Why the Church isn’t Reaching my Unchurched Friends

young people

This is a guest post by my friend Jordan, who lives in Louisville, KY where she works as Account Coordinator for Heartland Communications Consultants, Inc. She enjoys blogging on a variety of topics including career, family, God, or most often, the awkward moments of the twenty-something life. To read more of her blog, go to www.jordansblahblahblahg.com.

I am 23 years old and I go to church.

I am rare.

In fact, many of my closest friends are not involved in church at all.

Some of my friends simply don’t believe in the Christian faith. Others call themselves Christians, but church is just not a necessary part of their lives.

Why?

By now, it is no secret that my generation, or “Millenials” as we are called, is largely unchurched. There has been an extensive amount of research on the issue, and churches have made extensive changes to combat the problem.

Changes often include ridding of choir robes and organs in exchange for skinny jeans, drums, and fog machines.

But still, why are so many of my friends anti-church?

I grew up in the church my entire life, so when I went away to college, finding a church was at the top of my priorities. Unfortunately, finding one didn’t come easy. For a while, I found myself in the same category many of my friends are in. I loved Jesus, but I simply did not have a desire to be a part of the churches I was visiting.

And I visited every type of church. From traditional to “hip”, from small to big. I didn’t want to join any.

My reasoning was simple and it came down to one word.

Fake.

Nothing seemed authentic.

Don’t get me wrong; I was full of teenage/twenty-something know-it-all cynicism and arrogance, I am sure. Churches are definitely not the sole problem. People are the problem. Because people are sinners-the church going ones and the non-church going Millennials.

But despite the associated arrogance, I truly think my generation is on to something in our desire for authenticity.

You see, the hardest years of my life came in college. For a while, it seemed like every week brought a new disaster that I had never faced before. As one event piled on top of another, I became a mess. My usual happiness turned to sadness, my usual good decisions turned to bad decisions, and my usual faith turned to nothing but questions.

I desired to be a part of a church that got it.

That got my struggles. My sin. My doubts.

All I wanted when I entered the doors of church was to find people who would bear my burden and remind me of whom God was, because quite frankly, I wasn’t sure anymore. Unfortunately, so many times, it seemed like the God people were pointing to was one that would want nothing to do with me and, if I was being honest, I didn’t know if I wanted anything to do with him.

Either everyone was really happy all the time with no problems, or they were being fake…and I was in no position to play the Fake Game.

In fact, I don’t think my generation in general wants to play the Fake Game when it comes their desire to find and know God.

We’ve played the Fake Game enough. The Fake Game surrounds us in advertisements, tweets, and Facebook profiles. When it comes to seeking God, we don’t want to play anymore. We want to find Him.

We want to ask questions.
Voice our doubts.
Explain our struggles.
Confess our sins.
Confide our fears.

And we want the church to do it with us.

We want Pastors to admit their weaknesses.
Leaders to confess their sins.
Sunday School classmates to confide their struggles.
A church to recognize its shortcomings and rely joyously on God’s grace.

We don’t just want church-goers and pastors to hang up their suits and ties for t-shirts and jeans because its “cool”. We simply want people to be who they are Monday through Saturday on Sunday, too.

We want to come to God as we are.

And we want to be a part of churches full of people who do the same.

Because that is the Gospel we are interested in. And the cool thing is…that really IS the Gospel.

If you want to reach my unchurched friends, it’s simple.

You be you. Really.

And let God be God.

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Immanuel Annual Report

Gather Grow Serve

We’ve received great response to our annual report, so I thought I’d share it here. We had an amazing year at Immanuel Baptist Church and, borrowing from ideas we’d seen elsewhere, we decided to produce our first annual report.

We had a talented young couple in the church help us with this. The staff provided input and I was able to share it with leadership of the church.

