Has Your Church Had a Check-up Lately?
By Dave Housholder
Seems like fads in church leadership come and go. One day everyone’s doing “seeker sensitive worship” and next thing you know it’s passé. And then someone at your church council pipes up with the idea to divert a substantial amount of the budget into youth ministry hoping it will revitalize the church. Heads nod all around the table. Two years and tens of thousands of dollars later the new youth worker has moved on and there are a half dozen youth left holding the bag.
Another member has a passion for getting “contemporary worship” going, thinking it is going to save the church. All that happens is division and hurt feelings.
A couple of leaders in your church with charismatic leanings think that “if we just prayed more” God will bring growth to the church. Other leading business folks demand more decisive programmatic action. Which is right?
How can you know what investments to make with your people and money that will actually bring results?
Christian Schwarz, German pastor’s kid…
As a young boy, Christian Schwarz followed his dad (a denominational official in Germany) around from church to church. Some churches were healthy and others were not. He asked himself why this was so and ended up making this his life’s study. He had the common sense idea that following fundamental biblical principles allows God to grow his church. God supplies all the growth for every church. He is the one who grows the kingdom. We either work with him or work against him.
It’s a lot like farming. The Lord provides the rain, soil, seeds, sunshine and the miracle of growth. We, the farmers, provide the planting, tilling and harvesting. Sounds a lot like the “kingdom parables” doesn’t it?
The key is rightly to divide what the Lord does from what we do. If we try to do everything (the “mechanistic” model) then we will not allow God’s power to work. If we depend on him for everything, then the crop will remain unplanted and unharvested. God provides all church growth. We either work with it or keep it from happening.
Schwarz studied over 1,000 churches from 32 countries and five continents (as thoroughly as only a German can do). He and his team analyzed over 4.2 million responses. From these responses he came up with EIGHT FACTORS that determine the health and growth of a congregation.
“Farming” in God’s kingdom consists of working hard to maximize these factors so we can enjoy the growth that the Lord sends. It also means avoiding putting lots of energy into things that don’t increase the harvest.
Charismatic churches have often neglected the hard work of farming in the kingdom. They often tend to think that if we get spiritual enough, then everything else will follow. Secularized churches, on the other hand, think that people and hard work cause a church to grow, and they fail to tap into the power of God. The truth lies somewhere in between.
Some traps to avoid.
We’re going to start with some common areas where people and money are wasted in churches. Most people think that these things will bring growth, but statistics clearly show that this is usually not the case. You are going to be surprised to hear what some of them are.
Things that will not revitalize your church
A great youth ministry.
This is a good thing to have, but it will not revitalize your church. If the church wants to revitalize, then renewal has to happen with the people that are already there. Bringing in enthusiastic young people can cause division if the rest of the congregation does not take steps to grow spiritually. “If we just get more kids in here” will not bring the congregation to the next level. It’s like adding a new patch to an old wineskin.
In the third world, there are churches that are exploding and they have no youth ministry whatsoever.
Youth ministry is important and should be done well, but it alone will not bring renewal and growth to your church.
Churches all around America are starting “alternative” services. Praise God for the spirit of innovation. But this will not bring growth to most churches.
Sometimes it brings division and generational alienation. It also is a great drain on resources. Small churches cannot afford two worship teams, two bulletins, two of everything. They need to focus their energies better.
So many congregations never ask themselves: “Who are we and what is an expression of worship that fits us?” No one can be you better than you.
Good marketing, signs, and advertising.
This is a good start, but what if all it does is invite people to come to a rather dead place?
Spiritual vitality and community “buzz” will attract many more people than a slick ad campaign.
A quality building.
True; the building is a faith statement. But there are thriving churches all across the world that meet in dumpy settings. Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa has weeds with bark on them and is way overdue for new paving in the parking lot. But there are less than a handful of churches in America with more vitality and influence.
A great mission statement.
Once again, a good thing. But nowhere in the Bible does it say you have to have a mission statement. There are churches in Eastern Europe and elsewhere that baptize hundreds of adults a year who have never heard of a mission statement. Let’s face it. This was a fad of the 90’s.
