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marketplaceOur daughter is currently enrolled in a Masters degree program in Organizational Development, where she is learning how organizations tend to function, both successfully and unsuccessfully.

Her primary “business” experiences have been with Church–as both a member, the daughter of church leaders, and now the wife of a church minister—and Let’s Start Talking, a non-profit, faith-based organization that she has grown up with, volunteered for, and been employed by.  Because of this, her interest in this degree program is primarily in developing as a person so as to be able to help both churches and ministries like LST.

Sherrylee and I love that she is doing this because she is constantly sending us books and articles from her reading list that she feels might be important to us and/or to LST.  Recently, she sent us a paper by Michael E. Cafferky, presented in 2005 at a Christian Business Faculty Association conference, entitled “The Porter Five-forces Industry Analysis Framework For Religious Nonprofits: A conceptual analysis,”  a paper which introduced me to several new ideas.

Very briefly, I would like to share with you my thoughts from reading both the paper and other articles to which it led me.

In 1979, Michael E. Porter of Harvard Business School introduced a framework of five forces which he believed would describe the attractiveness/profitability of a market. At first, it was assumed that churches and non-profits seemed to work outside of a competitive framework, so for many years his model was assumed inappropriate for a religious marketplace.

Professor Cafferky’s paper, however, challenges this assumption and looks for intersections and congruities. I believe, at the least, the exercise of using Porter’s Five Forces Analysis could stimulate churches and religious non-profits to examine the dynamics of their own environment in a more productive way.

Let’s look at these Five Forces and try to raise specific questions about the current religious marketplace:

1.    Threat of New Competition:  Profitable markets that yield high returns will attract new firms. This results in many new entrants, which eventually will decrease profitability for all firms in the industry. We recently did a search around our new office facility and found 74 churches listed within a five-mile radius.  Church planting is currently seen as the primary means of evangelism in the industrialized world, especially within the United States. The proliferation of house churches, often the strategy for new church planters, should be noted in the context of “new entrants.”  In contrast to all of these churches and all of these “new entrants” is the fact that around 4000+ churches close their doors permanently each year and the number of people who self-identify as Christians in the U.S. is declining.  Here is my first question: Is the proliferation of new church plants simply covering up the fact that the religious marketplace is much less “profitable”? To use the language of business: are we closing old stores and opening new stores, but that strategy in and of itself is not adequate to keep our business profitable?

2.    Threat of substitute products or services – how easy is it for the buyer to switch to a different product? The easier to switch, then the more likely to switch and make your organization less profitable. The ease depends on differences in cost, in quality, in availability of substitute products, and perceived differentiation among other things.  It seems to me that especially the evangelical churches have been rushing towards similarity!  Worship, jargon, buildings, services and community-building has gradually become one cloth. Doctrinal differences are held in low esteem and will likely disappear in the coming generation of young preachers in churches of Christ.  Post moderns come with very little propensity toward brand loyalty anyway, so switching within the American church context is extremely easy!  As the United States becomes more secular, the cultural pull toward syncretism will make even non-Christian alternatives more similar, therefore, more magnetic. My question: In an attempt to be relevant and more accessible, are Christians becoming less distinctive, therefore, more susceptible to our “customers” switching to alternatives?

3.    Intensity of competitive rivalry

 

(to be continued . . .)

 

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Honestly, the first time I was asked to do a short-term mission trip, I agreed only because I could not figure out a good enough reason to say no. I was in college, so I even called my parents because I felt sure that they would want me to come home in the summer . . . but, in fact, their answer was, “You need to do what you think God wants you to do.”  I finally committed with my heart and not just my head—and I’ve never stopped. Thank you, Mom and Dad!

So here are a few tips about making the decision the first time, and I say the first time because I do believe that if you go once and do something meaningful, you will continue to find ways to go.

