Author Archives: Charles Arn

“New” … Works! (Charles Arn)

Here’s a growth axiom you can take to the bank.  Whether you are pastoring a (large, medium, or small) church…leading a youth group…overseeing a music ministry…or involved with any other aspect of a church in which you believe God desires growth, it is just about guaranteed.  Here it is:

New Units = New Growth

 It’s a proven principle.  New Sunday school classes attract new people.  New small groups involve new people.  New worship services connect with new people.  New churches reach new people.

Why It Works

 The most common application of this principle is in starting new groups.  Here is why the strategy of starting new groups is so predictably successful:

•  New groups respond to human need.  In long-established groups, members just like to be together.  Relationships have become the primary value.  And that’s good.  But, often such groups lose their outward-focus and no longer contribute to the growth of the church.  Starting a new group focuses on a specific human need(s) and how the new group will meet that need.  Starting new groups directs a church’s focus outward.

•  New groups involve new people.  Because new groups focus on meeting needs, those who were not previously involved in a group are much more likely to sign up if the new group addresses their need.  And, the more important the need of the prospective attendee, the more likely he/she will take the risk of joining the new group.

•  New groups assimilate people.  The research is clear: The #1 reason people drop out of church is a lack of friendships—the average active member has seven, the average drop-out has two.  Friendship is the “glue” that keeps people involved.  The best way to make new friends in church is to be involved in a small group.  And people with friends…stay.

•  New groups solve the “saturation” problem.  Here’s another fascinating insight from research: Every small group has a “saturation point.”  Just like a saturated sponge that can no longer hold any more water, groups become saturated to where they can no longer hold any more members.  Approximately 90% of all groups saturate after two years together.  So, if all or most of the groups in your church have been together for over two years, you urgently need to start new groups!

Below is a “template”—in the form of ten questions—that will help you successfully start new groups.  When you can answer these questions, you will be well on your way toward new growth through new groups.  And, by the way, when your new groups are focused on connecting with UNCHURCHED people, you will have taken a giant step toward greater outreach, as well.  (See my article on “side doors” for more on this topic.)

How to Start a New Group

 1.  Who is our target audience?

2.  What kind of group would best meet their needs?

3.  How will potential group members be identified?

4.  What are the specific goals of the group?

5.  Who will lead the group?

6.  Will training be necessary for the leader?  If so, how will it occur?

7.  How will we  publicize the group and attract visitors?

8.  When and where will the group meet?

9.  What support will the group and leader need to assure success?

10.  How will this group contribute to the purpose of our church?

New What Else?

The principle of starting new units is like pixie-dust.  New groups?  It works!  New classes?  It works!  New services?  It works!  New churches?  It works!

Here’s one more mind-stretcher.  If you are in a church of 50-75+ average worship attendance, consider the possibility of starting a new site!  “Multi-site” is a rather new idea on the American church landscape, but simply refers to one church meeting in multiple locations.  It’s another application of our “new units = new growth” principle.

The multi-site idea has traditionally been a strategy of larger churches (1000+).  But I would urge readers to consider the idea of adding a new site … even if you have just 50 people in your present worship service. I was recently invited by Warren Bird of Leadership Network, to chat on this topic.  Here’s a link to their 8-minute video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FL7zqOOsN8A&feature=youtu.be

(For more helpful tips on effective small groups, see Chapter 5 in the new book, What Every Pastor Should Know.)

Do You Treat Your Church Newcomers Like Cancer Patients? … I Hope So! (Charles Arn)

Date: October 18, 2013  (Friday)
Time: 02:35 p.m.
Place: California Urology Medical Clinic, Pomona California 

“Dr. Arn…your biopsy came back positive.  I’m afraid you have prostate cancer.”

I thought he must have been talking to someone else in the room.  But we were alone…and the doctor was looking straight at me.

“Are you sure?” was all I could think of to say.

“Well, you are certainly welcome to get another opinion. But these biopsies are seldom wrong.”

“So, now what?” I asked, which led to a 20-minute conversation about what this newly discovered disease was…how far advanced it might be…and what were the options.

To make a long story short, three months after the biopsy report I had an IV in my arm and was being wheeled down the hallway at the City of Hope Medical Center to what would be a 3-hour surgery. (Robotic-assisted laparoscopic radical prostatectomy to be exact.) For those of you (men) who have been there and done that, I won’t remind you. For those who haven’t, I won’t bore you. But as I think back on the events of the past three months, I’d like to share with you what I learned from hospital staff, doctors, nurses, and even patients at the City of Hope about being a newcomer. I realize that a cancer hospital may not be the first place you would look for insights on welcoming church visitors and new members. But then, again, maybe there are more similarities than we might think…

They Anticipated My Uncertainty. Turning into the hospital driveway, I came upon a kiosk with a large sign: INFORMATION. I stopped, rolled down the window, and received a warm welcome from the man inside. I was given a brochure of the hospital, a map, a letter from the CEO, and told of the complimentary valet parking for first-time guests.
APPLICATION QUESTION: What and where is the first contact you have with your newcomers?
Do you control that contact and make a good first impression, or just hope that it happens?

“First time?” I was asked by a smiling lady as I entered the lobby. It must have been my body language. I’ve been told that a good host can spot a newcomer a mile away.

