As an experienced church planter, trainer, and teacher, one of the biggest misnomers that I have witnessed is the pressure placed upon the planter or planting team to produce numbers. While proponents for “numbers” (or butts in seats) recite passages recorded by Luke in Acts (2:41; 4:4) or argue that one of the books of the Bible is labeled Numbers, the Missio Dei (mission of God) is about people, not numbers. Assuredly, Luke was writing a descriptive narrative, as was the compiler of Numbers, not a prescriptive regulation.
Any Bible student can utilize proof-texting to clarify or validate a point. For instance, if God was “all about numbers” then why was a plague sent upon Israel when David established a census to count the people (2 Sam. 24)? Clearly, God loves numbers, right? What about Jesus making purposeful statements to see how many disciples would stop following Him (i.e. “eat of my flesh and drink of my blood” (John 6:60–71)?
Don’t get me wrong, I think numbers are important, but they should never be a church’s focus. Church Planters endure serious depression and loneliness for two reasons: (1) financial burdens, and (2) numbers/growth. As for the former, the majority of church planters are bi-vocational, contributing to the burden of the new church start’s finances. As well, the bi-vocational planter cannot devote as much time, energy, and attention to the start-up, as hoped—again, causing anxiety.
Not to be undone by finances, one week may bring ample gospel conversations, leading to twenty new guests. The church planter is elated and excited! However, the elation quickly subsides as the next week’s attendance is a gruesome six people (mainly the core group). The church planter becomes depressed. Why? Because his numbers are off. If someone asks him how many are “attending” his new church plant, he feels that he’s a failure.
While the two evidences of church planter anxiety are separated, one of the two can be fixed by mindset, reality, and biblical adherence. If the planter lays a firm foundation in the Great Commission mandate, the pressures of growth go away. My contention: focus on people—not numbers.
If church planters would focus their attention on making disciple-makers from new converts, the result would be churches that naturally multiply. Instead of worrying about a sound-system, social media posts, livestreaming, kids church, order of service, set up and breakdown, worry about the mandate—are you making disciple-makers? Because, “There is no discipleship without living life together.”
One of the dilemmas with starting new churches is that church planters focus so much on growth, that they really don’t care if it’s transfer growth or conversion growth—as long as it’s growth. And in doing so, they’re missing the aspect of living life with others. They’re neglecting the command of developing and establishing disciple-makers of Christ. And, that will never happen without being intentional!
Making disciple-makers takes intentionality, focus, and grit. And, yes—time and patience. Making disciples is not completed in a week or three months. In actuality, there’s really never a “completion point,” only maturity.
Making disciple-makers is not solely about a curriculum but walking through the rhythms of life with one another—we’re to feel the hurts, pains, and victories of “withness.” If a church planter is only focused on numbers to feel relevant or “successful” they have neglected the mandate of Christ. Inevitably, they will create a revolving door of shallow believers.
My prayer and plea: press harder inward, onward, and upward. Create lasting relationships. Live life with the few that God has entrusted to you, instead of worrying about a platform. Obey the Great Commission.
As someone who assesses cultural trends, demographics, and global movements, it is not easy in today’s shifting world as a visionary and trainer.
One of the hardest aspects for “early adopters” is translating what you see coming and then getting others to invest in that vision. For the most part, only a small percentage of people are early adopters of vision and even a smaller part are vision casters.
The Reality of Inner City Churches
It’s amazing how we view the works of Schaeffer, Wagner, or McGavran with deep regard (at least some, do), yet when they were writing, the church didn’t seem to pay attention to them. But, their words have become somewhat prophetic as the church leads into the 21st century. We see before our eyes the proofs of global movements, urban areas, and immigration.
If you’re a church planter or pastor and haven’t heard the term diaspora, you will. If you want to know what is coming to urban churches then you need to become a student of diaspora movements (and immigration).
One of the major shifts in global population is the flowing dispersion of immigrant people groups. God is sovereignly moving people around the globe like never before. As a church planter to the military, I purposefully see the reaching, equipping, and sending as an identifiable diaspora-like movement.
