The American Church Magazine - May 2014

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Dedicated to helping the church in America find their purpose, define their mission and reach their community. Vol. 3

May 2014

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Editorial Question!

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Special Feature Why Has My Congregation Stopped Singing?

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No. 5

By Steve Hewitt

By Jennifer Shaw

No Longer Church As Usual I Am My Parents

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Cover Story

How Does A Small Town Church Thrive While Churches in Surrounding Towns Continue to Die? By Steve Hewitt

By Tim Kurtz

Editor-in-Chief

Steve Hewitt - steve@ccmag.com

Contributing Editors

Article

3 Reactions to Church Decline

Thom Schultz Tim Kurtz David Murrow

By Thom Schultz

Copy Editor

Church For Men

Why Men Aren’t Buying Our Core Product (Part 2) By David Murrow

Gina Hewitt

© Copyright 2014 by The American Church Magazine. All Rights Reserved Written materials submitted to The American Church Magazine become the property of The American Church Magazine upon receipt and may not necessarily be returned. The American Church Magazine reserves the right to make any changes to materials submitted for publication that are deemed necessary for editorial purposes. The content of this publication may not be copied in any way, shape or form without the express permission of The American Church Magazine. Views expressed in the articles and reviews printed within are not necessarily the views of the editor, publisher, or employees of Catholic Technology Magazine.

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Editorial

Question! Surveys show that 80% of pastors are discouraged and that 50% would take a different job if they were qualified for it and it offered the same pay! But the Bible says we are to serve the Lord with gladness. Question – What change would have to take place for you to serve the Lord with gladness where you are now? First, I want to thank all of you that responded to my request for new writers. I heard from several dozen! We are working through these and talking with some of the people that have potential! I think we will have some great content to share in the near future. In fact, the article in this issue “Why Has My Congregation Stopped Singing” by Jennifer Shaw is the first contribution from that request. Second, with so many willing and offering to write, I had an idea for a new column that ANY and ALL of you could be a part. I will pose a different question each month and would like to encourage our readers to give me a short answer! I will post the question here in the magazine each month, and I will also send out an eblast once each month to remind you. There are two things you need to remember when providing your reply to be included in the article. First, please keep your response to no more than The American Church Magazine®

150 words. Second, we want you to be honest! If you want, we can post your comment anonymously. However, we need for you to let us know that you want it to be anonymous OR please provide your name, title and church. As you can see, this month’s question is above. Drop me an email and let me know what you think. When I was a pastor, there were many times that I was discouraged and some interesting answers to my own question has crossed my mind. I can’t wait to see what your answers will include Together We Serve Him,

Steve Hewitt steve@cdpublishers.com

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Cover Story How Does A Small Town Church Thrive While Churches in Surrounding Towns Continue to Die?

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By Steve Hewitt

n 2000, I became aware that the church in America was dying. In the last 14 years I have watched many churches decline and have watched some as they died. The church that sponsored the mission that I pastored in 1990 ran 800 people and had a staff of 5. Now the church building is closed and the part time pastor meets with 40 people each Sunday in what was a Sunday school room. I could go on and on sharing stories like this. The church I pastored when I was right out of college was located in a small town. On a good Sunday we ran around 60 people. We had a “get everyone out to church” day and actually saw a record 141 people attend. That church now has eight people attending. Since most churches (85%) are either holding their own or in decline, it is exciting when I see a church doing well. It is REALLY exciting when I see a church doing great in a rural small town! And that is what I observed when I visited Heart of Life Church in Garden City, Missouri (population 1,500). We recently purchased some land near Garden City, Missouri where we plan to move our offices and home and build some cabins to The American Church Magazine®

establish a Pastor Retreat Center. Garden City is out in the country south of Kansas City. I visited the church about a month ago and was completely surprised. The church is thriving. The congregation is made up of people of all ages, with a good number of young adults with children present. The service was contemporary, but very well done (not just loud music), and the sermon was inspiring! One of the first things I noticed (being a techy) was that they had a

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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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Discover.LifetreeCafe.com Copyright © 2013 Group Publishing, Inc.

