A Post By Thom Rainer

(I thought this one was worth sharing with all of you…certainly is thought provoking….)

 

EIGHT SIGNS YOUR CHURCH MAY BE CLOSING SOON

We call it the death spiral.  I know. It’s not a pleasant term. I can understand if it causes you to cringe.  By the time I am contacted about a serious problem in a church, it is often too late. The problems are deeply rooted, but the remaining members have been blind to them, or they chose to ignore them.

There are eight clear signs evident in many churches on the precipice of closing. If a church has four or more of these signs present, it is likely in deep trouble. Indeed, it could be closing sooner than almost anyone in the church would anticipate.

  1. There has been a numerical decline for four or more years. Worship attendance is in a steady decline. Offerings may decline more slowly as the “remnant” gives more to keep the church going. There are few or no conversions. Decline is clear and pervasive.
  2. The church does not look like the community in which it is located. The community has changed its ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic makeup, but the church has not. Many members are driving from other places to come to the church. The community likely knows little or nothing about the church. And the church likely knows little or nothing about the community.
  3. The congregation is mostly comprised of senior adults. It is just a few years of funerals away from having no one left in the church.
  4. The focus is on the past, not the future. Most conversations are about “the good old days.” Those good old days may have been 25 or more years in the past. Often a hero pastor of the past is held as the model to emulate.
  5. The members are intensely preference-driven. They are more concerned about their music style, their programs, their schedules, and their facilities than reaching people with the gospel. Their definition of discipleship is “others taking care of my needs.”
  6. The budget is severely inwardly focused. Most of the funds are expended to keep the lights on and/or to meet the preferences of the members. There are few dollars for ministry and missions. And any dollars for missions rarely include the involvement of the members in actually sharing the gospel themselves.
  7. There are sacred cow facilities. It might be a parlor or a pulpit. It could be pews instead of chairs. It might be the entirety of the worship center or the sanctuary. Members insist on holding tightly to those things God wants us to hold loosely.
  8. Any type of change is met with fierce resistance. The members are confronted with the choice to change or die. And though few would articulate it, their choice by their actions or lack of actions is the choice to die.

Churches with four or more of these signs have three choices. They can embark on a process of change and revitalization. Or they can close the doors for a season and re-open with a new name, a new vision, and some new people.

Of course, the third choice is to do nothing. That is the choice to die.

Thousands of churches will unfortunately do just that the next twelve months.

Advertisements

Are You A But? Don’t Be A But!

but

Most of the time, well, practically all the time, the title of this blog is spelled with an extra “t”–“Don’t be a butt!”  What we usually mean by this statement (putting it nicely) is “Don’t be so critical!”  “Don’t be so ignorant!”  “Don’t be so mean!”  “Don’t be so judgmental!”  “Don’t be so stinky!”  Well, that’s not the word I’m using, but the meanings could be applied to my thoughts today.  So be forewarned, I could become offensive.  And if this post doesn’t offend you, keep reading future posts because I will get around to you in due time.

No, I am thinking about a certain passage that has this left-handed right-side-brain pastor with some more musings about The Kingdom of God.  The passage is Luke 9:57-62 and it sounds like this from The Message:

57 On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.

58 Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”  Jesus said to another, “Follow me.”

59 He said, “Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.”

60 Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”

61 Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.”

62 Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”

Most of the time we “backwards collar types” (that means preachers for the uninformed) use this passage to talk to those who are “lost” and need to make a decision for Jesus right now.  And the Grace Pharisees like to use it in the same way.  What?  Grace Pharisees?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  Sounds like it, but there is a new Pharisee in town, actually in the church, who feel it is their duty to determine who is worthy of Grace.  Ain’t that a hoot!  Worthy of Grace!  They must have fallen out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down.  Oops, I may have just offended someone.  Oh well, if the shoe fits…

Today, I want to apply this passage to the Churchians and the Tenured Pew Sitters.  Only  someone who has their head buried in sand cannot see that the Western Church is in serious trouble, which is what inspired me to even start this blog.  In all fairness to the Churchians and the Tenured Pew Sitters, I do believe that they want to see this downward spiral (because it has become more than a trend) stop and reversed to significant growth.  They sincerely want to see the sanctuary full every Sunday.  They want to see every classroom in use and full of Sunday School students of all ages.  They want to see more programs and more than enough volunteers to handle a myriad of ministries.  They want to see people outside their church oohing and aahing over all that’s happening at their facilities; so much so that they will just rush in to join and be a part of it.  BUT…

