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.
If you’ve been in church planting for any amount of time, at some point you have dealt with demographics. As a pastor, I believe it is just as important to know my demographics. However, most pastors have no idea what to do with demographics or even how to read them effectively and apply them.
Demographics are important. But, let me be particularly clear: demographics will never replace the working power of the Holy Spirit. Demographics are a tool to understand culture, age, ethnicity, education, ideology, and religion(s) in any specified region.
Demographics & Exegeting Culture
Exegesis. Before my undergrad work, I thought I knew the Bible—then I was introduced to exegesis—everything changed. Biblical exegesis is a critical examination and explanation of a text, employing the original languages of Scripture.
If I am assessing a church or church plant, an imperative question is, do you know the demographics of your neighborhood, community, or city? While some pastors may be able to spout off percentages, reality comes when there’s a lack of application and comprehension. Similarly, if I can see Greek words, but have no idea what they mean, I cannot exegete a Bible passage—I’ll need help.
So, let me provide some help in which exegeting demographics can assist you to understand your culture and context.
Targeting. I won’t dive too far into targeting, but it can be highly effective. If you don’t know whom you are targeting and why (besides the gospel), you will never know how. With the ever increasing population shift of people groups through immigration, urbanization, and gentrification, church leaders must know who is in their community, the projected growth, and why they are there. People don’t just migrate somewhere for no reason.
Targeting specific people groups within my neighborhood is done when I notice a growing population shift within a specific grouping. Maybe there is a rise in a particular ethnicity, race, religious affiliation, or socio-economic status. Targeting will help leaders critically examine and explain what is occurring in their region, along with actually reaching them.
Community Needs. Every community has a need —when exegeting a community, you may uncover areas of plight, addiction, homelessness, or any myriad of social injustice and demand. The church should not only be serving these needs, but reaching the people affected by them, with the gospel. A comprehensive approach to help break the chains of poverty, despair, and bondage are fundamentals of the gospel.
Areas of Resurgence. Perhaps within your community an old box store was torn down, an old strip mall demolished, or restaurant closed? What’s replacing it? That’s the question you need to be asking. Municipalities must have tax revenue. Something will either be built in tis place, or your community is seeing a decline, both provide ample answers. We need to be observant and do a little homework. Is the old strip mall being torn down for some surge of economic growth? If a new restaurant is being built—what type is it? What does that tell me about the neighborhood? Should the church be revisiting its vision?
Areas of resurgence seem to occur within regions periodically, or cyclically. We once were geared up for the suburban sprawl, as people left cities. Now, people are leaving the ‘burbs and flocking to urban neighborhoods. Likewise, trends are showing that Wal-Mart and some of the bigger corporations, like Anheuser Busch, are in decline, as Millennials shift to more organic shops and craft brews. What does that tell us? It tells us that the church may be seeing a shift in mega-churches, possibly seeing future decline, while smaller more personal churches/church plants may be seeing growth.
Demographics & Spiritual Pulse
Spiritual Warfare. When I came to Richmond I wanted to know a little more about where I was engaging gospel ministry. It was revealed that Richmond, Virginia was one of the few cities along the eastern seaboard that was not affected during the Great Awakening. As well, there was a notable revival among African-Americans just prior to the Civil War, but the war squashed the Spirit’s zeal. Why is that important? History tells me what occurred within my community.
I know that some may not be advocates of prayer-walking, but there is most definitely a spiritual warfare taking place behind the scenes of your church. Do your homework and know your history.
Assessing Culture. While the Apostle Paul walked around Athens he was assessing the culture (Acts 17:14–31). With demographics in hand, what should I be looking for? I think if we are wise stewards of this information, we try to assess who lives within our community, city, and region. We want to know which religions are here because they’re not the same, nor can they all be approached in the same manner. Likewise, ethnic groups are not the same and bring with them a culture, perhaps, much different than our own.
If I want to engage the culture, I need to get out and view the community (walk it, ride it, experience it) and then read the demographics. For instance, our church has an inner city Liberian church plant. In questioning their pastor, he expressed that he wanted to reach his neighborhood more. I took one glance at the demographics and assessed that he should engage the culture with diverse arts projects (graffiti & folk art), music, celebrate recovery, and helping homelessness. Did all of that come from one look at the demographics? No, it came from experiencing the neighborhood and then reading the demographics.
Demographics & Sermon Delivery
Contextualization. I’ll use the same passage from Acts 17:14–31 regarding the Apostle Paul. When Paul was in Athens, he wandered around the marketplace (17:19) and assessed the culture, what they bought, how they talked, what they talked about, and how they worshipped.
Paul was examining how he was going to deliver the gospel to the Athenian people. While he was exegeting the people, he must have witnessed or understood much about their culture because he utilized an Epicurean philosopher and a Greek Stoic to explain the gospel (17:28–29). This is so important.
As a pastor I need to know the education level of my audience. If I’m constantly utilizing twenty-dollar theological terms with a congregation of people that have not graduated high school then I will have a hard time contextualizing the gospel to them. This is true if I am reaching a different ethnic group, or socio-economic group, as well.
