11 WAYS TO MAKE CHRISTMAS YOUR BEST OUTREACH OF THE YEAR

10 12 2017

Cary Nieuwhof is one of the favorite bloggers of those who work Bridgebuilders Ministries.  This is an extremely helpful post for this time of year. – STEVE

Christmas

Any idea what the best outreach opportunity of the year at your church might be?

You might think it’s an event you do, or perhaps it’s Easter. But whether Christmas has historically been your best opportunity to reach unchurched people or not, I believe it could be.

You may think it’s far too early to start thinking about Christmas, but think again. Whenever I’ve shared these ideas about Christmas, people say “Hey, I wish you’d talked about this earlier.” So we are.

In addition to this post, Jeff Henderson and I are doing a free live training outlining how to turn Christmas into your best outreach opportunity of the year.  Jeff takes all his learning from Gwinnett Church (#ForGwinnett)  and I take mine from Connexus Church and hand them to you.

The training is on replay for a limited time leading up to Christmas 2017, and you can watch it here.

So why can Christmas become your very best outreach event of the year?

It Only Happens Once A Year These Days

As our culture becomes more and more post-Christian, we’re seeing far fewer times when the holidays of the church and the holidays of culture sync. I remember about a decade ago hearing a Toronto DJ refer to Easter as “the first long weekend of summer” (in Canada Good Friday is a holiday and schools still take Easter Monday off…a relic from Colonial days). Good Friday and Easter were completely lost on him. It was simply time off.

Christmas is completely different.

Our culture still loves Christmas. Sure, the motives are commercial. But Christmas is the only time of year when you’ll hear malls belt out explicitly Christian songs like Charles Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing:”

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel

If you follow a lot of Christians on social media leading up to Christmas, you probably have noticed how many people lament over the culture’s disregard of Christ.

Well, you can see the obstacle. Or you can see the opportunity. I choose to see the opportunity. There are so many connection points with our culture you’ll miss if you only see the glass as half empty.

This is no time for the church to be more cynical than the world, which still remembers something is different at Christmas, even if they’re not exactly sure what it is.

Stop complaining about the world. Reach it instead.

As the general population thinks less about the Christian faith, Christmas provides a unique opportunity to reach people who no longer ordinarily attend church.

READ MORE – A WHOLE LOT MORE

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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.





SCIENCE AND RELIGION ARE NOT ENEMIES

16 11 2014

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including “Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths” and “Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church. He writes a blog called Uncommon God, Uncommon Good” from which this post is taken.  It is lengthy and requires careful reading but speaks to the premise in Bridgebuilders that we must stop making the debate “science versus religion” if we are to build redemptive relationships with the un-churched, especially younger generations. – STEVE

Brain PhotoMany religious people are suspicious of significant issues in science. Many people—religious and non-religious alike—reflect suspicions and indifference toward the church (especially among younger people); one of the reasons for many young people leaving the church is the perception that churches appear hostile to science, as a Barna study claims. Could it be that many if not all fears and suspicions of science as well as the church are in the head?

Regarding the suspicion of key considerations in science, specifically as it relates to Evangelical Christianity, it is worth noting the cultural, emotional and psychological damage caused by the aftermath of the Scopes “Monkey Trial” in 1925. It is still present in conscious or unconscious ways. The impact of that trial has led George Marsden to write, “It would be difficult to overestimate the impact” of the trial “in transforming fundamentalism.” George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism — 1870-1925 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 184. Given the damage done to the movement as a result of that trial, I wonder how many of Evangelical Christians’ suspicions of science are in the head.

It is important for churches and Christian educational institutions to work hard on the integration of faith and science. Further to what was stated above concerning many young people leaving church today, some Christians’ fears and/or disregard for science in the church can lead scientifically minded and vocationally oriented individuals to feel isolated and leave church. David Kinnaman addresses this concern and many others in You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…And Rethinking Faith (Baker Books, 2011). Kinnaman quotes a young man named Mike, who says: “I knew from church that I couldn’t believe in both science and God, so that was it. I didn’t believe in God anymore” (p. 138). Christian leaders such as myself need to pursue the integration of faith and science in ways that foster and strengthen these respective domains (regarding this subject, see my recent post titled “Missing Links: On Faith and Science”).