  • But don’t change anything as it is now
  • But make it like it was in 1960
  • But don’t make me give up what I like
  • But don’t ask me to get out of my comfort zone
  • But don’t expect me to do it
  • But don’t fill this place up with all “those” people
  • But don’t expect me to fast and pray
  • But make it easy
  • But don’t make me give up my sin because it’s not all that bad
  • But give us a pastor and staff who can be successful doing it our way
  • But, but, but, but….(can you think of other “buts”?  Add them to the comments below)

Some may think I’ve gone on out a limb, a very thin and fragile limb, this time.  BUT there are those comments by Jesus:  First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”  And No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”  Did you find it?  God’s Kingdom!  You cannot add a “but” to God’s Kingdom.  Either He rules completely over your life, your activities and your congregation or He doesn’t rule.  In which case, it is no longer God’s Kingdom in your congregation, but YOUR social club.

Do not be a BUT!  Jesus is right!  (Isn’t He always?)  Our business is life and it is urgent!  So seize the day!  Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure that all the glory goes to Him!

Which Do YOU Prefer? Onions Or The Promise?

choices

“Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”

Numbers 13:3-4 (NLT)

I have to admit and give credit to where credit is due.  Today’s Kingdom Musings are inspired by something I read this morning from another fellow blogger Matthew Winters.  Though we have never met, we are connected because we shared a dark journey through an identical situation-a pastor who experiences divorce first hand.  I encourage you to read his blog Does Anyone Take Risks Anymore?  Thanks Matthew for unclogging my mind to write in this blog again.

As with all Scripture, one needs to know the context of a passage in order to understand it and apply it to our lives.  God has been leading the Hebrews to the Promised Land through His chosen leader Moses.  Besides always providing for their physical needs, God has been visibly present with them.  In the daytime it was in the pillar of cloud and at nighttime it was in the pillar of fire.  Both evidences of His presence was clear and undeniable.

Even after a lot of grumbling and complaining, they are at the very edge of the land that God promised first to Abraham and now to them.  Can you imagine the people redeemed by God’s grace, mercy and love actually grumbling and complaining?  Aren’t you glad that people today redeemed by God’s grace, mercy and love never grumble or complain?  Yes, I’m being sarcastic, one of my many gifts.  To understand this passage we need to know what led up to it.  In Numbers 13:1-2 (NLT) we read:

The Lord now said to Moses,  “Send out men to explore the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the Israelites.  Send one leader from each of the twelve ancestral tribes.” (emphasis mine)

They were to called out by God catch a glimpse of what HE was about to do.  The inhabitants were formidable, but for God who spoke light into the darkness, it would be a walk in the park.  Remember, HE is giving HIS personal guarantee that they would occupy the land and HE would give it to them.  But when these explorers came back they acted in a very human manner-there was a Majority Report and a Minority Report.  The Majority Report saw the risks and responded to the risks:  “It just can’t be done!  Before we even try, we are already whipped!”  Remember that this report is given in the light of God’s Personal Guarantee:  the land I am giving to the Israelites.  It’s a report given by those who have been witnessing God’s faithfulness.

The Minority Report saw THE SAME RISKS and said, “Look, people, if God said HE will give us this land, let’s consider this a done deal.  We don’t know exactly how He is going to pull this off, but that’s not my job.  The fact is we were never called out to determine success or failure.  We were called out to catch a wonderful glimpse of what God guaranteed HE would provide for us.”  So, the people went with the minority report, right?  WRONG!

People who had been faithfully provided food and water along the way, witnessed God delivering them in battle, AND who had witnessed the Faithful Presence of Cloud by Day and Fire by Night, want to go back to Egypt and back to slavery.  Where did this come from?  Well, it wasn’t a spur of the moment decision.  They had already given a clue to where they heart and mind was at before they arrived at the edge of risk.  It is seen in Numbers 11:4-6 (NLT)

Then the foreign rabble who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!”

Rather than enjoying the faithfulness of God, they wanted onions.  The price of the onions was to go back to slavery.  The modern parallel is clear, at least to me.  Today’s people of God, the church, are facing the same moment:  Do we take the risk of going into God’s Promise or do we go maintain the status quo?  The challenge for the Body of Christ here in the United States is do we keep on doing church work as normal or dare we take the risk of becoming involved in the work of the Kingdom of God?  Congregations that have plateaued or declining are doing so for one of two reasons:  Either their community is dying out, or they are more concerned with preserving the institution of their choice rather than doing the work of the Kingdom of God.  There is an alternative to the slavery of decline.

There are congregations that are thriving and making new disciples.  These are the congregations that have made Kingdom Work more important than church work.  The promise of God is not to have a land of beautiful church buildings and wonderful church programs, but to put in the middle of the territory of the Enemy the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.  This is our Promised Land-for the Kingdom of God to reach, touch and transform lives, homes, communities and nations.  For this to happen we must be willing to take risks.  And herein lies the problem.

