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Posts Tagged ‘church growth’

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Third in a series of guests posts from Tim Spivey, senior minister of New Vintage Church (San Diego, CA).

Today’s post offers some relatively blunt observations regarding the relative strength of a church and it’s ability to be a good “missions church.” I offer these with redemptive intent–wanting churches to become all God wants them to be.

  • My experience is that struggling churches struggle for good reasons. It usually has something to do with leadership issues, and those issues by nature permeate all aspects of the church. It’s important for the sake of missionaries these issues are dealt with. Typically (though not always), churches will do mission work with the same level of health and excellence they do local ministry. Bad local ministry, bad missions ministry. If they don’t show care for what is happening locally, they typically won’t care about what God’s doing half a world away. This is another reason to pay attention to local ministry…it buoys the eventual effectiveness of whatever happens overseas.
  • A lack of well-formed theology and ecclesiology manifests itself in silo thinking. In this mindset, church-planting, benevolence, global missions, local ministry, campus ministry, etc…are all completely different ministries needing their own advocates at the church leadership table. In this way of thinking, each ministry is separate and altogether disconnected. The silo mentality is one of the great enemies of global missions ministry and healthy ministry. The church is a Body, and each part is connected. Both practically and theologically, when all parts are working together for the common good of the Body according to their place, the church grows in unity, vibrancy, and effectiveness. We cannot just report on missions. Biblical teaching on the church, ministry and the nature of evangelism is an important part of becoming a good missions church.
  • Integrated ministry recognizes the symbiotic relationship between all ministries of the church. It leverages the strengths of all for the sake of all. This why effective global mission requires more ingenuity, a strong focus on integration with the ministries of the whole church and less initial funding than one might think.
  • Most churches still view “successful” mission works as those they have supported for many years…regardless of their effectiveness or the real impact of continual support for decades. This way of looking at missions bottlenecks resources at a national level and tends to build co-dependent relationships between congregations and mission points. Relationally, it’s wonderful to continue to support a particular work. However, the relationship can continue regardless of support…as a parent doesn’t cut off relationship with a child once they leave the house. It’s important that mission efforts become self-supporting after some reasonable period of time–for their good and that of the supporting congregation.
  • Here is a difficult one. Struggling churches usually have declining budgets as well. They often will only cut missions as a last resort and will thus kill the proverbial “goose” by first slashing local ministries, cutting salaries, etc. in draconian fashion–which often means more decline, which means less revenue, which means more cuts, etc. This is a noble impulse, but HUGE mistake. Sometimes this must happen–but not usually. More on that in another post. For now, I would recommend cutting what isn’t working wherever it’s located and moving the resources to where the most good for the Kingdom can be accomplished. That’s a delicate process of discernment…but a necessary one.
  • If the “goose” continues to be plucked or starved, at some point, the ministers of the church come to view missions as a competitor rather than an ally in what God’s doing in the church. This is never good…and isn’t necessarily all the minister’s fault. The minister may fear blame for the church’s decline when he or she didn’t have much to do with it–they simply had the ball taken out of their hands. The ministers need to be strong allies in building a vibrant global missions ministry. In fact, I would start building buy-in with them first.

Which brings me to the next posts in this series: Concrete steps to improve both your church and the church’s global mission efforts.

I would enjoy hearing to what extent to you believe world missions is separate or different from other ministries of the church? Why?

 

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Part Two in the guest series by Tim Spivey, Senior Minister of New Vintage Church (San Diego, CA)

 

Step one in becoming a good “missions church” is becoming a good church. I don’t mean churches should take care of themselves first, so to speak. I mean that true global vision emerges from an awareness of what God is doing everyday locally. Good churches have embraced God’s vision for reaching their community through them. This initiates a “flat earth” theology–in which God cares about all people, not just the people in my community. I have yet to see this work in reverse. Churches don’t usually come to believe, “Well if he cares about people in Africa, I bet He may even care about people here in Plano.” It usually goes the opposite way.

Embracing local evangelism is like learning the alphabet when it comes to becoming a globally conscious, “missions church.” If we don’t care about the people next door, we probably don’t care about the lost in Indonesia that much either. I’m not saying we don’t feel guilt about the lost in Indonesia. I’m saying we don’t really care about them the way God would want us to.

