In every discussion about church growth and vitality, the conversation will inevitably turn to the role of music, and which style to use.  The speaker mentions a particular megachurch that started with 3 guys in a living room that also played guitar, and that brought a crowd and soon the 3 became 300 and then 3000.  The implication is that music brought and kept the crowds.

That’s really a false assumption.  There are thriving  churches with country music.  There are robust congregations that sing hymns.  There are active parishes with robes that sing chants.  Some use orchestras, some rock bands, some a piano and organ, some a CD player.  Some are a capella.

When music gets in the way

Matt Redman’s “The Heart of Worship” was written after his home church, Soul Survivor, in Watford, England, topped singing. The congregation was struggling to find meaning in the busyness, so pastor Mike Pilavachi decided to get rid of the sound system and band for a season.  “When the music fades, and all is stripped away…” was more than a good lyric.  It was how the church reconnected with the heart of worship, how the church family learned to be “producers in worship, not just consumers.”

Reconnecting the music

Eventually, Soul Survivor Church added back the music, but with purpose. The music was then to support the congregational worship, not an activity that mimicked worship.
Source: Song Story

JD Grear is advertising a missions conference at Northwood Church, in Keller, TX called Global Faith Forum.

Pastor Bob Roberts has a number of WORLD leaders… Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia, representatives of the State Departments and Muslim republics around the world, etc at his church to talk about the needs of people around the world and how the church can be instrumental in meeting them.

The speakers include Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia, representatives of the State Departments and Muslim republics around the world.  To be an effective witness to the world, we need to know what matters to them.

What caught my eye was the strategy for reaching out:

rather than start with the head, and try to get to the  heart, we should start with the hand (serving together with Muslims, etc to meet needs of Muslims), which will win us into their heart, which will allow us the opportunity to discuss things with the head (about issues of disagreement in faith, etc).

What can your congregation do to reach the hands of your target group, in a way that you can engage their mind and turn their heart.

What does it mean to  be ‘missional’?  Is that different from being ‘mission-focused’? Does it matter what you call it?  Does it matter if you do it?

I’m not sure the difference between being missional and being mission-focused.  I suspect they are at least close to one another.  Both move a congregation to being aware of missions, and into actually participating in missions.

I know from experience it starts with being aware of the need.  It means going deeper than just ‘bless all the missionaries over there’ to knowing about what a specific missionary does day to day in relationship with a specific people group.  The congregation begins to pray for and to give  donations to that specific missionary over and above the generalized denominational offerings.  Finally someone breaks out and goes somewhere.  Over time, if nurtured properly, the whole congregation gets behind the movement and a sizeable portion of the congregation gets involved.

It’s transformative.

In almost every case, it pulls the members closer to one another and closer to God.  They get a sense that what they are doing is important, and if they didn’t do their part, people would starve or die from disease, and people would go to hell without Jesus.

Perhaps the difference I’ve seen are those that focus their attention on the unreached peoples elsewhere in the world, and those that serve the forgotten, abandoned and estranged people in their local community.  Both are important.  Both should be celebrated.  And people need training in how to be ‘on mission’ in both locations.

Enter Church Publishing Incorporated (CPI), a publishing source for Episcopal support materials.  The story I get from the CPI press release is that their initial offering is five books of practical wisdom.

  • Starting from Zero with $0: Building Mission-shaped Ministries on a Shoestring, By Becky Garrison
  • Mission-shaped Church: Church Planting and Fresh Expressions in a Changing Context
  • Mission-shaped Parish: Traditional Church in a Changing Context, by Paul Bayes, Tim Sledge, John Holbrook, Mark Rylands, and Martin Seeley
  • Mission-shaped Spirituality: The Transforming Power of Mission, by Susan Hope
  • Mission-shaped Questions: Defining Issues for Today’s Church, by Steven Croft

I haven’t read them, but the titles seem interesting.  (I just received Becky’s in the mail this weekend.)  If you’ve read one or all, let me know what you think.  If you want to get a copy, they are available from the CPI Bookstore.

One way to get a church moving is to be involved in the lives of people outside your congregation.  Mission trips are great, but for those that aren’t ready to go, you can “spiritually adopt” someone who  has gone.  Like Radical John:

I’m trained for disaster response.  Specifically, I’m one of the 80 thousand Southern Baptist yellow-shirted volunteers certified to help out in a disaster.

I’ve taken that training a step further.  I and others at my church have received Red Cross training in first-in damage assessment.  Sleeping in the truck first in.  Helping the Governor decide if it’s bad enough to make it a federal disaster area.  It gets me to where hurting people are.

I have a ham radio license.  I’m one of the 40 or so locals who actively participate in civic events like marshaling parades and parking cars at community events.  I train with the radio team and they know me.  In an emergency, I become a trusted agent with access to the shelters and the command post, as a minister of the gospel.

We train for commodity distribution, and when the church gave away 1600 boxes of food, our team did so efficiently and with smiles and prayers, ministering love with order and cooperation. (no one waited in line more than half an hour)

When we go in to “mud out” a flooded house, or take a chain saw team to remove downed trees, or set up a mobile kitchen to feed thousands a day, we do so to get close to hurting people who need to hear that God loves them, and in spite of present circumstances, has a wonderful plan for their life, and has brought me past the police checkpoint to minister His grace.

Because if I provide aid without a witness, I’m just another city volunteer, with a dead faith.  I want instead to work out my salvation to people who in that moment are anxious for a good word.