This is not to be confused with leaders with vision. Vision is necessary; but weekend-long “brainstorming” sessions with the council and a white board which produce a statement that would work just as well for Taco Bell are not central to the propagation of the Gospel.
A great adult education program focused on discipleship.
This is hard for me to write, because it is my passion. I am in my heart of hearts a Bible teacher. But having done church work in the third world, I’ve learned that too much of our education program is focused on “head stuff” and not enough of it is action-based.
The truth is, we all know way more about the faith that what we are putting into action. There are many of us who study too much and do too little. Think about it; why are seminaries not the focus of revival?
This is not to say that we ought not get into the Word on a daily basis and “seek wisdom.” We just need to see our “Western Culture” blind spot and spend more time in the heart and in action.
Being a seeker church.
Statistics show that this has no correlation at all with church growth and health. Not a bad thing to do; but it won’t grow your church without other factors heavily involved. Sure, we need to use common sense and be seeker sensitive. But, it can be shown that seekers are just as likely to be drawn to an intense “power church” as to a low-threshold seeker church that has less “traction.”
Eight things you can do that actually make a difference!
Have empowering leadership.
Growing churches see others as “partners” and not as “helpers.” They are “permission giving” and “grace-oriented.” Leaders focus on multiplication and avoid being “control freaks.” Leaders of growing churches allow the Lord to work in others.
It is also not necessary for church leaders to be great theologians. In fact, it is easy to prove that there is an INVERSE relationship between the amount of theological training and leadership effectiveness.
Have people serve in their areas of gifting.
Too many churches operate with the “whoever will fill the slot” principle, keeping should-be-dead programs alive with anyone who will volunteer. You end up with a grouch answering the phone and Mr. Aloof-and-Clueless in charge of the ushers.
Spiritual gifts should be taught over and over and over again. All active folks in your church should know their top three or four spiritual gifts. They also should receive training in their area of ministry.
Encourage passionate spirituality.
Often leadership will spend time trying to keep a lid on enthusiastic Christians in order not to rock the boat. What a colossal mistake! Growing churches have a vibrant spirituality where people will love to share what the Lord is doing in their lives.
Charismatics and evangelistically-oriented, conservative evangelicals are comfortable with this kind of atmosphere in church, but many leaders and pastors are not.
Craft functional structures.
Spiritually-oriented folks often balk at this one, seeing it as too worldly. But nothing could be more biblical than an orderly “body.” Look at the human body, how wonderfully and fearfully it is made. Everything has a task and it works together like a symphony. Some of our churches, on the other hand, operate like rusty tractors on their best days.
We cling to outdated models and committee structures, thinking that by having meetings we are doing ministry. We see constitutions and by-laws as the “law of the Medes and the Persians which can never be altered.” Our denominations prescribe structures which are hopelessly old and unworkable.
Growing churches work HARD at producing org charts that are worthy of the name “body,” where people are in the right place doing the right ministry.
Worship in a spirit of joy and fun.
Yes, fun! And this has nothing to do with style. Worship at St. Andrew’s in Mahtomedi is totally traditional and a lot of fun. The pipe organ rattles your inward organs one at a time as the congregation roars through classic hymns. The traditionally clad pastor (who is also conservative theologically) preaches a message which always uplifts.
The same can be said for the completely contemporary services at Hosanna! in Lakeville. It sometimes feels like a 747 is leaving the ground during the praise time as hands start to lift upward and some folks actually start to dance.
Worship without joy is not worship. Joy is fun. Deal with it.
Have holistic small groups.
This is the biblical model for doing church. In fact, the highest indicator of ALL factors of church life to growth and health is the willingness of small groups to multiply and form new groups. In growing churches, small group attendance is seen as more important than attending Sunday services.
The business of the church is life change; and life change happens best in small groups. A holistic small group is a group that tends to all the needs of the person: emotional, intellectual and spiritual.
Do evangelism based on the needs of people.
This is nothing more and nothing less than meeting the felt needs of people with the power of God. Very few churches, however, are in touch with the felt needs of the unchurched in their community.
Some churches like Phoenix First Assembly are real leaders in this area. They send a whole fleet of buses into the inner city every weekend to pick up the homeless and under-employed and bring them to church, feed them, and give them education in life skills.
