5 Steps to Create Missional Alignment in your Church

About once a year I will notice that my vehicle has a tendency to pull in a certain direction while I am driving. While it is my intent to go straight, it seems that I struggle to keep the wheels from veering to the left or right.  When this occurs I know it is time to head to the tire shop and get a realignment.  Over time, the bumps in the road, the grind of the asphalt and the sudden turns and stops take a toll on the alignment of my car.  If I ignore the warning signs of misalignment, I will begin to see the impact on my tires as they show premature wear and, in time, it becomes a hazard to my ability to get where I want to go.

Much like my vehicle, many churches suffer from missional misalignment.  Without regular realignment a church has a propensity to veer off the intended course of making a Gospel impact on their community. There are many churches who have allowed the vehicle to become misaligned from their mission and they are finding themselves having little impact.  The road God has called us is the Great Commission Highway and regular missional alignments ensure that we stay straight on the high impact path to which Christ has called us.  However, remaining on that road is easier said than done.  It takes an intentional and continual effort of keeping both hands on the wheel and our eyes on the mission before us.   Here are five key adjustments that your church can make to attain missional realignment:

  1. Have a clear and often stated missional purpose. I was recently reminded by a friend of a statement that I had heard years ago, “Words create worlds”. Missional language should be used often and regularly if we are going to create a culture of intentional outreach.  A clear, concise and often communicated missional statement is of great importance in creating missional culture.  This statement should not be thrown together, but carefully developed through a collaborate effort between staff and key lay leaders in the church.  There are many churches who have a missional statement but rarely refer to it and certainly don’t adhere to it. A Missional statement is not merely to be used as a catchy marketable slogan.  Many churches by nature compartmentalize ministry rather than allow the missional purpose to give birth to ministries. We recognize the stuff we should be doing and we treat them like a check list.  Such compartmental thinking causes the church to be program driven rather than gospel/missionally driven. Churches must create a model of ministry that encompasses all the important components into one concentric focus. Missional focus is the DNA of the church, it should be who we are, not just one of the things we do.  The discipleship, evangelism, outreach, ministry, worship and every other program must be birthed out of and in perfect sync with, the missional statement of the church. State your missional purpose often, make it conspicuous around the facilities, preach annually on it and allow it to give birth to your ministries. Your focus will become your function!
  2. Staff for missional effectiveness. Not long ago I was in a consulting relationship with a pastor regarding his declining church.  There were no youth or children attending and the congregation’s future was in question.  When I suggested that they take steps to hire a youth or children’s minister he immediately responded, “Why would we hire a children’s minister when we don’t have any children?”  His response seems appropriate and even based upon common sense.  However, it was delivered from an improper view of mission. Churches should not staff according to need, it should staff according to mission.  Churches that fall into the “plugging holes” approach of hiring staff usually end up being overstaffed with a group of people leading a few programs or ministries. Always allow your missional focus to determine your staff positions and the type of person you hire. As you exegete (study) the culture of your community pay close attention to areas of greatest needs where your church can share the love of Christ.  As you create staff positions, hire based on missional needs and not simply to keep the “ministries for the members” afloat.
  3. Budget according to missional focus. It has been my experience that most churches give little attention to money dispersion through the various line items on the budget.  I would say anecdotally that 8 out of 10 mid-sized to smaller churches approach budget planning in one of the following ways:  The budget committee meets, looks at last year’s budget and if the church is doing well financially, they will add a few dollars to the most important line items.  If the church had a down fiscal year they will take a few dollars away from existing non-essential line items and if the church has barely made budget the year prior they will give the staff a cost of living raise, appropriate the necessary increases regarding utilities and keep everything else the same. Point is most budget decisions are made based on bottom line figures without regard to where and how the money is spent.  I believe each year a church should take a fresh approach to its budget planning.  Does your current budget accurately reflect your missional approach?  There are some items that are considered essential such as utilities, payments, salary, denominational giving and other items that should be deemed absolutely necessary.  However, don’t keep throwing budget dollars toward dead ministries hoping they will somehow revive.  Let your missional focus determine where the bulk of the dollars should be spent for the maximum ROEI (Return on Eternal Investment).  It has been said that a person’s bank statement is a theological statement, the same can be said of a churches budget.  Where your money is going says much about the heart condition of the church.  Quit allotting budget to dead or dying ministries.  Every member’s tithe is an eternal investment which should bring back the maximum kingdom value for the church.
  4. Find 2 or 3 missional opportunities and stay locked in. One church cannot fix every ailing part of a community.  There may be 20 areas of need in your community, but you should not attempt to provide missional assistance to all 20 areas. Unless you are a large church you cannot sustain the energy or finances needed for such a task.  A few years ago one of my members was riding through a mobile home community near our church and felt the tug of God on his heart to do ministry to this hurting place.  After some time and many discussions we concluded that this was an important opportunity to be the hands of feet of Christ to an area greatly needing the touch of God.  For many years we provided Thanksgiving meals, Christmas gifts and ongoing block parties in that community and saw many come to Christ.  It ended only when the new management told us we weren’t welcomed there anymore. After we committed to the mission I brought this church member on staff, we budgeted toward the mission and made it a priority with our membership, God richly blessed the work and our people were energized through it. Your church can’t fix all problems, but you can be the healing balm to those suffering in your community, and you should. Find 2 or 3 areas of greatest need, enlist your people, fund the work and stay locked in for long term conversions.
  5. Build missional leaders. What is the definition of a missional church? A missional church has a process of intentional disciplemaking to build leaders and then provide opportunities to serve. Just because you send a few people to visit “membership prospects” doesn’t make you a missional church.  Just because your church offers a large attractional event in October and gives out a bunch of candy doesn’t mean you are missional.  Don’t get me wrong, we should do these things, but how we do them should be in question. For example as you have VBS don’t simply babysit a bunch of children for a week, but purposefully have a plan of missional engagement to the many unchurched families that will come this summer.  Don’t just offer a fall festival or an Easter egg hunt, make it an opportunity to engage people in conversation making relational connections that over time will bring them back to your church when life takes a difficult turn. Church leaders must train their members to have this kind of approach.  Use your congregation as a missional force of outreach.  Through personal mentoring help them to see their ministry potential and find areas of greatest needs in your community. As you accomplish this work, you will build missional leaders within your congregation. Train them to share their faith through gospel conversations, help them to embrace their giftedness and match them with a missional opportunity.

