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Assimilation System: NEXT STEPS

Assimilation focuses on connecting with guests and newcomers. The overarching goal of assimilation is to help unbelievers become functioning followers of Jesus Christ. It is having a system that helps people become increasingly connected to Jesus and His church. We must seek to help people make various connection points such as classes, ministry opportunities, small groups, friendships, discipleship opportunities, and other relationships. The blessing of church systems is developing clear next steps so that you will assimilate people that you might otherwise not connect with and possibly even lose.

All of your systems need constant attention. Entropy will naturally set in as time goes on and they will need to be reenergized. Most systems need a new dose of energy every three to five years through some restructuring. Also, new ideas and new team members are good to give fresh and creative ideas. Attend a conference, read a book, or talk to another church about how they assimilate and connect with their guests. Always remain flexible and ready to make changes that will put new energy into your systems.

Dynamic Church Planting International describes these steps as demonstrating to first time guests that you want them to become second time guests. Demonstrating to second time guests that you want them to become third time guests. Demonstrating to third time guests that you want them to become regular attenders and then demonstrating to regular attenders that you want them to become fully functioning members. It is developing a systematic approach that will increase guest retention and connect newcomers into your discipleship process.

Last week’s article on assimilation focused on first impressions, which are very important, but you must think through the next steps.

  • Do you have a plan, a system, in place to focus on follow up after the initial connections?
  • How will you communicate to your guests what those next steps are?
  • How will you or will you get their contact information?
  • If you do get their contact information, how and who will follow up on them?
  • Do you have a card for them to fill out or a welcome center where they can receive a packet and/or gift for attending?

1.  Realize that if they do give you their information they will expect you to get in contact with them. Consider sending an email, a personal note, and giving them a call over the next week. It is best to connect with them within 48 hours and let them know how thankful and honored you are that they came. You can also send a letter from the church letting them know you are praying for them and desire to be a blessing to them and their family. In the first week you can touch them three or four ways through email, texting, a letter, and or a call.

2.  Consider giving their contact information to your small group leaders and/or your small group leaders. If you have multiple groups allow all of them to reach out to them inviting them into their group. It speaks volumes to guests that there are several options. Even if you only have one class or group be sure they reach out to the guests and invite to be a part of their group.

3.  Invite them to a newcomer’s meal. If you are having guests on a regular basis plan a time to invite all of them and be prepared to share the vision statement of your church, the discipleship pathway you have, and how they can become more involved. Be ready to answer any questions they might have. You do not have a big group but can train couples to take guests out to lunch and accomplish this on a more personal level. This can be a time to find out where they are spiritually in their walk with Christ or if they are even a believer yet.

If you are able to offer a luncheon Dynamic Church Planting International offers these suggestions, “Churches should consider a monthly mechanism that allows newcomers to get to know the pastor and other church leaders. Some churches hold this in the pastor’s home. Others do it at the church property or some other location. It usually includes food, often an entire meal. New guests are greeted, asked to sign-in, and given a nametag as they enter the area.”

“One place setting at each table says, “Reserved for Host.” A long-term volunteer or staff member will sit there and get to know everyone. Place information request sheets at each table. The table hosts encourage guests to use them. The hosts should also encourage guests to sign up for a class on basic Christianity. Between the meal and desert, one of the pastors gets up and talks for 3 or 4 minutes about the church’s history, introduces the staff, and encourages everyone to attend an Introduction to Christianity class.”

4.  Decide how you will handle membership and if you will require them to attend a membership class. The length and depth is up to you but there are five basic areas that are good to be covered including salvation, the ordinances, doctrine, what they can expect from your church, and what your church expects from them. This is a time to head off a lot of misunderstandings upfront because they are joining you, not the opposite. Someone has said it well, “The best time to lose a bad church member is before they join.”

5.  And most importantly, find out what works for you in your context. There are a lot of different ways to reach out and follow up on your guests. Think it through and be creative. There will be many ideas that you might want to implement but are not able to, yet. That is ok. The solution is to do what you can at your current size, ability, and stage of development. Do not focus on what you cannot do. Focus on what you can do and do it!