If we couple the influx of hipster urbanites, gentrification, and urban renewal, it’s a massive powder keg awaiting implosion within inner-city churches.
Because most of our inner city and suburban older churches are not prepared for what is coming. The reality—these churches will die out. With the movement of refugees—either fleeing persecution or temporary visa status for work—they’re coming to cities all over the world.
What Immigration Tells Us
Western churches in urban areas will be forced to reach people of ethnicity. It’s not that urban churches haven’t always tried to reach ethnicities—but cities will be more ethnically and culturally diverse than ever. We should know that immigration to the United States is the only cause for population growth.
And, where do most immigrant groups go? Cities.
Without immigrants (legal), the United States would not be growing in population—but plateauing or even declining. Just to clarify, if you’re linking immigration with the Hispanic culture, let me help you. Currently, Germany and Ireland are the top two countries with diaspora peoples coming to the U.S.—Mexico is third, but only by a small portion of one percent, compared to the United Kingdom (4th).
How Does This Change Urban Evangelicalism?
Immigration and diaspora models play a major role in engaging urban areas with the Great Commission (Matt 28:18–20). As well, the combined hipster, gentrification, and urban renewal (for taxation) models will come into effect.
I’ve heard it said, “We need to stop mega-churches from “gobbling” up old city churches for satellite campuses because they know nothing about the people in the city” or “we already have ‘churches,’ they just need more people in them.”
Supposedly, as the theory goes, mega-churches and Anglo church planting in urban areas won’t work because both are viewed as outsiders looking in. The theory suggests that anglo planters and megachurch models do not understand an inner-city culture, and will not be able to engage the people.
This erroneous theory is caused by thinking Anglo church planters cannot reach African Americans, which are the prominent majority of the urban population.
This argument suggests that Anglo planters and mega-churches should solely invest in small “indigenous” churches, working with and alongside already existing minority inner churches—but not create new spaces of worship. While I may have agreed with this model ten years ago (for outreach purposes)—it’s as archaic as the tape cassette—well, maybe the CD.
Within the next five to ten years, domestic churches and church planters will be forced to reach across the cultural lines of socio-economic barriers, engage ethnic diversity evangelistically with E–2 to E–3 evangelism, and evaluate demographic and ethnic data. If a church doesn’t know who is in its neighborhood, it cannot reach it.
Research any recent urban demographic data and compare it to fifteen years ago. However, census.gov reports won’t provide a true picture—as many people groups within a city, either fail to report their true identity or will not report at all (mainly because of privacy, legal issues, or fear). Think about the major influx of Islam—in just fifteen years this people group has surpassed caucasian and evangelical reproduction.
Do you know how many mosques are now within your city?
While I devoutly pray that brothers and sisters in Christ would no longer view skin color, race, or religion as barriers—the fact is—immigration is a game-changer!
Even the inner-city African American culture will be melded into the many ethnic cultures already here and those arriving in the future. To reach an entire city the church must yield to a concerted effort.
Most cities are becoming more and more ethnically diverse: Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, and European. To think that things are going to stay the same, especially in light of gentrification (even though I disagree with it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening), are antiquated and ignorant. Urban churches wishing to survive must engage foreign people groups.
The Good News
First, we have the ability to know, study, engage, meet, and communicate with every people group within our cities. Major mission organizations are working side-by-side in mapping the nations within cities. This information is available and can assist churches and church planters in engaging urban areas with the gospel.
Second, nationalities within city-limits sometimes have unreached people groups (UPGs) among them. Many of the refugees will one day desire to go back home—so, what better way to engage missions than to have UPGs return to “go and make disciples” in their own homeland.
Lastly, churches should be working together, collaboratively, as kingdom workers to reach every city with the gospel. However, this is going to take a multi-pronged approach. Existing mega-churches should find ways to purchase dying empty church sarcophaguses—keeping these “kingdom properties.”
Targeting areas of resurgent growth and ethnically diversified areas with house churches works well, too. Strengthening and revitalizing churches, which can be saved, and churches within lower socio-economic areas are a must.