  1. Don’t expect all of your motives to be spiritual. I think many people do not hear the call of God because they love to travel, love to experience new things, love to meet new people. Who do you think gave you these desires? For what possible reason could He have done this? Instead of viewing these as personal or selfish desires, recognize their intended use and go!
  2. In two weeks or less, you can change the focus of your life!Especially if you are at one of those critical points in life, where you are trying to decide what you are really doing that is meaningful?  People who are now unemployed, who fear unemployment, who are nearing retirement, who are into retirement and finding it boring, who are disabled from physical work, who are unhappy in their profession with just punching a clock—a short-term mission project can give you brand new glasses to see your life with.
  3. You will never have more fun! Time spent doing the will of God—all day long—will beat fishing, skiing, cruising, touring, hunting—because it is everything you enjoy about these activities wrapped up into the same package, but framed with an eternal purpose.  When you show someone how to pray, or tell them who Jesus is for the first time, or hear them trusting you with the burdens of their heart because you care about them; when you see the light of understanding go on in their eyes, when you see your new friend baptized—and the huge smile on their face . . . it is so much more than a great round of golf.
  4. “Can you afford it” is really the wrong question. The fact is that a two-week mission trip will probably be much less expensive than a two-week vacation.  However, your investment in a short-term mission trip will come back to you for the rest of your life—and afterwards. Can you afford not to go?  (I’m going to write about raising funds shortly, so watch for those tips too.)
  5. Age doesn’t matter very much!Eighty-year-olds have gone with LST on missions. Eight-year-olds with their parents have also gone. In many cultures, age is revered.  Years ago, a man said to one of our older workers, “I’ve never met a Christian with gray hair.” His comment was the result of too many American Christians thinking that short-term missions were just a youth group or college student activity.  A friend of ours in her 70s just lost her husband this year, but she took her grief and her loneliness to eastern Europe to fulfill a mission call. Now  she exchanges the grief with the joy of pouring her life out for Christ and the loneliness with all the people God brings to her.  Her new life and joy is palpable.
  6. Be strong and courageous and do not be afraid!Fear is our enemy. God spoke these words to His people over and over again in scripture. Count them up if you don’t believe me—then do something to overcome your fears.
  7. Don’t procrastinate. Do it soon! Why should you wait? Does it sound like any of the excuses given for not coming to the Great Banquet? (business, relatives, obligations) Don’t surrender your seat at the table because of just couldn’t decide to do it.

 

I’m not particularly proud of the story of my first decision to go, but I did learn something that stuck with me. Whatever your reasons for not going are, if you will simply set them aside and go, your life will be changed because you are right in the middle of the will of God. I know that is true.

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I have been directly involved in organizing short-term missions (STM) since I was a freshman in college—45 years ago.  Since 1980, Sherrylee and I have sent over 6000 American Christians on thousands of short-term mission projects in sixty-five different countries through the Let’s Start Talking Ministry.

We have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of short-term missions, but we have always believed that if done well, they were of great value.  For the next few days, I’ll give you some of the things we have learned over the years to help you do short-term missions better.

First, to the church leaders who are asked to send and to support short-term missions, here are a few suggestions for distinguishing the more worthy from the less worthy:

1. Who will be benefited by this short-term mission effort? Some of the possibilities are the Worker, the sending church, the hosting church, and the unchurched/unbelievers that are touched by the work.  Is the work intended to just be a good experience for the Americans going and the encouragement it gives to the local congregation sending them? If so, don’t describe it as mission work. It is edification.  If it is for the hosting church, then it is church nurturing, not missions. If it is for the unchurched/unbelievers, then it is evangelism.  All of these are worthy goals, so decide which you want to support.

2. Does the host really want these people to come? I attended a meeting of local evangelists in a foreign country a while back and the common complaint from all of them was how they felt required to host short-term groups who wanted to come work with them—regardless of whether the group would actually benefit their work—because the group was from a church that supported their work.   It was often assumed that every mission site would love to have a group of 30 people appear on their doorstep, but for many obvious reasons, that is not always the case.  Make sure a real invitation from the site has been issued before you go/send.

3. What’s the purpose and how will it be accomplished? Make sure that the activities match the purpose.  If the purpose is to share the Gospel with people, establishing an obvious way to contact people who do not believe is critical. Then, how will the workers begin a conversation with them? There is room for a variety of purposes, but the activities must match the purpose.

