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Posts Tagged ‘church growth’

immigration mapMost Christian churches/missions organizations have followed the church growth axiom of searching for areas of receptivity to which to send and spend their resources. During the last half century, this strategy has led to a lot of people and resources going to places like East Africa (English-speaking and less Muslim) as opposed to North Africa, or places like all the former Soviet countries—at least for about a decade—until post-soviet materialism took root and the eastern peoples became less interested.

South America, especially Brazil, was a hotspot for American missions for a couple of decades, but that has settled down now as indigenous leaders emerged and no longer need the baggage that comes with American money and Christianity.

Today, China is certainly in the missions’ spotlight, though political restrictions keep people from reporting the statistics that are essential to establishing patterns of receptivity.

India continues to remain high on the list of receptive countries. The poverty and class struggle also keep it on the list for young emergent churches as well.

One of the most passionate discussions in missions centers on the vast populations of non-Christians in the 10/40 window, that is, the countries lying between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator, including  Saharan and Northern Africa, as well as almost all of Asia (West Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, East Asia and much of Southeast Asia). Roughly two-thirds of the world population lives in the 10/40 Window.

Most of the people in these countries claim the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist,  Animist, Jewish, or atheist faith, and few of their governments allow any kind of legal Christian activity on their soil.

Christian radio breaks through these barriers, but very few missionaries are called or sent to these sites, and very few churches/missions organizations target them either.

And if receptivity is our sole criteria for resource allocation, then why would we? Any work done in the tough areas of the 10/40 window would likely take decades if not lifetimes to show first fruits—and might cost lives.

What if I could show you both the potential and the freedom to meet, to befriend, to minister to, and, yes, to share your faith with 5 million Arabs?  With over a million Pakistanis, or hundreds of thousands of Iranians?  Would you be interested in using missions resources to reach out to Iraqis, Somalis, Algerians—if you could do it where it was not illegal and under favorable conditions for the reception of the Word?

Europe, known to missions people as . . . well, really not known to missions people because Europe has had its chance and has never been on anyone’s receptivity list.

But I want to say that the new Europe is a place where we MUST be—because that’s where we can speak with much of the world that is otherwise extremely difficult to penetrate.

In 1985, the European Union passed the Schengen Agreement, which allowed for free movement across borders for all citizens of member countries. At the time only ten fairly homogeneous countries composed the EU, but now, with the Agreement extended and expanded, 27 countries enjoy relatively unrestricted movement throughout the EU.

Nine million Turkish people live outside of Turkey in the EU.  Eight hundred thousand Romanians live in Spain. Twelve million immigrants live in France and 40% of those immigrants live in or near Paris.

What does this mean?  This means we ought to send missionaries to Paris, to Spain, to Germany, to the UK, and to Sweden, a country so friendly to immigrants, by the way, that they do not even count them.

The opportunities for the Message in Europe can no longer be ignored for reasons of receptivity.  Think about these reasons for why today is the day to be in Europe with the Gospel:

  • Although some immigrants naturally cluster together and are resistant to integration into their new countries, many more long for new relationships, which makes them more open to a Christian’s friendship than they would be in their homelands.
  • European laws do not restrict Christian work.
  • Going to the west, for many immigrants, is the opportunity to explore new ideas. Christianity is seen as a western idea, so it is natural for some to want to learn about it.
  • Restrictive cultural laws and traditions are usually mitigated, if not abandoned, in their new land.  For instance, most women from restrictive Muslim countries are allowed much more freedom when living in Europe than they would have at home.
  • While social media and other public media are often highly controlled and restricted in their home countries, these immigrants have access to every media avenue (for better or worse) in Europe—which brings opportunity for all kinds of Christian information into their homes.
  • Americans think of immigrants as being primarily impoverished people, but that is not necessarily true of people movement in Europe. I was just reading about a newly licensed medical doctor in Romania who could get no job there, so she immigrated to Germany, which is in desperate need of her services.
  • These immigrants will undoubtedly meet others of their own nationality/religion who have become Christians.  They must deal with this new cloud of witnesses.

Just a couple of years ago, an LST team of mature Christians from Texas spent two or three weeks working with a church in Cologne, Germany.  One of the members of that team was telling us about a Reader of hers from either Iraq or Iran, who actually belonged to a militant cell, but who would sneak away from his group to come and read the Bible with her 2-3 times each week.  He feared for his own safety, but in Cologne, Germany, he had the space to go far beyond what he could have done in his home.

I don’t know what has become of this young man, but I know another story that started just as his has. Almost 20 years ago now, an Iranian man also responded to a simple ad for practicing his English and started reading with a Christian.  Today, he is one of the elders in his church in Cologne, Germany.

Europe is a great mission field!  If you don’t think so, you’ve got your old glasses on! That’s where the world is! The whole world!!

