Join Me At Exponential 2015

Expo 2015 Precon Booklet Ron Edmondson5

I hope you’ll join me at Exponential conference, where I’ll be teaching on church revitalization. Honestly, this is one of the most “hands-on” conference experiences of which I’ve ever been a part. The speakers are practitioners. We learn from you. And, there’s lots of time for great networking. Join me!

Go to the site HERE and register as well as pick up a free e-book.

It’s going to be a Kingdom-building blast.

Expo 2015 Precon Booklet Ron Edmondson2

Tortoise and Hare Principle in Organizational Leadership

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A few years ago I was running in Philadelphia. It is one of my favorite cities in which to run. I love the Fairmount Park System, because I can run for miles in new territory.

On this particular day, I set out to explore a several mile loop around a portion of the park. Shortly into my run, I entered the park in front of a young college-aged girl running at the same pace with me. (I assumed her identity based on the college sweatshirt she was wearing — and the proximity to a local college.)

We had been running at the same pace for about a half-mile when she apparently became impatient with my pace and decided to run faster. She gave me a look that seemed to speak “get out of my way old man” and quickly disappeared from my sight. I continued my steady pace through the park and encountered her again a couple miles later. She had looped around the park and was heading back, still continuing at her faster pace. We smiled at one another as we passed.

And, then the story took a change in my favor.

After 3 or 4 miles I returned to the place we had originally met and who did I see? My college “friend” was walking, out of breath, holding her stomach and in obvious pain. She couldn’t finish the track.

I realize some people are sprinters and some are long-distance runners, but I have to be honest. As the old guy, I got a boost in my adrenaline when I was still running with plenty of fuel in my tank.

Now, before you think I’m awful, the reason I share is that it reminded me of an important leadership principle.

It’s the tortoise and the hare principle.

There are certainly times an organization needs to sprint. Run like a hare.

Organizations need times of stretching to take leaps forward. Healthy organizations continue to grow. That requires fast decisions at times — the ability to adapt quickly. Momentum is built when energy and excitement combine and things are running at full speed ahead. Every organization should continually have periods of sprinting.

But, that can’t be the only pace of a healthy organization.

There are also times the organization needs to slow the pace down to tortoise speed.

It may sound boring to a driven leader, but long-term, sustainable health of an organization depends on establishing systems and strategies. And, as much as we may resist it — even structure. Yes, structure.

Take a church plant, for example. In the initial days, it seems like a sprint. Everything is new. Exciting. Fast-paced.

But, over time, to continue as a healthy church, at some point there becomes a need for structure. Systems need to be implemented. There may even be a need for a few rules. Yes, rules.

The fact is most of us would rather sprint. I wished I could that day in Philadelphia. It can almost become “cool” to be sprinting — so much so that we never really attain a healthy foundation upon which to build long-term, sustainable growth. And, hopefully all of us ultimately want to finish well. Go the distance. That requires that we learn to pace ourselves — like a tortoise.

You can’t sprint forever.

Be honest.

What pace is needed most right now in your world — tortoise or hare?

7 Suggestions for Pastors and Pastor Spouses to Find True Friends

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People talk. People gossip. People love to share what they hear.

That’s true about what they hear from a pastor too.

If the pastor talks about his personal life, shares a concern — heaven forbid shares a sin or weakness — people talk.

I’ve personally been burned several times by trusting the wrong people with information. It’s wonderful to think that a pastor can be totally transparent with everyone, but honestly, especially in some churches, complete transparency will cause you to lose your ministry.

Every pastor knows this well. So, most pastors don’t talk.

And, the sadder fact, because of this dynamic, many pastors have very few true friends.

Frankly, it’s made many in the ministry among the most lonely of people I have ever known. I was in the business community for many years and I didn’t know business leaders as “closed” to people getting to know them as some pastors seem to be. I wish it weren’t true, but it is.

Of course, Jesus is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. And, that’s true. But, we would never tell our congregation they don’t need human friends. Most of our churches are built around a reality that everyone needs community.

Hopefully our spouse is our best friend. That should be our goal. But the truth is pastors need more.

