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Church size no barrier to thinking big

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Contents COVER SECTION 13 The power of small Small churches can turn their struggles into a source of strength. By Lisa Cannon Green

20 5 questions for living small and dreaming big Innovation helps churches of all sizes have major impact. By Todd McMichen

22 W  hen big goes small Megachurches move to smaller spaces as large churches learn from those with less. By Aaron Earls

25 Big reputations in small places In small towns, reflecting Christ in everyday life can be crucial. By Aaron Morrow

40 Pastor, find your identity in Christ

Don’t measure success by your position, your preaching, your persona, or your programs. By Jared C. Wilson

44 W  orship: Why what we sing matters Scriptures show significance of music in developing followers of Christ. By Mike Harland

IN EVERY ISSUE 4 Inside F&T Never underestimate the power of small. By Carol Pipes

6 From My Perspective Characteristics of healthy small churches. By Thom S. Rainer

8 Insights  eliefs, issues, and trends impacting the church B and our world.

28 Technology

FEATURES 26 The art of dying to self You don’t have to be a hero or a genius to lead, but you do need to be a servant. By Mark Sayers

30 R eviving the black church Q&A with pastor and author Thabiti Anyabwile.

34 H  uman trafficking swings community outreach door wide open Church partnerships can help people trapped in modern-day slavery. By Patti Townley-Covert


Cellphones at church: Benefits and cautions. By Aaron Earls

39 Groups Matter Working with different personalities in your small group. By Robert Noland

46 On Our Radar Relevant and practical resources for you and your church.

51 The Exchange Can small be healthy? By Ed Stetzer

Facts & Trends • 3

Facts&Trends Volume 62 • Number 2 • SPRING 2016


Never underestimate the power of small


LifeWay Leadership


President and Publisher | Thom S. Rainer Executive Editor | Ed Stetzer Senior Editor | Marty King

Contributors Thabiti Anyabwile, Mike Harland, Todd McMichen, Aaron Morrow, Robert Noland, Mark Sayers, Patti Townley-Covert, and Jared C. Wilson A boat with a tow of 42 barges covers an area of approximately 6.6 acres.


uring my college years, I worked as a docent at the Mississippi River Museum in Memphis. I often spent my lunch break sitting on the observation deck that overlooked the river. It wasn’t uncommon to see seemingly small towboats pushing several football fields’ worth of barges up and down the river. A single towboat can handle more than 40 barges, and one barge carries around 1500 tons. That takes a lot of power. I marveled at how something so small could navigate the river while guiding a flotilla of cargo. In today’s supersize-me-bigger-is-better culture, we often miss the significant power of small things. But in God’s economy, even small things can make a big difference. A small stone takes down a giant. A remnant of 300 defeats an army. Five barley loaves and two fish feed the multitudes. And faith the size of a mustard seed moves mountains. In this issue of Facts & Trends, we look at the unique challenges and opportunities of small churches. We talk to pastors of small churches who have turned weaknesses into advantages. And we explore how megachurches are harnessing the power of small through small groups, multisite campuses, and microsites. With the median congregation in America around 80 weekly attendees, we realize many of our readers are familiar with small church ministry—you live it every day. We hope you find encouragement and inspiration as you read this issue. Large or small, rural or urban, every church can make an impact for the kingdom, whether it’s helping people navigate life or carrying the gospel both near and far. Never underestimate the power of small. Carol Pipes, Editor @CarolPipes | Carol.Pipes@lifeway.com

Advertising Rhonda Edge Buescher, director, Media Business Development Jessi Wallace, Magazine Advertising Specialist Tim Huffine, Marketing Sales Strategist Send advertising questions/comments to: One LifeWay Plaza, MSN 136, Nashville, TN 37234 Email: MediaOptions@lifeway.com Media kits: LifeWay.com/MediaOptions This magazine includes paid advertisements for some products and services not affiliated with LifeWay. The inclusion of the paid advertisements does not constitute an endorsement by LifeWay Christian Resources of the products or services.

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Permissions Facts & Trends grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be photocopied for use in a local church or classroom, provided copies are distributed free and indicate Facts & Trends as the source. Contact Us: Email - FactsAndTrends@lifeway.com Mail - Facts & Trends, One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN 37234-0192 Facts & Trends is published quarterly by LifeWay Christian Resources. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, copyright 2009. Used by permission.


4 • Facts & Trends



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Characteristics of healthy small churches


he size of a church is not always an indicator of its health. One might argue if a church were effectively reaching people it would not remain small. But that’s not always the case. Many smaller churches are in locations with a small population base or areas of transition. But these communities still need churches, and many faithful leaders are serving those communities well. Some smaller churches are not effective beyond the walls of the church. But neither are some midsize churches, large churches, or megachurches. Simply stated, effectiveness is not always related to size. No matter the size, it’s important to gauge the health of your church. Here are seven characteristics of healthy churches that specifically relate to small churches but indicate effectiveness no matter the size. 1. Pastors of healthy churches model evangelism. There are no evangelistic churches of any size where the pastor is not leading in evangelism. The gospel is central in healthy churches. The sharing of the good news is natural and consequential. But leaders in these churches do not simply assume evangelism is taking place. There are constant reminders of the priority of evangelism. 2. Healthy churches reproduce. Any kind of healthy organism reproduces. Reproduction can occur in any number of ways, but the most common among smaller churches is Sunday school classes or small groups. The growth doesn’t have to be exponential; one new class a year would exhibit growth. What is your strategy

for creating additional Sunday school classes or small groups? And how are you developing new leaders?

of these congregations focus on doing fewer ministries but doing those few better than they could with an overabundance of activities.

3. They have a missional community 7. Prayer is the lifeblood of healthy presence. Healthy churches are churches. This is true of any size intentional about ministering to the local community and connecting with church. The leadership emphasizes the importance of prayer and leads people outside the church. They love and serve their community. They have the congregation regularly in times of corporate prayer. deep relationships I realize many in their community. churches, especially Churches should NO MATTER THE SIZE, small churches, are find community IT’S IMPORTANT TO struggling. But I am needs that aren’t keenly aware God is being met and then GAUGE THE HEALTH doing a great work meet those needs. in many congreWhat would the OF YOUR CHURCH.” gations. I’ve seen people in your — Thom S. Rainer churches averaging community say 80 in attendance who about your church? exhibit each of these 4. Small, healthy churches play to healthy characteristics. So to all of their strengths. One of the strengths you who labor and serve faithfully of a small church is close relationin small churches, please accept my ships—everyone knows everyone—so deepest gratitude for all you do for use that to your full advantage. But His glory. You have chosen to pour be careful not to allow the strength of your life into a ministry that receives those relationships to pull the focus little earthly recognition. Thank you of your church inward. Don’t forget for your faithful ministry. to reach out to newcomers. At LifeWay we strive to provide resources for churches of all sizes and 5. Healthy churches make disciples. partner with them in their mission An advantage of smaller churches of making disciples. I hope you’ll is the ability to see who is being connect with us at LifeWay.com/ discipled and who is not. It’s essential ChurchLeaders where you’ll find for any church to have a clear proleadership tools as well as links to cess for making disciples—one that resources for all areas of ministry moves people toward greater levels of within the life of a church. n commitment to Jesus Christ. A great resource for discipleship is Disciples Thom S. Rainer (@ThomRainer) is president and Path (LifeWay.com/DisciplesPath). CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.

6. These churches do fewer ministries but do them better. Small, healthy churches realize they can’t be all things to all people. So the leaders

6 • Facts & Trends


Church Basics Series Edited by Jonathan Leeman

Coming soon in June 2016 Understanding Church Leadership • Understanding Church Discipline In the Church Basics Series, trusted church experts write practical, trustworthy resources on issues like Church Discipline, the Lord’s Supper, and Baptism that every pastor can hand every church member.

L E A R N M O R E AT 9 M A R K S . O R G


Beliefs, issues, and trends impacting our world

Americans aren’t that religious after all


he U.S. remains one of the most religious nations in the West. But Americans are surprisingly indifferent to faith, when compared to countries around the world. The U.S. ranked just behind Turkey and slightly ahead of Venezuela in terms of religion being important in people’s lives.

Percentage who responded “yes” when asked if religion is important in their lives:




















Source: PewResearch.org

New churches outpace dying ones


merica is launching new Protestant churches faster than it loses old ones, attracting many people who previously didn’t attend church anywhere, new LifeWay Research studies show. More than 4,000 new churches opened their doors in 2014, outpacing the 3,700 that closed, according to estimates from 34 denominational statisticians. And on average 42 percent of those worshiping at churches launched since 2008 previously never attended church or hadn’t attended in many years, LifeWay Research finds in an analysis of 843 such churches from 17 denominations and church planting networks.


Source: LifeWay Research.com

(WHICH IS ABOUT 77 PER WEEK) 8 • Facts & Trends


Seven traits of churches with increasing per-member giving

1. Increased emphasis on belonging to a group. Members in a group, such as a small group or Sunday school class, give as much as six times more than those attending worship services alone. 2. Multiple giving venues. Per-member giving increases as churches offer more giving venues (e.g., offertory giving in the worship services; online giving; mailed offering envelopes to all members and givers; automatic deductions from members’ bank accounts; giving kiosks). 3. Meaningful and motivating goals. Church members give more if they see the church has a goal that will make a meaningful difference. “Increasing total gifts by 10 percent” is not a meaningful goal. “Giving 10 percent more to advance the gospel in the 37201 zip code” is more meaningful. 4. Explaining biblical giving in the new members’ class. New member classes should be an entry point for both information on and expectations of biblical church membership. Biblical giving should be a clear and unapologetic expectation of church membership.



ne of the key metrics of financial giving in a church is per-member giving. Churches with increased giving per member have seven dominant characteristics.


Religious freedom can depend on what you believe


oncerns about religious freedom have dominated headlines in recent years. Most Americans say protecting religious liberty is essential. But not all faiths get the same support, according to a study from the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

5. Willingness of leadership to talk about money. While it is possible to communicate financial stewardship in an overbearing manner, it is inexcusable for leaders to be silent about financial stewardship by Christians.

When asked if protecting religious liberty of specific groups was important, here’s how many Americans said yes:

6. Meaningful financial reporting. Many churches provide financial reporting that only a CPA or a CFO can understand. Church members need to be able to understand clearly how funds are given or spent.

For Christians:

7. Transparent financial reporting. If church members sense pertinent financial information is being withheld, they tend to give less or nothing at all. While that does not mean every financial statement provides endless details, it does indicate church members will have a clear idea of how funds are given and spent.


For Jews: For Mormons:


There are reasons for optimism in church giving. Many churches are experiencing increases in total giving as well as per-member giving. And most of those churches exhibit the seven characteristics noted above.

For Muslims:

Source: ThomRainer.com

Source: AP.org




Facts & Trends • 9


Beliefs, issues, and trends impacting our world

Ex-pastors point to lack of support, unrealistic expectations


hile being a pastor can be stressful, most Protestant ministers are in it for the long haul. A survey of 1,500 pastors found that from 2005 to 2015, only 1 out of 10 left their church. A second study of 734 pastors—many who had spent a decade in ministry—who left the pastorate, showed that conflict and a lack of support played key roles.


Seniors are catching up on Facebook oung Americans (18-30) love social media. According to a new study, about 90 percent of Americans in that age group use social media like Facebook and Twitter. But older Americans (65 and over) have caught on too.

Use of social media by age group 18-29 year olds

65 or older 90%

Among pastors who left the pastorate before age 65:


Why you left the pastorate? 40%

Change in calling Conflict in a church Burnout Personal finances Family issues






25% 19%

20% 12%



12% 12%



2015 Source: PewInternet.org

Source: LifeWayResearch.com

Note: Respondents could select all that apply



Americans say betting on sports is moral, but many still want it banned


recent legal crackdown on daily fantasy sports leagues has prompted a new debate on sports gambling. Few Americans think betting on sports is wrong, but they aren’t sure it should be legal. They are split on whether daily fantasy sports should be allowed. 10 • Facts & Trends

31% 40% agree it is morally wrong to bet on sports.

agree sports betting should be legalized throughout the country WINTER 2016

Adoption hits close to home for evangelical leaders


early 30 percent of evangelical leaders have members in their immediate families who have been adopted, according to a survey of evangelical leaders conducted by the National Associations of Evangelicals. Of the evangelical leaders whose families include adopted members, 36 percent of the adoptions were transracial, and 14 percent were special needs. None were international adoptions.

