Author Archives: Charles Arn

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don’t need to be professional architects to sense that the ceiling is too low, the halls too narrow, the windows outdated, or the color schemes from a different generation.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. (Start with this article.)
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.  (Is “leaving” the advice you would give to a married couple in tough 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,” Bill 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!!

Forecasting Your Worship Attendance One Year From Today (Charles Arn)

With three simple numbers you can forecast your worship attendance one year from today.  It’s quite easy, and surprisingly reliable.

But before we talk about how…let’s consider why.  Is there value in looking into the future?  Or, as Marty McFly discovered, is it just plain trouble to mess with Father Time?

Actually, I am a firm believer in forecasting for the simple reason that if our forecast indicates a potential problem, we can do something about it before reality makes it too late.  For example, suppose your forecast indicated that your worship attendance would be down by 10% in one year.  If you could do something to prevent that situation…wouldn’t you?  I hope so.

So, let’s look at how we can cheat the calendar and peek into the future.  It requires three numbers: your “Visitor Volume” … your “Visitor Retention” … and your “Back Door.”

Visitor Volume—the number of visitors/newcomers at your church services, as a percentage of your total attendance.  To calculate this, add all the first-time visitors who attended a service at your church in the past year, then divide by the total number of persons in attendance (including visitors).  The result will be the average percentage of visitors at your services; which is your Visitor Volume.  (Growing churches, by the way, average 4-5%.)

Visitor Retention—the percentage of your visitors who become involved following their first visit.  To calculate, list each person who has visited your church from the community in the past 6-18 months.  Then determine how many of them are now regular attenders.  Divide the number of involved visitors into your total number of visitors. The result will be your Visitor Retention rate.  (Growing churches average 18-21%.)

Back Door—the percentage of your total constituency who leave.  Simply identify the number of people who stopped attending last year for any reason (transfer, death, inactivity, etc.).  Divide this by your present constituency.  The result will be your Back Door rate.  (Growing churches average 5-8%.)

Once you have these three numbers, take your present attendance and project it for next year.  Multiply your present average attendance by your Visitor Volume to get the average number of visitors you can anticipate.  Multiply that number times your Visitor Retention rate for the number of newcomers who are likely to stay.  Subtract the number of people expected to leave…and the result is your projected attendance one year from today.

A stimulating exercise is to gather your church leaders together and “play with the numbers.”  First show the projections of where present trends will take you.  Then ask, “Is this where we believe God would have us be in one year?”  If the consensus is “No,” ask, “Then what do we need to change?”  The controllable variables are Visitor Volume, Visitor Retention, and the Back Door.  What happens on your spreadsheet if you add one person per week to Visitor Volume?  What if you doubled your Visitor Retention?  Or halved the Back Door rate?

Such a conversation will lead to a thoughtful exploration of the past, a critical evaluation of the present, and a stimulating vision of what future changes might lead to more effective stewardship of the people God has put under your spiritual care.

NOTE:  The 8-week online elective Newcomer Integration (CONG-525) will help students learn how to significantly increase their church’s Visitor Retention and decrease their Back Door rate.  The course begins March 16.  (A limited number of audit spaces are available, even if you’re not in a degree program.  Call: 765-677-1634.)

Reaching Busy Young People for Jesus (Charles Arn)

I was recently asked to respond to the following question by the folks at  Building Church Leaders website: “How can a church introduce young people to Jesus in a busy city where no one seems to have any time to spare?”   Here was my response.  Perhaps it will be helpful to some of you…

The fact is that the vast majority of people (young, as well as old) come to faith as a result of a relationship with a Christian friend or relative.  Jesus often modeled the process.  To the demon-possessed man (Mark 5:19) he said, “go home to your friends and tell them what wonderful things God has done for you…”  When Zacchaeus believed, Christ told him that salvation had also come to his friends and family (Luke 19:9).  After Jesus healed the son of a royal official we learn that the Centurion, and all of his family and friends, believed (Mark 2:14-15).  Jesus knew that the way the Gospel would travel around the world would be through relationships.

