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!


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 Christian Dilemma: Balancing Grace and Truth

In 1997 pastor Ken Smith of University Reformed Presbyterian Church sat down and wrote a letter to the most unlikely recipient.  Dr. Rosaria Champaign was a tenured English professor at Syracuse University and widely renowned as a scholar in feminist theory.  Dr. Champaign was a lesbian, a LBGTQ activist and outspoken critic of the “religious right”.  She had written a scathing article on the Promise Keepers movement and Christianity in general regarding their “politics and hatred toward people like me.”  Her article generated a big response both of support and criticism.  As would be expected the critical letters came from Christians which only furthered her anger and skepticism toward the church and Christianity in general.  While most were quickly read and tossed in the trash one letter in particular intrigued Rosaria, it was the letter from Pastor Ken.  The letter was not filled with criticism or “I need to set you straight”, it was written with compassion and, as Rosaria describes, “graciousness.”   The letter asked thought provoking questions that the accomplished scholar had never considered and it ended with the simple invitation, “come and join my family for dinner.”

Some of her colleagues encouraged her to visit with Pastor Ken because it would be “good for her research.”  That evening at dinner pastor Ken and his wife Floy did not try and conform her to their beliefs nor did they share the gospel.  They simply began a relationship with her and maintained it over the coming months.  She began reading the Bible and meeting regularly with Pastor Ken and his wife.  At first she read the Bible for research as she prepared to write a scholarly article on the “religious right” but soon she found herself immersed in the beauty of God’s word.  Through the relationship with genuine believers and the power of God’s Word Dr. Rosaria Champaign asked Christ into her heart.  She would leave her homosexual life and would later marry a pastor and today Rosaria Champaign Butterfield is a shining witness for Christ as she displays the power of conversion.  Her book Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert tells of her journey to Christ and the unlikely road she travelled to find eternal purpose.   If it had not been for Pastor Ken and his wife and their perfect balance of showing grace while infusing truth, she likely would never have been exposed to the love of Christ.

The Christian church has not always been effective at finding the equilibrium of grace and truth.  In our history, the pendulum has often swung to one extreme.  On the one hand too much grace is a license for liberty where choices of morality are left to the whim and flavor of the individual.  For a Christian to show only grace to a sinner is akin to knowing someone has cancer and never telling them or offering them medical treatment. The other extreme offers too much truth which leads to legalism and a rigid pharisaicalism.  Thus, the Christian dilemma.  How can Christians find the perfect balance of grace and truth?  I will admit I have not always been very good at this.  I have often used the phrase, “hate the sin and not the sinner.”  Yet, in reality I will admit that my heart has burned with anger toward certain groups and particularly world views that ridicule the things I most dearly love and cherish regarding my faith. Don’t get me wrong, I SHOULD be bothered by the effects of sin and Satan.  It should bother me that millions are ambivalent to the gospel and refuse to hear the truth of Christ.  But, why are they ambivalent to the truth of Christ?  Could it be that we have not presented it very well to them? After all, what if a homosexual couple walked into your church Sunday?  How would that go in your congregation?  Rosaria Butterfield speaks of how she, for weeks, would sit in her car across from Pastor Ken’s church because she was scared of how the congregants would respond to her.  When she finally got out of her car and walked in she was shocked to find people who were genuinely welcoming and loving toward her.  It is not that we have to love the choices that a person is making, but we MUST make a choice to love the person.  Where does the Christian look for the perfect balance of grace and love and how do we begin to implement it in our life?  The answer is found in John 1: 14-17.  The first 18 verses of the gospel is a prequel to the gospel narrative.  John sums up his own understanding of Christ in these verses.  In verse 14 we read, “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed his Glory, the Glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of GRACE and TRUTH.”  And in verses 16 and 17 John speaks of how we have received “grace upon grace” through Christ and how “GRACE and TRUTH came through Jesus Christ.”  Jesus was and is the perfect mix of grace and truth.

Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach.  This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such despicable people, even eating with them!”  Luke 15: 1-2 NLT.  Jesus would combat their complaints with three beautiful parables that perfectly illustrate God’s love for those who are broken.  The parable of the shepherd, the coin and the lost son all reflect something lost, someone seeking and the remarkable and joyous celebration once they are united.   The ministry of Jesus exhibited grace to those whom the church refused to give it.  To the woman at the well he offered “living water”, to the one caught in adultery he would save her from condemnation and offer her a better way.  To Zacchaeus he gave hope and purpose, to Mary Magdalene, he shewed away 7 demons.  To the sinful woman with the alabaster jar, he simply offered himself and the list goes on and on.   Grace was even shown to those who crucified him.  Jesus continually offered grace upon grace to those whom the religious leaders scorned.  “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, sick people do.  I have come to call sinners to turn from their sins, not to spend my time with those who think they are already good enough.” Luke 5:31 NLT.

Yet grace alone would not have been sufficient enough.  If salvation is seen as a house, grace would be the welcome mat and truth would be the door in which one enters the house of God.  While offering grace to the Samaritan woman in John 4 he confronts her sin, after chasing away the adulterous woman’s accusers he tells her to “go and sin no more.”  Salvation came to Zacchaeus but only after he was willing to give his wealth away.  Speaking of truth Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” John 14:6. 

Christians must come to a place of perfect equilibrium between grace and truth, light instead of heat.  Our anger must be directed at the one who has caused the mess and not the one dealing with messy things.  The angriest response we see of Christ was in confronting the money changers in the temple.  He didn’t get angry with the sinners, he was angry with the church leaders.  His response to the broken and lost was always predictable, he showed grace, love and compassion.  “He felt great pity for the crowds that came, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36.  What if Rosario Champaign were to walk into your church this Sunday?  How would you respond?  What if she is sitting in the office next to you every day at work?  Have your ever established a relationship with her?  The world should recognize us by our love, compassion and grace. It seems the world only knows what Christians are against and not what we can offer.  And when they recognize our grace, we will then and only then have opportunity to infuse the truth of the Gospel.  Our churches must be hospitals for the sick while dispensing the truth that can make them well.  The answer to our dilemma is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Show grace to someone today, it very well may give you opportunity to share truth tomorrow.


Why Plant New Churches?

This was a question posed to me in a phone conversation with an associational leader.  I didn’t call him to speak about church planting, but I guess he just needed to vent. “I have many established churches that are struggling to keep their doors open. We need to focus more on revitalizing these churches and less on planting new ones. We already have enough churches, we just need to strengthen the ones we have.”  While I certainly sympathize with this associational leaders concern for the churches in his area I also recognize his statements to be a little short-sighted.  C. Peter Wagner is widely known as the father of the modern day church growth movement.  In his book, Church Planting for a Great Harvest Wagner states, “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.”  Interestingly Wagner wrote that statement 26 years ago when church planting wasn’t a hot topic.  What did Wagner see that some don’t see in relation to the importance of planting new churches?

I sometimes hear people say things like, “We don’t need new churches because there are plenty of unused seats in our existing churches” or “A new church will only take people out of the pews of already struggling churches.”  But are those statements actual facts or simply statements based on assumptions from uninformed observers?  The truth is that we MUST plant new churches and I think there are many reasons why this must be an emphasis in the Southern Baptist Convention and other mainline denominations.

