Monday, April 14, 2014

Fickle Holy Week Crowd – Fickle Congregations

The crowd in Jerusalem was a fickle bunch. On Palm Sunday they welcomed Jesus as a new king coming to lead the Jews to throw off the oppression of Rome and establish Israel as God’s great kingdom on earth. By Friday morning they were yelling for Pilate to crucify Him. How could they change so fast? I know the easiest answer is that the Sunday crowd and the Friday crowd were not the same. Maybe that’s true, but if it is, what happened to the Sunday crowd? Why didn’t they show up on Friday when the heat was on Jesus?

Actually, this kind of sea change is often seen in congregations. Pastors are welcomed with great fanfare. They are invited to lead the congregation. The church believes that he can get the congregation off a plateau or bring it back from near death. The people can’t wait to see their church return and perhaps surpass its glorious past. They are sure that soon things will right themselves and it will be just like the good old days. This pastor is a leader and they know if they just have a leader their congregation will succeed.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem the crowd were sure He was the king they wanted. Even though they were greatly outnumbered by the Romans, a King Jesus could heal their wounded and restore their dead to life. If their supply lines got thin, Jesus could multiply rations like He did with the loaves and fishes in Galilee.

It didn’t turn out that way. Instead of rousing the crowd against the Romans, He went to the temple and deliberately irritated the temple authorities. He even went so far as to disrupt their money-changing operation. When He should have been getting people mad at the Romans, He criticized the Jewish authorities that He needed to legitimize His kingship. Jesus was leading a revolution, but not the revolution they wanted. So … “Crucify Him!” “Crucify Him!”

The new pastor turns out not to be what they thought. He has some strange ideas about how things ought to be done. He makes big changes in the music. He brings in guitars and drums, and not just on youth Sunday, but every Sunday. The choir is down to singing only once a month and the only time the organ is heard any more is at a funeral. He’s got somebody leading some kind of recovery group and a few of those people have been showing up in church. Somehow he got the board to let him remodel the children’s area with all kinds of wild color schemes and decorations. It looks more like a fun area than a classroom. And there are so many kids running around making noises and messes … It’s not at all like it used to be. Sure, the attendance is coming up, but those people aren’t like us. They don’t know how to dress for church. They have tattoos and some of them smell like tobacco. He doesn’t seem to care about the way things have always been done and doesn’t think he needs the approval of the long-time lay leaders. The church may be growing, but it’s not growing the way they want. The pastor is a leader, but he’s not leading the way they wanted. Someone get up a petition; let’s get rid of him. In effect, “Crucify him!” “Crucify Him!”

The Holy Week crowd got rid of Jesus and preserved the way things were, but in a relatively few years the temple system was destroyed. The local lay leaders usually get their way too, and while they may preserve the traditions of their congregation, the church dies in a few years. Sometimes, the pastor survives and leads another congregation to growth. Too often, he’s so damaged that he decides to walk away from pastoral leadership.

Jesus was just doing what God sent Him to do, and the crowd reversed itself. In the same way, the pastor was doing the Lord’s assignment too, and the congregation turned on him. It’s a small consolation for the pastor to realize that he faced the same thing Jesus did. The congregation, like the Holy Week crowd, couldn’t trade their pipe dream of the future for God’s vision. They couldn’t submit to God.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

When Should Your Church Begin a Second Worship Service?

Many times it happens like this scenario:
The capacity of your church’s sanctuary (auditorium, worship room, multi-ministry room, whatever you call it in your congregation) is around 220 and your church attendance is picking up. Your average attendance passed 150 a month or so ago and you continue to see new faces. You look at the records for the last few decades and you find that three times the church has grown to between 170 and 180 and then retreated. The congregation went down to about 100 before it started this last resurgence under the new young pastor who is a very good speaker and has lots of new ideas. The changes he has proposed seem to be paying off and many Sundays the sanctuary feels full. Some of the folks are very excited about it, and most of the rest feel good about it. There are, however, some who are getting nervous that the church is not the same.

You’re thinking that it’s good that it’s not the same, because people are finding the Lord and want to join the congregation, but you also see a problem. Last week, when the children sang in worship, there weren’t enough seats, and the ushers had to scramble to add chairs down the center aisle and in the lobby. The pastor was almost ecstatic and you were just about as happy. On the other hand, Mr. and Mr. Brewster who have been in this church for over 50 years arrived a little late and a new family was seated in the Brewsters’ usual place. For years, you had heard how much the Brewsters love the congregation and how they want to see it be strong and growing, but they looked very unhappy when they had to sit in the lobby.

Since the new pastor has been at your church there has been talk about adding on. You talked to a friend of yours who owns a company that builds supermarkets and other large buildings. He gave you what he said was a very ballpark estimate of the costs to build a new room for worship and you know that those costs were well out of reach. You even discussed it with the pastor, and he estimated that the attendance would have to just about double before a major building project could be considered.

If the church continues to grow, the size of the sanctuary will very soon be a problem. The growth has not been meteoric—just 7 or 8 percent per year—a pace that you hope continues. If it does, the church will begin to feel crowded and there will be no room for continued growth. At board meeting the pastor passed out an article that said if a worship facility is more than 75-80% full, growth is severely retarded. Your church is getting close to that mark, and your research showed that, in the past, the congregation had stopped growing every time it reached that level.

A few times the pastor has mentioned starting a second service. Until now, you have not been excited about that. In fact, you are still not particularly excited about it, but you see it is probably the best solution to the problem that is looming just ahead for this church.

Now what? What’s the best way for a church to move to two worship services? How do you get the congregation to accept the idea?

1. Clearly make the case to the lay leaders using the statistics and vision.

2. Ask lay leaders who accept the idea to help get the rest of the church on board.
The major objections will likely be, “We have always been a family and we won’t know everybody any more.” The truth is that if the church is larger than 50, they don’t all know each other anyway. Having one service preserves the illusion that they do and changing to two services kills that illusion. Adding a service will not make them know less people, and it may broaden their friendship circle. The best way to counter this objection is for the members to be more uncomfortable that people the church could reach are being left out. Perhaps ask, “Who do we want to tell to stay away?” Also, it is important to give the members time to process the idea of two services.

3. Decide if you will have two duplicate services or if they will be different.
Some churches choose to have contemporary and traditional services. This can help alleviate the music style controversy many churches face, but it creates a lot more work for the music people, and may create two churches in one.

4. Get the worship team on board or recruit a second team for the new service.
It is crucial to have the cooperation of the worship team.

5. Decide the time for the new service.
Some churches decide to have the added service simultaneous with Sunday school. Others choose to have it the hour before Sunday school. Having two services and two simultaneous Sunday schools works for some churches, even though it takes a lot of volunteers. Other churches choose to discontinue Sunday school, encourage small groups during the week and provide children’s church for both services. One very important factor in this decision is the amount of parking. People can’t sit in the church if they can’t find a place to park. If the parking lot has to be emptied between services, that will be a major factor in determining the schedule.

6. Recruit ushers and greeters, and all the other volunteers you will need for Sunday school or children’s church.
The availability of volunteers may help determine the new service scenario the church chooses.

7. Ask a number of people to commit to the new service for a year or 18 months.
The number depends on the need at your church. In the story above, 50 or 75 might be sensible. You need enough people committed to the new service to effectively relieve the crowding at the existing service and to be enough that they don’t feel like they’re the only ones there.

Bathe the whole idea in prayer. This is a very major step for congregations, especially those long-established ones. If the church can take this step, it may well find itself on the road to new levels of growth, which means many people in their community will find the love, hope and salvation of Jesus.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Turn-Around Church Challenge: Will you take The First Step to Turn Around Your Church?

Face it. Most congregations are declining or plateaued in attendance and membership. While some churches flourish, the attendance and participation in most churches has been diminishing for years. Some churches seem to be holding their own as they work hard to stay at the same attendance level. Many churches that are growing are doing so through transfer growth. That happens when people who are already Christians move into your church from another congregation. Transfer growth is relatively easy. It may take nothing more than having a better show than the church down the street. It’s a good thing if Christians transfer to your church because they have recently moved into the area. It’s not that great if the transfers come because they are disaffected or disappointed by the church down the street. Transfer growth, while it may feel good and look good in the statistics, does little or nothing to extend the Kingdom of God. It is far inferior to growth by evangelism. That’s when people who don’t know Christ become Christ-followers and identify with your church. Way too many churches haven’t had that kind of growth in years.

Turning a church around is very difficult. The hardest part is to get the people to want to turn around. Sometimes they know their congregation is in trouble. They see the empty pews. They realize that most of the congregation is made up of old people and that every funeral further diminishes the ranks. They are alarmed, but not alarmed enough to do the things that it would take to return their church to health. These diminishing churches die slowly. Their death is slowed because they either have a lot of money in the bank that they can slowly spend on safe things that enable them to get by, or they lure a naïve pastor to work there for nothing. They convince the pastor that he will be able to turn the church around and they will help him. Too often the congregation not only does nothing to help him, they stand in the way of the changes the pastor tries to initiate. If they make any changes, they are only small ones around the edges that only serve to extend the dying process.