Assimilation System


Every church needs to take a hard look at developing systems that enable them to be more effective in caring for the people God has given them while remaining focused on reaching those who are far from God. There is no system where this truth is more important then in the area of assimilation. This is where you develop a clear process of next steps that help and enable unbelievers to become fully functioning followers of Jesus. How will you or will you follow up on the first time guest? Do you have a plan to help a first time guest to attend again?

It has been well said, “When we lose our why we lose our way!” If your church forgets that you exist to welcome sinners then you will lose your primary purpose for being there. It is natural to begin overly focusing on maintaining and servicing what is already there while ignoring Jesus’ call to seek and to save those who are lost. The older your church is the easier it becomes to drift from its mission. Are you a welcoming church? Are you friendly to those who decide to visit or are you only friendly to those who are already there?

Dynamic Church Planting International says this, “When a person visits your church for the first time, they are a gift from God. Likely, someone prayed diligently for this to happen. God himself has probably been tugging at them to attend. What did Jesus do with sinners who came to learn about spiritual truth? He welcomed them warmly. The ones who opposed truth-seeking sinners were the self-righteous religious leaders. Share with them what a wonderful gift it is to welcome sinners. Some church members will be tempted to act like the Pharisees.”

In U-Turn Church the authors say, “The gravitational pull of the church naturally pulls us inward, toward each other. If we are going to move outward toward those who are lost, it will take more energy than most of us dream.” Many church members are focused on their personal needs and their family’s needs. New people can be seen as a potential threat to their power and/or position. Assimilation is warmly welcoming those who come to our churches. You want to do all you can to help them to be touched by God and have the desire to return.

Those who attend your church can be described in four categories.

  1. Those who visit and are looking for something to connect with.
  2. Those who are beginning to take the necessary baby steps required to follow Christ.
  3. Those who have developed into mature disciples and are serving others. The reality is that once you begin to grow in your personal walk with Jesus, serving is the natural by-product.
  4. The ones who think they are mature but are unengaged and serving no one. This must be challenged the most!

As we focus on the first group (guests and seekers) you must develop a clear system of showing them how glad you are they came. They are not looking for a friendly church as much as they are looking for friends. What will you do with them when they do come? God has been working on their hearts and through people in their lives to get them there, so don’t blow it. Have a system that welcomes them and follows up on them because your desire should be for a first time guest to become a second time guest. What clear path do you have to reach out to them?

If your church forgets why you are there then you will begin to lose your passion and zeal for the unbeliever and those who are far from God. How can you tell that is happening? It did not happen overnight but occurred slowly and quietly. No one can really point to a specific time or day when you were overly focused on those inside the church and unconcerned about those outside. Somewhere along the way you naturally began to focus on maintaining and serving everyone that was already there. Internal ministries tend to overwhelm outward mission.

Follow-up is crucial but just as important is how they are received when they arrive.

  • Are there greeters ready to welcome them and show them where they need to go?
  • Do you have people in the parking lot to help them in that process? Train and empower your people to realize that they should all be welcoming hosts and hostesses. Train them to welcome guests into your church the same way they would welcome them into their homes. Tell them to always be on the outlook for someone they do not know, introduce themself, and engage them in conversation.
  • Are you creating a positive first impression? Some guests determine if they will ever come back in the first three, seven, or fifteen minutes. By then they will been either been greeted or not, lost in the building or guided to where they need to go, and have sensed whether people are truly glad they have come. The one thing that has not happened yet is the sermon, which has not even been preached. Some seem to discourage thinking about this and say we should not worry so much about first impressions but what happened to “given to hospitality?” Jesus welcomed sinners.

First impressions should never be left to chance.

Every leader and greeter should know how to make people feel welcomed. Be looking for those you do not recognize and make sure you introduce yourself to them and tell them how glad you are they came. Every aspect of the facility should be viewed through the lens of a first time guest. It has taken an unbelievable amount of courage to come into an environment that is completely foreign and uncomfortable to them. Do your best to make sure everyone is friendly, the place is clean, and they know they are loved.

Reproduction System

We know that God is a God of systems because of His design of the universe (solar system) and of the human body. Is there a system you would be willing to live without for one day? You couldn’t make it without the circulatory system because you would die without your heart beating and pumping your blood to keep you alive. If you gave up the skeletal system you would just be a blob in the floor and survival would be very short lived. Without the respiratory system you would not be able to breath and without air your life would be over in minutes.