With these points on the need for integration in mind, let’s turn to consider the relation of the brain, body, and beliefs. The hope is to show through such reflections as these that there is no necessary hostility between science and faith; perhaps the hostility and suspicion between science and religion is all in the mind. By overcoming the disconnect, we might be in a better position to connect people with church.

The brain, the body and beliefs are intimately connected. Take for example this PBS documentary titled “Faith and the Brain” that discusses how religious practices and beliefs influence the brain. So, too, there is a close connection between the rational and emotional dimensions of the brain, as discussed in the PBS documentary titled “The Adult Brain: to Think by Feeling”; their interaction is essential to one’s well-being.

One of the things that stand out to me from these studies is that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. As the Psalmist writes, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Psalm 139:14; ESV). Religion should not fear science, but learn from scientific truth. I believe the more we learn from science, the more we will come to realize that we are truly fearfully and wonderfully made.

Greater consideration of scientific studies should demonstrate to Christians the profundity of biblical faith and its emphasis on the profound connection between the spiritual and physical dimensions. For example, orthodox Christianity prizes embodiment. We do not exist as disembodied spirits, but rather, as embodied souls. The eternal Word did not hover above the physical world, but became flesh and blood (John 1:14). Such theological considerations should help us to take seriously the scientific studies noted above that there is a close connection between the body, brain, and beliefs. Such theological considerations and scientific studies can also help churches foster greater inclusivity and connections with people who might otherwise leave church.

Let’s take two examples. First, let’s take technology. In view of the theological considerations and scientific studies noted above, churches should encourage parishioners to be mindful of how technology can impact them, often for the good, but also, often for the bad. Here is what one of my seminary students John Lussier writes,

My question(s) on embodied presence: When it comes to personhood and relationality, is there something important to our being bodied people? When we remove the body but leave communication, does this change how we relate? Christ came as an embodied human male, and not as a spirit or human soul without a body. Why is this important? Does the body matter or is it simply a tool for relationality? What happens when we use technology in place of our body to communicate? Is technology that removes the bodily presence an extension of the human, a dissection or something else entirely?

John is by no means antagonistic to technology; actually, he is quite adept at it. Still, he and I wonder why many people today often prefer texting to other forms of communication. What is the impact of texting on our relationships if it and other non-physically present means of communication do not complement but rather replace face-to-face communication? While technology can create venues for greater accessibility, virtual church gatherings through social media can never take the place of embodied church. Orthodox Christian faith requires that we come together as embodied souls, not disembodied spirits. Face-to-face interaction strengthens our faith; I believe this is what the writer of Hebrews has in mind: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25; ESV). I wonder if the decline in church attendance has something to do with the decline in face-to-face interaction in society in favor of virtual connections.

iStock_000019820735SmallHaving spoken briefly of technology, let’s take a second example—race. Greater understanding of the brain may impact our view of racial dynamics and the need for greater inclusivity in the church.

Various studies suggest that exposure to the faces of people of different ethnicities activate the amygdala, which is associated with fear conditioning, far more than faces of the same racial background or ethnicity (personal note: it leads me to wonder if and how discussions about science might activate the amygdala in some religious people’s heads). It appears that greater exposure can reduce such increased activation. See Grit Herzmann, et al, “The neural correlates of memory encoding and recognition for own-race and other-race faces,” in Neuropsychologia 49 (11): 3103–3115. Intentionality in creating exposure through the diversification of churches may very well help churches decrease such fears and help people sense loving affirmation and experience inclusion.