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Recently a distraught member of a small mission church wrote me, asking for advice as to ways for saving their ever-diminishing church. Their attendance and involvement has declined over the last 6-7 years to the point where they are wondering if they should continue as a church together.strain

I wrote to the church with this reply. Perhaps it will help you or a church you know in similar circumstances–because there are many!

To the church in ___________________:

Grace and peace from one who loves you and who has worked beside you.

I know you are struggling with challenges that seem insurmountable to you. You see yourselves as weak in number, with diminished opportunities, and some perhaps even consider themselves weak in faith.

Here’s what I would ask you to remember as you are praying for direction from God.

Though congregations live and die as do individual Christians, the Church will prevail and will come to the Wedding as a beautiful Bride.  

 

Ask yourselves these questions and pray for wisdom and discernment of what are the true answers:

1)    What strengths, what gifts are among you?  What gifts has God blessed this remnant with that should be used faithfully?  What does each person contribute to the proper functioning of the body?

2)    What sin is there in the church?  Of what do you need to repent?  And how will you do that?  When will you confess this and ask for forgiveness?

3)    What opportunities has God put before you?  What call?  What burdens?  Look at your gifts and ask how God intended for them to be used, then look around for places to use them as God intended.

4)    What is threatening you?  Be specific.  There are places in the world where 10 Christians together would be a huge, strong church—a bright light in a dark world, so there is no number that means you are a failed church.  Are the threats against you spiritual threats?  Do they come from Satan?  If so, is your response to flee? To fight? To ask for protection from the Guardian of your souls?

I believe that if you prayerfully ask these questions of God and each other, asking God at the same time for wisdom and discernment, that He will make His will known to you.

I have just three pieces of personal advice for you:

  • Your building is a tremendous blessing, but do not let it or its value be the determining factor in your basic decision about the church’s value. Since the church is the people, your decisions about church should be based on the people, not the building.
  • Do not make final decisions until you feel certain that this is what God wants you to do.  Best would be that the whole body agrees. A body is not a democracy that moves best by majority rule; a body is healthiest that is in complete harmony.
  • And when your decision as a body is made and all feel like God has spoken clearly, then proceed with all your might in confidence and trust!

May the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face to shine upon you!

Mark

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distinctionCreate Distinction by Scott McKain was recommended to me by our son Ben, who has a real knack for business.  In our family, lots of books circulate. I love it that our grown kids still search our bookshelves—because I do the same when I go to their houses!

I don’t read very many business books because that’s not the world I live in, but I do find that when one comes highly recommended, it often has salient information for . . . life as a Christian and especially life as a church leader.  Create Distinction really spoke to some of my own questions!

McKain’s basic premise is that being “great” (as in Good to Great by Jim Collins) is not really what makes your business grow; rather you must differentiate yourself, but then take differentiation to the level of distinction!

I’ve talked in earlier posts about some of my concerns in the church world that differentiation has become a bad word synonymous with sectarian. Our current cultural worship of tolerance has its good side, but it also has a gene that tends toward mediocrity, the worship of that which doesn’t rise above anybody or anything else, of that which does not claim to be true or holy, especially in the sense of set apart. The result in the American church world is lots of lots of churches and fewer and fewer Christians.

McKain offers three differentiation destroyers.  Let’s try these on in church clothes instead of business suits and see if any of them fit.

Differentiation Destroyer #1: Copycat Competition and Incremental Advancement

As happens in the business world, if we see a church growing when we are not, one of our first responses  is to look for ways to copy the successful church.  If they play rock praise songs on a smoke-filled stage, we think we need to do the same. If they don’t have Sunday school, then we do the same.  If their preacher wears jeans and flipflops, then we want our preacher to also.

McKain would say that when we copy other churches, we are focusing on those other churches rather than on the people that we are trying to speak Jesus to. We are exchanging the goal of speaking Jesus into the hearts of people for the goal of growing as big as that other church!  Pretty subtle temptation, isn’t it!

And even scarier, apparently in the business world, when “customers” can’t tell the difference between businesses, they buy less from all of them.  This translates into “all churches are pretty much alike—and none of them really offers me something that I’m really looking for” in the Christian world.

Differentiation Destroyer #2: Change That Creates Tougher Competition

McKain’s main example was that the development of the Interstate system created a new world of opportunity for something different—fast food, cheaper and predictable—and put lots of local retailers out of business because they tried, but could not compete with McDonalds.  They did not differentiate themselves enough to make their customers want to slow down and pay more for their “better” hamburgers. Having a better product was not good enough to keep them in business.

Don’t lots of our churches depend on the fact that they have a better “product” (the Truth) to attract people!  Either that or they try to become McDonalds—you’ve heard of the “honk and pray” churches. Both are losing strategies for growth.  McKain argues for differentiation and distinction instead.

Differentiation Destroyer #3: Familiarity Breeds Complacency

“When we have become familiar with something, and it is boundlessly available, we do not scorn it, hate it, or hold it in contempt. Instead, we take it for granted” (33)

How many of our members take church for granted? It’s comfortable, predictable, and there every Sunday morning.  Isn’t this a good thing?  You won’t lose anyone this way—except anyone who is not already there!  And those who are looking for a passionate commitment! And those who don’t want to be taken for granted themselves.