Here’s how we unveiled it:

One Sunday evening we invited anyone who leads in any area of our church to a meeting. They could serve as a deacon, Sunday school teacher, or ministry leader. We even included our top 100 givers. (Some people serve with the gift of giving.) We weren’t trying to be exclusive. We turned no one away and even made a general announcement on a Sunday morning. We were trying to fill a smaller room than our large worship center with those we knew would be most invested and interested in the report. Combined this made a group of several hundred people, of which about 200 were able to attend. I walked through the report as a slide presentation. Of course, we later shared it online with the entire church. It was an opportunity to celebrate, give God the honor and challenge us for the new year.

You can view the report HERE.

Here’s to a great 2014 Immanuel!

Stay tuned for our new website release — coming soon!

Does your church do something similar?

Point me to a link in the comments of this post. I’d love to get ideas from you and celebrate with you!

10 Traits of a Great Church Member

Church service

Obviously, God builds the church, but He uses people to build it.

What kind of members does God use to build a great church?

As a pastor, I have noticed some trends among church people who help move the church forward. The following is a list of characteristics of those type of people. Not everyone will have every quality, but it’s the combination of each of them in people that builds a great church.

Great church members:

Believe and love God’s Word.

Joshua 1:8 “Study this Book of the Law continually. Meditate on it day and night so you may be sure to obey all that is written in it. Only then will you succeed.

Great church members let the Bible guide them and the church.

Grow in prayer.

Ephesians 6:18 “Pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all Christians everywhere.”

Great church members pray more than worry.

Build on faith.

Hebrews 10:38 “And a righteous person will live by faith.”

Great church members are willing to walk by faith as God leads, even through the most challenging times.

Put God’s will first.

Mark 3:35 “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.

Great church members put God’s will ahead of every other agenda.

Enjoy meeting with God regularly.

Amos 4:12 says, “Prepare to meet your God,

Great church members look expectantly and often for opportunities to worship God and experience Him with other believers.

Support the pastor and the church.

1 Corinthians 16:10‑11 “When Timothy comes, treat him with respect. He is doing the Lord’s work, just as I am. Don’t let anyone despise him.

A pastor is always looking for someone to call friend. Great church members are that friend. The pastor isn’t always right, but great church members look for ways to support more than complain.

Encouragers in the church.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”

Great church members are a part of the solution, not a part of the problem. They look for ways to help, invite their friends and neighbors, and volunteer without having their arms twisted.

Don’t think everything is about them!

Matthew 16:24 “Then Jesus said to the disciples, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me.”

Did you know everything may not go your way? Great church members are willing to allow the best to be done for the church even when it sometimes goes against their personal desires.

Think outside the walls of the church.

Acts 1:8 “But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me every where‑‑in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

If we are not careful, our churches could be hard to tell apart from a Country Club. Great church members think of those not yet in a church…and support the church in reaching them.

Maintain a friendly church.

2 John 6 “Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.”

Great church members make sure guests never stand around long with no one to talk to. They are welcoming and friendly to everyone, with or without a title to do so.

I’m so thankful to be in a church with so many who make this list easy to write.

What would you add to this list?

7 Ways Christians Should Behave Online

Social media on Smartphone

I have had an online ministry for over 15 years. God has humbled me with the way He has chosen to use this influence He has given me. I try not to take it for granted.

One thing that has changed since I began ministering online…and it’s changed for all of us…is the rise of social media. Whether you believe it’s a good addition or not, we cannot deny it’s impact on culture or even on the church. Personally, I have chosen to use it for good as much as possible.

Still, it disturbs me some of the ways I see Christians respond on social media. I can post one thing…whether serious or not…and I do use humor intentionally as a part of my online presence…and it never amazes me how someone might respond. I have referred to the practice as a slam and run. I just have to thank God at times for the delete option. :) But, it’s an example of a bigger problem. Christians aren’t always behaving well online. What we’d never say offline we have no problem saying online.

Seriously, this isn’t a personal plea. This is a Kingdom plea. Just as the world is watching how Christians respond in public they are watching how we respond online. We must be careful then with what we post. All of us will be misunderstood. But, we shouldn’t be blatantly offensive.

Here are 7 ways Christians should behave online:

No soapbox -We are told to “do everything without arguing or complaining.” (Philippians 2:14) That doesn’t mean we can’t support causes we believe in, but they should be moral and Biblical issues, not personal agendas.

No public bashing – Unless you’ve practiced Matthew 18 principles, and even then it would be rare, don’t address your problems with others online. It’s not helpful and never promotes peace. (Romans 12:18, Hebrews 12:14)

No little jabs – We shouldn’t say things about others that may be misinterpreted as a stab against them. Guard your online tongue. (James 3). I see this especially as a passive aggressive tactic. We feel “safe” evoking insults or cuts to another person online that we would never say to their face.

Encouragement – Social media can be a great way to encourage others. We shouldn’t spam with massive amounts of posts. Few appreciate the person who reshares everything they see, but most everyone likes to read an encouraging word pointed especially to them. (Ephesians 4:29)

Do to others – As we’d have them do to us. We should always think before we post. Pause. Breathe. Think. Post. Ask yourself how you would be impacted by the post before you post it. (Luke 6:31)

Guard against pride – We have to be careful with self-promotion and bragging about ourselves online. Granted, this is coming from one who has built an online platform online and I frequently encourage other pastors to do the same. It’s one of the best ways currently to engage people for Kingdom building. But, this is a reminder for me too. We must check our motives, guard our hearts and never allow our egos to rob glory from what God wants to do through our online presence. (Proverbs 11:2, 13:10)

Not allow it to be a replacement for community – It’s easy to post “Happy birthday” or reply “Praying for you” without really doing so. We shouldn’t trade the functions of the Body for an online presence. (Acts 2:42-47, Hebrews 10:24)

Those are 7 that come to my mind. What would you add?

(Be general please and not specific in your comments, so as not to violate the purpose of the post.)

What can the church learn from a coffee shop? (Update)

static.squarespace.com

Can/Should, the church learn from a coffee shop?

You may recall a post I did earlier this year about a new coffee shop in town. They are doing things that, honestly, I think the church could learn from them. Read that post HERE.

Well, they are at it again. Recently, thieves broke into the coffee shop. How they responded is getting citywide and even national attention.

Check out THIS local article and THIS national article. And there as many more.

Again, what can the church learn from a coffee shop?

Good job A Cup of Commonwealth!

Some of my takeaways questions:

  • How would the church respond to a break in at the church?
  • How would the community come to support us?
  • What are we doing that’s causing a community to take notice?
  • Are we making our community better?
  • Would our community say it’s a better place to live because of us?

Please add yours…

7 Suggestions TO DO When the Church is in Decline

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I recently posted 7 suggestions NOT to do when the church is in decline. (Read that post HERE.) As expected, I had numerous requests for the companion post. And, this is that post. I chose a picture of growth for this post. Thinking positive!

It should be noted that this is a more difficult post to write. There are no cookie-cutter solutions for reversing a church in decline. Churches have unique characteristics, because they have different people. They are different reasons that cause decline. It could be anything from poor leadership, to being locked into the traditions of men or simply a change in population in the community. It’s difficult to copy what someone else has done, because the causes are so different.

I do have a few suggestions. When I’ve worked with a church in decline I almost always give at least some of these same suggestions.

(Now in any post like this I explain…I don’t know what I have to other than I’ve been blogging long enough to know some of the responses I will get. GOD IS IN CHARGE. Period. Listen to my preaching…pick any Sunday…and you won’t hear otherwise. I have a philosophical and even Biblical mindset that God has given us responsibility to lead His church well. We are under His direction and work by His strength, but He gave us minds and creativity to use for His glory. )

Here are 7 suggestions TO DO when the church is in decline:

Evaluate – What went wrong? What is going wrong? Why are less people attending? Why are new people not? Ask the hard questions. Is it programmatic? Is it a people problem? Is it a Biblical issue? Is your church just plain boring? If nothing has changed in the programs you offer in the last 50 years…I may already have your answer. But, ask questions. Ask for inside and outside opinions. This takes guts, but is critically necessary. You can’t address problems until you know them. You may need an outside perspective. You could trade with another church, by letting them evaluate you and you evaluate them. Ask visitors. Recruit a “secret shopper” attendee to give you an objective look at the church. You must evaluate even if you are afraid to know the answers.

Own it – The problems are real. Don’t pretend they are not. At this step, cause or blame is not as important. They were important in the first step, because they may alter your response, but now the problems are yours. They are not going away without intentionality. Quit denying. Start owning the issues. I see too many churches avoid the issues because they are difficult…or unpopular…to address. Find a Bible story where people of God were called to do something that didn’t involve a certain level if risk, hard work, fear or the necessity of faith. I suggest if you find one example you can refuse to own (and address) the problems.

Address major, obvious issues – This is hard. Perhaps the hardest one. If the church has “forgotten your first love”…repent. If the church holds on to bitterness and anger from the past…forgive. If walking by faith has been replaced by an abundance of structure…step out boldly. If the church is in disunity it must come together first. If you love the traditions of men more than the commands of God…turn from that sin. Now. And, if the problems involve people, don’t be a people pleaser, address them. (Told you this is hard.) Yes, this requires leadership. All we like sheep have gone astray. Church leaders lead. And, leadership takes us through the hard places to get to the best places. But, if there are obvious issues that need addressing, you can try hundreds of special programs or events and nothing is going to work, because there’s a roadblock to address first. (Side note here. Not every church can be saved, in my opinion. God promises the Church will prevail, but that promise is not given necessarily to Third Street Baptist…or Broad Street Methodist…or the church at Laodicea. If these issues can’t be solved it will be very difficult to move the church forward.)

Find alignment – Where does the church best find unity? What will everyone get excited about doing? This is many times a vision, or a moment in history that was special to everyone, or a common thread within the DNA. Find that and focus attention on it. In my experience, God will not bless a church in disunity, but churches have issues, causes or programs that everyone can get excited about and support. Working together builds enthusiasm, momentum and unity.

Regroup – At some point, regardless of how drained you feel from the decline, you’ve got to come to a strategy of what to do next. It needs to be written. You need a road map of where you are going in the next season. (It is Biblical to think ahead. Consider Luke 14:28) I’ve never personally been able to plan in great detail more than twelve months out and sometimes, especially in times of less clarity, only a few months, but you need a plan. Start with your overall vision and explore ideas of how to accomplish it again. Put some measurable goals in place to make progress….things you’ll do next week, next month, and in a few months down the road. It will hold you accountable if you have an action-oriented strategy. It will build momentum as people have something to look forward to doing.

Reignite – Put your energy and resources where it matters most. This often involves getting back to the basics of what it takes to achieve your vision. If you are a church with a heart for missions, for example, amp up your mission efforts. If special events are your wheelhouse…do them. It may mean not doing things that aren’t working. They tend to drain energy and resources. (And yes, this is difficult and often unpopular.) Look for what is working, or has the potential to work again…the fastest, and begin to stir energy around that program or ministry. You need quick wins so the church can feel a sense of progress again.

Celebrate – There will be wins. You may have to look for them some days, but when they occur celebrate. Celebrate big. Remind people that God is still moving among you. Now, it should be noted, for the overly celebratory types, that you can’t celebrate everything. If everything is wonderful…or amazing…then wonderful and amazing is really average. They need to be legitimate wins. If you celebrate mediocrity you’ll set a precedent of mediocrity. But, when you see signs of heading in the right direction, make a big deal out of it.

Those are seven suggestions. I strongly encourage you, if you want to see the church growing again…if the church yearns for health again…be intentional. Be willing to ask for help. Raise the white flag and invite honest dialogue. The harvest is ready…the workers are few…we need you! We are losing too many churches and not planting and reviving enough. Do the hard work. Pray without ceasing. And, trust that your labor will not be in vain. Praying for you.