  1. Planting new churches helps fulfill the Great Commission.  If we are going to make disciples of all nations then we must begin new works that will effectively reach the nations.  I would make the argument that this was exactly the Apostle Paul’s mindset.  When you study the book of Acts you find that Paul went to the major cities of his day for one reason, to plant churches.  Paul first went to Lystra, Derbe, Philippi, Ephesus, Corinth and other major urban areas to plant churches that would plant more churches. Paul understood that if the Gospel was to spread effectively he needed to reach the major cities and build strong churches that would begin new works in the surrounding areas.  We know that he placed Titus in Crete in order to “appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5), which essentially means, “train new church leaders”.   Most scholars agree that the church at Colosse was a church plant which began through Paul’s work in Ephesus. (Col 1:7; 4:12).  If church planting was the focus of the Apostle Paul it should certainly be the focus of the church today.
  2. It takes all kind of churches to reach all kinds of people.  America is growing increasingly diverse while many churches remain narrowly focused on a specific demographic.  In a recent study Demographer William Frey, research professor at the University of Michigan, found some interesting trends in regards to the growing diversity in the United States.  He focuses on the diversity in terms of age, “Forty-seven states and 90 percent of the counties have an absolute decline in white population under age 20. All net growth of children in this country is coming from racial and ethnic minorities.” (Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics are Remaking America).  That is a shocking statement, but what does it mean for the church?  If we are going to reach the “nations” we must realize that the “nations” are coming to us and largely they are coming unreached.  A Pew Research Study released in March 2016 revealed the changing landscape of American population.  “By 2055, the U.S. will not have a single racial or ethnic majority. Much of this change has been (and will be) driven by immigration. Nearly 59 million immigrants have arrived in the U.S. in the past 50 years, mostly from Latin America and Asia. Today, a near-record 14% of the country’s population is foreign born compared with just 5% in 1965. Over the next five decades, the majority of U.S. population growth is projected to be linked to new Asian and Hispanic immigration.” (10 Demographic Trends that are Shaping the US and the World, Pew Research Council).  As the church of Jesus Christ how should we respond to these statistics? We could shake our fist at such numbers and galvanize our selves in our churches in order to maintain the uniformity that most congregations now realize.  This is not Great Commission thinking.  I believe that Jesus Christ would rather his church begin new churches that will best reach this growing diverse population.  We must be “in front” of the changing dynamics of diversity and not playing catch up for the next 50 years.  Lets be honest, most SBC churches in rural America will not effectively reach a diverse population and many have no desire to.  Yet if we are going to be true to the command of Christ to “make disciples of all nations” then we MUST plant churches that will most effectively reach all kinds of people.
  3. Many of our established churches will close their doors in the next 20 years.  I hate that my fingers just typed that last statement.  It is a sobering thought yet it is undeniable.  In his book, This Present Future Reggie McNeal states, “The current church culture in North America is on life support.  It is living off the work, money, and energy of previous generations from a previous world order. The plug will be pulled either when the money runs out or when the remaining three-fourths of a generation who are institutional loyalists die off.” He also states, “80% of money given to churches comes from people aged 55 and older”.  Wow! Our state convention has placed strong emphasis on church revitalization in the past 3 years.  Much resources have been given to send “church coaches” to declining churches in order to assist those church leaders in assessing the current church culture and recommending systemic changes to promote new growth.  I have seen evidence that this is working, yet most churches that need this the most don’t seek assistance. For many churches, by the time they do ask for help it is too late, the dye has already been cast. I see the “ground truth” of this as I travel.  We should assist church leaders to revitalize these churches who are in decline and celebrate the success stories, but also realize that many churches will close.  For every church that closes we must replace it with a new work that has a better chance to reach new people for Christ.
  4. New churches are often more effective in reaching new people.  “Dozens of denominational studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60-80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any church, while churches over 10-15 years of age gain 80-90% of new members by transfer from other congregations.” (Tim Keller, Why Plant Churches) I know there are other variables and this isn’t always the case, but I believe that new churches do a better job reaching and baptizing new believers and study after study reveal that truth.
  5. Church population is losing ground to numerical population.  From 1990-2004 America grew in population 18.1% while the church population slightly declined. (ChurchLeaders.com) Thom Rainer has stated many times that the greatest concern for the evangelical church is the rapid rate in which churches are unable to keep up with the growing population rate.  Every time I hear hear a well meaning person say, “The last thing we need is another new church, we already have enough churches”, I cringe. We may have lots of churches, but most aren’t missional and most are not reaching the growing diversity in population.(and have no desire to reach them.)  In Alabama, (the Bible belt) we are accustomed to churches on every corner, but in most areas of the united states this is not the case.  I once preached a revival in Montana and was struck by the fact that we drove 30-50 miles each day without seeing an evangelical church.  In America (and yes in Alabama too) we must be robust in our church planting efforts.

We are blessed in our state to have a tremendous church planting strategy through ALSBOM and Church Planting Strategist Lamar Duke, yet it cannot be accomplished by one man or one organization.  If thriving churches would assist our state convention to plant more churches in the coming years we could more effectively carry out the Great Commission in our state and beyond. Also, if pastors, ministers, associational missionaries and lay leaders would all pray for the Lord to send out more workers in the field and for effective new works to begin we would truly see a Great Commission resurgence. So yes, lets revitalize our declining established churches, but also maintain a strong commitment to begin new works for the glory of God.

Five ways to make your church”Guest Ready”.


Is your church “guest ready”? Most church members never consider this question because they assume the answer is YES!  However, after visiting a number of churches over the past few years it is my observation that most churches are not very “guest ready”.  The best advice I have seen pertaining to this subject is actually found on an old shampoo commercial, “Your never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  That is true in the dandruff world but it is also true for your church.  First impression is everything.   When guests visit your church they begin making decisions regarding a return visit long before the sermon is over.  Actually, many will make their decision shortly after they drive on to your campus. (I am not saying I agree with this mentality but it is a simple fact.)  What they see or don’t see may be as important as what they experience in your church service.  It is a good idea for church leaders to consider the following points to make sure you are prepared for that family that visits this Sunday.