Source: NAE.net


Who’s sharing their faith?


49% agree daily fantasy sports (like DraftKings or Fan Duel) should be legal


bout a quarter of U.S. religiously affiliated adults share their faith at least once a week, according to Pew’s study of American religious beliefs and activities. The practice of sharing one’s faith is up slightly since 2007. While older Americans are more engaged in other religious practices (attending church, prayer, Scripture reading), Pew found younger adults are slightly more likely than those 65 and older to share their faith.

Percentage of adults who share their faith at least monthly: All evangelicals Evangelical millennials Evangelical Gen-Xers Evangelical Boomers Evangelicals over 65 Source: PewForum.org


Facts & Trends • 11


Beliefs, issues, and trends impacting our world


ew Research asked Americans how they feel about institutions like corporations, government, and churches. Among the 10 institutions Pew asked about, churches and religious organizations fell in the middle.

12 • Facts & Trends

82% 71% 61%

14% Congress





alf of teenagers and more than half (56 percent) who say nearly three-quarters of not recycling is “usually or always young adults come across wrong.” pornography at least monthly, With pornography “so accessible and both groups on average consider now and becoming more accessible, viewing pornographic images less it’s going to become more mainimmoral than failing to recycle. Those stream,” McDowell says. are among the findings of a survey of Part of the problem is that 2,700 Americans released by Josh children’s first exposure to porn McDowell Ministry. is coming earlier than in previous The study also generations, accordfound porn use is ing to the study. 14 percent of on the rise among Some 27 percent of senior pastors young women and 25- to 30-year-olds that 14 percent say they first viewed surveyed of senior pastors pornography before “currently struggle puberty. In contrast, surveyed “currently struggle with using only 13 percent of with using porn.” porn.” adults from GenerMcDowell, a ation X first viewed 41 percent of Christian author porn before puberty. and speaker, says he The study also teens admit to is most concerned found most teens are sending a sexually “sexting,” with 66 about the findings related to teens and percent of teens and explicit text. young adults. young adults saying “What this study they have received shows is that little by little, porn is a sexually explicit image and 41 becoming more acceptable, more percent saying they’ve sent one. ‘spiritually okay’” among teenagers The survey yielded some positive and adults ages 18-24, McDowell news about pastors. A full 79 percent says. of youth pastors and 86 percent Less than one-third (32 percent) of senior pastors say they do not say viewing porn is “usually or currently struggle with using porn. Source: Josh.org always wrong” compared to the

Which groups have a positive effect on the country? Here’s a snapshot of what they found:

Tech compnaies

The porn phenomenon

Small businesses


Churches more helpful than Congress, less helpful than Google

Source: PewResearch.org



Church size no barrier to thinking big


By Lisa Cannon Green

our worship leader only knows three chords. If you pay the part-time secretary, you can’t afford to fix the leaky roof. Without more volunteers, the mission trip will be in trouble. Welcome to the small church, the fast-growing segment that triggers hand-wringing among the “bigger is better” crowd. The median congregation in America has fallen to 80 weekly attendees, according to American Congregations 2015: Thriving and Surviving a sobering report in January from the Hartford Institute for


Facts & Trends • 13

Bow Down Church views outreach as vital to ministry



onventional wisdom would have told Bow Down Church to hire a children’s pastor right away for its growing kids ministry. Instead, the inner-city church plant in West Palm Beach, Florida, chose a full-time outreach pastor. “Our church has bought into this paradigm shift,” says pastor Chris Tress, “and that is why we have more people in our outreaches every week than we do on Sunday morning.” Bow Down ministers to about 500 people every week, dwarfing its Sunday morning attendance of 140 adults and 60-80 children. The church feeds homeless people every Monday; provides free prayer

and counseling services; and has bought eight inner-city homes to use for discipleship, staff housing, and a homeownership program. It conducts an intense 10-month discipleship program in which young adults live in the inner city and serve alongside ministry leaders. Bow Down also mentors children from its inner-city neighborhood. “We cannot just do Sunday school once a week anymore—these children need more than that,” says Tress. “Our goal is to have every child connected with a mentor who will build a deep relationship with them and walk through life with them.”

Religion Research that questions the vitality of small congregations. Those in the trenches, however, say the undeniable struggles of small churches are a source of power that can’t be matched by the megachurch. The worship leader with his handful of chords will grow quickly as a leader, using skills that wouldn’t have gotten him onto the platform at a large church, says Karl Vaters, a small church pastor and founder of NewSmallChurch.com. A financial pinch can nudge small churches into partnerships with other ministries that ultimately strengthen both, says consultant and former small church pastor David Gould. And hesitant volunteers are likely to grow in faith and commitment by stepping up to meet the church’s need, Vaters says. In fact, small churches—multiplying like cells of the body—are key to the growth of God’s kingdom, says Elmer Towns, co-founder of Liberty University. “All churches are small when they begin,” says Towns, pointing to Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.” “When Jesus is there, it’s the body of Christ, and therefore a small church is as powerful as Jesus.”


Community service events are an integral part of the ministry of Bow Down Church in West Palm Beach, Florida.

14 • Facts & Trends

Americans are more open to attending small churches than megachurches, LifeWay Research shows. Only 8 percent rule out churches of fewer than 100, while 29 percent say they would never go to a megachurch. And the leading edge of the millennial generation—Americans 25-34 years old—shows more openness to small SPRING 2016


SMALL CHURCHES SPONSOR 1 IN 5 CHURCH PLANTS 21 percent of churches churches than those entering middle age, according to the 2014 survey. Only 5 percent of Americans 25-34 say they would never go to a church of fewer than 100, compared to 12 percent of those ages 35-44. Millennials’ receptivity to small churches makes sense to Vaters, who says mobility and technology have distanced young Americans from their communities. “We don’t get to know our neighbors, because we’re fully entertained with the screens in our own living room and the phone in our own pocket.” As a result, Vaters says, millennials are looking for personal relationships—the specialty of the small church. “My grandparents’ generation took relationships for granted and needed to build structures,” Vaters says. “Having a building and a full-time pastor meant stability and status for them. “My children’s generation takes the structures for granted and needs to build relationships—so their churches are going to reflect that.” This shift in focus doesn’t mean millennials are less committed to the cause of Christ, Vaters says. Rather, they’re less committed to the church as an institution and more committed to actively helping the vulnerable and the hurting. “They will show up and give passionately for hands-on service to those less fortunate than themselves,” he says. “They will take their entire vacation to go to an orphanage in Mexico, where they will work in miserable conditions for two weeks. My parents’ generation would not have done that.” Towns also sees mobility and technology changing the future of the American church. As people move to new communities, congregations struggle to replace them in the pews, he says. He sees young Americans shifting toward online worship. “In the eyes of the millennials, who live online, that’s the latest church.” Like Vaters, he sees hope in small congregations—particularly in young, energetic church plants. “The greatest thing today is church planting, because we win souls,” says Towns. “People come to a new church and get saved.”

planted since 2008


say their sponsoring church had an average attendance of less than 100

Source: LifeWay Research

AMERICANS OPEN TO SMALL CHURCHES Among all Americans: •8  8 percent would consider attending a church of fewer than 100 people • 85 percent would consider a church of about 200 • 66 percent would consider a megachurch • 11 percent say they would never go to any church Source: LifeWay Research

DONATIONS HIGHER IN SMALL CHURCHES Average annual donations per regular adult attendee in evangelical churches: $1,750 $1,480 $1,140

BIG STRUGGLES The Hartford Institute’s Faith Communities Today report in January noted with concern that nearly 58 percent of congregations now have fewer than 100 people at weekend worship services. That’s up from 49 percent just five years earlier. FactsAndTrends.net


Source: National Congregations Study 2015, Duke University Facts & Trends • 15


Park Avenue Church extends its reach through partnerships

Park Avenue ministers to immigrants by teaching them English.


n the mid-1970s, Park Avenue Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, was packed with nearly 2,000 people on Sunday mornings. But attendance dwindled as families shifted to new congregations in the suburbs. The church was on the verge of closing when it began hosting Cross Point Church, a fast-growing congregation that became one of Nashville’s megachurches. The partnership helped Park Avenue maintain its location near the heart of the city—a site well suited for nontraditional ministries, says pastor Patrick Hamilton. The church helps immigrants learn English, offers a Celebrate Recovery program, and hosts an inner-city after-school ministry, providing space and utilities at no cost. This spring, the congregation plans to adopt a low-income apartment community. Though attendance has rebounded to 125 after dipping to 60 two years ago, Park Avenue continues leasing half of its property to another church. “Having two churches on one campus has been beneficial for both parties,” Hamilton says. “The power of God is mightily displayed through a small church.”

16 • Facts & Trends

Small church leaders say they’ve seen the effects—tight budgets and fewer people to do the work of the ministry. Gould, for example, spent five years living with his wife and three children in the back of the Sunday school wing at First Wesleyan Church in Nashville, Tennessee, which at the time had no parsonage. The family slept in converted classrooms and cooked in the basement kitchen. Living inside the inner-city church had its perks, Gould says: “It put us right there in the midst of the community, so we heard the same gunshots our neighbors did. It bought us a lot of credibility.” Still, even the staunchest supporters of small churches acknowledge the pain of limited resources. “At many small churches, once you pay the pastor and maybe a part-time secretary, you’ve pretty much used up all of your funds,” says Doug Akers, manager of special operations for church partnerships at LifeWay Christian Resources. Paying the bills is small churches’ biggest challenge today, Vaters says, and he expects it to get tougher in the years ahead.

SMALL ADVANTAGES Despite the struggles, advocates cite many advantages of small churches, starting with personal relationships. “You go in and everyone knows your name,” Akers says. “There’s a closer-knit fellowship. I chose to leave a large church to go to a small church, and one reason is to have that sense of belonging.” Small churches have always been the foundation of Christianity, notes SPRING 2016


Under Over Fellowship serves inside out

—David Gould, consultant and former small-church pastor at First Wesleyan Church in Nashville, Tennessee

Bruce Raley, who was volunteer founding pastor in 2013 for Creekside Fellowship in Castalian Springs, Tennessee, population 556. The first church was birthed from 120 people who made a difference, and thousands of smaller churches are still making that difference. Leaders in small churches may question their potential for influence. Proportionally, however, small churches may have the potential for the greatest influence, Raley says. He points out three distinctive traits of small churches: Fewer ministries but greater focus. At a small church, resources are limited. Therefore, a small church must focus on what it can do best. Some of the most effective churches are small congregations who have studied their mission field and know how they can affect people in that field. Fewer people but greater engagement. For a church to be what God wants it to be, every person must be engaged in ministry. Larger churches allow people to be anonymous, never getting involved. This is less likely in small churches. Not only are people more visible, but the needs are more visible as well. Fewer leaders but greater discipleship. Multiple studies show discipleship takes place best in the context of relationships. Transformational

Bible study at Under Over Fellowship




on’t look for a comfortable pew at Under Over Fellowship in Conroe, Texas. Sunday services are outdoors in a park, while the church’s two buildings bustle with practical ministry, seven days a week. There are Bible studies, a food pantry, a clothing closet, and free shower and laundry facilities. Hairdressers and dentists offer their services. Partner churches help serve meals. Men and women in a “get on your feet” program live in the buildings and work in a fully functioning wood shop, making wooden crosses sold through LifeWay Christian Stores. “We just decided as a church the way we spend our money will be different,” says pastor Jerry Vineyard. “If we’re going to buy a building, we wanted it to be utilized 24 hours a day for the kingdom.” Many of the 100 people who attend on Sundays are homeless, yet the church has commissioned and supports a North American missionary, planted a Hispanic church about 30 miles away, and branched out into international ministry, working with pastors in Cameroon and orphanages in India. The church devotes 65 percent of its receipts to missions, and its bylaws forbid keeping more than one month’s operating expenses in reserve. “All the money that comes in, we just push it right back out the door and use it in benevolence and helping people,” says Vineyard. “Jesus is the One that gave us the money in the first place. Let’s just get rid of it—He’ll give us some more.”