*Projected 2025 church attendance from George Barna’s Revolution

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very large poster in the lobby with information about signing up for their texting service and a QR code that you could scan to download the church’s app! The service had full motion video backgrounds on two screens with the words to the songs we were singing, with a center screen designed to focus attention to graphics supporting the pastor’s message. How did this happen? How did a country church in a small town have over 300 in worship? How did they get the country congregation to adopt a contemporary worship style and such use of technology? I had to find out! So, I scheduled a lunch with the Senior Pastor, Jeff Funderburk, and the Executive Pastor, Dennis Roth. I learned that change didn’t come fast, nor was it easy. Here are a few of the things that they encountered that I believe enabled them to be a thriving church while others around them are dying. Humility and Authenticity I am sorry to say it, but most of today’s successful pastors seem to be a bit self-absorbed. When I started asking Jeff about the success of the church, he started off by giving the former pastor a lot of credit. Jeff has been pastor of Heart of Life now for 14 years, yet he wanted to be sure to give credit for the fact that the former pastor did a great job and grew the church before Jeff arrived on the scene. However, when Jeff arrived 14 years earlier, the church was completely different than it is now. They weren’t even called Heart of Life but were (and actually still are), The First Baptist Church of Garden City, MO. (I will explain later why they changed their name). Longevity As I already mentioned, Jeff has now been the Senior Pastor for 14 years. Until just recently, all of the staff served the church either as paid staff or as volunteer leadership before Jeff arrived. That means the staff has been through many years of service together. I believe longevity is vital for a growing church! Prayer Dennis shared that one of the reasons the church was able to go through the transformation of becoming Heart of Life Church, with conThe American Church Magazine®

temporary worship and exciting ministries, was due to the fact that when Jeff arrived, he started weekly prayer meetings with the leadership of the church. Dennis shared that he remembered they would meet every Monday night, and while they would start at 7 pm, sometimes those prayer meetings lasted until midnight! If a church wants to turn things around and begin to grow and minister, it isn’t just clever programming, but you will find serious prayer as the foundation! Backbone Having been a pastor for many years, I know that conflicts seem to always pop up. If you are doing things right and your church is growing, you can bet that Satan isn’t just going to leave you alone. In order to stay a vibrant church, changes had to be made in the last 14 years. One of the reasons many churches are in decline today is because they are either unable to make changes or unwilling. Jeff and the church leadership felt the need to provide a different worship service experience than the traditional one they had in the past. So, like many churches, they started a contemporary service. At first they held this on Thursday nights but as it grew in popularity they set up two services on Sunday with the early service providing a contemporary style of worship and the traditional service following. It wasn’t long before 250 people were attending the contemporary service at 9 am, and only 40-50 were attending the traditional service at 11 am. Jeff and the other church leaders felt frustration since most visitors attended the later service when they visited. Visitors would arrive to see a parking lot that was being vacated, and they would attend a service that was empty and lifeless. At the same time all of this was taking place, the church leadership was also changing the way the church functioned, moving away from the traditional “committee” led style that was prevalent with Southern Baptist Churches, and slowly moved away from the monthly business meeting form of polity, asking the church to trust their leadership to lead. Of course there was push back. It happened one Sunday. Many of those that attended the later service showed up one Sunday during the early contemporary service. After the music por-

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tion of the worship service, someone asked Jeff for the microphone, and he allowed them to speak. The person claimed to represent a group of members that were not happy with the way the church was going, and they voiced their complaints for about 10 minutes. Jeff and the staff retired to the church office, had a short prayer, and returned to continue the worship service. Jeff had the support of the rest of his church leaders. They had spent too much time in prayer and working together to fall apart when the inevitable conflict came. They handled it with grace and invited any and all to attend a meeting where they could challenge the pastor with questions, and he would have the opportunity to explain his and the staff’s vision. Yes, they lost about 40 people that week, but they continued on and their ministry continued to grow. Many churches are dying today because changes needed to be made but the pastor or other church staff aren’t willing to stand. Casting a Vision It is important to note that Jeff and the rest of the church staff didn’t just announce changes to their congregation, but involved them in the creation and enactment of their vision. One of the things they shared with me that I particularly loved was their churchwide weekend retreats. It was during these weekend events (filled with worship times, discussions, presentations, and fellowship) that Jeff and the church leadership had the opportunity to cast their vision before the entire membership. People weren’t just asked to blindly change and follow, they were included in the process! Expansion of Ministry The American Church Magazine®

