Monday, May 22, 2006

“Keys To Church Growth.” Vol. 1

"It’s Got To Be Real"

“These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” –Jesus in Mark 7:6.

Does anyone still like the church? I believe most people don’t enjoy church or if they do enjoy it they get very little out of it. Church is no longer what it was meant to be. Church has become a place where people come on Sundays wearing their masks of righteousness then leave and live however they want the rest of the week. Many churches have boring Sunday School classes, outdated music, passionless preaching, pews that aren’t comfortable, people that aren’t friendly, and scripture readings from a version of the Bible that is nearly 400 years old. I’m not surprised that people aren’t drawn to the church anymore. I’m just surprised that more Christians haven’t realized it yet.

So should these churches just shut their doors since they aren’t reaching anyone? Not yet. I want to project a plan that I believe will instill new life into a church. I believe that a church must get back to what it was meant to be. The church is a group of called out believers meeting together for worship, fellowship, evangelism, ministry, and mission.

What that said, I believe the first place for a church to start is to become authentic. The church is a place of connection. People are to connect with God and with each other. Matters of fact, lost people are drawn to authentic relationships. I believe one of the main reasons people don’t come to church is because they don’t see any authenticity. People wear their mask on Sundays and then show their true colors the rest of the week. When people wear masks they put up a wall that keeps people from getting close to them. In most churches there is no relationship building because there is no authenticity. Until we become real we can’t bond or grow.

The reason inviting someone to your house to study the Bible is more successful than inviting someone to church is because in your home they get to see the real you and they will bond with you more quickly. The goal of any church is to bond. People aren’t going to be drawn to a church that has no bond of fellowship because there is no authenticity.

Listen to James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” This is one of the scarcest verses in the Bible. How many of you are ready to confess your sins to people in your church? If you wouldn’t be willing to confess to people in your church you must ask, why? I believe the reason is there isn’t an authentic bond in our churches. If we can’t be real in church and we have Christ, why would someone who doesn’t have Christ want to come to our church? If we are going to grow we have to be real.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

To Build or Not To Build, That is the Question. Part: 2

When you realize that your building is no longer helping you to meet the church’s ministry goals and there must be a change, you need to find the best solution to your situation. I have worked in the field of church fundraising for building projects and debt reductions, so I want to share some things to do and some things not to do. Before I start with my suggestions, I want to remind you that your building is only a tool for the ministry of the church. The building isn’t God’s house. Christ lives in the hearts of His people not in a building made by human hands. I say this because every member needs to understand that the reason for change is a ministry need. Their investment in terms of dollars isn’t an investment in a building, but in ministry. People need to understand that anything you do concerning the building is based on ministry goals.

The first issue to consider when you realize that the building no longer provides an atmosphere of growth is, “Is there another why to accomplish our ministry goal without building?” Many will assume that if your building isn’t providing what you need in the current way it is being used then you should simply build. It is my experience that building is the most expense and lest creative way of reaching a ministry goal. Doing a building project may be necessary, but only as a last result. For example, if you are out of room in your worship center, it would be easier to go to two services than to build a new building. If you are out of educational space it would be easier to do two Sunday Schools or Home small groups than build a new building. If you are out of parking then you can do an early Sunday School/Worship Service and a late Sunday School/Worship Service. The key is getting everyone that came for the early services to leave so that there will be parking for those coming to the late services. This takes lots of communication and work, but it is better than building.

If your building is old and outdated then clearly you are going to have to spend some money making things current. Some buildings are so outdated that if to do an updating it is going to run in the millions. Before a church builds they should consider the possibility of renting a building. Many churches will rent theatres or warehouses instead of building. People at first may say why should we go from meeting in our own building to renting a movie theatre? First, rent is always cheaper than paying off debt for anything you build. Second, when you have outgrown the space you have rented, people will be more willing to do something about it. Finally, it shows the people that the church is about finding the best way to reach its ministry goals. Sometimes we forget that the early church didn’t have church buildings, but still experience amazing growth.

Once your church has decided that the only option is to build what are the best steps to take? The first step is communicate the need and vision with the church members. Every person must understand why building is necessary if you’re going to meet your ministry goal. The second step is to listen to your members. They will be making a large investment into the building campaign. If you don’t have their support, you will fail. Have town hall meetings and vision meetings. Hand out questionnaires and visit with your people in their homes. Find out if they are ready to support this vision. Here is a huge warning, only move forward with a building project if you have at least seventy percent of the members on board.