Facts & Trends • 17

IN HIS OWN WORDS Karl Vaters, founder of NewSmallChurch.com, shares what he learned as his church, Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California, swelled past the small-church barrier and then ricocheted downward in 2007-’08. Vaters remains pastor of the church, where about 200 people attend today.


e grew and grew and we hit about 150 to 160, and we were in a tiny little building. So we moved into a local school, and within about a year we grew to almost 400. Then we started dropping like a rock. I know how big we grew, because it’s fun to count when you’re growing. I don’t know how small we got, because I didn’t want to look at the numbers anymore. But we were well under 100, and we ended up back in our tiny little building. What happened here? I made a couple of strategic errors. We were setting up and tearing down everything every week, and the regulars who were hauling chairs would normally have been the social glue to greet the new people. So we weren’t able to retain our visitors. But the primary thing was this: I made the switch from pastor to administrator. I made that switch willingly, but I was miserable. The numbers hid the misery from me—how can a pastor be miserable when his church has almost doubled in a year? But I was spending 95 percent of my ministry doing things I hate. Below 200, a church can function under one pastor with a handful of volunteers. Over 200, it cannot be done by a single pastor anymore, and the lead pastor has to take on an entirely different role. I think most pastors are like me. Very few go into ministry thinking, I want to spend my time working with city hall, fundraising, sorting out finances and dealing with staff conflicts. They enter ministry because they want to feed the sheep. You’ve got to pastor with a different set of skills above 200.

18 • Facts & Trends

Church, Transformational Discipleship, and Transformational Small Groups all have reinforced this point. And what is the greatest opportunity for relationships to develop? Small groups. While larger churches focus intentionally on getting people into small groups, in small churches it happens naturally, Raley says. Members are more likely to know everyone else, and they can influence one another to grow in their faith and ministry. Small churches set the stage for the most effective form of discipleship: when a maturing believer invests in the life of another.

SPIRITUAL MATURITY Two-thirds of American congregations have fewer than 100 regular participants, and the share is increasing, the National Congregations Study 2015 from Duke University shows. However, because those churches are small, they account for only 16 percent of American churchgoers. Most American churchgoers attend larger churches, according to the study. About half are in congregations of 500 or more, where it’s easy for people to develop a consumer mentality and let others take the lead. But in small churches, people know they’re needed, so they give extra effort, Towns says. “If I’m not there, who’s going to take the offering? Who’s going to teach my class? You know your work is appreciated.” Taking on those responsibilities builds spiritual maturity in ways church attendance alone cannot, Vaters says. Hands-on ministry opportunities are easy to find in a small church, he says, where the needs are many and the hands are few. Finally, Vaters says, small churches will always appeal to people who feel more comfortable in an intimate worship setting. They may want a close relationship with their lead pastor; they may feel intimidated by crowds. “Small churches have always been around and will always be around. That’s not a problem we need to fix— that’s part of the strategy God wants to use,” Vaters says. “The moment you make that mindset shift, everything starts to change.” LISA CANNON GREEN (Lisa.Green@LifeWay.com) is managing editor of Facts & Trends.



10 TIPS FOR SMALL-CHURCH LEADERS By Lisa Cannon Green 1. Love being small. Don’t wish for your church to be something it’s not, advises Elmer Towns, co-founder of Liberty University. “Be happy for what it is and look at the strength of the small church. Look at the relationships! Look at the energy it has! Revel in those strengths and increase those strengths.” 2. Find partners. Churches near and far sent youth groups and missions teams to help revitalize First Wesleyan Church in Nashville, Tennessee, says its former pastor, David Gould. “It took a lot of relationship building, but we were an inner-city church, and for bigger churches who wanted an outreach in such a community, we were a great outlet.” 3. Get everyone involved. “In our little church, if we do anything, we’ve got to have almost everybody in the church on board,” says Doug Akers, manager of special operations for church partnerships at LifeWay Christian Resources. “It forces a deeper level of involvement. Count on that. Encourage people to get involved.” 4. Meet your neighbors. “If you don’t know your neighbor, you’re less likely to go to a small church,” says Karl Vaters, founder of NewSmallChurch.com. “Advertising and visibility attract people to big churches. Relationships bring people to small churches.” 5. Skip the shows. Vaters doesn’t plan elaborate performances to attract visitors on special Sundays. He knows his small church can’t match the extravaganzas of nearby megachurches. “If they come to our church on Easter Sunday, they get our church,” he says. “They walk

away knowing, ‘If I go back next Sunday, I’ll get that experience again.’” 6. Start with service. “When we do community service events, we invite our unchurched neighbors to do them with us,” Vaters says. “People who won’t show up at church will help clear out the neighbor’s yard because that’s their neighborhood. And if they come back, they understand church is about service, not about being an audience.” 7. Be slow to build. Buildings are expensive, and younger generations aren’t interested in paying for them, Vaters says. “A small church with a mortgage and a full-time pastor will have a much harder time surviving.” He recommends building small if at all, paying off the mortgage, and doing ministry outside the building. 8. Leverage your building. A small church that already owns a building can get help paying the bills by opening the doors to multiple minis-

tries, Vaters says. “Find a local Teen Challenge, a Celebrate Recovery, an abused women’s shelter, or local soup kitchen, and turn your building into a community ministry center.” 9. Be generous. Even the smallest church can give to others, says Gould, who reminded his congregation: “We’re not the worst-case scenario, even though we’re in a desperate community.” His inner-city church raised funds to help missionaries in Papua New Guinea and Azerbaijan. “We weren’t just the recipients of grace—it was important for us to be a blessing to others as well.” 10. Let God set your ceiling. “Do not think you know all that God can accomplish in your situation,” Gould says. “Be open to things that might make you uncomfortable. You may actually accomplish something greater than you think you can.” LISA CANNON GREEN is managing editor of Facts & Trends.

DIG DEEPER •T  he Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches and the Small Thinking that Divides Us by Karl Vaters. Size isn’t necessary to do great things, Vaters contends. •N  ewSmallChurch.com, Vaters’ blog for leaders of small churches. •C  omeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can, Too by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson. Ways to revitalize a struggling church. •M  ission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation Through the Small Church by Terry Dorsett. Practical advice to help small churches reach younger generations. •S  imple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger. Case studies of 400 American churches show how to thrive through simplicity.


Facts & Trends • 19

5 questions for living

small and dreaming

big By todd mcmichen


hurch growth and impact over the last decade extend beyond the megachurches we hear of most often. The small church has been on the rise as well, freed from past restraints of limited resources and underdeveloped vision. Innovation and technology are driving a new wave of exponential impact. Small churches are finding ways to leverage bivocational staffing. Some are giving away as much as 50 percent of their resources. Others are seating fewer people in one place but reaching more across multiple campuses and online. These churches are as likely to exist in small towns and impoverished areas as they are in rapidly growing metropolitan suburbs. For many church leaders, it’s a great time to live small and dream big. Here are five questions to consider as your church

20 • Facts & Trends



seeks to make a bigger impact on your community and the world.

1. DOES YOUR CHURCH POSSESS A FOCUSED MINISTRY TOWARD DISCIPLESHIP RESULTS? Technology is available to all today and simplicity is in. Because so many resources are readily available online, small churches can produce high-quality programming for worship, children, students, and small groups. Larger churches are also deprogramming to streamline and narrow their ministry focus. The smaller church is simple by nature; the larger church is seeking to become simple by choice. Church ministry programming is more similar today than ever.

2. DOES YOUR CHURCH HAVE A LEADERSHIP PIPELINE DESIGNED TO RAISE UP THE NEXT GENERATION? Creative use of bivocational or volunteer staff is expanding. In the past, bivocational ministry was relegated to small towns or small congregations. Today, more churches are strategically empowering and training a less expensive volunteer and bivocational work force. The typical church dedicates up to half of its income to personnel. Once facility and operational costs are taken into account, ministry resources are often less than ideal. It’s important for churches to have adequate staff, but in this season, it’s equally important to train and equip many volunteers to serve in high-capacity leadership roles. When a church can devote 25-35 percent of its income to staff, leaving a greater share for ministry and community

investment, the results are often exceptional. The identification and development of future leaders is a near-constant need.

3. WHAT COMMITTED PARTNERSHIPS DOES YOUR MINISTRY POSSESS? Trusted local and global partnerships are common. Smaller churches need the power and influence of outside organizations to have the opportunity for expanded impact. In the past, churches acted more independently, were less trusting of parachurch organizations, and were more loyal to their denomination. Now, many of these walls are being broken down and cooperative partnerships across faith tribes are becoming the norm. Committed ministry partnerships allow a small congregation to experience a large impact both locally and globally. They also permit large churches to be more effective with their resources.

4. DO YOU HAVE A PLAN TO REACH MORE WHILE BUILDING LESS? Smaller buildings create more cash flow. One of the major contributors to limited financial resources is church debt. When congregations wisely under build in order to multiply services, tremendous amounts of resources are released for new ministries, staff positions, mission opportunities, and multisite development. Ministry is more fun when you have more liquid resources. As land and building costs continue to increase, more efficient use of space and dollars will become the norm. Even large churches are learning how to multiply in smaller venues.


5. HOW IS YOUR CHURCH MAKING DISCIPLES ACCORDING TO ITS UNIQUE CALLING? Uniqueness is being celebrated. Thirty years ago, almost every church looked alike. When it came to meeting times, styles, and programming, worship offerings were pretty much the same. As the church became more contemporary, only a few popular ministry models were adopted because few knew how to create a different kind of church. Today, we have entered a time when leaders are dreaming biblically sound visions in fresh ways. These visions are being lived out down the street and around the world. Technology brings everything in real time and allows us to get there quickly. Like never before, the eyes of church leaders are open to explore their unique God-given vision and calling. Success is now measured in disciple-making and community impact rather than building size or budgets. There has never been a better time to lead a church. Large or small, urban or rural, local or dispersed, every church can make an impact locally and globally. How will the questions above challenge you to live small and dream big? TODD MCMICHEN (@ToddMcMichen) is chief campaigns officer at Auxano.

DIG DEEPER • Auxano.com

Facts & Trends • 21





By Aaron Earls

he popular image of an American megachurch as a sprawling campus surrounding a massive worship center drawing thousands of attendees every Sunday needs some updating. Even as most continue to draw in more worshipers, the typical megachurch sanctuary is shrinking. And some of the largest churches from California to South Carolina are planting their new campuses in the smallest of sites—homes. This comes as church leaders realize sustained growth of their congregation and spiritual growth of their people will come from going small.

MULTISITE AND MICROSITES In the last five years, the typical megachurch’s main sanctuary decreased in size from 1,500 seats to a median of 1,200, according to the 2015 Megachurch Report from Leadership Network and Hartford Institute for Religion Research. The move to smaller sanctuaries is an outgrowth of the burgeoning multisite church movement. Instead of building a large church and asking people to come to one place, megachurches are building smaller spaces in more places. Since 2000, churches with multiple campuses have grown steadily from 23 percent to more than 60 percent of all megachurches, according to the 2015 Megachurch Report. 22 • Facts & Trends

“Megachurches have shifted their philosophy from building bigger and bigger,” says Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, “to spreading further and further.” In the midst of this, a new trend is emerging. Larger churches are now launching microsite campuses. “Microsite is a much smaller version of a multisite campus that meets in a home or another small space,” says Allen White, a pastor and church consultant in South Carolina. The Rock Church in San Diego, California, and NewSpring Church in South Carolina are two megachurches that have added microsites to their multisite approach, according to White. Instead of securing a larger temporary location such as a school or movie theater, for a microsite, a church identifies an area of the city or community it wants to reach and often begins meeting in the home of a member there. “A microsite can pop up as quickly as a sandwich shop,” says White. “All that’s needed are local leaders, resources to train them, and video for the services.” White says these microsites allow larger churches to experiment. “If it blows up, that’s how experiments go,” he says. Megachurches may need that infusion of experimentation. A study shows that megachurches—once hailed as a new way to experience church—may be getting stuck in their ways. SPRING 2016


In 2010, more than half (54 percent) of megachurches strongly agreed they were willing to change to meet new realities. In 2015, according to the Megachurch Report, that number plummeted to 37 percent. As churches grow larger and older, they can lose flexibility. Adding microsites or other innovations allows churches to regain some of what was lost. Those microsites are one of the ways in which larger churches are trying to recapture the essence of being small.