There is a time to get to get our bodies scanned to see whether they are healthy or not. There is much debate and difference of opinion over whether the benefits of a full body scan is greater than the danger of the radiation used while performing it. Could it be that many churches are afraid of what a full spiritual scan of their body of believers might reveal? It would be good for all of us individually and corporately to lay back on God’s examination table and allow Him to expose our areas of sickness, disease, and unhealthy practices.

There is one system you could survive without and that is the reproductive system. You could do well but only for one generation. When you did finally die there would be no one else to carry on. Maybe this is a picture of many churches today. We have focused on all of the systems to care for who we already have but have forgotten about the importance of reproduction and multiplication. The church can get by for a period of time and even thrive at times but it will not reproduce the fruit that God has challenged us to multiply.

We need this spiritual examination to expose any areas of darkness to His light. Ephesians 5:13-14 says, “Everything exposed by the light is made clear, for what makes everything clear is light.” We should go ahead and submit to this body scan now because I Corinthians 4:5 tells us that one day He will bring to light what was hidden in darkness and He will reveal the intentions of our hearts. Why wait? Schedule this scan of your body of believers now and determine how well you are reproducing disciples, leaders, and churches.

Creating systems and using God-centered techniques will ultimately expand your capacity to care for your people and reach out. Good systems save you stress, time, energy, money, and a lot of headaches. These systems should follow a process that enables them to be gospel-centered and effective as well. In the area of outreach there can be much frenetic activity while seeing very few results. We know the Bible says one plants, one waters, and God gives the increase…but how should that impact the system we develop?

  1. We should build our systems firmly on the foundation of what the scriptures teach. We are commanded to share His glory with all the nations and to be fishers of men.
  2. Then we need to determine if that is really something we truly value. Does our lifestyle show that we are committed to reaching unbelievers with the truth of the gospel? When is the last time we shared the gospel with anyone or even invited him or her to church, a small group, or an event in order to bring him or her closer to Christ? If it is a value it drives us to do something about it.
  3. You begin with a biblical principle that leads to a value, which becomes tasks and habits. These are the things you do to make the value a reality in your daily life. What could you improve on in order to have a better opportunity to share the love of Christ with unbelievers? Matt Perman puts it this way, “To be productive means to get the right things done…To be effective is to get done what God wants done.” Our tasks and habits should be focused in order to maximize the opportunities we have every day.

Systems are designed to enhance our effectiveness. It is the way we organize the tasks we are performing. These are focused on the goals we have which should be in obedience to the Great Commission and doing everything for His glory. Reaching that goal is what brings fulfillment by having discerned what pleases Him. The missing ingredient is strategies, which are the actual action steps needed to find that fulfillment. Many develop systems and the reality is that all of us function within a system whether it is a good one or a bad one.

Strategies are what connect the system to the goal but they must be driven by a desire to be obedient. Matt Perman continues, “If we aren’t abounding in good work, the problem is likely not a lack of opportunity but a lack of desire.” Do we not have opportunity to share the love of Christ everyday? When we are in the store and the salesperson accidentally gives us the wrong information how will we respond? When the waiter is forgetful and takes too long on our order how will we react? Will we be able to talk to them about the love of Jesus?

What strategies do you have to be a light for Christ daily? You don’t have to volunteer at the local soup kitchen or go on a mission trip to be a witness. Here is a full proof strategy; be ready to arise and shine for Jesus every single day knowing you will have the opportunity to either to bring people closer to Christ or push them farther away. God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves and we can display that in very practical ways every single day in very ordinary ways. Maybe the real problem is that our daily ordinary is far from God’s plan?

Leadership 101 – Systems

In a recent leadership training this statement was challenging but rang true when Matt Perman said, “The result of management without leadership is that you will never get there.” With that being said, the next logical conclusion is that leadership without management means we will never sustain it. Systems enable us to sustain all of the relational capital we have worked so hard to build. We should never stop building relationships and loving people but we must also develop systems to help care for the relationships we now have.

