7 Steps to Start Becoming a Church People Want to Commit To – Part 2 of 2

This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

4. Discover Your Calling – Then Be Good at It

Every leader and church needs to discover who you are and what you’re called to do. Then, do that and be that!

Giving people something worth committing to isn’t a matter of competing with the big church down the street. It’s not about offering nicer facilities, bigger events or even better preaching. It’s about discovering what God has called you and your church to be great at, then being great at that.

Excellence isn’t limited to churches with big budgets.

There’s no excuse for second-rate. It costs no more time or money to do it right. It just takes a full commitment.

5. Don’t Just Talk – Hang Out and Listen

No one wants a relationship in which one side does all the talking. We have TV and movies for that.

But even TV and movies are giving way to social media. One of the best parts about watching a show that has some social media buzz is chatting about it on Twitter and Facebook as it airs.

People want to engage with others, not just sit passively while someone else talks.

Sadly, the church does not have a reputation of being open to dialog – or to hard questions. And definitely not to criticism.

No, you don’t have to turn your sermon into a discussion group (although, some churches do that with great success), but there needs to be an easy and obvious way for people to engage, dialog, chat, hang out and feel like their life and their opinion matters.

And leaders, especially pastors of small churches, need to be engaged in those conversations. Listening, participating and learning, not just teaching.

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6. Keep Learning and Getting Better

I communicate, minister and lead much differently today than I when I started in pastoral ministry 35 years ago. In fact I do it differently than I did just ten years ago. And I expect to change at least as much in the next five years.

I now have over 30 years of ministry experience in addition to my formal ministry training. But that experience matters less today than it ever has. If I’m not constantly learning, listening and growing, I’ll fall behind very quickly.

But that shouldn’t intimidate us. Learning and growing is Discipleship 101. It’s central to being a follower of Jesus, let alone a church leader.

Jesus never made discipleship easy. He always inspired people to a bigger commitment by calling them to a greater challenge.

Too many leaders limit the expectations they have for their members to sitting in a pew and filling gaps in existing ministries. We think we can’t ask more of them because … well … they’re not even doing that!

But a lot of uncooperative church members and recently unchurched people aren’t as disinterested as we think. Like some of the rowdy kids in school, they’re not skipping class because we’re asking too much of them. They’re acting out because they’re not being challenged.

People are deciding that leaving church is better than being bored in church. I don’t blame them.

If we don’t challenge people through a genuine experience of worship, fellowship, discipleship and ministry, they’ll do one of four things: 1) go to a church that challenges them more, 2) go to a church that entertains them better, 3) show up physically, but disengage in every other way, or 4) stopping going to church entirely.

People want to go to a church where they’re challenged by something bigger than themselves and where their gifts are being used to further that cause.

If you ask small, you’ll get a small commitment. Ask large and your joy might be full.

7 Steps to Start Becoming a Church People Want to Commit To – Part 1 of 2

By Karl Vaters

People who don’t go to church, don’t want to go to church. They’re not rolling out of bed late on Sunday morning wishing they had somewhere more churchy to be.

In fact, a growing number of people who do go to church don’t want to go, either. If we don’t give them something worth committing to, they’ll be gone soon.

It’s not that people are less capable of making commitments than they used to be. They just commit differently. But too many churches haven’t caught up to that reality.

So how do we get people to commit to the church / ministry we lead? Especially when our church is small and struggling?

I don’t have all the answers, not by a long shot. But I’ve learned a handful of principles over three decades of ministry that have helped our church become a place people are excited to be committed to.

These steps won’t cost you any extra money and very little extra time – the extra time because of the learning curve. It’s not about adding to your already limited schedule and overtaxed budget. It’s not about doing things bigger. It’s about focusing on doing church better. Working smarter, not harder.

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Where Our Focus Needs to Be

But first, despite the title of this post, the challenge before us isn’t about getting people to go to church.

It’s about inspiring people to commit to

•Worshiping Jesus

•Genuine relationships with God’s people

•Making disciples

•Doing ministry for those in need

If your focus is trying to get people to commit to your Sunday service schedule, your denominational preference, maintaining your church building or anything like that, you might as well stop reading right now. In fact, you might as well close your church right now.

The days of people going to church for anything less than a genuine relationship with Jesus are over. Yes, there’s still a residue of those people, but they’re dying out – literally. And they won’t be replaced by a new group. Nor should they be.

But if you want people in your church because you have a passion to help them connect with Jesus and God’s family, read on.

