Five Options for a Church in Decline

It’s simple and straightforward.

Leaders of declining churches have five choices.

Let me clarify. In theory, the choices are simple. But putting them to practice is not so easy. So when pastors or other church leaders ask me what they can do about their declining church, I ask them to begin at the high level before looking at a lot of details. One of these five choices must be made.

1. DO NOTHING.

Anecdotally, I can tell you the majority of churches make this decision. Such is the reason that two-thirds of the churches are declining or plateaued.

Advantages: You avoid conflict. You may get to keep your job.

Disadvantages: If you do nothing and are declining, you will still decline. You are disobedient to the Great Commission. And leading a declining church is no fun.

2. INCREMENTAL CHANGE.

I wrote about this kind of change many years ago in a book called Eating the Elephant.You attempt to discern a pace that can take as many members as possible with you.

Advantages: Change is taking place, hopefully for the better. You minimize losses of membership and criticisms, but not completely. You probably keep your job.

Disadvantages: Today most churches don’t have the luxury of changing incrementally. The world is so different than just a few years ago. Incremental change may not stop the bleeding.

3. SIGNIFICANT CHANGE.

Leadership recognizes the simple choice is, “change or die.” The church decides to make significant leadership, methodological, organizational, structural, and philosophical changes.

Advantages: The church may reverse the decline and become a gospel influence in the community again. For those who are on board, there can be a sense of radical obedience to the gospel.

Disadvantages: The church almost always loses significant numbers of members. Ironically, the church may not survive the change created for survival. Leadership is inundated with criticisms. You could lose your job.

4. PREPARATION FOR CLOSURE.

Unlike the “do nothing” choice of option one, the church acknowledges it is declining and headed toward death. It makes preparation for an orderly shut down and disposition of property and other resources.

Advantages: This option is one of death with dignity. The church is not scurrying at the last moment to consider options. The process is orderly and well planned.

Disadvantages: The church dies. The gospel presence in the community once represented by this congregation no longer exists.

5. PREPARATION FOR ACQUISITION.

The church seeks to become a campus or site of a healthier congregation. It yields its leadership and gives its resources to the acquiring congregation.

Advantages: There is a continuation of the gospel presence in the community. The acquiring church provides leadership and resources to effect a turnaround. The church does not close.

Disadvantages: The acquired church is not the same congregation. The members of the acquired church often have a false notion that the new church will let things stay fairly constant. They never do

At its basic levels, declining churches really have one of five choices. And if a church makes no choice, it has really decided to choose the “do nothing” option, the worst of the five choices.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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— Debra
 

Clarity Process

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Five Setbacks to Lasting Change

It is one of the most common questions I am asked.

Essentially, the question, in one form or another, deals with organizational change. The church wants to change its staff structure. The leadership wants to reconsider the roles and functions of elders or deacons. The lead pastor wants to have different people reporting to him.

To be clear, organizational change is absolutely necessary . . . some of the time. But much of the time, we lead organizational change for the wrong reasons. And the results are often frustration, exhaustion, and loss of momentum. Here are five clear reasons church organizational change fails:

  1. The change is a substitute for dealing with people issues. There are one or more people in the organization who are problems in their current roles. They may be over their head, lacking people skills, lazy, or incompetent. Instead of having the courage to confront the people directly, we organize around them. This erroneous move is sometimes called a “work around.” You are working around the real issue instead of dealing with it directly.
  2. The change becomes a substitute for execution. Work is not getting done in some areas. Ministry is languishing in other areas. The church tries to create an organizational structure to get the work done. But the greater need is simply for people to roll up their sleeves and do the work, as messy as it can be. Organizational change is not a solution for poor execution.
  3. The change gives a false sense of comfort and security. Sometimes leaders make organizational change and declare the work done once the changes are made. But the work should only be beginning after the change. The new organizational structure gives a false sense of comfort and security that the challenges have been met.
  4. The change does not keep up with the pace of other changes. Many organizational structures are so rigid or complex they cannot adapt to the fast pace of change. The new structure thus becomes a hindrance for future and greater health.
  5. The change is a copy of another church. There is nothing wrong with emulating another church’s organizational structure. But if we fail to discern if the new structure is really best for our context, the change will do us more harm than good. Unfortunately, too many church leaders contract emulation fever and it makes the whole church sick.