Microsite is a much smaller version of a multisite campus that meets in a home or another small space.” — Allen White, pastor and church consultant in South Carolina

WHY MEGACHURCHES GO SMALL Larger churches often recognize what small churches might miss—there are advantages to being little. Through small groups, multisite campuses, and now microsites, those megachurches are attempting to continue their growth while retaining small-church benefits. “Churches are taking advantage of Dunbar’s number,” says Bob Whitesel, a professor at Indiana Wesleyan University and church growth expert. Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist, found humans can comfortably maintain only around 150 stable relationships. Beyond that, says Whitesel, “relationships don’t seem to have much depth.” This is why he believes many churches stall around this plateau. “Once it gets bigger than that, people stop inviting others because they no longer know everyone else at church,” he says. It’s incumbent on large church leaders to capitalize on smaller groups that organically emerge in the church. Whitesel calls these “sub-congregaFactsAndTrends.net

Facts & Trends • 23


Top: The Rock Church’s microsite campuses encourage close accountability and connection. Attendees Jeff (on the right) and Shannon pray together. Directly above: The Alano Club EC microsite enjoys fellowship and food together.

tions,” and they mirror other numbers Dunbar found in his research. Groups of 50 can unite around a task, such as the music ministry or preschool volunteers. Small group gatherings of 15 have the feel of an extended family, and groups of five are intimate connections. These numbers have been seen not only in sociological research but also in church history, Whitesel says. “In the Wesleyan revivals, every leader had to be involved in what they called ‘Band Meetings’ of five individuals. Larger groups of 15 were called ‘Class Meetings.’” With this sociological and historical support, church consulting experts identify at least four areas that can be more easily developed in smaller churches. Accountability — With larger churches, anonymity is easier. Attendees can sneak in late, sit in the back of an enormous sanctuary, and leave without interacting with anyone. But this leaves individuals prone to slipping away from the church as quickly as they slipped in. Whitesel says smaller numbers allow people to “connect with a group that brings accountability and interdependency.” If the church goes through changes, being connected to a smaller group—be it a campus or a small group—serves as glue to hold people in place. Community — The main benefit larger churches can gain from going small, according to Allen White, is connection and community. “Everyone desires the experience of being known and accepted,” he says. Microsite campuses allow much larger churches to “meld together the feel of a small group with the production of a large church,” White says.

24 • Facts & Trends

Leadership growth — As with accountability, attendees at a megachurch may be tempted to avoid leadership. They may feel intimidated by the size of the church or a lack of education and training. Going small forces new people into leadership roles. “Once a church is able to train and deploy staff or volunteers to lead a microsite campus, then the number of campuses is limited only to available space and willing leaders,” says White. The opportunities for involvement and leadership are endless, and in smaller settings many may feel more comfortable taking the reins of a ministry. Reproducibility — Thousand-seat arenas aren’t on every corner to start a new megachurch, but that’s not a problem for microsites or small churches. The ease at which microsites can begin makes it possible for them to go viral, according to White. This type of planting churches and starting new sites is not exclusive to megachurches. LifeWay Research’s analysis of more than 800 church plants found more than 1 in 5 were launched from a church with an average attendance below 100. The clear majority (60 percent) were started by churches of fewer than 500. As churches quickly reproduce, mistakes will be made, and they’ll learn what not to do. But White says this means the church is trying to fulfill her mission. “The church as a whole has spent too many years perfecting ministry, but not producing disciples,” he says. Going small allows larger churches to produce faithful disciples in new contexts outside the gigantic arena. AARON EARLS (Aaron.Earls@LifeWay.com) is online editor of FactsAndTrends.net. SPRING 2016


Big reputations in small places By Aaron Morrow



The school’s guidance counselor casually pointed to my 7-year-old daughter and an energetic 9-year-old boy. It was parents’ night at our neighborhood school in rural Wisconsin. I was baffled. How does the guidance counselor know that? My daughter barely knows this boy. The only thing they have in common is that his family goes to our church. And then I remembered … we live in a small town. In a small town, people know who you are, where you work, and where you go to church. Like it or not, parts of your life become common knowledge. And people know you by your reputation—good or bad. Churches in small towns can have an enormous impact by helping people understand how their reputations affect the advancement of the gospel.

REPUTATIONS MATTER DEEPLY… The reputation of the gospel is strongly tied to the reputation of our marriages, families, and businesses. This is true whether we live at the end of the cul-de-sac or at the end of the cornfield, but it’s especially true in small towns.

For example, if our kids go to public schools, our actions affect the witness of other Christians in the school. This includes our demeanor at conferences, our tone when emailing teachers, our response to a child’s bad behavior, our grumbling and yelling at sporting events, and our attitude on social media. School employees and other parents know which people go to which churches, and reputations are interconnected. This was the situation a couple of years ago when our daughter’s kindergarten teacher became a Christian. Parents from our church volunteered faithfully at the school and consistently encouraged the school’s staff. The staff knew we all went to the same church. This gave credibility to both our church and the gospel. It also helped the few staff at the school who were Christians to have credible evangelistic conversations with our daughter’s kindergarten teacher over several months. Eventually, she gave her life to Christ, and now she’s on mission to reach other teachers and staff at the school.


an awesome reputation in a small town. He intentionally organizes his life to be highly respected by non-Christians. However, he won’t risk his reputation for the sake of sharing the gospel. My friend isn’t alone; I’ve fallen into this trap as well. Our efforts to advance the gospel fail if being loved and accepted by non-Christians is more important to us than Jesus and His mission. In Luke 16:13, Jesus says, “No household slave can be the slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” Jesus is talking about money in this verse, but the same principle applies to missions. Jesus’ mission deserves our full allegiance. A good reputation isn’t an end in itself. It can be a useful tool for advancing the gospel, but our deepest desire needs to be cherishing Christ and finding our identity in Him. At some point we must take a risk and speak clearly about the gospel for which we are building our reputation. AARON MORROW is a church planter in Dubuque, Iowa. His book about ministry in small towns is being published by GCD Books in spring 2016.

I have a friend who talks fluently about the kingdom value of building


Facts & Trends • 25

The art of dying to self You don’t have to be a hero or a genius to lead, but you do need to be a servant.


oday’s leaders—whether in the board room or behind the pulpit—are influenced by two competing visions of leadership they may not be aware of or completely understand. These two visions began to emerge in Western culture in the 18th century during the Enlightenment and its countermovement, Romanticism. The Enlightenment produced a set of leadership attributes we will call “the mechanical,” and Romanticism produced a grouping of attributes we will call “the organic.” These two visions of reality offer us two types of leadership and influence, but neither lines up with a truly biblical understanding of leadership.

THE MECHANICAL VS. ORGANIC LEADER In the imagination of the Enlightenment, with its mechanical values, the leader par excellence is a successful hero figure: powerful, commanding, and conquering, creating with determination, organization, and systems as powerful as the hero himself. Romanticism attempted to create an alternative to the mechanical worldview. The Romantic vision, with its organic values, imagined the leader and the influencer to be not the achieving hero of the Enlightenment but the creative genius who influences

By Mark Sayers through innovation, art, and dangerously brilliant ideas. The Romantic vision imagines the creative genius as a heretic, always pushing boundaries and breaking taboos. Thus, in the organic vision, creatives create, but they also tear down. These two visions have been battling for supremacy in our culture for centuries. They’re still at war today, and they’re responsible for much of the cultural storm of chaos that confronts us. Our current view of Christian leadership was also shaped by this battle between the mechanical values’ model of the successful hero who builds and organizes and the organic values’ vision of the creative genius who ideates and critiques.

life, within history, in time, in human flesh. The pagans wished to leave this world, to cross the divide between human and god. Whether through power or pleasure, they wanted to get out. But the gospel taught that the central organizing principle for leadership, for life, for the universe, was the truth that God had come to us. That He had died upon a cross, spilling His blood in love, paying the price for our sins before rising from the grave and ascending into heaven where He lives and reigns forever. All leadership must pass through this narrow gate of suffering before glory. This truth jarred the ancient pagan world, and it still rocks our modern world today.



A Christianity that attempts to model itself on the hero or the genius will be a faith that has little potential to speak good news to the West. Instead, we must rediscover the truly radical vision of leadership found within the pages of the Bible. A model of leadership born out of a revolutionary truth that was repellent to pagan ears. A truth that dared to proclaim in pagan streets and squares that God had lowered Himself to come and live in the mess and muck of human

26 • Facts & Trends

On the cross, Jesus does not just die—the myth of the heroic pagan god who will save us through a kind of earthly power dies. Instead, the God who leads by serving saves by dying. Those who bow their knee at the foot of the cross admitting the absurdity of their own efforts to be godlike, who confess the chaos and sin within them, now enter into a new way of being—one driven not by striving, agenda, or applause, but by SPRING 2016

sacrificial love. When leaders die to pushing their own agendas and realize leadership is the art of dying to self in public, those around them are profoundly transformed. Selfless leadership opens a space for God to flow into. For a Western culture drowning in the attempt to find rich, rewarding lives while maximizing personal autonomy, one of the greatest gifts leaders can give those we lead is our example of selflessness.

THE CROSS AND THE ORGANIC LEADER From the comfort of our couches, we can sit and watch our Twitter feeds, critiquing the methods, models, and ministries of others, speculating on how they could have done better. And we can devise all kinds of theories, read all the right books, engage in online debate, blog our opinions, yet the whole time be disconnected from actually having skin in the game. Even when our heart is for God’s kingdom, if we’re not careful we can find ourselves critiquing from the sidelines. There’s a world of difference between pundits and prophets. The gospel shows Jesus was willing to wade into the mess of human sinfulness on His mission of redemption. He didn’t sit on the edge of the

human drama commenting, speculating, or offering opinion. Instead, He offered His life. Isaiah prophesied that the followers of the Messiah would rebuild the ancient ruins. The organic leader who bows before the cross is turned into God’s rebuilder.

A BETTER WAY FORWARD We find ourselves, then, in a strange place today. Our public lives are now lived under the heroic myth. Buildings keep getting built, our smartphones keep getting smarter, technology continues its march toward the horizon, and we have the freedom to indulge our desires. Yet, while our public life is ordered, many of our private lives reflect chaos. We can be successful in our jobs, yet our private lives can be filled with addictions and anxiety. Our search for absolute freedom has left us feeling empty and trapped. Our skyscrapers stand tall, but the winds of cultural chaos, whipped up by our own narcissistic desires to go it alone, lash at our souls. In such a time and place, the healing power of biblical leadership is desperately needed. In a world in which individual pleasure is everything, and pain is to be avoided at all costs, the biblical leader with eyes upon the cross walks hand in hand with God


into suffering and pain. In a culture that is increasingly fragmented and confused, the biblical leader acknowledges a sweeping cosmic drama, a narrative that binds together the universe. In a time in which the primacy of the individual’s rights and desires is unquestioned, the biblical leader lives as a slave of Christ, looking to His guidance rather than personal preference when making decisions. In a society that reduces everything and everyone to the superficial, the biblical leader cultivates an inner world, born out of communion with the living God. The biblical leader’s words, actions, attitudes, and behaviors are a witness to Jesus’ victory on the cross and His resurrection on the third day. The kingdom of God has come, transforming worldly notions of success and leadership. The truth is, we are not powerful heroes. Nor are we creative geniuses. We are sinners who live and lead by the grace of God. This grace, this gospel of Jesus Christ, produces servant leaders willing to die to self in public, and that’s just what our chaotic, hurting world needs most. MARK SAYERS is a pastor and author living in Melbourne, Australia. He is the author of Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm. Facts & Trends • 27

Cellphones at church:



ith the increased use of smartphones and tablets, services at Vassar Road Church in Poughkeepsie, New York, have had a few unexpected interruptions. “In the last few weeks, we’ve had a mom’s tablet start playing the theme song from ‘Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,’ and one man’s phone played the ESPN jingle,” says Jake Dunlow, the pastor. “Evidently he was setting his fantasy football roster.” Those types of distractions or the inevitable phone call in the middle of prayer time may be why most people oppose using cellphones in church. According to a Pew Research survey, 96 percent of American adults say it’s “generally not OK” to use a cell phone at church or during a worship service. More opposed use in church than at the movies (95 percent), during a meeting (94 percent), or at family dinner (88 percent). However, that broader disapproval may be more in theory than in practice. A survey from AT&T found 25 percent of those who attend church regularly say they have used a mobile device to “connect with faith or inspiration during worship services.” Carter Smith is part of that quarter of Americans. At Refuge Church in Ogden, Utah, Smith says he has used his smartphone during the service. “I’ve used it for alternative translations in a Bible app, taking notes, and finding references,” he says. Reading a Bible on a smartphone, unknown a decade ago, is increasingly common. In the last five years, the percentage of those using the Bible on their phone has more than doubled, according to the American Bible Soci-

