Barriers to Small Group Growth

I always am on the lookout for teaching points regarding small groups, and here is solid wisdom from Rick Warren:

Did you know that you get a new skeleton every seven years? Your bone marrow is constantly creating new bone, and you’re sloughing off old cells so that your skeleton can grow with your body. For our church to keep growing, our structure also has to change constantly.

The only purpose of restructuring is to prepare a church for growth and to break through barriers. About 95 percent of all the churches in the world stop growing before they get to 300 people because they are structured to be at a size less than 300. It’s not the problem of the pastor or the people; it’s a problem of the structure.

We often ask the wrong question. The wrong question is, “What will help my church grow?” The right question is, “What is keeping my church from growing?” Growth is natural. All living things naturally grow. I don’t have to command my kids to grow; they just do it, if they’re healthy. If our church is healthy, then it is going to automatically grow.

A church becomes healthy by removing the barriers and balancing the purposes. There are 10 common barriers that keep our church from growing. The first six are:

Members won’t bring their friends to church: You can’t grow a church without guests. One of the reasons Christians won’t bring their friends to church is that they’re embarrassed or they think, “This is a church that meets my needs, but it’s not geared for my friend, an unbeliever, to understand it.” You have to create a service that is understandable but not watered-down.

People fear that growth will ruin the fellowship: Many churches say they are a loving church, but what they mean is that they are good at loving each other and not unbelievers. When members love their fellowship so much that they don’t want anyone new, then they’re not going to bring friends. The average member of a church knows 67 people, whether you have 67 people at your church or 6,000. If you only want to have a church of people you know, you’re only going to have about 67 people. The antidote to this barrier is affinity groups. The church must grow larger and smaller at the same time — larger through worship (weekend services) and smaller through fellowship (small groups).

Churches are driven by tradition rather than the purposes of God: Tradition is a good thing — as long as it works. Never confuse the message with the methods. The message must never change, but the methods have to change. If you don’t change methods from generation to generation, you are being unfaithful.

One of the most expensive and difficult things to do is keep a corpse from stinking. If there are programs in our church that died a long time ago; we need to give them a decent burial. Periodically, we should go through everything we’re doing and ask, “Should I reaffirm it, refine it, or do I need to replace it?” The hardest thing to give up is what worked before, but sometimes you have to stop it before it starts declining.

Churches are trying to appeal to everybody: Our church cannot be all things to all people. The moment we choose a style of music, we are going to turn someone off. We need to know whom our church can best reach in your community. Define that group of people, and then go after them.

Churches are program-oriented rather than process-oriented: A lot of churches think the goal is to keep the saints busy, and people are just worn out. Programs and events should not drive the church; they should fulfill the purposes. Where do we want to take our people in the next 10 years? Where do we want them to be different? Set a goal by determining your role — what God has called you to do. Once you know that, then you decide what programs best accomplish that goal.

Churches focus on meetings rather than ministry: When the number one qualifier in our church is attendance, then we are facing this barrier. It’s not all about the weekend; the weekend is simply the funnel by which you start the discipleship process. If Christianity is a life and not a religion, then it should focus on where we live our lives — at home, work, etc., and not at church. When we focus on meetings, we’re building a group of spectators. We don’t need more meetings; we need to meet more needs. You do that by turning every member into a minister.

Church Growth Strategies

I don’t just post articles from someone else, but I read *Bill Wilson’s “Confessions of a Church Consultant”  today and had a flashback to the “Great Commission Consultation” that our church experienced in February 2010. Our church had a negative reaction, today I believe I know the reason why. Here are the highlights from the article and my comments:

Here is a secret: Congregational strategic planning is frequently a waste of time and can be counterproductive. Many congregations engage in strategic planning; some opt to conduct the process internally, while others hire an outsider to help.

Our local association provided what was billed as a church growth guru who was effective in many other areas of the country. Our church had been on a plateau for several years and sometimes it takes a fresh look at one’s situation, from the outside, to see what we often fail to see on our own. So we opted for the outsider to inspire, challenge and motive us toward being all that we can be for the kingdom in this place.

Consulting with congregations is all the rage. Most take some form of corporate planning and apply a thin veneer of spirituality to a secular model. Behind these plans is a paint-by-number approach to your future that, if followed, promises to produce a set of core values, a mission statement, SWOT analyses, strategic initiatives, SMART goals and the like.

