Dedicated to helping the church in America find their purpose, define their mission and reach their community. Vol. 3
Editorial Church Rescue’s Church Hoppers Coming to The American Church Magazine! By Steve Hewitt
No Longer Church As Usual Is the House Church Movement A Fad?
By Tim Kurtz
4 Steps to a Better You
Stop Chasing Other’s Ideas and Start Taking Care of Yourself! By Steve Hewitt Editor-in-Chief
Steve Hewitt - firstname.lastname@example.org
Max Strother Mike Turner Lavern Brown Thom Schultz
Lost After 6 Minutes By Thom Schultz
Copy Editor Gina Hewitt
Church For Men
How to Preach 3 Hour Sermons (Part 2) By David Murrow
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Church Rescue’s Church Hoppers Coming to The American Church Magazine! I don’t know if you were able to catch any of last season’s Church Rescue on National Geographic Channel, but it was a fantastic show! Each show the “Church Hoppers” took on a different church with completely different challenges and problems! In each show they addressed the physical problems with the church building, but also spent just as much time consulting with the church’s pastor and staff, helping them gain new insight into how to be a better minister. I loved the show so much I connected with the Church Hoppers, the three ordained pastors who are the stars of the show. Next month, our cover story will tell their story, how they started and what they do as they consult with churches across the nation. But wait there is more! I have asked the Church Hoppers to start writing for The American Church Magazine. They have a wealth of information and experience that I know our readers would appreciate. And, I hope that by learning more about them, some of our readers might discover the advantages of using their services as consulThe American Church Magazine®
tants. I am impressed by their patience and grace as they approach each church and pastor, providing wisdom and instruction that has come from years of experience. They are all ordained ministers, but they work with churches of all denominations as well as independents. They help a church recognize their own ministry opportunities, as well as present them with new outreach opportunities that may have gone unnoticed. I am excited to have them join our editorial staff, and believe we will all be blessed by their contribution! Together We Serve Him,
Steve Hewitt email@example.com
4 Steps to a Better You Stop Chasing Other’s Ideas and Start Taking Care of Yourself! By Steve Hewitt
veryone is trying to tell you how to be a better pastor, fix your church, increase your membership, reach the millennial generation, and double or triple the number of people in your pews. It seems everyone wants to tell you their opinion on how to fix your church. It also seems that information is being pushed at us from everywhere, and each seems to think we have nothing more to do than to read what they have to say. I know this might sound strange coming from me, an editor and writer, but in talking to pastors, most feel that enough is enough. In my own experience, from just five sources that I follow either through email or twitter, I noted over 100 different blogs that were designed to help me in some way or the other as a church leader. If I spent all my time reading these blogs, I would be a tremendous failure because I wouldn’t have time to do any real ministry! I also am aware that most of those pushing out multiple blogs everyday are great church leaders. They served on staff at a popular mega church, or they have a variety of great books and conference speaking engagements under their belt, but I think
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most have lost sight of the everyday job of today’s pastor. Most churches are in decline, over 80% of pastors are discouraged, and it seems that everyone has advice that sounds good, but doesn’t really apply to most pastors because of financial or time restraints. Therefore, I decided to share with the church staff that reads The American Church Magazine, my four suggestions. They are not designed to make you a better pastor, or to make your church grow, but they are suggestions on how to make you a better… you!
They’re “spiritual but not religious.” They’re eager to talk about God, but done sitting through sermons. Want to reach young adults? Start a conversation. They’re looking to participate, not to be an audience. So let them ask hard questions. Grapple with tough stuff. Discover how God is reaching out to them. And Lifetree Café is all about conversation. Relaxing around tables, Lifetree participants hear inspiring stories, tell their own stories…and draw closer to God and each other. On college campuses, at coffee shops, and even in churches, life-changing conversations are underway. When you’re ready to connect, connect with us. We’ll help you provide tested, ready-to-go, hour-long guided conversations that let young adults experience God in a fresh, new way. Call 877-476-8703 or visit Discover.LifetreeCafe.com to learn more. “ D o i n g l i f e . D o i n g g o o d .”