By AAron EArls ety—18 percent of Bible readers used their smartphones to access the Bible in 2011 versus 40 percent in 2015. Much of that mobile usage comes from YouVersion, the free Bible app from Oklahoma-based Life.Church. The app has been installed more than 200 million times since its launch in 2008. According to Bobby Gruenewald, founder of the app and a pastor at Life.Church, users share two verses every second, which means more than 172,800 pieces of Scripture are shared through texts, in emails, and across social media every day. “Year after year, the main trend we see is a growing number of people across all generations and cultures desire to connect with the Bible digitally,” he says. That’s the case for Michael Morris. As a worship pastor at Purpose Church in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, he uses his phone constantly in church. “I use it for everything, not just the Bible app,” he says. He shares sermon video clips and quotes on social media and uses music apps for the worship service. He views sharing the sermon on social media as a means to possibly reach countless people who wouldn’t have heard otherwise. “Today’s society is constantly engaged with social media,” he says. “Being able to share quotes and video from your church is a huge benefit.” But the influx of smartphones into the worship service isn’t entirely without consequence. Smith says he prefers a print Bible because using his phone brings the temptation to do other things. He admits he has sent an occasional text or a tweet during the sermon. Morris acknowledges the downside

28 • Facts & Trends

as well. “When I’m tweeting a quote, I have a tendency to begin scrolling through my news feed,” he says. “I have to catch myself sometimes because it takes my attention away from the Word.” For Courtney Cook, a member at Burnt Hickory Baptist Church in Powder Springs, Georgia, the phone can be a distraction even when she uses it only to read the Bible because of pop-up notifications from other apps. With what she estimates to be a third of her fellow millennials and a growing number of previous generations using a mobile device in her church, Cook says the never-ending notifications can hurt the focus of many in the congregation. “The notifications, texts, emails, and whatever else might alert you can easily distract you and the people around you,” Cook says. Like most 20-somethings, Kelsey Bridges appreciates the convenience of having the Bible on her phone, but the negatives of using it in church outweigh the positives for her. “Once that phone is in my hands, my mind jumps to texts, Twitter, Instagram, email, and Facebook,” says the member of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina. “My Bible app just doesn’t fall open to 2 Corinthians 10:9-10 like my worn Bible from high school. Scrolling the Psalms just feels empty without the notes I wrote in my Bible when the Holy Spirit moved in my heart through each chapter and verse.” It’s that connection many, including millennials, miss when they click on an app instead of opening the pages of SPRING 2016

TECHNOLOGY Technical tools for your ministry

a Bible. Churches can certainly adjust and capitalize on the mobile technology, but they shouldn’t forget that many attending, including young adults, prefer and appreciate reading the old-fashioned way. And for those who do use their smartphones in a worship service, rest assured the pastor is well aware when worshippers are doing something other than reading the Bible. It doesn’t take songs interrupting the service, says Dunlow. When people never look up during the sermon or their hands are constantly scrolling on the screen, it’s a “dead giveaway,” he says.



AARON EARLS (Aaron.Earls@LifeWay.com) is online editor of FactsandTrends.net.


Facts & Trends • 29

Q&A with pastor and author Thabiti Anyabwile

30 • Facts & Trends



habiti Anyabwile, one of the pastors of Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C., recognizes the challenges facing the black church today. In his new book Reviving the Black Church: A Call to Reclaim a Sacred Institution (B&H Books), Anyabwile brings to light the need of a spiritual revival. Facts & Trends asked Anyabwile about some of the challenges for the church and his hopes the future.

WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO WRITE THIS BOOK AND WHAT WOULD YOU WANT TO SEE A PASTOR IMPLEMENT AFTER READING THIS BOOK? It’s my prayer that this book might be useful to pastors and faithful lay members in reviving at least some quarters of the black church for the glory of God. I hope Reviving the Black Church helps every pastor to see how vital their ministry of the Word is to the life of their church. I hope the book convinces more preachers to commit themselves to expositional preaching as the main—not necessarily exclusive—diet of their church. Good exposition book-bybook, line-by-line will do so many things to strengthen the Lord’s churches. Start there.

YOU TALK IN YOUR BOOK ABOUT CHURCHES HAVING DISCIPLESHIP ACTIVITIES BUT PEOPLE REMAIN BIBLICALLY ILLITERATE. WHAT ARE A COUPLE OF THINGS A CHURCH COULD IMPLEMENT TO BEGIN CLOSING THE GAP? Biblical illiteracy is a problem across the church world. We can understand it in a country where the Bible is illegal and Christians have no access to it because of persecution. It’s less understandable in a country like our own, where the Bible is available in several translations,

multiple bindings, in print and online, and with personalized engraving! It’s to our shame the Bible is “the great closed book” of our time. But there’s a simple solution. Find ways in various settings to simply get people to open the Bible and read it. Biblical illiteracy is not a problem of reading ability; it’s a problem of reading availability. Make the opportunities available at every turn. Pastors should read the Bible oneon-one with people they are discipling. They should encourage more mature people in their congregation to read the Bible in small groups with other members. There’s opportunity to make sure existing disciple-making activities (i.e., small groups) really do make the Bible central rather than depend too much on support materials. One powerful and fruitful strategy is to give the congregation books about how to read the Bible and commentaries on books of the Bible for laypersons. Distribute one to two books at each midweek Bible study or during the Sunday school hour. These are simple strategies with slow results at first, but the long-term benefit to biblical understanding is immeasurable.

YOU DEVOTE A LOT OF PAGES IN THE BOOK TO BIBLICAL MANHOOD. WHY IS THAT SO IMPORTANT TO THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN CHURCH? The African-American church longs to attract black men into the faith and into the membership of the church. The church has a long-standing concern not only for the physical and social well-being of men but also for their spiritual well-being. But practices and attitudes get in the way, like beating up on “deadbeat dads” on Father’s Day and failing to hold men inside the church’s leadership accountable for their failings.


Facts & Trends • 31

If your church seems to be tilting toward death, breathe life into it through a renewed effort to teach and preach the Scriptures. Make sure the gospel is preached each Sunday from each text.”

The “hateration” and the hypocrisy turn a lot of men off. So we have to think biblically about our message and our model to African-American men. Finally, we need continued focus on men because the well-being of the family is so clearly tied to the well-being (and availability!) of husbands and fathers. As go the fortunes of men, so go the fortunes of families, children, and whole communities. The gospel has a lot to say about all these issues. Since the church is the custodian of the gospel, we need to bring fresh thought to the church’s role and responsibility in reaching and discipling a generation of men who largely haven’t known their fathers, seen good marriages, or been involved in the church.

PART 2 OF YOUR BOOK CALLS FOR A REVIVAL OF BIBLICAL PASTORAL LEADERSHIP IN BLACK CHURCHES. WHERE DO YOU SEE TRAINING FOR BLACK PASTORS AND FORMAL EDUCATION TO BE IN THE NEXT FIVE TO 10 YEARS? ARE YOU SEEING SOME IMPROVEMENT? I think we will continue to see local churches develop their own training and apprenticeship programs. A number of good initiatives are under way to train church planters and internships to acquaint young men with pastoral ministry. I hope we’ll

see more of these over the next five to 10 years. In many ways, this local church-based training is closer to the tradition of the black church and more necessary than formal education. But I suspect we will continue to see more people pursue formal education as well. With financial pressure and declining enrollments putting pressure on some historically African-American institutions, many young African-Americans will get this formal education at predominantly white evangelical institutions or at satellite programs offered through local churches. Those will be good educational opportunities with significant cultural challenges. That, too, is one reason local congregations need to create their own internships and training programs to keep talented African-American men tied to the community and the best parts of the cultural heritage of black churches.

are supposed to do. Much of that is helpful, but not all of it, especially if it tempts you to pragmatism. So keep your head in the pastoral epistles and do the things you see there. That’s your job description—shepherd the sheep, evangelize the lost, preach the word, and so on. Third, build the best team you can. Select the best-qualified men to labor with you as elders and deacons. Then invest in them as much as you can— not as someone who dispenses wisdom from atop a mountain but as a brother and fellow traveler investing together in your mission. If your leadership team is a source of life, encouragement, and help, then you’ll find the hard work of planting lightened and life-giving.


First, know that numbers do not define success and they do not determine whether your church is alive or dead. Resist the temptation to evaluate yourself and your church based on numbers. Second, recognize that small is not a disadvantage. It’s a disadvantage if you’re trying to do what large churches do. But it’s not if you recognize there are things you can do that large

First, don’t think of yourself as a “planter.” Think of yourself as a pastor, because that’s what you’re endeavoring to do. Second, rely less on strategy and more on God. So much of the church planting world emphasizes all the creative and innovative things planters

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— Thabiti Anyabwile


churches envy. Define those advantages for your small local church and build on them. Third, and most importantly, dedicate yourself to spreading the life-giving Word of God. Life comes by the Word. If your church seems to be tilting toward death, breathe life into it through a renewed effort to teach and preach the Scriptures. Make sure the gospel is preached each Sunday from each text. Begin to meet with members to read, study, and pray the Bible. “Do the work of an evangelist” in a Word-dependent way. Go deep in God’s Word and trust God to spread it wide.

IS THERE SOMETHING YOU FEEL WAS LEFT OUT OF THE BOOK THAT YOU WISH YOU COULD ADD? It’s beyond the scope of a book like this, but I wish there were a way to say to churches outside the African-American community, “Come learn from your sister church. Christ has left a lot of treasures here!” I don’t want people outside the black church to think this book isn’t for them or that its subject is too particular. The challenges faced by the black church are the same challenges other churches face. And the remedies are the same. Often people assume the African-American church can learn from its white counterparts, but fail to recognize the learning can and should go the other way too. I wish I could have made that truth more explicit in the book without losing its focus on the African-American church. I hope this is a resource for everyone who loves their local church and all Christ’s churches and who have a willingness to learn from the black church’s history, mission, and uniqueness.


WHAT IS YOUR HOPE FOR THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN CHURCH? That through the Word of God she thrive in every good thing, reaching her neighbors with the gospel of Jesus Christ! That she flower in holiness, resisting the world, the flesh, and the devil. That she bear witness to the hope we have in Christ even in the face of peril and persecution. That she speak truth to power, holding just scales in her hands, calling for righteousness and judgment as God defines it. That she rid herself of mammon’s “unclean things” and the wolves that find their way into unsuspecting henhouses. That she continue in the long march toward justice, love, and mercy begun in hush harbors in slave quarters and continued through slavery’s long night into the dawning of new civil rights and opportunity’s promise. That she teach the rest of the church world the things she’s learned from her Lord and join arm-in-arm with reconciled brethren to do the work of the Lord in her part of the vineyard and around the globe. That she work while it’s day and look to the coming of the Lord with great hope, zeal, and holiness depending on His Word. That she hear the Savior say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter the joy of your Lord!”

DIG DEEPER •R  eviving the Black Church: A Call to Reclaim a Sacred Institution by Thabiti Anyabwile

Facts & Trends • 33

Human trafficking swings community outreach door wide open


By Patti Townley-Covert

34 • Facts & Trends



n 2009, when Wendy Wood opened her front door to a stranger, she had no idea she stood face-to-face with a modern-day slave. Disheveled, disoriented, and thirsty, the young woman wanted a drink of water. Curious, Wood asked questions. “Emily” had met a charming guy on the Internet. Following weeks of interaction, he bought her a plane ticket from the Midwest to Southern California. After weeks of hanging out with her new “boyfriend,” she’d wound up in the hospital. Upon her release, she’d wandered around, finally knocking on Wood’s door. Emily had no identification and didn’t know where she was. But she hoped to find her “boyfriend” at a nearby truck stop where they often hung out. The truck stop was known for prostitution and the trafficking of young women. Wood put two and two together. She convinced Emily to call her father. He came to get her the next day. Months later Wood’s church, Purpose Church in Pomona, California, started an abolitionist group to fight modern-day slavery in their community. That’s when she realized Emily’s story bore characteristics common to many trafficking victims.