As well, traditional style church planting (having a sending church) and more innovative church planting techniques (parachuting) must be implemented.
We’re all on the same team—let’s reach our cities and the peoples of the world.
What would you say if I told you that about 50% of millennials would answer, “No”?
A recent Barna article validated that “Almost half of Millennials (47%) agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.”
So, what’s the deal? How could a believer of the gospel, no matter the age, think sharing the story of God is “wrong”?
Well, I think I know why, and I’d like to help.
The Blame Game
There’s a lot of murmuring about the millennial generation—some say they’re lazy, self-centered, and they’re an entitlement generation (i.e. everyone receives a participation trophy).
Two of my children are millennials. They were part of the entitlement “project.” But I don’t place the blame on them. Honestly, I don’t think blame for anything is productive or problem-solving, unless used for solutions.
If the millennial generation is any of the aforementioned attributes, could it be because they were taught. What I mean is—who handed out those trophies?
Likewise, when I read articles like Barna’s—articles about the Millennials and their faith—their lack of commitment—I ask again—who’s to blame?
Was it the children that dragged themselves to baseball, soccer, and football on Sunday mornings? I think you see where I’m going with this?
I think millennials get blamed for a lot. But I know my own children—they don’t fit that description. They’re hardworking, driven, and committed to their faith.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s our fault because we’ve taught them the wrong story?
The Western Story
The problem with much of Christianity is its draw into the Western story. Christianity has taken on the values and declared allegiance to its foreign neighbors of Western culture.
Greek tradition and philosophy have played a tremendous role throughout Western history. The current Western culture derived from a humanist ideology birthed during the Enlightenment—that human reason and intellect (what we call “science and fact”) are far superior than the Bible, which can only be believed by faith.
Newton employed mathematics in defining physics.Eventually, the Western story developed into man as relatively good, implementing immense reason and intellect to overcome negativity, disease, and poverty. Man becomes capable of creating an eschatological (end times) utopia where everyone and every form of love is accepted (accept God’s story).
Which leads us to one reasonwhy 47% Millennials believe it is wrong to share the gospel.
The Western story stands in great contrast from God’s story. Nevertheless, the Church marriedWestern humanism—refashioning the biblical metanarrative into short stories consisting of reasonings of literary genre, hermeneutical criticism, and theology.
But God’s story cannot be reduced to theology—as the biblical story is a comprehensive story about what it means to be truly human. It’s about being human as God designed, as He places us in the midst of His story that finds “its center in Jesus Christ.”
The hinge of Western culture finds its identity in human reason—Cogito, ergo sum— “I think, therefore I am.”
God’s story is not Western, it is an account of all of cosmic history—of the entirety of creation, nations, peoples and the purposeful design of the Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, and Judge of the entire universe.
And the hinge of God’s story is the kingdom of God breaking through into God’s world. It is the birth, life, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus Christ.
If half of the Millennials think that sharing their Christian faith is wrong, it’s because they view Christianity as one ofmany religions—instead of the story.
The comprehensive story of God is not man’s escape from this world, but God’s victory within it. All humans are parts of God’s story, awaiting God’s triumphant return to renew and restore all things as they were designed.
As Newbigin elegantly writes, “Salvation means that man is released from bondage, and that the contradictions of which we have spoken are overcome…It means ‘wholeness.’ It means the healing of that which is wounded, the mending of that which is broken, the setting free of what is bound.”
God’s story—is about cosmic restoration centered in the work of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God broke into this world to renew creation—one person at a time, sharing God’s story, until the King returns.
God’s story is not about the deliverance of man to escape the troubles of this world to enter into a heavenly paradise. God’s story is about what it truly means to be a person.
“The Bible tells a story that isthestory, the story of which all of human nature is a part.”
This means the Bible is not a book about condemnation—but God’s story. The Word of God is not telling the story about anotherreligion or faith, but how God has demonstrated great love and compassion to man.
The Scriptures are not about evangelism, but “an appeal of personal love which seeks not to coerce submission but to evoke love.”