Change done for the right reason is good. Change done for the wrong reason or for the sake of change itself can leave the church in a more difficult position than keeping the status quo.

Lead change well. Lead organizational change well. Learn what is best for your church rather than copy another church. Seek wisdom before action.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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Sorry, the author of this content has removed the links at the original source!
 
— VRcurator
 
The hypertext link is broken for the pdf download - can it be fixed? Thanks!
 
— Steve Elliott
 
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Seven Reasons Churches Should Merge

“I have been involved in 17 church closures where we sold the properties to a secular company.”

Those words grieved me in two ways. First, I grieved that the ministry and mission presence of those 17 churches were no longer realities in their respective communities. Second, I grieved that the properties were no longer being used for local church ministries.

This post is not about a pleasant topic. It’s about churches that have declined to the point where their near term future is in doubt. And it’s about churches seriously considering allowing another church to takeover their property. It’s about churches going down the difficult but noble path of being acquired by another church. Allow me to elaborate with seven reasons why churches should consider this option.

  1. So a church presence in the community will not go away. We need more churches, not fewer churches. If your church has declined to the point where it looks like it may close, allow another church to acquire your property and re-start as a new church.
  2. Because re-plants have many of the same advantages of typical church plants. Simply stated, a re-planted church is able to start anew. Past challenges are in the rearview mirror, and new opportunities abound.
  3. Because real estate is becoming scarce and more expensive. From a stewardship perspective, it makes much more sense to give away the property of a dying church to a relatively healthy church. In some areas, land is scarce. In all areas, new buildings are expensive.
  4. So the work and ministry of your present church may have a legacy of continuation. Imagine the untold hours of ministry that have gone into the work of an existing church. Imagine the potentially millions of dollars that have been given through the church. If your church is on the precipice of closing, don’t let that work and sacrifice end abruptly. Allow another church to honor and continue that legacy.
  5. Because the ministry presence in the community will move from unhealthy to healthy. If your church will possibly close soon, it’s obviously not very healthy. Allow a new church to acquire your facilities to bring a healthy ministry presence to the community.
  6. Because sometimes a new start is needed to overcome negative perceptions in the community. If your church is on the verge of death, its reputation in the community is either negative or unknown. A re-plant will allow the new ministry presence to have a fresh start in the eyes of those in the community.
  7. Because often the acquiring church increases its ministry impact multifold through an acquisition. Many acquiring churches report greater health and ministry impact as they gain new campuses. And it’s usually not the simple addition of ministry impact with each additional campus. All locations of the acquiring church often become stronger and more effective in their respective communities.

I recently went over my updated will with my three sons. The son with the greatest level of mercy told me he was uncomfortable talking about my death. I get that. But death is a part of God’s glorious plan. I would rather plan for it than to leave my family struggling to take care of everything after my eternal departure.

Churches also die. But it’s so much better to be prepared for that death than to close the doors without further consideration.

Churches that allow themselves to be acquired are churches looking to a new future, a new hope, and a willingness to sacrifice to get there.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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Sorry, the author of this content has removed the links at the original source!
 
— VRcurator
 
The hypertext link is broken for the pdf download - can it be fixed? Thanks!
 
— Steve Elliott
 
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Simple Steps to Social Media Success

I recently came across the infographic below at Entrepreneur.com in an article related to the customer service woes of Cracker Barrel and United Airlines that I mentioned on the blog.