Over time vehicles need alignments to ensure they keep a steady and straight path.  Without regular missional alignments the church begins to show wear as the road gets bumpy. Providing attention to these areas in your church will assure a realigned missional focus that will energize your church and bring unparalleled times of ministry effectiveness to your church.  Happy driving!

The Importance of Identity

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3: 1-4. CSB.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17 CSB. 

There comes a point in a believer’s life that I call the “wow” moment.  The moment comes when their spiritual growth takes them to passages like the ones above that clearly define their new identity.  On those days when I feel especially broken or distant from God I go to verses like these and am reminded, God loves me so much that he unified me with His own Son.  It took His Son’s atoning blood to make it happen, but he made the loving choice to bring us together.  Meditate on that phrase in Colossians 3:4, “For you died and your life is HIDDEN with Christ in God.”  The word “hidden” is the Greek word Koopto which means “concealed or secured.”  My identity is completely wrapped up, hidden, secured and concealed in Christ.  All of my sins, my insecurities, my anxieties, my embarrassments and frustrations are concealed and affixed to Jesus Christ through the work of the Father.  I am “in Christ”, meaning I have changed identities.

My freshman year of college was by far the darkest days of my life.  I was chasing worldly pursuits, living as though God was not real, seeking only what my flesh desired.  I was running after the wind and pursuing after something that I didn’t even understand.  I was directionless, confused and far from God.  I found no satisfaction in any of my pursuits, they only left me feeling empty and frustrated.  I was a Christian (though not living it) and I had a call to ministry (though I wasn’t acknowledging it). My “wow” moment happened on the back row of a church in December of 1991.  No one in that church knew how miserable I felt and how confused I was in my personal faith struggle.  But on that night, I surrendered when I came to the realization that all my striving and pursuing was of no lasting value. Though my salvation was already secured on this night I made the choice to accept my new identity.  I would no longer live for me and I would no longer chase after the narcissistic ideologies of this world.  I am in Christ, it is no longer about me.  I have stopped striving and I am content in Him.  It is a freeing thing to not worry about making a name for yourself or being known by others.

Your life is hidden, your union with Him is secured, your eternity is reserved and your only aim should be to please Him.

Paul says that we have been “raised with Christ” and “hidden with Christ”.  He then makes that incredible statement regarding my identity, “When Christ, WHO IS YOUR LIFE, appears, then you also will appear with him in Glory.” (Col. 3:4).  This is all that matters.  Your spiritual identity is not found by asking the question “who am I?” it is found by asking “Whose Am I?”  Paul says that God “chose us IN HIM before the creation of the world.” (Eph. 1:4). 