“Yes,” I responded.

She escorted me to the “Welcome Desk” where three people stood ready to help. After explaining that my wife and I were there to see a certain doctor, the host called a man over and told him where we needed to go. Bill introduced himself as a volunteer and said, “Just stick with me and I’ll show you the quickest way.” I learned, in our hallway conversation, that Bill was an 11-year veteran who had fought and won the same battle in which I was now engaged. I felt an instant bond and wanted to ask him a dozen questions.
APPLICATION QUESTION: Do you have volunteers available to help guests find their way?
Do you match newcomers with members who share things in common?

“We Are Family Here”. More than once I heard this phrase spoken by staff, volunteers, and patients. The words appear in the hospital’s literature and billboards around town. After my surgery I reflected on the value of family. My wife had taken time off work, my mom and sister had visited me after surgery. Other family members around the country had kept in regular contact. The faith, hope, and love one finds in a healthy family is a particular blessing in times of need. I thought about those patients who had no spouse to push their wheelchair, no parents or children to visit and pray for them. The City of Hope motto—“We are family here”— makes sense, especially for those who don’t have any other.
APPLICATION QUESTION: Do you intentionally nurture a sense of “family” (i.e., caring, support, love) in your congregation? Do newcomers experience it, or is it just for the old-timers?

Someone to Hold Your Hand. On the second visit I was introduced to my “patient navigator” and given his e-mail and direct phone number. If I had questions, he either knew the answer or would find the right person to call me back. In addition, I received a directory of names and contact information for key people in the hospital.
APPLICATION QUESTION: Do your new members have someone to help them get involved and connected in the early stages of their relationship with your church? More members drop out in their first year than any other time.

A Connection Center. In a 20’ x 40’ open area, plus several private conference rooms, information was available on various support groups that were sponsored by the hospital. A variety of free mini-books were provided on anything related to cancer. I was given a flyer and explanation of when and where the next prostate cancer workshop would be held. There were free DVDs of staff physicians giving lectures on various topics. Times for the new patient/ family orientation were posted. I could pick out a Christmas ornament, hat, or scarf from a collection that had been handmade by volunteers for patients/families. Here I discovered that a social worker had been assigned to me, and a volunteer walked me down the hall for a pleasant introduction.
APPLICATION QUESTION: How do you introduce your church’s ministries, groups, and activities to newcomers? Do you have descriptive literature and knowledgeable volunteers to help newcomers connect to places, people, and events?

Places to Contribute. Sitting in the lobby waiting for my blood work, I was surprised to hear the melodic notes of a harp. (My first thought, as you might suspect, was to check and be sure I wasn’t in heaven.) It turned out the harpist was a volunteer who had been sharing her talent with patients for the past seven years.
APPLICATION QUESTION: Do you have positions where church members can contribute their gifts and skills toward the mission of your church? Create roles that complement the strengths that your members already have.

Well, there is more to say than I have space…or you have time. So, here are just a few final observations:
Great signage all over campus. Do newcomers know how to get where they want to go in your church?
My wife loved the creative and tasteful decorations. How is the interior décor in your facility?
Literature available in multiple locations. Why limit visitor information to one place in your church?
Floors, windows, and walls were spotless. How would the cleanliness of your buildings compare to a hospital?
A website full of helpful information. What do prospective visitors think about your church based on your website?
A billboard near our house says, “At City of Hope, we live to cure prostate cancer.” How does your church communicate who you are and what you’re all about to the community?
Volunteers and staff seemed like they actually enjoyed what they were doing. What’s the attitude your people bring to church?

In my post-operative consultation a week after surgery, the doctor looked carefully at the test results, then turned to me and said: “You’re cancer free.” I must admit that as those words sunk in, I could not hold back tears. It was probably a variety of emotions. But as I look back on that moment, I recall the joy of realizing that I was free from the ravaging effects of cancer. I can’t help but compare the experience to the joy of realizing that, through Christ, we are free from the ravaging effects of sin. And while a good hospital facilitates the healing of our physical body, a good church should facilitate the healing of our spiritual body. More than one person has shed tears of joy upon realizing that they have been healed by Christ…for eternity!

When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.  I have come not to call those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”  Mark 2:17 (NLT)

hospital(CA)

As you might guess, this was taken BEFORE surgery! :)

Charles Arn is Visiting Professor of Outreach at Wesley Seminary, and co-author of the new book, What Every Pastor Should Know: 101 Rules of Thumb for Effective Ministry (recently awarded OUTREACH Magazine’s 2014 Book of the Year in the field of Leadership).

SIDE DOORS—How to Open Your Church to Your Community…and Vice Versa (Charles Arn)

Anyone who has written a book knows the feeling of satisfaction when you finally see your long, hard hours of work make it to the printed page. (It usually takes about a year even after the completed manuscript is turned over to the publisher before the book finally arrives!)

So, I am particularly excited about a book I have been working on for nearly ten years which Wesley Publishing House will soon be releasing—Side Door. It’s my effort to share with church leaders a powerful missional process that has a proven track record in almost every larger growing church today. But the strategy of building church side doors is definitely not limited to larger churches. In fact, it has tremendous potential for medium and smaller sized churches that want to “break the mold” of traditional (and often ineffective) outreach methods, and begin a strategic new missional ministry in their community.

