An Exponential Interview about Church Revitalization

Expo 2015 Precon Booklet Ron Edmondson5

Tom Cheyney and I will be hosting a pre-conference Revitalization lab at Exponential East this year entitled: Finding New Life for an Old Church. Tom and I were talking recently and we both agreed — we are surprised more pastors are not considering revitalization. In addition to church planting, revitalization has tons of Kingdom-potential. And, there are lots of opportunities out there — lots of declining churches need help.

Up for a challenge — consider revitalization! 

Of course, Church revitalization involves change. And no matter how necessary the change, some people will fight until the end preferring to let the slowly die, but the church can change — and thrive again.

Exponential recently interviewed me to find out more about this bonus session:

What do you hope to accomplish through this pre-conference?

I hope people will leave with some of their questions answered about church revitalization and what it takes to be successful. We are really thinking in terms of best — and frankly worst — practices. We have some experience personally and working with other churches that we think can help. I’d love to think some church planter mindsets would reconsider revitalizing an established church.

What are some of the reasons you decided to do a pre-conference on church revitalization?

Obviously it is and should be a calling. You’ll need it, but we also need a renewed interest in revitalizing existing churches. In my estimation, we have more Kingdom dollars invested in non-productive, non-growing churches than in church plants. Obviously we need lots of church plants, but we also need to revive some of the older churches. Someone said it takes 30 years for a declining church to die. Not trying to be cruel, but that’s too long. If it’s not going to revive, maybe an immediate closure and redistribution of resources is warranted. Wow! Did I just say that?

What are some tensions you have faced in this area?

It involves change. That’s never easy. But, you can’t produce growth from decline without change. All my tension has been from change. Yet, the real root of tension is in an emotional response to change. Change always produces an emotional response — positive or negative. So, I’ve dealt with a good deal of emotion over the past couple years. But, that also doesn’t mean everything has to change. Some traditions may actually be good and should be celebrated. And, we will talk about that at the conference.

What are some of the differences in leading this generation and culture from the past?

Time commitment and loyalty are different for the newer generation. There is less of it. That can be difficult, because it sometimes means we see them less often and they are can be quick to disengage if something else comes along. On a positive note, they are very driven to make a difference. They prefer a “hands on” experience. With motivation and opportunity this generation can make huge Kingdom differences. By the way, this should be a very attractive element for younger generations of pastors entering church revitalization. Many times in an established church the resources and people are there — that if energized again for the vision — a church can hit the ground running much faster than in a church plant.

What can someone expect to takeaway from attending your pre-conference?

I think there will be some frankness and some challenge. We are going to give lots of practical information, but even more, we are here to invest in church leaders. As Exponential does so well, we will be learning together and build community quickly with other church leaders. This should be very helpful and applicable.

We are excited for this Revitalization Lab. Make sure you are there by registering for the main conference + pre-conference with code: revitalization15. You will receive $30 off of your conference registration and a FREE pre-conference as well as access to Bonus Sessions. Register here!

My Top 7 Goals to Accomplish on Easter Sunday

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Easter. It’s a time of year when churches have an opportunity second only to Christmas in attracting visitors. Hopefully all of God’s churches will be packed Easter Sunday. That’s my prayer.

We’ve had months of praying, planning and preparing. We’ve done all we can do, but God is ultimately in charge of all that happens in our church — and yours.

I’m often asked, however, what I hope to accomplish on Easter Sunday — such an important day in the life of any church. It could seem overwhelming if we try to accomplish too much in one day, so what do I, as a pastor, have at the top of my list of goals for Easter Sunday.

I shared a guest post with Lifeway’s pastor blog about 7 ways a church can prepare for Easter. In this post, I want to share what I actually hope we accomplish on Easter Sunday. Only 7 things. If we accomplish nothing else, and there are probably many other things we will accomplish Easter Sunday, I hope Immanuel Baptist does these 7 well.