4. What’s the plan for the time on site? The very nature of short-term missions means that good use of the time is critical. Showing up to “do whatever the missionary wants” is simply a way to shift all the responsibility on the local people to do all the thinking and preparation.

5. Have the workers prepared to go? Let’s Start Talking provides all workers with a minimum of 20 hours of preparation. Our college students receive more like 50 hours for their mission projects. There are good resources out there for individuals and groups to use in preparation.  Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use the expertise of short-term mission leaders with lots of experience.

6. Is the cost appropriate? I do not believe at all in the “most bang for the buck” model of missions—but we will talk about that later.  But I also know that spending $3000/person for a five-day short-term mission project when two of the days are mostly getting to and from the site does not appear on the surface to be a wise use of that money.  Church leaders should weigh the costs against all of the outcomes, then make a prayerfully informed decision.

Next, I’ll offer a few tips for those trying to decide about a short-term mission trip—or not!

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One of my favorite heroes of faith is the Thai minister of a church in Bangkok, who truly understands that there is not a distinction between mission field churches who are “receivers” of missions and churches who are “doers” of missions.  Although working in Thailand, itself a Buddhist country and the object of mission work, the Thai churches that he has planted are reaching out in Laos and Myanmar—and he has plans and dreams for preaching to the 40 million Thai-language Chinese people.

We know a church in Moscow, less than twenty years old itself, who is launching a mission effort into Istanbul, Turkey. Singaporean Christians are sending missionaries into Cambodia and China, while Christians from Ghana have planted large congregations in Western Europe.

One of the most impressive examples of great churches focusing outside, not in, is the Back To Jerusalem movement among Chinese Christians.  Christians from Mainland China have committed to send each other into ALL the countries of the countries, where 90% of the non-Christians of the world live.

If you go to the question and answer pages for mission efforts like Back To Jerusalem, the first question is always: why are you sending people other places; don’t you have enough to do at home? Every missionary and every mission-minded church has been confronted with the same question.  Here is my answer: Of course, the Great Commission includes home, but who will share the Good News with the billions who have never heard of Jesus, if the biggest churches with the most Christians in every country all stay home??

Great churches—wherever they are and whatever size they may be—understand that they are a part of the call to the Body of Christ to “go into the entire world.” Here are some practical suggestions for leading your church to go into the entire world:

  1. Put the whole world on display. What do your members really know about your own mission work? What do they know about the persecuted church? What do they know about the inspiring mission efforts of Christians around the world?  If your members are ill-informed, then they are uninspired. What can you do to change this?
  2. Talk about world Christians. Many of my personal heroes of faith are men and women that are virtually unknown in the United States. They do not make the lectureship circuits, they are not widely published, they are not center page spreads for Christian newspapers. If you are a church leader, you should get out, meet these unknown heroes, then come home and talk about them!
  3. Avoid protectionism. The era of allowing foreign evangelists and missionaries to talk, to preach, to show their slides in our assemblies has been over for decades. Most leaders decided their members needed protecting, although it may have been more motivated by efforts to keep their contributions at home.  Don’t be afraid. Raise the vision for global work by providing platforms—often—for those who are going out from among us!! Don’t be afraid. The local work will grow as people’s vision for the world grows.
  4. Abandon the idea of “mine” and “God’s”: Our members travel. We fly, we cruise, we RV, we camp, we hike, we backpack, we tour.  How can we give this part of our lives more to the Will of God instead of thinking of it as OUR special time?  At LST, we hear constantly from adult Christians who take their two-week vacation and go somewhere to share their faith that it was work, BUT it was the most re-creational activity they have ever done.  Great churches help their members give all of their life in God’s work.
  5. Great churches have leaders who GO! I really believe that every preacher/minister, every church leader would be a greater leader and better able to inspire if he/she would regularly be personally involved in evangelistic mission efforts—preferably outside of their own culture.

Great churches understand that they are not exempt from going into the entire world.

 

Next:  Great churches understand the relationship between benevolence and evangelism!