So, successful outreach builds on relationships. But many Christians today have few or no real relationships with non-believers.  How can such relationships get started?  C.S. Lewis gives us a wonderful insight:  “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.’ ”[1]  To reach young people we must create “relationship greenhouses” where friendships can flourish.

How do friendships flourish?  It’s easy, really.  Just two ingredients are necessary:  1) spending time together,  2) with people who share important things in common.

But, the next part of the original question begs our attention: “…where no one seems to have any time to spare?”

I love the experience shared by the small groups pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, Illinois.  Their church was offering group meeting after group meeting…but no takers.  The common excuse?  “We just don’t have any time.”  Finally, they solved their problem.  Rather than ask, “Would you attend our group?” they began asking, “What kind of a group would you change your schedule to attend?”[2]  They found the “hot buttons” of people, created groups around those topics, and solved their participation problems!

I have found that the groups people change their schedule to attend are one of two kinds:  Recreational or Developmental.  The first relates to how people like to spend their free time, and may be on anything from apple pies to zoology.  The second category relates to major life challenges, and usually centers around: health, or finances, or relationships, or employment.  If the felt need is strong enough…if the promise is appealing enough…if the risk low enough, people will change their schedules to attend.

But real relationships do not begin and end with immediate interests or needs.  A good “relationship greenhouse” moves from Felt Needs —> Deeper Needs.  Deeper needs are such things as finding: a place to belong … a sense of balance … authentic relationships … help through transitions … and spiritual answers to life’s issues.

Ultimately, the “pilgrim’s progress” moves from Deeper Needs —> Eternal Needs, and a relationship with Jesus that fills the God-shaped vacuum inside every human being.  But, young people won’t make that jump “cold turkey” based on someone they neither know nor trust.  It takes time.  I recommend Bob Whitesel’s new book, Spiritual Waypoints, for a helpful discussion on facilitating people’s journey from ignorance to intimacy with Christ.

A marketing executive with Ford Motor Company once said to me: “I used to wonder what our ‘product’ would be if our church were a business.  I’ve decided our product is relationships.  First, a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Then, relationships with others in the body of Christ.  And finally, relationships with people in the world that Christ died for.”

I like that.


[1] C.S. Lewis.  The Four Loves. Harcourt, Brace, & Company,  Orlando, FL: 1988 p. 247.

[2] David Stark.  Growing People Through Small Groups.  Bethany Press, 2004, p. 94.

What Keeps Us From Loving? (Charles Arn)

“The greatest of these is love…” (I Cor. 13:13)

Why do so many of us fail to love as well, or as often, as we could?  One reason is because we have developed attitudes and/or actions which inhibit our ability to love.  Like plaque that builds up in the arteries and inhibits the flow of blood through our system, “plaque” can build up in our lives and inhibit the flow of God’s love to those around us.

What are these obstacles that keep us from loving?  We can find many of them hidden in the Apostle Paul’s classic treatise on love. Here we can find both the qualities of love and the obstacles:

Love’s Ideal: “Love is patient
Love’s Obstacle — Impatience

Impatience describes a person whose own agenda is more important than anyone else’s.  He/she has little time or concern for other’s concerns. An impatient person must constantly be entertained, and quickly loses interest in people if they are not filling a need in his/her own life. The Greek word Paul uses for “patience” describes a person who has been wronged and has the power to avenge himself, but chooses not to. Impatience seeks revenge. Patience does not.

Rate yourself on the scales following each of love’s obstacles:

“Most of the time, I am…”

Impatient |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Patient

Love’s Ideal: “Love is kind
Love’s Obstacle — Unkindness

Some people think kindness is synonymous with weakness. Therefore, these people reason, strength and power cannot be obtained through kindness. Those who constantly see themselves in competition with others tend to be unkind. A latent sense of inferiority is another cause for unkindness.  In contrast, love is the readiness to enhance the life of another person.