What does it mean to be hidden or unified with Christ?  There is not enough space in this article to fully explain this, but it is safe to say that God sees you through His Son.  God doesn’t see our shame and failures once they are forgiven. (Isaiah 43:25). When the Father evaluates us He doesn’t look only at us alone.  God always sees every believer in union with Christ and therefore as righteous. Theologians call this the “imputation” of righteousness, I call it amazing grace.

Once I understand Whose I Am, it changes my life.

Living for yourself is an exhausting endeavor because you will never be satisfied.  When we come to grips with our identity in Christ we find the sweetest of contentment as illustrated by Paul in Philippians 4:10-13. It is not that we stop striving for excellence or accomplishment, it is simply that our striving is for Him and His glory.  When we strive for ourselves, we chase the wind.  When we strive for Him, we chase after the one who calms the wind.

The Bible is a collective story of sinners who found a new identity and were used in mighty ways. Abram became Abraham, Jacob became Israel, Levi became Matthew, Simon became Peter, Saul became Paul.  David went from sitting in the seat of a shepherd to sitting on the throne of Israel.  James and John were known as “sons of thunder” and Christ made them “sons of God.” Perhaps is greatest example of one who understood their identity was John the Baptist. Jesus said of him, “among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.” (Luke 7:28).  When Jesus began his ministry, John had a large following and his own loyal disciples. Yet when Jesus came into focus and stepped in to the Jordan River, John’s ministry became one of refracting any attention to Christ.  Some even believed that John the Baptist was the Messiah (John 1:20), yet instead of working to attract a bigger crowd or more attention to himself he said, “It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” (John 1:27).

Though Paul the Apostle was known by thousands, he often referred to himself as a “slave of Christ.” It is this perpetual self-denial that is the essential element of reaching that “wow” moment as a believer. “You are not your own; you were bought with a price.” 1 Corinthians 6:20. In this world of self-absorption we who know him are called to a higher way of living. If you are sitting on the throne of your heart, you should move over.  You are in His chair.  If I want to truly encounter all that God has for me in this life, I would do well in finding my identity in Him.  Not begrudgingly, but willingly and joyfully. The greatest thing about me is the one living in me.

Eden to Calvary: The Scarlet Thread of Redemption

It truly is a remarkable statement, “And they (Adam & Eve) were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” Genesis 2:25.  Instead of focusing on the lack of clothing we are called to focus on the final four words of that verse, “…and were not ashamed.”  That is the last time that statement could ever be made of human beings.  They had nothing to be ashamed of, they were living in complete purity in a daily relationship with the Living God.  Their tongues knew no lie, their minds knew no impure thought, their hands had not touched an unclean thing and their feet had not trod the ways of disobedience.  While our sinful minds tend to focus on the nakedness of Adam and Eve, the meaning of this verse is very powerfully indicated in the lack of shame they felt. Imagine living in such a state that you have nothing of which to feel ashamed.  They were sinless, pure, holy, created for a face to face relationship with their creator in which all of their needs and desires were wholly met through His Holy sufficiency.

Unfortunately, the failure of Genesis 3 changed everything.  While God had created man and woman as perfect he did not create them without choice of morality. They were not created as robots with no choice as to how they would live in relationship to God.  The “choice” came to them in the form of the serpent.  The words of God were twisted and distorted by the deceiver of man and the most catastrophic choice in history was made. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that is was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.” Genesis 3:6. In an instant purity was erased, innocence was gone and the tentacles of shame took hold of the hearts of those made in His image.  The imago dei of creation, though still in the DNA, became corrupted.  It is hard to imagine that mankind could have had any need to satisfy their soul other than the presence of God.  Yet, that which was created for the Father’s presence was now playing the first game of hide and go seek.  It is indeed a horrifying statement found in Genesis 3:8, “…they hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God.”  As a result of that action, God posed his first question to his creation, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:9.  While at first glance this question seems simple, it was extremely loaded meant to bring deep introspection.  God didn’t ask the question for his own benefit, after all, He is God and knows the spiritual and physical location of all creation.  The question was for Adam and Eve’s benefit.  Another way of posing the question would have been, “look at what you have become.”  There they hid from the Father, recognizing their nakedness and feeling an unusual and alien emotion, shame.