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A couple of nights ago, Sherrylee and I watched Keys To The Kingdom (1944) with Gregory Peck playing the role of Father Francis Chisholm, a Catholic priest who serves as a missionary to China for 40 years in the early 1900s. The film is quite inspirational in a black-and-white way, but one scene jumped out at me as we were watching. After struggling for decades with very poor facilities and limited resources, the priest learns that the Methodists have just sent new missionaries to the same city, but with a big new church building and lots of money. The first question everyone asks the priest is if he is resentful of the new workers. A good fifteen minutes of the film is spent showing the priest reaching out to the new missionaries, finding common ground, encouraging them, and making friends instead of enemies. At one point Father Chisholm says he can’t imagine what the Chinese would think about Christianity if all the Christian groups fought with each other.

Great churches focus on the unity of the body of Christ. Most religious movements have a long tradition of settling disputes by first contending, then condemning, and then eventually separating from each other, resulting in new churches, but always at the expense of the reputation of the kingdom of God. Jesus did say that “a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.”  The Kingdom of God will stand, but will our expression of the Kingdom of God survive disunity?

Here are my suggestions for churches who would seek the unity of the body of Christ:

 

 

  • Celebrate and acknowledge all faith in Jesus as Lord. Is their faith in Jesus not a gift of God just the same as your faith? And if the particulars of the expression of that faith are different from yours, must you ignore what you have in common?
  • Let mercy triumph over judgment! If you have been forgiven of your sins, is it possible that God might forgive even the sins of Others? If you have grown and matured in your faith since you first believed, is it possible that God allows Others the same process?
  • Seek relationships with Others. It can’t really be love to acknowledge that Others might be children of God, but intentionally avoid contact with them. Separate but equal has never worked in the Kingdom of God.
  • Believe that Good will triumph over evil. Have confidence that the Kingdom is eternal and if Hell cannot prevail against it, misunderstandings of God’s Will cannot destroy His Body.  Jesus was not afraid to eat with sinners—after all, who else could he have eaten with?
  • Don’t think greater of yourself than you should. If reading about the attitudes of the Pharisees begins to sound like your congregation, if the prayers are anything but “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner,” then you need to search for the seeds of self-righteousness.
  • Be a peacemaker and be blessed. Some churches, some church leaders see themselves mounted on white horses, leading the armies of God, but that role is reserved for the resurrected Jesus.
  • Encourage those who facilitate peace.  We were in Thailand and met with a good church attempting to mediate a national dispute between churches and Christians. Unfortunately, the result of their attempts to make peace only resulted in rancor and mistrust towards them from both polarities.  Jesus said that peacemakers are blessed!
  • Turn the other cheek. You are not greater than your Master. Others will malign and mistreat you—as they did Jesus. It is at that very moment that our prayer must be, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do.”  Neither defensiveness nor counterattack is appropriate.
  • Don’t be afraid! Fear is the enemy of love.
  • Pray for unity, long for it as Jesus did. “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”(Jn. 17:23)

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Occasionally a book changes your basic philosophy of ministry. Struggles In the Kingdom by Jim Woodruff  and John Payne was that kind of book for me as a young missionary in Germany. The verses that undergird this story of a struggling mission church in New Zealand are Acts 14:21-22, where Luke writes that Paul and Barnabas strengthened the disciples and encouraged them to remain true to the faith, saying, “We must go through many struggles to enter the kingdom of God.” Until I believed this verse to be true, I confess being a sheltering, some might say paternalistic, church planter, always trying to protect the young Christians in our fledgling flock. I would say these were my most common mistakes:

  1. Providing all the answers to all of their questions—sometimes before they asked.
  2. Keeping the curtains around leadership closed, so they did not realize our struggles.
  3. Not letting new baby Christians out of the house because they might be exposed to something that would lead them astray.
  4. Not encouraging new Christians to share their faith; they didn’t know enough yet and might mess up and get discouraged.
  5. Pre-empting most difficult conversations by skillful direction away from anything likely to be controversial.

Great churches allow struggle because they are not afraid . Most of our reasons for avoiding struggle or protecting members from struggle are grounded in FEAR—fear of “losing” the struggle.  We can’t tell the members what that church leader really did because they might quit coming; we can’t study that question because it will just stir up too much controversy and make people unhappy. We can’t let them know how much that property really costs because they will think it is too much, and we won’t get to do what we think we should do.