The call of God— “Follow me” (Mk. 1:17) is a personal invitation from the brokenness of this world, to enter into God’s inviting and communal story of freedom, restoration, and Kingship.
“Almost Half of Practicing Christian Millennials Say Evangelism Is Wrong,” Barna.com, Faith & Christianity, Feb. 5, 2019.
Don’t get me wrong, literary genre, hermeneutics, and theology are a good thing, but if we’re too focused on criticisms and not the metanarrative, we miss the point. Michael Goheen, The Church and Its Vocation, 23.
When I was 7 years old, I caught our cat with its arm in my brother’s fishbowl. The cat was poking, prodding, and antagonizing the goldfish. The cat didn’t get the fish, but I know how it felt.
I’m connected to many pastors who live the “fishbowl” life. I’ve heard their “horror” stories of being prodded, poked at, and antagonized. Sometimes, I am in sheer disbelief that anyone would be so heartlessly treated. For the sake of my love for Christ’s church, I won’t share those stories.
What I will do is shed light on the reality of why pastors leave the ministry—here are my top five.
70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.
Over 50% of pastors are paid $50,000 or less—many even below the poverty line. As well, those pastors receive no benefits, medical insurance, or retirement options.
When they leave the pulpit, the church casts them aside.
While the pastorate is a calling, the church should have a true love for their pastor—excited to say, “We take great care of our pastor.”
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he gushes with love for them—but it’s mutual. The Philippians were passionate about their “partnership in the gospel” and they “well supplied,” Paul (Phil 1:5, 4:18).
I know many pastors barely making the income needed, causing them to become bi-vocational (which has pros and cons). The dilemma is not bi-vocationalism, but that these churches expect “full-time” (and more) work. It seems Jesus was right about the “sons of this world” (Luke 16:8). The business world cares more for their peoples than the church.
Perhaps I meant—lack of leadership? While deacons and elders may be in positions, they may also give no support to the pastor.
When leaders have no desire to serve or to cultivate spiritual disciplines, the pastor is the one who suffers. He’s stuck with a rudderless ship. He’s a lone captain at sea, navigating “storms,” with no guides.
Without leadership, the pastor takes the brunt of the finger pointing when things don’t go as planned. Business meetings become gripe sessions—or the contrary, no one cares.
When bad leaders are in positions they are spiritually or experientially unqualified to partake, there’s no vision, mission, and reaching the lost. The pastor becomes a chaplain, overburdened and leaves.
Toxicity can be fatal. I’ve worked with churches that have closed and some existing ones that should!
Wherever there’s gossip, inside concentration, or manipulation—there’s toxicity. I have an ex-pastor friend who was forced out. The church belittled him at corporate meetings, made his life miserable, and asked him to supply his preaching outlines for review. They wanted to rule the pastor.
I know another ex-pastor whose treasurer would withhold his check. He would have to hunt him down to get paid—even though the church had over 1 million in the bank!
I know 4 others with similar situations—never to return.
80% of pastors believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families.
A pastor’s family will always see, and feel, how he is being treated. Whether lack of compensation, undue stress, or other—unlike any other profession, the family worships where the pastor “works.”
Consequently, the pastor’s home becomes an unstable environment. I know a pastor’s wife that literally cried and begged her husband to leave the church—for the sake of the family.
Unfortunately, wives (and children) of pastors experience emotional, relational, and spiritual stress. They hear all of the gossips. They may question: where is God? Is this what the church is really about?
The family of a pastor sacrifices much.
70% of pastors do not have a close friend and constantly fight depression.
True, and I know why. Many pastors have stated an inability to confide in church members. They feel that whatever they say, or do, will be used against them at some point. This is truth.
Pastoral loneliness is a horrible certainty—going through life with no close friends and feeling depressed. It’s a reality that pastors neglect to share and a major reason they leave.
Is your church struggling? Is it plateauing? Is your church planting core team losing interest? Are you having difficulty in reaching the unreached?
Become a force seven multiplier—sounds awesome—doesn’t it? It’s reminiscent of one of my favorite movie titles, Force 10 from Navarone!
What’s a force seven multiplier?