This was the main focus of the consultation, there really was a “paint-by-number” approach. Other churches in whom I knew staff members had the same prescriptions for the same unhealthy diagnosis. If you don’t have retention of people who visit your church, you need an assimilation process. The same prescription included the Nelson Searcy assimilation model (from the Journey Church in NYC). It is a fine model, especially for churches who have no real strategy at all, but is not every church different? We have different styles, different communities, and different reactions to gathering information… the point is that if there is an assimilation hole, the consultation guy filled it with this assimilation product.

Some vary the theme and design a process that produces the same thing in every church that uses the plan. This sort of prescriptive planning is used by those who know what your future should be and have a not-so-subtle agenda of turning your church in a direction that they have predetermined. If you get hooked into one of those plans, expect unnecessary conflict and unhealthy upheaval.

The idea of a “predetermined direction” stands out for me. The guy came with an idea of what a healthy and growing church looks like, with stories and illustrations where he has turned other churches around using this same strategy. I think we have a tendency to be covetous of other churches when we see God moving over there more than over here. So we took the plan and presented it to the church and got all sorts of unanticipated “conflict and upheaval.” We talked as a body, shared the same feeling of being scolded; the founders of the church (who grew this congregation to what it is today) must of somehow failed because we have not kept the main thing the main thing (the Great Commission – If he only knew how mission-minded this church is). It is almost like this guy knew we could be a mega-church if we would only follow his plan, when all along our people simply chose to be faithful to God, follow his leadership and allow the Lord to cause the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

The truth is, far too many of these generic plans are a waste of time and energy because they give only lip service to the question of divine guidance. Oh, there is the obligatory prayer emphasis, but what is lacking is genuine spiritual discernment. Without this, the planning becomes an exercise in stating the obvious/inevitable, and wastes a valuable opportunity to deeply consider the future God has in mind for you.

I felt there was a lot of activity during this time, and we developed a few ideas for a new direction, but our people did not embrace the consultation, or respect the consultant since he came across as a know-it-all with a condescending attitude of who we are. We have a solidly strong church and he spoke to us as if we where dying and one day the doors would close if we did not make changes. Real and earnest spiritual discernment and seeking God’s guidance appeared to be lacking.

A spiritual discernment process is very different from a corporate strategic planning model or a biased approach to your future. Spiritual discernment begins by admitting we do not have the solutions. Spiritual discernment invites thinking, praying and reflecting at a level that most of us studiously avoid. Spiritual discernment is messy, often slow and extremely complicated. Most churches want neat, quick and simple. Sorry, but neat, quick and simple work in this area (like most of congregational life) will lead to shallow, predictable and counter-productive.

The article includes a time-tested pattern of spiritual discernment for individuals and organizations:

Spiritual discernment begins with disorientation: Something happens to knock us off our feet. Some event or series of events conspire to turn our world upside down. It may be an unpleasant experience such as a death, or a beloved pastor’s departure, or some crisis. Whatever it is, our life and world is shaken and we experience high anxiety. Throughout Scripture, disorientation is the portal God uses to break into ordinary lives and do extraordinary things. (remember Joseph, Moses, Esther, Mary, Paul, Peter, etc.) God’s people are constantly finding themselves thrown off balance and unable to manage things using old frames of reference.

The next phase of spiritual discernment is a time of reorientation: On the heels of our crisis, we look around for something or someone to hold on to that will help us make sense of our shaken world. We find that the promises made by culture, leaders, politics, money, possessions and an array of false gods are empty. We turn once again to the One who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. All of our self-made structures, programs and hollow leadership models collapse under the weight of the issue before us. In their place we rediscover our reason for being as a congregation. Our pride gives way to brokenness and humility as we reconnect to our mission and purpose. We lean into our future with a willingness to lay aside those things that have distracted us from our true calling.

Finally, a spiritual discernment process leads us to a new orientation to life and ministry: We reorder and re-prioritize our life as God’s people so that we are on his mission, not ours. We find a depth of meaning and fulfillment that has been missing. We sense passion and engagement rather than lethargy and apathy. Because we have taken seriously the voice and movement of the Holy Spirit, we no longer rely on others to prescribe our future, but we create that future as collaborators with God in an ongoing process of regeneration and renewal. Our time spent in re-visioning our future has produced a new spirit of openness to God’s leadership. We begin the hard work of aligning every part of our life with our new vision.