Every church needs to take a hard look at developing systems that enable them to be more effective in caring for the people God has given them while remaining focused on reaching those who are far from God. We get so busy working in the ministry that we do not take enough time to work on the ministry. Francis Chan says, “The pastor is not the minister. The pastor is the equipper. Every member of the church is a minister.” With Ephesians 4:11-12 in view we then have to develop a process for training the team God has called us to minister.

One misconception is how many churches have adopted a culture where the pastor is expected to care for everyone. The reality is that this demands more than one man can handle. It is not the responsibility of the pastor to care for everyone but it is his responsibility to make sure that everyone is cared for. You cannot do that without a ministry care system in place where everyone knows his or her responsibilities. The focus shifts from overseeing everyone to training and equipping key people to help oversee the church and its ministries.

Effective churches utilize systems to carry out the vision that God has given them. The pastor needs a team approach that helps encourage quality. A vision written down on paper does not ensure that it is accomplished – people do! Good systems such as outreach, assimilation, worship planning, spiritual growth, ministry care, ministry placement, finance and reproduction save you stress, time, energy, money, and a lot of headaches. All you have to do is take a look at Moses with his father-in-law Jethro, Nehemiah, and Acts 6 to know this is true.

Here is one thing Dynamic Church Planting International has to say about the importance of systems. “In your church, everyone hopes that someone will be in charge. They hope that someone will think things through ahead of time. They hope that someone will come up with quality ways to attract people, lead them to Christ, disciple them and invite them to serve in ministry. They hope their donations will be handled well. They hope that the services will have quality and continuity. They hope that someone will pray for them, befriend them, and communicate with them.”

The need for systems is not only for church plants. It is also imperative for any church running 40-50 and above. There is a great need to evaluate the systems you have because of how desperately they are needed. DCPI continues on the importance of systems, “They (people in your church) hope that someone will introduce them to a more significant life than they are leading now. This job belongs to the leader. The only way the leader can make this happen is to develop systems that ensure every system works every day of the week, every week of the year.”

Here are a few things to think about in developing systems:

  1. Determine your values because values drive your practices, which then determine your results in the areas of your systems.   DCPI states, “Cars are designed to transport people. Medicines are designed to cure people. Machines are designed to manufacture toys, clocks or other gadgets. The systems you designed are giving your church exactly what they were designed to do, whether you like it or not. So, if you want your church to reach more people and grow in Christ, you will have to design your systems well.”
  2. Train your people how to develop systems. DCPI training covers 10 ministry issues such as designing an implementation plan, teaching the 12 Biblical Principles as applicable to church systems, gives over 25 ministry skills for the phases of church growth, and shows how your church size impacts your ministry. It also helps you think through how to deal with discouragement, difficult people, and time demands. It walks you through what pastoral transitions should look like.
  3. There are at least eight necessary systems that must be undergirded by the word of God and much prayer. Every system must go through both of those filters to ensure you are headed in His direction and not yours. Those systems are Reproductive, Outreach, Assimilation, Worship Service Planning, Spiritual Growth, Pastoral Care, Ministry Placement, and Financial. If you desire to see your team become more effective then you must be committed to giving them the tools they need.
  4. Work ON your ministry not just in the ministry. It has been said before but is worth repeating – Plan your Work and then Work your Plan! Over the next several weeks we will try to unpack what each of these systems might look like and how you can get them up and running. Values determine practices and then your practices determine results. Your values determine your priorities. Remember, people will lose their way if they lose their why!

Never Been Exposed to the Truth

Jesus said that He came to “seek and to save that which was lost.” He clearly described what it meant to follow Him when He declared, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” A disciple, a follower of Jesus, is defined as a person who knows Jesus and has decided to follow Him. That disciple is being changed and transformed by Christ daily and has committed himself to the mission of Christ. We seem to do well focusing on being biblically sound and relationally connected but somehow fail miserably when it comes to living missionally.

A recent Barna Report has reinforced many concerns about our culture in America moving further and further away from God. Mike Huckabee offers this summary of that report: “The Barna Group just released a new study of Generation Z (current teenagers) that found they are the least-Christian generation in US history. Nearly twice as many claim to be atheists as Millennials (13% to 7%), and 35% of current teens say they are either atheist, agnostic or unaffiliated with any religion. Just 59% say they are Catholic or Christian (a six-point drop from the Millennial generation), and only 4% hold what is considered a true Biblical worldview.”