Here are a few things to consider (along with thought provoking questions) in making your church “Guest ready”:  

  1.  Carefully consider your “first impression.”  Often times a simple work day and a small amount of budget money can go a long way in making a guests “first impression” more pleasant.  I think a church’s campus ought to be one of the most beautiful campuses in town.  After all, you are the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. (I realize the church is the people not the building, but I didn’t want to speak on the attractiveness of your members) A run down campus sends a strong message to potential guests.  They will make initial judgments in regards to how aesthetically pleasing your campus appears.  Questions to consider: Is the campus attractive to prospective guests?  Do repairs need to be made to the parking lot?  Is there a covered drop off area in case of weather issues?  Are there simple repairs to your building that need to be done such as paint, pressure washing, brick repair, disheveled steps?
  2. Carefully consider your parking.  The parking lot is usually the most overlooked part of the campus even though it is the first thing your feet touch when you come to church.  I remember as a pastor of a growing church my frustration when we hit an attendance wall.  We could not seem to bust through a certain attendance number.  After inviting a pastor friend of mine to church one Sunday I realized why we were not able to eclipse a certain attendance number.  After circling our parking lot for over 10 minutes looking for a spot he said to me, “You need more parking.”  A light went off in my head!  That was our number one attendance inhibitor.  But it is more than just having adequate parking, you should also consider the condition of your parking lot.  Questions to consider: What is the current number of parking spots on your campus?  Estimating 3 people per car, what is the total number of people that could park on your campus? Are there dedicated parking spots for guests?  People with disabilities? Is there a proper flow of traffic in your parking lot when entering and exiting the campus?  Do the parking lines need repainting or are they clearly visible?
  3. Carefully consider your signage.   Directional signage should be visible to guests as soon as they enter campus.  Arrows should point to the most important areas such as the sanctuary, nursery and children’s areas and welcome center.  Doors should be clearly marked along with areas of intersecting hallways.  There is never a situation when churches have “too many directional signs.”  In this case too much information is actually a good thing.   Questions to consider: When guests enter your parking lot are there signs pointing them to dedicated parking areas?  Is there clear signage pointing guests to nursery, children’s space, youth areas and sanctuary?  Are the signs easily readable?  Are they outdated, faded or scratched?  Are they highly visible?  Is there a low likelihood that guests would ever ask the question, “Where do we go?”
  4.  Carefully consider your accessibility.  Many churches, particularly older buildings, are simply not handicap accessible.  If your church isn’t prepared for those with disabilities you are inadvertently saying, “If you have a disability you are not welcome here.” Questions to consider: Is your church accessible to everyone who would come?  Are handicap parking spots close to level entrances or ramps?  Are bathrooms and sanctuary accessible to those with disabilities or the elderly?
  5. Carefully consider how you greet your guests.  The majority of churches I visit have a couple of men handing out bulletins at the door of the sanctuary.  While this is always a nice thing to do, IT ISN’T ENOUGH! I have been shocked at the number of men who have handed me a bulletin without looking me in the eye and giving a simple “welcome, glad to have you.”  Greeters are not the same as ushers. (Go back and read that last statement again for clarity).  Greeters must GREET.  The most effective churches have a mix of demographics that make up their greeter ministry.  Men, women, teens and even children can take part in this important ministry.  Greeters should always hold out a friendly hand and share their name as they ask the name of the one they are shaking hands.  Name tags are critically important as well.  In the 1980’s Walmart began monopolizing the shopping store market with a similar approach.  If it works at Walmart, I am pretty sure it will work at your church!  (Blue vests are optional).  Place greeters in the parking lot and every entrance so guests are welcomed more than once.  Remember, guests will likely not leave complaining that too many people said, “Welcome, we are glad you’re here.” Questions to consider: Do greeters do more than just hand out a bulletin?  Are greeters intentionally warm and welcoming to those who come to your campus?  Does the first touch come before the guests or members enter the facility?

What are you waiting for?  Walk through these questions as a “guest” of your church.  Take a notebook, pen  and a copy of this article and evaluate how “guest ready” your church is for Sunday.  The guests are coming, are you prepared?  Remember, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”










Are you a Spiritual Tourist?