I’m defining “good church” (though I prefer “great”) theologically by its faithfulness to Christ and His mission. “Good church” practically means healthy and at least moderately effective in reaching its own community. You don’t have to be big to be a great church. But, being a good church is usually a prerequisite for building a strong missions ministry over time. As I said,  good “missions” churches have what God is doing globally in their DNA and awareness…not just in their budget. Many churches who give a high percentage of money to global missions don’t really care much about it.

Becoming a good “missions church” is actually quite similar to becoming a “good church,” because good churches think globally. Thinking globally, however, doesn’t make you a good church.

When a church is truly struggling, it can be difficult to build enthusiasm for visionary ministry abroad. Why? Sadly, the scarcity mentality embeds itself in the church psyche like a tick. It’s fair to say that sometimes new ventures abroad can defibrillate a dying congregation. Odds are, such ministries will never get the chance. The church can only think of survival. They cannot imagine new initiatives–like a family on the verge of bankruptcy has difficulty envisioning their dream home. If you’re in a church like this, trying to get buy-in from leadership on continuing to grow in global mission will be exhausting and depressing.

So, don’t.

Yet.

A more effective overall approach to the problem is to stay vigilant about local ministry while casting global ministry as akin to it–an extension of it. It’s all evangelism. God cares about all people. Global missions are not more important than local mission. It’s a vital part of being a Kingdom Church. Big difference. A healthy local ministry will allow for the funding, vision and “want to” for new global initiatives. It rarely works in reverse. Maybe it should. But, it usually doesn’t.

Do you agree?

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The pre-start and the start-up phases of any new ministry are hard, but exhilarating. Typically, you have the most passionate and the most committed people involved, so these Starters are willing to do whatever it takes.  Starters are heart, soul, and mind committed!

As the start-up continues, the Friends of the Starters observe the commitment and enthusiasm—as well as the results that follow the  do-whatever-it-takes efforts of the Starters, so they join up and become a part of the ministry—with equal enthusiasm, but not necessarily with equal commitment as the Starters.  But the ministry has grown because both Starters and First Volunteers are part of the ministry, and it appears to have a great future.

A small cloud looms on the horizon, however. First Volunteers do enjoy the work of the ministry; however, they did not come into the ministry to recruit, but to serve. The reluctance to recruit in this second phase means there are fewer Second Volunteers than First Volunteers.

The Second Volunteers are the friends typically of the First Volunteers. They really enjoy working together, so now the First and Second Volunteers merge into a pretty wonderful, but fairly self-contained group—so they recruit no one else and there are almost no Third Volunteers for the ministry.

This promising ministry is completely unaware that it is in a crisis it may not survive! With no new volunteers, no one takes the place of the Second and Third Volunteers that have to drop out for quite normal reasons.  Attrition is predictable.  Typically, Starters and First Volunteers just step into the gaps because they still are doing whatever it takes.

Then more Second Volunteers and some First Volunteers step out—and Starters start pushing everyone to recruit more Volunteers—but especially the Second and Third Volunteers did not commit to the ministry to be recruiters—so they talk to a friend or two, but that is it.

For many ministries, this is the almost predictable slide into an inevitable conclusion—a whimpering end of the ministry with many regrets. I’m sure you have observed some recognizable version of this story in your own church, if not your own attempts at ministries.

Here are a few suggestions for breaking this pattern and prolonging the effective life of your ministry!

1. You never have enough new people! If the ideal number of workers is 10, then seek 20 and plan on seeking replacements continually.  If the ministry does not have a recruiting strategy , purposefully and intentionally organized to bring in new people, it will not survive long.

2. Those involved in the ministry are the best recruiters. Every volunteer can be asked to be a recruiter. Some will be better than others, but every new person should feel some responsibility for recruiting others.

3. Keep recruiting personal. Pulpit announcements, videos, church bulletin announcements can create some general name recognition of the ministry, but one person tapping another on the shoulder saying, “Come go with me” will yield greater results.