Other studies suggest that people’s prejudices and beliefs impact facial processing and memory dimensions of the brain. See J. A. Richeson, et al, An fMRI investigation of the impact of interracial contact on executive function,” in Nature Neuroscience, 6 (12): 1323–1328. Based on such analyses, it has been claimed that beliefs can help control amygdala activation. In keeping with this point, it has been argued that racism decreases when we foster the convictions that there are racial differences as well as racial equality. Take for example the volume titled Are We Born Racist?: New Insights from Neuroscience and Positive Psychology (Beacon Press, 2010). The Judeo-Christian belief that we are all created in the image of God (See Genesis 1:16-27) and that God values diversity as revealed in all peoples of various cultures worshiping before the throne (Revelation 7:9-10) should lead church leaders to cultivate greater unity and inclusivity involving diversity in church bodies.

For these and other reasons, I ask: could it be that many if not all fears and suspicions of science as well as the church are somehow in the head?





12 STEPS THAT WILL GUARANTEE OUTREACH SUCCESS

23 03 2014

thumb.phpby Steve Sjogren

Success in outreach isn’t as difficult as you might imagine. After coaching lots of leaders over many leaders – many of them who were previously convinced they couldn’t possibly do it – here’s a summary of some of what I’ve learned.

1. Believe You Can Be A Success In Outreach.
Exert the faith God has given you to reach your community. That faith is already there, just believe as an act of your will!

2. Imitate Others Who Are Successful In Outreach As Much As Possible.
I sometimes hear, “Oh that stuff that so and so is doing is his approach. He’s already done that…” My thought is “What in the heck are you thinking? It’s sheer lunacy to think that you need to be original.”

I like what Robert Schuller says about these things – “The first time I use someone’s stuff I mention that they’ve said it. The second time I say ‘Like someone has said.’ The third time I say ‘Like I’ve always said.’” I love that! Take my stuff. You don’t need to mention me – just plug my books!
…on other hand,

3. Tune In To What The Spirit Is Uniquely Saying In Your Backyard.
He is at work right around you, that’s for sure. Your job is to tune your heart and ears to what he is doing right here, right now. Do some prayer walking. Slow down your pace a little. Look people in the eye. Ask God to let you feel their pain.

4. Begin Your Outreach With The Poor.
The poor are ideal place to begin to reach out to. It is cruel to only verbalize the Gospel without meeting physical needs with them so find creative ways of connecting. The book 101 Ways To Reach Those In Need (Janie Sjogren, NavPress) is a great, creative tool to kickstart your outreaches. Convey the message of the Gospel along with meeting practical needs. As your people succeed here they will grow in their confidence and ability to share elsewhere in more challenging places in town.

5. Bring Children Along.
Don’t forget the promise, “The children will lead them.” Often their faith will spur the faith of your adults.

6. Start By Serving In Practical Ways.
Kindness Outreach opens doors and reduces the risk so that more straightforward means of communication can take place. Serving in practical ways is an easy way to build your faith for greater levels of outreach.

7. As You Serve, Verbalize The Gospel.
To only serve is to miss the point and to chicken out. Show AND tell.

8. Begin To Share The Gospel By Telling The Story Of How Jesus Has Changed Your Life.

9. Pray For, Then Look For, People To Share With.
He will bring people to you. Just open your eyes.

10. Look For Mentees to Bring Alongside You.
Even when you’re brand new, part of the point to this is train others. As you train others, as little as you may know, you will grow deeper and faster.

11. Just Begin.
“Ready, Fire, Aim”

12. Work Really Hard At Having Big Fun In All Of This!
Don’t forget the famous verse, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is fun!”





3 THINGS CHURCHES LOVE THAT KILLS OUTREACH

28 06 2013

From Ed Stetzer comes these important observations:6.12.OutreachKiller_513938495

All churches love certain things. Some love fellowship, some worship, some prayer. Those are good loves. Some are neutral loves. Some are not. Other churches love their building, their history or their strategy.