We need other — same sex — friends who can walk with us through life. I need men in my life that understand the unique struggles and temptations of being a man. Pastors need community too, just as we would encourage our church to live life together with others.

I’m happy to report that I have some of those type friends in my life. I have some friends with whom I can share the hard stuff and they still love me. I have some friends with whom I can be myself. I’m thankful for friends that build into me as much as I build into them.

Every pastor needs them.

And, here’s the other side — so does the pastor’s spouse. They need friends just as much, but have the equal concerns and struggles to find them. Over the years, my wife has realized the hard way that some people were only her friend because of her position as my wife. They wanted information and access — more than they wanted friendship.

And, some who are not in ministry will read this post and think I’m over-reacting. They’ll say everyone deals with this at some level. They may be right. (Not about the over-reacting, but about the fact that everyone deals with it.) But, I know having been on both sides — in ministry and out of ministry — this issue is more real to me now than previously.

So, the hope of this post is to encourage those who don’t have any true friends and give you a few suggestions for finding some.

Here are 7 suggestions for a pastor or pastor’s spouse to find true friends:

Be willing to go outside the church – There may not be someone you can truly trust, who is willing to keep confidences, and willing to always be in your corner, inside the church. Much of this may depend on the size or even the structure of your church. I have a few of these friends in our church, and did in our last church, but both were fairly large. I found this harder when I was in a smaller church with a handful of strong families within the church. Some of my truest and best friends, however, then and now, are outside the church. This is also healthy because it means if we are called to leave the church we still have a close group of friends. My best friends have been friends through several church transitions.

Consider bonding with another pastor – I guarantee you — not too far from you is a pastor just as lonely or in need of a friend as you are feeling. (And, even if you’re not feeling it — you need it.) One of the great benefits of the online world — though it can equally be used for harm — is that you can make connections with other pastors. I have found that if I follow the Tweets, blog posts, Facebook updates, or check out the church website of another pastor that I can find out a lot about our similarities. I’m not talking about stalking. I’m talking about being intentional to build a relationship. Then I take a chance and reach out to another pastor. I actually have a few vital relationships that have begun this way. In fact, it has been valuable enough to Cheryl and me that we’ve been willing to invest in traveling to visit with friends who live in other cities that I first met through social media. Chances are good, however, for most pastors they won’t have to travel that far. Prior to moving where I am now, I had friends an hour away from me. That was a good half-day investment every couple months to stay in touch. I’m beginning to develop this where I am now.

Build the relationship slowly – I’ve seen too many times where a person wants an intimate, accountable, life-giving relationship that begins instantly. I’m sure that happens occasionally, but I don’t think it’s the normal way. Take some time to invest in the friendship. My guess is you’re looking for a longer-term relationship, so be willing to build it over a long-term. And, I usually have multiple meetings with several different guys before I find one where we connect enough to move to a deeper friendship. Again, it’s worth the investment of time.

Find common ground – Do you enjoy fishing, dining, travel, golf, or Nascar? Who are some people, whether pastors or laypeople who have similar interests to you? Take an afternoon to play a round of golf with them. Ask them to lunch. Hang out with them. I have one of my closest friends that I met this way. We simply started having lunch together. We’ve since traveled together as couples, but it started with a lunch invitation to a guy I saw who seemed to enjoy the subject of leadership as much as I did.

Look for someone healthy – This is critical. You won’t find someone perfect, but you need someone who is not looking for you to always be the minister. Those people do exist. There are people with healthy home lives and healthy personal lives who are striving to grow personally, professionally, and spiritually just like you are striving. Most of the time as pastors our attention is focused more on the one who need our attention because of a crisis or immediate need in their life. And, that’s what we do. But, who are some people around you who don’t need much from you right now? You’ll need this healthy relationship to nourish you when you don’t feel as healthy.

Be intentional – You don’t often find a friend unless you go looking for one. First you have to recognize the value in true friends, make it a matter of prayer and a goal for your life, but then you must begin to look for one. I’ve found I’m more likely to hit a target I am specifically aiming to hit. There is such a value in true friendship — even for pastors — that it is worth the investment.