While many of you may see the principles and stats in the infographic relating to the business side of customer service, there are several items applicable and translatable to local churches. Here are just four of them:

  1. Our perception of our church may not match our community’s perception of our church. There’s a massive difference in the amount of companies (80%) who believe they offer great customer service and what the actual public thinks (8%). Is there an imbalance regarding your church’s reputation? Do you truly know how your church is viewed in the community? Is your church really “the friendliest church in town” like you think it is?
  2. Experiences your members have at your church should make them want to invite others to join them there. When we have a great experience or great meal at a restaurant, we tell our friends. Does the weekly worship service, the community built in small groupsor the life-change experienced on mission with those in your church motivate members to tell others about it? Are your members walking billboards for your church and their Savior?
  3. Leaders and staff should be responsive to questions or comments from members. If your staff is involved in the daily lives of members, there will naturally be ongoing conversations about what’s going on in the church. Do your members feel informed and involved in the decisions of the church? Or do they feel like things are run behind closed doors?
  4. Communications from your church should be personalized as much as possible. When your church sends out emails or mailings, the information that is being shared should convey warmth and fondness. Personalization of communications can make the difference in people understanding and retaining the information or ignoring it completely. Is your welcome letter to guests personalized? Do you tailor messages to different groups or do you blast out information regardless of who the audience is? 

I understand there is a difference in customer service and communication to church members and guests. I also realize church members shouldn’t have a customer mentality. But this infographic below sheds quite a bit of light on some simple practices that can be adapted for churches that will allow them to communicate more effectively with their members.

What other takeaways can you infer from the infographic below? Does your church already do some of these?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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Sorry, the author of this content has removed the links at the original source!
 
— VRcurator
 
The hypertext link is broken for the pdf download - can it be fixed? Thanks!
 
— Steve Elliott
 
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

7 Ways to Make Sure Your Guests Have the Best Experience Possible

Would you like every guest who attends your church to become an active and fruitful member?

I know. Dumb question.

It’s really a rhetorical question since all church leaders and members would respond with a resounding “Yes!”

So we tried something rather radical to find out what gives church guests a good experience. We asked them. The question was very straightforward: “What would you advise churches to do so that guests can have the best experience possible?” Here are their seven top responses:

  1. “Make sure your signage is clear and helpful in the parking lot. Our family of six rarely gets ready on Sunday morning without some level of conflict. I come to church stressed. I don’t need to be stressed further by not knowing where to go in the parking lot.”
  2. “Provide clear signage to entry points to the church. I am new to our area, so our family has been visiting churches. I have really been surprised how many churches do not have signs that clearly point to where we are to enter.”
  3. “Have a manned information booth [or table] right where we enter. Some churches put their information person or booth in such far out places that they are not useful at all.”
  4. “Greet me casually, not in a contrived stand and greet time. The stand and greet time is so artificial. I know how friendly a church is by the greetings I get when I enter and when I leave.”
  5. “Show me where to take my children. Even better, take me to where I am to take my children.”
  6. “Sit with me. I’ve been in some churches where we were avoided like the plague. No one sat with us.”
  7. “Explain things I might not understand. Even though I’ve been in church for over ten years, every church is a bit different. If your church does something that is not typical, let us guests know both the ‘what’ and the ‘why.’”

We can speculate what guests would like, or we can listen to them. We took the latter path and gleaned some nuggets of helpful information. Let us know what you think.

Read more from Thom.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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Recent Comments
Sorry, the author of this content has removed the links at the original source!
 
— VRcurator
 
The hypertext link is broken for the pdf download - can it be fixed? Thanks!
 
— Steve Elliott
 
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

The Danger of Seeking Stability

Change or die.

That is reality for churches today.

Of course, I am not talking about Scripture, doctrine, or spiritual disciplines changing. Those things are constants, never to be compromised.

But much of what we do in our churches must change. And, unfortunately, many church members and leaders resist change. They seek stability and comfort over obedience and sacrifice.

Let’s look at five key reasons why stability is bad for a church.

  1. A stable church is not a church on mission. The very nature of the Great Commission means our churches should be in constant change. A church member blasted a pastor for his efforts at leading the church to reach unbelievers in the community. She castigated him because “those people are messing up our church.” Sigh.
  2. Comfort is the enemy of obedience. Review all the examples of obedient persons in the Bible. In every case, they had to get out of their comfort zones. Too many church members want stability because they don’t want to experience the discomfort of obedience.
  3. Stable churches are not reaching their communities. The communities in which churches are located are changing. Many are changing rapidly. If a church seeks comfort, it is not willing to make the necessary changes to impact the community it was called to serve.
  4. Stable churches do not create new groups. Show me a stable church, and I will show you a church that is not creating new groups or Sunday school classes. Show me a church not creating new groups, and I will show you a church that is inwardly focused. The members are spiritual navel gazers.
  5. Members of stable churches want the focus to be on their preferences. They want church “the way it’s always been.” They are more concerned about getting their way with music style, room temperature, and precise starting time of worship services. In their latter years, they are able to sing, “I did it my way” rather than “I did it God’s way.”