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*Projected 2025 church attendance from George Barna’s Revolution
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First, find something that makes you laugh on a regular basis. I know people seem to think that the best pastors sit behind their desks and study the Bible and commentaries all day, but you need to find a source or two for humor. Watch a sitcom that makes you smile, read “Life in These United States” in Reader’s Digest, and we love to watch Family Feud with Steve Harvey and American’s Funniest Home Videos. And, I removed everyone from my Facebook account that I didn’t personally know, and love the exchange of funny videos and pictures that our family and friends like to share with each other each day. I am sure there will be some that can find fault with any or all of this, but laughter is vital to my emotional and even spiritual health! Second, be still. In this information age, everyone is trying to tell us something, and as church leaders, we seem to believe everyone is expecting us to communicate non-stop. Well, stop! Take some time to be still. Go for a walk, only don’t listen to music or a podcast, listen to yourself. Find a place to be alone and relax. When I was a pastor 25 years ago, the church I served was close to the Lake of the Ozarks. I had a boat, and I loved autumn. When the evenings began to get colder, the water was still warm, and it would create a great fog. Many nights, especially after Sunday services, I would go down to the boat and drift out maybe 20 feet from the docks, just far enough that I couldn’t see or hear anything but fog. It was at these times that I found myself really hearing God and reflecting on what He wanted me to do, and to self-evaluate. How does that work? How do you “hear” from God? One time I had a peer confess to me that every time he sought to spend time in The American Church Magazine®
prayer, his mind would wander and he would begin to think of a friend who was frustrating him because of some problems he was going through. My friend stated that it was annoying to him that his friend had become such a distraction while he was trying to hear from God. I told him that it seemed to me, he WAS hearing from God. God wanted him to go to his friend and offer his help and support. I know God has spoken to me in this manner many times. If you can be still, He will be able to use your thoughts to share with you His will. Third, try something I learned about ten years ago. Ask God to use you. I know that might seem silly, but I discovered that as a church leader, my entire life was segmented into service and ministry. I knew each day when I woke up just how I was going to serve the Lord. I would spend a certain amount of time in sermon preparation, church administration, visiting the sick, etc., and could easily go to bed comforted that I had spent much of my time during the day serving Him. However, someone challenged me to consider that MY agenda in serving God might not be His. I have learned to be willing to put my agenda aside and allow Him to use me in whatever way He wants. This might mean that my car breaks down and I have to set aside my plans for the day and spend it at a repair shop. God might want me to be friendly to someone specific in the waiting room, or to be pleasant to the mechanic. Or God might want me to be an example for Him on how to deal with bad news when I get the bill! It might mean that even when I am running behind doing the things I consider my task in serving God; I am open to allowing him to send me on any detours He desires, since He knows how He can use me best! Look at EVERY event in your life as an opportunity for Him to use you! Fourth, find a way each day to show God that you love him, and find a way each day to love others. For me, this is vital. It is key to what makes life worth living each day. How do I do this? Just as with my wife, I try to find new ways to let her know I love her. So, to show God that I love Him, I work espeThe American Church Magazine速
cially hard to be honest and authentic with everyone I meet. I tell Him that I love Him on a regular basis. When I am alone, I like to sing praises to Him (if you have ever heard me sing, you will know why I do this when I am alone). And, one of the ways I can show others that I love them is to listen, so I try to spend some time doing this with God. How can you love others? There are so many ways, including being patient, kind, long suffering (just read 1 Corinthians chapter 13). We have an obligation to connect with other people throughout our day and LOVE them. This is vital to God, as He tells us this is the only way others will see Him. So, let someone go in front of you at the grocery store, pay attention to those that serve you at a restaurant, use their name, connect and tip well. Reach out to those that are alone, and, when you can, do something for others in secret! Remember, your ability to be a good pastor and minister will depend on your personal emotional and spiritual health. You need to take care of yourself first before you will be in the proper position to really be a blessing to others and ministry!
