May 2012 Newsletter – “Scott Thoughts”
“Twelve in 2012: Trends in Healthy Churches” by Thom Rainer
Last month I shared with you the first half of a good article by Thom Rainer, who does extensive research on the American church. He’s one of the authors of Simple Church, a book that helps shape our thinking about our ministry structure (available to check out in our library… if you haven’t read it yet, you should. Then you’ll understand better where our leadership is coming from with regard to ministry decisions.) This month, the other half…
Join me in assessing the health of our church. How do you think we stack up against this list? (Rainer’s text is quoted and italicized. I have added my thoughts in normal text after his. Also, they are not listed in any particular order of priority and I have included the basics of Rainer’s first 5 bullet points.)
“The churches have a high view of Scripture. A number of research projects over the past four decades point to this trend. Healthy churches have leaders and members who believe the totality of the Bible, often expressed as a view called inerrancy.”
“A large number of church members read the Bible daily. The simplicity of this trend often surprises church leaders. But we can no longer assume that all of the congregants read their Bibles every day. That is a practice that must be encouraged and monitored. In our research on spiritual health of Christian, we found that the highest correlative factor in practicing other healthy spiritual discipline was reading the Bible every day.”
“The churches have a priority and focus on the nations. This priority is manifest in short-term mission trips, in care and adoption of the orphaned, in giving to mission causes, and in the number of congregants who commit their lives to reaching the nations with the gospel.”
“The churches have a missional community presence. The leadership and members do not look at their community as a pool for prospects. Rather, they love their community. They serve their community. The live in their community. They have deep relationships in their community.”
“The congregations have membership that matters. These healthy churches are high expectation churches. Membership is much more than completing a card or walking an aisle. These churches have entry point classes that set the expectations of membership. Church members are expected to serve, to give, to be in small groups, and to be accountable to others. Church discipline is practiced in most of these congregations. Because membership is meaningful, the assimilation rate in these churches is very high.”
Here’s the rest of Rainer’s list (with my comments following):
“The members are evangelistically intentional. The gospel is central in these healthy churches. As a consequence, the sharing of the good news is natural and consequential. But leaders in these churches do not simply assume that evangelism is taking place. There are constant reminders of the priority of evangelism. There is inherent in many of these churches some type of accountability for ongoing evangelism in a number of contexts.”
Did you know that slightly less than 1 out of every 4 adults have shared their fiath in Christ with a non-Christian in the past 12 months?
I came across some interesting statistics a couple weeks ago from George Barna which compared “evangelizers” and “nonevangelizers” (http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/125-49-million-born-again-adults-shared-their-faith-in-jesus-in-the-past-year; They’re a little dated, from 2003).
First, the similarities between “evangelizers” and “nonevangelizers.” Barna says, “The groups are equally likely to agree that religion is losing influence in our society, to contend that life is getting too complex to understand, to admit that they are experiencing more stress with each passing year, to submit that the moral condition of the nation is declining, to feel completely satisfied with their life, and to claim that they are in excellent physical condition. There was also consistency related to feeling stressed out, lonely, having family-oriented values, and being seen as a leader by others. In other words, both groups experience the same pressures and joys of life.”
But, after a comparison of nearly two dozen attitudes about life and faith practices, there were several notable differences: “Evangelizers, however, were somewhat more likely to claim primary responsibility for the spiritual development of their children (86% did so, compared to 71% of non-evangelizers); more likely to disagree that an individual is powerless to do anything regarding poverty in underdeveloped nations; more likely to claim to be very happy with their life (74% of evangelizers versus 63% of non-evangelizers); to indicate that religion is very important in their life (94% versus 81%); to say their religious faith is constantly growing deeper (78% versus 60%,); and to feel personally connected to other people (75% versus 62%). Non-evangelizers were more likely to say that they are “totally committed to getting ahead in life.” Three out of four non-evangelizers strongly confirmed that sentiment, compared to two-thirds of the evangelizers.”
The area displaying the most consistent differences between the two groups is that concerning religious beliefs and practices.
“In a typical week, evangelizers were more likely to attend church services (72% versus 52%); volunteer at their church (47% versus 28%); attend a Sunday school class (47% versus 24%); participate in a small group or cell group for spiritual purposes during the week (41% versus 22%); and read from the Bible other than while at a church service or class (74% versus 47%). Donation patterns were also notably different, resulting in a substantial gap in the average amount of money donated to their church in the past year: evangelizers gave an average of $801, which was more than three times the average among born again non-evangelizers ($250).”
These statistics bear out something we’re banking on with our 3C vision at FCC… “evangelizers” are more engaged in our process than “nonevangelizers.” In other words, intentionality with your personal spiritual growth parallels intentionality in sharing the gospel. That’s the goal… creating disciples who make disciples. (See the 3CLIFE Map near the Resource Tables.)
I dare you to pray this prayer at the beginning of every day: “Lord, give me one opportunity today to communicate the gospel.” Just one. Every day. Make it a habit of your heart to seek out those opportunities because they’re there if you have eyes to see them. You will find yourself becoming increasingly intentional about evangelism.
“These healthy churches have pastors who love the members. That love is obvious in their words, their actions, and their pastoral concern. It does not mean that a pastor is present for every need of a member of a church member; that is physically impossible. It does mean that the church has a ministry in place that cares for all the members. Above all, though, you can sense intuitively when you walk into these churches that the pastor deeply loves the members, even those who may often oppose him.”