There is nothing biblical about a stable church. In fact, the stability is really just an illusion. Those churches that seek stability will ironically change the most rapidly toward decline and death.


Talk with an Auxano Navigator to learn more about the dangers of stability.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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Recent Comments
Sorry, the author of this content has removed the links at the original source!
 
— VRcurator
 
The hypertext link is broken for the pdf download - can it be fixed? Thanks!
 
— Steve Elliott
 
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Eight Reasons You Are Wasting Your Resources

Most churches keep their members so busy they don’t have time to do ministry.

Indeed, I spoke to a lay elder of a church recently who told me he simply did not have time to get to know his neighbors because he was so busy in his church.

Something is not right with this picture.

In an earlier post, I talked about how our churches can become more intentional about doing real ministry instead of busy work. But in this article, I address how churches became so busy. Perhaps understanding the origins of dysfunctional busyness will help churches avoid this problem in the future.

  1. Activities became synonymous with ministry. I am familiar with a missions support group in a church. It includes over 30 people, representing over 20 percent of the weekly worship attendance. The group is very active with fellowships, meetings, and speaker events. But the missions support group has never supported missions, nor have they ever been involved in missions. But they sure are busy.
  2. Programs and ministries are added regularly, but few or none are ever deleted. This reality is glaringly obvious at a church in the Southeast with an average attendance of 60. The church has 15 committees and nearly 30 different programs and ministries throughout the year. They almost have one ministry or program for every member. They add some activity every year, but they never delete the dead or useless activities.
  3. Programs and ministries become sacred cows. They were once the pet project of a particular member or a group of members, alive or deceased. The thought of eliminating the non-functional ministry started by Sister Harriett or Brother Frank 35 years ago is deemed blasphemous.
  4. The alignment question is not asked on the front end. Even a good ministry may not be the best use of time for a church. In one church, the membership voted to initiate a ministry because one person had become a believer through the ministry in another church over a two-year period. But the church members never considered if there might be other ministries that could be more effective and better aligned with the direction of the church.
  5. Silo behavior among the different ministries of the church. A worship ministry in the church began a new ministry that required extensive volunteer help. But the leaders never considered they were hurting other ministries in the church. Members don’t have unlimited time; they have to make choices.
  6. Lack of an evaluation process. Most churches have an annual budgetary process. That is an ideal time to ask tough questions about existing ministries and programs. Very few church leaders take that opportunity.
  7. Ministry becomes facility-centered. In other words, if it’s not happening in the church facilities, it’s not “real” ministry. As a consequence, we keep our members too busy to do ministry outside the walls of the church.
  8. Lack of courageous leadership. It takes courage for a leader to look at the busyness of a church and say “no” or “enough.” Some leaders would rather not rock the boat and, as a consequence, lead a church toward mediocrity and malaise.

We are wasting too much time, energy, and money in our churches. Often we are doing more things and becoming less effective. It’s time for busy churches to become simple churches.


Connect with an Auxano Navigator to learn how to avoid wasting your resources.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

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Recent Comments
Sorry, the author of this content has removed the links at the original source!
 
— VRcurator
 
The hypertext link is broken for the pdf download - can it be fixed? Thanks!
 
— Steve Elliott
 
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Five Challenges to Healthy Church Growth

Every year another two million American adults become less receptive to the gospel, and less receptive to churches.

Every year.

That is one of the nuggets I took from the Pew Research work on the “Nones” when they first released the data in 2012. Pew has continued to follow the religious commitment level of Americans. From 2007 to 2014, over 12 million American adults have moved from a high level of religious commitment to a low level of commitment. They just skipped the medium level of commitment altogether.

Cultural Christianity is dying.

One no longer has to be a Christian or in a church to be accepted by society. That relatively easy pool of prospective attendees for our churches is disappearing.

