by: Rev. Ed Schneider
Over the course of more than 3 decades of pastoral leadership God has blessed me with both significant amount of successes and failures. Like most people I have a tendency to enjoy trying to recapture the successful experiences and try to learn what NOT TO DO from the failures. To be truthful some of the major successes in my ministerial life have been associated with me being at the “right place” at the “right time” under the “right circumstances.” At other times it was plainly obvious that what worked perfectly at one location may only work marginally or not at all at another based on the context of the circumstance. The same can be said about some of the failures. What hadn’t seemed to work in one location may have only been related to timing or lack of specific labor or other resources to accomplish the desired goal.
All practical ministry is more “art & experience” oriented rather than “hard & fast” rigidity. However, in a very general sense, there are a few things to both strive to put into place to promote success and also a few important items to avoid. Below is a basic list to start your journey of LOCAL CONGREGATION SUCCESS. Even though there is a long list of options and variables to every context, there will exist BUILDING BLOCKS to greatly help each Christian ministry.
40 Let all things be done decently and in order. (1 Corinthians 14:40)
The following FIVE BASIC RULES are only highlighted below. Truthfully, there needs to be extensive elaboration on each of the five. However, this written offering will provide “food for thought” on the urgent need of thousands of churches who are in absolute need of numerically tangible, financially cost-effective, practically sustainable and biblically based GROWTH.
Rule #1… You must first provide an environment that profoundly encourages growing disciples (committed students of Christ) to fully integrate into the life of the church. The word “encourage” does not mean announce from the pulpit or place in the announcement section, “Bible Study” starts at 7pm and somehow that completes your efforts to “provide” an encouraging environment. Like most things of leadership we are called to use multiple levels and a variety of differing kinds of interactions to address “entrance points” for all the different kinds of people and their equally diverse tastes of personal value or interest. Installing an environment of learning is not singular but immensely varied.
Rule #2…. Make sure there is an overt and transparent commitment to “getting rid of” ANYTHING that hinders growth…..both individually and collectively. This list can be lengthy depending on the context of the local church setting. If there are 50 things that directly are keeping people out or profoundly preventing them from returning that is obviously a problem. However, to scream “the sky is falling” doesn’t help the situation. If there are several items that hinder growth and you have managed to identify them…as well as developed a consensus of opinion that the items of concern are tangible….then you must be both intentional and practical when trying to mitigating their negative effects.
What do I mean by that????
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)
If your local church is surrounded by younger families with children under age of 8 years old and you have no family associated programs or ministry emphasis….then that is an obvious challenge that not only needs to be fixed but must be addressed with immediate intentionality. To correct this negative reality should not be done in haste. However, it must be address whether it is uncomfortable to some of the existing members.
If your property symbolically screams ….I’M A MESS. NEATNESS AND CLEANLINESS ISN’T IMPORTANT….then stop pretending that it isn’t a problem.
If your local congregation is in the middle of a ton of single moms who speak two different languages and your existing congregation or its public leadership does not reflect that demographic reality….then quit pretending it doesn’t matter. It does!
I could go on for quite a while with example after example of what hinders first-time visitors, return visitors, membership commitments, and discipleship growth, but the point is start taking a NEW LOOK….pray for a FRESH PAIR OF EYES….to see and then address anything that may hinder the sustainable growth of God’s House.
Rule #3….OUTREACH is EVERYTHING! All aspects of the local church’s ministries, support programs…even administration….has to be associated with “reaching out” to others. Even when we are training and empowering individuals it still must be in context of “reaching out.” Quite literally, anything a Christian church teaches or provides should be done with the goal that it lives and breathes BEYOND the initial person who has experienced it. The moment a local congregation begins to think INWARDLY at the exclusion of reaching outside the front door of their building THEY FAIL THE GOSPEL! The misguided belief that “foreign missions” at the exclusion of personal, spiritual and financial involvement with the community within a 30 minute drive from the front door of the sanctuary….FAILS THE GOSPEL MESSAGE!
10 She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. 11 And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.
12 After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. 13 And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.