I’ll let you be the judge of this one, but allow me to say a couple things. First, I know firsthand that our Ministerial Staff love this church and its people. We pray for you in Staff meetings and I know of many personal stories of care and concern for this church family. Second, in case you missed what I recently said at the beginning of a couple sermons over the course of a couple weeks, I’ll repeat it because it doesn’t get said often enough, and I’ll continue to grow in that: With God as my witness, I love this church! During my 9 years here, we’ve seen God do some great things and those of y’all who have been around a while know we’ve been through some hard things, too… and I want to say publicly that I consider you all my friends because this church is my family… and we are partners in the gospel… and I love you, I want what is best for you because I love this church, and I love my calling as your minister/pastor. For me, being a minister has never been a job. This is my life’s passion because I love connecting people to the love and truth of a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ, and I love First Christian Church of Greeneville, TN!
“The churches allow their pastors to spend time in sermon preparation. Our research has confirmed over the years that pastors in healthier churches spend more time in sermon preparation than those in other churches. For that to take place, the congregation must understand the primacy of preaching, and they must be willing for their pastor to forego some areas of activity and ministry so he can spend many hours in the Word.”
Frankly, I think we have struggled with this until more recently. It’s easy to say, on the one hand, that we believe in and value the power and proclamation of the Word of God, and yet, on the other, really feel on the inside like time spent studying the Bible isn’t an effective use of the church’s financial resources. I know that’s true because I feel it myself. There is a temptation for me to do certain things in ministry that get lots of mileage with people, but all the while neglect the ministry of the Word of God to which I am called. But, I am learning to push back against these temptations to do things considered more “practical” so that I can be the most effective teacher and communicator of the gospel because I believe that leveraging the power of God’s Word to change lives is the most practically effective use of anyone’s time! Writing and delivering a sermon each week is the one thing I am called to do here at First Christian Church that no one else is called (or paid) to do. So, I will continue to work toward doing so well.
“There is clarity of the process of disciple making. Such was the theme of the book, Simple Church, written by Eric Geiger and me. For the healthy churches, the ministries and activities are not just busy work; instead they have a clear purpose toward moving the members to greater levels of commitment toward Christ.”
As much as possible, we want to ensure that the main things we do accomplish what God has called us to do, i.e., make disciple makers (Acts 2:42-47 is the template/model from which we get the 3Cs and Matt 28:18-20 is the goal of “making disciples”). That means clearly communicating to all at FCC that living the 3CLIFE is the goal. We want everyone to “make disciple makers” by:
- Celebrating God and His work in our lives (weekly worship),
- Cultivating Growth in relationship with God and one another (Study Groups and Life Groups), and
- Communicating the Gospel in word and deed (Impact Team, in whatever form that takes, internally or externally. See the last two months’ newsletter articles.)
So, if you’re participating in these main environments for making these 3 purposes happen (worship, small groups, and communicating the gospel), and helping facilitate others’ involvement in this process, then you’re living the 3CLIFE! Clear?
Again, another plug for reading the book Simple Church… It’s a very biblical and practical model for designing environments that make disciples. I can’t recommend it enough.
“These churches do less better. They realize that they can’t be all things to all people; and they shouldn’t have such a flurry of activities that they hurt rather than help families. So the leaders of these congregations focus on doing fewer ministries, but doing those few better than they could with an overabundance of activities.”
Not much to say here other than this: There are lots of churches who are good at providing activity, but there aren’t many churches who are good at making disciples. We want to be really good at the latter. Need we say more?
“The process of discipleship moves members into ongoing small groups. A member is almost guaranteed to leave the church or become inactive in the church if he or she does not get involved in an ongoing small group. These groups have a variety of names: Sunday school; small groups; home groups; life groups; cell groups; and others. The name is not the issue. The issue is getting members connected to ongoing groups.”
Perhaps the most important question in a believer’s life is, “Are you growing?” The reason we have 3CLIFE Class once a quarter is to intentionally build into our church’s DNA the expectation of being involved in a small group (Study Group, Life Group, Impact Team) because that is where you will grow best. Period.
“Corporate prayer is intentional and prioritized. Prayer is not incidental in these churches. The leadership regularly emphasizes the importance and priority of prayer. The congregation is led regularly in times of corporate prayer.”
I believe we are growing in this area. We provide a Prayer List each week in the Worship Guide so you can keep up with prayer needs and praise reports. We ensure that we are responding to God in prayer each week in worship. We build it into our Life Groups structure to ensure that significant time each week is spent praying and caring for one another. Our Staff meetings each week are surrounded by prayer. Elders meetings are begun with a time of prayer in a specific room at FCC so we can focus on a specific population of people in our congregation. So, we pray… but we need to be better with intentionally emphasizing regular focus on prayer. Maybe it’s my fault that it hasn’t happened yet, but I’d love for us to have a regular prayer meeting of some sort where we do nothing but pray for our community, for our church family and leaders, for our lost neighbors and friends, for the advance of the Kingdom of God, and for missionaries who are proclaiming the gospel around the world. Are you praying prayers that come from the heart of God for His people and for the lost? Are you praying big picture prayers that are risky and radical?
Pray this with me for the sake of our church and the glory of God:
Lord, grant us the blessing of passionate personal relationship with You that wakes us each day to the joy of proclaiming Your glory with our lives! Forgive us for setting before You idols of greed, fame, materialism, sex, food, control, and security and teach us to love You with our whole hearts. Make of us a church body who is fed daily from a diet of Your truth. Make of us families, marriages, and homes where the gospel is spoken of as a matter of course. Make of us a people who long to please You above men. … all for the glory of God alone! Amen.
For Christ and His Kingdom,