But most churches keep doing what they’ve always done.

As a consequence, they are reaching fewer. They are declining.

Why?

The answer to that question is too complex for a simple blog post, but let me provide five high-level responses for now.

  1. Church members are not being intentionally relational with those who are not in church. The old way of church outreach was more transactional; today it requires the development of relationships. Most church members will not take that step. Many don’t know how to take that step.
  2. Many churches are stuck in the past. While we never compromise the gospel and the Word, our methodologies must reflect an awareness of our culture, and a willingness to be missionaries to that culture. Sadly, too many church members are unwilling to make changes. Church, for them, is about their needs and their preferences.
  3. Church members are not regularly inviting people to church. Yes, it can be that simple. Many of the religiously unaffiliated will come to church if we invite them. But it’s difficult for them to respond to an invitation if they never get one.
  4. Many church members fail to act like Christians on social media. Unbelievers are watching us on Facebook and Twitter. And many of us are more likely to show our rear ends than Christian love. Social media is where the unchurched reside. And they constantly see our petty quarrels, our venomous politics, and our self-serving attitudes. Look at this blog post about what non-Christians think about us. I wrote it in 2013, but the comments still come in from unbelievers.
  5. If they come to church, they only have a mediocre experience. The religiously unaffiliated do visit our churches from time to time. But, more often than not, they see our holy huddles and our lukewarm greetings. Most will not return.

Growth is indeed more difficult in most of our churches today. We no longer have the large pool of cultural Christians from which to draw. But we can reach them. We must reach them.

We will have to treat our membership in our churches as missionaries to the community instead of country club membership. Biblical membership is not about getting our perks, privileges, and preferences. It’s about sacrificing self for the gospel.

Then, and only then, will we see our churches start growing again.


Knowing how to grow a church shouldn’t be a mystery. But the busyness of ministry, combined with the clutter of church growth ideas, leaves many pastors with more questions than answers. As a result, progress is slow, people are scattered, and the work of ministry feels less meaningful than you thought it would. Connect with an Auxano Navigator to learn more about a process that leads to growth.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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Are These Offertory Trends Taking Place at Your Church?

For most Protestant churches, the offertory is the time of worship where church members make financial gifts to God through the church. It may be combined with special music or announcements, but the central theme is giving to God.

I am seeing seven major trends develop related to this aspect of worship services. The changes have been subtle but noticeable.

  1. More churches are moving the offertory to near the middle of the service, shortly before the preaching of the Word. This development is a change back to a practice that was most common before 1990. This approach has either an implicit or explicit theological belief that the offertory is a central facet of worship, and should be placed prominently in the service.
  2. The second most common practice is to have the offertory at the end of the service. The typical rationale for this practice is more related to the flow of the service. The offertory is still deemed important, but the service has a more continuous flow if it is placed at the end.
  3. Churches that provide the opportunity for online giving see an uptick in overall gifts.Obviously this type of offertory does not take place in a worship service, but it is deemed very important by leaders whose churches offer this option. I am not aware of any churches where online giving has replaced the worship offertory; it is simply another way to give.
  4. Churches that mail offering envelopes to members also see an uptick in overall gifts. I have heard numerous stories from church leaders of the importance of this church practice. One church leader told me his church eliminated the practice, and offerings declined almost 20 percent. The church reinstated the mailing of offering envelopes pretty quickly.
  5. Only a relatively few churches have offering boxes for member donations. Most of these churches do not have an offertory time in the service; members are asked to give as they leave the service.
  6. More churches have some type of testimony or statement about stewardship to accompany the offering. Typically, this statement is about how the funds are used. Members are able to see through videos or testimonies the missional impact of their gifts (See the blog post with Pastor Mike Glenn’s example).
  7. Relatively few churches receive gifts in their small groups or Sunday school classes. This practice was more common prior to 1990, especially in Sunday school based churches.

From my perspective, the most effective churches in stewardship make certain that items 3, 4, and 6 are common practices to accompany the church’s offertory. Let me hear from you about these seven offertory trends, and let me hear what your church does as well.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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scottreavely — 05/05/15 1:42 pm

Is the offering moved to the middle or the end because people are late getting into the service? It may appear to fit the flow of worship or centralize the offering, but there are VERY practical reasons to move it later as well.