Familiar churches are probably not growing churches.  Where does that thought lead you?

Perhaps this very brief suggestion of what the book contains will lead you to read Create Distinction.  McKain does go on to talk about how to differentiate and become distinct. And it’s not by trying to be like everyone else!

We’ll look at some of those ideas later.

 

 

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marketplacePreviously, I discussed the first two of Michael E. Porter’s five forces which he suggested were essential for analyzing whether the marketplace environment would work favorably for a business or against it.  If you did not read the first post on this topic, then you may want to read it first. (You can find the link just above this post.)

And for those who did, you’ll remember that the first two forces and the questions they raised were as follows:

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.

Question: Is the proliferation of new church plants simply covering up the fact—perhaps even contributing in a strange way—that Christianity in the U.S. particularly is declining?

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.

Question:In an attempt to be relevant and more accessible, are Christian churches becoming less differentiated, therefore, more susceptible to our “customers” switching to alternatives?

Now we are ready to move on to the last three forces recognized by Porter:

3.    Threat of competitive rivalry: “Rivalry occurs because one or more competitors either feels the pressure or sees the opportunity to improve its position. The actions of one firm are felt by others who then retaliate. Retaliation can take the form of price competition, advertising competition, changes to the distribution or other means” (Cafferky 13). Lip service is often given among churches and religious organizations to the belief that “there is no competition among lighthouses.”  How would your congregation feel if another Christian church started a new plant with a charismatic leader across the street from your site? I know that our churches see the fact that young families are leaving to go to community churches as a reason to make huge changes in our traditions. Have you noticed the rise in TV advertising for Christian churches?  Did you see Lou Holtz, former football coach at Notre Dame, calling Roman Catholics back to their church, during the BCS Championship game?  Some of this advertising is directed toward the people we call Seekers, but here is my question: If we are brutally honest, would we admit that the size and strength of our congregation or our fellowship or our denomination is our primary means of measuring the growth of the Kingdom and that we see the growth of other Christian expressions as competition?  And, secondly, if there is any truth in the previous statement, is responding to that threat of competitive rivalry replacing our commission to seek and save the Lost?

4.    Bargaining Power of the Customer (Buyer): The ability of the customer to put the firm under pressure or change its marketplace behavior. “The church’s products are perceived as being standard or undifferentiated, switching costs are low, and buyers pose a credible threat of backward integration or for creating their own substitutes for the values offered by religious organizations” (Caferky 21). A for-profit firm can alter buyer power by attempting to lock buyers into an agreement, by differentiating the product and/or buyer selection. On the surface, this force seems to be an overlap with the previous ones. Very subtly, however, it gets to an issue with which many of our churches are struggling: who is really in control of the church?  Are churches “customer” driven, are they “leader” driven, or are they “divinely” driven?  And to what degree are these different drivers congruent/divergent with/from each other?  Customer-driven churches are seen as market-driven, which is sometimes understood as both good and bad.  Leader-driven churches are seen as hierarchical at best and dictatorial at worst, and divinely-driven churches are perceived as everything from other-worldly to mystical to cultish to fundamental. The current marketplace seems to favor customer-driven churches, but my question is: are customer-driven churches in danger of no longer preaching a message that produces “new creations,” that is, where the “old man” is put off, replaced by the “new man?”  Porter’s framework would argue that the more susceptible our churches are to “buyer power,” the less likely they are to “succeed.”   I don’t think we really believe that.

5.    Bargaining Power of the Supplier: The ability of those who supply the firm with essentials to influence its behavior. Cafferky argues well that for churches, these “suppliers” are “charismatic celebrity visionaries, religiously affiliated institutions of higher education, professional associations, denominational leaders, congregational members, organizational founders and, even secular influentials in the wider culture” (23).  Where any of these forces are stronger than the firm itself, he argues, the firm’s strategy/behavior will be under pressure to yield in ways that tend to make it less successful. Because this is so similar in principle to the previous force, I don’t see the need to expand further. Perhaps the real question is what is motivating your church? When you discuss changes—or no changes—among yourselves, from where do your evidences come? Do they come from your “consumers” or from your “suppliers”? And to what degree?  Is your church completely dominated and driven by outside market forces?

There are no answers in Porter’s Five Forces for Analysis; there are only questions to raise? Porter has suggested only a framework for analyzing and evaluating. However, the analysis should lead to conclusions about the way your church “does business.”

Sometimes putting a picture into a new frame really helps us see the picture differently enough to truly re-evaluate. I’ve tried to raise a few of the questions about how we do church, really just to stimulate your thinking.

I’d love to hear your questions or your conclusions.  Seeking first the kingdom of God is where our hearts are, and our prayer is for wisdom.

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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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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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