When taking risks, there is the potential to fall flat on our faces.  I see a lot of good people who mistakenly believe that failure is fatal.  So to avoid becoming a fatality, they seek the comfort of the familiar because in the familiar, they live in the false illusion that they do have some type of control over their lives.  And this false illusion makes them feel more comfortable than taking the risk of trusting the Guarantee of God!  Comfort rules over risks for the Kingdom.

Recently I was at an event that was led by some of the Team Pastors of Grace Church located in the Cape Coral and Fort Myers area of Florida.  One of their pastor’s, Wes Olds said, “Don’t be afraid to fail.  In fact, do what we do.  Fail early, fail often, and fail forward.”  What he meant was that we need to be willing to learn from our mistakes and then move forward.  Some of our best learning, especially in the realm of the Kingdom of God, happens through our failures.  The problems arise hard and fast when we do not learn from our failures.  Remember this:  your failures, whether in the form of sin or in the form of trying to be faithful to our Kingdom God, never disqualifies you from God picking you up, dusting off your knees and telling you, “OK, get back out there!  I still believe in you!”

So here’s what I would like to ask you to do.  Answer this question:

Which do you prefer?  Onions or The Promised Land?

Your answer is clearly revealed in how you feel about the risks of stepping into a future where success lies entirely in the Hands of The Faithful God, the hands that were nailed to a Cross, and a future that is never controlled by our hands.  I personally know what it is like to walk into a future unknown by me.  But I go ahead and walk into this future because I have chosen to hold the Hand, the ONLY Hand, that knows exactly how this future will turn out.  My unknown future is only an illusion when I realize that God is in control of my life and my future; a future filled with His Promise.  I love a good onion, especially with beans and cornbread, but I am choosing to let go of the onions of predictability and comfort and enter into an adventure with the One who redeemed me and calls me to catch a glimpse of what HE is about to do!  Save the onions for hamburgers-go against the odds and remember that the Guarantee is given by the Faithful God!

Remember, love God with all your heart; love others the way God loves you; and make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Randy Burbank, a Kingdom Pastor…

Programs, Missions, or Vision? Where Do We Start? What Do We Do? How Do We Do It? Part 1

Why We Need To Allow Church Programs To Die

why-churches-are-dying

(Note:  This is the first of a 5 part series around the issue of Programs, Missions, and Vision of the local church)

I know that the very title of this first of five blogs will offend many long time faithful members of local churches.  And if you are one of them, I simply ask that you follow this to the end.  I am not asking you to agree with me, nor do I expect you to change your mind about this subject.  But I am asking you to engage in deep thought, reflection and prayer before you dismiss me as either anti-church, a para-church lunatic, or in some cases, the Anti-Christ.  (If this is your first time to read one of my blogs, get to know me by reading “About Me”.)

I grew up and was trained in a church that believed, invested in and promoted top quality church programs as the key to growing the local church.  To be honest, I cannot remember all the training events I have attended since 1974 that promoted a variety of programs that promised to radically transform the direction and attendance for the church I served at the time.  And I confess before God and to you that many of those programs I bought into and promoted in those wonderful places I had been appointed.  In some cases there would be some change happen in the local church, but it did not last.  Churches were changed, but not transformed.  And being the well-trained pastor who believed that it was all in the programming, I kept trying more programs.  I looked to what was called “successful” churches and tried to adapt their programs to fit our situation.  I was smart enough to know that I could not imitate “their” programs but vainly believed that if I adapted them into our context, the church would grow.  (But at the time, I wasn’t smart enough to see the big picture.)

Most pastors and local church leaders have some type of definition for what constitutes a “church program”.  Allow me to share my definition and hopefully it will give some insights into where I am coming from and where this series is going:

Church Programs are those activities and events that we plan, design and implement in order to maintain the vitality of the local church and which we believe will lead to sustainable church growth.

We all know that the key phrase in this definition is “sustainable church growth”.  Here is one of the Top 10 Understatements of all times:  Without Sustainable Growth The Local Church Will Die.  And for a few decades, this model of sustainable church growth seemed to be working.  For a season we could do what the voice told Kevin Costner to do in the movie “Field of Dreams”:  “Build it and they will come.”    But it became a competition to build the best to reach the most.  Since then, mainline churches have for the most part either maintained a plateau (meaning no sustainable growth) or started to decline.