“Most of the time, I am…”

Unkind |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Kind

Love’s Ideal: “Love is trusting
Love’s Obstacle — Jealousy

Love naturally means concern. As love grows, concern for the person also grows. But often, without one realizing it, this concern can become possessive. Jealousy is normal concern that has grown out of control, just as a cancer cell is only a normal cell grown out of control. Jealousy requires total possession—it must have exclusive rights to another person. This emotion has the power to overwhelm and destroy the most seemingly sound and secure relationship, and the most rational person.

“Most of the time, I am…”

Jealous |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Trusting

Love’s Ideal: “Love is humble
Love’s Obstacle — Arrogance

Various Bible translations use different words for this love-obstacle: “boastful,” “rudeness,” “proud,” “anxious to impress,” “braggart,” “cherishes the idea of its own importance.” Arrogant people give their “love” away as though it were a tremendous favor. Their real purpose, however, is to put others down while trying to lift themselves up.

“Most of the time, I am…”

Arrogant |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Humble

Love’s Ideal: “Love is generous
Love’s Obstacle — Selfishness

If there is one quality that creates an insurmountable barrier to love, it is selfishness. Actions motivated by selfishness are exactly the opposite to actions motivated by love. Christ knew about the problem of selfishness when he said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to into the ground and dies, it remains only a single-seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24). Selfishness seeks its own way, and in the process loses it. Love seeks the way of others, and in the process finds its own.

“Most of the time, I am…”

Selfish |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Generous

Love’s Ideal: “Love is slow to anger
Love’s Obstacle — Irritability/touchiness

Christ had strong words for those who are quick to anger: “But now I tell you: whoever is angry with his brother will be brought before the judge; whoever calls his brother ‘you good-for-nothing’ will be brought before the Council; and whoever calls his brother a worthless fool will be in danger of going to the fire of hell” (Mt. 5:22). “Wherefore, my beloved brethren,” said James, “let everyman be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (Ja. 1:19).

“Most of the time, I am…”

Irritable/touchy |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Slow to anger

Love’s Ideal: “Love is forgiving
Love’s Obstacle — Resentfulness

Resentfulness is the accumulation of irritations suffered in the past, recalled in the present. The word Paul used for resentfulness was an accountant’s word for entering an item in a ledger so it would not be forgotten. This is exactly what many people do…and it is a great obstacle to love. “I’ll forgive, but I’ll never forget” mocks the true meaning of forgiveness. Resentfulness looks to the past rather than the future. Love releases memory’s grip on a wrong suffered or a hurt inflicted.

“Most of the time, I am…”

Resentful |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Forgiving

Love’s Ideal: “Love hates evil
Love’s Obstacle — Loving evil

What did Paul mean when he said, “love hates evil”? Lewis Smedes (Love Within Limits) says that loving evil is not so much finding pleasure in doing wrong, as it is the spiteful satisfaction in hearing or saying something derogatory about another. Surprisingly, people who work the hardest at their high moral standards often love evil the most! As they struggle to live a life of abstinence from worldly things, they condemn those who do not. They gloat at the stumbling of those who “compromise with the world,” and look forward to the judgment when these hypocrites will get their dues. Their message of the Gospel begins with condemnation. It centers on judgment. It ends in separation. Love seems nowhere to be found.

“Most of the time, I…”

Love evil |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Hate evil

Love’s Ideal: “Love is always there
Love’s Obstacle — Inconsistency

False love has limits on its endurance. It doesn’t last when things get tough. Inconsistency is like a faulty bond of a poorly made dam that begins to lose strength at its weakest point. A few drops of water begin to seep through the crack. The inconsistency grows to a stream, and then a torrent, and soon the entire dam gives way. Real love never fails. It is like the strong dam standing against the tremendous pressure of the water behind it. Love will bear any insult, any injury and disappointment…and still stand strong.

“Most of the time, I am…”

Inconsistent |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Consistent

When we identify our personal obstacles to love, we have taken a giant step toward dealing with them and becoming the loving person God wants us to be. “Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it—because it does.” (I Cor. 14:1 Message)