There’s no reason to spend countless hours studying and preparing a message that no one understands. Demographics will help you understand who are the people within your region and help you reach and teach them the gospel.
Tools for How to find demographics:
Mapping: www.peoplegroups.org; www.census.gov; www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/00
Community facts: www.factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml
Psychographics (lifestyles, values): www.neilsen.com/us
Religious Data: www.thearda.com; www.religions.pewforum.org
I realize that there are myriads of models, programs, and books for church growth—believe me; I’ve read many of them. However, rarely do these address the core of the issue—disciple-making—yet, we cannot make disciples if we can’t reach people.
As a former church planter, current planting mentor, and a pastor of a revitalized church, making disciples not only fulfills the great Commission (Matt. 28:19), but it grows families of God.
Here are five observations that growing disciple-making churches have in common.
Listening to the Holy Spirit
The early church intensely listened to the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Peter calls the Holy Spirit, “God” (Acts 5:4). Twice, the Scriptures warn the Church not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19).
Jesus commanded his disciples not to move without the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4). He leads. He teaches. He opens eyes. No one comes to salvation without the Holy Spirit. If churches desire to grow and make disciples, it cannot be done without the Holy Spirit.
When Paul arrived in Athens, he went for a walk (Acts 17:16, 22–23). He discerned the Athenian culture.
Today, we learn to exegete Scripture. This means we can critically examine the Greek and Hebrew texts: the verbs, nouns, and imperatives. We can even interpret the Word and provide great application.
Meanwhile, we have no idea how to exegete a culture. What are people worshipping? How do they live? Where do they eat? What do they watch? What does the culture look like (ethnicity, economic, etc.)?
We cannot reach a people we do not know.
Bridging the Gap
Once in the gym, I used the movie Platoon to share the gospel with a guy. He had never been to church, didn’t know Jesus, or God. But he was going through numerous problems. Since he saw the movie, I explained a scene with Charlie Sheen and Willem Dafoe.
The young private, Sheen, was about to go into his first night’s “fire fight.” However, the private overloaded his pack. Dafoe, the veteran sergeant, saw him struggling—stopped him, unloaded the pack—pulling out all of the items weighing him down. Not only that, Dafoe sacrificially carried Sheen’s items throughout the night.
This is what Jesus does for us. He meets us struggling in our sin. Removes our sin. Takes it upon Himself. And then walks with us through the darkness.
The term “bridging the gap” is called, contextualization. After discerning the culture, we use it to reach people for Christ. [Read Acts 17:22-28 to see how Paul used contextualization]
The word gospel comes from “the Anglo-Saxon godspell denoting ‘glad tidings’ or ‘good news.’” In a world of suffering, pain, and anguish there is a great need for good news.
However, There is no good news without Jesus. A church that is gospel-centered is Christ-centered. They bring good news to a sin-laden and broken community.
But, some churches replace the gospel with entertainment, programs, or works. The gospel doesn’t need any of these. Churches that rely on the grace, truth, and sufficiency of the gospel will inevitably show it. How?
As Peter declared, if you have tasted the goodness of God, you will have a craving for God and a love for others (1 Peter 1:1-3).
The Word of God put on flesh and dwelt in community with humanity (John 1:14). Community is important. God created us to be relational and intimate. Believers are called to share the good news with others.
Sharing your life with others is discipleship. Jesus said, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done” (John 13:15).
When a church is incarnational, it fleshes out what it means to be Jesus. Loving. Praying. Touching. Crying. Eating. —all of these are fleshing out Jesus within community.
Church growth is about discipleship. The command by Christ was to “go and make disciples” (Matt 28:19) —not—to put people in seats. Incarnational churches will make disciples because they live, eat, cry, and pray as Jesus did—with others. By default, incarnational churches disciple people.
 Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 892.
I’ll say it … someone has to speak up. We should be ashamed at the actions of the Western Church.
For years I have been involved in church planting. However, it wasn’t until I became involved in finding financial support for planters and developing a collaborative initiative for church planting that I saw the ugly truth.
Before I begin, I want to shed light on some reality. Sometimes I feel like I’m beating a dead horse with these numbers—and while numbers are data, they reveal the truth. With 80–85% of all American churches either plateauing or in decline, and only 10–15% of pastors equipped to turn around churches, we need to admit there’s a huge problem. An elephant in the room.
Only 26% of America is evangelical (I realize that some don’t like that terminology) and a staggering 71% of Americans are either nominal in their faith or have no religious affiliation at all. 96% of Americans have heard the name Jesus Christ, placing us in a post-Christendom society. Lastly, just to maintain the 26% evangelical rate (to keep up with population growth), we would need to plant 3–5,000 church per year!
But it’s never going to happen and I’ll tell you several reasons why.
Approximately one year ago I founded a collaborative initiative in Richmond, Virginia, called, Planting RVA. While I’m not promoting it, I’m using it as analogy. I believed (and still do) that if any city is to be saturated with the gospel, it must be a collaborative effort of gospel-centered churches, associations, and denominations. Biblical students understand that reaching cities (like Paul; Rom 15:20) is imperative for saturation. So, while many different associations were initially intrigued at the idea, the reality of collaboration became a farce.