Take a risk – You’ll eventually have to make yourself vulnerable and risk being hurt — perhaps again — to find true friends. I realize that is scary, especially if you’ve been hurt before, but finding true friendships is worth the risk. Be careful building these type friendships, but don’t allow fear to keep you from having them. Pastor, you know what I’m advocating is true. So, take another risk.

Pastor, be honest, do you have someone in your life you could call when you’re at your lowest point in ministry? Do you have someone investing in you on a regular basis? Are you lonely? If you were drowning or facing burnout, have you allowed other people — besides your spouse — into your closest, most protected world so they can recognize where you are currently and speak into the dark places of your life?

More importantly, is it worth the risk and investment to have true friends?

For those who have these types of relationships, what tips do you have for other pastors?

Let me close with a personal note to the lonely pastor. I understand your pain. I’ve been there. I’m praying for you as I write this post. Don’t struggle alone too long without reaching out to someone.

You Feel You Are To Be A Leader, But You Aren’t Yet Leading — Here Are 5 Possible Reasons

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Let’s be honest. Leadership is an attractive subject to many. I talk with so many younger people, and some my age, who want to be in leadership. They may feel they’ve been passed up, haven’t been given their chance (or second chance) or they sometimes they are patiently (or not so patiently) waiting.

I understand. If you are prone to leadership, or have your eye on being a leader, nothing quite satisfies you until you get to do what you think you’re ready to do.

But, in my observation, there may be some common reasons you aren’t yet leading. Perhaps understanding them can help you, if you’re in that situation. I’ll follow each one with my advice.

Here are the 5 reasons I have observed of why people aren’t yet leading:

You don’t have anything or anyone to lead – You say you would lead if someone gave you an opportunity.

My advice: Find something to lead! The world is full of problems.  Choose one of them you are most passionate about and start leading. Motivate people towards finding or working a solution. Lead. We need you.

You are afraid – You really want to lead, but you fear you may not have what it takes.

My advice: Get over it. Pray hard, lean on God strong, but lead. That’s what leaders do. Leading takes people into the unknown. It’s natural to be afraid. Be willing to walk by faith.

You gave up. – You tried leading and it was hard. You got hurt. Perhaps you failed. So you quit.

My advice: Get up and try again. The best leaders have failed many times, perhaps more times than they have succeeded. That’s what makes them a success. That they tried again and again until something stuck. Get back in the game. You’ll motivate us by your return.

You  don’t think you know how – You don’t think you ever learned the secrets of leadership. You have more questions than answers. You’re waiting until you have more answers than questions.

My advice: Join the school of leadership. Leaders are all around you. And, they are still learning too. The best never quit learning. So join in. Watch, listen, read, ask questions. It’s what we do. You can learn skills of leadership if you are teachable. The best leaders are still figuring it out daily.

You think you don’t have authority to lead. – You feel you are in a stifling environment. No one is looking to you to lead them.

My advice: Either learn to “lead up” — influencing people that are supposed to lead you — or find a place that values your input. The world is changing and the newest and healthiest environments allow people to grow in leadership. Or learn to lead within your own context. If you’re in a ministry, lead volunteers the best you know how. Be the best where you are today. Or, find a cause outside your work environment — and be a leader there. The experience will shape you for future assignments.

Just a few thoughts. But, here’s a final one. If you feel you’re supposed to be a leader — and you’re currently not — no more excuses. Lead. That’s what leaders do.

7 Attributes for a Pastor Wanting to do Church Revitalization

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I have been in church revitalization for almost 3 years in the church where I currently serve as pastor. My first church some 13 years ago was a church in need of revitalization. In between, I’ve been a part of two church plants.

Even more, I’ve worked with dozens of pastors in church revitalization and church planting. Along the way, God has blessed us with some success and I’ve tried to learn some things — and pass them along here.

For example, I’ve learned there are some commonalities among pastors who can successfully revitalize an established church.

Here are 7 attributes of pastors who do church revitalization:

Calling. I don’t recommend church revitalization to anyone unless they have a clear calling from God. I believe God often gives tremendous latitude in allowing us to choose where we serve, but church revitalization appears to be a unique calling — one I’d be certain God has called you to do. Honestly, it’s the same for church planters, but, in my experience, it’s easier to plant a church. Starting completely over is usually easier than trying to revive an established church that has been in decline. (That’s just my opinion, but it’s based on experience.) And we need lots of church plants. I don’t have statistics to back it up, but there has to be more Kingdom money in established, but declining churches than the total invested in recent years in church planting. We need church revitalization — if for no other reason to be good stewards of Kingdom resources.