Gospel is shared – Duh! But, after we’ve made all the preparations, it would be like inviting people to a turkey dinner with no turkey if we don’t share the Gospel. Once we’ve worked hard to gather people into a room, we must not neglect to share the simple truth that Jesus lived, died, and rose again and by Him and through Him alone we can be saved. We must give people an opportunity to hear the Gospel — if for the first time or one of many other times. The Gospel is Good News for all people. All times. After all, that’s what we are celebrating Easter Sunday.

People feel welcome – I hope everyone who enters the doors of our church feels welcome. Regardless of what they are wearing, what side of town they came from, what they do for a living, their education status, whichever “side of the tracks” from which they arrived — let them feel the genuine love and kindness of God’s people. There will be those who don’t feel “worthy” to be in a church Easter Sunday (because they don’t yet understand than none of us are apart from grace). What better day to “love one another” than Easter Sunday!

Next is highlighted – I want people to leave knowing where the church is going next. For example, we will be studying some of the Psalms in our next series. People need to know that — in hopes that they’ll want to return.

The church is presented well – This is the Sunday, even more than others perhaps, where I hope our people are willing to sacrifice for visitors. I told our deacons Sunday night I hope they are the ones willing to move to the center of an aisle first, to make room on the ends of a row for visitors. I hope Immanuel people help visitors in the parking lot, even if they’ve never before worked in the parking lot. I hope people who seem to be looking for the bathrooms don’t have to look long before someone helps them. I hope the building is cleaner than ever. (That’s why we have a cleanup day scheduled Saturday.) Just as when visitors come to your home for the first time, this is the time to be ready to receive guests warmly. I also want to answer as many questions as people may have about the church, so we are printing a special bulletin designed to give insight to visitors about who we are, what programs we offer, and easy places where they could quickly become a part of Immanuel.

Our people are encouraged – I hope people who call Immanuel their home church — even if they’ve been there over 70 years (and some have been) or just arrived in the last few weeks (and there are lots of those), will leave encouraged by what they experience Easter Sunday. I hope there will be a God-honoring pride that we did all God would expect us to do to present an atmosphere conducive for people to ultimately hear the Gospel. I hope they’ll be challenged for the days ahead and willing to sacrifice and serve even more, directly as a result of what God allows to happen Easter Sunday.

Children are safe and have fun – If parents entrust their children to our care they should be assured their children are safe and well-protected. In addition, I hope children leave telling their parents how much they enjoyed being at Immanuel this Sunday. Children have a raw honesty about them. They don’t always know the words to say, but parents know whether or not this is a place their kids will be welcomed. Children are often a huge door to the families eventual active involvement in a church. And, this shouldn’t mean children don’t learn. Obviously, they need the Gospel as much as adults, but I believe truth can be shared in an inviting setting.

People leave with hope – Second only from hearing the Gospel, I hope people leave our Easter services with a sense of hope. Actually, that’s my goal every Sunday. The world can be a scary place. There will be lots of brokenness among us Easter Sunday. As followers of Christ, we believe we hold the answer to hope for the world. It’s in the Resurrected Savior — whom we are celebrating — the King of kings and Lord of lords. I hope people don’t leave more confused or feeling guilty about their life, but rather they live knowing their is A Way, there is an answer — there is HOPE — in Jesus Christ!

Easter Sunday is coming. I’m praying for my pastor friends, for the church of Christ, and for those who will enter our gathering places this Sunday, joining the Church in Easter worship.

5 Ways a Once Good Marriage Slips Away or Falls Apart

couple in distress

How does a once good marriage slip away?

I get asked that question when it becomes public that a marriage everyone thought was rock solid falls apart.

As the song goes — It’s a slow fade. A good marriage doesn’t deteriorate overnight. It diminishes gradually.

There are probably lots of reasons. There are usually a few common causes in my experience.

Here are 5 ways a once good marriage slips away — or falls apart:

Other interests come between them. It could be a relationship — even other good relationships — or a hobby, or work, but something gets a higher priority than the marriage. Distractions will destroy a good marriage.

Unresolved conflict. Conflict left unattended sometimes sits like it never existed. But, oh it did. And, it does. Someone is holding on to it. Trust me. And, the longer it sits the deeper the wedge it causes.