Encourage laughter, fun and friendships.
Is laughter bubbling up in your hallways? Do people socialize with other members outside of church activities? Most churches are rather grim places. Some ought to change their name to “Christ the Victim.”
Warmth and laughter lead to a grace-orientation that is a huge attractor to the community.
Work on your weaknesses!
This is a huge truth! Organizations need to invest in their weaknesses and individuals need to invest in their strengths.
So often we as Christians do the opposite! We spend our whole lives as individuals pre-occupied with our weaknesses. And organizations continue to invest in their strengths and ignore their weaknesses.
It’s very simple: Individuals should soar with their strengths and churches should shore up their “weak planks.”
So, what is to be gained by all this? In order to invest your limited people hours and finances in the best places, you need to do a clear assessment of your congregation.
When you get your scores in each of the eight areas, you will know where your “short planks” are. THAT is where you should start to apply your budget and leadership. We are more responsible stewards of what the Lord has given us when we start to work WITH the expansion of his kingdom.
Dave has served as Teaching Pastor at Hosanna! Lutheran Church in Lakeville, MN since 1994. A visionary leader, he has broadened the evangelical culture of this 3,700-member church through his Bible teaching and a 1998 start-up of what has become the largest Alpha program in the U.S. He also enthusiastically serves as Alpha Regional Advisor for the Upper Midwest.
Master’s Institute to Open in Fall
North Heights will be the first home of the Master’s Institute, scheduled to open on September 5th. We plan to start small, with seven to ten students the first year, then expand each succeeding year. After we raise up a good working model, MI will be franchised out to vital churches around the country. One of the unique features of MI will be that it is church-based rather than residential-based. That means that it is linked to a living congregation where training and mentoring can take place in an ongoing and personal fashion.
Another striking feature will be the three-legged stool. MI is offering a balanced diet of hands-on training in ministry skills, spiritual formation through pastoral mentors, and Biblical teaching. By “balanced” we mean that each of these three important features will be given equal time in the process of equipping students to be Christian leaders.
MI is looking for people who want to change the world, passionate about the Great Commission, eager to be shaped for Spirit-empowered ministry. We know the Lord will bring us college graduates who want to impact their world for Christ, as well as second-career people who have felt a call to make a difference as missionaries, church planters, youth directors, pastors, and Christian leaders.
We are starting the Master’s Institute because of the great need in the Church for this kind of leader. Every denomination is facing a serious shortage of pastors, missionaries, and full-time Christian workers. MI wants to do its part to help make up this gap. As Jesus said long ago, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” We are also starting MI because we are convinced that a new wineskin (church-based, three-legged stool, and reproduceable) will be a good addition to the seminaries that already exist.
The end product of the Master’s Institute is a Christian leader with Christ-like character who can think Biblically and who can equip and mentor others.
Some of the theological values of MI include: grace that not only forgives but empowers and changes, Scripture that breathes the very words of God, salvation and sanctification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, obedience to the Great Commission, and radical dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Operational values include: equipping and not just educating, forming and not just informing, simplicity of structure, and flexibility of methods.
Lutheran Renewal is directing the Master’s Institute and North Heights Lutheran Church is its host during the founding years. The training of students will reflect a Lutheran understanding of theology, but non-Lutherans will be welcomed into the program. Classes will meet two full days a week and back-to-back. The other three days will be given to fifteen hours a week of paid internship in a local vital congregation, plus fifteen hours a week in spiritual formation (personal spiritual direction, group interaction, and devotional time).
The Master’s Institute trains the heart, head, and hands for effective Christian ministry. MI is accepting applications from students with leadership gifts and a call of God on their lives.
The Lord is My Keeper
By Dawn Lundgren
“Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do hot fear; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Luke 12:27
When I contemplate this verse I am continually reminded that the person who obeys the Lord lives a charmed life. Charmed, simply means a “protected” life. So complete is His protection that my life is safe even in the hands of the enemy. God delivered Job into Satan’s hands, but with this provision: “Spare his life” (Job 2:6). The protecting hedge of God’s person came between Job and Satan so the evil one could not destroy him. The obedient disciple lives under the shadow of life, not death. regardless of his (or her) circumstances or dangers. Nothing can touch him, much less take him!