He continues, “The survey places the cause of this change on today’s teenagers having been brought up in a post-Christian, post-modern environment where they’ve never been exposed to Christianity or church.” The phrase that stands out shocking and troubling me the most is, “never been exposed to Christianity or church.” Can that really be right here in our own backyards? Have we lost our passion and burden for the lost where most Christians are not even sharing their faith, ever?

J.D. Payne recently shared that as of October 2017 there are 207 Unengaged Unreached People Groups here. This is even of greater concern than just being an Unreached People Group because this means there is no (none) evangelical planting strategy being executed at this time to build a gospel bridge to these people. Before we pass this off as a metropolitan problem in New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles we need to ask ourselves, “What am I doing to reach the unchurched, unengaged, and those far from God in my city and community?”

Mike Breen expounds upon a huge problem in the American church when he laments that in the United States, “96% of church growth is due to transfer growth and not churches striking into the heart of our enemy’s territory. We’ll consider it a win because we have the new service or program that is growing…but that growth is mainly from people coming from other churches. That’s not a win! That’s a staggering loss.” Research supports his claim because only 15% of all churches are growing and only 1% of that number is increasing because of conversion growth.

What is your church’s strategy to reach those who are far from God in your city and community? Ed Stetzer challenges us to discern whom the lost are, where do they live, and how will we reach them? Yet it seems that what dominates most church cultures today is attracting those who are already believers and attending church. Without even realizing it we have become enamored with having a better product than the church down the street, which perpetuates a spirit of competition where the church with the best music and programs wins!

First, we need to repent.

We need to ask God to forgive us for our lack of burden and concern for the lost that work and live next door to us. Then we need to recommit to being the salt and light that He has called each one of us to be. Is your light shining? Are you shining as you are supposed to be? Philippians 2:15 says, “We are to shine like stars in the world.” As we are praying we need to put some feet to our prayers through random acts of kindness and to love in word and deed. Can those living in darkness see our good works?

Second, we need to develop a strategy as an individual believer and as a church.

Give people a way and opportunities to share their faith. Dave Ferguson with Exponential and Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL, utilizes a 5-step plan that he has called B.L.E.S.S. Begin in prayer. Listen to them because no one ever feels more valued than when we listen. Eat with them to build relationships and get to know them personally. Serve them in a way that blesses their lives. How can you best serve them? Share with them what God has done for you and for them.

Third , we must place tools in our member’s hands.

This can be done at the end of the services and through your small groups to aid and help them in being light. It could be a card with the gospel message in one verse (Romans 6:23) or it could be an invitation to a special event. One thing here, though, is try to change your culture from a “come and see” (which is good) and add to it a “go and tell!” Think of multiple ways and multiple doors of how people can be connected and connect with others. It really is more a lifestyle of “as you go” being light and witnesses than a program.

Fourth, do the work of an evangelist.  

If we want to see God move in the area of evangelism then we must be ready to do the work of an evangelist in the same way Timothy was challenged. It is heartbreaking that the reality is that there are many churches that never see one person saved or baptized. This does not mean that anything goes just so we can get numbers and brag about the notches on our gospel belts. If we desire a movement of God it will require extraordinary prayer, abundant evangelism, a white-hot faith, and sacrifice with God giving the increase.

Leadership 101 – Slow Down

Most leaders I know need to slow down. We get caught up in the hustle and bustle of so many different things. It is difficult to find a rhythm that is sustainable with the demands of ministry and the juggling act that it seems to require. Stop and think for a minute, though. What are the usual results of rushing, getting in a hurry, and potentially getting ahead of the Lord? The answer is that it can be disastrous. The Bible gives us multiple examples of impatience in leaders.

Abraham became impatient in waiting on the son God promised him. He and Sarah had a plan but we know that did not turn out well. Moses grew impatient even though he had a great heart to help his fellow Hebrews in Egypt. He committed murder and it cost him 40 years on the backside of the dessert. King Saul grew impatient and offered burnt offering to the Lord instead of waiting on Samuel. His getting ahead of God cost him his throne. Impatience does not pay off.