No Longer Church As Usual
Is the House Church Movement A Fad? By Tim Kurtz
y introduction to the ‘house church’ movement was subtle. I did not wake up one day and decided I want to start doing ‘house church’. For me, it began with a nudge in my spirit that began around 2004. During that time I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the way we were ‘doing church’. I began a journey (that continues today), looking for answers. I didn’t pursue house church because I disliked the traditional church. I am a musician. I have served several traditional churches as their musician and choir director. I enjoy good choirs, praise teams, and dance ministries. I enjoy good preaching. I enjoy some of the programs and events offered by traditional churches. They offer a corporate level of worship that we all enjoy, but end up being more entertainment for believers than ministry to reach the lost. Dissatisfaction prompted me to look for answers. The first place I looked was the Word of God. I was amazed at the number of references to believers gathering in houses. In my bureaucratic thinking, I immediately translated that to the ‘cell church movement’ that was popular at that time. There were plenty of books on the subject, so I assumed this was the way to go. It wasn’t – at least for me. I trained those who were interested in being cell leaders. I tried to implement cell groups; while all the time, I felt like I was putting square pegs in round holes. The American Church Magazine®
I honestly don’t remember how I came into contact with some material relating to house churches in America. I had heard about the underground house church movement in China, but assumed the governmental oppression that the Chinese church experienced forced them to worship that way. No way could that work in America. After all, we were free to worship any time and any way we chose. We were free to ‘go to church’. Yet, hearing about house churches in America resonated in my spirit, but scared the daylights out of me. House church was so out of the norm from everything I knew. Quietly, I began to research house churches in this country. I read many books and articles – pro and con. It became clearer and clearer to me that gathering in the homes of believers was the norm for the first century believers. I found nothing in history that justified any other way. The shift that created our current way of gathering appeared to be prompted by human intervention for self-serving reasons. Even so, my conclusion was that what has become the traditional
church system was not wrong – but I found it to be incomplete. It was a system that, generally, failed to release believers to pursue their individual calling, purpose, and ministry. Their programs and internal ministries were substitutes for what should be our real focus – the advancing of the Kingdom of God by making disciples. I began to search for house churches in my area. It was more difficult than I anticipated. The few I found were unwelcoming and isolated. They appeared to me to be the typical – me, my four and no more. As disappointing as this was, I continued to look for answers. In 2009, a dear brother introduced me to a book, The Normal Christian Church Life by Watchman Nee. It blew me away. A book that was written 1939 was speaking nearly everything I was sensing in my spirit. So I really ramped up my quest for answers. It didn’t take long for me to find more and more material on house churches, specifically here in America. It seemed to be a growing phenomenon. It appeared that more and more people were moving to this simpler more organic way of gathering. It could probably be argued that this was true for a season. But then, I began to hear of ‘issues’ arising among house church adherents that sounded eerily close to the same ‘issues’ present in the traditional church. Financial problems, isolation, racial issues, leadership dysfunction, and doctrinal error were some problems being quietly discussed behind closed doors. Why was this so? Was it naïve to believe that the house church movement would correct many of the problems seen in traditional church settings? Yes, because as long as human frailty is involved, there will be problems. Yet, as I looked deeper, there was a greater issue. It is the reason I wrote this article. House church, as biblically legitimate as it is, had morphed into a fad. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a fad as something (such as an interest or fashion) that is very popular for a short time. I believe, something becomes a fad when the purpose for it is lost in the methodology. In other words, it became a fad because more people were leaving ‘big box church’ for ‘living room church’, for the wrong reasons. To many, house church was an antithesis to traditional church. They flocked into living rooms, under the banner of following Jesus, but more to declare their freedom from what they perceived as religious bondage. They were free – but free for what? The American Church Magazine®
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Within these gatherings there was singing, camaraderie, sharing of meals, praying for each other, but often within the context of being liberated from their idea of an oppressive regime called the traditional church. Frankly, very few would outwardly describe the traditional church as an oppressive regime, but the religious code words were regularly evident. “I’m no longer under bondage.” Think about it, you never consider anything that held you captive in a positive light. “Only Jesus leads His Church.” This subtly says that, “I don’t need someone preaching to me” or “you can’t tell me what to do.” “Tithing is Old Testament.” In other words, this becomes a pseudo-biblical excuse for not giving. “Elders are just older men.” By diminishing the biblical role of elders, you can dismiss their authority in your life. Did house church become a fad? Is it losing its popularity? Evidence of my assertion is, in the fact, that some of the key ‘house church’ proponents, I first became acquainted with, are now facing financial hardships because the ‘thrill is gone’ and the
