of counting is dangerous and hopefully after you’ve read this blog…

…a lack of counting is something you’ll never have to worry about again!

Please count! It will make a difference!

 

Go Get a Bible Worker First!

I believe that every Seventh-day Adventist Church in America…nay, in the World should invest in the hiring of a really good Bible Worker. Almost all churches I’ve been around void of a pastor, a large percentage of their congregations long for a pastor; I would say in many of those cases these churches would be better off to start with a Bible Worker.

Why am I so high on Bible Workers?

Well let me first tell you this has not always been the case. In fact 5 years ago I would have placed Bible Workers at the very bottom of my ministry totem pole.

Why?

Because Bible Workers a lot of times seem way too happy to me (this remains true in my opinion :)). No people should smile as much as Bible Workers do.

Most Bible Workers I was aware of trended towards emphasis on traditional Adventism (not talking core theology); jewelry, music, women in ministry, service order and function, etc.. And well, I’m just not traditional & didn’t know if I wanted traditional around me at all. (I’ve learned to embrace the traditional in the midst of my non-traditional ways).

I thought they were all vegan and frankly I didn’t want constant lectures on the cheese they’d see me eat. 🙂

Did I mention they smile too much?

And let me be very honest: I questioned the value someone that went to a 6 week or a 6 month course could add to my ministry which was  built on years of studies w/ degrees on my wall to prove it. Boy was I wrong!

You get the point, I was not the prototypical candidate to advocate for Bible Workers. Yet here I am. Shouting through the waves of the internet: HIRE A BIBLE WORKER!

In fact I discovered my love and support of Bible Workers a few years back when our Conference cut the amount of Bible Workers in our territory and I realized I was the only pastor I know of that wanted to give-up some of my money to keep more Bible Workers on board.

What changed my mind?

An elementary teacher turned Bible Worker by the name of Noemi. Who one day told me that she wanted to be hired as a Bible Worker at our church.

I told her to pray about it. Which was a nice way of saying, “Good luck with that.”

But she must have prayed because not more than a month later I had someone in my office offering me $1500 a month to help fund a Bible Worker position. And Noemi was hired.

In my observation of Noemi over the last 3+ years I have come to respect, value, believe in, recognize my great need for, and advocate for the necessity of Bible Workers within our churches.

So that is why I am writing this blog to advocate for and advise on the hiring of a great Bible Worker within your church.

Why Bible Workers?

  1. Most that I have met are passionate about reaching lost people. Having someone like this around can infuse energy into your church.
  2. They are trained for one specific purpose to be soul winners. Unfortunately a lot of churches have forgotten that this is the primary purpose of the church, to bring people to Jesus. Again a great Bible Worker can remind members and motivate them to embrace their true mission.
  3. Let’s be honest. Most Bible Workers are willing to work for a lot less money than pastors. Thus a great Bible Worker will be worth their weight in gold especially next to an average pastor.
  4. Bible Workers have the gift of being able to connect guests with members. They see things a lot of members don’t see and thus can match people up with one another quite effectively.
  5. Bible Workers are happy to get out into the community and mingle with neighbors. They are good marketers for your church.
  6. If your church hasn’t baptized anybody in years, I would be willing to wager that a good Bible Worker will help you baptize at minimum 5 people this next year. If you’ve baptized a lot of folk, prepare to baptize more (our baptisms have doubled & even tripled under the utilization of Bible Workers). And a really great Bible Worker may even help you retain them.

My tips on hiring a Bible Worker:

  1. If you don’t have a Bible Worker be willing to sacrifice anything and everything in your budget to get one. If ever I were to interview at another church no matter how big or how small, how traditional or non-traditional, rich or poor one of my first questions would be, “can I have a Bible Worker?” (Preferably I’d bring with me the two I have now, more on this later).
  2. If at first you don’t succeed try, try again. I recognize not all Bible Workers are great. But don’t give-up just b/c of one, two, or three bad apples. Trust me all the bad ones a church may have to go through are worth it when you find a great Bible Worker.
  3. Don’t hire the next David Asscherick. I love David we are good friends, but what I mean by that is unfortunately there are some individuals out there that go through Bible Worker training, go into the field as Bible Workers, but their real desire is to be the next David Asscherick, Nathan Renner, or Taj Pacleb. You don’t want a Bible Worker that wants to be famous. I want a Bible Worker that could care less about preaching or being a great public evangelist. I want a Bible Worker that hustles after leads, knocks on strangers doors in their free time, looks for every opportunity to help at the church in any capacity. Finds joy in taking members out on studies with them.
  4. Try to hire local. My Bible Worker at Visalia SDA & my Bible Worker at The Ark (our church plant) are both local ladies. Noemi has lived here in this valley since she was around 3 or 4 and Kelly has lived here in this valley since she was 7 or 8. The place I met Jesus (Dayton, OH area) has a soft-spot in my heart. I often tell Christina (my wife) it is one of the only places I think I would be immediately tempted to leave California for. Well it is no different for my Bible Workers they grew-up here, they met Jesus here, they care about this community and want to see it reached for Jesus. It also works in your favor to hire a local in order to retain the Bible Workers services beyond just a short stint.
  5. When possible, hire from within. Noemi and Kelly were both members at the churches they are currently serving at before they were hired. Why is this important to me and the best method if possible? Because both ladies demonstrated their willingness to serve long before they were hired. They both demonstrated that they were invested in the well being of the church, not just themselves and their own agenda, or getting paid. They have a knowledge of the church culture, this is huge especially if your church tends to push against the walls every now and then. The church members already trust them so they can hit the ground running.
  6. Once you’ve found someone you can work with, do whatever you can to keep them! This is why I said above if I ever had to move I would try and take my Bible Workers with me. I’m a 49ers fan, three years ago they hired Jim Harbaugh to be their head coach. When Harbaugh joined the Niners he brought the majority of his key assistant coaches from his previous job. Why? Because he/she knows them he/she trusts them. He/she has a working relationship that actually works. If someone meshes with your church and your pastor don’t mess with that!
  7. Hire for the long haul. In a lot of places Bible Workers are hired for short stints often times around evangelistic meetings. Let me share something with y’all. You have an evangelistic meeting every week, it’s called your church service! The average church gets 3 guests for every 50 attendees per week. A Bible Worker that knows your church, meaning they know who the members are & are not. A Bible Worker that knows they will be there longer than three months will have the long view in mind, which means they will take the time to invest in deeper relationships. A Bible Worker that is an actual member and has vested interest in seeing your church grow will help to embrace these guests that often slip through the cracks week in and week out. (Side Note: We were blessed to have a great short term Bible Worker with us this past fall in conjunction with an evangelistic series held at our church this was a great supplement to the meetings, but don’t let it be your sole view of Bible Workers. Hire for the long haul and supplement when necessary.)
  8. Hire with clear expectations. As someone that might be viewed as more progressive in ministry, maybe even some would say liberal (though many call me conservative too 🙂 ), when we hired Noemi I wanted her to know exactly what my views were so we wouldn’t have needless arguments down the road. Also, I wanted her to understand that I expected results and if they weren’t there the relationship as an employee of the church would not remain. I’ve unfortunately heard pastors express great frustration with the lack of results, the lack of work effort they observe in some of their Bible Workers. If an expectations conversation has been had on the front end it is easier to have the “goodbye” conversation later if necessary.
  9. Hire soul winners. I know this should be a given & this somewhat relates to the above topic of not hiring someone that wants to be famous. But I am also thinking about it from the perspective of what the primary function of a Bible Worker should be. There is a movement afoot that a Bible Workers primary task should be as a trainer and equipper of the membership for the work of ministry. Well I agree that is one of their tasks, but to me it is not their primary task, it is more secondary. A Bible Worker is not necessarily an Elder or Pastor which is whom the scriptures say should be the trainers and equippers. I see Bible Workers as having and serving in a very specialized ministry of the church, and that is as a soul winner. Yes every member should be trained to be a soul winner, but that doesn’t alleviate the need for some to serve exclusively in this capacity of aggressive intentional soul winning. Just as every member should be an evangelist, but that doesn’t take away the need for the specialists in this area like Mark Finley or John Bradshaw. If I paid money to have Mark Finley or John Bradshaw to come and hold an evangelistic series at my church, my primary objective for them would not be to train and equip my members; some of that would occur of course, but that is not their focus. Their focus is what? The specialized ministry of public evangelism. To me a Bible Worker is no different. Yes, I want them to take members on studies with them. Yes, I want them to train members to give studies. Yes, I want them to have members out knocking on doors with them; but with or without these things I want their focus to be what? The specialized ministry of aggressive soul winning! That is what we are paying them for.
  10. Finally hire someone that loves people. I was sitting in on the interview with Kelly when she was hired as a Bible Worker and she was talking about how since she met Jesus she saw people differently, when she met people she wanted to immediately share with them what she has received from Jesus. There are some Bible Workers that can give a great study. That are extremely personable. That can hustle and knock on hundreds of doors securing all kinds of studies. But it will all be knowledge based and mechanical and their converts will join based on knowledge and their religion will be mechanical once they do join. Hire someone that sees people differently than they did before they met Jesus, so that they’ll win people not just with what they know, but with how much they love them.