The book of Proverbs has several references about the wisdom of the prudent. The idea is being careful and sensible. A prudent man is marked by sound judgment while being cautious and possessing great awareness of each situation. What are the consequences of inadequately discerning God’s will before moving forward? They can be tragic and devastating. We need to develop a rhythm in all areas of our lives of slowing down and sitting in His presence.

Here are some areas where we need to slow down.

  1. Slow down in your daily personal life. Develop the daily discipline of slowing down long enough to listen to the Lord. Find a place of solitude where you can be more mindful of His presence.   That is what will carry you through those crazy and hectic times when it is full steam ahead. If you have not slowed down to see Him in times of solitude it will be very difficult to see Him and sense His presence during the busy times.
  2. Slow down in your family time. Build boundaries to protect quality time with your wife and children. Make sure you have a date night where it is just you and her enjoying time together. Schedule family time on your calendar and when asked if you are available tell them you already have an appointment. Make sure you are there for the important events in your children’s lives. Your church will not remember many of the sacrifices you make for them but your children will.
  3. Slow down in your sermon preparation. Develop a system that enables you to best utilize your time. When is your most productive time to study? Schedule it on your calendar and then protect that time. You can get a lot accomplished when it is quiet and uninterrupted. If it means getting up an hour earlier to spend that time in the word it will be well worth it. Early mornings work well because the phone does not begin ringing until about 8:30 a.m. Find a study rhythm that works for you.
  4. Slow down by enjoying your favorite hobby or pastime. What recharges your battery? What is it you enjoy doing that refreshes you, makes you laugh, and puts a smile on your face? Find that outlet that gives you the opportunity to release the tension and frustrations that build up inside of all of us. Whether it is running, bicycling, hiking, golf, or cross-stitch it will be time well spent. All work and no play usually leads to burnout!
  5. Slow down in your leadership style. Make sure people really do understand where you are headed. This requires slowing down long enough to articulate clearly and allowing people to process the information. Bringing them along with you on the journey will slow down the process but it is worth the investment. Also make sure there is appropriate accountability. It is not wise for any single person to possess absolute power in a church. Lord Acton said it well, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
  6. Slow down and develop leaders. If you are too busy to spend time discipling and pouring into leaders then you are too busy. Take a close look at the things you should not be doing and pass those responsibilities on to someone else. Focus in on those three just like Jesus did. Look for those who want more and then challenge them to meet you at 5:30 a.m. for coffee to see if they are serious. Do not spend time chasing them or trying to persuade them to be dedicated. If they are called to a higher level of commitment they will pursue you.
  7. Slow down and enjoy the worship service. All too often we are focused on so many things Sunday mornings that we feel like a one-eyed cat watching 15 mouse holes. Involve as many people as you can in making sure the worship services are well prepared and planned but let them handle it so that you focus on two things, worship and preaching. Train and develop a team to oversee all of the details from greeters, altar workers, ushers, sound booth, announcements, song service, and everything else. Slow down and worship.
  8. Slow down and define what success really looks like. People must know that you will seek God’s will above all else. Remember, when we push and rush in decision making there will almost always be problems. Take time to sleep on it, seek wise counsel, and listen to the Lord. The greatest thing people need to see in a leader is a life that is characterized by, “Lord, not my will, but yours be done!”

The key words for church planning and strategy are slow down!

Be the Light of Jesus

Tony Dungy is well known as an NFL player, coach, and now commentator. In one of his books he shares that when he was still coaching he was often asked how he could justify working in the football “world” and be a Christian? They would point out how violent the game was, how bad the language used was, and that it was played on Sunday. His answer was, “I try to be careful to bring Christ’s light to that “world” without getting swallowed up by it!”

That is a great answer because God can only use us in the “world” if we are in fact “in” the world. There will be much debate and tension created in different scenarios of when we cross the line (and by the way, who determines that line?) and go too far. This will require godly wisdom that is only found in listening close to His leadership. Maybe we should focus on where we draw our own lines instead of judging and criticizing other people who seemingly cross the line. Check out Mark 3.

The world God has placed you in is exactly where you are to shine as His light. God gives you a platform from which you are to share Him as you allow your light to shine. Are you taking advantage of the opportunities you have to influence and add value to the lives of others? People need to see the light of what a person looks like who is abiding in Christ. Have we lost our focus on how God wants us to be His light? Have we even forgotten that we are called to be light?