What followed after this event can be explained by two words, violence and blood.

Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made clothing of animal skin, and clothed them.Genesis 3:21. Don’t miss that, animal skin. Something had to die in order to cover the shame.  Without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sin.” Hebrews 9:22. Tragically the chapter ends with a terrifying statement, “He drove out the man, and at the east of the Garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:24.

In the narrative of the first chapters of Genesis the focus is on creation and desecration, yet we can easily miss the potent prophecy that God brings immediately after the fall. “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Genesis 3:15. The “He” is Jesus Christ and the prophecy points to a future event in which the serpent would deliver one final “bite”, just before his head is crushed for all eternity.  And thus, the scarlet thread of redemption makes its first appearance.  W.A. Criswell was the first to refer to the scarlet thread of redemption. We see it throughout the Old Testament, from the skins of animals that covered Adam and his wife (Genesis 3), to the ram in the thicket (Genesis 22), the rope hanging out of Rahab’s window (Joshua 2), and the Passover Lamb (Exodus 12). God had a plan to redeem his creation and it becomes evident throughout the Scripture.  As a matter of fact God had a plan BEFORE the fall of man occurred, “God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last days.” 1 Peter 1:20.  The scarlet thread runs seamlessly and purposefully all the way to a place called Calvary.

“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities and the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:4-5.

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.” 1 Peter 3:18

In Genesis, God created us as HIS and to ensure that we would always be HIS, he had a plan to redeem us. Even while His creation was taking the bite of the fruit, His hand was in full grip of the scarlet chord. Because He is holy and just, his wrath must bring punishment to sin.  Yet on the grandest stage in human history the final thread of the chord was still in the Hand of the Father. Through all of the failures and catastrophic decisions of man, His hand never loosed its grip on the scarlet thread of redemption. On Calvary, the Father handed the thread of redemption to His Son to hold for just long enough to bring us back into a right relationship with Him.  Notice again Peter’s words, “…that he might bring us to God.”  Paul emphasizes this point in Ephesians 2:13, “But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

In June of 1984 I grabbed hold of that scarlet thread as I trusted in the sacrifice of Christ. When I took hold of the redemption provided by Christ, with that same scarlet thread Jesus pulled my soul to Him and brought me near.  What He did for me, He can do for you. 

In Genesis 3 God kicks creation out of his presence, yet through the redemption provided at Calvary the Bible ends with a compelling invitation, “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. Revelation 22:17. The Bible begins with an expulsion from His presence and ends with an invitation to enter His presence. The Bible begins with a warning not to partake of the Tree of Life and ends with an invitation to partake of the Tree of Life (Revelation 22:14).  If you will come to the Cross of Calvary, you will find the same scarlet thread of redemption, the blood of Christ, tied to its redeeming power.  Let me encourage you, take hold of that thread, it will lead you directly to the one who created you.  And when you do take hold you too will be able to enjoy an eternity without shame.

Effective Disciple Making: Invite Everyone, Invest in a Few!

And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:2

Great disciple making movements are not created through large scale invitations to crowds.  Great disciple making movements begin small and grow big.  Effective disciple making doesn’t depend on additions to a ministry, it involves investing in a few who will multiply themselves in others.  Some will read that and think I have lost my mind because our church mentality has led us to believe that we should create a new ministry, set a start date, implore many to be a part and launch with a big crowd. However, have you noticed that many of these plans start big and end small?   If you have served in ministry for any time then you understand what I mean.  How many times have you had a great idea, promoted it, launch it with great success only to see enthusiasm wane over time?  This happens cyclically in churches all the time and it is discouraging to both staff and members.

There has been much talk in the past couple of years on disciple making which differs from our traditional mindset of discipleship.  Traditional models of discipleship offer programs of Christian education in which churches create Bible study classes and then implore the masses to come and get involved.  While this has been effective over the years, the reality is that churches who are most effective in making disciples are no longer using this format.  The most thrilling ministry for me in the past two years has been life on life discipling.  This week I met with a young man that I led to Christ a few months ago. I have been discipling him for many weeks. I am investing much time in his life with the hopes that he will in turn do the same for others. This approach is much more encouraging than traditional models which sees motivation decline over time.

  Discipleship programs depend on the perpetual motivation of attenders, disciple making movements’ foster multiplying momentum in the lives of a few. 