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In 2009, a small Southern Baptist Church in Peculiar Missouri (about 20 miles from Heart of Life) was down to running 7 or 8 in worship attendance. They decided to quit and offered Heart of Life their building. That building is now used for a youth ministry that meets on Wednesday nights and has around 50 youth in attendance. And, it was at this time that the church changed their name to Heart of Life Church. In the same year, a small country church near Adrian, Missouri that also decided to close their doors and offered their building to Heart of Life. They actually sold that building but established a worship center in a store front in Adrian, and Heart of Life Church in Adrian, MO was born. In 2011, another church in Lee’s Summit, MO contacted Heart of Life Church and asked them to take over their church. The pastor was ready to quit and wanted to know if they would take over his church. Heart of Life Church in Lee’s Summit, MO was born. Lee’s Summit is on the East side of Kansas City and is not a small town by any means. The Blue River/Kansas City Association felt that there were a lot of dead and dying churches in the Waldo area of Kansas City and asked Heart of Life Church to start a new work in the Waldo area. Of course, feeling the Lord’s leading, Heart of Life stepped up to the challenge. So how do they manage all of these different extensions of their ministry? They closed the second service at their main campus and meet for worship at 9 am. At the conclusion of that service, Jeff travels to the Lee’s Summit campus and preaches for that service which starts at 11 am. Sunday afternoon, he preaches at the Waldo campus and ends the day at 7 pm with worship at the Adrian campus. Now, between all of the different locations, Heart of Life runs around 600-700 in worship each Sunday! Missions Heart of Life has between 4-6 international mission trips every year for the past five years to one of the following locations: Togo, Taiwan, Napal (and other restricted Asian countries), Canada and Thailand. In recent years 1/3 of their average Sunday attendance went on a mission trip. During these years the church has increased their vision for local mission opporThe American Church Magazine®

tunities as well with Hope Faith, Freedom Fire, Human Trafficking ministries and several other smaller mission works. They make at least two trips per year to the same locations in both of the countries of Togo and Taiwan. In Togo they focus on education at several levels including a pastor training school where rural pastors are both theologically and practically trained to pastor and lead churches. Since Garden City is a rural area, they have included talking to local farmers there and trained locals on how to increase their food production. And they have also started a three year program training the childrens’ workers on Christian education. In Taiwan the efforts are focused on evangelism using drama and other creative arts to share the Gospel in a place that has economic security but grounded Buddhism and ancestral worship! Conclusion With so many rural churches in decline and closing their doors (even those around Heart of Life Church in Garden City, Missouri), what is the secret? It starts with leadership that is humble and authentic. Longevity adds a history of support and prayer is key for a leadership team to be a success. Leadership with backbone is also vital. Change will always bring conflict, but churches need to examine why they do what they do and be willing to change if needed. While conflict will come with change, good leaders stand. And good leaders cast a vision so their congregations can get behind and join in the vision and ministry. As a result, churches that follow these steps will find their ministry and missions expanding and the work of the Lord, thriving! I am glad I wandered into Heart of Life in Garden City, Missouri. I needed to see an example of a church that is willing to reach their community, surrounding cities and even expanding their ministry throughout the world. I hear from a lot of rural pastors who tell me there isn’t anything they can do to turn their church around and stop the decline and inevitable death. Heart of Life Church is a great example of what CAN be done!

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Special Feature

Why Has My Congregation Stopped Singing? By Jennifer Shaw

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s a full-time Christian speaker and musician, I visit many churches of various sizes and denominations each year. I often seem to have the same conversation with frustrated pastors and worship leaders, and even with members of the congregation. It starts with a question like, “Why aren’t our people singing in worship anymore?”

There are probably as many different answers to that question as there are churches with this problem, but I’ve observed several trends in contemporary worship services that are contributing factors. If you’re struggling, check these out, and if you’re doing well, you may want to look at the list and see what might make your worship time even stronger. Here are the top seven reasons I give worship pastors about why their congregations may have stopped singing: 1. Your worship team isn’t worshiping. That may seem basic, but you can’t lead people in worship if you aren’t worshiping yourself. Many times I see teams who are under-trained and overly concerned about making sure they know their notes and words, or they are performing and hoping everyone will notice how great they are. We should be striving for excellence on the platform so that we don’t distract from the Lord, and we should know our material well enough that we can be praising God while playing or singing. We need to have the right motivation for being up front, and that is to serve others with The American Church Magazine®

humility and lead them into a place of worship. If your up-front people aren’t worshiping, your congregation won’t either. 2. They cannot hit those notes. This is fast becoming my number one pet peeve in worship. Most singers are taught to find the best key for them, and many leaders are trying to do radio songs in the radio key. The vast majority of people in a congregation can’t hit those notes, so they end up switching octaves constantly which is frustrating and causes people to stop participating. The most comfortable range for most Americans is between middle C and the A above (major sixth), and they can go as far as the A below middle C to the C above (major tenth). This may not be the best range for you as a worship leader, but that is the heart of servant leadership – we make sacrifices because our goal is to lead others in worship, not just to stay where we’re most comfortable or in the key that makes our own voice sound the best. Check the melodic range of your song, fit it as closely as you can to the above range, and then see what key that is and play it there. I guarantee your congregation will thank you!