Today’s reality is that so many churches seem to have forgotten why they exist and there is very little evangelism going on. It seems that all too often our focus, even in church planting, is finding those already in the family of God instead of those who are outside! In Barnabas Factors, J. D. Payne says, “Since biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches, team members will naturally spend the greatest amount of time with unbelievers prior to the birth of churches.”

Most agree that church plants need to see at least 50% of their growth come from new converts but all too often it is not even close. Before church planters think that this is an attack on them, the fact is that it is even worse in most established churches. We seem to be more focused on those we can get from other churches and who are already believers instead of pursuing the unsaved who are far from God. How intentional are you being in building relationships with unbelievers?

First, Pursue a passionate and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

If we are truly in love with Jesus then we will love others and have compassion on the multitudes as He does. It is out of our intimate and individual walks with God that we are able to minister to those outside the kingdom effectively. Unless we abide in Jesus, we really have nothing to offer others. Our inner life with Christ is what will determine what our outer work will look like.

Second, Begin building relationships and friendships with people who are far from God.

One suggestion would be for pastors and those on staff to spend one day a week hanging out with unbelievers. Where could you volunteer or what hobby could you develop that would put you in the middle of unbelievers? Start with your neighbors and invite people into your home for a meal.

Third, Make sure you are praying for unbelievers regularly.

Are you daily praying for 10-15 people by name to which you are personally trying to show the light of Jesus? Why not? Sometimes we just want to hang out with the believers we are comfortable with and already know. In Mark 5, a man who had been freed from demon possession wanted to stay with Jesus. But He told him, “Go back home to your own people, and report to them how much the Lord has done for you.”

Fourth, Just Do it!

One version of Mark 5:19 says, “Tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” Just do it and allow God to bless your efforts to let them know that Jesus loves them. The reality is that most will probably never feel ready to share Christ with others. The best news though is that God is bigger than all of our inadequacies, fears, and mistakes. So even if you cannot quote the Romans road just tell them how much the Lord has done for you!

Fifth, Remember that your light will only shine brightly as you walk with Him and abide in Him.

It is out of our inner lives that we do our outer work. Who you are on the inside is as important, actually much more important, as what you do. You cannot give what you do not possess and you cannot help but give others what you do possess. If you are full of anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness it will come out. But if you are full of grace, love, and forgiveness it will be given also!

Your light shines brightest when you are walking with the Lord. Abiding in Christ is the best way to insure that our best intentions turn into consistent action. Our close communion and connection with Jesus is what produces vibrancy and vitality. When we drift from Him we become spiritually dysfunctional and our lights begin to flicker. How we serve Christ and how we love others reflects what is tucked away in our hearts. It is a mirror that reveals who and what we really love.

Be the light that Jesus intended you to be! Bring Christ’s light to “your” world without being swallowed up by it! Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Dealing with Conflict and Criticism

How do you please people without being a people pleaser? Pastors have a desire to get along with their members and have a strong burden for unity. Sometimes that is quite a challenge with so many different opinions on how people think churches should be run and what they believe the pastor’s responsibilities are. People can sometimes be difficult and when conflict comes we must be ready to have a plan in place for how we will handle it. Will we handle it biblically?

The greatest challenge is to make sure you respond to conflict rather than reacting to it. The biblical standard given multiple times throughout the Word is that we are to refuse to guard (hold on to) resentments. We must refuse to carry grudges or nurse hatred and anger. Oh, we will get angry and we will get hurt so we must be ready to zealously banish all resentment and anger from our life. We will have to choose over and over again whether we will get better or get bitter.

When you do get hurt or mad the first thing to do is take a really good deep breath. While taking that moment it is your opportunity to ask God for strength and wisdom. You might not be able to handle the stress and conflict but He always can. The key here is choosing to be under His control and direction instead of your own. It is hard but it is possible because we can do all things through Christ who gives us the strength we need when we need it.

I Peter 2:23 says, “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He was suffering, He did not threaten but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly!” Jesus did not retaliate! When conflict or criticism comes we will have to decide how we will respond to it. Will we choose to allow Him to be in control or will our flesh be in control? Jesus chose to not retaliate and to trust the Father to handle the judgment end of things. Do we trust God enough to allow Him to handle that end of it?