MODERN-DAY SLAVERY’S UGLY REALITY Human trafficking occurs when those most vulnerable are exploited for financial gain, whether it be the young boy in Pakistan forced to work in brick kilns or the teenage girl in California being trafficked for sex by her boyfriend. Forced labor and human trafficking make up one of the largest criminal enterprises in the world, generating $150 billion a year, according to the International Labour

Organization. Roughly two-thirds appears to come from the commercial sexual exploitation of women, children, and men. Although human trafficking is found in many trades, the risk is more pronounced in industries that rely on low-skilled or unskilled labor. In America, the high demand for cheap labor creates trafficking opportunities in such diverse places as restaurants, nail salons, oil rigs, agricultural fields, and garment factories. If you think this can’t be happening in your town, think again. Trafficking occurs in all 50 states and in most zip codes, according to Polaris, an THE INTERNATIONAL LABOUR anti-trafficking organization. Sex trafficking is defined ORGANIZATION ESTIMATES HUMAN as a commercial sex act induced by force, threats of force, fraud, or coercion. TRAFFICKING TO BE A Under U.S. federal law, any minor under the age of INDUSTRY. 18 induced into commercial sex is a victim of sex trafficking—regardless of whether the trafficker used force, fraud, or coercion. Sex trafficking occurs on the street and in strip clubs, massage parlors, and hotels. Pimps market girls at truck stops, music festivals, sporting events, and on websites such as Backpage.com. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates about 300,000 kids in the United States are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation. Because most trafficking crimes go unreported and the industry is so clandestine, no one knows exactly how many victims there are. Poverty, disregard for the value of human life, ideology, and the breakdown of family relationships have created a perfect storm for modern-day slavery. At the same time, this appalling backdrop presents tremendous opportunities for churches wanting to eliminate




Facts & Trends • 35

exploitation while reaching their communities for Christ. The overwhelming nature of this travesty has made city and county governments, public education, and foster care systems eager for partnerships with neighborhood churches.

DEPLOYING GOD’S ARMY At the beginning of Purpose Church’s abolitionist effort, the church partnered with Oasis USA to start a community group known as Every ONE Free. The group narrowed its primary focus to sex trafficking. Because each city faces different “JESUS TAUGHT US TO FIGHT THE challenges, the group enlisted the assistance of EVILS WITHIN SOCIETY AND THIS a church member who GENERATION CHALLENGES THE worked in law enforcement. He helped identify CHURCH TO DO JUST THAT. Pomona’s struggle with street prostitution. — GLENN GUNDERSON JR. The group recognized it didn’t have enough resources to rescue and rehabilitate victims, which helped ONE clarify its primary objectives: “We want to stop trafficking before it happens, so a lot of our efforts go into prevention,” says Tamiko Chacon, who leads the justice ministries at Purpose Church. “We also raise awareness and support survivors.” To accomplish these goals, ONE members operate according to their strengths and frequently within their existing spheres of influence. Here are some of the ways Every ONE Free is working toward prevention, awareness, and supporting survivors.

PREVENTION In the school district, an educator 36 • Facts & Trends

helped start a poster campaign, which evolved into prevention curriculum presentations at junior and senior high schools. “We talk about what a trafficker looks like,” says Chacon. “Using students, we demonstrate tactics used to lure victims into the life.” This empowers students to reject the traffickers’ lies. In a group home for survivors and girls at risk, volunteers taught the teens how to bake cupcakes. Hearing about an employee’s involvement, a restaurant supply company donated an electric mixer, mixing bowls, and other baking utensils. Volunteers have also led Bible studies, taught social skills, and orchestrated special events. “We did a princess tea for the girls,” says Chacon. Using a biblical theme, ONE explained how because Jesus is the King, His daughters are princesses. “Each girl received a tiara when she entered the room and learned how she is a princess because she’s a daughter of God, the most High.” The church has continued to cultivate relationships with these girls, Chacon says with a smile. “Some of the girls from this home have accepted Christ, been baptized, and attend our youth group.”

AWARENESS Fair trade bazaars on the church’s campus educate congregants while drawing people from the neighborhood. “We encourage people to purchase items certified fair trade or made by [sex-trafficking] survivors,” says Chacon. Handouts offer ideas for getting involved. Movie nights also promote awareness within the church and to the surrounding area. After the film, a survivor SPRING 2016

usually tells her story. According to Chacon, “hearing a personal testimony deeply impacts the audience and often results in adding members to our team.” 40 Days for Freedom features prayer and fasting for victims. This daily guide unleashes the power of the Holy Spirit not only to free slaves but also to transform the hearts and minds of participants.

SUPPORTING SURVIVORS Several years ago, the Pomona Police Department introduced ONE to the federally funded Innocence Lost Task Force led by the FBI. “Because traffickers move victims constantly, task forces from different counties work together to

rescue these girls,” says Chacon. Those rescued girls need everything, so ONE started supplying freedom bags—backpacks filled with treasured items. The victims quickly exchange stiletto heels for flip-flops, suggestive clothing for flannel pants and T-shirts. Handwritten messages offer hope, and Bibles speak of Christ’s love and redemption. A police officer tells how one young girl broke down and cried when she was given a stuffed animal. She’d had only one toy as a child; her mother had burned it. Occasionally ONE assists Christians Actively Demolishing Exploitation (CADE) in San Bernardino County. After a wealthy businessman donated a house to be used as a shelter for survivors, various churches and individuals

If you suspect trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Trained hotline volunteers ask questions to determine whether a specific scenario warrants involving the local police. If it does, they’ll notify the appropriate authorities. Learn how to identify and respond to those being exploited. “Recognize the Signs” is a helpful overview posted by the nonprofit Polaris anti-trafficking organization at PolarisProject.org/recognize-signs.

The Grooming of Girls



t an upscale department store, a teen peruses a designer bag. Her dad recently lost his job, so wistfully she places it back on the shelf. A charming man appears; his words drip with honey: “A beautiful purse for a beautiful lady. Let me buy it for you.” “Oh no, I couldn’t,” she says. “You should be a model,” he insists. “Here’s my card.” According to Opal Singleton, president and CEO of Million Kids and author of Seduced: The Grooming of America’s Teenagers, such encounters often mark the beginning of a grooming process. “It’s as though some kids wear a billboard that makes them easy prey.” A family crisis such as a parent’s divorce, unemployment, or even a beloved grandparent’s death can make a young teen especially vulnerable. Traffickers offer gifts, romance, and a sense of family to ensnare kids in crisis. Christian leaders who recognize the techniques, psychology, and

methods used to cultivate these relationships can identify kids at risk and take preventive steps to make them feel valued and keep them safe.

GROOMING TAKES PLACE: • using electronic devices. Cell phones and video game chat rooms offer easy access. • with runaways. Survival sex (exchanging one’s body for basic needs, including clothing, food, and shelter) leads to rape, beatings, and forced prostitution. • with promises of easy money. Casual sex can be lucrative—for the pimps. • using shame. Traffickers create emotional bonds and mental prisons. “Churches can make a substantial difference,” says Singleton. Informed Christian leaders can increase awareness about how exploitation works and intervene before it’s too late.


Facts & Trends • 37

• PolarisProject.org • EveryONEFree.org • CARE18.org

BOOKS • In Our Backyard: Human Trafficking in America and What We Can Do to Stop It by Nita Belles •O  verrated: Are We More in Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World? by Eugene Cho •T  he Just Church: Becoming a risk-taking, justice-seeking, disciple-making congregation by Jim Martin

Through CARE 18, ONE has enlisted more men in this raging battle. The Men Standing Against Trafficking (MSAT) event invites men to stand on a corner at 10 p.m. for an hour and 18 minutes on the 18th of every month in hot spots around L.A. County. This activity generates awareness in the community and offers men increasing involvement in the areas of their strengths— ongoing projects such as legal initiatives, fundraising, getting their churches involved, mentoring boys, or other areas of expertise.

38 • Facts & Trends

never leaving her alone, driving her to court dates or medical appointments, and assisting with other needs. Sometimes law enforcement offers victims a choice—going to jail or an emergency shelter like those offered by Saddleback. While in these private homes, girls hear the gospel and see Jesus at work. One of the initiative’s leaders said understanding Christ’s love is the way most victims find the road to recovery. For churches wanting to make a difference in their community, the first step is opening that outreach door. Tackling an issue like sex trafficking has helped Purpose Church realize the value of partnering with other local churches and faith-based organizations. “Jesus taught us to fight the evils within society, and this new generation challenges the Church to do just that,” says Glenn Gunderson, Purpose Church’s lead pastor. “Working together on justice issues bridges the gaps between old and young, different ethnicities, economic status, and even denominations. Abolitionist efforts unify the body of Christ.” PATTI TOWNLEY-COVERT, a freelance writer in Ontario, California, is a member of Every ONE Free and CARE 18.



volunteered to create a cheerful environment for victims. ONE completely outfitted the “Jubilee” bedroom used to welcome new guests to the longterm residential program. Because small shelters have only a few beds, finding the resources necessary for helping victims like Emily can be a challenge. Emily’s father had begged Wood to keep his daughter safe until he arrived. Yet Wood realized allowing this young woman to spend the night could be dangerous. Wisely, Wood procured a hotel room for Emily despite the risk she might flee. (After suffering traumatic physical, emotional, and psychological abuse, many trafficking victims don’t want to leave their “boyfriends.”) Girls like Emily frequently require temporary emergency placement. Through the collaborative efforts of CARE 18, an 18-month program in Los Angeles County focused on serving victims 18 and younger, ONE connected with Saddleback Church’s Human Trafficking Initiative. This volunteer group provides short-term care until a long-term rehabilitation program can be arranged. Church members from Saddleback surround each trafficking survivor with love,

A MSAT event generates awareness. SPRING 2016

GROUPS Working with different personalities in your small group


ne of the most beautiful aspects of the body of Christ is the gamut of personalities we find in our churches. Yet when we place a handful of people into a small group with the goal of being close and intimate, the dynamics can be challenging for a leader. Extroverts want to talk and introverts don’t. Unchecked, this tendency can create a predictable pattern of who is going to engage and who will come to sit and listen. In an ongoing small group of diverse personalities, members can learn to get out of their comfort zones and be sensitive to others. The “give and take” of sharing is an often-missed blessing in the dynamics of a group. Here are nine truths to consider in working with various personalities in a small group. 1. The goal of every Christian is for Christ to rule over our personalities. We should never excuse our behavior with comments such as, “Well, you know me, that’s just the way I am” or “I’ve just always been that way.”


2. Extroverts must learn to listen and give space in conversations for introverts. Most extroverts have the talking part of communication down pat; it’s the art of active listening that must continually be honed. 3. Introverts must learn to look for opportunities to speak. The tendency of “talking oneself out of talking” must be replaced with knowing when something valuable needs to be presented. Introverts should set goals such as, “Tonight, I’m going to add at least one thought to the conversation.” 4. Christ should be invited to be the filter over an extrovert’s mouth and the

By Robert Noland prompter on an introvert’s mouth. 5. A key to healthy group conversations is making sure everyone has the opportunity to share, and everyone is respected. Group leaders should pay careful attention to the dynamics of the group and note if only a few people are dominating the discussion. Leaders can help balance the discussion time by intentionally asking introverts to share their thoughts. If someone in the group continually interrupts or dominates the conversation, speak to him or her privately after the meeting. Ask this person’s help in getting others involved in the conversation. Many times people don’t realize they’re talking too much. 6. Silence doesn’t necessarily mean someone isn’t engaged. Introverts process things internally. If a group member is quiet, it could mean he or she is contemplating the Scripture passage or thinking about how someone’s story is similar to his or her own. Watch for other clues to their engagement—eye contact with people who are speaking and reading along in their study guide or Bible. 7. As a small group grows in spiritual maturity and mutual respect, a supernatural connection usually sets in, causing members to allow and encourage each one to speak up and be heard.

Then the sharing of hearts in a small group will be an amazing reflection of the deep unity Christ provides us. 9. If you feel challenged by the diverse personalities in your group, take a long look at the 12 disciples of Jesus and the eclectic assortment of people He chose. From that small group sprang the very church you serve today! ROBERT NOLAND, a freelance writer in Franklin, Tennessee, has been in ministry for more than 30 years.