money that supported them has dried up. People no longer flock to their conferences or buy their books. Some of the early writers that, so eloquently, wrote about the joys of the house church are now writing about other popular topics of today. Some house church groups have become victims to religious extremes. And finally, some of the leaders of the movement have migrated back into the ‘traditional church’. They found ministry opportunities (code word for paying jobs) in the system they said was oppressive and unbiblical. I am yet a strong proponent of the house church. In no way do I want you to think that I am saying that house church is wrong. House church is not a doctrine. Neither is the way we, typically, gather in dedicated facilities on Sunday Mornings a doctrine. Gathering from house to house is closely aligned to biblical practice. Yet, if we lose sight of our purpose for gathering from house to house, we will eventually lose interest in its methodology. Whenever your focus is more on WHAT you do, rather than WHY you do it, you run the risk of becoming a fad. House church is a tool. It is one part of the tri-part nature of the church. First, house churches provide a place to disciple new believers and foster covenant relationships. Secondly, house churches within a city or region must connect and come together from time to time, for corporate worship. This reinforces the strength of the local body of believers. We must never disconnect from the greater Body of Christ. Thirdly, house church participants should commit to growing in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and be willing to be developed for the work of ministry. I believe, it takes all of this to have a strong New Testament church. I discovered what I was looking for. I was searching for a way to fulfill the command of Jesus Christ in the earth. I have been seeking how to be fruitful, to multiply, to replenish the earth, and subdue it within a community of believers who desire the same thing (Genesis 1:28). With them, I want to ‘go into all the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). I want to encourage others and be encouraged to preach the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 10:7-8; Luke 9:2-6). I want my gifts and callings to be available to serve the Body of Christ when and wherever they are needed (1Corinthians 9:19). I believe this is the vibrant living church that Jesus purchased with His blood (Acts 20:28). Jesus is still building His Church – His Way – in The American Church Magazine®
the 21st Century. His church will never be or become a fad. Only those methods or doctrines we overemphasize, potentially, become fads. We flock to them for a short season and then go looking for the next great thing. But in His Church, you never grow weary of pursuing His purpose (Genesis 1:28). Every day, there is something new and fresh to do. Every day, we are given new opportunities to touch lives through Jesus Christ. In His Church, we are empowered to carry His message where ever we go (Matthew 28:19). Then – and only then, does it make sense to gather from house to house, to share what God has done through us. We can, then, gather in the homes of our brothers and sisters to strengthen others and to be strengthened by them. This is not a fad; it is the New Testament church alive and well in the 21st century! Blessings! Follow Tim Kurtz on Twitter: @timkurtz712 Website: www.ntcdonline.org Like us on Facebook: The Center for New Testament Church Development
Lost After 6 Minutes By Thom Schultz
he evidence mounts. We’re learning why so much preaching and teaching produces thin results in the lives of the recipients. It’s not due to the speaker’s lack of charisma, or failure to prepare, or theological imprecision. It’s not due to the irrelevance of the message itself. It’s as relevant as ever.
Rather, it’s due to how our brains are wired. Much of the the typical 20- to 40-minute lecturestyle monologue never makes it to the brain–or the heart. So, much of the finely prepared and delivered teaching falls, quite literally, on deaf ears. Educators have been studying this phenomenon for some time now. Some of the latest research comes from the University of Rochester. Research scientist Philip Guo recently studied the efficacy of online education, specifically the use of teaching videos. He found that the average engagement time with any teaching video maxes out at 6 minutes, regardless of the video’s total length. And engagement times actually decrease the longer the video. For example, students typically spend only 3 minutes The American Church Magazine®
on videos that are 12 minutes or longer. The research on teaching videos may also be applicable to live in-person teaching as well. British researchers recently found that the average adult attention span has dropped from 12 minutes a decade ago to just 5 minutes now. That means if a preacher or teacher speaks for 30 minutes, the audience will tune out 84 percent of the message. Personal spoiler alert. I find this data backed up– in my own personal attention span experience. I’m afraid it’s true for me. After 5 or 6 minutes of a sermon, lecture or speech, my mind wanders. I’m thinking about other stuff. (The time is not totally wasted. I often do some of my best thinking while someone talks into a microphone in the background.)