Bill Wilson* reminds us that we need to be a congregation who resists the temptation to cut corners and go for easy solutions to complex issues. Instead, let’s journey along the narrow and challenging way of spiritual discernment. That sort of spiritual journey leads us to become the people God intended us to be.

*Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.

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Characteristics of a NT Church

This is teaching from Rick Warren. As always, how do we see King’s Grant measuring up to this standard?

If you want your church to have the impact of the early church, the book of Acts shows us eight essential characteristics we need in our congregations:

Supernatural power (Acts 2:3-4): We don’t just talk about God; we experience Him. This is what makes the church different from every other organization on the planet. We have the Holy Spirit. God promised His Spirit to help His church.

Use everybody’s language (Acts 2:4): This passage isn’t about speaking in tongues. It’s about the gospel being communicated in real languages. People actually heard the early Christians speak in their own languages — whether that was Farsi, Swahili, German, Greek, or whatever. God says from the very first day of the church that the Good News is for everyone. It’s not just for Jews. It’s amazing grace for every race. But the power of Acts isn’t just about the language of your country of origin. It’s also about languages spoken only in particular subcultures — like mothers of preschoolers or people into hip-hop or accountants or truck drivers. God says in His church, everyone’s language gets used. Are you helping your people use their “language” to reach people with the Good News?

Use everyone’s gifts (Acts 2:14, 16, 19, 21): In New Testament times, there weren’t spectators in the Church. There were only contributors; 100 percent participation. Not everyone is called to be a pastor, but everyone is called to serve God. If you want your church to have the impact of the early Church, get everyone involved in the ministry of your church. Make it clear to everyone in the church that passivity isn’t an option. If they want to just sit around and soak up the service of others, let them find another church.

Offer life-changing truth (Acts 2:22-40): The early Church didn’t offer pop psychology, polite moralisms, or nice-sounding inspiration. We must always offer the truth of the gospel. God’s Word has the power to change lives. No other message changes lives like the Good News. No other message changes a guy from a wife-beater to being a loving, responsible husband. It’s when the truth of God’s Word gets into us that we change.

In Acts 2, Peter gives the very first Christian sermon, quoting the Old Testament book of Joel. Peter shares the Gospel in this message. Acts 2 says that the early church devoted itself to the “apostles’ teaching” – the Bible. God’s Word gave the early church power.

Provide loving support (Acts 2:42): The first church loved and cared for one another. The Bible says in Acts 2:42, “They took part in the fellowship, sharing in the fellowship meals and in praying together.” One translation says, “They were like family to each other.” The church isn’t a business. It’s not an organization. It’s not a social club. It’s a family. For our churches to experience the power of the early Church, we’ve got to become the family that they were.

Enjoy joyful worship (Acts 2:46): When the early Church gathered, they celebrated, “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” We must understand and teach that worship is a celebration. It’s a festival, not a funeral. It’s the party for the kingdom of God. When worship is joyful, people want to be there because people are looking for joy. Do you think if our churches were full of glad hearts, joyful words, and hopeful lives, we’d attract other unbelievers? Sure they would.

Make generous sacrifices (Acts 2:44-45): The Bible teaches us to make generous sacrifices for the sake of the gospel. The Christians during the Roman Empire were the most generous people in the empire. In fact, they were famous for their generosity. They literally shared everything, with one another and the poor. The Bible says the early church “shared everything they had … .” That’s a church worth dying for; which is exactly what first-century Christians did. They’d rather die with gladiators and lions in the Coliseum than renounce their faith and their brothers and sisters in God’s family.

Create exponential growth (Acts 2:47): When our churches demonstrate the first seven characteristics of the early Church, growth is automatic. People may have looked at the first Christians as weird, but they liked what they were doing. They saw their love for one another, the miracles that took place in their midst, and the joy that was in their lives, and they wanted what the Christians had.

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Factors That Impact Worship

I am a fan of Rick Warren and he writes that there are six factors that impact a worship experience. I put this into our context at the Well, so how does King’s Grant measure up?

Rick suggests we walk through our church facilities with a photographer and take pictures from the eyes of a visitor. We become so familiar with our surroundings that we become oblivious to the faded paint, the frayed carpet, the chipped pulpit, the stack of stuff on the piano, or the burned-out light bulbs overhead.