Nobody stop trying

Extroverts slow down

Introverts start going

8. When Jesus is the common denominator of a group, His Spirit can become the Facilitator.


Facts & Trends • 39

Pastor, find your identity in Christ By Jared C. Wilson

40 • Facts & Trends



astors are a motley group of souls. We represent different personalities and tribes, different methodologies and styles, not to mention denominations, traditions, and theologies. But there is something many of us have in common—a profound sense of insecurity for which the only antidote is the gospel. It’s easy to succumb to the temptation to compare one’s ministry to that of another pastor, or give in to the need to impress others and be liked. The only remedy for these ministry idolatries and all others is the gospel because it announces, among many things, we are justified, accepted, loved, and satisfied by God in Christ. Until pastors discover and embrace their identity in Christ—which is accomplished by Christ and received by faith, not works—they will keep trying to find their identity in their position, their preaching, their persona, and their programs. While every pastor would affirm the gospel’s centrality to their ministry, we still need to remind each other this isn’t just some religious formality. Knowing how Christ’s finished work works in our own lives and ministries is vitally important. So how does it work? Why should we keep the good news of the finished work of Christ at the center of our hearts and the forefront of our minds? There are many reasons, but here are four of the more important ones.

1. REMEMBER THE GOSPEL SO YOU WILL HAVE THE POWER YOU NEED. In the trenches of day-to-day ministry work, it can become tragically easy to think of the whole thing as a managerial enterprise. We plan and program, we mentor and coach, we write and preach. The relational work of ministry is taxing. Studying takes its toll. Nearly every pastor I know has been wearied

by ministry. For this reason, we need to remember Christianity is not some ordinary religious methodology. It is supernatural. We pray because we aren’t in control. We preach the Scriptures because only God’s Word can change hearts. We share the gospel because only the grace of Christ can bring the dead to life. We have to remember who we are in Christ or we will go on ministry autopilot, assuming we’re working under our own power. Knowing the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16, 1 Thessalonians 1:5) means the weakness of the pastor is no hindrance to the Lord at all. In fact, the very idea of Christianity presupposes human inability and weakness. Paul goes so far as to boast in his weakness, knowing that when he is weak, Christ is strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). A Korean pastor once visited the United States and was asked what he thought of the American church, to which he replied, “It is amazing what the church in America can do without the Holy Spirit.” May this never be said of us! If we pursue pastoral ministry in our own strength, trusting in our own selves, we will be in big trouble. Our churches will be devastated and so will we. No, let us remember all that we are is because of Christ, and apart from Him, we can do nothing. This reality will empower our leadership and our preaching and achieve real spiritual impact.

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. — 2 Corinthians 12:9

2. REMEMBER THE GOSPEL SO YOU WON’T BE PUFFED UP BY SUCCESS. Because we are sinners, we are prone to taking more credit than we deserve. For the pastor, especially, the temptation grows to embrace the wrong kind of pride when things begin to go well in a church. It’s fine to “be proud of” our churches. Paul often tells the churches


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“When we focus on who we are in Christ, His glory washes away our ministry idols with tsunami-like force.” — Jared C. Wilson

they are “his boast.” But he says this to encourage them and celebrate their growth, not to take credit for it! When we implement a program and it takes off, isn’t it tempting to believe we can program success? And when we receive great feedback on our sermons, isn’t it tempting to believe spiritual impact comes from our well-turned phrases more than God’s inspired Word? Maybe this isn’t so for you, but it is for me. Success can be dangerous, especially for leaders. When we remember our identity in Christ, we recall it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves (Psalm 100:3). When we remember the gospel, it is impossible to get puffed up by success because the gospel is so humbling. It puts us in our place, while at the same time giving us great confidence. This is especially necessary when it’s not success we are experiencing, but failure.

washes away our ministry idols with tsunami-like force. Focusing on Christ’s glory changes us (2 Corinthians 3:18), even when there is no noticeable gain in ministry life. Think of Isaiah in the temple, for instance (Isaiah 6), or any of the other prophets. Think of how single-minded they were in God’s work and His character in the midst of exile and captivity, when times were low. Knowing we belong to God, knowing we are united to Christ, knowing we are justified—not on the basis of our ministry success, but on the basis of Christ’s—is hugely satisfying and supernaturally encouraging. Pastor, you need the gospel’s clearing of the air, especially when the dust cloud of ministry rubble surrounds you. And one important way the gospel clears the air is by helping us correctly define success.



I have pastored a church that tripled in attendance in a few short years and launched well-received program after program. And I’ve pastored a church that held people like a sieve, with new decline around every corner. I’m here to tell you neither was easier than the other. Both were equally tempting of the pride inside my heart. The great thing about centering on the gospel of Jesus Christ for pastoral ministry is it helps guard against pride amid success, and it helps guard against despair amid failure. In lean times, we can become despondent about our ministries and get wrapped up in sulking and self-pity. Or we can turn angry and defensive. The gospel is so calibrating. When we focus on who we are in Christ, His glory

Growing a big church. Leading a growing staff. Preaching exceptional sermons. These are all admirable. But none of them is anything the Bible actually calls us to do. That doesn’t make them wrong goals. It just means we shouldn’t tune our hearts to our relative success in them. No, the Bible calls pastors to do only a few important things: make disciples, feed the sheep, equip the saints. This means it’s not the pastor’s job to be successful, but to be faithful. Pastor, may the Lord grant you incredible success. We can even pray He would help us be successful in the things He’s called us to do. But let us pray more often and more fervently that He would keep us faithful. No one gets into heaven because of a big

42 • Facts & Trends


church or a dynamic preaching style. No one gets the crown because of book deals or speaking platforms or social media followers. We are saved by grace alone. Reflecting on his time in Corinth, Paul writes these incredible words: What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5-7). Big budgets and big buildings are not the true measure of our ministry’s success. The true measure is the faith-

fulness with which we both trusted in and led people to the glory of the risen Christ. True ministry success comes not from our increasing, but from Christ’s (John 3:30). This is why it’s important to remember our identity in Christ—because we are “not anything.” Only God is. Let us pastor ourselves in and pastor others to that reality. JARED C. WILSON (@JaredCWilson) is managing editor of resources and director of communications at Midwestern Seminary and College in Kansas City, Missouri. Prior to serving in his current role, he served as a pastor in Middletown Springs, Vermont. He is the author of numerous books, articles, and Bible studies, including The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry.

“No one gets the crown because of book deals or speaking platforms or social media followers.” — Jared C. Wilson



By mike harland

t’s one of my favorite stories in the Bible. Two disciples—one named Cleopas and the other unnamed—are walking to their home village of Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. Assuming they walk at an average pace, they have a little more than two hours to talk about the events of the week. On the way, a fellow traveler joins them and enters the conversation. The stranger draws them in as he explains to them everything they have been discussing. But it is only when He breaks bread with them at dinner that they recognize the stranger is Jesus. Then He disappears without warning, only to reappear to the two and the others they had joined in Jerusalem. He explains again how everything written about him from Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms had to happen. Thinking about how Jesus used the Scriptures to interpret the last events of His life helps us understand something about the spiritual discipline of worship.

44 • Facts & Trends


Look at what He did again. Then He told them: “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about Me in the law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). I understand why He used the writings of Moses to explain the events of His life, death, and resurrection. Perhaps He started with creation, went to Abraham and Isaac, and then to the law. He most likely would have talked about the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant, both early prototypes of the eternal salvation He would secure for us. And quoting the Prophets makes sense too. After all, it was Isaiah who would tell us about the birth of our Savior and the suffering that would come to the Messiah. He would describe the Shepherd who would lay down everything for the sake of His sheep. The Old Testament prophets had a great deal to say about God’s redemption of His people.

BUT THE PSALMS? What did the songs they sang all of their lives have to do with understanding Jesus? A more important question for us today is, “What do the songs we sing in church have to do with our understanding of Jesus?” Or more simply: What does worship have to do with following Christ? Everything. When God wired the human brain, He did some amazing things. Studies have shown a significant connection between music and memory. Doctors are learning more every day about the ways our brain engages when we sing or listen to music. We already know

this. It’s why we teach our children the English alphabet using a melody. Years ago, I was asked by a pastor to visit his mother in an Alzheimer’s care facility near the church where I served. I took my guitar and started singing hymns for the precious people there. What happened next amazed me; the patients, who could not recall their own names, could sing every word of the hymns. Does God have a higher purpose for singing in worship that really is for our own benefit? I’m convinced He does. The Apostle Paul must have thought so as well. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote in song form in various passages of his letters to give us vital information about Jesus.

CONSIDER: • In Colossians 1:15-20, he tells us in artistic language the essence of Jesus. • In Philippians 2:5-16, he gives us a concise description of what Jesus did. • In Romans 11:33-36, Paul models, in lyrical style, the right response to the understanding of God’s character. • In 1 Corinthians 13, he “sings” about love in a way that sharpens our awareness of what God’s love really is. • In 1 Corinthians 15:50-57, he gives us a song describing the mystery of the end of life.

THE LESSON FOR US? WHAT WE SING IN WORSHIP REALLY MATTERS. We worship God in response to what we understand about Him. We worship Him because we are compelled to worship Him, once we realize what He has done for us. We worship Him because the presence of His Spirit draws us into fellowship with Him and when we are


with Him, we worship Him. God, in His infinite wisdom, gave us an instrument of worship that deepens our understanding of Him and helps us recall what we know about His goodness and grace every time we use it, even when our frailty, both spiritual and physical, causes our memory to falter. So, how should we approach this aspect of worship, understanding how powerful this tool can be in developing followers of Christ? Our worship must focus on Jesus and tell the story of the gospel. Our songs must give us language to use in our response of worship. And the praise coming from the believers gathered in worship must be more than listening; it must engage the people of God to join in the celebration of Him. Hebrews 13:15 says, “Therefore, through Him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name.” When we sing songs in worship, we imbed deep truths about God in the soul-center of our being—exactly where those truths belong. And on a day we least expect it—while we are walking away in disappointment and toward our own Emmaus—the lyric of one of those songs can bring Him right to our side and remind us who He is and just how closely He is walking with us on the way. We don’t celebrate the wonder of our God because He has some kind of worship quota to be filled. God is very adequate with or without our praise. We worship our God because it changes us—one road and one song at a time. MIKE HARLAND (@MikeHarlandLW) is director of LifeWay Worship Resources.

Facts & Trends • 45

ON OUR RADAR Practical resources for you and your church

Books God Dreams: 12 Vision Templates for Finding and Focusing Your Church’s Future By Will Mancini and Warren Bird (B&H)

Is your team excited about the next big dream for your church? Like most churches, your church probably has a vision statement. Unfortunately, many churches are stuck in a trap of generic communication without a truly visionary plan. A visionary church needs something more than biblical generalizations like “loving God, loving people” or “making disciples and serving the world.” In God Dreams, Will Mancini and Warren Bird show church leaders how to reclaim the role of long-range vision by providing 12 vision templates, each with biblical, historical, and contemporary illustrations. These vision starters will accelerate your team’s ability to find complete agreement regarding your church’s future. You’ll learn how to inspire people and focus your congregation, from staff and lay leaders to members and new attenders.

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God By Timothy Keller (Penguin Books)

Humans have an instinct for prayer. Almost every civilization throughout history has felt the need to communicate with a greater power. Even those who consider themselves non-religious pray at times. A study from Pew Research found 17 percent of non-believers pray regularly. For a phenomenon that is so universal, prayer is a ritual often misunderstood. In his latest book, Keller offers inspirational guidance to help make prayer more personal and powerful. He acknowledges prayer is not always easy and addresses the challenges of communicating 46 • Facts & Trends

with God. Keller states, “Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life. We must learn to pray. We have to.”

Renovate: Changing Who You Are by Loving Where You Are By Léonce B. Crump Jr. (Multnomah)

In 2008, Léonce Crump relocated from Tennessee to Atlanta’s urban core to plant Renovation Church. In Renovate, he details the obstacles he and his family faced ministering in one of Atlanta’s most turbulent neighborhoods. Crump challenges readers to see their community as a place they’ve been sent with a calling to bring God’s agenda of redemption. His main objective is to answer the question: How do you transform a community? “I hope those answers stretch your eyes and mind and heart to the breaking point and beyond, for only to the extent that we ourselves are broken can the love of God sweep in and fill us with a desperate love for the people who surround us and the towns and cities in which we live.” Whether you’re a pastor looking to plant a church, a missionary preparing to serve overseas, a family moving to a new community, or a Christian simply looking to engage more deeply in your neighborhood, Crump reveals how our agendas can often sabotage achieving change in our world. “The Church should be God’s redemptive agent in the world and nothing less,” writes Crump.