Everybody knows children have short attention spans. They telegraph their disconnection with the teacher. They squirm, rustle, vocalize and act up when their minds wander. Adults disconnect too. They’re simply better at concealing their mind-wandering. They may look directly at the speaker, and even nod, but after a few minutes, their minds have left the building. They’re not being impudent or uncaring. They’re simply following their brains’ limited ability to lock on to a speaker for a length of time. How can teachers and preachers adapt to this reality of the short attention span? Researcher Guo said, “The take-home message for instructors is that, to maximize student engagement, they should break up their lectures into small, bite-sized pieces.” So, effective teachers and preachers will set up a thought for a few minutes, then switch to different points of attention. These may include another person–a different speaker or an interviewee. Or, perhaps a video clip, or a simple experience, or a prompted discussion or conversation. Every few minutes they change the mode, renew everyone’s attention, return to another short bit of lecture, and so on. We see evidence that Jesus understood the limits of the human brain. Most of his recorded teachings are short, succinct–and powerful. And he even acknowledged the limited capacity of his listeners when he said, “I have many more things to say to you, but they are too much for you now.” (John 16:12)
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Church For Men
How to Preach 3 Hour Sermons (Part 2) By David Murrow
n my last post, I asked the question: why can a man sit happily for three hours at a football game but get bored 15 minutes into a sermon? Some blame it on spiritual apathy. Others say it’s a matter of biology. FootballFansBefore we get into specifics, let me blow up a myth: men don’t really sit through threehour football games. They end up moving around a lot. They visit the concession stand for overpriced beer and nachos. They cheer when their team does something unexpected. Or if they’re watching at home they get up and make a sandwich during halftime and TV timeouts. Sermons are different. They don’t have a pause button. There’s no intermission or halftime. You can’t really even go to the bathroom unless it’s urgent. Men are stuck – and they know it. What can preachers and teachers borrow from sports and movies to make their sermons more engaging to men? Here are four observations, based on my previous post: 1. Sports and movies are built upon surprise, but sermons are utterly predictable. If I may be brutally honest: most sermons are mind-numbingly predictable. Not in content, but in format. The pastor stands up and speaks. He reads from the Bible. Then he speaks some more. As hen concludes, he might ask us to commit our lives to God. Then we sing. It’s more than just the sermon. I worship in churches all over the world, and most church serThe American Church Magazine®
vices are utterly predictable. Nothing unexpected ever happens. They all follow the same basic script: opening song, announcements, more singing, then a sermon, then another song or two, then an offering, then we socialize for about 3 minutes and go home. The elements are always the same – the only thing that changes from one congregation to the next is the order in which they’re scheduled. Where’s the adventure in that? An effective preacher or teacher works hard to surprise his audience. You can too. It’s easy. Set something on fire. Splash water on the congregation. Take questions from the audience. Too wild? OK, try this. Next Sunday, come out from behind the pulpit. If that goes well, then walk down the center aisle while you’re preaching. Whoa! Big chance you’re taking! For God’s sake DO SOMETHING CREATIVE AND UNEXPECTED! The one constant in the Bible is that when God shows up, people were surprised. The unexpected happened. The Bible says that the crowds were astonished at Jesus’ teaching. When is the last time you left church feeling astonished by something that happened? When were you the least bit surprised? 2. Sports and movies are built around conflict. But our churches avoid conflict. Have you noticed that everything is always great
at church? We stand in front of the congregation and lie about our lives. How blessed we are. How perfect everything is. Yet men are drawn to a story of conflict. This is why a raw, scary testimony is one of the keys to reaching men. Why raw truth and honest confession pierces men’s defenses. Preachers and teachers should be honest about conflict. And they should tell stories that revolve around conflict to illustrate their teaching. 3. Sports and movies are visually stimulationg. But most sermons are visually boring. In 90% of sermons there’s absolutely no visual content at all. Nothing. The only thing to see is the preacher. The only thing that moves is the Bible, waving in the air, its gold leaf pages shimmering like a lure in search of a trout. Thankfully, some preachers have begun using PowerPoint slides to accompany their sermons. But unfortunately most of these are just text. Death by bullet point. However, a few wise communicators have begun incorporating images and video into their sermons. They build their talks around a strong visual metaphor.
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Are you media illiterate preacher? Fine. Simply bring an object lesson into the pulpit every week. EVERY WEEK. Relate the object to your sermon. If you do this, within three years you’ll have a church full of men. 4. Sports and movies create audience buy-in. But sermons often create buy-out. What do I mean? A dull preacher just gets up and gives Bible facts. But a skilled preacher or teacher tells a compelling story. He draws you into the narrative. He skillfully uses parables and illustrations to make you forget your listening to a sermon. I’ve only scratched the surface of this important topic. If you do these things you can preach a lot longer without boring your men. If you’re a preacher who uses these techniques, please tell us about it. What effect has it had on your men? Leave your comment below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page. Read more from David Murrow at churchformen.com