By now, most pastors know the statistics; 80-85% of all Western churches are in decline or plateauing.Likewise, only 10% of pastors are trained or capable of turning around those churches. As Fezzik from the Princess Bride declared, “If there is no arrangement, then we are at an impasse.” But, there is an arrangement; thankfully, God is raising leaders willing to devote their time and dedication to His mission. As well, he’s allowing people like me to create and teach practical curriculum in our seminaries.
As a church planter, I recognize that there are many similarities with church revitalization. Having been blessed to be a part of the renewal and planting processes, both require dedication and devotion. Of course, intentionality is foundational, but I have always tried to remind myself of the three succinct L-words.
Knowing that church revitalization is a bit more complicated, I would like to share the three “L’s” that have helped me to stay focused when revitalizing and seeking church transformation: (1) love, (2) leadership, and (3) leverage.
As God’s people and called leaders, we must remember that we’re not called to revitalize a building, but people. There will be emotions, feelings, and opinions involved. We cannot ignore the hurts, pains, and scars as if they didn’t exist, but we may not need to make it our focus. For revitalization, change is inevitable and required. If change were not required, then there would be no need for revitalization.
Some people will resist change. I’ve come to realize that some people see the world as ever-changing and never stable. They view the world as chaotic—always remarking, “Things are going to H*** in a handbasket.”
These believers will desire to have “their church” to remain the constant in their life. They yearn for a place that reminds them of “better days.” They require an area of their life that will be free from change. So, don’t attempt to remove the Cantata, old hymns, or the bright pink curtains that the Sunday school made in 1965. However, to the best of your ability, embrace these individuals, bring them close to you, and “love on” them. Remember, most dying churches have a broken spirit; it is your duty to promote love; to build up the body, and to encourage the people of God that He’s constantly at work.
President Truman was given a desk sign that read, “The Buck Stops Here.” As leaders, we must be willing to take full responsibility for our actions and choices. For this reason, we must seek wisdom and discernment from God so that we can lead His people rightly.
As well, we should be aware that we’re called to protect the flock. Sometimes this will be difficult. So, while it is wonderful to see new growth in dying churches, do not be naive about the “consumer” believers that jump from one church to another. They will attempt to hi-jack the vision of what God has called you to do.
Good leaders will pour into other leaders. If the church you serve does not have leadership, then create leadership. Invest time in others, discipling them and training them in navigating and living through the daily rhythms of life as a Christ-follower. Stay focused on the gospel and Christ.
There are many areas that we can leverage. First, always celebrate the “little wins” in your congregation. Investing intentional time and recognition in the body of Christ will promote unity and harmony. When a small group provides an outreach, or a person shares a testimony, or a person gives a “praise report,” it is during these times that as a leader, you need to leverage these events as “wins.”
Second, learn to leverage the community. God has placed the church into a specific culture and location to make an impact. Learning to leverage the community denotes a relationship. One way to leverage community would be to invest in community events. Does the community have a farmers market, special day, or scheduled event—if so, get involved?
Lastly, learn to leverage social media. In promoting and bringing awareness to your church’s existence, the community will see why it exists. While some may people may view this as worldly, Jesus did inform us to be “as wise as serpents and gentle as doves” (Matt 10:16). He also gave us the parable of the shrewd manager that realized how to live within culture (Luke 16:1-9). While at this point, most churches are already on Facebook due to Covid, don’t neglect the other platforms. As well, learn to exegete the community by utilizing hashtags.
While the three L’s are not exhaustive, and there’s much more involved in them, they are a means to keeping focus. Love, leadership, and leverage will go a long way if you remain steadfast and conscious of them. Finally, we can do nothing without Christ (John 15:5). As revitalizing leaders, we must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit and stay deeply grounded in Jesus Christ.
 Aubrey Malphurs, Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 200.
These are not philosophical questions but are insightful ones that require honest and reflective responses. Whether we seek to understand innovation and growth in business, organizational or leadership change-development, or in this aspect, my application to the questions—the contemporary Church, regardless, change is happening every day.