Supportive spouse. As in church planting — or any ministry — if you’re married, the spouse plays a huge role. But, to be honest, in church revitalization, Cheryl’s part has been one of the hardest parts for me personally. I have the greatest pastor’s wife. She genuinely loves people. There are days, however, when people with no filter chose my wife as a punching bag for their frustration with me. It happens almost every time we announce a change. (I’ve made it very clear that is not an acceptable response, and it’s gotten better with time, but it still occasionally happens.) But, that never happened in church planting. And, might not happen as often if we left everything alone and didn’t try to revitalize. The bottom line though is that Cheryl felt we were being called to this. In fact, she sensed it before I did. (She almost always does when it comes to matters of faith.)

Love of history and tradition. The key here is that you’re in revitalization. It’s not demolition. You’re leading a church to rediscover their past. If they don’t have a past worth rediscovering — then demolition might be a better option. Give. up and go plant a church. But, revitalization will involve celebrating some of the great moments from history. Along the way, there will be traditions worth maintaining. They are culture — DNA — and they work towards the mission they just need new energy behind them.

Entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve heard those who love “new” say they’d get bored in revitalization. Not! In addition to loving what’s old, it helps greatly to love all things new. And, this attribute and the last one are rare as a combination. It’s unusual to love history and tradition and have an entrepreneurial spirit. You can’t leave things exactly as you found them and expect the church to revive. Revitalization involves change. The heart of a planter, if they can live with the other attributes needed, works well in church revitalization.

Patience. It won’t be easy and you will not be able to move as fast as you can in church planting. The delicate balance between preserving DNA while encouraging change will be challenging at times. To be successful, you’ll need to honor the past while you push towards the future. That takes patience. (And, frankly you’ll have more somedays than others.)

Visionary. A church revitalization pastor receives a call and then grasps a God-given vision for what could be. It’s a strong enough vision to provide the tenacity to see it to fruition and to be able to cast in a powerful enough way where people are willing to follow.

Resilience. Dictionary.com defines resilience as “the power or ability to return to the original position after being stretched.” Yea, that. No, doubt you’ll be stretched as a church revitalizing pastor. And that also requires perseverance. Dictionary.com defines perseverance as “steady persistence in a course of action”. And, yea, that too. You’ll have set backs. There will be days you think you’re making progress only to realize people are upset about the color of the carpet. Through it all, you’ll have to keep going to be successful. And, if God called you to it then you will be.

My goal is not to scare you away from church revitalization. We need some who will take up the calling. My goal is for you to be prepared — and ultimately — to be successful.

5 Common Struggles Among Young Pastors

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I recently spent several hours with a group of young pastors. It was a cross representation of church planters and pastors of established churches. Healthy churches and unhealthy. Growing, plateauing and declining. Most were new in their positions and I expect all these churches will be growing soon. Sharp group.

We talked about a lot of issues, but one of our longer discussions was when I asked them what their greatest struggle in ministry was at the current time. There were some incredible consistencies — actually more than I anticipated. Very different churches and very different pastors. Similar struggles.

Here are the 5 most common struggles they shared:

Personnel issues. If the church has any paid staff other than the pastor there will be issues for the pastor. I’m finding this portion of our work more demanding than ever. The longer I lead the more complex this issue becomes, simply because of the changing laws and regulations placed on places of employment — including the church. I always advise younger leaders, especially those without a background in this issue, to seek professional help in this area, even if it has to be from outside the church.

Navigating bureaucracy. I think this is a particularly heavy burden on younger pastors. The generation entering the ministry is much like the generation entering the secular workforce. They want to do something, not meet about doing something. I share their heart, but granted this is one of the hardest ones to address. (Of course, the church planters weren’t the ones with this struggle as much.) I often advise young pastors in established churches to write some of their best sermons around casting vision of how we should spend our time as pastors. Jesus seemed to teach and model quite extensively about our need to reach the lost. The Bible doesn’t record a lot of His time in committee. Acts gives good models of leadership and serving the people. People in the first century seemed to do a lot of the work we’ve placed on professional staff.