Great churches anticipate struggle and prepare for that day. Notice I did not say that they run from the struggle or that they shelter members from struggles. Paul and Barnabas strengthened and encouraged the churches in preparation for their struggles.

Great churches teach their members about spiritual warfare and encourage them to avoid the trap of seeing the enemy as “flesh and blood.” The church we planted in Germany survived twenty years after the mission team left, but then Satan used personal immorality to attack the church leaders/pillars and this group did not survive as a church (Happily, very few members actually gave up their faith!).  In retrospect, I believe this congregation could have survived if anyone had been able to frame their struggle for them as spiritual warfare, instead of brother against sister—civil war!

Great churches accept struggle as an opportunity to learn, not a reason to quit. Great churches survive and grow stronger with the same struggles that diminish or destroy other congregations. What happens when sin is exposed among church leaders? When the local factory closes and the contribution is halved? When the preacher quits—today! When a member comes back with “new” biblical truths? When the elder’s wife shares that she prays in tongues? When the church leaders refuse to share the church’s financial statement with members? When the missionaries are dropped in order to expand the church kitchen?  Aren’t all of these opportunities to learn more about trust in God and grace toward others?

Paul said, “. . . the fire will test the quality of each man’s work” (I. Cor. 3:13), so fire should not surprise church leaders. Fear that God cannot or will not protect His Kingdom is what gives Satan the power to destroy.

Great churches are not afraid!

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Fourth in a Guest series by Tim Spivey, senior minister at New Vantage Church (San Diego, CA)

No-silosBuilding on the three previous posts, here are a couple of introductory steps you can take that will help your church more effectively embrace God’s call to global mission:

Seek alignment. Understand the church is like a mobile. Everything is connected, and this is a great blessing. Look at your existing ministries and see how your missions ministry can be properly aligned with what the church is already doing. In some churches, church planting, short-term missions, benevolence, long-term missions, etc. are all very separate ministries with independent objectives and marked territory. For the purposes of involvement perhaps this feels good. However, if ministries are organizationally, strategically and philosophically siloed, it will take twice the money and publicity to achieve half of the results with half of the joy.

“Alignment” means riding the wave of where the church is already going rather than charting your own course. It means building missions ministry around the broader objectives of the church, and with all church ministries in mind. This will not only bring the blessing and support of church leadership to missions more quickly, it will relieve “sideways energy” in the church system that creates a tug of war effect–lots of effort, little movement. If everyone heads in their own directions, the church will stuggle to make progress of any kind. With alignment, forward progress is much easier and results exponentially enhanced.

Here are some steps to this effect:

  • Seek a firm grasp on the mission and vision of the church. Ask, how can we build a missions ministry that affirms and accentuates that vision? If missions becomes a para-church ministry in the church, it will never soar, and those involved in it will find themselves wondering why leadership and the congregation don’t seem to care much about it.
  • Have those who lead ministries in the “externally-focused” areas meet together. Relationships are everything in the church. Knowing one another better and communicating what’s going on will help coordination and make it easier for people to give to one another when necessary down the road. Tomorrow’s post will talk more about the importance of relationships in global missions ministry.
  • Integrate those ministries by choosing to do things together. Could a short-term missions team be sent to build up and encourage your long-term missionaries instead of going to countries that aren’t a part of what the church is already involved in? Could some of the church’s benevolence money go to support the poor overseas? Here’s another one–can the global missions team play a part in helping further the cause of the poor and and reaching the international community around the building through a ministry like Friendspeak?
  • Trade out traditional “mission reports” for storytelling opportunities in sermons, giving time, communion, and other things that weave the narrative of what God is doing globally through all of church life. Consider having one of your missionaries video a communion thought or a brief thank-you for the morning and stream it to the screen. Now they aren’t a visitor from a faraway land. They are part of the church.

Those are just a few possibilities. There are many more. There are two more posts in this series. One with more practical ideas–and one talking about getting leadership on board.

How have you seen partnership between ministries rather than “siloing” pay dividends in furthering God’s mission in the church?

 

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