For many congregations it became a blame game.  “We don’t have the right programs.”  “We don’t have the right staff.”  And my favorite excuse, “We’ve got the wrong pastor.”  And pastors who long for sustainable church growth have their excuses.  “It’s the denominational leaders fault.”  “I’m not at the right church.”  And my favorite excuse from pastors, “They won’t listen to me.”  It is futile to believe that the right programs, right staff, right pastor, or right church is the answer to the decline of the church in the United States.  There is something much deeper that we need to consider.

I have found a verse in the Bible that may well explain the current malady in many churches.  Normally I opt for the more modern translations, but this is a time when I think the King James Version says it best.  The passage is Proverbs 29:18-

Where there is no vision, the people perish; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

Instead of the word “perish”, other translations use phrases such as “they run wild” (NLT); “they stumble all over themselves” (The Message); or “cast off restraint” (NIV).  The Hebrew word means all of these but the word “perish” is a word that ought to grab our attention because of the current condition of the church in the United States.  When we run wild, stumble all over ourselves, or cast off restraint we step off onto that slippery slope where one thing that kills and prevents sustainable growth leads to another.  And so we scratch our heads wondering why all these wonderful programs and leaders are not resulting in vibrant congregations producing sustainable growth.

Well, let’s go back to the first part of this passage:  Where there is no vision (emphasis mine).  This point is really clear, but I think that if we look at it from The Message, we find some light and deeper understanding.  It goes like this:  “If people can’t see what God is doing” (emphasis mine).  Vision is about seeing what God is doing while programs are about seeing and measuring what we are doing.

Without a clearly defined vision of what God is doing we elevate our programs, at the very least, as a substitute for what God is doing.  Or we do something even more sinister-we ask God to bless our efforts as a means to seek God’s approval, or in many cases, as an attempt to change God’s mind.  I want to share with you 3 key reasons why maybe, just maybe, we need to allow “our church programs” to die in order to find what will produce vitality in our congregations along with sustainable growth:

 1)  Church Programs rely on human skills and strengths.

We want the best Children’s Director.  We want the best Youth Pastor.  We want the best Preacher and Pastor.  Why?  Because these are the things that programs tell us that we need.  Take a moment to think this through before you tar and feather me and burn me at the stake for being a heretic.  Sometimes programs take on a life all their own, outside the activity of the Holy Spirit.  So much so, that to suggest changing a program will almost create a riot at church business meetings.  And, if a program is faltering, then the answer we think is to fire that staff member or pastor and get new ones.  I will admit that for a season, these so called “right staff members and pastor” can create some excitement that resembles congregational vitality and will produce seasonal growth.  But the sickness returns and they will not provide the long-term sustainable growth that reveals the presence and Kingdom of God.

2)  Church Programs put a drain on our limited resources.

Once programs take on a life of their own (meaning they become sacred and are protected from any changes), then our limited resources must be used to sustain the programs.  Please notice I said “our limited resources”.  Typically church governing bodies see their resources as financial, people, buildings, and time.  When these are seen as our only resources, then there is a limited amount of said resources.  So, if someone senses that God is moving in a new direction and calls for changes the almost immediate reaction is, “Where is the money going to come from?”  “We don’t have the facilities for such a thing.”  “We’re already asking so much of our volunteers, they don’t have the time for something else.”  When programming reigns supreme, then our limited resources have to be dedicated to that and anything else will just have to wait, or worse–be ignored.

3)  Church Programs rarely, if ever, align with what God is doing.

Without a clearly defined vision of what God is doing, our programs may or may not align with what He is doing.  When they are aligned, it is either accidental or coincidental.  Again, please frame my context properly.  I’m talking about when there is no Vision of what God is doing.  The focus becomes sustaining the programs at the expense of experiencing vitality and sustaining growth that transforms the hearts of lives of people.  When Programs become the “thing”, we assume that it is of God.  When we make this assumption it will neither maintain vitality nor produce sustainable growth.

What I am offering in this series of blogs is that there is another way for vitality and sustainable growth to happen in any local church of any size and in any location.  It starts with the Vision–The Vision Of What God Is Doing.  Many congregations may have a “vision” or even a “vision statement” but a careful examination of it might reveal it is just another way of sustaining our programs–programs that rely on human ingenuity, effort and strength.  Next week I will being looking at what real “Vision” looks like, by looking at what “Vision” isn’t.  Are you ready to tar and feather me and run me out of town (or pray that I never become “your” pastor)?  Please remember my opening comments:

I am not asking you to agree with me, nor do I expect you to change your mind about this subject.  But I am asking you to engage in deep thought, reflection and prayer before you dismiss me as either anti-church, a para-church lunatic, or in some cases, the Anti-Christ.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way God loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: