Tag Archives: church growth

The Church vs The Body

Ok, I know, I’m probably taking this all way too seriously.

I started with an almost random thought in “What is the Church?” and perhaps should have let it go but continued in “Consumer Spirituality” I’m just trying to sort out how this whole “one body with one head” works in light of what seems to be an accelerated rate of division in the church.

To be fair I’m not trying to blame anybody here. I’m just pointing out what I feel is a disturbing observation, made even more disturbing for the fact that it seems to mirror the rapidly decomposing and increasing adversarial political landscape.

If I were to try to roll up all the comments I’ve had on the last two posts the theme that seems to emerge looks something like this:

“Yes, the global church should be more unified and it is something we need to work on but were all just broken, wounded people so it is good that we’re at least able to worship together in small groups or in local bodies.”

Wow. “Sorry Jesus, we know you’re the head and we’re supposed to be one body but we’re all broke up just now so we’ll get back to you.”

I wonder though…not to let us off the hook but, is it perhaps more of maturity issue?

Ephesians 4:11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Is Paul saying here that spiritual gifts were given with the intent in mind that they’d be used to bring the WHOLE Body to maturity and unity? Is it an end state or goal rather than an ongoing operating model? If so shouldn’t we be working towards that end?

In light of all of the “church advertising” that seems to want to say, “we’re more relevant than your old church” or “we do church different” or “we’re different that your parents church” or “we’re protestant not catholic” I wonder when we start to cross the line from being one Body unified in Christ and become a house divided against itself?

If this state of unity of the Body is a mature end state or goal what can we do today to help individuals and churches move in that direction?

Consumer Spirituality

Warning: Thinking out loud to follow…

On Monday I asked the question, “What is the Church?”

The answers some of you provided were all pretty solid. But they left me wanting.

Most of them took the tack of either describing the “real” church vs. something else, or the “localized” body vs. the larger all inclusive body. What I’m struggling with is the fact that almost everyone I know immediately takes the global body of believers and breaks it down into something more manageable.

I think we do it because we don’t see the global body functioning like one.

The trouble with that is that we go to a denominational distinction, or a theological distinction that separates, divides, sorts out rather than including and fostering unity. But should we be fostering unity? Yes, yes I know the New testament calls believers to unity in the faith but as soon as you start talking ecumenical-ism people get all fired up and start worrying about the One World Church of the Anti-Christ!!

In order to avoid THAT entanglement people start to talk about individual faith. Which leads to comments about individual faith experience, which leads to existentialism, which leads to Nietzsche, which is NEVER fun.

And while we’d like to think we don’t go THAT far…what about comments like these:

  • “We’re church shopping at the moment”
  • “The Bible calls us to give financially and you really ought to give where you’re being fed.”
  • “We really enjoy more of a contemporary service.”
  • “We’re looking for deeper teaching on Sunday.”

Nothing necessarily wrong with those right? Except that they sound an awful lot like someone trying to select a great restaurant: Right for the occasion, value for your food dollar, ambiance, interesting menu…

Is it possible that we’ve become so good at consuming that we’ve fit church into our shopping basket mentality too?

Before you go condemning the consumer wholly, (I REALLY wanted to typo there and go with Holy), you have to ask if the church models through which we browse doesn’t in some ways facilitate such thinking.

Churches can’t exist without offerings and we’ve all known church leadership folk who have bemoaned a congregation that isn’t giving and we’ve all heard THOSE conversations start to talk about the services the church provides and what might need to be cut if giving doesn’t come up…which sounds a lot like restaurant management conversation.

Please don’t hear me casting blame in ANYONE’S direction here. I’m just trying to sort it all out in my own head, but it seems to me we’ve gone off track somewhere along the line. If we’re all a part of the body, one body, with one head, what does that look like?

Maybe I asked the wrong question the first time. Maybe the question isn’t What is the Church. Maybe the question is:

Are “The Church” and “The Body” the same thing? If they are, why so many bodies?

 

 

 

 

What is the Church?

What was your first thought when you read that question?

Is it possible that your fist inclination there was influenced by your denominational background?

Do you even have a denominational background?

I grew up in an incredibly solid Bible teaching, but not thumping, church. I spent more than a decade working in vocational ministry. I’ve taken classes at several different seminaries. My answer would have been:

The Church is the Body of Christ alive and active in the world today.

And while that is probably theologically accurate it is almost useless from any practical day to day perspective. Or is it? I’m not sure at the moment, hence this post.

Suddenly the question starts to get a little cloudy so we illuminate it with qualifiers: Do you mean the Church universal? Do you mean the local body of believers? Do you mean a group as defined by a denominational affiliation?

Sure.

But which ever definition we land on will carry with it a set of expectations. Expectations that will be met or, in the failing of their being met cause significant grief. We EXPECT “church people” to act a certain way and if they don’t they hypocritical.

I remember our high school winter retreat my senior year. I was one of the “leader kids” in our church youth group. We probably had somewhere between 100-200 kids at our bigger meetings. On the retreat we may have had 40 or 50.

We were having that sharing and prayer time that anyone who has been on one of these retreats knows oh so well. That time when people actually open up and share stuff that is sometimes deeply buried.

So it came as a bit of a shock to a lot of the kids when I, the leader kid, the guy the younger guys looked up to, they popular kid, said, “You know a lot of times I feel a whole lot more accepted by my non-christian friends at school than I do here.” Let’s just say it opened a bit of a can of worms which I am sure the youth pastor was glad to be finished with at the end of the night.

Now, I’m not saying the kids in our youth group were hypocrites, they were great. But there was SOME set of expectations alive and at play there that night that differentiated church people and non church people and the church folks were coming up short.

I have a worrying feeling that “The Church” today is not being what it ought to be. I have a worrying feeling that we’re redefining what we mean when we say “The Church” so that we don’t have to stare that shortfall in the face. I have a worrying feeling we’re trying to get over failed expectations by redefining how we answer that question.

So I’ll ask again…

What is The Church? And…what expectations are engendered by your answer?

 

Marketing the Church

Image courtesy of linder6580 at sxc.huNow that’s a loaded statement isn’t it? What do I mean by “marketing” and what do I mean by “church”? What constitutes a church “customer” and how do you know if they’re satisfied?

Way back in the day, when I was employed full time as a pastor, I often said that there was an incredibly fine line between marketing and ministry.

As youth guys we toed that line all the time…creating events that would have mass appeal to a teen target market in order to get them to attend:

  • All night scavenger hunts
  • Beach trips
  • Ice Cream Wars
  • Sanctuary baseball
  • Terminator laser tag
  • Disneyland trips

…just to name a few. We did all in the name of ministry and growth.

Having spend much of the last couple decades in marketing and watching the church from this side I’m afraid I can’t tell where the line is any longer.

It seems to me we’ve moved from trying to differentiate the church from the world into trying to differentiate one denomination from another, one local body from another, one style from another and of course the easiest way to differentiate is to show why “yours” is better than “theirs”.

Funny thing is that on top of that you hear a LOT of complaints about a consumer mentality that has “crept into” the church.

By way of contrast consider this little biblical nugget:

Acts 5: 12-16 (The Message)

Through the work of the apostles, many God-signs were set up among the people, many wonderful things done. They all met regularly and in remarkable harmony on the Temple porch named after Solomon. But even though people admired them a lot, outsiders were wary about joining them. On the other hand, those who put their trust in the Master were added right and left, men and women both. They even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on stretchers and bedrolls, hoping they would be touched by Peter’s shadow when he walked by. They came from the villages surrounding Jerusalem, throngs of them, bringing the sick and bedeviled. And they all were healed.

Seems like the objective of growth was accomplished without marketing.

Now I’m not saying we ought not be creative. I’m not saying we ought not create programs that appeal to our community. I just wonder what happened to the line.

How do you think marketing and ministry ought to play together? What does “customer loyalty” look like in the church?

 

Church Movements, Evangelism, and ol’ Jacques

In the center of town around High Street and Main
five churches were started in 2010.
Two bought out old chapels, one met in a bar
one met at the Bijou and one in the park.

Each sought for a word to distinguish their flock
from the other four gatherings there on the block.
Community, Village and Friendly all worked
some called it a Meeting, still others a Kirk.

But when names weren’t enough to set each one apart
each sought to distinguish the core or the heart
of their groups unique style of spiritual improvement
by coining a term to inspire a movement.

One said, “We’re Emergent and by that we mean
something new coming out from the old Christian scene.”
Another said, “Close but that’s not quite the thing
instead of emergent we are Emerging

One tied to their heritage lit on Resurgent.
While the ones on the narrow path, they chose Divergent.
The fifth and last church sadly took a long time
Before choosing “Mosturgent” because they liked the rhyme.

Well one fine summer morning ol’ Jacques came to town
to check on the doings and have a look ‘round.
He saw all the churches ensconced at the center
and tried to determine which one he should enter.

Each one’s vinyl banner puffed up by the breeze
declared why their own was far better than these.
The MOSTurgent, Emergent, Resurgent all cried
Divergent, Emerging said, “Please, come inside”

‘Ol Jacques chuckled because he had heard each ones claims
as he took the first letter from each of their names
saying, “I’ve listened to all of you now and I’ve heard
your irregular movements combined into MERDE.”

So ol’ Jacques left the town satisfied in his search
Having never once darkened the door of a church
For he thought, “Now if that is the best they can offer to me
then perhaps I’ll just watch politics on t.v.”

Fin

No hard feeling towards any particular movement, just the competitive nature they’ve all seem to have taken on. What does it say about being “in but not of” and “striving for unity”?

5 Ways the American Church is like a High School Kid

Turn on any “coming of age” film or nighttime drama targeted at teens and you’ll see all the stereotypical high school cliques we’ve come to know and, well, maybe not LOVE but at least recognize:

  • The popular kids
  • Jocks and cheerleaders
  • Stoners
  • Band geeks
  • Wannabees
  • Gamers
  • Nerds

The themes are consistent over time too. The struggle for popularity, peer pressure, sexual and chemical experimentation, you know the drill. For some high school was/is “the time of their life” for some it is recollected with a shudder typically only reserved for the darkest of nightmares.

What has started to become more and more apparent to me lately though is just how much the church in America is starting to resemble high school. Now, to be clear, when I say “the church in America” what I mean is the closer to mainstream evangelical slice, and even THAT is hard to define or defend, but I think you get the picture.

I’ll offer up as evidence 5 ways in which I think this slice of the church is starting to look, feel, and smell and LOT like high school.

Fitting in

High school kids want desperately to fit in. Wearing the right things, saying the right things, hanging with the right people are all a part of the equation measured against the most popular kids.

It’s sadly comical how hard the church is trying to “fit in” these days with the popular kids. I’ve seen media centric church web sites that are cutting edge snazzy but say nothing about what the church believes or even how to contact them outside of email or text. They look COOL but feel hollow.

Defensive comparison

The constant evaluation against the popular kid standard results in defensive comparisons. “I’m not like her, I’m my own person” or “That guy tries too hard to be like the popular kids. I’d never do that”

It seems like 90% of the “church advertising” I’ve run across lately is based on defensive comparison, “We’re not like those other churches that make you feel guilty, we’re caring, authentic, accepting, etc. etc. etc. “

Shock value

The rise in social media now allows kids to “hide” behind the shield of the internet and say or do things they would never do first in real life.  You see kids who seem to have one personality in real life and a radically more aggressive, shocking one online.

In trying to fit in with a media saturated-what’s the latest sensation-what’s broken through the malaise-culture churches are trying more and more outlandish tactics to be noticed. I read today of a church in Pennsylvania that kidnapped youth group kids at gun point (not loaded) staging what looked like a real life abduction to dramatize what life is like in countries where Christians are persecuted.

Lack of confidence

Oh there are the cocky kids to be sure. Even most of them are hiding a lack of confidence behind the bravado. That lack of confidence breeds defensiveness in conversation.

Do I need to say anything here? Yes, I believe the church in the US is under attack. Yes, I believe that we need to be ready to defend our faith but no; I do not think we need to go about that defensively.

It’s funny how attractive the right level of confidence can be. And if we truly believe we “win” in the end why be defensive?

Rejection of parental norms

This is a given in high school yeah? Though most people will say the kids wake up and come back in their lat twenties.

How many examples of this do I really need to provide in the church?

  • “Expository preaching is dead”
  • “It’s about experience more than learning”
  • “None of those boring hymns”

Sad really that there isn’t a parental role over the church in America, someone who could offer up some wisdom and much needed discipline.

What does that say about the notion of being “one body”?

Am I wrong here? Is it ok that the church is going through it’s teen phase? Or am I just missing the point entirely?

Relationship Building: The Four Levels of Agreement – Level 1

Last time we looked at how relationships grow through four levels of agreement. We identified the first level agreement as Cognitive Resonance, that instant where your attention is captured enough to create a connection, a first level agreement. We described Cognitive Resonance as:

It’s the brain buzz, the ‘click’, the “hey, that looks interesting”. It’s that thing that happens when the server walks by with someone else’s food and you start madly scrambling for the menu to see if you can figure out what that was because “THAT looked goooood.”

It’s that moment in a conversation with someone you’ve just met where you start to pay closer attention because you were suddenly struck with the thought, “Hey, I think there could be more to this person.”

It’s that third recommendation of a restaurant that makes you think, “Yeah, we should check that place out.”

Make sense? Good. So here’s the question of the day…

If you can identify what the moment of Cognitive Resonance feels like how do you inspire it in others?

Whether you’re trying to woo potential customers, build a congregation, or simply make friends knowing how to create that moment of Cognitive Resonance is key to getting out of the gate on the right foot. I believe there are two key operating principles you MUST  employ when you’re looking to create a moment of Cognitive Resonance for people.

Principle 1: It isn’t about you, it’s about them.