The first step, the most critical step, for a church to turn around or get off a plateau is to admit their condition and seek help. They have to realize that it will probably take radical changes for the church to return to health. Long time church members have to willingly make those changes. They have to accept that the changes will probably be uncomfortable and things won’t be like they have always been. The changes will make them uncomfortable, but they need to become more uncomfortable with the fact that people are going to hell that they could be reaching. These long-time Christ followers need to become more desperate to let God use them to build His Kingdom than they are for their church to stay the way it has always been. The desire for their church to return to being a place where lives are changed and people find Christ must override the desire for “the good old days.” They need to begin to see their church and their community from God’s point of view. Finally, they need to be brokenhearted over the opportunities they have missed to reach people with the Gospel, and dedicate themselves to seeing that happens no more.

God sent His Son into the world to die for our salvation; that had to be uncomfortable. Jesus died a horrible death on the cross; that couldn’t have been comfortable. The early Christ followers suffered sever persecution, torture and death; no way that was comfortable. Yet many church people today are unwilling to sacrifice their comfort for the souls of people they can reach with Gods’ help. Church people need to resolve to become Kingdom builders. That means to choose to do whatever God asks of them to help Him build His Kingdom in their community.

It’s time to step up to the challenge to be witnesses. It’s time as the old hymn says, “be done with lesser things.” It’s time for the church to rise up. The world desperately needs our Savior and His love, hope and salvation.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Have You Missed Christmas?

I’m afraid a lot of people will miss Christmas this year, even though they’re busy shopping, cooking, preparing, enjoying parties and going to church events. In the midst of all the advertising and all the hype, the point of Christmas too often gets lost for many of us.

Here are three ways you can miss the point of Christmas.

ü You miss the point of Christmas if you think it is receiving.
     Receiving is a major part of the excitement of Christmas. Children all over America can’t wait to see what’s under the tree for them. Even adults are not above getting excited when they expect a special gift, and very few people don’t enjoy unwrapping a present. There is nothing wrong with the anticipation of receiving Christmas gifts, but receiving gifts is not the most important part of Christmas… even though it is easy to get carried away with the thought of getting stuff.

ü You miss the point of Christmas if you think it is giving.
For adults the opportunity to give is likely the biggest turn on of Christmas. The look of delight in the eyes of someone who just got what they “always wanted” gives the giver rich pleasure. When the gift you give is right, it gives at least as much pleasure to the giver as it does the receiver. Giving can also be the biggest pain. Shopping is often hectic, less than fun, and sometimes the bill for Christmas gifts destroys the family budget for the entire year. Also, giving loses its allure when you feel obligated to give a gift to somebody you don’t really know or like very much. (i.e. cousin Martha’s fourth husband, or the aunt who spends more on her shoes than you do on your rent)

The traditions of giving and receiving have their roots in the Christmas story. They reflect the gifts the wise men gave and, of course, God’s gift of His Son to all mankind, but these traditions are not the point of Christmas.

ü You miss the point of Christmas if you think it is family.
The classic mental picture of the perfect Christmas is the perfect family in their perfect floor length robes worn over their clean and pressed pajamas with their hair perfectly in place, in the perfect living room, with their perfect tree with a perfect fire in their fireplace drinking perfect coffee and hot chocolate and neatly unwrapping their perfectly wrapped packages while it gently snows perfectly big flakes outside the perfect landscape window. However, most of us don’t have families exactly like that. Some of us don’t have family at all. Others are separated from their families by physical or emotional distance. For these people the joyous Christmas season is a stressful, even depressing time. That is not what God intended. Obviously, happy times for families are good, but the angel said the good news was for all the people. The point of Christmas is for the unattached as much as it is for the dream family.

The point of Christmas is God becoming a man so that we can become like Him.     
Christmas is remembering the unique point in history when God came to live among us. As John put it in the first chapter of his Gospel, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Creator and King of the Universe chose to make a lowly entrance. Instead of sliding down a sunbeam or being born in a beautiful palace, he chose to come to a stable surrounded by ordinary people. He became one of us. Even more to the point than His entrance were His subsequent life, death and resurrection. It would be no exaggeration to say that the point of Christmas is actually Easter. Perhaps Paul expresses the point of Christmas best.

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Colossians 1:19-20 (NIV)

God came to do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. God came in Jesus to reconcile us to Himself, to forgive us of our sins and wipe out the barrier they cause between God and us. In Jesus, God showed, once and for all, the extent of His love for us. The coming of Jesus as a man serves to make us aware that this earth, this life, this physical universe is not all there is. There is more to life than what our senses can observe. Finally, Jesus came to save us from our selfish paths that all lead to self-destruction, and to make us fit to spend eternity with Him. He shows us the way, because He is the Way.

