The church must change―radically change in order to be effective in the new millennium.
I am reading two books just now with similar themes. I am enjoying both, and will no doubt learn from both.
Both sing a similar tune, popular in this day about the radical changes taking place in our world, and how the church must make similar radical changes to be effective.
I love Brian McLaren. His book More Ready Than You Realize is the most helpful treatment of postmodern thought that I have read. I am enjoying The Church on the Other Side as well. But, there is a problem. He speaks of the changes of society using the metaphor tectonic plates shifting beneath our feet. The consequence is that, "yesterday's maps are already outdated and today's soon will be too." World history can be divided into a handful of great movements: prehistoric, ancient, medieval, modern and postmodern. In short, "A new world demands a new church. It is a new world. "
Reggie McNeal echoes a similar theme in his book, The Present Future: "The current church culture in North America is on life support. It is living on the work, money and energy of a previous generation. The plug will be pulled when the money runs out (80% of money given to churches comes from people 55 and up) or when the remaining three-fourths of a generation of people who are institutional loyalists die off, or both.
Clearly, if we read the current literature on church life, the church must change―radically change―or die.
I will be in around 100 churches this year. About half of them are growing, many of them growing rapidly. Most of these growing churches are NOT doing anything all that creative, innovative, hip, happening or with it. They do have some secret weapons, and we will get to those in a moment. I want to point out that most of the growing churches I am in―and I am in a lot―are not doing radically different things than non-growing churches.
I spoke at First Baptist, Panama City, FL recently. The church has doubled in the last five years. Buddy Hunt, pastor of First Baptist, Perry Oklahoma attended a conference night before last. His church has doubled as well. I had a similar conversation with both men.
"How did you do it?" I quizzed, as I have many times before. "How did you do what 90% of the churches in this country are not able to do?"
"Are you doing a seeker service?"
"Do you have a hot band with loud, thorough-going contemporary music?"
"Are you doing home groups?"
"Are you doing anything hip, happening, creative, innovative or with-it?"
"Are you addressing the concerns of post-moderns?"
Both of them responded the same way: not really.
Both are Sunday School based churches.
Both have blended music.
Both use FAITH.
Both are doubling.
How did they do it? How did they do what 90% of the churches in this nation are not able to do? I can think of three secret weapons that both of them employ.
I recently listened to The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. Great book. Ramsey emphasizes a simple approach to money management: hard work, discipline, saying no to spending in order to gain long term financial security. He says, "It is hard to sell a book based on hard work, discipline and saying no to stuff." Far easier to sell quick fixes, no-money down quick-and-easy approaches to just refinance and quickly restructure all your debt, as if the structure of the debt were the problem.
I find myself in a similar position. It is far easier to sell a plan for church growth that sells some silver bullet―some quick fix, easy to run program or idea. I saw an article recently with the sub-title, "A quick and easy way to increase your attendance." I know of no such ways. The way I present―through groups that are doubling every two years or less is not quick and it is not easy. It is trouble. It is costly. It is hard work. I know of no other way.
I teach a party-driven strategy. For that reason, some get the idea that it is light and fluffy stuff and not all that much trouble. Let me be clear. Giving Friday nights to Jesus is a lot of trouble. Someone has to buy the Diet Coke. Someone has to make the coffee cake. Someone has to invite the guests. Someone has to vacuum the floor.
Every growing church I know has one common characteristic―they are working hard to produce that growth.
It takes more than hard work to get results. There is such a thing as working smart. But, success always includes hard work. It is what the Bible says:
Lazy men are soon poor; hard workers get rich. Proverbs 10:4 (Living)
The #1 predictor of the growth of any church is the preaching ability of the pastor. The #1 predictor of the growth of any class is the teaching ability of the teachers. The quality of the teaching and preaching is everything.
You don't hear this as often as you should for a very simple reason. It would sound a little less than humble for Rick Warren or Bill Hybels to stand on the stage of a Church Growth Conference and say, "If you guys would just preach as well as I do, your churches would grow. Truthfully, when I hear each of these men speak I think, "Rick Warren could fill the hall with no purpose or the wrong purpose." The quality of the preaching is the big variable, not the understanding about five purposes. I was recently listening to some OLD tapes by Rick. On one of them he spoke of changing the overhead cells―that gives you some idea how old these tapes were. Once, he mentioned the four purposes of the church. Four purposes. Rick Warren can grow a church while totally missing one purpose because his preaching is incredible.
Some of you may be getting a little uncomfortable about now. I have good news for you. I am not too worried about you. I am worried about the person who smugly sits back and thinks, "get on to the next point, I know I am a great communicator."
The real question is not whether you are a great communicator. The real question is, "Have you done everything you can to maximize your communication skills?"
Every communicator could benefit from going through the following courses. If you have not been through all of these, I recommend you get on a plan of going though at least one a year. By the time you get finished with all of these, there will be some more available.
Every church would do well to have the pastor go through one of these each year with the teachers. Pastor, say to your people, "I love teaching, I love preaching. I love communication. I love learning about communication. I have made a life-long commitment to get better and better at communication. Come with me, as we learn together." The pastor's communication will improve. The teachers teaching will get better. Classes will be more interesting. Everybody wins.
"A wise teacher makes learning a joy." Proverbs 15:2 (Living)
The Bible says, "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord." Romans 12:11 (NIV)
Obedience to this simple command would do more to transform churches than anything I know. Our problem is not that we cannot figure out how to double a class every two years or less; our problem is we are about half-bored with this whole deal.
Get fired up. Never be lacking in zeal.
Zeal will make your worship services come alive. Zeal will transform your teaching. Zeal will cause your church to grow. Zeal will give energy for life. Zeal makes life worth living. Zeal is fun. Never, never, never be lacking in zeal.
Every growing church is marked by these three things: hard work, excellence and passion. They are not all innovative. They are not all Willowcreek clones. They do all have these three secret weapons: hard work, excellence and passion.