I have reproduced a conversation that recently appeared in the Wesley Publishing House blog about the idea of side doors. I hope you find it instructive in learning more about the principles behind the book, and that you will be encouraged to consider how a side door building strategy could be a breakthrough for new ministry and outreach in your church…

Wesley Publishing House: Thanks for joining us, Dr. Arn! Your book is called Side Door. What is that all about?

Charles Arn: Every church has a metaphorical “front door”— referring to the people who visit on Sunday, some of whom like the church and stay. Then, of course, every church has a “back door”— those people who leave through transfer, inactivity, or death. “Side doors” add a positive new aspect to the “people flow” equation of a local church, and provide a tremendous opportunity to increase the number who become part of their faith community.

WPH: So, what exactly is a “side door”?

Arn:  A side door is a church-sponsored program, group, or activity in which non-members can become comfortably involved on a regular basis.  Such gatherings provide an opportunity for non-members to develop meaningful and valued relationships with people in the church.  The goal of an effective side door is to provide a place where participants (both Christians and non-Christians) can develop friendships around something important that they share in common.

WPH:  Why are side doors so important?

Arn: A big problem most plateaued and declining churches have is that their major source of prospective members comes from their church visitors. This passive approach is becoming less and less effective as fewer and fewer people take the initiative to visit church. In contrast, side doors are a “proactive” way to increase the number of connections the church has with unchurched people, and then nurture those connections into genuine and meaningful relationships with members.

WPH: What are some examples of church side doors?

Arn: Most successful side doors are started by lay people, and are based around special interests, needs, concerns, or passions. A side door can grow out of a recreational interest or a significant life experience. It can focus on a specific age, or span generations. It can be based on a challenging circumstance or a favorite past time. Todd Pridemore, an associate pastor in Missouri and practiced facilitator of side doors in his church, says: “There is almost no activity that is so secular that it cannot be used to create a side door into your congregation.” What makes side doors work is that they bring together people who have something in common.

For example, I have seen successful side door groups in churches for people who: ride motorcycles…have children in the military…own RVs…are recent widowers…are newlyweds…enjoy reading books…are unemployed…suffer from chronic pain…have husbands in jail…enjoy radio controlled airplanes…are nominal Jews…have spouses who are not believers…are fishermen… are single moms…want to get in better physical condition…wish to help homeless families…play softball…are interested in end-times…have a bed-ridden parent…are raising grandchildren.  When I think of the hundreds of possibilities for creative side doors, I can’t help but be reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (I Cor. 9:22).

WPH: So, the key to a successful side door group is that it’s based on people’s interests?

Arn: Exactly. Pastors have told us that one of their greatest challenges is motivating people to be involved in the ministry and work of the church. As a result, in most churches, 10% of the members end up doing 90% of the work.  But the idea of starting new ministries around topics that people are already interested in means that pastors don’t need to try and change people’s interests, they simply need to channel them!  That is, churches with a good side door strategy allow people to do what they already like to do…but now it’s with a great commission purpose.

WPH: Most larger churches have a variety of these creative side door groups and activities.  But what about smaller churches?

Arn: While side doors are an important part of the growth mix in many larger congregations, it is a strategy that is also very well suited for churches under 200. The personal relationships that develop among people in these side door groups provide the best way for smaller churches to connect with people in their community, particularly since they can’t compete with the facilities or programming of larger churches. The key to effective community outreach is: meaningful relationships with unchurched people. Any size church can—and should—be doing that.  Building side doors is simply an easy, yet effective way to do so.

WPH: Why did you write this book?

Arn: In my 30+ years of church consulting, I’ve become convinced that side doors work. The examples are all over. I wrote this book because I have found that many pastors and lay church leaders are not aware of:
1. what side doors are, or how missionally effective they can be
2. how to go about building them in their church

So, my goal in this book is to introduce this important idea to readers, and then provide a hands-on guide for how to apply it.

Speaking of applying the idea of side doors, I am also very excited about a free resource that Wesley Publishing House is providing to readers. It is an 80-page downloadable workbook called the “Side Door Planning Guide.” This is a practical guide, especially for laypersons who have an interest in starting a new ministry around their passion. For example, suppose you are a pastor and you approach several young motorcycle enthusiasts in your church with the idea of starting a motorcycle ministry. Their first question will likely be: “How would we do that?” This 80-page guide is the answer to that question. It’s a workbook that provides a step-by-step process for starting a successful new ministry. The book (Side Door), together with the guidebook (“Side Door Planning Guide”) are a powerful combination of tools to help any church apply this idea in their context.

WPH: What one message do you hope readers will take away from the book?

Arn: It is that fewer and fewer people are visiting churches today. If your church is primarily dependent on visitors as your source of new members, the handwriting is on the wall. Your church will die. You need a new approach to connect with the people in your community and see them become part of the Christian family.  I can guarantee that—when done right—side doors will help you do that.

Pre-order your copy of Side Door from WPH at 800-493-7539.