The couple stops dreaming together. When a couple is dating they have lots of dreams together. They discuss their future. They dream about where they will live and travel. They dream about family and adventure. It’s an energy that fuels the relationship. When it stops. The fuel it brought stops.

Boredom. I’ve long said this is one of the leading causes of marriages unraveling. Couples quit dating — quit laughing — quit having fun together. They get caught in the routines and busyness of life. Boredom sets in and the closeness they once shared begins to drift. The enemy love this and suddenly one or both spouses seek excitement elsewhere. Dangerous.

Living separate agendas. It’s okay to have separate identities. Even encouraged. It’s okay to have separate interests. It keeps things interesting. But, it’s not okay to have separate agendas. The agenda should be two very different people blending those differences into one. When that’s not happening — the strength of the marriage will slowly — or quickly — fade.

I’m praying for your marriage — as I continue to pray for mine. Stand firm.

Here’s What A List Won’t Solve

Clipboard with Checklist

I’ve been called the list guy.

I’m sure there are at least 7 reasons why. :)

Most of the time that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes I’m sure it is. One guy wrote recently — “What’s with all the lists? Don’t you know how to write without them?”

Whatever! But, I’m okay with that. Seriously. There are other blogs out there that don’t use lists. Some that do. And, I’ve been told I’ve encouraged some that do to use the lists they do. (So, what’s that about? Crazy.)

I don’t use lists in every post. I didn’t this one, but lists sometimes help me make a complex issue simpler.

I start my day with lists. I process using lists. I often think in lists. I counsel people with lists — steps to think through — options — thoughts — in lists. It works for me.

And, thankfully, it seems to have worked for this blog. I have a lot of blog posts beginning with “7” in the title and my blog traffic isn’t too shabby. I could give you a list of reasons I’m thankful for that.

But, I need to be honest. Lists aren’t everything.

Lists — in and of themselves — aren’t the solution.

There. You heard it from “the list guy”.

And, I can promise you this: Here’s one thing a list won’t solve.

It won’t solve your problem if all you do is read a list.

Period.

Reading a list won’t fix a broken marriage. It won’t improve your leadership. It can’t cause you to lose weight. You won’t be a better parent simply by reading another list.

I could give you a whole list of reasons why. Probably 7, 10 or 12 reasons why.

If you ignore doing the right things — list or no list — it’s not going to work.

You can make all the lists you want. Read every list out there. There are a few on this blog. I think some of them are pretty good. But one thing I know for sure:

You can’t succeed at what you don’t begin.

Ideas don’t lead to success. Making lists doesn’t lead to success. Reading lists won’t produce success. They may help. But, actions lead to success. Taking positive steps forward — that leads to success.

Do nothing and you get no results. If you don’t work the list — the list is of no value.

The very best list can’t solve the problem of inactivity.

Do you need a list to understand this post? Be honest.

Encouragement to Take a Leap of Faith and Continue the Journey

leaping

If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp. Judges 7:10-11 NIV

God looked into Gideon’s heart and saw that he needed some encouragement for the task ahead.

Gideon had already agreed to obey God. He had kept the three hundred men God had ordained for battle and sent the rest of the men home.

Still, God must have seen fear in Gideon’s heart, so God allowed Gideon to hear something, which gave him encouragement.

I deal with a lot of people on the brink of greatness for God. They are often pastors and church planters, missionaries, ministers or believers who know God is calling them to something, but one thing stands in the way — FEAR. I understand. Been there. Have several t-shirts.

Here’s a word of encouragement for you.

If uncertainty is causing you to fear your next move or to act upon what you believe God is calling you to do — learn a lesson from Gideon’s story.

Understand that God knows your strengths and your weaknesses. He knows where you most need encouragement. God ultimately wants you to trust Him completely, without having to depend on anything or anyone else, but He also knows you are still a work in progress. You’re still growing your faith. He will be patient. He is fully prepared to see you through your doubts to His glory. However long that takes.

