WHAT YOUR CHURCH NEEDS MORE THAN ORDINARY

12 03 2015

Dr. Steve Dunn, Bridgebuilders creator, speaking at the recent sessions of the Great Lakes Conference in Findlay OH. Photo courtesy of Ed Rosenberry.

Churches who are building bridges often slip into the trap of the worst of “attractional” Christianity.  They try to have the “best show” in town or depend on approaches that are as much spiritual adrenalin as Spirit. Tim Spivey has some guidance on this important issue. – STEVE

What Your Church Needs More Than Extraordinary

If I asked you to tell me about your 2014, you’d likely tell me about the highlights—vacations you took, job changes, big things in the lives of your kids, and other things that stand out in your mind. But that’s not what made the biggest difference in your life in 2014. Here’s what actually made the biggest difference:

You ate.

You slept.

You drank water.

That’s why you’re alive. That’s what sustained you and allowed all of the other things to happen. When any of those slipped, so did the rest of life. Try to enjoy your vacation without food, drink or sleep. Try to have breakthroughs at work or be a sunshiny presence at home. Eat, drink, sleep. Do those three things well and the rest of life happens. Fail to do them and life is worse—or life ends.

It’s more consistency in the ordinary stuff of Christianity that helps one’s spiritual life grow—not major breakthroughs. Major breakthroughs are great—but they tend to be flashes in the pan or become squandered opportunities when they aren’t undergirded by a foundation of consistency in basic Christian practices like prayer, reading Scripture, loving others and sharing our faith.

Consistency in the Basics—Most Vital for Churches

There’s a trinity of basics in church life that sustain churches—an eat, drink, sleep. It’s attending, giving and inviting. I’m not saying they are the most important things of all, theologically. I’m saying they may be the most necessary.

Consistency in attendance, giving and inviting friends is the eat, drink, sleep for churches. Without it, there will be no big shiny new initiatives. It sounds simple and bland, but it’s true. Look around at the best churches you can think of and you’ll see: Great churches aren’t great because of the big stuff. They are great because of faithfulness in the “small stuff.”

We spill a lot of energy and ink trying to convince ourselves these things don’t really matter. We say idealistic things like, “You aren’t a Christian because you go to church.” True enough, but when we don’t explain our emphasis well, what we are saying is … it doesn’t really matter much. So, people aim for something splashier or more private that feels more powerful but sustains them less and detaches them from basic Christian practices that teach obedience to Christ, humility (you’ll rarely get thanked for showing up to church consistently), and bless the faith communities that help nourish their walk with God. We’re not only hurting the spiritual walks of people when we say thoughtless things like this—we’re crippling churches.

In all our efforts to cast big visions for our churches, we must make sure to help them understand the vision behind the “ordinary.” If we don’t, it will reveal itself when the stakes of our “bigger” visions are high. Ministry is neither marathon nor sprint—it’s more like interval training. That’s why consistent beats extraordinary in ministry.

It’s better to be consistent in the ordinary than irregular at the extraordinary. If you are looking for a way to bless your church and walk with God, do these three things with a great attitude: show up consistently, give faithfully and invite your friends with regularity. Encourage others in the church to do the same. You might be surprised how much growth, evangelism and community happens. You’ll also be shocked at how it transforms you—to be consistent.

These days, that’s what’s exceptional.

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THE URGENCY OF OUR COMMISSION

16 11 2012

BY STEVE DUNN

In our current round of Bridgebuilders Seminars and in presentations about the Bridgebuilders Principles, we have been sharing some disturbing news that goes to the heart of  renewing our passion for evangelism and making more and better disciples.

As a follow-up, I’d like to share some graphs that summarize the recent findings of the Pew Research Center.

Shawn Anderson in his blog living dangerously has some counsel for us based on these observations:

1. Realize that we are the seekers, not the religiously unaffiliated. Jesus told his followers to “go”. Instead of building a church building with the notion that “they will come” to us, we need to actively and intentionally go to our communities.

2. Target young people. The younger generations are the ones with the largest percentage of religiously unaffiliated. They will also dictate the future of the church. Therefore, we need to intentionally seek to develop relationships with them.

3. Communicate the love of Jesus. If we share the love of Jesus by serving others with no strings attached and by being transparent with them, it will show them that we are more concerned with their souls than money, rules and politics.





FRUITFUL CONGREGATIONS – FIVE PRACTICES

8 10 2012


This post was written by Robert Schnase and is an excellent checklist of DNA of fruitful congregations. -steve

The purpose of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. But how do we do that? The most visible way God knits people into the community of Christ and draws people into the relationship with God is through congregations that fulfill the ministry of Christ in the world. Fruitful congregations repeat and improve on these five basic practices: Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission and Service and Extravagant Generosity.