“Charles Arn’s Side Door is a much-needed resource for the church…”   Jim Dunn (Executive Director, Church Multiplication and Discipleship, The Wesleyan Church)

“Side doors are a very useful approach that can help churches become more missional.  This is a well-articulated book…”  Alan Hirsch (author, missional spokesperson)

Side Door is a must-read for missional practitioners looking to connect incarnationally with their communities…”   Mike Slaughter (pastor, Tipp City, OH)

 

Are Your Church Facilities an Obstacle to Growth? (Charles Arn)

Check out the interior of national chain stores in your neighborhood (grocery, pharmacy, clothing, restaurants, etc.). On average, retail businesses remodel their facilities every 4-7 years, and with good reason. There’s something about “new.” New additives to toothpaste…new vitamin potency in cereal…new styles in cars…new versions of software. “New” attracts. By contrast, most churches renovate their facilities every 25-40 years; some go even longer without an extreme home make-over.

If your church building is over 15 years old, it is probably a growth-restricting obstacle.

When it comes to church visitors, you don’t have a second chance for a good first impression. And, one of the first impressions visitors have of your church is its building; first the outside, then the inside. Visitors don’t need to be professional architects to sense that the ceiling is too low, the halls too narrow, the windows outdated, or the color schemes from a different generation. Marshal McLuhan once said, “the medium is the message.” Your building is the medium.

The design and architecture of your church actually has a much more important influence on your visitors than it does on your regular attendees. Why? The longer a person is at your church, the less he/she is able to see the building through the eyes of a newcomer. Members don’t notice the rain marks in the ceiling, the chipped paint on the wall, the hole in the carpet. And, for long-time attendees, those things don’t really matter because they are coming for the people, the relationships, the fellowship, the spiritual growth…not the facilities. But for visitors with none of these reasons to attend, other things shape their first impressions…and your building is one of them.

Facilities also have an effect on a church’s corporate self-esteem. The effect is similar to the way your house or apartment subtly influences your own self-esteem. If you live with junk in the backyard, unwashed dishes in the sink, dirty clothes on the floor, rooms in need of paint…it affects your self-image, whether you know it or not. And, with such an appearance, do you want company dropping in unannounced? Probably not. When you are expecting guests you probably pick up your clothes, clean the kitchen, and put on your house’s best face. Why not have the same attitude about your church facility and the guests who are coming to visit God’s house?

While nice facilities won’t cause your church to grow, poor facilities can prevent it from growing.

What You Can Do About It

An outsider’s perspective is quite valuable. Invite a friend or neighbor who has never been on your church campus to walk through the facility with you. The “visit” need not be on Sunday. First, drive by and around the church. Then park and walk toward, and eventually into, the building. Ask the person(s) to “free-flow” about their impressions, sharing what catches their attention, what they like, what they don’t like, what they aren’t sure about. Either take notes or use a recorder to document their comments. Tell them not to worry about hurt feelings—you want their honest first impressions.

Conduct this exercise at least three times with three different people. That way you won’t put all your “eggs” into one person’s “basket”. See if different people notice the same things. Finally, compile your notes into categories and review them. You don’t need to make every suggested change. But you do need to know how visitors and newcomers see your facilities.

A Christian architect recently told me that the more an interior of a church looks like the facilities people are in during the week (i.e., decor, restrooms, lights, paint, doors, classrooms), the more likely the facility will present a positive first impression. Conversely, the more out-of-date that facilities appear, the more negative are their first impressions. When a visitor enters a church building that is 50+ years old—and it looks it—he/she is subconsciously wondering: Is the message of this church as outdated as its building?

Here’s a starting checklist to evaluate your facilities. Grade each item on a 1-7 scale
(1 = “poor” 7 = “excellent”). Perhaps have different people share in this exercise and then compare notes; it’s a great conversation starter!

Building
Ease in finding the location … First impressions from the outside … First impressions of the inside upon entering … Impressions after walking around

Parking
Appearance … Adequacy of spaces … Proximity to entrance

Signs
Directions from parking area to appropriate building entrance … Where to get information … Directions to the sanctuary/worship center … Directions to the restrooms … Directions to the nursery

Nursery
First impressions upon entering … Confidence in security … Confidence in nursery staff … Impressions upon leaving nursery

Sanctuary/Worship Center
First impressions upon entering … Visibility of platform… Sound/acoustics … Ease in finding a seat … Seat comfort … Lighting

Restrooms
First impressions upon entering … Adequate number to accommodate everyone in 15 minutes … Cleanliness

Classrooms
First impressions upon entering … Adequate furniture for age level … Room décor

The story of the paraplegic who was brought to Jesus (see Mark 2:1-5) presents us with several pointed questions: “Are our facilities keeping people from Jesus?” And, if so, “Are we willing to tear up our roof (and, perhaps other parts of our building) in order to let them be healed?”

Selective Evangelism (Charles Arn)

If your church could reach more people for Christ by focusing on one “people group” in your community, would you do so?

Certain people around your church are more receptive to the Gospel than others.  I suggest that good stewardship of your church’s human and fiscal resources calls you to find and focus on these receptive people.  They are the “fertile soil” (see Mt. 13:1-23) who are “ripe unto harvest” (Jn. 4:35).  And your successful evangelistic results will be praised by the Master with the same words heard by those who returned more talents than they had been given: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (see Mt. 25:14-30).