4. Teach volunteers how to expand their circle of friends. Most workers invite their immediate friends—and then they stop because to talk to others is outside of their comfort zone. One way to expand their circles is to help them recognize other points of contact at church that exist, but that they do not necessarily think of right away. For instance:

  1. Parents of their children’s friends
  2. People who sit in seats near them at church services
  3. Common demographic groups at church—parents of teens, retired, but still active, stay-at-home moms.
  4. New people at church who have yet to be plugged into a group or ministry.

5.  Utilize the best recruiters among your volunteers! Former cheerleaders (like Sherrylee) are much better recruiters than bookworms (me!).  Use people’s natural talents. It may be more important for someone to Sherrylee to recruit than any other task in your ministry!

How long the ministry will thrive and survive depends to some extent on the ability of the Starters to recognize the need for expanding its circle of friends.  The earlier in the ministry that friend-building becomes a part of the model, the greater chance of blessed longevity the ministry will have.

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I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have heard someone say the equivalent of, “Don’t we have enough to do at home? Why do we need to go overseas? Shouldn’t we take care of our neighborhood first?”

When Sherrylee and I were newly married and committed to going to Germany with our newly-formed mission team, I asked a very prominent preacher whom I knew for help raising support. Without thinking about what the implications were, he said, “Man, if only you weren’t going overseas!” I mistakenly took this as criticism back then, but I know now that what he really was saying was that American Christians prefer to support local over foreign outreach.  Bad decision!

Remember how God allowed persecution on the earliest church in Jerusalem and “scattered” people, forcing them into other countries, even to the Gentiles (Acts 8:1,4,19-20). I don’t think He used the same technique with American Christians—although WWII was the real beginning (not the earliest) of foreign outreach in churches of Christ—but I do believe that He has worked in time and space in our day to wipe away our tepid excuses for not sharing the Good News with people different from us.

Look at this snippet from Wikipedia about U.S. Immigration:

As of 2006, the United States accepts more legal immigrants as permanent residents than all other countries in the world combined. Since the liberalization of immigration policy in 1965, the number of first-generation immigrants living in the United States has quadrupled, from 9.6 million in 1970 to about 38 million in 2007. 1,046,539 persons were naturalized as U.S. citizens in 2008.

If Christians hesitate to “go into all the world,” then why shouldn’t God bring all the world into our neighborhood?  It’s not punishment—it’s who we are and what we are about!!

Let’s Start Talking is best known probably for its short-term, overseas mission programs, but as early as 1990, LST was also training Americans to reach out to international students, immigrants, and non-English speakers in our universities and neighborhoods.  FriendSpeak is LST’s program for training churches to reach out cross-culturally in their own communities—and it is huge!

Rather than tell you about it, I want to give you a link to the Christian Chronicle which just ran an online article and asked for feedback from those who might have used FriendSpeak in their churches. Just click this link and you will see firsthand what can be done here at home for the whole world:

http://www.christianchronicle.org/blog/2010/08/reader-feedback-tell-us-about-your-friendspeak-experience/

Local versus Foreign—not even a legitimate argument anymore—if it ever was. There is only, “Who can I talk to today—and who can I talk to tomorrow—and who will talk with those people over there?  Sure, I will.”

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In our fellowship, fulfilling the Great Commission is the responsibility of local congregations, not a large sending agency or mission board.  Let me put it another way:  for the most part, men (elders and missions committees) who have never done foreign missions nor received special training of any sort are deciding who goes to the field, how they will work when they get there, how long they will stay, how much they will receive for personal support and for working funds, and if they are doing a effective work.  Does this make sense to you?

These good men—all volunteers who can be commended for their willingness and the best intentions—are put in untenable positions of controlling large amounts of money, the lives of numerous individuals whom they may or may not know, and are answering to a congregation that usually knows even less about both the people and the mission efforts.

