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Overcommitted Churches (via Thom Rainer)

Thom Rainer writes about how churches can find themselves with so many programs and activities that they become ineffective at discipling Christians and sharing the Gospel.

From Rainer’s post:

So how did our churches get in this predicament? The causes are many, but here are seven of them:

  1. Our churches equate activity with value. Thus busy churches are deemed to be churches of value. And busy, exhausted, and frustrated church members are deemed to be Christians of value.
  2. Programs and ministries became ends instead of means. I recently asked a pastor why he continued a ministry that had dwindled from 220 participants to 23 participants. “Because,” he said, “this program is a part of the history and heritage that defines our church.” Warning: If a program defines your church, your church is in trouble.
  3. Failure of churches to have a clear purpose. Even the best of churches can only do so many things well. Once a church has no clear and defining purpose, it has no reason to start or discontinue a program or ministry. That issue then leads to the next two reasons.
  4. Church leaders have failed to say “no.” Some church leaders can’t say “no” to new programs and ministries because they have no clear or defining purpose on what they should do. Others leaders simply lack courage to say “no.”
  5. Fear of eliminating. Once a program, ministry, or activity has begun, it can be exceedingly difficult to let it die. Sometimes leaders lack courage to kill programs. Sometimes they are blinded to the need to kill programs. Sometimes they hesitate to kill a program because they don’t know a better alternative. We need more churches in the program killing business.
  6. Church is often defined as an address. As long as we think “church” means a physical location, we will try to load up that address with all kinds of busyness. Many churches are ineffective at reaching their communities because their members are so busy at the building they call the church. That’s both bad ecclesiology and bad missiology.
  7. Churches often try to compete with culture rather than reach culture. A church in the deep South had a dynamic basketball ministry where they fielded community basketball teams comprised of church members and non-believers. But once the church built its own gym and recreation center, the church members started spending all their time playing at their new facility. In an attempt to have a gym as good as those in the community, the church ironically became less effective reaching those in the community.

Read the whole post at Rainer’s blog, which also promises a follow-up which deals with churches that have de-programmed and become more effective.


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Six Reasons Why Dying Churches Die (via Thom Rainer)

Thom Rainer lists six reasons why dying churches continue on a terminal trajectory.

  1. They refuse to admit they are sick, very sick. I have worked with churches whose attendance has declined by over 80 percent. They have no gospel witness in the community. They have not seen a person come to Christ in two decades. But they say they are fine. They say nothing is wrong.
  2. They are still waiting on the “magic bullet” pastor. They reason, if only we could find the right pastor, we would be fine. But they bring in pastor after pastor. Each leaves after a short-term stint, frustrated that the congregation was so entrenched in its ways. So the church starts the search again for the magic bullet pastor.
  3. They fail to accept responsibility. I recently met with the remaining members of a dying church. Their plight was the community’s fault. Those people should be coming to their church. It was the previous five pastors’ fault. Or it was the fault of culture. If everything returned to the Bible belt mentality of decades earlier, we would be fine.
  4. They are not willing to change . . . at all. A friend asked me to meet with the remaining members of a dying church. These members were giddy with excitement. They viewed me as the great salvific hope for their congregation. But my blunt assessment was not pleasing to them, especially when I talked about change. Finally, one member asked if they would have to look at the words of a hymn on a screen instead of a hymnal if they made changes. I stood in stunned silence, and soon walked away from the church that would close its doors six months later.
  5. Their “solutions” are all inwardly focused. They don’t want to talk about reaching the ethnically changing community. They want to know how they can make church more comfortable and palatable for the remnant of members.
  6. They desire to return to 1985. Or 1972. Or 1965. Or 1959. Those were the good old days. If we could just do church like we did then, everything would be fine.

Read the whole post here.


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How Churches Become Too Busy And Less Effective (via Thom Rainer)

Thom Rainer attempts to describe how churches can become focussed on their activities to the detriment of mission and ministry.
He has eight points.

  1. Activities became synonymous with ministry.
  2. Programs and ministries are added regularly, but few or none are ever deleted.
  3. Programs and ministries become sacred cows.
  4. The alignment question is not asked on the front end.
  5. Silo behavior among the different ministries of the church.
  6. Lack of an evaluation process.
  7. Ministry becomes facility-centered.
  8. Lack of courageous leadership.

You can read his background comments on the points here.