Click. bait. We’ve all been hooked at some point, sorry. We read a sweet eye-candy infused headline and take the bait! For church planters and revitalizers, there are tons of baited hooks.
But, for the most part, many of the “hooks” are baited with buzzwords that appeal to emotion.
There’s something about catchwords that church planters love—and thrive on. They eat them up and spew them out like sunflower seeds. Missional, attractional, immersion, engagement, bi-vo, co-vo, relational, and so on… I even used them—I’m guilty.
At any church planting conference, these hipster slogans become incantations over coffee as lyrical prose.
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about pipelines, champions, and co-vocational topics. Maybe you have, too? But, can we address the overall picture of why? Can we hit reset for a second?
The Truth about Gospel Engagement
As I stated, I’m guilty. In my last article, I wrote about the psychographic viewpoint and the fruitfulness of their examination (I’ll stick with my claim, too). Recently, I’ve been asked to speak at several small events. I met with planters and revitalizers—and listened to their heart.
Vocabulary is good. Humanity uses it to glorify God, build relationships, express emotions, feelings, opinions, and also to define specific contexts. So, hear me out, I’m not against all of the “hipster” terminology—it has purpose and can be edifying. I merely want to “lift some fog” and bring clarity to what we’re doing.
The truth about gospel engagement is derived from our captivation by God’s love, through Jesus Christ. Natural gospel conversations will occur when our hearts, minds, and souls are aligned with the first and greatest commandment—to love the Lord…
Sometimes we make things more difficult than they need to be. We seek out instantaneous low-hanging fruit. We try to mimic the Apostle Paul’s journey, utilize tested programs, or buy into the newest network.
Observation: I’ve never seen a garden grow overnight. That’s fairytale stuff. There’s always plotting, plowing, sowing, weeding, and then reaping. Only to do it all over again each year and each year the variables are different (sun, rain, clouds, temperature, soil).
Sometimes we get delusions of grandeur because we read a best-selling-megachurch guy’s book. We get depressed when we don’t see multiplicative fruit, immediately. We’ll say, “What and where did I do wrong?”
Our focus is wrong. We’re concentrated on tertiary concepts more than obedient disciple-making. And the cause is our reliance on self or man, more than Christ.
Community gospel engagement is not about an event, but Jesus. If we see the world through the lens of Christ, we will see humanity’s brokenness, lostness, addictions, and a sin-laden culture. When we look upon Christ, we will see our own sin, the great forgiveness granted to us, and our hearts will burn with passion.
None of us want to hear the words given to the church of Ephesus—you have lost your first love (Rev. 2:4). So, let’s just set aside some of the jargon for a second and be intentional and practical.
The Practical Side of Missional Engagement
I get it. Most church planters, and more revitalizers, are finding themselves in bi-vocational settings. I love much of what is being written about navigating these waters. Kudos to the “heroes” who devote time and energy to pour into others. We all know that it’s not easy juggling family, ministry, and diverse occupations—needless to say—remaining an obedient disciple-maker in the midst.
But the practical side of any gospel mission is the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying and sustaining power. Whether we are building relationships within our first, second, or third job, with our next-door neighbor, seeking the rhythms of the community, or strategizing to reach out to our children’s sports’ moms, our obedience comes from our intentionality. We must yield to the Spirit’s control.
The practical side of missional engagement is to realize why we’re on the mission in the first place. Rescue, redemption, reconciliation, renewal, and rejuvenation. We have been set apart for God’s use—sanctified—and for God’s mission—gospel proclamation.
The practical side is whether we’re bi-vocational, co-vocational, full-time, or volunteering—the Apostle Paul’s confession should rend our hearts, “But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
The practicality is finding the rhythmic natural gospel conversation—and that overflow from a rescued and redeemed heart.
Let’s not lose focus on what is most important. Strategies, programs, acronyms, catchphrases, and resources are all tools to assist in gospel proclamation—but our first love and primary focus must be the gospel.