What these men naturally do is fall back on a model they are familiar with from their own experiences. Most are business people so they use one of the following models:

  • Business model: you hire a person that convinces you they can do the job, you pay them enough, but not too much, you give them time to prove themselves, and if they don’t produce, you let them go and look for somebody else.
  • Investment model: You invest in either a person or a site! You put what you can afford into the investment (which changes often with your priorities), you watch it for a while, and if it produces good results, you hold onto it—until a better investment comes along
  • Venture Capital Model: You find a young entrepreneur who has a good business plan, you decide whether you like the person or the plan enough to put money into it. You establish timetables and benchmarks to evaluate the work, and if you are displeased with the person or they do not meet the pre-established conditions, then you simply stop funding them.

Granted, some better congregations actually attempt to educate themselves about missions, usually by either attending missions conferences or bringing in missions consultants.  No doubt these churches do missions better—for a while, but what I see is that there is such high turnover in missions committees and/or elderships that all it takes is one new person on a committee or one experienced person dropping off for the whole mission program of that congregation to be tossed into the air and reinvented.

Here are some positive suggestions for great churches:

  1. Search out people in church (men and/or women) who have mission experience—the longer the better–and give them the mandate to coordinate your mission program.
  2. If no one in your congregation has mission experience, then give up the desire to control some mission work until God gives your church someone with the gift of missions. Instead, send some of your members to the field on short-term mission projects to work with established missionaries and contribute directly to works that you have experienced and trust—with no strings attached.
  3. When looking at new mission work, consider creating a spiritual relationship with this work instead of a financial relationship! The two key words here are spiritual and relationship.  When your church figures out what it means to have a spiritual relationship with a missionary or site first, then the financial side of it will be framed completely differently. Completely rid yourself of the employer/employee relationship model. That one does not work well.
  4. Base the length of your congregation’s spiritual/financial commitment on something other than results. If you believe that “God gives the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6), then are you not trying to evaluate God’s own work. The planting and watering are all your missionaries can do, and for that they should be evaluated.

We need a new model for missions! I don’t have this worked out, but I believe it is probably the Acts 13 model:

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Let me just put this verse into my own words:

As the Antioch church was together, worshipping the Lord and fasting, it became clear to them that two of their leaders Barnabas and Saul were called by God’s Spirit to go out from them to deliver the Good News to others. They knew these men, one who had been their mentor at the establishment of the congregation and the other who was a fairly new convert from Judaism, but had been gifted by God to work with non-Jews.  The both wanted to go to their home regions, but they didn’t really have a specific schedule, route, or cost estimate for the time afterwards.  After further prayer and fasting, the church still recognized these as God’s plans, so they  sent them with all they needed that the church could gather, they put their hands on them as a symbol of their relationship, and with great love and anticipation, they sent them off.

Great churches will use the Holy Spirit Model for missions. I cannot fill in the details of this model for you, but I believe God will—if you will!

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I suspect that it is people like me that drove the postmoderns to emergence!

As a college student back in the late 1960s, attending a Christian college, I volunteered twelve weeks each summer for four years to work on mission campaigns in the northeast United States.  Our teams went door-to-door, inviting people to study the Bible with us.  We typically had 30-40 Bible studies per week with people of all faiths and no faith. Our single goal was to help each person to be born again—as we understood the process.

We were not mean-spirited, but we often retweeted Paul’s words: “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” We did not doubt that what we were teaching was true—for everyone.  We were typically immature. I have certainly learned better what the gospel is and can present it more appropriately now, but we were not at all unusual for those times.

Recently, a college student wrote to me, requesting funds for her mission trip.  She wrote:  “We will be helping in any way that we can at a children’s home by painting, serving food, ministering to churches, and even playing with the children. . . . In this short time we hope to spread the word of God to the homeless children . . .  and help them see that there is hope.”

We will definitely contribute to this Christian girl’s mission, but I found her description of this mission trip a bit disconcerting, and all the more so because I know from our own work with students that she is as mainstream in her time as I was in mine.  She has a heart full of compassion, but is not yet aware that “people do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).

Great churches know that compassionate service is integral to evangelism. Every church should be known for its compassion; every church should be known in its community—perhaps the world—for loving the unloved, helping the needy, protecting the weak, and serving everyone.  Then their message will be heard in a more receptive context.