Those can be good or bad, depending on what we mean by love and how we value those things. But, some things that churches love hurt their mission and hinder their call. Here are three I’ve observed from my work with thousands of churches.

1. Too many churches love past culture more than their current context.

It’s remarkable, and I’ve said it many times: If the 1950s came back, many churches are ready. (Or the 1600s, or the boomer ’80s, depending on your denomination, I guess.)

There is nothing wrong with the fifties, except we don’t live there anymore. We must love those who live here, now, not yearn for the way things used to be. The cultural sensibilities of the fifties are long past in most of the United States. The values and norms of our current context are drastically different and continue to change. The task of contextualization is paramount to the mission of the church because we are called to understand and speak to those around us in a meaningful way. We can learn much from the Apostle Paul’s example recorded in Acts 17:16-34.

So, a church on mission — in this time and place — engages the people around it. Yes, in some ways, it resembles its context — a biblically faithful church living in its cultural concept. But, if your church loves a past era more than the current mission, it loves the wrong thing.

2. Too many churches love their comfort more than their mission.

The fact is, your church probably needs to be less focused on what makes it happy and more focused on what pleases Jesus. This is an easy trap to fall into because it happens very subtly.

Most churches have worked hard to get to a place where congregational customers are happy — their needs are met. The problem is that we are not called to cater to customers. We are called to equip co-laborers. When we win the affections of those inside our circles, it becomes hard to pull away from the affirmation we receive. Again, this only becomes a problem when the affirmation of those on the inside works to the detriment of our mission to those on the outside. It is a lot easier to settle down with the people who are like us than to reach the foreigner or alien among us.

So, a church does not exist for the comfort of its people. Actually, the Bible reminds us again and again that we are to “provoke one another to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24), to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), and more. But, if your church loves its comfort more than caring for others, it loves the wrong thing.

3. Too many churches love their traditions more than their children.

How can you tell? They persist in using methods that are not relevant to their own children and grandchildren. Far too often, church leaders, in an effort to protect the traditions of their congregations, draw lines in the sand on nonessential issues.

This is not to say that “tradition” is wrong. It depends on how you define it, but I think most will know what I mean. Christian scholar Jaroslav Pelikan said, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” Churches that love tradition that way will choose their traditions over their children every time.

Too often, churches allow traditions to hinder their ability to humbly assess their missional effectiveness. Moreover, they allow traditions to trump the future trajectory of their demographic. I know of several young pastors who have been exiled from their local congregations because they didn’t fit the mold of what had always been the ethos of the leadership. Sometimes this is because impatient pastors try and force change too quickly. Other times it’s because settled churches resist change so forcefully.

Undoubtedly, there are always times to defend the traditional stances of essential doctrines in the local church. But we should not have a cultural elitism that hinders passing the torch to a new generation of leaders. If your church loves the way you do church more than your children, it loves the wrong thing.

It’s time to evaluate your church.

Love is good, and everyone wants a loving church. However, loving the wrong things leads you the wrong way. Loving what is good, including our context, Jesus’ mission and the next generation (to name a few things), moves the church in the right direction. The church should be always reforming, that is, humbly looking at itself and assessing its ability to reach people with the good news of Jesus. Sadly, many of the people Jesus devoted His time to would not feel welcome in our churches.

What about your church? What does its posture, behavior, practices and activities communicate to your community? I think all of us want to understand the culture and community we are ministering in so we can communicate the gospel with absolute clarity. To do this, we need to ask ourselves the hard but needed questions.

  • Who are we reaching?
  • Are we primarily reaching people who are like us?
  • Are we primarily reaching people who are already believers?
  • Are we primarily reaching people who understand Christian subculture and taboos?
  • What about the people who don’t have a church background?
  • What about the people who are unfamiliar with Christian beliefs?
  • What about the people who don’t understand church subculture and behavioral taboos?

To say we are unable to reach the lost because of our traditions or preferences is simply unacceptable and antithetical to the mission of God.  