While the pandemic has altered how society does global business, everyday interactions with others, the mundane daily tasks, and especially gathered to worship; I think it is imperative to look beyond what is visible. In this short article, I merely want to propose an idea about chaos and innovation; although the concept is not mine, only the reflection from it.
Recently, I was sitting in a Movement Leaders Collective cohort. I was listening to Alan Hirsch explain the concepts of “chaordic organizations.” Alan gave reference to the originator of the idea, a man named Dee Hock, the founder of the VISA corporation. Initially, Hock wrote an article, “The Art of Chaordic Leadership.” Chaordic refers to harmony with chaos and order. Hock defined the term as such:
“By chaord, I mean any self-organizing, self-governing, adaptive, nonlinear, complex organism, organization, community or system, whether physical, biological or social, the behavior of which harmoniously blends characteristics of both chaos and order.”
The more I studied Hock’s chaord, the more I sensed a lack of creativity or innovation was due to the lack of chaordic impulse. Scientists have perpetually scratched their heads regarding the creation of the universe. Inevitably, they tend to assign some type of explosion or set of events that appeared out of nothing. Without arguing creation theory, my point is understanding that even the Bible affirms that God intervened with “null and void” (i.e., the darkness)— to establish a chaordic harmony.
But, let’s apply this to organisms and organizations. Whether the Church, non-profit, business, or foundation, the need for innovation is paramount. As Peter Drucker famously stated, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.” Culture is in a constant state of chaordic impulse—it’s constantly changing. Albeit, culture isn’t in a vacuum or self-propelling—people make the culture shift. Overall, paradigmatic movements occur when specific people group(s) invite and accept change.
But, what if culture shifts due to outside circumstances. For instance, in the article, “Movemental Ecclesiology: Recalibrating Church for the Next Frontier,” Warrick Farah and Alan Hirsch note:
“There is no doubt that God has been teaching us all kinds of key lessons over the last year. The COVID-19 pandemic has been probably the most disruptive event for the Church since WWII and has compelled Christian leaders across the globe to re-evaluate their mindsets and their practices.
The long-held belief that the Church exists almost exclusively in its Sunday/weekend expression has been called into question, and as the so-called “queen” has been removed from the game, leaders have been forced to learn what the other chess pieces on the board can do. This in turn has forced us to reflect on the nature of the Church as a living, distributed, incarnational, network—the very essence and mark of all world-changing, transformative movements.”
As I contemplated Farrah and Hirsch’s words, I thought about innovation—more specifically, how the Church could utilize the cultural chaos to produce systemic order—namely, chaordic nature.
Think of it this way, if any system or organization remains stagnant, there can be no growth, yet the organization may be comfortable. Organizations love consistency and order. However, sometimes too much persistent order is damaging to an organization.
On the other side of that thinking, if an organization were wholly overtaken by chaos, that same organization would probably self-implode for lack of stability. But, if there’s an order to the chaos, then natural growth and creativity occur. Movements transpire through innovation, and innovation happens through chaordic impulse. For the most part, growth periods can be somewhat uncomfortable.
Yet, if I’m answering the first question honestly, I realize that nothing grows out of comfort. Using the caterpillar as an example, with ordered chaos, the caterpillar stays a caterpillar and never experiences flight. A chaordic metamorphosis occurs. Likewise, the beautiful butterfly cannot and will not return to the state of the caterpillar. The butterfly will no longer utilize the same characteristics, attributes, and skills. Life is dead for the caterpillar but fully alive for the butterfly.
The dilemma is that many organizations or leaders cannot see past inevitable death. Their willingness to remain the same is due to fear. The fear of change is greater than the fear of death. However, if the organization leans on chaordic impulse—a harmonious blend of uncomfortable change with order—innovation will occur.
 Warrick Farah and Alan Hirsch, “Movemental Ecclesiology: Recalibrating Church for the Next Frontier,” https://abtslebanon.org, April 15, 2021.
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.