Posts Tagged ‘church leadership’

Dr. Tim Spivey is my son-in-law, and not just because of that, I have great respect for his work. This particularly insightful post meant much to me today, so I wanted to share it with you. 

DontgiveupWe MUST orient our energies and ministry around health, not pathology. We must spend our focus, time, and missional energy on the spiritually growing rather than those who refuse to accept appropriate responsibility for their spiritual growth.

Let me explain.

It’s easy to spend most of one’s energy worrying about those who aren’t there, virtually forgetting about those God has gathered. It’s easy to spend too much energy focusing on disappointments rather than blessings, or negative feedback over calling and the encouraging voices and signs all around us.

This pulls us off mission as much as anything, because we focus on Satan’s accomplishments rather than God’s provision. It tears down our faith, beats us down, and depletes our passion for ministry. When I’m thinking about what I think God isn’t doing, I’m not thinking about what He is doing–and what He’s doing is far more important than what I perceive He isn’t doing.

At any given point in time, God is doing far more than we realize, and we need to recognize that in our attitudes. We do this by orienting our thoughts around blessings and provision rather than criticism and difficulties.

How do we do that? The same way we change any attitude. We repent, pray, trust God’s work in us, renew our focus and efforts, and do what we need to do to nourish a heart of thanksgiving rather than scarcity. Maybe we need to change up who we spend time with, talk to, listen to, or what we feed our eyes.

Perhaps you’re going through a phase of ministry that is bringing you to the brink of quitting or at least despair. Well, hear this…Getting discouraged doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of being a great leader.

…Moses wanted to die rather than go on with the Israelites another day.
…Elijah thought he was the only one left. He wasn’t.
…David wondered why God was taking so long to deliver Him.
…Even Jesus lamented the hard-headedness and worldly perspective of His followers.

But, in each case, God revealed or did what was needed at just the right time. He usually didn’t change their ministries or solve their problems for them, He fortified their courage and renewed their souls by calling them back to what He was doing, and what He had done in the past.

He can do the same for you.

MW–You can read more of his posts at this regular site: http://www.timspivey.com

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dont tread on meHow can you be too autonomous?  Isn’t being autonomous just like being pregnant—either you are or you aren’t!

No, I don’t think so.  I think there are degrees of autonomy and that we have defined it in a completely untenable way, a way that diminishes our ability to enjoy community, to fellowship, to partner in the gospel, perhaps even to extend grace to the whole Body of Christ.

Restoration Movement churches, all branches, practice congregational autonomy, meaning that each congregation is self-governing.  Restoration churches are not the only autonomous churches.  Baptist churches are also autonomous, as are some Lutheran churches, Presbyterian churches, and many in the independent church movement from the evangelical world.

While the more biblically conservative of these groups would base their doctrine of congregational autonomy on Scripture texts, these arguments are based primarily on the silence of the New Testament about church organization and on assumptions that instructions given to one set of church leaders like those in Acts 20:28 to “keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” were restricted to one congregation—even though these instructions were given to elders of the church for the city of Ephesus.

To make this apostolic directive work in our modern practice, we have to assume a single, autonomous “congregation” of the church in Ephesus where Paul spent two years preaching and teaching, and where it was said he had converted “large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia” (Acts 19:26). I think it is difficult to imagine one autonomous congregation for all of Ephesus, a city with perhaps as many as 200,000 people, as well as the whole province of Asia, at least as we practice congregational autonomy in 2014.

Honestly, those among us who argue for one “church” with the potential for many gatherings in a single city seem to me to have more biblical examples to which to appeal. Do we really think that each “house church” of the first century (Romans 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15) was organized autonomously?