Okay now go find the budget and hire a great Bible Worker & enjoy the church growth that will follow!

Our Growth Part 3

In this final post of this blog series on the growth of The Visalia Seventh-day Adventist Church I will be looking at some of the specific things we will be focusing on moving forward in order to place us in the best position to continue to receive & handle the blessings of God’s growth in this community. This blog will probably we a little more specific and not as broad as the other two, but I believe there are still principles that I’ll be sharing that can be applied in any and all settings.

In part 1 we looked at some of the principles behind the growth of the Visalia SDA Church.
In part 2 we looked at some of the reasons why we didn’t grow more over the last five years.

And now for the third and final part (Sorry it took so long, I got sick and then the holidays but here it finally is):

What about the next five years?

Prayer. Yes, I want to start in the exact same spot I started the other two lists. It is vital for our continued growth that we continue our focus and emphasis on the power and importance of prayer. We will continue to look for ways to facilitate more prayer, encourage the participation in corporate prayer, recruit more prayer warriors. I’ve spent quite a ‘bit of time on this subject in the other two posts so I won’t say more here, simply this has to remain a priority. It can’t be something we did and then move on from!

What happens when I’m gone? This has been a question on my mind a lot lately. I’ve observed far too often within our denomination that a church may be doing well, then the pastor leaves and everything slows way down or even ceases completely until the next pastor rolls around. Attendance drops, evangelism is nonexistent, the church goes into maintenance mode. I am asking myself heading into 2014 and beyond, “if this is my last year at this church are we in a position to thrive in the absence of a Senior Pastor or under the leadership of a new Senior Pastor?” I want to be thinking and working on behalf of my successor. I want to make sure that when I’m gone systems are in place that are not pastor dependent. That a clear vision is established which is owned by the membership of the church and not just in the heart of the leader, a vision though that is based on principles that should be universal and embraced by all Seventh-day Adventist ministers, thus flexible to the ideas of the new leader. As leaders I think it is our responsibility to think about the well being of our churches not just when we are here but after we are gone as well. We need to think about our colleagues that will come after us and what we are leaving behind. So this is a goal we’ll be working towards.

Sabbath School: Sabbath School, you know that time that is the least attended activity at church (in North America)…oh wait sorry, that is the prayer meeting, the second least attended activity at church (how depressing and pathetic both those realities are!), it has been a burden on my heart recently. The scriptures say this, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15. This text of course has been applied almost exclusively to the idea of personal Bible study, and personal Bible study is very important! But as I was taught in Seminary and as I have read in Christian literature, most of what was learned and understood Biblically in the Biblical era was not done in isolation! In fact Jesus when He was a boy in the temple was participating in a Bible study. A discussion on the scriptures, questions asked, answered, leading to more questions (“Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.” Luke 2:46, 47). We don’t do enough of this anymore! Sabbath School is a venue in which this should be done. I’ve also been convicted about this based on the reality of where the Seventh-day Adventist Church is growing significantly in the world. As I’ve had privilege to do a little traveling, what I have observed is that Sabbath School is well attended in the countries where our church is really thriving, in fact in some of these places Sabbath School attendance is higher than church attendance. Our Sabbath Schools in the United States may not look like theirs overseas, but the principle I believe still can be applied. Good things happen when folk get together to study the Word of God, emphasis on together, and the sermon time does not count, that is one person who has studied sharing with others what he or she studied, upon which most will go home and still not study it out for themselves to see if he or she was accurate in their studies. We need Sabbath School and I have a desire to see it thrive in my churches (The Ark & Visalia SDA). I’m not sure how yet, but this will be a focus!