Balancing ministry and family time. This has always been a struggle. And, frankly, it should be. We need to work hard — that’s a good Biblical principle — and we need to protect our family. There’s another great Biblical principle. It requires a healthy art of balancing our time. This younger generation of ministers, however, and I think it’s a good thing, won’t automatically let the ministry trump their family. Ministers from my generation and older generations sometimes did. And, many from these generations have told me they wish they hadn’t after it was too late. My advise to the younger pastor is to keep the heart for the balance, be very intentional with their schedule and use of time and cast vision to the church continually of why they’re not at everything and why they’re family is so important. The church needs that message too — as they are equally in the struggle.

Developing leaders. This one seemed true regardless of the style of church. And, in my experience, it’s true in most organizations. We are always in need of new leaders. You can’t grow or even maintain without consistently developing new leaders. In a practical sense, leaders come and go, die or burnout. But it’s also difficult to grow and develop as a body without growth in the number of leaders. I advised them to start systematically and strategically developing new leaders now. In fact, I think it’s more important that you have a system — even if it’s not perfect — than to do nothing. People typically learn best by doing. So, at the least, in the absence of a formal leadership development program, start giving people you see with potential assignments to lead — and let them develop with on-the-job training.

Handling critics. Again, this one was shared less by the church planters, but the interesting twist is that the criticism church planters received was typically from outside the church. Pastors in established churches seemed to receive most of their criticism from inside the church. (There’s a whole blog post needed on my thoughts on that one.) But, either way, one thing all leaders have in common is criticism. Lead anything and critics will find you. You don’t have to go looking for them. (I love the passage in Exodus 24 where, as Moses was going to the mountain to spend time with God, he made a plan for how to handle disputes among the people.) Because leadership involves change. And change always changes things. (You got that, right?) People often respond to change with an emotion — it could be anger, frustration or sadness — but it comes to us as what we’ve labeled criticism. I’ve learned sometimes it isn’t as much against the leader as it is against their sense of loss, but either way it hurts. I always remind young pastors and leaders that we must find our strength in our calling, our purpose and in the pursuit of the vision God has placed in our hearts. We shouldn’t ignore criticism. We should filter it. (And I’ve written on the right and wrong ways to respond to criticism.) But, we should not let criticism control us — in our leadership or in our emotional state — even though that is sometimes the intent of the critic. Part of leading is learning how to stay healthy even in the midst of criticism.

I love my time with this group and plan to repeat it. I’ll share more as I experience more.

Let me ask, was anything surprising about the list?

I also wondered, are seminaries addressing these issues? Should they?

10 Realities Every Young Leader Needs to Hear

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I work with young leaders everyday. I have two incredible young leaders as sons. (Here’s my picture with them a few years ago — taken the day we moved to Kentucky.)

Occasionally, when I am talking to a young leader something becomes apparent. They often think what they are experiencing is unique. And, more surprising than that, they think perhaps their struggle is no longer mine — like somehow I’ve outgrown them.

That’s what prompted this post. I’ve included a few tips for young leaders I’ve learned along the way.

Here are 10 realities every young leader needs to know:

At times you will feel overwhelmed. You know that feeling, right? Like you can’t get it all done and you’re not sure you know where to start. Those feelings don’t ever leave you completely as a leader. There will be seasons where they are stronger than others, but if you’re doing anything of value you will occasionally feel overwhelmed. They are a part of life. Something you’ll never outgrow.

You’ll not always know what to do. You don’t ever get to a point in life where you’ve learned everything. You get better at some things. Okay — lots of things. Wisdom and experience has its benefits obviously. But, regardless of your age — if you’re doing anything productive — you’ll learn something knew everyday.

Seldom will you be 100% certain. You’ll always have an element of risk in your life. You will be forced to move forward by faith. That is a good thing. It keeps you grounded and on your knees before God.

