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A Very Confronting Diagnostic Question (via Karl Vaters)

Karl Vaters’ articles usually have some sharp takeaways.
In writing about ten steps churches should take in order to remain vital he writes we should:

Figure Out Why Your Congregation Should Survive
If your church disappeared tomorrow, what would really be lost?
Yes, that’s hard question. It might even feel cruel and uncaring. But it’s not. It’s essential.
Any congregation that can’t readily answer why they should survive, won’t.

Read the whole post here.


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Understanding Where Your Church Is On The Congregational Life Cycle (via Thom Rainer)

Thom Rainer outlines the cycle of vitality and decline that he has observed in growing and shrinking churches.
Locally I deal with churches demonstrating the fourth and fifth of these stages.
Even though being a growing church is especially challenging in country areas where population bases are declining, these churches have a culture that reflects a lack of spiritual health.
At MGPC we’re giving special focus to states one and three.
Rainer’s post:

Almost every time I speak about church decline and death, someone challenges my thesis. They tell me churches will not die, according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:18: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock and I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”
There are two major problems with the argument that churches will not close. First, Jesus is not referring to any one congregation in this passage; He is referring to the Universal Church. Second, churches are dying, lots of them—several thousand each year in America alone.
It is, therefore, helpful to see the life cycle of churches so we can at least understand visually where our church resides currently, and where it may be heading. I call this visual the Congregational Life Cycle ©.
This approach delineates six stages. Keep in mind that most churches are not totally focused on any one stage at any time. Rather, the Congregational Life Cycle demonstrates where a church is predominantly focused in its resources of time, money, and emotions.

Outward Focus
This is the beginning stage of most new churches. In the spirit of the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 or Acts 1:8, the church focuses the majority of its resources reaching the community and having gospel conversations. The focus is on the “other” instead of the “us.”
Organization and Structure
A church without a healthy organization and structure is like a body without a skeleton. It cannot survive as an unstructured mass. It needs a clear polity. It needs a place to meet. It needs a healthy system of groups. It needs clearly defined leadership. It needs processes and procedures.
Integration and Assimilation
A congregation is better able to integrate and assimilate the congregants with a healthy organization and structure. The previous stage was more about the right structure. This stage is about integrating people into the structure.
Inverse Priorities
I also call this stage “the tail wagging the dog.” The previous two stages become ends instead of means. Members seek to hold onto the ministries, programs, processes, and styles where they are comfortable. Two phrases become common mantras in the church: “We’ve never done it that way before” and “We will not change.”
Decline
The church not only declines numerically; it declines in spirit and unity. The congregation often looks more like a spiritual country club doling perks and privileges, rather than a biblical church where all of the parts of the body are working in a self-sacrificial manner.
Death
The church closes its doors. In the past, death took years, even decades, to become a reality. Now it comes with surprising speed and unforgiving force.

What Now?
What are church leaders to do with this Congregational Life Cycle?
First, determine where your church is on the cycle today. Where is your congregation expending the greatest level of resources?
Second, always seek to move to Outward Focus. Seek to expend your greatest resources being a true Great Commission church. Seek to reach your community with unadulterated love and grace-filled giving.

Even a church about to close its doors can move to the Outward Focus stage. The church can give its building and resources to a healthy congregation. It can become acquired by another church. It can become a church replant. Through its own death, it can give new life to another congregation.
But all churches should prayerfully move to the stage of Outward Focus, where the greatest level of resources are focused on reaching others and discipling them. That’s what the early church modeled.
And that’s what our church should model today.

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The Local Church – Movement, Monument, Or Mausoleum? (via Ray Ortlund)

Ray Ortlund passes on an observation about three stages in a local church’s growth and decline. It’s vital to humbly self-examine because what can be observed as strength can be the rigidity that is precursor to decline.

Movement
A healthy church is born as a burst of positive gospel energy. It’s a Pentecost-like explosion of joy, a vital gospel movement. Such a church has a sense of mission, even a sense of destiny. It’s exciting to be in this church. Think of a steep upward trajectory.

Monument
Given human weakness, after a time, this movement becomes a monument. The spirit of the church changes from hunger to self-satisfaction, from eagerness to routine, from daring new steps of faith to maintaining the status quo, from outward to ingrown. It’s easy not to notice this shift. The self-image of the church might still be that of a vital movement. But deep within, everything has changed. Think of leveling off.

Mausoleum
If the trend toward mediocrity is not arrested, the church will decline and become a mausoleum, a place of death. The church as an institution may have enough social momentum and financial resources to keep churning on. But as a force for newness of life, it no longer counts. Think of steep decline – indeed, a death spiral.

The responsibility of a church’s leaders is to discern when their movement is starting to level off as a monument. It is at this crucial point that they must face themselves honestly and discover why they have lost their edge, go into repentance and return to the costly commitments that made them great to begin with. They may need to deconstruct much of what they have become, which is painful and embarrassing. But if the leaders will have the humility, clarity and courage to do this, their church will go into renewal and re-launch as a movement once more. Jesus will become real again, people will be helped again, and those bold, humble leaders will never regret the price they paid.