I wish I could say that I thought of that title but I didn’t.  Recently I was speaking at a pastor’s conference and one of the pastors in the room spoke of the frustration of church members moving to the church down the street in search of a “greater experience.”  He referred to them as “spiritual tourists.”  I thought that was a pretty good term.  A tourist by definition is someone who visits a place temporarily in order to get the most out of the experience before moving on to the next stop.  Unfortunately that explains the church experience of too many Christians and the watered down commitment toward church membership today.

Let’s be honest about church growth, statistics consistently show that much of it is transfer growth.  Church growth expert George Hunter estimates that 80% of church growth in evangelical churches is transfer growth.  In other words, as Great Commission churches we are called to reach the lost in our communities, but often we mostly reach members of other congregations.  Not to say church leaders are intentionally trying to steal sheep, most do not.  Much of the problem is rooted in a consumer mindset that has taken hold of so many Christians.

In 2009, a Lifeway research study of Protestant church pastors revealed “49 percent of new attendees during the last five years have transferred from other congregations, while 32 percent were unchurched and 19 percent were children born to adults attending the church.” (http://www.lifeway.com/Article/LifeWay-Research-finds-ministry-expansion-doesn’t-automatically-lead-to-attendance-growth).  Based on this research, much of the church growth comes from transfer growth and organic growth (68%).   This trend is not healthy for the church and is actually working against us.   For instance, in the SBC baptism and membership numbers are at the lowest level in years and consumer Christianity isn’t helping to reverse those numbers.  Church leaders are putting most of their energy into keeping the sheep in the pen and less energy on reaching the lost sheep. The prevailing question today is “How do we keep members happy and satisfied with their church experience?”  It should be, “How do we reach more unchurched and unsaved people in our community?”  Thom Rainer has written prolifically on this subject, but most of his writings have a consistent theme worth restating, “church membership is not about me.”  I will admit as a pastor, much of my frustration comes from this mindset in members.  I am amazed at how quickly someone will leave a church that God has used mightily in their life.  If there is an issue that arises rather than staying and working with church leaders to overcome, they simply jump ship.  Nothing frustrates a pastor more than spending much time reaching a family only to see them leave the first time they disagree with a decision. Even worse the next week they are on Facebook bragging about their new found church down the street. (Seriously, please stop doing that.)  If they only knew how it discourages the heart of the pastor and church leaders.  It is crushing.

My parents have been members of the same church since I was in the nursery,  I am now 44 years old.  I have watched their church go through struggle after struggle, yet there stands Terry and Jean Blackwell serving, giving and helping.  I have always respected their unwavering commitment to Cottage Hill Baptist Church.  They will not leave their church, because they realize that it is not about them.  May their tribe increase!

I realize there are legitimate reasons to leave a church, no doubt.  

  1. Major doctrinal issues or the church is practicing things that are unbiblical.
  2. When the vision of the leadership and the direction of the church doesn’t match God’s calling in your life.
  3. If you are moving to another town, county, state.
  4. When your church is consistently stuck in tradition and is being disobedient to the Great Commission and you see no hope for change.
  5. If your preacher begins handling dangerous reptiles or takes you to the beach on a retreat and announces he has created a new kool-aid recipe.

Even if any of these describe your church (Except #5) you should exhaust every opportunity to bring positive change before leaving and spend much time in prayer about the decision.

Ultimately, it comes down to this question, “Am I a consumer of my church’s ministries or a contributor to my church’s ministries?”  That is a great question.  Think twice before leaving your church.  I was profoundly saddened after I left my last pastorate to see how many people left after I went to my next assignment.  It has been one of the most crushing experiences of my life. The change in pastor is no reason to leave your church.  Here are some thoughts to consider:

Your church membership is part of your testimony.  Part of your testimony of God’s work in your life is a direct result of how God is using you in your church.  If you are a spiritual tourist, you are hurting the integrity of your testimony.

The Bible teaches us that God places us in a church for a specific purpose. “from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Eph. 4:16.  He is the one who joined you to that congregation to do your part through the spiritual gift he has placed in your life. When you change your church membership, you strongly need to consider this biblical fact.

Every church has issues, the only perfect church is found in heaven.  Sometimes the grass seems greener on the other side simply because it has more, well you know, to fertilize it. (If you catch my drift or smell). If you are leaving your church because of an issue it may be that you will find the same issue at you next church (or worse).