The Gospel Project Bible (Holman Bible Publishers)

The Gospel Project Bible is a new Bible that SPRING 2016

leads people to understand basic Bible doctrines, to see how all Scriptures point to Jesus, and to join Him in His mission of seeking and saving the lost. Features include more than 200 devotions, summaries of essential doctrines of the Christian faith, thoughts and reflections from church leaders, book introductions, and a topical concordance. Contributors include Matt Chandler, J.D. Greear, Mary Jo Sharp, Tony Merida, George Guthrie, and D.A. Carson.

Rediscovering Discipleship By Robby Gallaty (Zondervan)

Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus gave his followers a clear mission: make disciples. Yet today, many followers struggle to do this or they aren’t sure where to begin. With simple principles, pastor Robby Gallaty provides readers with the understanding they need to overcome their inexperience and uncertainty. Starting with a brief historical overview of previous discipleship ministries, Gallaty offers a

step-by-step process for readers to get started on the path to effective disciple-making. “We are here because the first disciples took Jesus at his word. They made Jesus’ last words their first work,” writes Gallaty. “What would happen if we did the same? I believe we would discover what it means to be a New Testament church.”

Disaster Ministry Handbook By Jamie D. Aten and David M. Boan (IVP)

When tornadoes and floods devastate an area, or when shootings and violence shock a community, people turn to local churches for assistance. Knowing what to do can be the difference between calm and chaos. But few churches plan in advance for what they should do in an emergency or disaster. The Disaster Ministry Handbook is a practical guide for disaster preparedness. Filled with resources for emergency planning and crisis management, this book will help your church prepare for the unthinkable, provide relief and care to those who need it, and help your community recover.


FOLKS WE’RE FOLLOWING Daniel Im @danielsangi Director of Church Multiplication for @NewChurches and @LifeWay Leadership. Your leadership effectiveness is never the result of one heroic act, it’s always the sum of small faithful choices done everyday #leadership

LifeWay Leadership @LifeWayLead Twitter account for LifeWay.com/churchleaders a blog for leaders who serve the church. Be intentional in letting your impact go beyond your implied or given circle of influence.

Kevin Peck @_kpeck_ Pastor of The Austin Stone Church in Austin, Texas God’s plan for reaching the nations is the development and discipleship of Christians within a local church.

New Churches @NewChurches Resources for multiplying your church, planting churches, and starting new campuses. Have faith in the God who can get it done, rather than in yourself and your ability to get it done.

Smallgroup.com @smallgroup_com Smallgroup.com helps your church build Bible studies and make disciples. Regardless of your small group model, there are a few things you can do to optimize your small group ministry.

Facts & Trends • 47

ON OUR RADAR Practical resources for you and your church

Small Group Resources The Real Win: Pursuing God’s Plan for Authentic Success By Colt McCoy and Matt Carter (LifeWay)

In this study, Colt McCoy and Matt Carter explore the essence and purpose of biblical manhood. Six lessons focus on the individual characteristics of being a man, such as leadership, trust, and leaving a legacy. Accompanying videos cover McCoy, Carter, and their family members at two legendary Texas ranches. A student version is available for middle school and high school boys.

Beautiful Design: God’s Unchanging Plan for Manhood and Womanhood By Matt Chandler (LifeWay)

God created us to function according to His perfect design, and for all of human history, our world has been male and female. But our ever-changing culture faces challenges due to sin. More than ever the church needs to be a safe refuge for the gender-confused, the sexually broken, the single, the married, and the divorced. In this 9-session study, pastor Matt Chandler gives evidence that God’s plan for man and woman is the ultimate design. And life lived within this beautiful and unchanging design is

part of His greater purpose for humanity.

The 7 Rings of Marriage By Jackie Bledsoe (LifeWay)

From the engagement ring to the years after the wedding band, each season of marriage requires renewed commitment, fresh perspective, and practical biblical wisdom. Each of the seven “rings” outlined in this 8-session study will guide couples to begin with the end in mind, ultimately leading to lasting and fulfilling relationships in every stage of marriage. Join author Jackie Bledsoe as he walks through the seven rings: the engagement RING (the beginning), the wedding RING (the commitment), discoveRING (the real you), perseveRING (the work), restoRING (the fixing), prospeRING (the goal), and mentoRING (the payback).

The Gospel of Mark: The Jesus We’re Aching For By Lisa Harper (LifeWay)

Throughout his account, Mark unveils a Jesus of unparalleled power and authority but also a Jesus of humility and love. And while this Jesus invites each of us into a greater story through His teachings, He demands we come as active participants. We must acknowledge Him,

48 • Facts & Trends

seek salvation in Him, and follow Him wherever He leads. In this seven-session study, we follow Jesus through His days of early ministry to the cross, and we discover what it fully means to be the recipients of His overflowing compassion and the very reason for His all-consuming passion.

Distinct: Living Above the Norm By Michael Kelley (LifeWay)

When we started following Jesus, everything about us changed whether we recognized it or not. We have a new heart. We have new desires. We have new attitudes. And all of that newness stands in sharp contrast to the old. In his most famous sermon, Jesus helped His followers—both then and now— to see just how different God made us to be. In everything from our character to our relationships to the way we love other people, we were made to stand apart from the crowd. Just as it was for those who heard the Sermon on the Mount for the first time, every day is filled with opportunities for us to blend into the norm. Or to be distinct.


Practical resources for you and your church

ON OUR RADAR Practical resources for you and your church


SonPower June 20-24, 2016, Orlando, Florida

WorshipLife is a one-of-a-kind worship gathering designed to inspire and equip worship leaders, their teams, and other church leaders through times of worship and fellowship, evening concerts, choral reading sessions with multiple publishers, breakout sessions with experts and leaders in many facets of worship, and much more.

or the lives of others. The conference is intended to equip and inspire you personally and as you lead others in developing a lifestyle of gospel witness. AmplifyConference.tv

The Main Event


Speakers/Artists: Matthew West, Shelly E. Johnson, Dennis and Nan Allen, Mike Harland, Josh Robinson

SonPower is a powerful, action-packed week of enlightening music rehearsals, enriching Bible study, exhilarating worship, and engaging mission projects for youth choirs and youth choir leaders. Each student (and student choir leader) will spend every minute of the event’s five days growing musically, emotionally, and spiritually. And to make the experience even more memorable for your students, the week culminates with a live recording session of songs from the latest SonPower collection. SonPower will give you everything you need to take your student choir to the next level of worship and ministry. LifeWay.com/SonPower

WorshipLife June 27-30, 2016, Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Speakers/Artists: Darrin Patrick, Travis Cottrell, Gateway Worship, Meredith Andrews, Zealand Worship, Cliff Duren

July 22-23, Nashville, Tennessee August 26-27, Kansas City, Missouri

Amplify June 28-30, 2016, Wheaton College – Chicago Area Speakers: Luis Palau, Rice Broocks, Lee Strobel, Ed Stetzer, Derwin Gray, James Choung, Beth Seversen

Many in church leadership positions want to help those in their care to increase their gospel witness and prioritize evangelism. Unfortunately, as our world changes so quickly, strategies for making this happen often cannot keep pace. The Amplify Conference will bring together church leaders from across the nation to lead the conversation in evangelism and then implement a renewal of evangelism in our local churches. The conference will feature a number of key evangelism voices as well as the release of data from the largest ever research project on the unchurched and how churches are reaching them. Amplify is for anyone in a church leadership position or in a position outside the local church setting where you are seeking to weave an evangelism ethos into your own life


Speakers: Tim Tebow, Nick Vujicic, TC Stallings, Johnny Hunt, Travis Rosen, Jimmy Sites, Jonathan Evans, the Benham Brothers, Brad Stine, Stephen Miller (Check website for a list of speakers at each location)

God created men on purpose with a purpose! Will you accept your God-given challenge to be involved in His mission? Join with men from across the nation for two days of worship, humor, and challenging messages as athletes, business professionals, authors, and pastors encourage attendees with their own stories of how they have been transformed through an intentional pursuit of being on mission. LifeWay.com/MainEvent

Facts & Trends • 49


Can small be healthy?


any American Christians have this idea that if a church is big, it must be better, but that’s not necessarily the case. Our obsession with “bigness” can be a reflection of American values, instead of biblical ones. While we often pull our cultural values into our measuring grid for success, size is not necessarily the best measurement for church health.

That doesn’t mean, however, that smaller is better. We should not idealize a church that does not grow and reproduce. Healthy churches should do those things. But some churches find themselves in situations where health will look different. For example, if your church is a small, rural town with little demographic growth, you may not experience exponential numerical growth. The church should still be faithful to share the gospel and disciple believers, but with those circumstances converts may not come in droves.

HEALTH IS THE GOAL, NOT SIZE. Church leaders should always remember a certain size is not the goal—being healthy is. We should value healthy churches of all sizes and avoid the ministerial envy that can creep in when we begin comparing churches strictly by budgets, buildings, and bodies. To develop our book Transformational Church and the Transformational Church Assessment Tool (TCAT), Thom Rainer and I researched what set apart the top 10 percent of churches. The study revealed characteristics that serve as a better barometer of health than just counting the number of people at a service and the dollars in the offering plate. Churches wanting a complete picture of their health in each of these areas and specific ways in which they can improve should consider using the

online assessment tool available at TCAT.LifeWay.com. But here are three questions small churches can ask themselves to determine if their size may be an indicator of poor health.


we do that if we do not engage those around us?


This can be true of churches regardless of size, but it is especially a temptation for smaller churches. Our natural tendency is always going to be an internal There is no excuse for a church in this focus. It’s easy and generally comfortsituation. If there are people in your able. Reaching those outside our church neighborhood, some of them will be doors is often hard unchurched or dechurched. and uncomfortable Even more to the point, 584 unreached and Church leaders should work. We should seek to unengaged people groups always remember, a cultivate intimate are estimated to be living fellowship and care in North America right certain size is not the for one another in the now. Some Christians want to goal—being healthy is.” church. However, we give a spiritual-sounding must be intentional — Ed Stetzer excuse for their lack of about reaching those around us with the outreach, so they say good news of Jesus. Striking a healthy God is in charge of the growth. While balance means moving church members that’s true—the actual growth is God’s from customers to co-laborers by business—we are called to water and developing intentional strategies to train plant (1 Corinthians 3:6). Don’t blame and launch people in missional living. God’s will for a lack of growth, if you Small churches still are and always aren’t being faithful to water and plant. have been the norm. Despite the rise of the megachurch, the typical church has IS MY CHURCH STAYING SMALL less than 100 in attendance. Many of BECAUSE WE REFUSE TO ENGAGE them are living on mission in their conTHE CULTURE AROUND US? texts, fulfilling God’s purpose. Small, The healthiest churches display a healthy churches are just as valuable to missionary mentality, seeking to underGod’s kingdom as large, healthy ones. stand the community in which God has We have many reasons to affirm these placed them, as well as embracing the churches without romanticizing or mission God has given them to reach idealizing them. those in their community. Others have We all should recognize how God sought to build walls around themselves uses ordinary, normal churches to subas protection from the world. vert the ways of this world. Faithfulness These churches refuse to acknowledge and fruitfulness are more biblical ways the deeper root of the world’s problems, to measure church health than size. sin, resides in their own hearts (Romans 5:12). They also ignore Jesus’ calling ED STETZER (@EdStetzer) is executive director of LifeWay Research. For more, visit to be a Kingdom witness in a dark and broken world (Matthew 5:16). How can EdStetzer.com.

50 • Facts & Trends



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Profile for Facts & Trends

Facts & Trends - Spring 2016 -The Power of Small  

Facts & Trends is a free quarterly magazine from LifeWay Christian Resources designed to help leaders navigate the issues and trends impacti...

Facts & Trends - Spring 2016 -The Power of Small  

Facts & Trends is a free quarterly magazine from LifeWay Christian Resources designed to help leaders navigate the issues and trends impacti...