14 Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. 15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:10-16)
Rule #4….Be sensitive to attendance patterns. A bad attendance Sunday every once in a while is common. However, when a sustained (4 weeks out of 6 is down by 20% or more) then it often reflects the unfortunate fact that members have lost…or are losing…their sense of “tangible” connection to the ministries of the local congregation.
There can be several reasons for this occurring and as they are identified they will need to be addressed with intentionality.
Most stable and growing Christian locations have the basic understanding of the necessity of identifying (outwardly) and valuing itself (internally) as;
• an evangelical expression of a gracious God (delivering Christ to others), The Great Commission is a Command, NOT an Option
• a congregation committed to developing and deploying disciples (teaching and empowering the theology, strategies, and methods of Christ), and
• genuinely recognized as a welcoming and encouraging location for Christ. (fully embracing the privilege associated with being an Ambassador for Christ)
* Again, when current members or attendees lose this strategically important foundation they will begin to lose their connection.
* When they lose their connection they feel divested or irrelevant to the church experience.
In short, what “were” the normal assumptions and expectations of daily church life most likely will need to be systematically transitioned into a NEW normal.
Members and attendees MUST BE CONNECTED!
Their connections to a local congregation MUST BE RELEVANT AND VALUABLE to them personally.
Members especially must be aware of TANGIBLE OUTCOMES!
Because most congregations are generally open and agreeable to some level of sustainable growth, it is essential they are reminded periodically of where they have agreed to transition from AND how they have agreed to attain forward movement.
Rule #5…. Membership really does matter. Even though this may seem obvious to some, others on the other hand have either lost or do not regard “membership” as a foundational step in their Christian journey. Local congregations MUST make a noticeable and absolute commitment to EMPHASIZING the value and the perceived SPECIAL DESIGNATION of gaining the title of “member.” Commitment before Christ and the world around each believer is an essential step in anyone’s discipleship journey. When membership becomes truly meaningful, our churches will become an unstoppable force for the Kingdom and glory of God.
“If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” (Numbers 30:2)
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellence of (God, through Christ) who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
Here are SIX WAYS to address the above mentioned “rules.”
- RAISE expectations. STOP lowering expectations of becoming a member. Instead do the exact opposite. Total numbers of “pew sitters” is meaningless if there are not committed “members” to support the local church’s divine call to live out the life and mission of Christ.
- New Member’s Class Require a new members class before any official designation is given. Within the class structure should not only be what it means to associated with Trinity but also what are the reasonable requirements of working along side other members as we work together to expand and encourage the life and mission of Jesus. This class should be taught by a well trained and solid core of ordained “elders” who are fully aware of, and committed to, the goals of Trinity.
- People need to be connected Plug new members into ministries of Trinity as a normal part of their joining. They need to find their initial role beyond just attending. As the new members classes are ending the elders who are leading the essential entry process need to be very sensitive to the gifts, graces, and willingness of the new members to serve. Get them plugged in. Check on them after they are plugged in and encourage them to express their thoughts and suggestions on how to tangibly improve what they have experienced.
- Multiple Worship Opportunities. One of the things to realize is we are now in a 24/7 climate. It is no longer an 8-5 world. One of the things we are already doing well is our commitment to provide multiple times and days for worshiping God. We will continue to develop these worship services as new groups and leaders are brought to us.
- Actively Monitor the Attendance of each Member. With a new commitment and the infrastructure to support it, the ELDERS should be especially sensitive to who is attending, how often they are (or not) attending, and then intentionally contact in a loving but direct way to discover any changes in their pattern of participation. This doesn’t always have to be a bad sign. Sometimes it may be that someone’s attendance shows an increase. That’s a good thing. There may be an opportunity to encourage new and broader participation if this happens.
- Communication is an Important Key. Web-based communications are absolutely essential for the growth of membership. Although we will not stop printed and verbally supported announcements, it is incredibly important to realize “times have changed” as it relates to how the vast majority of people get their information. We must have well trained and committed people sharing the kind of information that promotes church life awareness and the value of those who are “members” of the congregation.
WHEN MEMBERSHIP BECOMES IMPORTANT, MEMBERSHIP WILL SOAR!