Not long after arriving at my revitalization position, I envisioned the church distributing invite cards within their neighborhoods, workplaces, and communities. This seemed to be an easy, low stress, and high impact, approach to evangelism. In turn, the evangelism initiative would work as a cyclical driving force for outreach. The outcome was average, probably as good as expected. But I learned from it.
I’m not one of those people that believes that the church is either missionalor attractional—I believe it is both—and always has been. So, when conceiving the invite card engagement, it was to be more effective than mailers—a “no brainer.” But, there’s much more potential here—stick with me.
For 4–6 weeks, a deliberate church-wide initiative is set forth. The purpose is to garner support from every member to participate. The pastor expresses to the church the importance of total involvement in the new project.
The design is to invite as many people as possible (hopefully unchurched, unreached, nones and dones), with invitation cards. This event should be less stressful than walking door to door or street evangelism, seeking a high impact opportunity. The invitation cards should have the proper information regarding the church, website, address, times, and other essentials. Each member is expected to personally hand the cards out within their surroundings.
Now comes the fun part—if you like validation, team building, and leadership development. An outreach for the sake of outreach is still good works, and an outreach for Christ’s sake is edifying and glorifying to God—but what if we utilize and measure the initiative for greater purposes?
I learned something in my doctoral work—there should always be quantifiable or quantitative evidences. How do we know what we are doing is working? In this case, we could possibly count heads of new arrivals and/or, ask. But, for this article, we’d like to utilize the information from our initiative to create something greater within the church—leadership development and gift recognizability. How do we do this?
Every time a member arrives at the church building, they log in to an easily created program, which asks several questions: (1) How many cards did you hand out this week? (2) Where did you distribute the cards: a. neighborhood, b. workplace, c. community; (3) Have any of your invitees responded: a. small group, b. home Bible study, c. church Bible study, d. Worship service.
The questions are straight forward, they should take no less than two minutes to fill out. This also can be done by logging into a dedicated Facebook or website page. If your church has some tech savvy people, this initiative contains numerous possibilities.
The Key Results
Here’s the good stuff—utilizing the data. People have begun logging in and posting their results. We now have real identifiable and measurable information. We can see where the cards are going, who is taking them, how many each person gives out, and perhaps, what we’d like, the giftings of members.
Example: let’s say that our leadership is reading the church’s weekly data and notices that “Bob” has handed out a whopping 150 cards in one week! This sounds amazing—as a leader, he’s someone that I want to keep my on. Let’s also say that “Mary” has handed out 15, but 10 of the 15 are attending a Bible study in her home. Next comes “Kirby, Logan, Kim, Shania, Deb, and Tracey,” they all live within the same neighborhood. The leaders notice that none of this group’s cards have been distributed within their neighborhood, some were distributed at workplaces, and in the city, but none in their collective neighborhood.
How may leaders use this information?
Building A Leadership Pipeline
Noticing Bob’s amazing ability to hand out the invites, I want to reach out to him. It is highly likely that Bob has a gift for evangelism—at least we know that he’s not an introvert. Bob may be more comfortable in handing out cards than speaking, so it is vital that we encourage Bob and begin to edify his giftedness. We want to bring out what is already there. I would team Bob up with our evangelism and missions team, as well as, work one-on-one with Bob is disciple-making development.
For Mary, it seems that she has the gift of hospitality—she enjoys being with others. She’s invited people that she knows, or at least that she feels comfortable being around. According to the data, Mary has begun a home Bible study. Leaders should target this information to help advance Mary into a home group leader. It’s time to get Mary connected with the Life Groups leaders. While she may be intimidated by the idea at first, encouragement and cultivation will bring out her natural ability to facilitate, be hospitable, and organize.
Lastly, and these are only three examples, the last group of people may tell us that Kirby’s, et al., neighborhood may be an area of un-fallow ground (i.e. hard to reach). Leaders may gather these neighboring members to assist them in launching a church sponsored outreach (block parties, door to door, etc.). Bringing these members together and walking them through the stages of creation, organization, engagement, and implementation of neighborhood outreach will create future leaders when impacting other communities.
As you see, the church can utilize technology for the good and to help create a leadership pipeline. These are just a few examples; the ideas and implementations are almost endless.