Organizations, denominations, and associations will only get involved if there’s an asset for them or perhaps to find out what someone else is doing, but not for support. Don’t fool yourself. I quickly found out one truth—the American church is very self-centered.
One local Baptist seminary (President) advised me that they are only involved in events and programs that benefit them. I humbly asked if they’d like to help sponsor a collaborative church planting conference, if they had any students that may be interested in church planting, or professors—I was shot down:
“We basically ‘sponsor’ the events, programs and worthy causes which arrise out of our own work, ministry and budget” (cut and pasted).
I asked for a one on one meeting to discuss the fact that Planting RVA works with their “primary denominational partners: the BGAV …”
I was shot down again. Even from sharing coffee! (The blasphemy!)
Anyway, what I find abhorrent about the response is the revelation as to why certain churches in our area decline to help collaboratively plant churches and to see kingdom growth—because they’re taught to be empire builders—to align only with theological and doctrinal presuppositions. How do I know that? His last email response:
“As I am sure you know, even though we live in a postdenominational age[,] most connect with the church planting enterprise through denominational networks of one kind or another. This is primarily true because one’s theological perspective and church starting methods must be compatible. Consequently, as the seminary has needs for church starting expertise we will seek those resources through our partner organizations.”
This leads into the next point….
Lack of Unified Love
Lack of unity, self-centeredness, and greed will never help grow Christ’s kingdom. This ‘every man for himself’ mentality is not Christian love, nor can it reach an unchurched, unreached, and starving culture.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that seminaries should indeed teach theology, doctrine, and align themselves with the agencies that support them—but to what extent? I love hearing about Together For the Gospel and these types of conferences, but when it comes to the actual aspects of working together—we’re all going down in separate ships because of our self-centered way of doing things.
Let me give you an example. Ever see a McDonalds? I bet next to it you’ll see a Burger King, Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A, or other food dive. But, drive five miles out of town; do you see a McD’s, Chick-fil-A, or one of those grab-and-go places? No, you don’t. Why is it that they all stack up on top of each other? Why don’t they build in small town USA, the projects, crack allies, or low-rent districts—that’s easy—it’s called revenue. It’s business 101. You go where the money is and don’t allow your competitor to reap all the profits. Don’t allow them to be the only game in town.
However, with this same model that denominations (and even non-denominations) desire to plant churches with and how they view the Christian faith. It’s a business—it’s greed and it’s also arrogance—it’s the mentality that we do it better, more hip, more missional, more liturgical, more traditional, more conservative, more blah, blah, blah.
Let me ask you this: Do you think starving people care about where they get a meal? Oh, but why don’t you make sure they get the fat steak cooked perfectly, right?
Read on …
Forget The Empire—Think Kingdom
Recently, I was invited to speak about church planting at a local conference. While I already knew how things behind the curtains of church denominations and associations worked, one message rang loud and clear—the American church is empire building. The motto: How can your church grow and become large?
I agree. Churches need revitalization. Here’s a secret about church planting. When churches plant churches the kingdom grows. If a church is in decline, one sure-fire way to grow is to plant or support a church plant. Why do I have the idea that you’re scratching your head?
Here’s the deal, if a church plateaus at 200 people (average church in US) and they plant another church, as they grow to 200 people, the mother/sending church has doubled in size. And, as the next generation (3rd church plant) is sent out, there is a potential of growing the kingdom even larger, to 600. This is first-century church growth.
But, that stands against the current model of empire building—of, I want ‘my’ church to be large (*as if it were yours!*). I hope this is convicting someone? But I bet it’s only angered some to justify their positions.
The reality: As long as the American church desires to “go it alone” and not work together, we will never see a Jesus movement occur and gospel saturation happen. We’re too busy with our own agendas.
I leave you with this to think about; the words of Jesus when the Disciples confront him:
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward” (Mark 9:38-41 ESV).
 This number varies depending upon the data. Mainly due to the addition of 1,800 churches closing per year—this adds to numerical figure, from 3,000 to approximately 5,000.
This is the second part of a three part series (here’s the first article)
I have listed three reasons why churches must plant churches that plant churches. The first part was gospel passion. Churches must have an intentional reality for outwardly making God known. Why? Because …
The Harvest Is Ripe
Jesus declared, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road” (Luke 10:2-4).
This verse is sometimes misconstrued. Some pastors will exegete this passage as a call to prayer, but the context is Jesus sending out His disciples. He sends them out with nothing, other than His authority. Jesus was indeed telling these disciples to pray, but He ordered them to “Go.”
When I rephrased this to my pastor friend, he didn’t understand that intrinsically church planters are disciple makers. This is why I am so passionate about planting churches that plant churches—it is fulfilling Christ’s command. We cannot plant churches without making disciples—it’s nearly impossible (unless you pay people or draw them in with false benefits, but that won’t last).