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3. They feel disconnected or extraneous. Theater lighting and sound are becoming more and more the norm in churches, and I am all for it. Having spent years in the theater, I totally appreciate how much lighting can set an emotional mood, and as a musician, I know that excellent sound is very important. However, church is different from a performance. If lighting or sound is taken to the extreme, it can make your congregation feel as though they are watching a show. When you plunge the congregation into total darkness while the stage is lit during worship, you tell them they are not a part of what’s going on. When the sound level during worship is so high that they can’t hear themselves singing, they wonder why they should bother. Lighting and sound should feel inviting and inclusive, bringing people into this corporate thing we do called worship. 4. They don’t know that song. It may sound silly, but so many churches do brand-new songs with no introduction whatsoever. I’ve been to many churches where the worship pastor got excited about new music and every piece on the entire worship service was new! This is just discouraging for your congregation because they have no idea what’s going on. I’m all for new music. When I was the music director at our church, our band had over 300 songs in rotation at any given time and introduced new songs often- but you should introduce it first, either by playing it one week as an opening or offertory, or by teaching them the chorus so they can at least join you for part of it. When you introduce a new song, make sure to bring it back a couple of weeks later so people can cement it in their minds. And I would limit it to no more than one new song a week so that the congregation can be enthusiastic about the songs they do know. 5. They are not musicians. Musicians relate to music differently than non-musicians. We are usually very moved by sound, but most people are more visual and they aren’t as excited about that cool guitar solo as your guitarist is. In their minds, that’s just time when they’re not involved, so keep those instrumental interludes to four bars or less. In the same way, if your vocalists are using lots of melismas and embellishments, people in the congregation can’t follow the melody. Leaders should use clear melodic lines at all times so the congregation knows where the melody is going and they can participate while focusing on God, not where the leader might be going today. The American Church Magazine®

6. They are not connecting emotionally. Song choice is of utmost important. Do the songs you have picked relate to and support the message the pastor or teacher is giving that day? Do your songs have amazing lyrics that move people to connect deeply with the Lord and respond in worship? Are you repeating lyrics so many times that people get bored and drop out? Do you have enough variety in tempo and emotion or have you programmed four utterly depressing or maniacally active songs in a row? Music is an amazing way to influence the emotional tone of a service and allow people to respond to what they’re feeling. Are you using this power purposefully? 7. You broke the mood. Finally, I often see worship teams doing so many things well to get people to a place of worship only to break the flow and pull people back out. Transitions between songs are so important. Don’t just stop playing and announce the next song. Try to move on seamlessly, and if you need to change keys and/or tempo between songs which happens often, find a musical segue or give a Scripture or a short prayer thanking God for what you just sang about or are about to sing while your band transitions. Make sure you check all your slides before the service and that the video techs know the order of the lyrics. Slides should change on the last word or two of the previous slide so the new words are up a second before they need to be sung. Nothing is more frustrating than being in worship and not having the words for two lines before the slides catch up. Making the worship flow through the entire set allows people to enter worship and stay there. I am blessed to be able to worship with such a variety of denominations in the greater Church. May we all seek wisdom and vision from God so that we can worship with excellence and lead our people to sing again. Jennifer Shaw is a Telly Award-winning singer/ songwriter, speaker, author, and five-time Billboard Top 40 recording artist. She holds a Masters Degree from the Manhattan School of Music, was a former professor of music at Cedarville University, and served as the music director at her church for over twelve years. She has been privileged to lead worship in congregations on four continents now, and loves bringing people into God’s presence. Please visit www.jennifershaw.com.

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No Longer Church As Usual

I Am My Parents By Tim Kurtz

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t was Mother’s Day, last. I took my wife to her favorite restaurant. My son-in-law, daughter, and their four children, as well as my grandson and his family joined us. While we were enjoying a great meal, a woman approached our table. She smiled and said to me, “Sir, I have been watching you all for some time, and I just wanted to tell you that you have a lovely family!” Her words were such a wonderful compliment, but I wasn’t prepared for how they would impact me. As I looked around the table at my wife, my daughter, her husband, my grandchildren, and even a great grandson, this thought hit me, “I am my parents”. I literally spent most of the remainder of that day reflecting. Two children, nine grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren; I thought, “Where had the years gone?” Time had done its duty and brought me to this moment. My decisions over the years had each been a trajectory that culminated in an explosion of emotions that literally caught me off guard. I was, at that moment, sitting in the place of my father as the patriarch of an ever growing family. Why is this story significant? Twenty plus years ago I followed the Lord’s leading to plant a church. The American Church Magazine®