1. Clear Away Anything that Isn’t Jesus

If people continue to go to church, it won’t be because they feel a sense of loyalty to a tradition most of them have never had in their lives to begin with. And it won’t be because they want to be entertained. They have better entertainment on the phone in their pocket than we can ever compete with.

The only thing that will get them out of their house and into our churches is if we give them a cause worth living (and dying) for. Namely, an authentic presentation of the gospel of Jesus – through our words and our lives.

If your generational traditions or your hip, new staging helps people do that, great! Keep doing it. But if not, don’t let your church’s personal preferences keep people from seeing Jesus.

Whether he’s hidden behind stained glass windows or laser lights and fog machines, anything that obscures Jesus instead of revealing him needs to be ditched.

2. Emphasize Relationships Over Spectacle or Tradition

For small churches especially, being a church that people want to commit to starts and ends with relationships.

We need to help people make connections to Jesus and each other.

We need to help people make connections to Jesus and each other. Then work together to build bridges with those outside the church walls.

Long after our traditions have grown stale and the spectacle has been replaced by a bigger show somewhere else, genuine relationships with Jesus and people will last.

3. Be Genuine

People are far less naïve than they used to be. They can spot phoniness in people very quickly.

This is especially important for church leaders, because we have a culture in which respect for leadership is lower than it has been in a loooong time – and mostly for good reasons.

Respect doesn’t come with the position of pastor or leader any more. In fact, it’s more likely to be viewed with skepticism than honor. That skepticism will only be overcome by practicing what we preach.

This article will continue in the next post.

Are We More Invested In Bringing People to Church? Or to Jesus?

By Karl Vaters

Church attendance should be a tool to help people draw closer to Jesus. Not the other way around.

I have a confession to make.

As a pastor, I have too much invested in getting people to attend church.

My salary depends on it.

My reputation depends on it.

My sense of self-worth depends on it.

All to a much larger degree than I’m comfortable with.

And I’m not alone.

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Come to Church? Or Come to Jesus?

The way most church systems are structured, many pastors have a greater stake in getting people to come to church than getting them to come to Jesus.

In fact, sometimes it’s detrimental to our bottom-line to have people draw too close to Jesus.

When people are more committed to the church than to Jesus, they will

  • Attend regularly and quietly
  • Spend all their volunteer hours at the church
  • Give all their charitable donations to the church
  • Be happy with the status quo

When people are more committed to Jesus than our churches, they might

  • Volunteer for some of their ministry outside the church walls
  • Find other places that are worthy of some of their charitable donations
  • Leave when God calls them into full-time ministry
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Make us feel threatened by reducing the clergy/laity dividing line

But we have to do it anyway.

We have to point people to Jesus more than to the church.

 Church Is a Tool, Not a Goal

Overcoming our tendency to emphasize church more than we emphasize Jesus won’t be easy. And I’m not in a position to point any fingers. I’m as much a part of the problem as anyone.

But I have a longing. For more. For better. For deeper.

I want to live, preach and disciple people in such a way that they’re committed to Jesus, not just their church.

Of course, church is valuable. It matters that we participate in a local body of believers through worship, fellowship, discipleship and ministry. If it didn’t matter, I’d leave the pastorate today.

We’re not commanded to bring people to church. We’re commanded to disciple them into a deeper relationship with Jesus.

But we’re not commanded to bring people to church. We’re commanded to disciple them into a deeper relationship with Jesus.

Church attendance is not the goal. It’s a tool to help us reach the goal.

As a pastor, I have to remind myself of that on a regular basis.

A Matter of Pastoral Integrity

I don’t want to pastor a group of nice, polite church attenders, or waste my time entertaining bored believers.

I want to participate in the gathering, training, and releasing of an army of Jesus-worshiping, people-loving, barrier-breaking world-changers.

Sometimes it feels like my salary depends on the former. My integrity depends on the latter.

I also want my bills paid. But making pastoral decisions that have more to do with holding on to our salary packages than making disciples has made much of the western church anemic.

The church I pastor is no exception to that. At least not as much of an exception as it should be. That’s not their fault as much as it is mine.

Jesus promised that if we serve his kingdom first, “all these things” will be taken care of.

Let’s trust him to do that and turn the church loose.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/karl-vaters/2016/january/invested-in-bringing-people-to-church-or-jesus.html?start=2

 

5 Mistakes More Likely To Be Made By Small Churches Than Big Churches

By Karl Vaters

Different sizes of churches serve different functions. And they face different challenges.

Small churches are not just smaller versions of big churches.

Every size has value, but different sizes serve different functions in the body of Christ. They also have different challenges and they tend to make different kinds of mistakes.

Here are 5 mistakes that are more likely to be made by small churches than by big ones. The smaller, the more susceptible they are.