Here’s the problem: virtually all of our young people—I’m talking about under 29 years old—understand missions as the Emergents have defined it, i.e., living a life of compassionate service because you are a follower of Jesus. In doing so you are redeeming the creation here and now.  And who can argue with this wonderful description of missions—but incomplete!

Also, they are right that churches/Christians have separated evangelism (missions) and compassionate service (benevolence) by what we today would call silo thinking.  Look at traditional church budgets for proof. I’m glad to be among those called back to a better understanding of our mission.

I do know, however, that a growing aversion to telling the Good News as God’s truth for all creation with words— typical of the Emergents and many of the youth in our churches—is everywhere. Our churches have substituted service projects for proclamation; our youth mission trips are exclusively service projects.  Two young ministers that I have heard recently both have publically preached the need for less emphasis on evangelism and more on Christian service—as if these two were mutually exclusive.

Great churches know that evangelism is integral to compassion. One of the saddest stories I know is about a young woman who was part of our ministry for a couple of years, sharing her faith boldly with people all over the world. She decided to spend an extended time in Germany, where she began sharing the story of Jesus with a Muslim asylum seeker who was very open to the conversation.  After a couple of months of conversation, this young Christian abandoned her faith in Jesus—completely. The reason she gave was that this Muslim person was more charitable and more loving, serving others with greater concern and greater humility than she had ever experienced in herself or the Christians she knew.

Jesus healed and preached. In fact, in every NT passage the order is first preaching, then healing—if that makes any difference.  If He had healed every sick person and raised every dead person, but had not preached the kingdom of God, how would the masses have avoided dying in their sins?  If He had only preached, would anyone have listened?

Since I started with my own confession, let me end with repentance. For thirty years, my wife and I have led the Let’s Start Talking Ministry. The method has been the same for all those years: LST workers offer to help people practice their English (compassionate service) while using the story of Jesus in the Gospels as the text (evangelism). Our experience is that most people become interested in what they are reading and begin to ask questions of the Christian, which leads to a natural conversation about Jesus, which for some, leads to saving faith.

I do believe that ministry and message are married in our method; however, the balance is probably 10% service and 90% evangelism.  In the future, I am committed to introducing more opportunities for our short-term mission teams to be involved in more compassionate service wherever we send them.  My hope is that we will include the local Christians as well as those who are not yet Christians in this service, so that working shoulder to shoulder, doing good, the non-Christians will see that we Christ followers so love the world!

That’s my plan. Yours may need to balance the other direction. I do believe that every ministry of compassion should not just have a vague goal of hopefully someday somebody noticing that we are Christians.  Each should give prayerful thought and planning to how people who are helped will learn about Jesus.

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Did Jesus come to “seek and save the lost” or to practice “pure and undefiled religion” by showing compassion on the helpless and needy?  Are Christians about declaring the Good News or about giving cups of cold water?  Does the word missional mean evangelistic or does it mean benevolent?

These are not new questions to those who are widely read in current religious thinking. You will recognize some of the tension brought to Christianity from what is generally known as the emerging church or emergent church movement of the last decade in the U.S., a movement that tries to exchange what they perceive as the “modern” (read rational) out of Christianity in exchange for a “postmodern” approach, one deemed more relevant for our current context.

Allow me to jump to some of the conclusions about evangelism from this movement without providing their arguments—because this is not an attempt to sort out the entire emerging church movement. Emergents generally believe that

  1. Evangelistic  Christians have focused too much on eternal redemption at the expense of living with compassion in the world.
  2. Conversation is more appropriate than proclamation.
  3. The interpretation of any message, including the biblical text, is a private matter.
  4. Insisting on boundaries that contain the gospel, the church or the saved offends, hindering  the spread of the Christian experience.

Bruce McLaren, a leading spokesperson for the emergent group, tells  me where these premises lead:

I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts … rather than resolving the paradox via pronouncements on the eternal destiny of people more convinced by or loyal to other religions than ours, we simply move. . . .   (Brian D. McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, 2004) 260, 262, 264. )

As is often the case, the gravest danger in these premises  may not be in their fallacies but from their truthfulness.