We have to look no further than the example of Jesus, the greatest disciple maker who ever lived. Jesus never pandered to the crowds and never made it his goal to attract large audiences.  Actually, the opposite is true.  After he calls the disciples to be “fishers of men” we find him with the masses 17 times and investing in his few disciples 46 times. As you read the gospels notice how many times Jesus invests his time in the fantastic four (James, John, Peter and Andrew).  It was to these four that he said, “I will show you how to be fishers of men.” (Mathew 4:18-22).  The “show you how” meant investing His time in equipping these few men.  It was to these four that he showed the full extent of His glory on the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17). Peter, Andrew, James and John were privileged to be with Jesus when He healed Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:37), and they were the audience at the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:3).  These four disciples would witness his first miracle in Cana (John 2) and his first healing with the Nobleman’s son (John 4). Finally these four were with Jesus during His time of agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37). Isn’t it incredible to learn that the Lord of the Universe came to this earth and spent the majority of his ministry investing in mainly four men. Jesus didn’t preach to the whole world during his ministry, instead he spent the majority of his time discipling a few men who would later take his message to the world.

The Great Commission he would subsequently give to them was not merely a call to convert the lost, it was a mandate to make disciples and “teach them to observe all things.”  

For years our churches have invited the crowds in hopes of additions.  However the example of Christ is to invite many to come, while investing in a few disciples.  Church leaders should stop thinking merely of additions to the church and rather plan for a disciple making movement of multiplication which begins by investing much time in a few.  Don’t worry about building a large church, instead invest your time in building disciples who make disciples and eventually you will see the best kind of church growth. Clearly, when you study the ministry of Jesus chronologically that was His model.  If it was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us.  I believe that every pastor and church leader should spend the majority of their time investing in faithful people who will, in turn, invest in others.  Paul reminded pastor Timothy of this in 2 Timothy 2:2 and he also states it in the minister’s job description found in Ephesians 4:12. “...to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” We are called to EQUIP.  The word Equip is the Greek word, “katartismos” which has a double meaning.  It is a call to repair or mend while also meaning to prepare for use.

A church leader’s job is to invest in other for the sake of equipping them to be disciple makers.  We do this by mending them and sending them, repairing them while preparing them.

This Greek word is same used in describing a fisherman mending his nets from the previous night’s catch while preparing it for tomorrow’s harvest.  That is a picture of what disciple making should accomplish in those we disciple. As you prepare to welcome big crowds to church remember that God has not called you to fill the church, he has called you to a disciple making movement. Disciple making movements eventually bring multiplication which, in time, will bring a great harvest of souls into the Kingdom of God.  Who are you currently discipling and equipping? If you are not spending time investing in a few faithful, you may never see the full extent of what God wants to accomplish through your ministry.

Has Your Church Lost its Desperation?

Bottom line is this: The overwhelming majority of declining churches in North America are ineffective simply because they have lost their sense of desperation for Kingdom impact.  Oh sure, every evangelical church (I would hope) will say that they want to see people saved, baptized and discipled.  You will not find a minister or lay leader in a church that would say, “we really don’t care that the majority of people in our community are lost and will die in that condition.”  I truly believe that the overwhelming majority of Christians do care that hundreds, if not thousands of people, that live in their community do not have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. I also believe that dedicated church members understand the need to reach out to these people who live in their community and share Christ with them and get them connected with a local church.  However, though the theology is right and the intentions are pure, the sad reality is most declining churches have lost their desperation for Kingdom impact in their community.

In the book of Acts, the early church believed that sharing Christ and making disciples was a desperate need and their actions showed it. They lived with a strong belief that the return of Christ was imminent and their mission was to prepare as many souls for that moment as possible.  For example, Luke describes the first church in Jerusalem as a group of people who lived in daily desperation for Christ and the mission they had been called to live.  He describes the church as “continuing steadfastly” and “continuing daily” in a “deep sense of awe or fear” (Acts 2:42-47).  As a result “many wonders and signs were done” and “daily the Lord added to the church those who were being saved.” When churches get desperate enough for Jesus Christ and to see him work, only then will congregations see results.  Mark Clifton writes in his book, “Reclaiming Glory: revitalizing Dying Churches” that each year in the Southern Baptist Convention 900 churches disappear and most because they close their doors.  If something doesn’t change in the next 10 years we will see unprecedented church closings across our land and many of them in the deep south and many will be SBC churches. That is not anecdotal perceptions. My statement is based on my observation from hundreds of conversations with pastors, associational leaders and evangelical leaders in general.