Keep in mind that God’s ultimate goal is the complete control of your heart. Therefore, God often sends people your way to encourage you in your walk. He wants you to fully and completely trust in Him, so He will kindly allow you at times to see the good you are doing in ministry. God wants your complete obedience, so He occasionally allows you the privilege of seeing the direction He is taking you.

Many times, however, you and I are left to walk with God simply by faith.

I hope God sends you the encouragement you need today to allow you to move forward in obedience to Him, but if He allows you to wrestle with your own doubts today, may I be a voice of encouragement to tell you God is trustworthy? He proves faithful. Every time.

Step big into the awesomeness found in a life that is fully obedient to God’s will!

I wonder if Gideon could have read his story in reverse if he would have lived it all over again. Somehow I suspect He would!

5 Reasons a Church or Organization Stops Growing

Typical Rural Icelandic Church under a blue summer sky

I was talking with a church recently that had explosive growth, but things have slowed. They wanted to know why they were not growing any longer.

Honestly, I do t know. There are probably different reasons for every church that stops growing.

But, this church is seeking answers. So, I decided to share Some thoughts to consider. And, I’m sharing them here.

Obviously, God is ultimately in charge of a churches growth. There are times where God is giving a season of rest and preparation for a church for something to come. In some situations, God may have even taken His hand from the church.

God is into church growth, however. I’m convinced He likes it when a church grows.

It’s our mission as believers to produce disciples and our model example of the first century church was a growing church, so outside the God factor, there are usually reasons for stagnation in a church. Because the church is an organization made up of people, these reasons are often similar to those you may find true as to why growth stalls in the life of an organization also.

In my experience, the are some common variables when growth stalls.

Here are 5 suggestions:

You get comfortable

It’s okay to be comfortable, but when you hang out there too long, it can be dangerous, because you stop trying new things to spur growth and excitement.

You quit dreaming

Dreams inspire, challenge, and grow people and organizations. What could the church accomplish to reach its community? You’ll never dream bigger than the dreams God has for you or your church.

You stop taking risks

You can’t succeed at anything without a measure of risk. Playing it safe never grows anything. The call of God always involves risk-taking.

You start maintaining

When you fall into the mode of protecting what you have, you’ll be less likely to encourage growth for fear of losing ground.

You fail to walk by faith.

Especially for the church — we are a faith-based organization. If you aren’t walking by faith in what you are doing it is impossible to please God. (That’s Biblical. Look it up!)

Those are my quick thoughts.

Obviously, there is so much more to this issue and to each one of these answers. These are general responses and there are specific issues with every church or organization. Hopefully thinking through each of these as a paradigm for brainstorming may help trigger thoughts towards actions which can spur future growth.

But, I’ve also learned that activity leads to activity. Maybe just having the discussions will begin to stir new momentum. Pray hard and ask God to stir big.

What would you add?

5 Gifts You Can Give Your Pastor

Small gift box

In this post, I want to share some gifts you can give your pastor.

How’s that for a self-serving post?

Those from the church where I serve as pastor should read this post knowing I minister to hundreds of pastors every month. In my latest blog survey, over 50% of my readers are in vocational ministry. But, even more important, only about 10% of my readers actually know me personally. So, this is not a personal plea. It’s written for the hopeful benefit of others. Thanks for being the kind of church that — for the most part — protects the pastor.

Most churches love to bless their pastor. I get asked frequently how the church can help me. But, that don’t know how.

To be a pastor of a local church is a privilege and a high honor. But, it’s the hardest work I’ve ever done.

Here are 5 gifts you can give your pastor:

Your understanding of time

Acts 6:1-2, Ephesians 5:31 (applies to the pastor’s marriage too.)

The pastor needs time away from the ministerial responsibilities and activities of the church so that he can commit time to his family and to the ministry of the Word of God. Every activity done in the church is important, according to God’s Word, but the primary responsibility of the pastor is to teach God’s Word. I have witnessed so many pastors who burn out because too many demands are placed upon them. If there is a social or an activity in the church or among its people, most people expect the pastor to always be there. There is often little consideration to the fact that the pastor needs time with his family; and certainly time to prepare the message of God’s Word.

If you want your pastor to be prepared to deliver God’s message of the week to you and, if you want his family to be strong enough that he can model family life for you, then give him time alone with God during the week. Make sure he has time to study and for his family. Too many demands on his time will make a very stressed out pastor!

Your financial partnership

1 Corinthians 9:11-12

Your pastor needs to be personally supported financially and needs your partnership in funding the mission of the church.

I haven’t met any strong, Biblical pastors who don’t realize that the ministry is a sacrifice. Most pastors don’t expect to be wealthy. Most pastors know that the ministry is a life of faith, even in the area of finances. They shouldn’t, however, have to beg for support. The burden of support should be on those receiving the ministry.

Operating any size church takes resources. The stress of “fundraising” on a pastor usually is outside of their comfort zone and expertise. What a blessing it is to a pastor when people willingly sacrifice to fund the vision!

Your personal support

2 Timothy 4:16-17

Paul knew what it felt like to feel all alone. It’s a scary feeling. Many pastors today know that feeling. Of course, God is “our refuge and strength and ever present help in time of trouble”, but the pastor needs to know that he has the support of a few people. There needs to be some people he can always depend on to encourage him in his daily walk with the Lord.

I want you to know that being a pastor is sometimes a lonely place to be. God has given us human relationships in order that we might provide physical strength and encouragement to each other to help us along life’s journey. The pastor often feels left out of this plan. Please don’t let that happen to your pastor!

If your pastor has an idea for the church, support him unless you have a better idea or what the pastor is proposing is un-Biblical. Be willing to not only voice your support, but provide physical, financial, and moral support to the pastor’s plan. Be a physical encourager by complimenting the pastor, praying for him, sending him an occasional note or email, and simply putting an arm around him and saying “thanks”. Don’t forget to encourage his family as well.

Our pastors need our support. They need to know we care. They need encouragement. There has never been a more stressful time to be a pastor than in the world today. Tell yours you care about him (or her) today!

Your unconditional love

Philemon 7

Your pastor needs you to love him…even when he makes mistakes.

Do you love your pastor? Do you thank God for the person God has sent to lead your church? Here’s a more important question: Does your pastor know of your love?

By the way, that will be evidenced by your actions more than your words.

I can tell you that there are many pastors today that wonder if anyone cares for them. Most pastors hear far more complaints than they hear encouragement. Everyone always shares burdens with the pastor, but few people stop just to share love with their pastor.

Have you figured out yet that your pastor is not perfect? Your pastor is a flawed individual, just like you are, that God has appointed to shepherd your church. Many times they didn’t even ask God for the assignment, but are simply trying to be obedient to God’s call upon their life. Can’t you just love a person like that? They may have put their career objectives on hold, just so they could do God’s will and minister to you! Have you ever thought about it like that?

Why not think of how you can show your love for your pastor today?

Your growth spiritually

2 Thessalonians 1:3-4

The greatest compliment you can give to your pastor is to personally be growing spiritually. If you want to really get your pastor excited, let them see you excited about your relationship with Christ.

The pastor’s job is to help you become more like Jesus. A pastor is assigned by God to shepherd the church, equipping the saints to do the work of the church. The pastor is not the doer as much as the the equipper. (If that’s not a word let’s make it one.) The pastor should be building people who are doing God’s work in the church, the community, and around the world.

That’s the pastor’s part, but how is the pastor successful in their work?

When people are doing their part; growing in the Lord, doing the work of the church. The catch is this. The pastor can’t make you do your part. They can’t force you to be molded into the image of Christ. They can’t demand that you obey the Word of God. They can only encourage, teach, pray and lead by example, but you’ll never be made to do what you are not willing to do.

Give your pastor a great gift. Grow in your Christian walk!

Pastors, any other gifts come to mind?

5 Examples of Leading Outside the Norm

Yellow chair in the middle of several purple chairs

Leadership is so much different today than when I first started leading over 30 years ago. To lead today we must learn to think outside the once considered normal lines of leadership.

Much has been written about the informal aspects of leadership being as important as the formal aspects of leadership. In addition to a set of systems and structures — for a leader to be successful today — leaders must engage a team. We must build team spirit. Energize. Motivate. Engage. Even sympathize. Those have always been important, but these days they may trump some of our policies and procedures.