The “Receptivity-Resistance Axis” below illustrates a person’s openness to becoming a new creation in Christ.  Every non-Christian is somewhere on this Axis.

screenshot_75

Some people are open and responsive to the Good News—the “good soil,” as Christ described them in the Parable of the Sower.  Others are resistant to the Gospel—the rocky soil.  When Jesus concluded this parable with, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” I believe he was suggesting that the Good News we proclaim will not be received with equal receptivity.  And we are called to identify those who will hear, listen, and respond.

It is also important to note that people are always moving on this Receptivity-Resistance Axis; some are moving toward greater receptivity, others toward greater resistance.

A key question I hope you’re asking is: “How do we identify the receptive people in our community?”

One proven way is through life events.  Or, more specifically, transitional life events.  Here is the principle: The more disruptive a life event is to a person’s psychological equilibrium, the more it will cause him/her to be spiritually receptive.

Robert Pierson rightly observes: “People most often make decisions for Christ when they are going through transitions. Most do not make decisions about new commitments and directions in their life when everything is going well. We make those decisions when we are in the midst of stress and difficulty. When the church is there to help and share the gospel at the point of their greatest need, people respond, because those are the times people are the most open” (Needs-Based Evangelism, Abingdon Press, 2006, p. 28).

The “Social Readjustment Scale” below was originally developed by two cardiology researchers at the University of Washington Medical Center.  The events were identified as precipitators of a heart attack.  (The numbers to the right are the relative severity of the event, from 1-100.)  I, and other researchers, have found that these same events are also excellent indicators of a person’s openness (receptivity) to Christian conversion.

Put simply, people who rate high on this Scale will be more receptive to repentance and conversion than those who rate lower.  And, when multiple events occur, in relative proximity, receptivity increases even more.

screenshot_74

As you think and pray about responding to Christ’s command to “…go and make disciples,” use this “Stress Scale” as one way to begin identifying the people in your community whom the Holy Spirit may be preparing to invite into the Kingdom—through you and your church.  Creative, caring, genuine, need-meeting Christian love—at these times when people are most receptive—will bring great fruit.  Watch… listen…be sensitive to these windows of opportunity… and then be ready to “give witness to the hope that is within you” 
(I Pe. 3:15).

 (For more on applying the principle of receptivity in your church, see “The Receptivity Rule” in What Every Pastor Should Know, by Gary McIntosh & Charles Arn, Baker Books, 2013.)

[i] T. Holmes and R. Rahe, “The Social Readjustment Scale,” The Journal of Psychosomatic Research 2, 213-218.  Copyright by Elsevier Science, Inc.

Are You Helping—or Hurting—Your Mission? (Charles Arn)

One of the keys to a church’s missional success is how its members are deployed. There are two approaches—one facilitates the church’s mission; the other often frustrates it.  Few in the church ever clarify this choice, but every church makes it, and every church lives with the consequences of its choice.

The institutional approach to lay ministry begins with the needs of the institution.  Every church needs Sunday school teachers, committee members, musicians, ushers.  In the institutional approach, when a job opens up, the response is to search for a person who seems most suitable to fill it and/or is most likely to say yes.  Success, in such churches, is when a member says, “Okay, I’ll do it.”  Hopefully the person is qualified, gifted, and motivated for that ministry; but there are no guarantees.  If it turns out there is a mismatch between member and task, the result is a job poorly done and a member mostly frustrated.  “Plugging warm bodies into ministry slots in a congregation,” says Pam Heaton, “tends to increase volunteer burnout, dissatisfaction, and departure.”[i]  With the institutional approach to lay ministry, church members exist to serve the needs of the institution.

The individual approach is far less widely practiced, but significantly more effective for missional success.  Here the goal is not to fill a vacancy but to find or create a place where members can joyfully and productively participate in the mission.  Rather than beginning with the needs of the institution, the individual approach begins with the strengths of the person.  Church members are encouraged to try a position related to their interest and see how it fits.  If it does, the member may choose to spend more time in that ministry and/or receive additional training.  If the task is not comfortable, or the person does not feel a sense of calling, he or she is guided to explore other ministries that might be a better fit.  If a match cannot be found, creating a new ministry is explored.  In the individual approach to lay ministry the institution exists for the benefit of the people rather than the people for the benefit of the institution.

Consider the difference in results of these two approaches to lay ministry…screenshot_611

Take a Lay Ministry Check-Up…

The chart below can help you discern whether your present approach to lay ministry is increasing or decreasing the liklihood of missional success. First, write in line 1 the number that represents your total church constituency—all church members, plus regular attenders who are not officially members (above age thirteen).  Next, determine in which column your church falls on rows 2-18.  All the numbers in the chart are percentages.  Calculate your percentages based on your total church constituency (line 1), unless otherwise noted.

If you find your scores are primarily in the left columns, it is likely that your members are seen as “workers” and the focus of your ministry is on the church institution.  The farther your scores are to the right, the more likely your members are seen as “ministers,” and the focus of your ministry is on people.

screenshot_645

Ask a team of 3-4 people in your church to do this research and report back what they have found.  Then use the following questions to focus discussion among your leaders about how to best accomplish the work Christ has given your church:

  1. On which side of the chart do most of our scores fall?
  2. Are the results of this assessment consistent with our previous perceptions?
  3. Which items seem to be most important to address?
  4. What activities do we engage in that have brought us to this point?  Can they, or should they, be changed?
  5. What steps would be involved in moving toward an individual approach to lay ministry, and away from an institutional approach?