I began with high hopes of being my city’s first mega-church. Then, I was thinking about me and my potential ‘spiritual’ fame. It was all about me. I wasn’t considering the future. It did not dawn on me that my actions could impact lives throughout eternity. In my last article (Called to Be the Unusual); you saw how quickly the Holy Spirit brought me back to His reality. I quickly learned that whatever I do must be for the glory of God – not my own advancement. Soon after Joshua’s generation had died, the

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bible says that another generation arose ‘which did not know the Lord’ (Judges 2:10). They followed other gods, specifically the gods of the people around them, and forsook the God who had delivered their ancestors. We live in a time when people all around us have little or no understanding of God. They limit Jesus to being just a historical figure in the same category of Plato and Socrates. For the most part, these people have no knowledge of the Holy Spirit, but will embrace New Age philosophies without question. The real problem is that many of their beliefs are finding their way into the church. Our mantra of being ‘No Longer Church As Usual’ is in some ways a response to a generation that has lost sight of God. Being considered ‘unusual’ in this era is often because you are doing what is right in a world where doing wrong is the norm (Isaiah 5:20). You are labeled as being ‘unusual’ because you embrace biblical patterns and principles that modern believers deem to be outdated (Proverbs 22:28). PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don’t take this to mean that I consider what we are doing elitist and the ‘end all’ answer to many of our concerns with the modern church. We are one speck among millions of others who are seeking to recalibrate the contemporary church back into its first love (Revelation 2:4-5). My point is you will recognize the effect on the church and society as a whole that a generation that does not know the Lord has, when you re-establish ancient biblical principles, patterns, and practices. God’s idea for the church is generational. Paul declared that it was God’s intent that His wisdom would be made known by the church, and this was according to His eternal plan (Ephesians 3:10-11). Whatever God directs you to do in this day is a reflection of His eternal purposes that unfold in this moment through you, and is simultaneously setting up the next generation to carry the torch of His will further. Therefore the words of Moses are so relevant. “…take heed to yourself and keep your soul carefully, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. But teach them to your sons, and your sons’ sons (Deuteronomy 4:9). We are transitioning our fellowship into a network of New Testament house church fellowships. I have been told by some ‘house church’ practitioners that this is an impossible task. On the other hand, I am often viewed as being outside The American Church Magazine®

the norm by my denominational church friends. So being in the middle, we are learning to hear and follow the voice of the Father every step of this journey. A critical factor is to understand His nature to move generationally. Therefore, we build with future generations in mind. We must learn to think generationally – rather than for just the ‘here and now’. I don’t know what God has called you to do. Whatever it is, it should have eternal fruit. How is this so? Allow me to suggest four things that will help insure that your work will survive into future generations. 1. UNDERSTAND THE POWER OF YOUR LIFE: Your time on earth should not go unnoticed. Several years ago, the Lord spoke these words to me, “Some things happen IN your life, and some things will happen BECAUSE of your life. Only my Spirit will help you discern the difference.” From that moment I came to realize the eternal effect that my choices today could have on future generations. Live today with tomorrow’s children in mind. 2. DON’T CRAVE THE CREDIT: If your focus is on yourself, it will keep you from being able to see the greatness in others. You will become intimidated by the success of others. Saul’s jealousy caused him to miss the greater point. Yes, he had killed his thousands, and David had killed ten thousands, and if he were not so self-absorbed, he would have rejoiced in the fact that together they had killed multiple thousands. 3. SEEK TO REPLACE YOURSELF: If your ministry work revolves only around you, you will short circuit the potential in future generations. Jesus poured Himself into twelve men. He imparted to each of them the capacity to reproduce what He taught them. Elijah prepared Elisha. Paul mentored Timothy. He instructed him continue the process by teaching faithful men, who in turn would teach future generations of men (2Timothy 2:2).Seek the Lord for those who can carry the purposes of God into the next generation. 4. THE END IS NOT A CONCLUSION: All things come to an end. It is sad to see something come to an end, without ever understanding why it existed. Seek to understand why certain people came into your life. Learn the purpose of opportunities you experience. Jesus said when a ‘kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it then has the capacity to bring forth much fruit’ (John 12:24). You cannot enter tomorrow until today is ended. But what