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Praying For A Discontented Church (via Trevin Wax)

Trevin Wax writes about the deadly temptation of desiring a church where everyone is happy with things exactly as they are.

…we are right to pursue unity and peace in the church. But we are wrong to assume that the absence of conflict or complaint indicates that things are going in the right direction. The satisfaction of church members may be a sign not of faithfulness, but of widespread complacency.
Imagine this scenario. You’re a pastor in a congregation where there has been division and disunity over the years. Right now, things are better. Attendance is up. The number of complaints has fallen. People regularly encourage the staff and speak highly of the church. Every now and then, someone says: “Don’t change a thing. We love everything!”
Now, the temptation is to say, “Wonderful! Finally, everyone is happy” as if making everyone happy is the goal of your church. But that temptation is deadly. The mission of the church is not to satisfy the preferences of church members, but to spread the gospel of Jesus so that sinners are saved and find their satisfaction in him.
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We don’t want churches full of people dissatisfied due to their personal preferences going unfulfilled. Neither do we want churches full of people who are satisfied because everything is running smoothly. No, we want people who are satisfied with God but dissatisfied with the state of the world because they live and breathe the mission. They’re driven by the gospel and the mission on behalf of King Jesus and his kingdom.
As one of the pastors at my church, I am praying for more holy discontent. Our goal is not to make things satisfactory for our members, but to encourage and empower more members to be on mission together.

Read the whole article here.


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Why Your Church Is Not Exempt from the Work of Church Planting (via Thabiti Anyabwile)

As a local church leadership in a country town we’re exploring again how we express the need to support the growth of healthy churches in other places.
I believe doing so is an integral marker of a healthy church.

From Thabiti Anyabwile.

Every Neighborhood, Every Neighbor
I believe it’s important that every local church, in some way, focuses on church planting. As local churches, we don’t want to be concerned with the gospel only in our context. We actually want to see the gospel advance.
A New Testament pattern for the advance of the gospel is the planting of churches. We want to see every neighborhood and every neighbor brought into contact with the living Word of God. For that to happen, we have to have outposts in every neighborhood, in reachable contact of every neighbor. The New Testament word for those outposts is the local church.
An application-intensive approach to seeking out and developing qualified church leaders. Thoughtful analysis of key passages in Acts and 1 Timothy are balanced with practical action points in a contemporary context.
Every church, if it exists in the same spirit and shares the same DNA as the early church, should have a burning concern to see itself multiply, extend, and spread to the ends of the earth until everybody hears and the Lord comes.

Source.


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Forty Years On And A Question About Protective Investment Or Sacrificial Investment (via John Wilson)

John Wilson, current moderator-general of the Presbyterian Church of Australia remembers the time forty years ago when the Presbyterian Church of Australia continued after the departure of those who formed the Uniting Church.
It was a season in which the desire to continue had to be matched by a vision of what was worth the struggle of continuing.
After some history and some observations John includes six questions that are posed as challenges to a denomination that has no reasons to rest on its proverbial laurels.
Here’s the sixth and final challenge:

Notwithstanding our generous giving to support cross-cultural work here in Australia, world mission and relief of the poor, the PCA is not free from the love of money. Somewhere … between our personal wealth and congregational accounts and our denominational resources … we have enough wealth within PCA to securely fund 600 first-inducted ministers and then 600 assistants to the ministers and then to fund 600 church plants. (Spending time working alongside our colleagues and friends in India and Africa has shown me that). But we have our wealth tied up in seldom-used property, worldly investments, material comforts, insurance safety nets and superannuation nest eggs. We still have a holding mentality (holding reserves for a rainy day) instead of releasing funds for expansion, church planting, new works and different works for the kingdom (refreshing our memory of my point 2 above).

Question: Can we be content with less, for the advancement of the kingdom (1 Timothy 6:7)? Are we really free from the love of money (1 Timothy 6:10).

Read the whole post here.


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Breaking The Growth Barrier That Matters (via Steve McAlpine)

Why as a church would we be expressing an aim for two worship services on a Sunday morning instead of one?
It’s a question we’re working through at MGPC.
Steve McAlpine writes about the struggle of the church (his and others) to break through a growth barrier that does more than simply keep pace with population growth.
But there’s a less noticed, but more foundational growth barrier that needs to be broken first, and then the other growth barrier may give way:

…the real growth barrier that I want to see broken is actually being broken, as we showcase Christ from the front, and encourage our people to find their joy in him. We’re finding that this is breaking growth barrier of personal maturity among our people.
That’s the growth barrier that really matters – the growth and maturity of our people individually and as a body of believers. We’re trusting them to feed on the Word together and grow up as a Christians. We’re trusting that our ministry to them is helping them take responsibility both to serve and to learn and to share the gospel in word and deed for themselves. We’re trusting our sermons and teaching not to be about “do more”, “get involved in…”, “turn up at..”, “do more evangelism”, but to be about the wonder of Jesus and how he fulfils all of God’s promises that humans yearn for, even if they don’t realise it.

Read his whole post here.