Once you have your membership on board, you need to decide how much money you’re probably going to need to build. Two ways to go about it, if you are going to just borrow the money without doing a campaign then you need to do no longer than a ten year loan. The loan payments shouldn’t be more than twenty-five percent of your annual budget. For example, if my churches budget is one million a year, then we could take out a loan for two and a half million dollars.

If you realize that you need more money than that to build what you need, then you will need to do a stewardship campaign. At this point it would be wise to consult a church stewardship company. You will get what you pay for when it comes to stewardship companies. It you want a cheap company, then you will get a cheap campaign. I would contact RSI, Cargill Associates, and Injoy. These are the top three stewardship firms and they will come and give your church a free presentation. I believe Cargill is the best of the three because they normally help you raise more money than the other groups. If you decide to do a campaign then you can normally plan on raising 2-3 times your annual budget. Once again if your budget is one million then over a three year campaign you should raise 2.5 - 3 million dollars. If you do a campaign and take out a loan for ten years, you are looking at being able to build a five million dollar building on a one million dollar budget. If you realize that you need more money to build, then I would rethink your plan. Anything more than doing a campaign with a ten year loan would get your church into financial trouble.

Once you have decided on the amount of your loan or which stewardship company you’re going to use, you need to interview contractors. Normally your stewardship firm can help with choosing a good contractor in the area, but if not your church needs to interview them. You need to have a price set for the contractor so that when they make their building plans for you they know the budget they have to deal with. If you don’t set a price, contractors are more concerned with the look of the building than what the church has to pay for it.

Once you have your vision, your stewardship company, and your contractor the church is ready to start the building project. It will be a lot of work and energy, but remember its all about reaching your ministry goals not building a building.

In conclusion I hope that this article helps you to think about your ministry goals and what role the building plays in reaching them. If your building is a hindrance, examine if there aren’t better answers than just building a new building. If you have to build, I hope these steps will help your church. I pray that God may give you wisdom as you do ministry.

Friday, May 12, 2006

To Build or Not To Build, That is the Question. Part: 1

“To build or not to build,” that is the question that many churches are facing. Is your church building no longer providing an atmosphere of growth, but the costs to provide such a building will run in the millions? What should a church do? In this article I will provide an answer.

Let me begin by defining, “atmosphere of growth”. If your building is going to be a help instead of a hindrance to your ministry, it needs to pass three key areas. The first area that your building needs to pass is the space issue. Is there enough space in your worship center and educational area to keep your church growing? In our church, our worship center will hold two hundred and forty people, but our educational space will only hold about one hundred and fifty. Therefore, our building becomes a hindrance to us as we reach more than one hundred and fifty people. Each church must decide how many people they want to reach and decide if their building space is a help or hindrance to that ministry goal.

The second area that your building needs to pass is the parking issue. Your church will only be as big as your parking lot. I know of a church in Ft. Worth that is land locked. They have room for twelve hundred in the worship center and twelve hundred in the educational wing so you would expect them to be able to reach twenty-four hundred people. They still average below twelve hundred because their parking lot only supports twelve hundred people. Learn this lesson; the size of your parking lot will determine the size of your church more than the size of your building.

The last area that your building needs to pass is the “look” issue. Some churches say, “It is all about what is going on in the inside, not what is on the outside of the church that matters.” Listen, your church needs to have something good going on inside the church, but if your building is falling apart before your eyes, you probably won’t be drawing in many lost people. People are drawn in by what they see and what they hear. I went to one church where they had a leak at the front of the worship center. All of the wood tiles were warped. When they talked about loving Jesus and their church, I didn’t believe them, because of how the building had been neglected. Another church in their worship center had carpet that was ripped in several visible places. Why would I want to worship there? If your building has been neglected physically, your building is a hindrance. One final issue about the physical appearance of the church is handicap accessibility. Make sure your building is up to code with handicap accessibility.

There is another area of neglect and that is technological. If your building is “old fashion” and has resisted the technological changes that has happened over the last thirty years then your building is a hindrance. Use computers, screens, lights, and microphones, to enhance your services. I hate going into a service where everything technological tells me that these people are outdated. Our message may be an old message, but it isn’t an “outdated” message, and neither should our technology or building.

Now if your building passes these three key issues then your building has an atmosphere of growth and you have a building that is a help to your ministry. If you failed then you have to make a change. Many churches while having seen their need to change because their building is no longer a help, haven’t changed wisely. In the second part of this article, I will list options that I encourage your church to examine when you need a change.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

OKpreacher’s Book Review: “Wild At Heart” by John Eldredge

I had heard a lot of controversial things about “Wild at Heart” before reading the book. I had talked to some men that were truly helped by the book. I have also talked to guys that found the book to be a generalization of masculinity that didn’t fit them. After reading the book I can say that I fit somewhere in the middle.