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you learn today can be the fuel you need to power your life tomorrow. Generations are a concept of time given to us by an eternal God. We learn of His greatness from those in past generations. We experience His glory in this present generation. By faith we get a glimpse of His unfolding eternal purpose for generations yet to come. This is why what we do now is so vital. For me, it is refreshing to know that through my obedience today, the generation of my great-grandchildren will reap from the fruit of my life. As we build what may seem to be an ‘unusual’ church, God is preparing a generation of believers to reap its benefits. As I researched scripture to write this article, I did a cursory perusal of the word generation, specifically in the New Testament. It noted that the first mention of this word in the KJV spoke of the generation of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1, 1:17). But it struck me that many of the remaining times it is mentioned it referred to a dysfunctional generation of some sort; a generation of vipers (Matthew 3:7), an evil and adulterous generation (Matthew 12:39), a faithless and perverse generation (Matthew 17:17), a generation in need of judgment (Luke 11:31), and far too many others to list. The final mention was a divine declaration identifying you and me. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1Peter 2:9). When Jesus shared with His disciples His intent to build His church, they may not have realized that it would be constructed in the midst of a generation where vipers, evil, adulterous, faithless, and perverse religion ruled. The building materials Jesus had in mind were not brick and mortar. He would build with believers like you and me. He would build with lively stones who are built up into a spiritual house (1Peter 2:5). The religious atmosphere today has not The American Church Magazine®

improved. Like the days after Joshua, it is questionable if many of the religions know the Lord. But praise the Lord, in the midst of all this, Jesus is still building His Church – His way – in the 21st Century – with this present day generation of blood washed believers. This year on Mother’s Day we went back to my wife’s favorite restaurant again. No one approached our table to compliment us this time. But, as we enjoyed our meal, I could not help but recall what had taken place a year before. Once again, I looked at my family and thought, “I am my parents now!” I am the fruit of their life and labor. Even more, I am a part of a present day generation that has been chosen by God. You and I are the fruit of generations past who laid the foundation and paved the way for us to carry the eternal purposes of God a little further. Twitter: @timkurtz712 Website: www.ntcdonline.org

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Article

3 Reactions to Church Decline By Thom Schultz

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The American church is in trouble. (But don’t tell anybody.) That’s one way to “manage” the compounding news that the church as we know it is shrinking and losing its impact. Since releasing our book Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore I’ve noticed three general reactions to the current state of the church. 1. DENIAL Some people refuse to believe or accept the trends. Or they attempt to deceive their people. For example, the pastor of a small, struggling, traditional church wrote this in his church’s newsletter this month: “Traditional churches have not suffered major declines in attendance.” That statement is breathtaking in its untruthfulness, especially knowing that this pastor wrote that line inside a church that has seen its attendance drop by 90 percent over the years. The facts of church decline have been well reported in research, articles and books–not to mention the observable evidence all around us. 2. PARALYSIS Many church leaders and members recognize the problem. They often realize numerous things they could try to improve their situations. But they choose to do nothing. Some wallow in grief and sadness, unable or unwilling to deal with their losses and disappointments. Some are bewildered The American Church Magazine®

by their choices. Some hope against hope that circumstances will magically turn around on their own. Some fear change of any kind. Some fret that any change will cause someone to get upset and leave, or trim their tithe. Some just sit still, praying that they can ride out the deterioration until they retire. 3. CHANGE Some actually see the problem, own it, and step forward to fix it. They embrace change, even though it often makes them uncomfortable. Rather than desperately trying to defend the past, they tend to look forward. The successful change agents are not changing God’s message, but they’re exploring different methods to spread the message, to be more effective stewards with the gifts God has given. Fortunately, fewer people lurk in the DENIAL camp these days. But you can still find them everywhere–in dying churches as well as growing ones. Some fear that acknowledging overall

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church decline might implicate them, that they or their cherished methods may be responsible for some of the decline. And that’s too unsettling to accept. So, they often use their bully pulpits in an attempt to anesthetize their people into ignoring the obvious. They seem to think that if they can convince their people that no problem exists, or that someone else is to blame, maybe the folks in the pews won’t give up. The trouble is, the trends are so obvious and well-documented, that leaders who preach “everything is fine” tend to lose all credibility. And credibility is something any effective leader cannot afford to lose. Nowadays, I find most church leaders and members sitting in the PARALYSIS camp. They’re plagued with fear, indecisiveness and lethargy. Even if they find a way to bring new vitality to their ministry, they typically study it to death, brood over it, sink it into a committee coma, and delay it until sometime next year, or the year after that. As much as those first two groups drain my hopes for the future of the church, I find great hope in the CHANGE people. They are ordinary

The American Church Magazine®

people who believe that God will do extraordinary things through them. They pray fervently, and they rely on the One who makes all things new. They’re open to God’s leading. They listen to God’s command to “fear not.” Even though they realize they don’t have all the answers, they’re willing to step out–one step at a time into a future that isn’t perfectly clear. They’re willing to experiment. And they’re wise enough to explain their sense of faithful adventure to their people, in order to bring them along on the journey. They embrace the prospect of failure, knowing that some ideas will inevitably fall short. But they know they’ll learn from their failures, which will help advance them toward their next ministry success. Overall, I’m actually encouraged by these challenging times. Yes, we’re living through the end of an era. But I know God will not abandon his church. And I believe he’s up to something new– that we can be a vital part of–if we don’t deny reality or sink into paralysis. It’s time to welcome some needed change, and walk boldly into a new day.