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5 Dangers of Unaligned Small Groups

The first time I encountered this issue was in a church consultation nearly twenty years ago. I asked the pastor to tell me what was being taught in the church’s small groups. He seemed to be nonplused in his response: “I have no idea.”  I was taken aback.

I tried a different approach. “Tell me,” I said, “how the church decides what will be taught in the small groups.” Again, I was unprepared for his response: “The church leaders have no input into what small groups teach,” he said. “We let every class decide on its own. We don’t want to be like dictators telling them what they have to do. They decide according to what’s best in their own eyes.”

So, I continued, “I guess you let anybody teach or preach anything from the pulpit on Sunday mornings?”

“Of course not,” he said with some indignation. “We are very strict about the Sunday morning preaching. If I’m not teaching, then we have someone who is closely aligned to where we are going and what we believe.”

He did not get my attempt to connect the approach of the small groups with that of the Sunday morning teaching and preaching. How can you be so concerned about one and so nonchalant about the other?

Over the years I have been surprised to find out how many church leaders have a laissez faire attitude about what is being taught in small groups and Sunday school classes. Allow me to share five dangers of this unaligned, “anything goes” approach.

  1. Because preaching is held to a higher standard, the perception becomes that the small group teaching is just not that important. The reality is that most small groups or Sunday school classes spend more time in their groups than the time they take to listen to a sermon.
  2. The vision of the church could be distracted or derailed. When the preaching and small group teaching are not aligned, the small groups can become alternative little churches with their own vision and priorities. Unfortunately, I have seen this reality a number of times.
  3. It opens the door for heretical teaching. I know of one church that gave no thought to the content of the teaching in the small groups. They would soon discover that one group was studying a book that denied the deity of Christ.
  4. It takes away from the unity of the church. The preaching is headed in one direction. The small group teaching is headed in another direction, or multiple directions. There is no unity in what the church is learning or how the members are growing spiritually.
  5. It does not allow for strategic teaching. Indeed, the contrary may be true. The teaching in the small groups can negate the strategic intent of the preaching plan of the pastor.

Leaders in churches need not be autocratic in their desire to get small group teaching aligned with the ministry of the church. It can and should be a mutually agreed upon goal to move people toward greater maturity in Christ with clear and known material.

Indeed many churches are now moving to a uniform curriculum across all ages in all small groups and Sunday school classes. I see this development as a healthy trend. The leaders are making a statement that what is taught in every group is vitally important for the spiritual health of the members and for the church as a whole.

How does your church decide what is taught in its small groups or Sunday school classes? How would you evaluate its effectiveness?

Read more from Thom here.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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COMMENTS

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Bishop Q — 11/10/15 12:26 am

Excellent insights. I have experienced the heretical teachings in small groups debacle. It nearly split the church!

pastorwillrice — 12/30/14 8:21 am

Great piece Thom! I have found it really challenging in the mainline church to try and move to a uniform curriculum. There is much resistance to changing the culture and it as seen as "telling us what to do." I think it is possible, it is just a long process of negotiation and an attempt to get people to see the value. I have seen new church starts have a great advantage here. If they begin with unity in their small group teaching, it can become part of their DNA.

Ralph Graves — 12/23/14 1:41 pm

Having planted 8 years ago, I've kind of shy'ed away from small groups. I might add to these 5 reasons a 6th reason. "Cliques" will form quickly in the body. And that's another headache altogether. God Bless.

Ro'i Steiner — 08/14/13 12:16 pm

You didn't define what "unaligned" is. Small groups can be totally aligned , and need to be, with their church doctrinally and still talk about and emphasize anything they choose. Having a group that meets to talk about business , lets say, can be aligned with the church doctrinally but not discuss the last sermon. Would you say that a group like this is "unaligned" ?

Recent Comments
Sorry, the author of this content has removed the links at the original source!
 
— VRcurator
 
The hypertext link is broken for the pdf download - can it be fixed? Thanks!
 
— Steve Elliott
 
What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.
 
— Debra
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.