10 OLD WIVES’ TALE ABOUT CHURCH GROWTH

14 05 2013

From Outreach Magazine ….

BY BRIAN ORME

There’s a lot of discussion that goes on about church growth: what causes it; how to generate it; prepare for it; launch it; build it; cultivate it and even, to some degree, manufacture it. Many of the discussions are helpful, but there are a number of subtle beliefs that still creep up that aren’t healthy. In fact, they’re downright superstitious and, at times, dangerous to the church.

I’ve collected these myths over many conversations, coffees and lunches with church leaders and I’d like to share them with you.

 

10 Old Wives’ Tales About Church Growth

 

1. If You’re Not Growing, Something’s Wrong

 

If growth and a bigger crowd is “always” the result of obedience then some of the OT prophets will have some serious explaining to do.

 

Of course, if you’re not growing—or you’re declining—I think it is cause to evaluate what you’re doing, but it’s not a given that something is always “wrong.”

 

God could be doing something different—more Jeremiah and less Peter.

 

Also, while we’re at it, let’s stop using the Acts 2 passage as a normative prescription for every church today. It’s an amazing description of something special God was doing in history to launch his church, but it’s not a church growth manual. A casual reading of the NT will show churches of all different shapes and sizes, and never once is there a declarative statement that the church should be growing faster than it was—more obedience, yes; helping the poor, yes; staying true to the Gospel, yes; practicing the Lord’s Supper and baptism, yes.

 

2. The More You Grow, the Healthier You Are

 

We would love to believe this one. It certainly feels good to have a bigger crowd. There’s a built-in justification for ministry leaders when more people show up, I know. However, just because your church has more people attending doesn’t mean your church is completely healthy. In fact, it might be cause to closely evaluate the message the crowd is hearing.

 

Growth can be healthy, and it can be a very good thing—it’s just not an automatic four-stars for healthy spirituality. Large numbers are no more an indicator of health than great wealth is an automatic indicator of wisdom. You can be wealthy or impoverished and still be wise or a fool. The same goes for church growth. You can have a lot of people or a little and still be healthy/unhealthy. Health deals more with what’s going on below the surface. Growth tells us something’s going on, but whether it’s good or bad, that’s another issue.    READ MORE …





MILLENIALS AND STRESS

13 02 2013

One of the basic principles of Bridgebuilders is the need to  be continually and realistically exegeting the culture.  Scott McKnight provides this important insight.

Millennials and Stress
By scotmcknight

Parents and pastors, friends and co-workers… this deserves our attention.

Stress levels for Americans have taken a decidedly downward turn across the USA — except for young adults, whose stress is higher than the national norm, says a survey to be released Thursday.

Those ages 18-33 — the Millennial generation — are plenty stressed, and it’s not letting up: 39% say their stress has increased in the past year; 52% say stress has kept them awake at night in the past month. And more than any other age group, they report being told by a health care provider that they have either depression or an anxiety disorder.

The online survey of 2,020 U.S. adults 18 and older, conducted in August by Harris Interactive for the American Psychological Association, has been taking the stress pulse of Americans since 2007.

On a 10-point scale, where 1 means “little or no stress” and 10 means “a great deal of stress,” the 2012 average is 4.9.

But for Millennials, it’s 5.4.

“Younger people do tend to be more stressed than older people do. It may be they are more willing to admit to it. It may be a phase of life. They just don’t know where they’re going in life,” says Mike Hais of Arcadia, Calif., a market researcher and co-author of two books on that generation, including 2011′s Millennial Momentum.

But for this group, there is more cause for worry, Hais says.

“Millennials are growing up at a tough time. They were sheltered in many ways, with a lot of high expectations for what they should achieve. Individual failure is difficult to accept when confronted with a sense you’re an important person and expected to achieve. Even though, in most instances, it’s not their fault — the economy collapsed just as many of them were getting out of college and coming of age — that does lead to a greater sense of stress,” he says.