(See What Every Pastor Should Know: 101 Rules for Effective Church Leadership [Gary McIntosh & Charles Arn] for more practical tools on this and other topics related to church health/growth.  Available April, 2013 from Baker Books.)

[i] Pam Heaton, “Every Church Needs a Profiler” at BuildingChurchLeaders.com, http://www.buildingchurchleaders.com/downloads/practicalministryskills/cultivatingactivechurchmembers/ps07-g.html

Pastoral Longevity and Church Growth (Charles Arn)

Several years ago a study by the largest Protestant denomination in the country found a startling relationship between the length of time pastors had been in their churches, and the growth or decline of those churches.  Their finding?  Approximately 3/4 of their growing churches were being led by pastors who had been in their church more than four years, while 2/3 of their declining churches were being led by pastors who had been in their church less than four years.  Their conclusion (with which I agree):  Long-term pastorates do not guarantee that a church will grow.  But short-term pastorates essentially guarantee that a church will not grow.

So, why do pastors leave their churches?  Here are the results of one study where pastors were asked that question …There is an undeniable relationship between pastoral tenure and church growth.  While most growing churches have long-term pastorates, and some non-growing churches have long-term pastorates, it is almost unheard of to find a growing church with many short-term pastorates.  Frequent change of pastors seems to negate all the other complicated ingredients that go into a church’s growth mix.

What To Do About It

If you are a pastor, personally and publicly commit to staying in your church for least seven years.  (The average pastoral tenure is less than four years.)  You may get an itch to leave sooner.  But if you stay into the sixth or seventh year, you will likely begin to experience unsurpassed effectiveness and fruitfulness.  Once you get past year seven there’s a good chance you’ll want to stay much longer.  I agree with Roger Parrot, who says: “Lead as if you’ll be there forever!  Imagine that the organization and position you are in right now is what God wants you to do for the rest of your professional life” (Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders,  Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2009, p. 19).

I was curious about pastoral longevity in the Wesleyan Church.  A more comprehensive and correlational study should be done, but last week I called the 25 largest churches in our denomination to find out:  1) When the church was founded,  2) How long the present senior/lead pastor has been at the church, and  3) How long the previous senior/lead pastor had been at the church.  What’s your guess?

Senior pastors in the 25 largest Wesleyan churches have been serving in their position for an average of 17.8 years!  The previous pastors of these same churches had been there an average of 15.2 years.  And 4 of the churches are being led by their founding pastors, who have been there an average of 18.2 years.

Of course, it may be demotivating to imagine being in a church where you see no likelihood of a growing ministry or influence.  But why not have faith that there is sufficient opportunity where God has placed you in that church and community…and your task is to tap into it?  Don’t fall for the myth that greater ministry is somewhere else!  When you plan to stay where you are for the next 20 years, you will approach your ministry with a commitment that will be unshaken by the winds of change, challenge, and time.

But…

If you’re thinking, “Well, that’s good advice for most pastors, but…” don’t let these excuses masquerade as reasons to move:

More money.  Human nature is always dissatisfied, however much we make.
Conflict.  Another characteristic of human nature: conflict is anywhere there are people.
You’re getting stale.  Commit to being a life-time learner. It will keep you and your church in touch with today’s issues.
Greener pastures.  See Philippians 4:12.
Boredom.  To quote Rick Warren, “It’s not about you.”
Burn-out.  Whether you have reached that point or not, take time to retreat and renew.
An exploratory call.  We all like to be liked. But just because a church is calling doesn’t mean God is.
• You’re out of sermons.  If that’s your reason for moving, I suggest you shouldn’t be in the ministry.
Too much pressure.  So your next church will be without pressure?  If your motivation to move is to avoid pressure, see the response above.

If you are a lay church leader, the next time you look for a new pastor, make intended longevity a criteria.  If you are a denominational leader, encourage pastors to remain faithful rather than abandon their church in difficult times.

I believe there is a relationship between the three following statistics:
1.  A pastor’s most productive time usually begins in years 5, 6, and 7;
2.  The average pastoral tenure in Protestant churches is less than 4 years;
3.  Nearly 85% of today’s churches are not growing.

It’s sad that the vast majority of pastors miss potentially their most fruitful—and enjoyable—years of ministry.  Remember the Apostle Paul’s wise counsel:  “So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good.  At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit.  Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith” (Gal. 6:9-10 The Message).

What Class Are Your Leaders? (Charles Arn)

Over the years I have kept a file of “rules” that seem to be constant in effective churches, regardless of size, denomination, leadership style, or geographic location.  One is the “Class of Leaders” rule:

Growing churches have 20-25% of their involved members in Class II activities.

“Class II??  I don’t even know what Class I activities are!” you may be thinking.

Class I activities:  Church roles and tasks that focus primarily inward on ministry to existing church members, activities, and structures.  Positions such as choir member, usher, Sunday school teacher, board member are generally Class One activities.

Class II activities:  Church roles and tasks that focus primarily outward on ministry to non-Christians within a church’s ministry area.  Visitor follow-up, Vacation Bible School, community service are examples of Class Two activities.

Here’s the key insight:  There is a direct correlation between Class II positions…and church growth. 