Speaking of “house churches,” one of my favorite litmus tests to apply when I’m trying to figure out if something is really truth or tradition is to ask whether it works for missionaries in different cultures.  For instance, take the situation with the current flourish of New Testament Christianity in China, a place where Christians gather mostly in groups of 30 or less in small apartments throughout their cities.  Are each of these small gatherings a “congregation” or what? Does each house need elders and deacons to be a true church?  If you are having trouble answering that question at all, then wouldn’t you agree that their situation is more similar to the first century church than our current American organizational structure?

Another phenomenon that is going to challenge the belief that autonomous congregations is the only biblical model is the rapid expansion of multi-site churches here in the United States. 

Leadership Network recently reported more than 8,000 multi-site churches in the United States. A multi-site church has either planted new outpost congregations or has agreed to assume the oversight of a struggling or failing congregation but leaves them in their own building. In every case, the leadership of the original congregation continues to operate as the leaders of all of the new campuses (a newer word than congregation but it means the same thing!). If you are inclined to fear slippery slopes, you have already imagined one set of church leaders over a “diocese” of city churches or regional churches or who knows where that could lead…..if you are inclined to slippery slopes.

To these people I would ask, what makes one group of people part of another group of people?  Is it proximity? Is it what building they meet in?  (That can’t be right because many of our autonomous congregations have other autonomous congregations meeting in their building—often just because they are of another language!) Do groups vote on it? What about that group of college students that meets out in the campus ministry building instead of with the regular congregation? What about that new church plant that won’t have mature leaders for five years? Are they autonomous?

Autonomy is getting harder and harder to really define, isn’t it!

You may not have this impression from what I’ve said so far, but I personally really think that congregational autonomy is really a wonderful form of church polity, but perhaps we have fallen into the same trap that the Jews fell into in trying to define working on the Sabbath. How many steps could one take? Can you get your sheep out of the ditch? Can you pick ears of corn on the Sabbath? Can you eat the holy bread in the tabernacle like David did?

Jesus answered this question for the Jews in Mark 2:27:   Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

What do you think this response means in light of dealing with issues of church autonomy?  Jesus did not demean or diminish the command to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, but He did not let the Jews define it in particular. He is the Lord of the Sabbath—and of autonomy.


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umpiresDid you hear that Major League Baseball has approved a broad expansion of instant replay reviews beginning with the 2014 season.  I think that is a great idea—so good, in fact, that I’m thinking about suggesting instant replay for churches!  Here is what it would look like . . . oops, that won’t work. There are no umpires at church!

One could, of course, argue that God is the Big Umpire in the Sky, and that He doesn’t need instant reply because He always makes the right call.

One could argue that it is hard to have rules for and expectations of churches because there is no enforcement mechanism—at least not since Ananias and Sapphira!

But let’s set aside for the moment Judgment Day questions that God will ask and focus on daily decisions that most likely fall into the category of opinion, not into the category of deadly sins.  Let’s look at decisions like whether to have Bible classes for children, how long the worship and praise service should be, whether to spend 8 million dollars on a new building, which preacher to hire, or whether to discipline adulterous church members or not.

Besides these opinion questions,  church leaders are called upon to decide doctrinal questions as well,  like whether this church will be Calvinistic or pre-millennial, or whether to baptize with the Spirit or with water—or both. They almost always decide who can be a member of this church and who can’t.

With no “umpires” who holds your church leaders accountable for their decisions?  Who decides if they are wise, if they are prudent, if they are good shepherds, or if they are incompetent or unwise or cowardly?  Who determines what is foul or fair when a church leader is at bat?