The practices are basic and fundamental. But it’s the adjectives that make these words come alive, because they stretch us and cause us to ask ourselves, “How are we doing in practicing these qualities of ministry in our congregation? How might we do better?”

These are practices—they’re not qualities that some churches have and some don’t. They’re not phases that, once we get them done, we can move on to something else. These are practices that we have to learn and improve upon constantly. These are the activities that are so critical to the mission of the church that failure to perform them in an exemplary way leads to congregational decline and deterioration.

Here’s a look at the five practices used in fruitful congregations.

Radical Hospitality
(Romans 12:9-21)
Congregations offer the invitation and embrace of Jesus Christ, the gracious welcome that creates genuine belonging that brings people together in the Christian community. Churches characterized by Radical Hospitality are not just friendly and courteous. Instead, they exhibit restlessness because they realize so many people do not have a relationship to a faith community. They sense a calling and responsibility to pray and work to invite others and to help them feel welcome and supported in their faith journeys. Congregations surprise newcomers with a glimpse of the unmerited gracious love of God that they see in Christ. Our Radical Hospitality goes to the extremes, and we do it joyfully, not superficially, because we know our invitation is the invitation of Christ.

Passionate Worship
(John 4:21-24)
In Passionate Worship, people are honest before God and one another, and they are open to God’s presence and will for their lives. People so eagerly desire such worship that they will reorder their lives to attend. Passionate worship motivates pastors not only to improve their preaching but also to learn continually how to enhance content and technique for effective worship. Worship is something alive that requires continuing care, cultivation, and effort to keep it fresh. Pastors should willingly review and evaluate their own work and invite feedback. The motivation for enhancing the quality of worship is not only about deepening our own faith but also about allowing God to use us and our congregations to offer hope, life, and love to others. Worship is God’s gift and task, a sacred trust that requires our utmost and highest

Intentional Faith Development
(1 Corinthians 9:19-24)
Transformation comes through learning in community. Congregational leaders that practice Intentional Faith Development carefully consider the full life cycle of members and look for ways the church forms faith at every age. They look for gaps, opportunities, and unmet needs to round out their ministries and ask how they can do better. They train laypeople to lead small groups, teach Bible studies, and coordinate support groups. They realize the power of special topics and interests to attract unchurched people, and they advertise and invite beyond the walls of the church. They form affiliation groups such as grief or divorce recovery, substance abuse, parenting, and more. They explore new ways of forming learning communities–blogs, chat rooms, e-mail Bible studies, and downloadable materials. These pastors also participate in forms of community with other pastors or laypersons to help deepen their own relationship with God

Risk-Taking Mission and Service
(Matthew 25:14-30)
This involves work that stretches people, causing them to do something for the good of others that they would never have considered doing if it were not for their relationship with Christ and their desire to serve Him. These churches not only solicit and encourage ordinary service to support the work of the congregation, but they also consciously seek to motivate people to more extraordinary service. They lift examples in preaching and teaching. Risk-Taking Missions and Service is also part of the formation of children and youth. All youth and children ministries include teaching and experiential components that stretch compassion outward beyond the walls of the church. Faith mapped in childhood provides pathways that shape lifelong commitments. These churches collaborate with other churches, other denominations, civic organizations, social agencies, and non-profit groups. They actively invite and welcome newcomers, visitors, and the unchurched to help them in making a difference in the lives of others. As congregations move beyond their comfort zones and follow Christ into more adventurous encounters with people, God’s Spirit changes them, changes others, and changes churches.

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YOUR CHURCH CULTURE MATTERS

7 10 2012

This is a repost from Justin Meier, church expansion specialist for the Churches of God, General Conference and pastor of my home church, First Church of God of Harrisburg PA.

Posted by Justin Meier on Wednesday, June 20, 2012

When people visit your church what do they think? Did you know your church has it’s own culture. Some examples of culture may be whether or not your church is friendly and welcoming. Another example of your culture is whether or not you start service on time. One last example could be whether you music is played well or not. All these are part of your church culture. Why is your church culture import? I just recently received an email from Pastor Bob Franquiz , a pastor who helps churches grow and this is what he says about church culture…

Miami Dolphins fans recently had their hoped dashed when Payton Manning decided to sign with the Denver Broncos rather the Dolphins.

It didn’t make any sense.

Why?

Payton Manning has a house in Miami.

He loves being in the city of Miami.

Yet, despite Miami offering just as much money as Denver, he chose the Broncos.

Why you ask?

Here’s the inside scoop…

It’s about culture.