In informal leadership environments, the way a leader leads is often more important than the knowledge or management abilities of the leader. Again, that may have always been important, but now it is critical.

Here are 5 examples of how a successful leader must lead in today’s environment:

Adapting leadership to followers individual needs and expectations.

No more cookie-cutter leadership is allowed. Leaders must be wiling to individualize their leadership based on the current setting, economy and individualism of team members. We must know our teams uniquely and lead according to a person’s individual strengths and abilities.

Raising new leaders.

Those on the team with the propensity or desire to lead, must be given opportunity to help lead the organization. That’s not an option. Not only is this good for the organization by creating future leaders, it is key to keeping the best people on the team.

Balancing kindness or friendship with authority.

John Maxwell’s axiom “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” has never been more true. People follow leaders they can trust. They follow leaders who believe in them and will invest in them. While leaders sometimes must make difficult and unpopular decisions, authoritarian leadership is not well received by today’s workforce.

Giving others ownership in the vision.

People want and need to be stockholders — knowing they are making a difference with their work. To do that means they must have ownership in the vision and decision-making. Allowing a team to help shape the agenda helps assure their heart buys into completing the mission of the organization.

Creating for the greater good.

Great leaders think beyond themselves. Even beyond their own team or the vision, goals and objectives of the organization. Today’s leaders must understand they play a part in a more global sense. We are much more connected these days through social media and online instant connections. The way an organization treats it’s employees, the environment and customers is considered important — and if it’s not done well — the world will know about it quickly.

Finding the right balance between a formal style of leadership where everything is clearly spelled out for people to follow and an informal style where a team helps to shape the course of action is critical to an organization’s success. In many ways, after 30 plus years of leadership, I’m from an “old school”. I’m still learning – and re-learning.

But, I know this. Leaders today must continually strive to find that balance.

The Two Shall Become One Flesh

himher

I’m not good with art, but if you were sitting in my office, I would attempt to draw this diagram on my dry erase board. I hope you can get past the crude drawing to get to the intended meaning, because it really is important to understand in shaping a marriage.

Taken from Ephesians 5:21-33, I believe this is the model of a healthy marriage that God is attempting to build. It is by design that two unique and imperfect people are called to become one.

To accomplish that task, two things must occur.

First, as indicated with the upper left and right triangles, each spouse must get rid of the “baggage” he or she brings into the marriage. While most of us come with lots of baggage, in simple terms, this is anything that will not help the couple become one. If for example, one spouse is selfish, while that may be allowed in some relationships, it will not work in making one flesh.  Discovering what parts of each spouse will not work in building one flesh becomes one goal in building a strong marriage. This could even be natural bents or personalities, but they must be considered as to whether they make the marriage stronger or weaker.

The middle two triangles, with the words “One Flesh”, illustrate the process of taking the best of each spouse, that part that helps completes the other spouse, and using it to build God’s design for the marriage.

As an example, my wife is the compassionate one in our relationship. (You could have guessed that most likely.) In our life together, she helps me be more compassionate.

At the same time, Cheryl would enable others to take advantage of her if I were not around. Many times, I provide the strength that makes us strong as a couple and protects our family life.

So what do you do with this information?

 
Well, first working together (if you can’t do this together in love you have other issues to work through first), begin to make lists of those things that could keep it from becoming one flesh (your baggage). Over the course of time (don’t rush this process), each spouse begins to work on his or her baggage.

Second, make an opposite list of those qualities in each spouse that add to the strength of the marriage bond. Obviously, this is a more pleasant list to put together, but it’s most helpful if each spouse share the strengths of the other spouse. Once this list is in place, over time, begin to yield the marriage to the each of these strengths.

The seemingly impossible goal of becoming one flesh is not only challenging, but it is a lifetime process. Learning to communicate strengths and weaknesses each spouse brings to the marriage can help build the marriage God intended for you to have.

What strengths or weaknesses do you and/or your spouse bring to the marriage?