One way to combat this tendency is to do an Environmental Impact Report on your church. Take pictures throughout your facilities and show them to your leaders in order to figure out what needs to be changed.

Here are some environmental factors you need to pay close attention to:

1. Lighting: Lighting has a profound effect on people’s moods. Inadequate lighting dampens the spirit of a service. Shadows across a speaker’s face reduce the impact of any message.

Most churches are far too dark. I’ve noticed that even churches with plenty of windows often cover them up. Somehow, churches have gotten the idea, maybe from funeral parlors, that dimming the lights creates a more “spiritual” mood. I completely disagree.

I believe that church buildings should be bright and full of light. God’s character is expressed in light. 1 John 1:5 says, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” I believe churches should be the brightest public buildings. Light was the very first thing God created. God said, “Let there be light!” (Genesis 1:3) Today, I think God would like to say this to thousands of churches.

If you want to wake up your services, brighten up your environment. Take the curtains off your windows! Throw open the windows and doors! Turn on all the lights!

2. Sound: Invest in the best sound system you can afford. If you’re trying to cut costs, do it in some other area. Don’t skimp here.

It doesn’t matter how persuasive the message is if people can’t hear it in a pleasing manner. A tinny, fuzzy sound system can undermine the most gifted musician and incapacitate the most profound preacher. Nothing can destroy a holy moment faster than a loud blast of feedback!

3. Seating: Both the comfort and the arrangement of your seating dramatically affect the mood of any service. The mind can only absorb what the seat can endure! Uncomfortable seating is a distraction that the devil loves to use.

If you can get away replacing the pews, I’d advise it. In today’s culture the only places people are forced to sit on benches are in church and the cheap bleacher section at ball games. People expect to have their own, individual chairs.

Personal space is highly valued in our society. This is why box seats are prized at stadiums. If people are forced to sit too close to each other, they get very uncomfortable. There should be at least 18 inches between people if you’re using chairs and 21 inches between people if you’re using pews.

If you use moveable seats, set them up so people can see some of each other’s faces. It will dramatically improve how people respond to the service. If you are planting a new church always set up less chairs than you need. It’s encouraging to your people when additional chairs must be brought in as people arrive. On the other hand, it’s very discouraging to worship in a service when surrounded by empty chairs.

4. Temperature: As a pastor who has preached for years in un-air-conditioned gyms and unheated tents, I say this with the utmost conviction: The temperature can destroy the best-planned service in a matter of minutes! When people are too hot or too cold they simply stop participating in a service. They mentally checkout and start hoping for everything to end quickly.

The most common mistake churches make regarding temperature is to allow the building to become too warm. Some usher sets the thermostat at a reasonable setting before the service without realizing that when the building is actually filled with a crowd, the body heat of all those people will raise the temperature substantially. By the time the air conditioning has cooled everything down, the service is nearly over.

Always set the thermostat several degrees cooler than what is comfortable before the service begins. Cool it down before the crowd gets there. The temperature will rise quite quickly once the service starts. Keeping the temperature on the cool side will keep the crowd awake.

5. Clean, safe nurseries: If you want to reach young families, you’ve got to have sanitized and safe nurseries. There should be no mop-buckets in the corners and the toys should be cleaned each week.

6. Clean restrooms: Visitors may forget your sermon but the memory of a foul smelling restroom lingers on … and on … and on! You can tell a lot about a church by checking out the cleanliness of its restrooms.

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LifeShape 7 the Heptagon

This information is not original with me, but from a fascinating book I found entitled, “The Passionate Church: The Art of Life-Changing Discipleship.” Since I am a visual learner, I have included my personally designed diagrams along with my own notes to help in my disciple-making and teaching efforts.

God’s people are a living organism subject to the same principles of growth that apply to all living things. MRS GREN can help you grow a healthy church; practicing the principles of a vital life.

You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor. And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. — 1 Peter 2:4-5

Church health and growth is all about life, the body being an organism rather than an organization. Many churches put the cart before the horse by building facilities and programs before they have adequately taken care of the needs of the people. The cart will not get things moving, the horse will. We need to feed and care for the horse, but instead much of our energy goes into the cart (and the horse ends up too weak to pull the cart). The cart is easier to take care of; we can paint it, decorate it, show it off. Horses tend wander off or perhaps don’t respond the way we want. Ask yourself, “How good is a cart when the horse is dead?”