  • When Christians do not love the world the way God so loved the world, our message is hollow. Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Matt. 9:35). Preaching without works of compassion is absent of living proof. Compassion without preaching  is absent the Good News!
  • Conversation is often more appropriate than proclamation. The conversations of Jesus far outnumber the public sermons.  My fear, however, is that the Emergents are really not talking about public versus private, but rather about the truth of the content.  Whereas, proclamation speaks “as the oracle of God,” a conversation may be simply an exchange of similar (or dissimilar) opinions of equal value. Christians should know how to “speak the truth in love” whether publically or intimately.
  • One is tempted to equate the emergent argument of private interpretation with the modern American protestant version of sola Scriptura, which is every man with his Bible starting his own church on the street corner, but that would not be accurate. What this argument really reflects is the postmodern rejection of objective truth.  Since Jesus said he is the Truth, I do not believe Christ followers can hold to “private interpretation.  Neither did the Apostle Peter. (2 Peter 1:20).
  • Again, the Emergents are correct. Boundaries offend; exclusivity offends. Jesus offended. The Story offended. The Church offended. The Acts of the Apostles are full of offense by those who believed that Jesus was raised from the dead.  Understandably, it is the gloating and self-righteousness that Emergents see in Christians that pushes them to the opposite wall.

I live and work in a very evangelistic environment—in the traditional sense. The church I attend is also overtly and aggressively evangelistic—and I’m glad.  Yet even among us, it is not rare to hear watered-down versions of the Emergent heresies.  Kool-aid is watered down, but still can be poisonous. I’ll continue these thoughts tomorrow.

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The Pew Forum recently surveyed the changing religious scene in America, and although not highlighted, one of the obvious conclusions from the report is that most religious decisions, including conversion, abandonment, and switching, are made before a person’s 24th birthday.  (http://pewforum.org/Faith-in-Flux.aspx)

My own experience is the same. Other workers in Germany often teased our mission team about not having planted a church, just a youth group! (Notice the just in that sentence!) We did have mostly children, university students, and young working adults.  But ten years after we began, we had a church of young marrieds, which after another few years was a church of young families. The church had matured into a vibrant community of faith.

Great churches focus evangelistic efforts on young people! Most churches focus on 30-50 year olds and then wonder why they don’t grow. Most people have already made their religious decisions and very few—comparatively—are in a searching mode any longer.  Here are my suggestions for focusing on young people:

  1. Every new church plant should be near a university and should include a campus ministry as one of its main thrusts. I would include a particular outreach to international students on that campus.
  2. Churches should plan events like camps, weekends, concerts, for highschoolers from the community, not just church kids (but these are great for church kids too!) These should have priority over gospel meetings, lectureships, and potlucks for adults.
  3. Worship services do not have to be completely focused on youth, but if your services are exclusively for the 50 year olds, then that is who you will attract (Not!).  What can you do for the teens/college-aged youth in your service?
  4. Youth mission trips should be a high priority for your church, and you should take non-Christian youth with you! There is no better evangelism than an unbeliever seeing a believer in action.
  5. Special Bible studies for youth—and not just a Sunday school class—are essential. Unaffiliated youth are not going to get up and come to Sunday school, but they might meet you at Starbucks on Thursday afternoon after school for a small group study.
  6. The minister and church leaders other than a youth minister MUST be involved with this outreach. Especially 18-24 year-olds want to be considered full members, fully adult, but in some ways, they don’t even understand what that means yet. Mentoring groups are great for this age group.
  7. Church budgets should reflect the emphasis on seeking young people.

I’m sure many of you have other ideas which I would love to see you share. Remember, I’m not talking about maintaining the church kids—although that will be a byproduct—but rather, reaching out to younger people during their age of decision.  If I were going to the mission field now, I would focus 80% of my time and energy on people 25 years old or less.

Question: What portion of your church’s time, resources, and energy are focused on evangelistic outreach to young people?

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As a young missionary, I remember (with embarrassment now) my own disappointment the first time I visited a mission church in Paris and realized that although there were 40-50 people in their worship service, virtually none of them were Parisians, only a handful were even French, and the rest were internationals from the French-speaking world.