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Church For Men

Why Men Aren’t Buying Our Core Product (Part 2) By David Murrow

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ight after Christmas, I received three cards in the mail from three local churches. (One of them is pictured above) This is not unusual; lots of churches advertise this time of year. What was unusual was the fact that all three churches were advertising sermon series on the same topic: relationships. In my last blog entry I explained why the Evangelical church’s “core product” has recently shifted from personal salvation to personal relationships. Church used to be the place that saved your soul; today it’s the place that saves your messed up family. As a young man growing up in church, I can’t remember ever hearing a sermon about relationships – much less a series. Sermons of the 1970s focused on evangelism, mission, personal holiness and discipleship. Most pastors didn’t see relationships as a topic worthy of the pulpit. They do now. American Christianity is in the process of rebranding itself. The gospel is no longer described as a life-and-death mission, it’s a “personal relationship with Jesus.” Many pastors and churches have The American Church Magazine®

embraced a slogan like this: “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.” Evangelistic organizations are dropping their mission-oriented names. Campus Crusade for Christ is in the process of renaming itself, “Cru.” These marketing moves are bringing people in the doors. With more than 40% of U.S. children born out of wedlock and family disruption common, people are looking for help with their relationships. A Gospel focused on relationships addresses a felt need in today’s broken world. There’s only one problem: the Bible hardly devotes any attention to interpersonal relationships. First, that term: personal relationship with Jesus. It never appears in scripture. Across 66 books of the Bible, never once are humans commanded to enter into a relationship with God or Jesus. This

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metaphor is the creation of 20th century preachers who wanted to make the Gospel appealing to their core constituency: women. Second, if you read what Jesus really said about relationships, you’ll be shocked. He did not come to bring people together, he came to divide them (Matt. 10:34-35). He said that any man who did not hate his family members was not worthy to be his disciple (Luke 14:26) He promised lavish rewards to those left their families behind for His kingdom (Luke 18:29-30). Not exactly the kinds of things you hear on Family Life Today. And third, if you step back and examine the broad themes of the Bible, interpersonal relationships would not even make the top ten list. The apostle Paul addresses relationships infrequently, often for the purpose of keeping the early church from slipping into immorality. Almost every Christian book and sermon on relationships is taken from the few things Paul had to say about them. Don’t misunderstand me. There’s nothing wrong with the church dispensing relationship advice, particularly in small groups. Parachurch organizations such as Focus on the Family and Family Life are doing commendable work. Churches are wise to offer counseling and conflict resolution. The Bible clearly endorses marriage, fidelity and comity between individuals. The greatest commandments are to love the Lord and our neighbor. But is this what the Gospel is really about? Is relational harmony the main reason people should come to church? Is it “core product” we offer to the world? Here’s my concern: if people come to see the church as “in the relationship business,” we set ourselves up for a number of unpleasant consequences:

• Increased pressure to accept alternative relationships (unmarried, homosexual, polyamorous, etc.) • People blaming the church when their relationships go south • More “me” focused Christians • Fewer people accepting Christ’s gift of salvation The Gospel is relevant to every area of life – relationships included. But Christ did not die a horrible death on the cross so you could have a regular date night. We need to keep the main thing the main thing. Men are interested in relationships, but they’re motivated by mission. The Gospel’s message of redemption must remain front and center, even if it doesn’t bring as many people in the doors. So what do you think? Join the conversation on my Facebook page. To order books, DVDs and other resources, click here. To read more from David Murrow visit churchformen.com

• More women and fewer men involved in church, since women are so much more relationally focused than men • Fewer young men in attendance • Further alienation of singles as teaching focuses more and more on marriage and children • Less focus on mission, evangelism and outreach • More passivity among the men who do go to church • A growing reputation as a feminized institution The American Church Magazine®

May 2014

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From Church Hoppers

What is the Intent?