It’s not as if churches make no attempt at holding leaders accountable:

  • Some churches use a democratic vote. The vocal majority leads and the loyal opposition attempts to hold them accountable.  Sounds good to Americans, but it is not really biblical.
  • Some churches use a representative vote.  Members vote church leaders in or out, according to whether they have represented your viewpoint successfully in church meetings. Again, more a pragmatic solution than a biblical one.
  • Some churches choose to allow an oligarchy.  These are the churches who either allow a small group of life-time appointed leaders to have absolute rule, or it could be a small group of senior staff with so much seniority that they are like banks which are too big to fail.  The common thread is no accountability.
  • Many newer churches and some very old ones are centered around single persons as the Hegemon. Dictator or tyrant is too strong and negative. Monarch suggests divine right—and some make this claim—but it is still not my favorite term. The underlying problem is the very fact of a single leader with absolute power and no accountability, and this danger is a fact even if the church acquiesces to a benevolent, but absolute leader.
  • Some churches—usually smaller ones–believe they exist without leaders. In my opinion, those don’t really exist because the more likely truth is that the church has leaders, but they are simply not designated leaders, rather leaders by default.

I think we can all agree that regardless of how your church is organized that it is accountable to God as are all the leaders as well as all the members. But how do we have an accountable leadership on earth in time and space when God does not seem to strike people dead for lying or open the earth to swallow his people for rebellion.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Recognize that leadership in the Body of Christ is a gift of God (Romans 12:8). Those who have the gift are the true leaders, whether designated or not, and those without the gift of leadership may be doing leadership tasks, but are not the true leaders of your church.  A healthy church identifies those with the gift of leadership and uses them to lead.
  • While you may not believe that Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus are a divine checklist for church pastors/bishops/elders/deacons/leaders/servants, they are certainly inspired instructional information and should not be ignored or lightly amended.  If every church leader were of the caliber required by Paul, fewer replays would be needed.
  • Implement what we at Let’s Start Talking call 1A Leadership, that is “One Another” leadership.  Here are the instructions for this leadership model. You will find them very simple:

Be devoted to one another in love.

Honor one another above yourselves.

Live in harmony with one another.

Stop passing judgment on one another.

Accept one another.

Instruct one another.

Encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace.

Serve one another.

Submit to one another

Bear with each other and forgive one another.

Teach and admonish one another.

Love one another.

So everyone is an umpire?  Somehow the baseball metaphor begins to break down because umpires are determiners and enforcers. What churches should have are encouragers, instructors, servants, admonishers, and lovers.

If churches were led by these kinds of leaders, our Sundays would be filled with replays—not to determine who is safe and who is out—no, rather to celebrate over and over again the exemplary displays of Christ-likeness.

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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.


Reposted from September 2010

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You are not the preacher. You are not the head of anything at church. But you have just started a great ministry  or you have a great ministry idea that you would like to see get traction and grow.  What do you do now? Here are a few tips from our experience of trying to get Let’s Start Talking established in lots of churches. This is what we have learned from watching people enthusiastic about short-term missions try to work with their home congregation.