Let’s Start Talking, which Sherrylee and I direct, works with many Japanese churches, who breathe the air of a culture with strong tendencies toward uniformity, conformity, and all things Japanese. Some Japanese leaders are very hesitant to invite foreign Christians to work beside them and reticent to think of the international communities in their city as a mission field. They want national churches—churches that look like them. I have seen the same prejudice (and I use this word consciously, but not pejoratively) on every continent, including North America.  Such churches rarely thrive.  Great churches overcome prejudices and present the Gospel to all people whom God brings into their lives.

  1. 1. Great churches see their community as it is today, not as it was! From the US 2000 Census data:  Between 1990 and 2000I the foreign-born population increased by 57 percent, from 19.8 million to 31.1 million, compared with an increase of 9.3 percent for the native population and 13 percent for the total U.S. population.  A small Texas city has a colony of Armenian Turks. A Michigan suburb is home to thousands of Albanians. Chinese residents are the second largest number of foreign-born population after Hispanics.  The neighborhood has changed!  The world has come to our doorstep. Has the church body changed with it?
  2. 2. Great churches find strength in diversity. The church in Paris that reaches out to Africans and uses them as well as other Internationals in church leadership has created “growing edges” for greater outreach and service. Instead of serving one community, this church now serves at least three—and sends the message of “welcome” to even more.
  3. 3. Great churches find resources in diversity. No longer (if it ever was) is the U.S. church the headwater for all missional gifts; African churches, Korean churches, Brazilian churches, yes, Chinese churches are sending resources and people out throughout the world with power, vision, and the gospel. These precious resources are used by great churches—regardless of nation of origin.

I’m just pretty sure that the greatest churches will reflect “the glory and honor of the nations” which the Apostle John saw in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21).

Questions:  Does your church intentionally seek to reflect “the glory and honor of the nations?” How?

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Perhaps the fastest growing work in western Europe since the mid-fifties was a congregation that grew to 150+ in about seven years time—three times as large as most churches of Christ in Europe! LST worked with that church for several years, so after thinking about why this work was so successful, I came to the conclusion that the significant difference was that it was a large team effort!  Yes, there was a main missionary family (Americans), but they had recruited two other families (non-Americans) for the core team, AND  they always had 10-15 mission interns with 1-2 year commitment, AND THEN they invited short-term mission groups for 2-6 week stints throughout the year.  The total effort then was about 20-25 team members working all of the time and 5-20 additional workers for special efforts.  In our forty-year relationship with the work in Europe, I have never seen this much manpower focused in any one location.

Quite the contrary. Sherrylee and I were part of a three-family team to Germany in the 70s. Practically from the moment we arrived, other congregations and other workers begged us to split up and not hoard so many workers in just one place. Between external pressures and internal conflict, most mission teams do not make it to a fifth-year anniversary intact.

The team approach to missions in South America is exemplary with great encouragement from Continent of Great Cities. I know of a small handful of Asian churches that are the result of great team efforts, but there may be more.  The principle in North American churches looks different, but is, in fact, the same.

 What About US churches?

Vibrant, growing churches among us do have a visionary leader, but one of the primary characteristics of a strong leader, I believe, is the ability to build a great team of co-workers. The current debate about whether congregations are better off staff driven or elder driven may be slightly out of focus. I would suggest that churches grow that are team driven, and that team are best composed of those in the congregation with the gift of leadership (Romans 12:8) The title that one wears, whether it be minister or elder does not bestow the gift of leadership. Ministers and staff may function as employees, elders may function as a board of directors, but a team of leaders, each exercising his/her own gifts and who can resist the temptation to wish they had other people’s gifts—or even worse, ALL the gifts—this team is a real example of the body of Christ functioning as it should. 

Jesus chose twelve and traveled with many more; Paul always traveled with an entourage; Moses wisely gave up his role as sole judge and shared it with many. Is your church led by a team?

 9 Two are better than one,
       because they have a good return for their work:

 10 If one falls down,
       his friend can help him up.
       But pity the man who falls
       and has no one to help him up!

 11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
       But how can one keep warm alone?

 12 Though one may be overpowered,
       two can defend themselves.
       A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

                                    Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

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