The premises of the book are that men, especially men in the church, are bored because they don’t allow themselves to be wild. Being wild means to live for adventure, to live for a fight, and to live for a beauty. For John, he sees these three areas as the bases for a man’s sense of masculinity.

“Wild at Heart” is a type of self-help book that tries to use the Bible to back up its points. The problem with the book in my view is that it is bases on movies and pop-culture for its foundation. The book claims that kids play games that reflect the true nature of who we are to be. For example, the reason that boys like to play with guns and pretend to shoot people is because they were created to be “wild”. John believes that a boy’s masculinity is based on the degree that he is allowed to be “wild.” The reason men and women love movies like “Braveheart” or “Legends of the Fall” is because they reveal the truth about a man’s masculinity. Just for the record, I hated “Legends of the Fall.”

Scripture is misused and misrepresented through out “Wild at Heart.” From John’s use of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to trying to prove that God is a risk taker. The only text that John does use correctly is the passages on Abraham being a man that walked by faith. Although there are many problems with the book, there are some strengths.

The first strength of the book is John dealing with the truth that men where created with a purpose that is truly masculine. Men and women need adventure in their daily lives. People need to live with purpose. You and I exist for a purpose that is God given. The book tries to address this issue by saying that every man needs an adventure.

Another strength of the book is that it tries to instill in men a masculine identity. Many men are weak or live in fear of being a man. A man is to be a risk taker. He is to live by faith. He is to stand up and love his Lord, family, and church with all his heart.

When God brings a woman into your life, the book does pretty well is showing how a man is to treat her. She is to be his partner. She is to be the love of his life. He is to build her up and protect her. She is to feel loved by him. These are the main strengths of the book.

So in conclusion, I would grade the book at about a “C”. It is a nice read, but in the end three are only about three or four points of value.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

I Know It's A Silly Issue, But...

I know it's a silly issue, but a real issue that many churches are dealing with. I heard of one preacher who a couple of weeks ago challenged his church members to dress up for church. He wanted his members to show reverence to God by men wearing suits and women wearing dresses. He challenged them with the example of meeting the President of the country. He said, "What would you wear if you were meeting the President of the United States? You should dress the same way to come to church because God is more important than the President." The logic seems simple; God is honored by me wearing "professional" clothing. The only problem is the logic is wrong.

I have no problem with wanting to be modest and reverent before the Lord, but judging a person's reverence by the way they dress instead of by their heart is wrong. Let's use the illustration above for example. Should I dress at church like I was meeting the President? Let me ask you a question. "Do you think that the President's wife, parents, and children dress differently and treat him differently than you or I would?" Of course they do. The reason they do isn't because they are disrespectful, but because they have a relationship with him. Hopefully it makes sense now, having a relationship with the Lord changes the way you are to show respect to the Lord. I would imagine that the President's wife and children would have to do more than change their clothes for George to feel that they respect him. The same is true with God. Its all about your love and obedience to the Lord that shows you respect Him. So dress with some modesty, but show respect by being faithful to the Lord.

I once visited a church that invited members to wear jeans and shorts. Something happened that I didn't expect. God was worshipped and the Word was preached. I had been taught that if men didn't wear suits and women didn’t wear dresses then the worship service would be in vain, God would be super mad, and everyone in the church would probably go to hell. Surprisingly the service at that church was warm, exciting, spiritual challenging, and I would say even God honoring. Why? The clothes don't make the man in God's eyes. God looks at the heart.

One time while I was in seminary, I went to church with a t-shirt, jeans, and sandals on. A church member and friend of mine came and said to me, "Boy, we are very dressed down today." I didn't find it rude because I worked with the person and knew them pretty well. See, we both worked at a place that you have to dress "professionally". So I told my friend, "No, I just didn't want to wear my work clothes to church." My friend was taken back a little and said, "God doesn't care what you wear.” meaning that it is okay to wear work clothes to church as long as they are a suit. I said, "Exactly, God doesn't care what I wear."

One final thought. I hope you realize that dress is such a silly and small issue when compared with our need to evangelize, to disciple, to fellowship, to minister, and to worship that I hope we don't let someone's dress distract us. My conclusion is dress with modesty before the Lord and have a respect for the "dress code" at the church you attend, but realize that your heart will tell more about your relationship with God than your dress will ever do.