But, here’s the catch: Most churches have a severe shortage of Class II activities available.  The ratio of Class One positions to Class Two positions in most churches is around 15:1.  That is, at least fifteen roles and tasks exist for maintenance of the existing congregation for every one activity that focuses on outreach.  Another way of saying it is that 95% of ministry positions in churches are inward-focused.

What is a healthy balance between Class I and Class II positions?  After all, there are many activities required to maintain the existing church.  I believe a ratio of 4:1 provides a reasonable balance.  A church should have four “maintenance” positions for every one “mission” position.  Or, approximately a quarter of all volunteer positions should be Class II—outward-focused.

What You Can Do About It

Here are a few ideas on how to move toward a healthier balance of Class I to Class II positions in your church…

•  Make a list of all your ministry roles and tasks—any elected, appointed, or volunteer activity that presently exists in your church.  Once you have listed all the positions, identify which are primarily Class I functions (inward-focused) and which are Class II (outward-focused).  Count the total number in both categories and then divide the number of Class I functions into the total.  This will give you the percentage of Class I positions (and, through subtraction, Class II) in your church.  If you’re like most, somewhere around 90-95% of your roles and tasks will be inward-focused.  Bring this up at your next leadership meeting and encourage discussion about the implications.

•  Developing Class II leaders can begin in your newcomers class.  Help new members, new believers, and new attendees identify their spiritual gifts, and then guide them in exploring how their gifts can be used in Class II activities.  Newcomers should learn that all Christians are witnesses (I Pe.  3:15), and that all gifts are given for the building up of the body (Eph.  4:12).

•  As you review the various ministry opportunities in your church, this is a good time to ask whether any of the existing positions—particularly Class I positions—could be eliminated.  Honestly evaluate each activity in terms of its useful function and contribution to your overall purpose, and consider whether it is taking time and people away from possible Class II ministry.

•  Ask your present Class I leaders to brainstorm ways that their activity might be broadened to also include a Class II function.  For example, a church in Knoxville determined to become more outward-focused.  The ushers (along with other groups) were challenged to think of ways their positions might become more outward-focused.  One of the ushers’ ideas was to escort visitors at their service to a seat next to a member in the sanctuary…and then introduce the member and visitor to each other, thus encouraging a conversation between the two.  It was a small effort, but one that could go a long way toward making a good first impression with church visitors.

•  One way to add more Class II activities is by starting new “side-door” ministries.  A side-door is a church-sponsored class, group, club, or activity that is designed to include non-members, with an ideal ratio 50:50 (members to non-members).  Successful side-door ministries bring people together who share a common interest or concern.  It might be raising a child with autism.  It could be coping with prostate cancer.  Some churches have side-doors for people who are unemployed or looking to change jobs.  The possibilities are endless.  In side-door groups participants share important things in common, and friendships sprout quickly.  These friendships with non-Christians often become the “bridges of God” over which many cross into new life and fellowship in the church.

In Conclusion…

 If your church has all of its leaders focused inward in Class I activities, you are not wisely investing the “talents” (Mt. 25:14-30) the Master has given you.  Class II leaders are the hands and feet of Jesus in your community.  Recruit, train, and deploy Class II leaders and you will see a significant re-focusing of priorities,  ministry, and growth in your church.

New Worship Services and Church Growth (Charles Arn)

Ever since premier missiologist Donald McGavran observed that some churches reached lost people more effectively than others, researchers have sought to understand more about how God uses different approaches to grow the Kingdom.

Having observed the American church for the past 25 years, I have been fascinated with one particular method that more and more churches are employing to reach new people—multiple worship services.

It was my privilege to participate in a 5-year research study on the effect of adding a new style worship service.  One highlight stood out:

Growing churches are much more likely to offer choices of WHEN people worship, HOW they worship, and WHERE they worship.

Here is a summary of the results:

In the study we monitored churches of many sizes, locations, and denominations. We examined the results of adding a new style worship service, and the steps that churches took to successfully (or, in some cases, unsuccessfully) begin a new service.  Here are a few observations regarding churches that added a new service: *

• 8 of 10 churches experienced a 15+% increase in attendance, giving, and/or conversions within two years…that would not have been projected without the “intervention” of the new service.

• 83% of the new services continued to exist after two years…if the pastor remained at the church for at least two years.  Only 23% of the new services were still going if the pastor left in the early stages of the new service. (In other words, if the pastor bails, the service fails!)

• 7 of 10 Saturday night services had been cancelled within two years after their inception, compared to 2 of 10 on Sunday morning.

• 68% of the services that went from “traditional” to “blended” did not exist as a “blended” service two years later. (That is, they had either reverted back to their traditional format, or changed to entirely “contemporary,” or were discontinued.)  Of the churches that went from “traditional” to “blended” then back to “traditional,” only 11% reported that the overall experience was positive.  (In other words, do it right the first time!)

I am convinced that approximately half of the 325,000 churches in America—including most of those churches of 75 or less—should seriously consider starting a new service in the next 24 months. From my experience and research, 80% will succeed (if it is done right), and the result will be a net increase in worship attendance.

Here is a brief summary of why churches do well to consider starting a new style worship service:

1. New services reach the unchurched better than established services. Long-established services fall into a “liturgical routine” that is comfortable to long-attending members.  Starting a new style service refocuses a church on a target audience that is not presently attending.