Seth Godin wrote a great post this week about the “About” tag on websites, called “Five rules  for your About page.”

It’s 5 simple rules, but they speak volumes:

1.  Don’t use marketing jargon.  Tell us who you are and what you stand for.  In plain language your grandmother could understand.

2.  Don’t use a stock photo of someone not at your church.  Use real pictures of real people (with their permission).  Not just leaders.  Ordinary people.  Helps visitors connect when they see the web face sitting next to them in the pew.

3.  Make it easy to contact you. Don’t hide the address or phone number.  Don’t use an email address that doesn’t work anymore.

4. is like 1.  He says to “Be human. Write like you talk and put your name on it. Tell a story, a true one, one that resonates.”

5.  Use true testimonials to build credibility.  Helps if it’s not someone on staff.

Good words.  Read and heed.  (excuse me while I edit mine!)

Ed Stetzer, the Chief Researcher and Missiologist at Lifeway Publishers, did a study a couple of years ago on the state of church planting.  He referenced some of the reports from that study in a recent blog post.  I’ll talk about two topics:  the cost of planting a new church and improving the health of a church plant.

The big factors tend to be monetary, volunteers, and intangibles.

The average church plant budget is $246,346 in startup funding.  They are expected to raise a third to one half of that independent of the sponsoring organization(s), which contribute an average of $172,200.  Some will start on less, and some will consume 4 times that – up to $1M.

Stetzer notes that successful church pastors raise a lot of their support from outside sources.  Struggling churches don’t.

A large part of the cost is salary.  A successful church has two full-time staffers, the pastor and one other, usually worship pastor.

In terms of volunteers, 88% of fast-growing congregations have a leadership team. (Only 12% of struggling churches are supported by a team, suggesting that 88% of struggling churches are led by a single pastor who is trying to do it alone.)  While this may not incur a direct financial cost, it does impose costs on the pastor.  The most obvious is the time it takes to wait for the volunteers to understand the vision.  You could probably do it better yourself, but letting the team do it extends the results and keeps the planter from burning out.

I hope you are also spending resources to train volunteers.  If the pastor/planter is the only one with understanding, it will cripple development.  But a well-trained team can be leveraged to do more than what the planter could ever accomplish alone.

And there are facility costs.  Rent or mortgage, lights, heating and cooling, restrooms and trash.

Know also that marketing and advertising will cost.  Best estimates suggest 10% should be spent.  Also be generous with refreshments.  If you nickel and dime the parishioners who also give a tithe, it negates the message that “God will provide.”  If God is providing, then why would you operate as if you can’t afford donuts and coffee?

In conversation this evening, I spoke with a man about being stuck in the past.  It was about a man in a small congregation who knows and uses the phrase “We’ve never done that here before.”

The incident was when the man, leader of the church council, invited a Christian magician to perform in the church’s fellowship hall.  The magician is very good, and it was great fellowship.  But when it was over, “Charlie” came up and said he didn’t like what they’d done.

Why didn’t Charlie like the show? He said “the church shouldn’t be a community center.”

Actually, the church ought to be a community center.  A good church’s facility  is the center of the community, and a place of community action for the members.  That’s who we are.  If we use the skills of other believers to draw people in for social interaction, they will get to know us and hopefully give us permission to talk about our faith.

Or we can close the doors.

“This generation wants meat. They are tired of silly events that have a little Scripture thrown in, or events where junk food is served up large and the Bible doesn’t make the menu. ”

Alvin Reid is one of my favorite thinkers, especially where it comes to young adults.  He’s been looking at the spiritual landscape and calls today’s rising young adults “A Generation of Carnivores.”  They migrate to and fill a church where the pastor will “teach the Bible verse by verse, sometimes an hour or more weekly.”  It takes some preparation and presentation, but they will respond.

Not so, he says, the older generations.  We’ve trained them to need “dumbed-down” sermons” of spiritual milk.  But if you do that, you can grow a crowd without growing a church. It will  take staff and effort but have no base, and very few committed tithers.  Those kinds of members “donate” a little time and money to the cause-of-the-month, but have no staying power.  We know that won’t work to sustain your church long-term.

There is a younger generation of believers who are tired of “do the minimum” Christianity. They want it straight, they want it real, and they want it now. If you teach the Bible, and if young adults you teach sense you genuiely love them and love Jesus, you can get right in their grills. In fact, you must. If however they perceive you as a smart aleck, or you stereotype them to the extreme, you will lose them. And you will never have a chance with unchurched  young adults.

Do this and live.


Dr Alvin Reid is Professor of Evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, author and frequent speaker at youth events.

Brandon O’Brian has a book out describing how a church can be effective by choosing to be small, and adjusting how they do church into that context, measuring success by effectiveness not size.

your church–whatever size–has everything it needs to be used in extraordinary ways for the Kingdom of God. You don’t need more resources or more volunteers; you just need the imagination to see how God has equipped you uniquely to carry the gospel to your neighbors.

OBrien says there are lessons for large churches as well.  The habits of fostering intergenerational dialogue, of working together in small groups, of focusing on projects where a mass of people would overwhelm the ministry.  It changes how you plan.

The key lesson, though, is to affirm to congregations that small is not bad, if  you are small for the right reason.  Rural churches, size constrained churches, targeted community churches.  God can use churches of all size if they are operating his way.


Thanks to Ed Stetzer, for including an interview with Brandon O’Brian on his website.