(For the other side of this equation, check out 5 Mistakes More Likely To Be Made By Big Churches Than Small Churches.)

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1. Holding On To Stale Traditions

Some traditions strengthen a church, some weaken a church.

And some traditions that used to strengthen us will eventually weaken us if we hold onto them past their sell-by date.

Some churches need to ask themselves a very serious question. Namely, ‘what’s more important to us? Holding onto traditions that are killing our church, or letting go of some traditions to save the church?’

No, I’m not talking about biblical principles. Without those, we don’t get to call ourselves a church. But anything other than those need to be held lightly, and sometimes not at all.

2. Poor, Or Nonexistent Planning

Not long ago, I was chatting with the pastor of a dying church. He was excited about his plans to revitalize it, so I asked him to send me an outline of those plans. What did he send me? A six-month calendar of committee meetings.

Certainly, getting the planning team in the room for regular times of prayer, strategizing and assessment is a very valuable part of the process. But having more meetings is a poor substitute for having a plan.

Another pastor in a similar situation sent me a list of sermon series. Preaching in series can be very helpful. I’ve done it for years. But we can’t confuse a sermon series with a revitalization plan any more than meetings are. They may be elements of a plan, but they can’t be the plan.

On a recent, very helpful Thom Rainer podcast about replanting dead or dying churches, Mark Clifton said that churches in crisis “generally value the process of decision over the outcome of decision.” Healthy churches prioritize outcomes.

A plan includes a roadmap for how to get from where you are now to a better, more desirable future. Certainly that plan will change as circumstances change, so the ability to adapt and change needs to be built into the plan. But, to repeat the old cliché, those who fail to plan, plan to fail.

3. Not Enough Assessment Or Evaluation

The smaller the church, the harder it is to gauge effectiveness by numbers.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t evaluate our effectiveness in some way.

After Jesus sent out the 72, he gathered them together and asked how their mission went. Then he told them how to evaluate their effectiveness (Luke 10).

Every time we do any ministry, we need to gather the leadership to assess

•What went right

•What went wrong

•Why it went right or wrong, and

•What we can do to improve it the next time.

I know, when things are really bad, that can be painful. But it is essential.

4. Too Much Inward Focus

Many dying churches are doing so because of many years of obvious, intense conflict.

But some churches are surprised that they’re dying because the people who remain are often having a great time with each other.

“The preaching is great, the worship is vibrant and the fellowship is so deep,” they’ll often say. But it often only feels like that to those who already belong.

In a previous post, I made a statement that many readers took me to task for. But I stand by it. Here it is again. “If your church isn’t willing to be changed by the unbelievers who come to your church, they won’t come.”

Yes, we need to be willing to allow them to change us, not just expect us to change them. In fact, the smaller the church, the more this is true, because in a smaller group each person has a greater impact.

If we aren’t willing to listen and adapt our methods (but not our core theology, of course) based on the changing needs of the community around us, we will be seen as increasingly cold, distant and irrelevant to them.

No, the church must never abandon the saints who built and support it (a challenge I’ll address in the companion article about mistakes big churches tend to make), but if all we’re doing is a holy huddle, we’ve stopped being a light in the darkness.

5. Depending On The Pastor Instead Of Making Disciples

The smaller the church, the more we need to fight against the expectation that the pastor is supposed to do ministry for the members. Instead, we must follow the biblical mandate to equip the members to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12).

No church can survive if its ministry doesn’t grow beyond the capacity of the pastor. We need to expand our ministry base by equipping and involving everyone.

For more about this, check out The Best Way To Avoid Pastor Burnout? Equip The Saints.

What This List Does Not Mean

Before concluding, I want to be sure no reader goes away thinking anything that I do not intend to say by this list, specifically these five possible misunderstandings.

First, this list is not exhaustive. No list can be.

Second, none of these errors is inevitable, no matter how small the church is.

Third, these are not necessarily the reasons a church stays small. So, if your church is small and not committing any of these mistakes, that’s great!

Fourth, fixing these errors may not bring numerical growth. There are plenty of healthy, missional, strategic small churches that have none of these issues, but still find that their greatest contribution to Christ and his church comes in a smaller package.

Numerical growth is not the goal. Health is. Sometimes that health will produce numerical growth, sometimes not.

Finally, big churches aren’t perfect. They may not tend towards these errors, but they do have their own sets of challenges.

I take a look at some of those in my companion post, 5 Mistakes More Likely To Be Made By Big Churches Than Small Churches.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/karl-vaters/2017/april/5-mistakes-more-likely-small-churches.html?paging=off