Declining and dying churches must reach a point of desperation where they make the decision not to be a statistic.

At that point of desperation they slaughter all sacred cows, re-introduce themselves to their community demographics, get outside the stained glass and become the Gospel movement that Jesus Christ is calling them to become.

Declining churches put much effort into planning the church calendar, budget, and weekly services, but give little or no attention to taking the life giving message of the Gospel to the families living in their community. The outreach of these churches ends at their church sign which says, “Welcome.” Churches don’t have to surrender the sacredness of the message in order to embrace the best methodologies and strategies to reach their community.

Churches that refuse to change methods in order to reach souls have lost their sense of desperation.

I will never forget hearing Jim Henry, long time pastor of FBC Orlando, say to my seminary class, “All growing churches have a certain amount of healthy tension.”  I didn’t understand that statement for many years, but I have come to believe that he was right.  Healthy churches refuse to exist in contentment and predictable patterns simply to keep members happy.  Some churches express a desire to reach their community as long as the visitors bring the preferred Bible translation, sing the preferred worship songs, dress in “church clothes” and show up at 11:00AM on Sunday. In other words, come and visit with us as long as you conform to our way of “doing church.”  Churches like this have not reached a place of desperation.

My fear is that many churches have reached what I call the “line of desperation”.  This line symbolizes a time in the life of the church where major methodological changes must be made in order to enjoy a healthy future. At this point in the church’s life it is literally “put up or shut the doors up.” Tough decisions need to be made that will forever change the function, demographic and literally the DNA of the congregation. Most congregations will not make a courageous decision and will refuse to embrace a desperate methodology that leads to cathartic changes.  These churches have chosen to continue in contentment and keeping peace and in so doing they write their own obituaries.

 The sad fact is that many churches will die and not because God wants them to die, but because they are just not desperate enough to make the necessary changes that lead them to a new fruitful season.

Hunter Street Baptist Church in Hoover, Alabama is a great example of a church that came to the line of desperation and chose to be desperate in mission rather than die in mediocrity.  The church came to the realization that if changes were not made, the church would eventually die. Courageous decisions were made and today the church is a dynamic ministry baptizing hundreds per year. Hunter Street came to a point of desperation and the church chose life rather than a slow death.  Unfortunately I know of many churches who have passed the line of desperation and chose to sit in contentment and face their eventual fate.

Is your church at the line of desperation?  If so, will your church choose to become desperate for Christ, desperate for God’s mission, desperate for the souls of your community and desperate to see God work?  My prayer is that we will see a revitalization of desperation in congregations all over North America. We will not see this movement until the people in the pews become desperate to see God move in their individual lives first and in their church respectively.  No outdated method or tradition is worth holding on to, no matter how cherished, if it leads to mediocrity and eventually ministry necrosis.

The Most Overlooked Component of Church Revitalization

A 2010 study by the Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary found that only 6.8% of Southern Baptist churches can be considered “healthy churches.”  The man who led that study was my doctoral mentor Dr. Bill Day.  The results of that study were considerable because it didn’t simply focus on church growth, but rather on church health.  Not all church growth is healthy growth, for example, if a church uses unbiblical methodology to grow membership that isn’t healthy growth.  Healthy church growth will always involve the following components: Ongoing ministry assessment, clear and concise missional statement, visionary leadership, a shared congregational strategy and well communicated model for disciple-making. A church with these components will likely experience more baptisms, more community engagement, a healthy financial situation and lots of exciting Sundays!

However, the truth is that some churches can do all of those components well and still not experience healthy church growth.

If a church is organizationally strong, but spiritually weak it will never grow to its full potential.

Spiritual growth and vibrancy in the individual lives of church members will ALWAYS proceed corporate numerical growth and effective ministry. A church can have a robust missional purpose and detailed strategy, but if the members of the church are not growing spiritually the full potential will never be realized.  Church health and spiritual health are perpetually conjoined, you can not and will not have one without the other. Church revitalization is a spiritual process before it is a methodological process.  Another study of revitalized churches revealed that over 75% of these churches started spiritual initiatives to enhance the growth of church members.  Of the churches studied the number one component of revitalized churches was spiritual growth initiatives. (John Larue, Back from the Brink, Your Church Magazine).  At the beginning of the revitalization process it is a mistake to take church members to the board room for a meeting without taking them first to the prayer closet.  All the plans in the world will not overcome spiritual deficiencies in the lives of individual church members.  For the membership to discern God’s leadership for their church they must first realize God’s active presence in their lives.  Every revitalized church is filled with spiritually revitalized people! Every single one!