  1. Don’t even start unless you are committed to doing whatever it takes to succeed yourself! Lots of people want to start things for other people to do. Just forget it! You should be able to accomplish the ministry yourself—at some level—or you will never get others to buy into it. For LST, this means that if you are not willing to go, you will not be successful in getting other people to go.
  2. Try to get the blessing of church leadership from the very beginning. If the preacher and/or church leaders are opposed to your ministry idea, it is not likely to survive. It might possibly survive if they are indifferent, but the chances are much better if you have their blessing.  Notice, I said blessing, not commitment. See below!
  3. Do not expect to get leadership commitment to your ministry until you have proven that it will be successful! LST actually made this mistake in our Centurion project which launched about three years ago. We asked churches to commit to a goal of sending 100 workers with LST over a five-year period—with no financial commitment whatsoever.  Although a few churches committed, we were absolutely shocked at how resistant most churches were to making any kind of a commitment at all.  We have since modified our approach, so that we only ask for permission to test run LST in their congregation to see if their members have a good experience with it.  Church leaders are much more open to us with this approach.
  4. Don’t reinvent the wheel! Join with established ministries who have proven track records and who can help jumpstart your ministry. So you think your teens should do mission trips to learn to share their faith! Rather than asking your youth minister or some parents to plan and organize such a trip, why not ask a ministry like LST YoungFriends to help you, since we have been planning short-term missions, including special ones for teen groups, for thirty years! If you want to start something for the poor, why not contact existing ministries and partner with them–or after-school programs, or abused women, or English As A Second Language outreach??
  5. Be spiritually prepared to be ignored. If I were a church leader and if I knew what kind of transformation happens to every person who spends two weeks on an LST project, I would do everything in my power to make it possible for every person in the church I was leading to participate—there, I said it as boldly and honestly as I can.  However, the fact is that a very small percentage of Christians really want to engage their faith as actively as most ministries require. If you, as the promoter of your ministry, let the massive indifference discourage you, then you are defeated! You must be willing to do your work without recognition, without popularity, and without any other reward than the smile of the Father!  If you need more than this, you will give up!
  6. God has His own schedule for growth! I love flowers—Sherrylee calls them annuals and perennials and I have a vague idea what that means. But I really love flowering trees. I love the blooms on our fruit trees, I love the beautiful white flowers of the Bradford pear trees, and I really love the Oklahoma redbuds!! The time from seed to bloom is very different for these plants. In reality, only God knows the proper time and season for your ministry to bloom. You can choose to acknowledge God’s sovereignty here—or you can try to set your own schedule. Occasionally, we may be able to hothouse something into rapid growth—but these efforts are rarely long-lived. I recommend you let God be in control.
  7. If you are called by God to a ministry, you will never be truly happy until you are answering the call—so get on with it!  I love the story of Jeremiah, called by God to be a prophet to the nations, who yells at God and says, “You deceived me! I did what you called me to do and I’m having a terrible time! In fact, I’ve tried to quit several times . . . but I couldn’t because your word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones–and I can’t keep it in.” (Jer. 20:7-9)

Reposted from September 2010.

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volcanoSherrylee and I were watching a Netflix movie last night about a rogue oil company that drilled too deep and hit a pocket of magnum. By bursting into this pocket of magnum, they created not only a catastrophic volcanic eruption in Oregon, but also a chain reaction with all the other volcanoes on the Pacific Rim.

The geologist who explained what was happening to everyone in the movie called it an ELE, an Extinction Level Event, meaning that if all of these volcanoes went up at the same time, the dust and ash would block out the sun for so long that life on Planet Earth as we know it would die out. Of course, he saved the world from the ELD and got the girl, so you can rest easy tonight!

Or can you?

I started thinking about churches/congregations and what an ELE for them would be.  For churches, this was my short list

  • The last young family with children leaves your church because you have no viable children’s program.
  • Your church only has two men willing to be elders and lead the church, and one of them quits and the other has an affair.
  • Your church overbuilds in a burst of faith-based optimism and then does not have the resources to repay the debt.
  • A church hires a divisive preacher and doesn’t get rid of him fast enough.
  • Your church makes the decision that it is too small or weak to be concerned externally, so God just wants you to take care of the flock already in the building.
  • The church’s vision is the same as the budget report!

Nothing can destroy the church of God! No power in this world or the invisible world!  But the lampstands of some individual expressions of God’s church will be removed (Revelation 2:5), if they don’t repent.

Interestingly, almost no one in the Oregon town of the movie believed that the ELE was possible.  And most of our churches don’t think it could happen to them either.  It might be worth one church meeting to just brainstorm the question: what could happen that would destroy this congregation.  Some natural events are both unpredictable and unavoidable.  Churches die naturally like people do.  But too many may die early deaths which could have been prevented.

In last night’s movie,  it took a single person being willing to risk his life in order to place a bomb in the right place to seal up the volcano, and only then was the world saved from extinction.

What might be the metaphorical bomb that needs to be put in the exact right place to save your congregation?

Who might be the person in your church who has to take the big risk?  You?



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PowerCorrupts-300x207We were in the Pergamon Museum in East Berlin, just a few months after the fall of the wall.  The young woman with us was walking around, enjoying the artifacts, but bottle-feeding her baby at the same time.