2. New services minister to more people. Unfortunately, churches that offer one service…at one time of day…on one day of the week are offering one choice to the people in their community: “take it or leave it.”  The more choices a church offers, the more people will say “yes” to one of them.

3. New services reach new kinds of people. “Blended services” that try to accommodate the variety of interests, needs, and tastes of people usually reduce total attendance rather than increase it.  Clear choices are better than muddled ones.

4. New services help a church break out of its lifecycle. Most churches over 40 years old are on the flat or back-side of their lifecycle.  The secret to new growth in an old church is to start a new lifecycle. A new service is one of the most predictable ways to do so.

5. New services allow for change while retaining the familiar. If you want to start a “worship war” in your church, just change the music style in your present service next Sunday morning!  In contrast, starting a new service, while retaining the old, will be much easier…and successful.

6. New services activate inactive members. A new style service often results in 20% of formerly inactive members coming back to church…assuming you make an intentional effort to invite them.

7. New services help denominations grow. The two most effective ways to grow a denomination are:  1) starting new churches, and  2) existing churches starting new services.  If half of the Wesleyan churches determined to begin a new style worship service in the next 2-5 years, we would see a rejuvenated denomination—guaranteed!

So, which comes first, the chicken or the egg?  Does a new service cause church growth…or does church growth require a new service?  Here’s the answer: Growing churches act like the church they want to become. If you wait for the new people to begin attending, and then start your new service…you will be waiting a long time.  If you begin a new service in order to reach new people… you will be much more successful.  Or, to quote the memorable line from Field of Dreams—”If you build it…they will come.”

 

* For a more detailed discussion of why and how to begin a new style worship, see the book How to Start a New Service (Baker Books).

What’s the Secret to Growing an Effective Children’s Ministry? (Charles Arn)

The answer to this question is hidden in the following two actual experiences. See if you can find it…

(Case #1)

Bill and Melody McKay held the hands of their two daughters (age 6 and 9) as they stood in front of the congregation that Sunday morning to become new members of the church. The couple answered the pastor’s several questions, briefly shared their faith story, and hugged the pastor as the congregation applauded and welcomed them into membership. Many of the members smiled and nodded to them as they returned to their seats. The McKays were very happy and looking forward to a long, growing relationship with the people in their new church.

Eleven months later, after those warm words of welcome and reception into membership, Bill, Melody, Kylie and Melissa were inactive. They had not been to church or Sunday School in the last two months, and would probably not attend the church again. There was no falling out with the pastor or people. There was no conflict in theology. The problem was that neither Bill, Melody nor their two girls had ever been assimilated into the life and fellowship of that church. What was worse, few people even knew the family had drifted out the back door. When they joined the church, Bill and Melody had no intention of dropping out. But they did. What happened?

The answer, in retrospect, was painfully simple…

“Do we HAVE to go? I don’t have any friends there,” Kylie said one Saturday night about four months after they had joined. “Me, neither,” echoed Melissa.

“Well, have you tried being friends with anyone in your class,” asked Melody, a little concerned with her children’s comments.

“Yeah. No one sits by me,” Kylie said.

“You know,” Jim said to his wife after overhearing the conversation, “I haven’t been all that overwhelmed with people wanting to connect with me, either.”

That conversation was the first time the sprouts had surfaced. But the seeds had been growing for some time. Not that it had been intentional on the part of any adult or child in the church. But the church members had been “family” for so long that no one seemed to think about adopting anyone new.

The following Sunday morning the family decided to go on a picnic in the park. The next weekend the girls had been invited to a sleep-over with a neighbor family. Before Bill and Melody realized it, it had become easier not to go to church…than to go.

(Case #2)

The two girls could hardly wait for the car to stop before they jumped out and went running across the parking lot. “Watch for cars!” Jenny shouted to her kids, as she gathered her Bible and study notes. “We were really lucky to find this church, huh?” she said to her husband.

“Well, I’m not sure I’d call it ‘luck’,” Mark said with a smile.

As the couple walked toward the building, Jenny thought back to the first time they had crossed that parking lot a little over a year ago. Their family had just moved into town, and Jenny thought a church would be a good place for the girls, and Mark, to make friends. Her, too, for that matter.

She remembered that first Sunday when a young couple about their age had introduced themselves, and Jenny felt an immediate connection. The woman, Jill Sorenson, had since become one of Jenny’s best friends. Jill had offered to take the girls to their class, and Jenny remembered being impressed with how the teacher had taken time to introduce her two girls to others in the class and encourage the classmates to be especially nice to their “new friends.”

That first Sunday Jill and her husband invited her and Mark to sit with them in the service. Afterwards, they introduced them to several other couples their age. Jill asked whether their family had any plans after church and invited them to their favorite fast food restaurant.

“I’ll have to check with the girls,” responded Jenny.

“Mom…Mom…” shouted the girls as Jenny met them in their classroom after church. “Christy asked us if we can go to her birthday party next Saturday. Can we?”

“Well, we’ll have to find out more about it,” responded Jenny with a laugh.

“Hi, Jenny.” Jill’s voice snapped Jenny out of her recollections from a year ago. “Wasn’t that an awesome concert last night?”

 

Author’s note:  The answer to the question?  Relationships!!