Sometimes it’s just for the learning experience. And that’s huge. If you put all your effort into something and it doesn’t work — or its not as good as you thought it would be — it’s easy to get frustrated. But, the process will teach you something. And, the value of the learning experience is huge. Never miss the life principles intended for you.

You’ll many times feel under-appreciated. There will be lots of things you do that no one will notice. Great things. Trophy-deserving things — and people will act — it will seem at times — like no one noticed and no one cares. And, that may not be true. They may simply be living a full life like you are — overwhelmed like you are — and it just passed by them. But, it leaves you feeling under-appreciated. And, like all leaders, eventually we have to find our reward in the knowledge and personal satisfaction of our work well done as much, if not more, than the public recognition of that work.

People are watching. If you position yourself to lead in any way, you become a target of spectators. What you do. What you say. And, what you post on social media. Some will agree. Some will not. Some will agree just to get on your good side. Disappoint them and they will leave. Some will not agree because they are jealous of a leader with an opportunity. All that said, don’t shy away from people. That’s never the right response. Just be aware. Be gentle as a dove and wise as a serpent.

Learn the words of successful leadership early. As with the previous one, the words of a leader carry great weight. Don’t make it “my” team or your leadership won’t be very successful and no one will buy-in to the team except you. A leader’s words should always be inclusive rather than exclusive. Become a fan of words like “we”, “us” and “ours”. The more you include people, the more they’ll feel included (see how simple this is) and they’ll be more likely to suffer with you for the win.

Sometimes, if we believe in something strong enough, we have to stand alone. That’s a hard reality in a world that tries to force sameness, but if you do anything of value — or believe anything strongly enough — sometimes you have to stand single until others catch on or until you find supporters. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to advisers. You should. You should have mentors and be open to constructive criticism. I never make major decisions without the input from others. But, don’t give up what you know to be right — especially those things you sense God is calling you to do — because it isn’t popular.

Great things starts with humble beginnings. Don’t be afraid of starting at the bottom and working your way to the top. That’s still a viable option — and the reward feels greater when you built it the hard way. And, never underestimate the power of a moment.

You have to discipline yourself to decompress. It’s not usually built-in to the system. During the busy seasons of life — when there’s plenty of work to do and time is of the essence — which is most of our life if we set out to be leaders, you’ll have to discipline yourself. To rest. Re-calibrate. Refocus. Rediscover the passion that once fueled you. Re-connect, if needed, to a deep intimacy with God. You have to discipline for that. You’ll seldom have a leader or a system that forces that upon you. And, it’s life-essential. Don’t neglect your soul.

These are obviously random — but in my life they’ve become realities. For some of these, if you don’t understand them, you may think something is abnormal about you. Although, I guess another reality I have learned, is that there something abnormal about all of us.

Seven Reasons Some Churches Experience Revitalization (While Others Don’t)

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This is a guest post by my friend Thom S. Rainer.

I have a great love for local congregations. To be sure, I’ve never been in a perfect church. They just don’t exist.

But I still love local churches.

One of my greatest joys in the past several years has been to see and work with churches that have experienced significant turnaround. While that turnaround is typically evident in attendance numbers, it is much more than that.

I recently categorized those reasons some churches experience revitalization. I then compared them to churches that have not been revitalized. I found seven differences between the two sets of churches.

These are the seven traits unique to the revitalized churches:

The leaders and members faced reality. One of the reasons most churches don’t experience revitalization is their unwillingness to “look in the mirror.” Denial leads to decline which leads to death.

Many in the church began explicitly praying for God to revitalize the church. I know of a leadership group in one church that prayed every week for over two years. The church is now in true revitalization.

The churches had an explicit and clear focus on the gospel. Preaching became clearly gospel-centered. Ministries became gospel-centered. And many members began intentionally sharing the gospel, which brings me to the next reason.

Members did not just talk evangelism; they did evangelism. I did not see a specific approach or methodology to share the gospel in these congregations. It was clear, however, that there was a more focused intentionality on sharing Christ than in many previous years.

Many members in these churches began focusing on serving Christ through the church rather than seeking their own preferences. Another way of stating it is that these members became other-focused rather than self-focused. This attitude seemed to be directly connected to their prayers for revitalization.