What suggestions do you have for a church in decline?

5 Suggestions When People Leave a Church

church crowd

One tough reality of being a pastor is when people you thought were supportive leave the church. For a variety of reasons, people will leave.

Make any change and someone is not going to like it. Life changes and relationships often impact a person’s church attendance. Misunderstanding and unmet expectations cause some people to leave. There are a variety of reasons. I wrote about some of them HERE.

The point of this post is addressing how we respond as pastors and church leaders.

How do you respond when people leave?

Here are 5 suggestions:

Accept it happens – It actually happens in churches where everything seems to be working at the time. Regardless of the reason…people leave. We shouldn’t be surprised simply because they do or think it can’t or won’t happen in the church in which we minister.

Admit it hurts – God is in charge of numbers. I get that. People are responsible to God and not the church. I get that too. People may leave because it’s the best thing for them spiritually. I totally get that also. The bigger issue is whether or not a person leaves “the” Church or “a” church. If they are attending another church we should take comfort in that, but pretending it doesn’t still sting a little is like saying you didn’t feel the bandaid being ripped off your arm. You are human. It hurts. It is difficult not to take personally. Depending on the circumstances or way it happens it may hurt more sometimes than others but it always hurts.

Analyze the reason – This requires asking the hard questions, and admittedly, this too can hurt, but it’s helpful to know even if the answer is you. It requires humility to admit you’re not the church for everyone nor the minister everyone wants to shepherd them. But, you can’t address what you don’t know and there are often valuable lessons to be learned from why a person chooses to leave a church.

Adjust if necessary – Don’t be afraid to admit you could be wrong. If people feel the church wasn’t meeting their needs try to discern if it’s them or the church. If it was a matter of style they didn’t appreciate that’s one issue, but if it’s something lacking from the church’s offerings…that you should have…you may need to make some adjustments. Be willing to learn.

Attune your vision – Okay, it was obvious I was looking for an “A” word, but this is actually a good one. Attune means “to bring into harmony”. And that’s often necessary when people disappear from the church. Most likely their absence will affect others. You may need to realign people to the vision, especially when those leaving were previously and visibly committed. Assure people you are listening, and genuinely be listening, but in the end stay true to the God-given vision God has called you to lead.

Again, no one wants people to leave, especially if they are leaving upset with you or the church. But, it is a part of church leadership. Learning to process it will make us better equipped to minister to the ones who stay…and the new people God will bring.

Pastor, help me out with this post. What tips do you have for addressing this issue of what people leave the church?

(Update: the comments are already making this post better.)

Five Reasons People aren’t Volunteering at Your Church

Do you need more preschool workers to serve children? Do you need more greeters to greet? Do you need more ushers to…ush?

If so, you’re in familiar territory.

I’ve never met a church that said, “You know…when it comes to volunteers, we’re good. We’ve got plenty. In fact, there’s a waiting list for the nursery.”
Churches everywhere need to mobilize more volunteers to get ministry done. But before you start signing people up and filling slots, it might be helpful to take a look at why people are NOT volunteering.

Here are FIVE REASONS people might not be volunteering at your church

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You’re not asking correctly. It takes more than blurbs in the bulletin and pleas from the pulpit to move people into volunteer positions in your church. If you want people to serve, you’ve got to learn how to ask correctly.

It’s hard to sign up. Signing up has to be simple and immediate. Hidden tables in the lobby don’t work. Remembering to email so-and-so isn’t a good strategy.

It’s not clear. If you want people to do a job, they need to clearly understand the expectations and requirements. Pull back the veil and show people what’s it like before you ask them to get involved.

You’re not saying thanks. People don’t want to toil away in a thankless role. Just because someone’s reward is in heaven doesn’t mean they don’t need to hear “thank you” on earth.