With this in mind here are few things to keep in mind to spiritually revitalize your church.

  1. Prayer initiatives will under gird the process of revitalization.  It is an old saying but it still holds true, prayer makes us more aware.  The more time churches spend praying the more members will become aware of what God wants to do in their church.  Even more important, prayer awakens the hearts of members to be more sensitive to the Lord’s direction in their individual lives. In the early church all big decisions were preceded by individual and corporate prayer. (Choosing Judas’ replacement, selecting the first deacons, sending out of Paul and Barnabas, etc.).
  2. Spiritual focus will bring to light unconfessed sins and spiritual disobedience. The Lord’s blessing on a church will always be the result of right living more than right planning.  In Acts 5, the first church was held back due to the sins of Ananias and Sapphira.  Had it not been for the proactive approach of Peter to deal with the sin, the church would have paid a heavy price for the indiscretions of members. The sin of Achan in Joshua 7 is also worth noting. The Bible reveals to us that God withholds His blessings from His people due to their lack of spiritual vibrancy. This is a necessary and painful part of the process of church revitalization. Feelings will be hurt when the actions of the dark are brought to light, but without this spiritual confrontation a church will not be able to move forward.  Corporate and individual sins of omission and commission must be confessed and repentance must follow.
  3.  Church leaders must exhibit lives of vibrant spiritual growth. I believe that spiritual growth and vibrancy is both taught and caught.  Do church members see in their pastor and ministers an authentic spiritual vibrancy that encourages them to have a deep walk with the Lord?  No church will be spiritually vibrant if the ministers are not living in deep connection with the Lord.  For example, the sermon on Sunday morning should be a overflow of what God is doing in the life of the preacher.  Church members know when their leader is falling on hard times spiritually.  Some church leaders will try to mask the situation and “do their job”, but you can’t fake genuine spiritual vibrancy.  Some churches are not being revitalized simply because their leaders have grown spiritually weary.  Church leaders cannot expect their people to be emboldened to their mission if the leader has lost passion.
  4. Spiritual expectancy is a bedrock in healthy churches.  I remember with great fondness a few years ago when I was a full time pastor of a healthy vibrant church. As I drove to church on Sunday morning I expected something great to happen.  I was never shocked when God did something amazing in our services.  Our people expected Him to do something because our membership was enjoying an authentic spiritual journey together. I remember one particular Sunday during the invitation when the line of folks wanting to join the church went all the way down the center aisle!  I wasn’t shocked because God was doing a mighty work in the lives of our members and the people coming that morning was the result.  When churches are experiencing spiritual revitalization they come expecting God to do something great.  With great spiritual growth comes great spiritual expectancy.  The presence of God’s Spirit is tangible.  This is not a result of what God is doing in the church house, it is a result of what God is doing in the people that call it home.

Before you begin the process of working through the various components of church health, don’t neglect the most important.  If you want your church to grow numerically, it must first grow spiritually.

Important Q&A Regarding Church Security

This past Sunday morning I arrived to preach at a First Baptist Church in rural Alabama. As I pulled in the parking lot I noticed two men sitting on a curb. I got out of my car and spoke to them as I made my way to the pastor’s office to go over the details of the morning service.  The pastor told me that the two men were picked up by the local police and spent the previous night in jail for public intoxication.  They were released early Sunday morning and walked down the street to the First Baptist Church.  They had been hitchhiking from up north and through a series of events found themselves sitting in the church parking lot before any members arrived.  The pastor shared with me how they were carrying duffel bags which caused obvious anxiety to some of the members.  The pastor arrived that morning, greeted them warmly and simply asked if he could check their bags before allowing them to attend worship.  There were no issues and they politely sat in the service as I preached.  The pastor bought them lunch and they were on their way.  The thought of church security was on my mind as I drove home thinking about the events of that morning.  As I was deep in my thoughts about what could have been a dangerous situation, the news came across the radio regarding FBC Sutherland Springs, TX.  I couldn’t help but think that similar events could easily have happened at several hundred churches in Alabama that morning, including the one I had just preached.

The events of Sunday morning in a small Texas town was nothing short of pure evil. I can hardly bring it to my mind without feeling emotionally distressed and physically sick.  We should spend adequate time this week praying for pastor Frank Pomeroy, his wife and surviving church members as they grieve and begin the process of putting their lives back together. I am thankful for the immediate action of the Southern Baptist Convention of Texas and the SBC national leaders like Frank Page and Steve Gaines. The world has been watching  and Southern Baptists have shined as they have given empathetic prayerful support to this church and town.