Your first question of church membership should be, “How can I serve?” and not “How can this church serve me?”  Consumer mindset vs. Contributor mindset

Think twice before you leave your church.  You may be the very one God has placed in that church to enact change and renewal.  Spiritual tourists visit and consume.  Spiritual giants stay and contribute.  Spiritual tourists seek to get the most out of a church experience. Spiritual giants pray that their church will get the most out of them.


Miscarriages and Mother’s Day


It has been the tradition of many churches to give out awards or special gifts on Mother’s Day to the youngest mother, oldest mother,etc.  Often times special recognition is given to new moms or baby dedications take place on Mother’s Day.  In no way am I recommending that churches should stop these recognitions.  They are very meaningful and mothers are worthy of our honor, no doubt.  I am asking church leaders to be aware that this Sunday you will have some in your church that are hurting.  In the United States 15%-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, thus the chance of someone in your church having recently suffered the emotional, physical and spiritual pain of the end of a pregnancy is likely.

In 2000 our second daughter was born.  We enjoyed two healthy uneventful pregnancies with our first two girls.  However, in the next two years my wife and I would endure the pain of two miscarriages.  I remember the shock and dismay of both of those events.  It made no sense to us that we could have two uneventful pregnancies and then, suddenly, we would be unable to have a third child.   The depth of pain my wife and I went through is much deeper than I could ever explain through this article.  As a husband, I felt ill equipped to help my wife through the pain she was experiencing.  I saw her struggle through the emotions of anger, disappointment, sadness and concerns about future pregnancies.  It has been my experience that many women experience feelings of failure after a miscarriage. They sometimes blame themselves for not being able to carry the baby full term. As a husband, I learned the best assistance I could give was to hold her tight and cry with her. (Which I did, a lot.)  Those two Mother’s Days for us were bitter sweet.  Yes, we had two daughters we adored, but we also knew we had two children in the Lord’s presence and not with us.  According to the Scriptures, life begins at conception.  The newly formed baby isn’t just a piece of tissue, it is a person created in the image of God.  The Psalmist was clear on this point, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.  Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!  Your workmanship is marvelous and how well I know it.  You watched me being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.  You saw me before I was born.  Every day of my life was recorded in your book.  Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” Ps. 139: 13-16 NLT.  I believe that when I get to heaven I will, for the first time, hold my two babies.  How precious the thought.  On January 9, 2003, our third daughter was born and we rejoice in the Lord for his goodness in the gift of Averie.  We relished in her birth knowing the emotions of the two pregnancies before. Through those experiences I came to better understand the emotional, spiritual and physical pains that came with miscarriage.  It is often called a “failed pregnancy” which further leads the mother to feel that somehow she “failed” in her role.  And then there are the well meaning people in the church along with family members.  People who (bless their hearts) are trying to make the woman feel better.  They say things like, “Well, if the Lord wanted you to have that baby you would have.”  Or maybe, “It just wasn’t the Lord’s will.”  It seems with every comment the pain gets worse.  Many ladies just stay away from church for a while to avoid the conversations.

Perhaps Mother’s Day is the worst of the days for those who have been through this pain. While we celebrate the joys of Motherhood, we should find opportunities to recognize those in our midst who are hurting.  This Mother’s Day, I am asking church leaders to consider those ladies who strongly desire to celebrate Mother’s day, but haven’t had the opportunity.

I encourage church leaders to have a special time of prayer for those moms who have suffered loss this past year.   You don’t need to point them out (please don’t make them stand), just a simple healing prayer for hurting moms can go a long way in making this Mother’s Day a little more tolerable.

Also a reminder, be thoughtful in what you say to those who have suffered through a miscarriage.   The right heart that offers the wrong words can be damaging. Words aren’t even necessary. A simple touch, hug or smile can speak a thousand words.  For those Mom’s who have been through the pain, be a blessing to those who are going through similar struggles.  “He comforts us in all our troubles so we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 2 Corninthians 1:4.

Also in your church will be ladies who are dealing with infertility and Moms who have lost children to death. Be sensitive to these deeply wounded ladies. Church should be a place where the wounded find caring, wonderful people who “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”  This Mother’s Day honor Moms, recognize their significance. But also recognize that some Mom’s may not need a gift or flower, they may just need to know that someone cares.