These churches raised the bar of expectations. Thus membership in these congregations became meaningful. Members moved from spectators to participants.

The churches developed a clear process of discipleship. The members became more immersed in the Word. There was a clear and cogent plan to help members grow in their walk with Christ.

Do not count me among those who have their heads in the sand about the state of congregations in North America. As many as 100,000 churches are very sick or dying. Many more also need revitalization.

I hope you can join me for a video consultation on church revitalization at RevitalizedChurches.com. It will almost be like I’m at your church offering you guidance and hope toward the future. You can CLICK HERE to sign up for the four-part overview of the series at no cost.

Yes, I remain an obnoxious optimist about local churches. I am seeing too many indicators of His work to believe otherwise. Let me hear from you. And I hope to see you in the video consultation on church revitalization.

What are your perspectives on the need for church revitalization? What do you think might be missing in many churches?

7 Disappointing Reasons People Leave the Church

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One disappointment I have had in ministry is watching people come to church, get excited for a time, then disappear. You spend energy and heart on people, grow to love them and get excited about them, and suddenly they are nowhere to be found.

The biggest disappointment is not people who transfer to another church. I’m okay with that if it helps them better grow in their relationship with Christ. I’m talking about people who quit going to church altogether. They are in one day — out the next.

What happens to them? Why do they leave?

I’ve found there are often similar reasons that are repeated continuously. Perhaps you have seen this too.

Here are 7 reasons people disappear from church:

Burn out - These people came out of the gate too strong in the church. They showed up, got excited, and signed up for everything. They got so busy doing church they failed to enjoy being the church.

Injury - People inside the church can be cruel. I hate when that happens, but it’s true. These people experienced some of those people and they couldn’t move past it.

Distractions - These people got distracted by seemingly good things. They were playing travel ball, loving the fast life, traveling every weekend. Over time, their lifestyle of attending becomes the habit of not attending.

Life change – These people had a lifestyle change, such as divorce or re-marriage — or they move to a new community — and never re-connect with a church.

Mistakes - These people messed up! They made a mistake that may be public — or at least they feel that it will be known — and the place that should dispense grace appears either refuses it or they feel that it would. Many times when a person feels that way it is more perception than reality, but the way a person feels about themselves may determine whether they remain committed to church.

Power struggle – These people had an agenda. They were pursuing an issue — or a position — and when it their demands weren’t met and they couldn’t overpower the system, they left.

Lack of connection – These people never connected with others on a deeper level. As a result, they never felt really a “part” of the church.

Pastors, have you experienced these walking with people in ministry? How do you address these issues?

Obviously, we need to do all we can to help people become disciples. Knowing why they leave may be helpful. We can’t address some of these issues — maybe most — much of this is out of our control. But, the more we understand the more we can help people as they experience these.

I think there is also a word here to the one who has disappeared or is on the verge. Beware. If you feel the need for the church in your life — or if you understand the Biblical mandate to be a part of a Body of believers — then guard your heart for these. And, help us know how to be a better church. In fact, come help us be a better church. Here’s one pastor (And, I know so many others) who is listening.

What other reasons would you add to my list?

7 Ways to Be a Community Building Pastor

Building Blocks

In my recent post I contend that…

To be a kingdom building pastor you MUST be a community building pastor.

I admit that “must” is a strong word — and there are few things that I’m emphatic about unless they are Biblical, but I do believe that in order for us to reach people today we have to get outside the walls of our church buildings. And, that means we MUST do something intentional to make that happen. The community has to know — and believe — that we really do care for them. For me, being a community builder makes sense — and seems most effective.

And, we do love our community already, don’t we?

I certainly hope so. We believe we have the hope for the world as our central teaching. The Gospel is not to be a hidden truth but the light in the city on the highest hill. That means we must take our light into the world.

So the fair question to follow a post like that is how do you do it? How can a pastor — or ministry leader — be a community builder?

I don’t have all the ideas, but I have some suggestions.