I truly believe that Sunday’s events in Texas fundamentally changed church security forever.  What 9/11/01 was to air travel, 11/5/17 will be to church security.

It changes the conversations regarding church security protocol.  No matter the size of the church, denomination, location or affiliations most every church is meeting this week to review security measures.  We must ask the tough questions and find sufficient answers to make sure that our churches are as well prepared as possible.  Sunday’s events also point to the fact that we are doing ministry in a dangerous place.  There are risks that exceed our standard approach to church security.  Church security can no longer be one person standing in the parking lot keeping a watch.

This week I spoke with church security expert Doug Wilson of Counter Threat Group for a Q&A that I hope will of great assistance as churches meet to discuss new security measures.

How is Church Security changing in light of the recent events of Charleston and Sutherland Springs? I think Charleston and more recently Sutherland Springs, Texas provided a wake-up call on how vulnerable churches are to acts of violence whether it’s an active shooter or an act of terrorism.  Churches represent the softest of the soft targets with many avenues of entry into the facility and sanctuary/worship center.  The historic mindset of church staff and members is to be welcoming to all.  Unfortunately times have changed. With church violence incidents trending upward, a welcoming spirit has to be combined with discernment, especially with visitors. All church members need be aware of people who come into the church that look out of place or perhaps unknown people who are noticed walking around the church property.  There needs to be a plan in place for reporting suspicious activity.  I cannot emphasize this enough. 

What connections need to be made between the local church and local law enforcement?  We strongly suggest that all churches form relationships with their local law enforcement and keep open lines of communication on a consistent basis.  Churches should never refrain from contacting law enforcement when there is concern about suspicious individuals who may appear at the church.  Many churches now hire off duty police officers to help with traffic or be on hand during high traffic times. A police car parked at the church provides good a deterrence.   We also recommend that all churches, regardless of size, get a vulnerability assessment (VA) of the church and form a safety team to man entrance areas and have someone walking the premises, especially on Sundays.  Retired military and law enforcement are ideal members for safety teams.  It was clear from the tragic event this past Sunday, that there was not a plan in place to thwart the attacker.  There are measures that all churches can implement to reduce the risk of a violent scenario, and or thwart it if and when one occurs.  

What does a local church need to know regarding state and local laws in relation to church security?  Churches, based on the state where they reside, need to understand the laws regarding firearms.  We suggest that in today’s environment, qualified and trained individuals within a church carry concealed weapons.  If someone in the Texas church had a weapon Sunday, the loss of 26 lives could have been reduced or prevented once the gunman entered the church. Again, the thought of a violent event in a church is not a mindset that most pastors, staff or members have, but that has got to change.

In Matthew 10:16 Jesus sent his disciples out with this command, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” Churches need to be warm and welcoming to guests, but at the same time aware of threats.  What are some things that security volunteers need to be mindful of when a visitor walks on to the church grounds this Sunday? The best thing anyone within a church can do when a visitor is spotted is to welcome them.  Whether it’s the staff, ushers or regular church members, approach the person, look them in the eye, welcome them and ask if you can help them. This accomplishes several things: first, If they are a legitimate visitor, it helps them feel welcome. Second, If they are there for other reasons, then they know they have been noticed.  Third, If they wish to do harm, their demeanor will typically give them away. They won’t want help; they won’t make eye contact, they will typically appear nervous or disheveled and they won’t be conversant.  At this point, this is when the first level of church security (safety team or local law enforcement) should be contacted out of caution.  It is also important that the suspicious visitor remain within sight of a church representative until a determination can be made. If you can get them to fill out a visitors card and try to engage in a conversation, this is a good thing to do while you are waiting for additional help. 

For more information on church security I recommend churches contact the Counter Threat Group. CTG does Vulnerability Assessments (VA) for places of worship and works with churches on implementing safety teams.  They utilize a 10 point checklist that includes walking the church property, looking at the children’s areas, parking lot security, security camera coverage if applicable, ways of access to the building and sanctuary, interviewing key staff about their concerns, and most importantly,  work with churches on implementing a safety team.  Their report is written in great detail with recommendations on improving highlighted safety concerns.

For more information on Counter Threat Group: https://www.counterthreatgrp.com/