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any movies exist in the genre of a husband and wife going through separation. In this article consider a husband who gives, serves, and does everything to make the relationship work but the bride rejects all of his efforts. The husband’s work seems to be in vain and no matter what he does it falls on deaf ears. The wife is self-centered living on survival instincts and creating emotional separation. Unknowingly, she is trying to find herself and she is afraid that what originally created the distance in the marriage will be recreated if she recommits. Therefore, for the betterment of the relationship the husband decides that distance is the best recourse for her to find answers. Is this happening today in local churches? When a church is struggling the blame begins from people inside and outside the church. Some say the devil is attacking our ministry. Some question God, wondering if He really cares about the church. The norm for church leadership is to question all aspects of the ministry without looking into the intent. Intent is difficult to define due to the power of being able to justify any decision. The only way to find the purest intent is with “WHY QUESTIONS.” Questions like, “Why this way?” “Why do we want it?” or “Why are we afraid?” can bring some revelation to leaders. Intent is even more difficult to assess when frustration has found a root inside a leadership team, especially when work has been done with limited success. The American Church Magazine®

God looks on the heart and he wants to bless the local church. Church leaders must assess themselves and understand that what God wants and what the local church wants may be in conflict with each other. 1. God wants to give financial security but the Local Church is living entitlement. The Bible clearly teaches God’s position on financial security. But entitlement is hindering churches due to the belief that God is obligated to do something. Demanding God to do something is found in the statement: “If He doesn’t come through then we will not make it.” More often this quote is used after the leadership has made a poor decision and then they look to God to rescue them

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from the mistake. Entitlement has a characteristic that we are not responsible for our actions so, we blame God and each other when we struggle to meet budget. Church staff says “it is because the congregation will not give” and the congregation murmurs back “it’s overspending by the staff.” We quote, “God will supply all my needs according to his riches in glory,” never questioning our intent. Entitlement has a characteristic that I am owed by God for my sacrifice. Churches want God to do all the work instead of working through their poor decision making themselves. Many churches allow the facilities to be cluttered, unclean and deteriorating never considering that presentation is everything. The way a facility looks on the outside tells you the slothfulness of its members on the inside. Entitlement has a characteristic of laziness. 2. God is trying to communicate but the Local Church is refusing to listen. God is communicating to the local church to love each other, edify the team, and do the work of the ministry. But listening is not a spiritual lesson that church leaders like to practice. Leaders remember the past: when people were coming, lives were being changed, and money was abundant. It seemed that whatever God said in our hearts we did but struggles came so, naturally those in leadership begin to question whether or not God is communicating. Many leaders miss hearing God because of listening to the struggles. In addition leaders begin to believe that certain people are enemies. Leaders fabricate enemies and create an attack on them that ultimately creates a barrier. The barrier can interfere with relationships that God sent to communicate with the leadership. Listening comes from hearing the people, who love, stand and believe in the ministry even during mistakes. Finally, leaders believe the people must be “made happy.” Then the concentration is on the voices of unhappiness that create internal reactions of putting out fires. It is unrealistic for everyone to be happy with everything in church. Listening means hearing from those who are unhappy and filtering the complaint through the trusted leadership team working for the ministry. 3. God is patient in growth but the Local Church wants an instant fix. God created a timetable so consider the account of the Six-Days of Creation, which is a great The American Church Magazine®

lesson for church leaders who traditionally want easy and quick results. God’s creative process was revealed to us over the course of six days. He purposefully built on the success from the previous day. Growing too quickly can sabotage the greatest plan if a quick fix is the focus. Growth often allows leaders to address problems instead of concentrating on the symptoms. Leaders focus on symptoms that are actually mirrors into the real problem. But instant fixes, when symptomatically targeted, will only empower the issues to arise stronger another day. Real growth is found when a process has been established. Without a clear process there is no way to establish a true strategy. Strategy is a plan to be successful, plus it creates an understanding of what the church is trying to do. Ultimately, instant fixes create leaders who jump from one strategy to another hoping for a different result. Growth naturally takes place just because it is the way God created the world, but leaders sabotage growth and put more emphasis on a “solution oriented” ministry instead of a “process oriented” one. When success is attained, many times leaders have no idea how they got there so the words are, “God did it.” Instant fixes are fallacies that leaders rest on with no understanding of the final results. Until leaders begin to address their intentions then entitlement, refusing to listen and instant fixes become the means of the ministry. God is waiting and wanting to do something extraordinary in the local church but she must awaken to her true intentions. Take the husband who gives everything to his wife and she rejects his offering. He decides to step back and wait to see what her intentions are. She continues on doing the same that she has done since leaving him. In time, the ultimate decision will fall back on the husband, he can keep waiting and hoping for a change or divorce his wife who he loves. God will not divorce the local church, but He will allow her to flounder in misery. He sees the larger picture where churches chase everything to find answers for the ministry. Solution: the local churches that find fulfillment and success are the ones who find it within themselves and understand their true intent. Contact: www.churchhoppers.org

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