Lost Sheep: I’ve heard it said that if we reclaimed all those that have simply stopped associating with the Adventist church our membership would be double in the United States. Here is the sad truth if we reclaimed those that just don’t attend, then our attendance would be double for sure (yep only 50% actually much less on average of the Seventh-day Adventist Church membership attend church from week to week). Here is something Jesus said, “These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying:

“Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” –Matthew 10:5-7.

We know that Jesus had a passion for the Gentiles, we know that He had a special plan for reaching them (read the book of Acts), but I also see in scripture that Jesus had a special burden in His heart for those that were raised in the truth, had known the truth, and yet were not walking with Jesus. I haven’t, in fact I still struggle with this burden, but I want to be like Jesus and I feel that I should have a deeper commitment to reaching this group of folk, “the lost sheep of Israel” aka former or inactive Adventists. This will be a special focus for us in the years ahead. We have already seen some success in this area without being intentional about it, I want us to be intentional and see what happens!

Getting beyond 10%: You may have heard the statistic, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. The new reality in churches is that 10% of the people do 100% of the work. We must help folk to understand that one of the privileges of membership is responsibility! I don’t find a single story in all of scripture about a true disciple of Jesus that went to church once a week and then went home, had lunch, took a nap, did yard work on Sunday, went to their paying job during the week, clean the house Friday, and back to church Sabbath and considered this an acceptable pattern for a follower of Jesus. There is not a story in scripture that even remotely follows that pattern, then why on earth do so many of our members find this type of Christianity acceptable blows my mind! Yes that is a rebuke to any that may be reading this and saying, “hey that sounds like me.” Jesus said very clearly, we are to feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, shelter the homeless. He also said we are to “GO” and witness. Paul said that we are all members of one body, and just as one body has many parts we are all separate parts to the same body and that a part is not actually part of the body if it is not functioning. And James said, that if our faith doesn’t display itself in actual works for the Lord then we really don’t have any faith. And in the book of Revelation the folk that are the marturos–witnesses. I want to know exactly how many of our members are actually serving Jesus in a proactive intentional way and then I want to grow each year on that 10% or so that it is and see lives saved and thus the church grow!

Small Groups: This is different than Sabbath School, though part of this can occur at Sabbath School time. But if we’re going to get bigger then we must simultaneously get smaller or more connected, this will only happen through Small Groups. The book of Acts is very clear, there were two aspects of the early Christian Church “house to house” gatherings and larger “temple” (corporate) gatherings (Acts 2:46). Ellen White wrote this,

“The formation of small companies as a basis of Christian effort is a plan that has been presented before me by One who cannot err. If there is a large number in the church, let the members be formed into small companies, to work not only for the church members but for unbelievers also.” (Evangelism p. 115).

A church will grow if the members are split into small groups to worship and serve together. I have yet to see a thriving small group ministry in a Seventh-day Adventist church. If you are reading this and you are in an Adventist church with a “thriving” small group ministry, please contact me! But we will continue to work at it. I believe there is plenty of evidence Small Groups are Biblical!

I am sure there are a million more things we could work on, but if this is my last year in Visalia (which I pray it is not) this is the direction I pray God will get us moving in.

Thanks for taking the time read these three blog posts. I pray that they have been beneficial to you and that you will be able to apply for sure the principles and possibly even some of the specifics that we have been focused on here in Visalia.

Remember The Church is the Body of Christ which means if your church is lifeless, if it isn’t growing, it isn’t functioning, it isn’t reaching the lost, and loving on everyone, well then it is not really the church and it is definitely not the body of Christ. But don’t despair make a decision now to see that begin to change. Even if you are the only one in your church that is committed to see your church become the Body of Christ again, Jesus will honor your commitment and work with you to bring that desire into reality!

Keep praying, keep studying, keep serving. May Jesus be glorified through the Seventh-day Adventist family!

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