The picture at the top of this post is the first magazine ad I was ever tasked with creating. It was a half page ad in a magazine that was going to be distributed to all attendees at a large industry conference being put on by a large software company.  I looked at the ads that all of our competitors had done the previous year and they all sounded the same. “We’re the best.” “We’re the biggest.” “We have more.” ” We, We, We”  That’s why my ad emphasizes the word YOU. I wanted to start with the prospect in mind. In fact, we go so far as to tell them what they want. Pretty bold move.

This was an ad that I really thought would be more or less a throw away. We got it free as a sponsor of the event. But you would have been amazed at how many people came by our booth and mentioned it in one way or another. The change in approach that put the focus back on the customer prospect, rather than on trying to scream how good WE were louder than our competitors, actually caused people to pause. It created a moment of Cognitive Resonance.

Now I’ll admit, taking that approach you have to know pretty well what the prospect really wants. But that is exactly where marketing lives today. Traditional marketing was about screaming more loudly than the competition how good your stuff is and because it is so good, Mrs. Customer, you know you want it.

Relational marketing, or tribal marketing, or social marketing…whatever label we’re going to land on here shortly…is about understanding the customer and speaking to their need. And if you do THAT well you’ll create a moment of Cognitive Resonance.

Doing that WELL leads to principle number two.

Principle 2: Understand the customer and start where they are.

Customers, potential church attenders, soon to be friends all have needs both recognized and unrecognized. The better you can identify those needs the better you can meet them with a product, service, or relationship.

For years I sold software. People selling software always assume the customer wants to buy software. What started to bug me was that we sometimes lost the sale, to “no decision”. WHAT?!?! They bought NOTHING? The reason was that while software sales people were assuming that the customer need was for software, the customer felt they needed to solve a business problem. They HOPED software might solve it but the NEED was a solution to a business problem. In general then the bulk of the software sales people I was running across were starting in the wrong place!

We began creating presentations that said nothing about software. I had several CEO’s for whom I worked nearly go through the roof with me on that. Our presentations started talking about the business problem, in detail. Without fail we’d have a major prospect, or analyst, or board member stop us only a third of the way into our presentation and say, “You get this better than anyone else we’ve talked to. Now how do we solve it?”

By starting where the customer was, with their felt need, we were able to move very quickly to a moment of Cognitive resonance that set us apart from the competition. We also started selling more software.

Looking at your set of potential customers, or attendees, or friendships how can you start making the conversation more about them than about you?

With those folks you have in mind is there a difference between what they think they might need and what YOU think they might need? How can you start where they are and bridge the gap?

 

 

Observations on the Church and Discipleship

The five observations that follow have been born out of ten plus years of discussions about the church. These are some of the key thoughts that have formed the foundations for a new way of thinking about discipleship:

1. The church no longer enjoys its former position of societal influence “at the head of main street”. Rather than trying to recapture that position as the place where the community comes to gather together the church must learn what it is to identify and move outward into the cultural and societal centers that have taken center stage.

2. As the church in the west continues to pray for “revival” it gathers together in an upper room and waits on the Lord. Is it not possible that the Lord wants to visit revival on the church even more passionately than the church wants it but that He is waiting for his people to go outside? I believe that the next revival will be one that moves the church out into the world rather than moving the world into the church building.

3. The church in the west has forgotten, if it ever truly knew, what discipleship is all about. It has taken the biblical command to “go and make disciples” and added the phrase “of Jesus”. This works well enough in a community where people are naturally drawn to “attend church.” I believe the verse really means that each of us should progress in our relationship with the Lord to the point where we serve as the equivalent to a Jewish Rabbi….and have disciples. (The disciples of Curtis or Scott or Anne). This calls us to a much higher responsibility in terms of our own relationship with Christ AND calls each of us to move outward. (Jesus found some of His disciples at the beach!) Discipleship today in most cases is nothing more than the process of taking someone who has prayed the sinners prayer and enrolling them in an intensive bible study that lasts somewhere between 12 weeks and a year.

4. The result of the church having taken this approach is that we have several generations of people who should be making disciples who have never themselves been mentored in that way. This in turn means that if we are to turn the tide there will be at least one to three generations of people who will be mentoring without any personal experience to draw from. Of course…this means we need to look even more closely at Jesus process of disciple making.

5. More than anything discipleship is about relationship. Using Jesus example as a model the process begins BEFORE “conversion”. That means that each of us is already in relationship with people we should be “discipling”, whether they are post-conversion, pre-conversion, or formerly converted.

Please feel free to poke holes in any of these observations. The conversation is well worth it. But even as you do so consider these questions:

Is the idea of “pre-conversion discipleship” too radical a departure from traditions you’ve been raised in to examine the possibilities?

If there are folks in your daily circle of relationships that you can identify as potential disciples what would keep you from pursuing that type of relationship?