Bolting from the corner of the largely empty room, a small but sturdy East German security lady hurried across the room to inform our friend that under no circumstances could she walk around the museum and feed her baby at the same time!  When we asked politely what the problem was, she just simply repeated a little firmer and louder that it was verboten!


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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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St_Martin's_CrossMuch of the American conversation among church leaders focuses on the challenges in big churches! As I thought about the questions that I see regularly addressed in minister’s blogs, many of them came with assumptions about their churches that were uniquely American and perhaps unintentionally, but nevertheless, big church questions.  For instance

  • Which is a better kingdom-building strategy, a mother church planting daughter churches, or the multi-campus single church strategy?
  • Which is a better leadership model, a staff-led church or a member-led church?
  • Is Sunday school still the best model or should the teaching of our children be returned to parents and small groups of parents?
  • Worship styles / Seekers worship / and all of those questions.
  • Staffing questions: large hired staff versus volunteers—with all the ensuing involvement questions
  • Ethnically mixed churches versus homogeneous ones—with accompanying language and cultural issues.
  • Leadership issues brought on by generational differences, especially as millennials (and pre-millennials) move toward the first arenas of ministry leadership.

One of the things I love about mission work is that when you are on the real front line of evangelism, it clears the air.  I was just with a small church in Scotland.  You know, I didn’t hear any of these questions on their lips.

Scotland is a country of about 5 million people with a Christian heritage dating back to the second century, though without much history until the sixth or seventh centuries. John Knox led the Scottish Christians out of Roman Catholicism and into the Church of Scotland during the Reformation, so while there is no established church in Scotland, these are still the two largest groupings.

No, that’s not quite right!  While 42% of Scots claim the Church of Scotland and 16% are Roman Catholic, 28% claim no religion. And although 42% claimed membership in the Church of Scotland, the church itself could only account for about 12% of the population as members.  The number quoted to me was 2% of the population attend any Christian worship service on any given week.

It’s not that the Scots have run off into non-western religions, which are represented mostly by the Muslims, Asians, and Indians living in Scotland. And, yes, there is a smattering of occult and even blatant pagan religion, but that’s not where most Scots seem to be.  No, they just are . . .not religious—secular!–not unusually immoral or uncharitable—in fact, there are charity stores and posters everywhere.  And their public schools not only permit, but encourage religious activities and instruction from Christian groups.

I had breakfast with the minister of this small Christian church in Scotland, and I was the guest of a family in this church. Both husband and wife are leaders there as well.  And in none of the hours of conversation that we had, did we talk about any of the questions listed above.

Here are some of the topics with which we wrestled:

  • What do we do when two of the three leadership families in the church have to move away in the same year?
  • How do we give our children what they need when there are only 5-6 children and they are of all different ages?
  • How can we reach out to young families when we are so few young families ourselves?
  • How can one paid minister (only partially from this church and with part coming from the US) take care of the spiritual needs of the members and reach out to seekers?
  • Do we need to recruit workers from America to help out? If so, how would we use them?
  • Where will our children find Christian friends? Who will they marry?  (All of these questions suggest the difficulty of engendering faith in children who grow up where none of their peers believe, of course.)
  • If everybody in the church is involved already, how do we create new growing edges that might encourage growth?
  • The church members, though few, come from every direction across the city, so how do we have strong fellowship and ample opportunity for Bible study and prayer together?
  • How do we integrate the foreign Christians whom we are glad to welcome, but who bring different perspectives, both from their culture and from their home churches that can be very disruptive?

Now, these are not unanswerable questions—nor are they unique to Scotland, but they do seem to be questions of a more basic nature than sometimes make the headlines among Christian thinkers.

And aren’t most of the Christian churches in the world more like the Scottish than like the mega-churches of America?

It won’t hurt all of us to drop back and make sure we are addressing foundational questions, even as our churches grow!

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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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