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When Should A Pastor Retire? (via Thom Rainer)

Turns out the answer wasn’t 53. Or even 54.
All Thom Rainer gave me was these ten diagnostic questions:

  1. Are you physically and emotionally able to continue to lead at a high level? If not, you probably should retire.
  2. Are you still highly motivated in your place of leadership? If you don’t wake up each morning excited about your ministry, you might consider stepping down.
  3. Are you a continuous learner? Are you reading, listening to others, attending conferences, learning new technologies, and staying current in key areas?
  4. Are you hanging on primarily for financial reasons? If that is your dominant reason for staying, you are doing your church or ministry a disservice by staying.
  5. Do you have a clear and compelling vision for your ministry’s future? If not, you may be coasting and ready to retire.
  6. Is the church’s health deteriorating under your leadership? It’s not always the fault of the pastor, but you need to ask if new leadership could bring new life.
  7. Does the word “change” cause you to feel threatened or angry? If you are not happy with the way the current generation is leading churches, you may be too change resistant to lead your own church.
  8. Do you empower others regularly? If you are not taking time to equip others to do the work of ministry and to become leaders, it could be an indicator you are coasting.
  9. Is your family supportive of you staying in your current ministry position? Your spouse or children may really know what’s best for you and the church, and it may be retirement.
  10. Do you find yourself longing for the good old days? If so, you might be living in the past, ineffective in the present, and unable to lead toward the future. It might be time to step down.

source


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Six Distinctives Of A Resuscitated Church (via Thom Rainer)

The king of numbered lists, Thom Rainer produces six distinctives of churches that experience resuscitation.
I like them because these are distinctives that any healthy church must have, and if any church neglects or forsakes them they would run into decline.
Rainer writes:

Is church resuscitation common? No.
Is church resuscitation possible? Yes.
In God’s power, yes.

And these are the ways God usually does so.

  1. A prolonged period of prayer.
  2. A covenant to forsake self.
  3. A willingness to kill sacred cows.
  4. A commitment to see through the eyes of the outsider
  5. An agreement to connect and invite.
  6. A decision to move beyond the negative naysayers.

Read more commentary on these points here.

Number 4, A commitment to see through the eyes of the outsider. is large in our minds at MGPC presently.
Raiiner comments: “As the members continue to forsake self, they begin to ask how the church is viewed from the perspective of the outsider. They may actually engage a person to visit their church and share their experience. It is amazing to see how this process transforms facilities, worship, greeters’ ministry, and children’s ministries, to name a few.”


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Seven Reasons Churches Are Too Busy (via Thom Rainer)

These seven points from Thom Rainer about why churches can be too busy are worth considering (or reconsidering) as one year is about to lead into another.

  1. Many church leaders fail to ask the “why” questions when starting a new ministry.
    Why are we starting this ministry? Why should we continue it long-term? Why are we asking people to be involved? When a church has no clear and compelling purpose for a new ministry, it becomes just another activity.
  2. Churches often have no process or plans to eliminate ministries.
    Thus ministries continue even if they are no longer effective or needed. They become analogous to the clutter we often have in our homes.
  3. Some ministries are started just to please people.
    Sometimes church leaders take the path of least resistance and allow new ministries to be added just because one or a few church members wanted them. The ministry may not be the best for the church, but church leaders are often reticent to say no.
  4. Some ministries have become sacred cows.
    Their impact on the church is negligible. Very few people are involved. But any mention of eliminating them is met with stiff resistance.
  5. Ministries in many churches operate in a silo.
    So the student ministry has its own plans. Adult small group ministry has its own calendar without regard for the church as a whole. And the missions ministry makes extensive plans, but does not ask how they tie in with the rest of the church. So the couple who has teenage children wants to be involved in all three areas, but the calendars and activities conflict with one another.
  6. Some church leaders have a philosophy of always saying “yes” because they desire to see all people unleashed to do ministry.
    Such a philosophy is admirable in its motives. But it can devolve into confusion and chaos as countless and disconnected ministries are added to the church’s activities.
  7. Most churches have no process to evaluate ministries each year.
    When ministries continue with no evaluation to their effectiveness, they are likely to be on the church calendar well past the rapture. One of the roles of church leaders is to evaluate ministries every year. There should be some criteria to determine if their continued existence is good stewardship.

Read the whole post here.


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Twenty Five Silly Things Church Members Fight Over (via Thom Rainer)

Trigger Warning: There’s a fair chance you’ve been through something like these if you’re a pastor or church member.
Thom Rainer harvests responses from a Twitter survey about church conflicts caused by silly things.
The comment thread is providing more examples.
If you read it and are thinking “These don’t sound so bad compared to where I am now”, get help.

A few examples:
A 45-minute heated argument over the type of filing cabinet to purchase: black or brown; 2, 3, or 4 drawers
Two different churches reported fights over the type of coffee. In one of the churches, they moved from Folgers to a stronger Starbucks brand. In the other church, they simply moved to a stronger blend. Members left the church in the latter example
A disagreement over using the term “potluck” instead of “pot blessing”
Some church members left the church because one church member hid the vacuum cleaner from them. It resulted in a major fight and split

Read the rest here.