Here are 7 ways to be a community-minded pastor:

Know key leaders – I think you should know who the leaders in the community are and know as many of them personally as possible. You may not be able to know the mayor of your city, depending on the city’s size, but could you know your local council representative? Could you know a school board member? You’ll be surprised how receptive many politicians are when constituents contact them — especially a leader who has an audience with a significant number of people. (And, anything over an average household can be considered significant.) Let me be clear that I never endorse candidates in my official capacity, but I do vote and it’s amazing when you’re active in the community how many people in your church want to know who you support.

Listen to concerns – Wherever you are, wherever you go, whatever you do in the community — whether at city hall, a school meeting or the grocery store or barbershop, listen to hear the things people are talking about around you. If you hear repeated themes you can almost guess that’s an issue on people’s minds. And, if you aren’t hearing anything — ask. Actually, ask anyway. And, don’t hear for what you want to do or where your church is already serving. Listen with an open mind to the real concerns of people. You may have different answers than they’ve thought of before. You know how to organize people. You represent people you can organize. That’s a powerful combination when addressing community needs.

Love what they love – I’ll get disagreement to this one, but I think it’s one of the more effective ways to be a community builder. I’m specifically talking about loving the culture of the city. I’ve seen pastors bash their community online. That’s foolish in my opinion. You can talk against community concerns in a way to rally support for a cause without bashing the community. People often feel about where they live — especially if they grew up there — the way they feel about their family. They can say bad things about them, but you better not. But, here’s where I’ll get the most disagreement — to me, this also includes loving the traditions they love — including their local sports teams. I was visiting a church recently and the pastor joked about the local college team. He referred to the fans as “sinners”. The crowd gave a rousing disapproval — and they laughed. It was funny. I couldn’t help but wonder, however, how much more effective he could have been endearing people to his leadership if he was “on their side” rather than always blatantly rooting for an opponent. It must be genuine of course, and I’m not suggesting you drop loyalties to other teams, but ask what cause are you more loyal to supporting and how supporting it will be most effective. I’m in the heart of the University of Kentucky Big Blue tradition. I get criticized repeatedly by my Tennessee fans as a “traitor”, but I’m telling you people like me better — and listen more — when I’m wearing Kentucky blue. God has called me to reach people in this community and I’ve discovered they love that I’m learning their unique culture and exploring and enjoying the uniqueness that is Kentucky. When I was in a military town, the more knowledge and support I could demonstrate about military service the more our soldiers and their families seemed to endear themselves to my leadership. And, don’t misunderstand, it is absolutely genuine for me. I am intentionally trying to love the people to whom God has placed me to minister — and part of that — as I would do for any family member — is learning to love the things they love.

Learn the community – One of the best things I did when I moved to Lexington two years ago is go through the Leadership Lexington program. The following year I went through Leadership Central Kentucky. I quickly learned things I might never have known about the community. It’s amazing now how I can answer questions about things we offer in the community that people can’t answer who have lived here for years. Most communities have something like this. Often they are found connected somehow to the local Chamber of Commerce or equivalent. You can also sign up for any local tours that the community offers. If the town is too small for anything like this, make appointments with people who are known in the community for their years of service to the community. Go prepared with questions and pick their brains about the community. Cheryl and I recently started volunteering at the city’s visitor center. We are doing this to give back, but also to get even more familiar with the city and what it has to offer.

Build your community network – You never know when you’re going to need it. Plus, there will always be people you may not know but people in your network will know them. I’m consistently asking people to connect me with people I should know in the community. And, that’s in all sectors of the community. Don’t limit your network to those society considers influential. I recently had one homeless person tell me of another homeless person I needed to know, because he is an influence in that segment of the community.

Serve somewhere in the community, besides your church – I think this is critical in community building, but also simply the right thing to do. As pastors, we expect people from the community to serve in the church. It’s only fair for us to give back to the community that is giving to us. Plus, we need to lead the way so that others in the church will serve in the community also. Finally, it’s the best way to meet people who need the hope that we have to share.

Lead your church to be community builders – This begins with a general desire to see the people of the church investing in the community. But it won’t happen by accident. It takes the intentionality of teaching and serving by example. And, most of all it takes consistency. This isn’t something we do in a campaign once a year. This must be a lifestyle — getting the church into the community — being community builders — so we can eventually be Kingdom builders.

What other suggestions do you have to be a community builder?