In a deeper sense, my life is the inner citadel of my being, the real me, and God’s protection extends there also. “He shall preserve thy soul” Psalm 21:7. My body may be attacked, my mind and heart may suffer distress, but God will throw in every reinforcement He has to keep the citadel from falling. This is only because the Lord is my Keeper, the One responsible for His own.
I often look back in awe, on the keeping power of God in my own life, through circumstances and situations in countries and lands I would never have formally dreamed I would see or touch. I find it is sometimes much easier to see God’s hand when “looking back,” then when I am in the heat of the battle at hand.
When I responded to God’s leading to go to the Congo for several weeks, through the invitation of an African Pastor, I searched for a female companion to travel with me. However, this was one of those times that God was apparently not in agreement, and when the time came to finalize arrangements , I was a lone woman setting out on what would develop into one of the most dangerous missions both naturally and spiritually that I may ever encounter. The mission was to minister in villages along the lake shore, as well as to give biblical teaching for pastors and leaders, and to hold evangelistic crusades every afternoon in different locations as we traveled. God often does His deepest work in our hearts as well as in our minds, as we walk through the most difficult circumstances in our lives.
We embarked on Lake Tanganyika in an 18-foot handmade, flat-bottomed boat, that carried me, the African Pastor who invited me, two other young African pastors. two African men to handle the 25 hp motor, two 50 gallon drums of gasoline (since we would be unable to purchase any more during our trek down the lake), and a small amount of luggage.
Through the natural elements of the weather and a horrendous storm on the lake with swells estimated at 10′-12′ feet; over powering heat with temps hovering over 110 degrees; the confiscation of some of our precious gas by two soldiers brandishing AK47’s and threatening more injury, should we object too strongly; arrest deep in the Congo for the “crime” of taking an unauthorized photograph of an empty, deserted, village; waking in the middle of the night while sleeping in a mud hut with thatched roof, to thousands of bats sharing my tiny room; a guard outside both the door to my “hut” as well as by the sole window wherever I spent the night; through it all, the Lord was my Keeper, preserving not only my body, but my soul and my spirit.
When the storm on the lake began to rear its ugly head, we were in no position to make it to land. The Lord brought to my remembrance the apparently demonically inspired fierce gale of wind on the Sea of Galilee. I realized the storm we were facing was similarly inspired.
There arose within me an assurance that we were under the supreme protection of the Almighty God, and NOTHING could touch us. The men with us were more than a little concerned they had never faced such a storm. When the Pastor asked if I was my response was this, “Stay with me, don’t leave the boat, God didn’t bring me 8,000 miles to let me drown in this lake! We have work to do!” Miracle of miracles, almost immediately, the wind died down, the lake became placid once again. Satan does not want us to be about the Lord’s business, but we lead a “charmed” life.
Through the two arrests, the oppressive heat, the hovering presence of the bats, the dangers of snakes, poisonous bugs, crocodiles in the rivers, and the constant threat of bodily harm from unfriendly men. The Lord was my Keeper. After returning and sharing the powerful testimony as to the Keeping Power of our Lord through all the natural as well as demonic circumstances, in body, soul and spirit, slowly but surely an insipid illness was attacking my body. For two years I struggled with a growing sense of unease over my health. Finally, tumors were spotted in a lung x-ray with the diagnosis of lung cancer followed by immediate lung surgery. Just before surgery the Lord spoke so clearly, “Do you trust me?” I was at total peace, because I knew that He had not stopped “KEEPING” me, and whatever the outcome, I was in the center of His will, and lie wasn’t done with me yet. The results of the surgery? There was no cancer; the tumors were caused by Histoplasmosis, a by-product of sleeping with the bats. Satan is out to destroy us, but our Almighty, omniscient, omnipresent Lord is our Keeper! You don’t have to travel to a remote land to experience the Keeping Power of our Lord. Simply put your life and heart into his Hands, and He is faithful, through the storms of life, attacks of the enemy, and the difficult circumstances of daily life. He is Faithful.
Rev. Dawn Lundgren is the founder and director of Women of God International, and has ministered in 14 countries.