We deceive ourselves with the attitude, “If you build it they will come.” Every church is one generation away from extinction, and today’s generation wants to see living stones.

Meet MRS GREN:

Biology has taught us there are seven characteristics that identify all living organisms. Let’s look at each one and discover spiritual truth about growth.

Movement: show you are not dead – Movement is a response to stimuli, we see it in the animal world all the time. If out in the open, an animal will move to safety when a predator is discovered. Animals move when stimulated by an outer (danger) or inner (hunger) force. The Old Testament is full of patriarch, prophets and people on the move. At the Red Sea the people stopped moving. How easy is it to stand still in what we know, regardless of how unfulfilling, than to move into the great unknown. Moses tells them to stand firm while God tells them to move on. God uses many ways to stimulate His people; His Word, His Spirit, persecution.

Respiration: breathing God’s breath – Breathing is not necessarily respiration. The process is dependent upon oxygen being released into the body so it can function properly. The process is natural for most organisms, but not all. Some have bad breathing due to illness, lack of exercise, pollution, a tantrum of holding your breath. God’s breathing releases His power in our lives. Inhale His Spirit and exhale His will.

Sensitivity: the pentagon at work – The body is a unit working together. Sensitivity plays a vital role in our receptiveness to stimuli. The church needs people who are sensitive to the pains of others (pastor); sensitive to sight, foresight given by God (prophets); sensitive to the needs and hurts of others in hearing, listening, instructing (teachers); sensitive to speech, sharing the good news (evangelists); sensitive to sniffing out staleness and knowing when to move out into new areas (apostles).

Growth: the result of a healthy life – Growth is an expression of life; all living things grow. If the church stops growing it will die. No growth is a sign of decay and death. the lesson of the semi-circle is to prune branches, to cause more growth.

Reproduction: creating the future – This is different from growth in that it is a multiplication of an organism. In our spiritual life God takes our words (the gospel) and fuses them with one who has a heart open to this good news to make a new spirit. Reproduction; one Christian became two. These will gather together in small groupings called a church. Reproduction is a sign of life. Unhealthy specimens generally don’t multiply, it is the healthy ones that carry on the species. In Europe children, teens and young adults no longer attend church because Christians in Europe have forsaken the reproduction of themselves into the next generation.

Excretion: a cleansed life – Every heart builds up a collection of junk that needs to be emptied through the process of repentance and discipline. If we don’t, it is the same as a body not ridding itself of waste it has accumulated; it will bring discomfort, disease and eventually death. The toxins are called the root of bitterness, according to the writer of Hebrews. Sometimes the church must expel an unrepentant brother; giving the opportunity to come back into the faith and the fellowship. We must not embrace wickedness but excrete it to remain healthy.

Nutrition: the obedience diet – Living things must take in nutrients or they will die. Jesus is the bread of life, so to live we must dine on His words. Jesus said that His food was to do the will of the Father (John 4).

The Growth Cycle of Church Groups:

God designed for us to be social creatures, living in community. Moses and Jethro had a conversation about the management of people and leadership. Once discovered what Moses was doing, Jethro replied:

“This is not good!” Moses’ father-in-law exclaimed. “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. Now listen to me, and let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you. You should continue to be the people’s representative before God, bringing their disputes to him. Teach them God’s decrees, and give them his instructions. Show them how to conduct their lives. But select from all the people some capable, honest men who fear God and hate bribes. Appoint them as leaders over groups of one thousand, one hundred, fifty, and ten. They should always be available to solve the people’s common disputes, but have them bring the major cases to you. Let the leaders decide the smaller matters themselves. They will help you carry the load, making the task easier for you. If you follow this advice, and if God commands you to do so, then you will be able to endure the pressures, and all these people will go home in peace.” –Exodus 18:17-23

Today we feel like we are leading a consumer-driven, program-driven, staff-driven church organization; which is a prescription for burnout. Diversify the leadership over one thousand, one hundred, fifties and tens and equip them to lead and do the work of ministry.

Jesus had a similar pattern: sending out the disciples in twos, He called a team of 12 out of the 72, there were 120 gathered at Pentecost in the midst of 3000 being saved that day. There were seven men of good reputation appointed to serve the widows overlooked in the daily distribution of food.

Our churches must focus on the development of clusters, the extended family sized between 20-70. We must raise up people who carry this vision and capable of overseeing these groups and the long-range task of rebuilding communities and culture.