Reporters said that the QB was taken back by the Dolphins’ front office culture and that was the #1 reason he went to another team.

What does this have to do with your church?

Everything!

You can have great online and offline marketing pieces that attract lots of people to attend your church, but if your culture is uninviting to guests… then those people aren’t coming back.

No matter if you are utilizing marketing or not. Whatever your culture is at your church gathering determines a majority of the time whether or not a person will ever return. So if your church hasn’t been able to retain any of your visitors maybe it is a culture problem. Invite some people to come and be a critical eye of what is going on and see if you can change your culture.





15 SIGNS YOUR CHURCH IS IN TROUBLE

20 04 2012

From Perry Noble comes these important reminders and issues churches who will be engaged in Bridgebuilding MUST guard against.- STEVE

 BY Perry Noble

1. When excuses are made about the way things are instead of embracing a willingness to roll up the sleeves and fix the problem.

2. When the church becomes content with merely receiving people that come rather than actually going out and finding them…in other words, they lose their passion for evangelism!

3. The focus of the church is to build a great church (complete with the pastor’s picture…and his wife’s…on everything) and not the Kingdom of God.

4. The leadership begins to settle for the natural rather than rely on the supernatural.

5. The church begins to view success/failure in regards to how they are viewed in the church world rather than whether or not they are actually fulfilling the Great Commission!

6. The leaders within the church cease to be coachable.

7. There is a loss of a sense of urgency! (Hell is no longer hot, sin is no longer wrong, and the cross is no longer important!)

8. Scripture isn’t central in every decision that is made!

9. The church is reactive rather than proactive.

10. The people in the church lose sight of the next generation and refuse to fund ministry simply because they don’t understand “those young people.”

11. The goal of the church is to simply maintain the way things are…to NOT rock the boat and/or upset anyone…especially the big givers!

12. The church is no longer willing to take steps of faith because “there is just too much to lose.”

13. The church simply does not care about the obvious and immediate needs that exist in the community.

14. The people learn how to depend on one man to minister to everyone rather than everyone embracing their role in the body, thus allowing the body to care for itself.

15. When the leaders/staff refuse to go the extra mile in leading and serving because of how “inconvenient” doing so would be.





SIX REASONS YOUNG CHRISTIANS LEAVE THE CHURCH

29 09 2011

One of the most effective means of evangelism is to reach young people while they are still young and part of the church.  Reconnecting with those who you have lost is one of the most important mission fields.  The Barna Group shares with the church some counsel for this:

Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church

no-churchMany parents and church leaders wonder how to most effectively cultivate durable faith in the lives of young people. A five-year project headed by Barna Group president David Kinnaman explores the opportunities and challenges of faith development among teens and young adults within a rapidly shifting culture. The findings of the research are included in a new book by Kinnaman titled, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church and Rethinking Church.

The research project was comprised of eight national studies, including interviews with teenagers, young adults, parents, youth pastors, and senior pastors. The study of young adults focused on those who were regular churchgoers Christian church during their teen years and explored their reasons for disconnection from church life after age 15.

No single reason dominated the break-up between church and young adults. Instead, a variety of reasons emerged. Overall, the research uncovered six significant themes why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.

Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
A few of the defining characteristics of today’s teens and young adults are their unprecedented access to ideas and worldviews as well as their prodigious consumption of popular culture. As Christians, they express the desire for their faith in Christ to connect to the world they live in. However, much of their experience of Christianity feels stifling, fear-based and risk-averse. One-quarter of 18- to 29-year-olds said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” (23% indicated this “completely” or “mostly” describes their experience). Other perceptions in this category include “church ignoring the problems of the real world” (22%) and “my church is too concerned that movies, music, and video games are harmful” (18%).

Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
A second reason that young people depart church as young adults is that something is lacking in their experience of church. One-third said “church is boring” (31%). One-quarter of these young adults said that “faith is not relevant to my career or interests” (24%) or that “the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough” (23%). Sadly, one-fifth of these young adults who attended a church as a teenager said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” (20%).

Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries…

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The Barna Group – Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church





SIX QUESTIONS FOR OUTREACH IN A SMALL TOWN

29 10 2010

This counsel from Steve Sjogren that will help many churches develop the outward focus needed for effective evangelism and outreach in their context. – Steve Dunn