Please don’t miss the point of Christmas! It is a package addressed to you! Go ahead open it!

*** If you are looking for an inspirational Christmas story, I invite you to visit my blog "Christmas at Tiny Naylor's" from December 1012; "Bill the Innkeeper" and "An Uncertain Christmas" from December 2011.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Mission Field You May Never Have Heard Of

 In seminary I had a class from C. Peter Wagner: “Strategies For World Evangelization.” It was a church growth class on a global scale. We learned about “unreached people groups” within countries all over the world. I kind of filed that approach away in my mind. Then, many years later I became aware of an unreached people group right here in the United States (and worldwide) that I had never heard identified. Here is how I came to know about this group.

A lady in our church called me one day to ask me to pray for her new little granddaughter who had a severe hearing impairment; in fact, she was deaf. From time to time the grandmother would bring the little one to our church and she would take her to the nursery. Pretty soon, the whole family came to church on a fairly regular basis. Our nursery folks took good care of little, blonde Amy, but when she was four she outgrew our nursery department. I vividly remember the first morning after she turned four. As I stepped to the pulpit I dismissed the children 4 years through 5th grade to our great children’s church. I saw Amy’s grandmother walk hand-in-had with her out of the sanctuary to take her to her class. As I saw them go, tears came to my eyes, and I had a hard time getting into my sermon, because my heart broke when I realized we were not prepared to teach a deaf child about Jesus. From then on, her grandmother, and later her mother, tried to help by going with Amy and signing to her what the teacher said. They were gracious about it, but I knew it wasn’t enough, and it also meant that one of them had to miss worship every week they came.

About this time, I found out about a ministry called Silent Blessings, which had been founded by a college classmate of mine, Marshall Lawrence. He understood the problems of deaf people better than I ever could, because his daughter is deaf. He offered some breakout sessions on ministry to the deaf at our annual denominational convention. For the first time, I got a glimpse of understanding that the deaf community is an unreached people group who live among the rest of us. Around 30 million Americans have significant hearing loss. Turns out only about 2% of deaf people know Christ as Savior, and most churches have nothing for them. Less than 5% of churches have any outreach to the deaf and usually that consists of offering sign translation of the sermon. While that is helpful, it is not nearly enough, especially for those who were born deaf. A child who grows up deaf will probably never hear the Bible stories most of us take for granted, so when a sermon is signed to them as an adult, they often don’t have enough background to understand it very well.

Marshall also introduced a deaf pastor and some deaf believers to the breakout sessions. It was delightful to hear their testimonies through translators. What’s more is they had a deaf service two nights of the convention and that was a real eye-opener to me. More precisely, it was an ear opener. Even though they couldn’t hear, they still praised God through music. They loved to feel the beat, which requires the volume to be turned up very loudly.

Our church tried to make accommodations for Amy. I shared my concern about Amy and the deaf with our people and many of them understood the problem. Amy’s mother and a friend taught sign language and several of the children took the classes and really tried to communicate with Amy. We had Marshall come and share his ministry with us. I took two free ASL classes at the local college, but when you aren’t around a deaf person all the time, it’s hard to approach proficiency. Anyway, about the time I finished my classes, Amy’s family moved away and we only saw her when she came to visit her grandmother.

Our church wanted to do something that would reach deaf people, but we ran against problems that are common to people who want to reach this community:
1. The deaf community is tight knit.
2. They are self-sufficient.
3. They have a hard time trusting the hearing community.
4. They don’t consider their affliction as a handicap, or even an affliction, and they don’t like being treated as handicapped.
5. They speak a foreign language called ASL, American Sign Language.

Families with deaf children have unique problems:
1. Nearly 95% of all deaf children have hearing parents.
2. Only about 10% of those parents ever learn enough sign language to hold a conversation with their children.
3. They have to make very difficult decisions concerning treatment and education. Right choices are not clear-cut. They are far reaching, and there’s a lot of conflicting advice.

What I would like my readers to do:
1. Please pray for this enormous, largely ignored unreached people group.
2. Educate yourself about the deaf community. A great first step is to visit the Silent Blessings website,
3 Check out the children’s television program that Silent Blessings produces, “Dr. Wonder’sWorkshop.” It’s an amazing tool God is using to teach deaf kids about Jesus. If you can’t find it on your TV listings, check out samples at
4. Give to folks who are on the mission to the deaf community like Silent Blessings
5. Consider having Marshall Lawrence come to share his burden for the deaf with your church, small group, or club. He will open your eyes and touch your heart with this great ministry.