Archive for September, 2015

Keys to Church Growth

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015


The underlying assumptions we carry definitively shape the organizations we are part of. In a recent conversation someone asked about ours at NewChurch LIVE. The list is below. Please note, this not a theological paper. It is a statement of our basic assumptions that we function under as we attempt to grow NCL in order to serve more people.

Key Assumptions
Pastors are not here to serve their congregation. Pastors are here to join with the congregation in serving others. Pastors must be “in the streets” modeling what the congregants should be doing. And congregants must be “in the streets” modeling what the pastor should be doing.

The Sunday service is the entryway to the church. Not the last and final destination. The last and final destination is serving those in need.

The small group mentality is not an add-on. It is the organizing paradigm for everything a church does. That means teams form to support everything from sermon writing to fund raising to young moms.

Volunteers are key. The conversation, addressed to the paid staff, moves from “This is what we need you to do” (addressed to staff) to “This is what I am doing/ we are doing” (informing the staff). The staff moves to a support role. “We don’t run programs. We cheer them on!”

Growth is a numbers game. We know that it takes 53 personal invites to yield an actual member. So we work to get in front of/ interact with as many people as possible over the course of a weekend knowing that for some it will “stick.” So we do a lot of weddings, funerals, and baptisms – all great occasions for getting in front of people.

The key question is “What next?” Any events you do, ask “What next?” The answer should be clear and compelling.

“Most churches are answering questions people are not asking.” We need to help people where they are.

When people come to pastors or small group leaders with a serious problem they are not looking for an answer as much as they are looking for a listening ear and for someone to tell them God loves them.

Celebrate. All the time … CELEBRATE! When people live into being the church, celebrate. Run pictures in Facebook, on email, in person notes. Whatever you celebrate gets repeated.

Pay attention to communication loops. We post on social media several times a day. We send out a weekly congregational newsletter via email. We send out an email to our wedding ministry every month. We mail out semi-annual congregational updates and solicitations. We write, almost daily, other written thank you notes.

Support causes small groups initiate. Don’t initiate it from the top down and expect others to follow. Go from the bottom up.

Engage the congregation in the Sunday service whenever possible. We use speakers, announcements, texting, and video to let them hear each other each week.

Offer a service once a month or so for people who would NEVER come to church. That is where one-offs are invaluable. “Come and hear a Vet” is different than “Come to Church.” This way you are not frightening people off.

Use big conferences to get ideas and gather support. And remember their limitations. As one author noted, “The conference was incredible. And the ride home was crappy.” That is because they make the real hard work of growth look simple. And if it was that simple, everyone would be North Point and Saddleback.

Some stats that I think matter …
1. You need around 7% of your Sunday attendance to be first time attendees each week in order to grow. (Not sure where I read it but it seems to be accurate in my experience)
2. 21% to 28% of your congregation will come on any given week. That means you need, roughly, 4 new people to boost your average Sunday attendance by 1.
3. Only 6% of churches in the US are reporting growth

The final thing is this … it takes a long, long time to start growing. And many failures. And resets. And frustrations.

The results …  a lot of blessings!

Final Thoughts On the Pope’s Visit: How We Could Miss It, How It Could Change Us

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

What a weekend.  Tbe beauty of Pope Francis’ visit touched many lives.

And it is easy to miss it.  To miss the impact and let what could be transformation simply slide into the warm embrace, a fondly remembered time, September of 2015.

Miss #1: That “miss” begins with this.  To be moved, to be moved to tears, is beautiful.  Often a starting point, a “breaking” that leads us to act.  But not always. Sometimes tears are just sentimental.  Sincere no doubt but just sentimental.  So if we find ourselves moved we must move.

Miss # 2: Transitory movement politics gets us only so far. Activists must pave the way for broader coalitions to act.  In one word – how do we create endeavors that are widely based and sustainable? That demonstrate prolonged obedience and sacrifice in one direction while at the same time inviting many into the dialog?

Miss # 3: We cannot do it all.  The Pope addressed many issues from the environment to immigration to the death penalty to homeless to reaching out to those in prison.  We cannot … THANKFULLY … do it all.  And we can do our bit. Just our bit.

So be changed.  Allow the moving parts of his visit to move you, to reposition your life around the primacy of love – Christ’s beautiful command.  To move you to act.  To find that sweet spot of engagement.  Not a place of shrillness but a place of stillness where you feel God’s calling in your heart.  A place where the need is clear.  A place where a leap of faith is needed.  And a joyous place of God’s embrace.


Urgency and the Perfect Storm

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

“Humanity has the ability to work together in builidng our common home … As Christians inspired by this certainty we wish to committ ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.” (Pope Francis)

Urgency in those words.  Hope there as well.  It is why untold millions are moved by his words.

And my hope … that his visit to the US becomes a wake up call.

Asleep, we face a perfect storm.  Actually two storms, each tracking to a collision point.

Storm one – cultural.  Storm two – church.

The cultural storm continues to increasingly value more and more entertainment over engagement, consumption over stewardship, auditing over partnering, a shallow glance at life vs. a deeply engaged work at it.  Individualism and entertainment at all costs.

Storm two is church, church as a corporate force in the US.  Many churches fall into a consumer model that asks little of congregants except to be entertained.  Other churches double down on what was.  Failing to engage.  Picking up war-like paradigms of standing for the truth no matter the cost, a “standing” far divorced from “doing.”