I was recently in the New England area of the U.S. I have been pondering lately the unique aspects of doing ministry in smaller population areas like that. There are many aspects of doing outreach that are universal – as we step out to serve others we are going to find that people are pretty much the same everywhere. At the same time, there are unique features present when we are aiming at people in these areas. What do we need to keep in mind as we reach out in to rural people?
There are six basic questions we must be answer well before we are able to deeply connect with smaller communities. These are the pressing questions we will be asked when we approach the small town audience.
Are you here to stay? People will ask if you are doing something that is just going to be a “ship passing in the night” or if you are going to commit yourself to this area. You will be dinged effectiveness points if you come across as someone who is doing things in order to just connect initially but not at a deeper level. It is important that you connect with people in a way that is going to be perceived as lasting and deep versus light and passing. We tell our community we are here to stay partly by the atmosphere we create when we are doing outreaches. Each time you go out to do SE you have the opportunity to tell people “We are planning on living the rest of our lives in this town. We love this place!” We communicate this message in a variety of ways. At a practical level, put on your “friendly face” and you will do well at connecting with the small town audience.
“Do you love me or are you just trying to build your church through me? If people think you are trying to use them as building blocks of your church they are less likely to warm up to you. You will be evaluated by how you connect with others. Most people who live in smaller towns feel a sense of pride about what they have accomplished in making a living for themselves in that context. There is a sense of accomplishment in these people you won’t find among urban dwellers. If you honor that sense of smaller town USA you will come across as a friend, an ally in the fight for meaning.
How do you treat people? In the smaller town context the way we connect with people will be under the microscope more than when we are in a larger context. The good news about doing servant evangelism in a smaller context is that people will take more notice to the way you connect with your city. That is, there is the possibility that you will make an even more enduring impact upon people than if you were merely connecting with people in a larger city. In big cities we are doing virtual stranger-to-stranger outreach. In small towns we are connecting with people who likely consider themselves friends or at least acquaintances.
How do you see the future? People who live in smaller communities see the future in a unique way. It is common that they view what will take place in the future through the lens of staying put in the current community. That is different than the way people in larger communities see things. Since they have typically lived in the larger context all their lives the notion of city or town size as a flexible factor in evaluating moves. Most who live in a smaller community have committed themselves to the notion that they will persevere in staying in a smaller setting. When we are doing outreach in these settings it is important that we convey that we are going to be here for the duration. Those in smaller communities will plainly ask what we plan to do if we grow as a congregation. The fear is that growth will compromise the quality of the church. If we do grow as a church it is important that we convey that are going to continue to hold strongly to the value of putting people first. We don’t plan to change.
How do you relate to money? Money is viewed a bit differently in smaller contexts. Servant evangelism is all about doing things for free. This important concept will have even more impact in smaller towns than in bigger cities. People are generally impressed with the notion of serving for free. When we serve for free in small towns we have the opportunity to literally amaze people.
When doing servant evangelism we sometimes are approached by people who attempt to pay us for our gift or services. We generally make it a point that we never accept these attempts at giving back to us. We are going to be approached more often in smaller towns by people who wish to give to us when we serve. I recommend you have a standard response to those who are flabbergasted at our project. It is good to spin people a bit with our projects. It isn’t good to leave them overly frustrated. One possible response to those who are blown away is to recommend they give to one of the children’s sponsorship programs that are typically seen on TV on Sunday evenings.
“Are there projects that work especially well smaller settings? Yes, there are projects that work well in a smaller context. In general, anything that can impart the value of the individual will help get you better mileage. Doing give away projects is a hit no matter where you are located, but this approach seems to work better in larger cities. In a smaller context it is important that we convey to people that we are in the business of serving. Projects that allow us to connect with the value of the individual will make a bigger impression.
Some projects that connect well include:
  • free carwashes(I would stay away from the dollar carwash in a small town setting – that is a bit over the top and might come across with too much pizzazz),windshield washingis an amazing project that can touch a lot of people in a relatively short time
  • restroom cleaning teams(stick to gas stations, restaurants and fast food joints and other public venues)
  • feeding parking meters(make sure you are able to actually feed parking meters – you may need to attach a quarter to your outreach card and place that next to the drivers handle)
  • shoveling snow
  • giving away deicer to residents(provide a one gallon plastic milk container that is cut away – then return to fill the salt or deicer every couple of weeks)
  • window washingat homes and businesses.
The best is yet to come! God is on the move in small settings. If you live in a rural setting you might find that you have special blessings resting upon your outreach efforts. There are unique challenges that accompany a focused outreach in a smaller context. It is not impossible to be effective in this setting. My advice to you is to take heart. It is encouraging to learn the ropes and then to reach out with effectiveness. In some ways it is easier to reach out to a smaller town. Once you have paid your dues, so to speak, you will find it is in fact easier to reach out in this context versus a larger city. You will find it is possible to create an atmosphere that will grow to envelop your entire town. In a smaller setting it is possible to set attainable outreach goals that will see you touch every person in town more than once. Ultimately the name of the game in outreach is your ability to connect with many in a repeated fashion.