It’s too hard. The super-committed will do whatever it takes, but if you want to mobilize a bunch of people, you need to make it easier. Take care of their kids, provide food, and make sure they have everything they need to succeed. A little planning on the front end goes a long way.

To learn how to build a larger volunteer base, sign up for the FREE ‘Get More Volunteers’ Event.

How to Stop Being a People Pleasing Pastor or Leader

Frustrated office manager overloaded with work.

I received this email after a recent post:

Ron,

Have just finished your blog post “7 Casualties of a People Pleaser in Leadership“. I recognize I am a People Pleaser Pastor. How do I turn the tide on this? How do I stop? I am seeing tension mounting on the team. There is frustration on our staff and it is even spilling over to our spouses, and my vision has hit a brick wall. I really want to move away from this but I am finding it most difficult.

Signed,

One frustrated pastor

Here is my reply:

Frustrated Pastor,

I’m impressed with your boldness and honesty.

Here are a few thoughts to get you started:

Get firm again on the vision you are trying to accomplish – It appears you have one, but people pleasing must be more important to you than accomplishing that vision. Not trying to sound harsh, but that’s the reality. We tend to do what we value most. You must begin to value the vision more than making people happy. Make sure it’s God-honoring and God-ordained. When you are leading a church, obviously you want to do the will of God. He gives us latitude I believe, but we want to make sure whatever we do honors Him and gives Him glory.

That vision, though, is what should hold your feet to the fire. If it detracts or doesn’t line up with the vision God has given you, you shouldn’t be as enthusiastic about it…regardless of who brings it to you. That doesn’t mean you can’t say yes to other things, but you can clearly say…”I’m sorry, but right now I’m chasing this vision God has given me.” Imagine the pressure Moses was under as a leader to please the people, but he had to hold to the vision God had given him and not cave to the pressure to always please people.

Get buy in with a team towards reaching the vision – You need a team around you committed to the same defined vision you have. Be careful who you surround yourself with here. Make sure they are people who are not self-serving, can see a bigger picture, and will protect your back should it come to that. You’ll need others, however, that can back you up when you’re tempted to give in and be a people pleaser.

When you recruit them, make sure they understand the vision and are committed to seeing it to completion. Be honest with your propensity to cave to pressure from others. Share with them your desire to complete the vision and given them permission to speak into your life when they see you pleasing people more than accomplishing the vision.

Assign responsibility and timelines – Give people real responsibility towards accomplishing the vision and measurable timelines toward achievement. This is hard for some pastors, but you have to release responsibility for decisions made. This process is vital, because it keeps tasks moving forward and therefore makes it easier and more palatable when you have to say no to other things. It’s hard to argue with success.

I often find it’s sometimes easier for someone closer to a task to say no to something new. For example, if a group wants us to start a new mission somewhere outside our focus area, the people who currently lead our mission efforts are often better at protecting the vision we’ve already set in place than I am. If I let those who lead in a specific area of ministry help make the decisions in their area, we will protect the vision more often.

Allow these same people to hold you accountable to sticking to these determined goals and objectives. You will be less likely to cave to people pressure if you know things are on track to reach the vision. I give people on my team the right to tell me when I’m veering from the vision we have before us.

Discipline yourself – The reality is that if you recognize people pleasing is a weakness in your leadership, you’ll have to discipline yourself away from it. This will take time. It probably has been a weakness for a while now, so don’t expect it to disappear immediately. When you sense you are making a decision purely to please others, give yourself a gut check. Put it in your schema. Tie a string around your finger if needed, but by practice and consistency, recall the bigger picture.

When needed, call in the trusted advisors again. Renew the passion for the vision again. Slowly, over time, you’ll find yourself better able to say no when needed so you can better realize the vision God has placed on your heart.

Those are my initial suggestions. I’m praying for you frustrated pastor, but I’m believing that you can do it. God has called you to it. He will equip you accordingly as you surrender to His will.

Ron

Ever been a people pleaser? What suggestions do you have?