Place those two storms together.  And there is … nothing.  A storm of nothing.  Shallow culture.  Irrelevant churches. And a certain thing dies.

What dies is the beautiful, powerful immagination of Christianity.  The part that gave rise to countless hospitals and schools. The part that founded the Salvation Army.  The YMCA.  The YWCA.  Homeless shelters. The Catholic Worker.  St. Francis Inn.  Sunday Morning Breakfast Rescue Mission, Habitat for Humanity.

All the above flowering from imagination … “the ability to work together in builidng our common home.”

An imagination to not just talk about the church but instead the endeavor to BE the church.

My prayer … that Pope Francis rekindles that imagination.   That we all find that spark again.


What is “Church”?

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

A big question.

Churches rise and fall. The big picture of larger movements as well as small individual congregations.  All rise, all fall, all are reborn in certain sense.

Growth comes, paradoxically, from that fall.  Each movement a seed for the next in a widening, constant re-discovery of the essential of all existence … love.

Emanuel Swedenborg offered fascinating insights on that dynamic.

Every church when it begins holds the good of life [useful, kind service] in the first place, and truths of doctrine in the second; but as the church declines it begins to regard the truths of doctrine in the first place and the good of life in the second place. (Apoloclypse Revealed, 82)

In another place he writes….

At first a church has no other doctrine and loves no other doctrine than teachings around charity because this belongs to life.  [Eventually] it begins to hold charity as cheap, and over time rejects it. (Secrets of Heaven 2417)

So we start out, simply put, with love. A  love that grows towards service. And service, in its original form, is valued over knowledge. That is where churches grow.

Over time we “flip” however and mistakenly come to value knowledge over service. Religion, faith becomes a “head trip.”  And the church declines. Arguments and debates pull us up and away from life into the safety of intellectual ivory towers. Clean, sterile and absolutely deadly.

A simple process of growth. A  simple process of decline.

So what is “church”?

Church is community where God is known, his Word celebrated. Celebrated through this – a genuine love that leads to service.  A pushing aside of the compulsions we all harbor that detract from that love. And a reach, a smiling, dangerous reach out into the world.  It begins in each individual heart.  Ripples out into our church community of practice.  And reaches further still to the world.

This is how it looked for this pastor yesterday….


Seeing Joy Or Seeing Only Danger

Sunday, September 6th, 2015

There is a power here in this simple idea…..

God’s divine providence is trying to get rid of division in everything it does.  (Divine Providence, 16)

We live divided lives.  Often.

Divided, we seek one thing.  We do another.  Our compulsions time and again win at the expense of the best intentions our hearts.

We live between places, blessed and broken, saint and sinner.  Makes the division understandable.  And God’s point, perspective, providence leads us one way … by pushing aside the darkness in our lives we reach the Light. And live there – heaven – undivided.

The slow work of love.  Seeing joy.  Not only seeing danger.






Consider Change

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

So many stories are so much the same.  Heard over and over.  And one plot goes something like this….  I am working way too much.  I never see her/ him/ them.  We are ships passing in the night. This can’t keep up.  And I can’t get off.

Under that narrative some basics assumptions…

  1. Life must trend ever upward in terms of success
  2. Life must trend ever upward in terms of salary and financial security
  3. There is no “getting off” the ride.
  4. There is only riding the ride harder, pushing through just a few more years of misery at which point the elusive “golden nugget” will be had.
Welcome to the life of many young adults.
And we do get to choose.  We do get to choose.  We are free.
Change is the point. It’s what we seek to do to the world around us.

Change, actual change, is hard work. And changing our own minds is the most difficult place to start.

It’s also the only place to start.

It’s hard to find the leverage to change the way you see the world, hard to pull on your thoughtstraps. But it’s urgent.

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices…” William James

Seth Godin

So my two cents…. consider change.  In the beauty of the Christian tradition … repentance.  ”Metanoia” in Greek.  ”Changing one’s mind” in English.  ”Repentance” in short hand.

For what does it profit someone to gain the whole world and forfeit their soul? What can someone give in return for their soul? (Mark 8:36)


The Beauty of Failure

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Why talk about failing?  Three reasons courtesty of Seth Godin….

  1. Because success is easier to deal with and you’re probably doing fine with that.
  2. Because your narrative about failing is keeping you from succeeding.
  3. Because you will have far more chances to fail than you know what to do with.
And failure is the Christian narrative.  Chrisitanity is as downward story, a story of willing descent and failure.  And a story of an ultimate redemption that reclaims the whole.
One idea, one way to hold that bigger picture… Peter Gomes, the former Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard Divinity School, tellingly wrote that the beauty of Christianity is that we can be more than our biography.  We have our identity, made in God’s image and likeness, and we have our biography, our life circumstances, our external life.  Who we are vs. what we do. Our soul vs. our resumé.
And our care tends to lean towards biography instead of identity.
That is why Christianity in a sense can be so revolutionary as we lean instead away from biography to identity.  A Copernican shift of center.  And a shift that ALWAYS entails a blessed beauty – the blessed beauty of failure.  As one author phrased it, a “living witness to a simple life on the edge of the dominant consciousness.”
Failure then?  The joyous path to being more than our biography.