There are a lot of options but let’s take a look at four. We must choose how we will handle difficult people and difficult situations daily. You should not judge a church by whether it has problems or not but by how they handle their problems. That same principle applies to leadership because the real litmus test is how we respond to and handle conflict. A pastor posted this sentiment on Twitter, “I refuse to be a Christian who is generous with damnation and stingy with grace.”

First, you could choose to give in and pander to the criticism or conflict. The temptation is to just agree with them even when you do not agree with them. You do not want to offend them, upset them, or rock the boat. Everyone has a desire to be liked but that desire should not override the truth and must confront the difficulty in love. Remember that Proverbs 15:1 says that, “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” So often it is not what we say but how we say it.

Second, you could choose to isolate yourself from them or ignore them. The temptation here is to hope that if we ignore the problem it will just go away or solve itself. The truth is that almost never happens. It is sad when people in a church will avoid certain people and use a different entrance to make sure they do not have to speak to them. That could be called stealth avoidance but a more correct description would be escapism and an unbiblical approach to conflict resolution.

Third, you could get defensive and power up for the confrontation. This is where you try to overpower the difficult person using intimidation. You have the mindset of straightening them out, showing them once and for all, and telling them a thing or two. The focus becomes more about changing them rather than being the person Christ wants you to be. Powering up is where you want to blow them away with what you say and shut them up once and for all.

Fourth, you show courage and stay calmly connected to them. This is the most biblical approach where you speak the truth in love. You refuse to see them as the enemy and ostracize them. Your focus is on biblical resolution and restoration of the relationship. In Acts 20:17 Paul said, “For I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole plan of God.” Later in Galatians 4:16 he says, “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?”

The biblical response to conflict and difficult people is found throughout the scriptures in verses like Romans 12:17, “Do not repay evil for evil.” And also in I Peter 3:9, “Not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this.” Once again, the key is not necessarily what you say but how you say it and the love you have for the one to whom you are saying it.

Nehemiah is an excellent example of handling conflict but not allowing it to distract him from the task God had assigned him. You must continue to labor and press forward even when you conflict and criticism comes. Nehemiah in chapter 5 says he was “extremely angry” when he heard their outcry and their complaints but in verse 16 he says he “devoted” himself to the work. When the detractors asked him to stop the work and come down and discuss it he refused.

Nehemiah made it clear that there was nothing to the rumors they were spreading and even told them in Nehemiah 6:8, “you are inventing them in your own mind.” He knew that their attempts at intimidating him were focused on trying to discourage him and bring their work to a screeching halt. Then in Nehemiah 6:11 he says something we should all remember when faced with conflict and criticism, “Should a man like me run away?”

The Sacrifice of Worship

J.D. Greear emphasizes the importance of worship, “When we see the size and beauty of the God who speaks to us, the power of sin and idolatry over our hearts is broken! The way we will stop sinning is not by being told over and over to, ‘Stop sinning!’ but by seeing the majesty and glory of God in our hearts. As we see the beauty of God and feel His weightiness in our hearts, our hearts begin to desire Him more than we desire sin. Before the Bible says, ‘Stop sinning,’ it says, ‘Behold your God!’”

When we have seen the beauty of God and felt the weightiness of God’s majesty in our soul, sin’s power is broken over us. The problem is not that our desires for other idols are too large; it’s because our desire for God is too small. Lesser urges can only be expelled by stronger ones. Our affections for idols are brought under control only when they are taken captive by a stronger more enchanting affection. You will only hate sin when you start to love God!

That occurs through worship, as we desire to see Him high and lifted up more than anything else going on in our lives. Remember, idolatry literally means “weight” and it is anything that we assign and give more importance than God. Worship enables us to see God as “weightier” than any sin in our life and we cannot imagine life without Him.

Worship has been described as “worthship.” You worship what you give worth to…those relationships or possessions or goals that you supremely value. Worship has always involved sacrifice. The Apostle Paul uses sacrificial terminology and outlives for us four tangible sacrifices we can offer God as an act of worship.

First, is a Surrendered Life. Paul tells us in Romans 12:1 that we are to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.” The essence of worship is found in yielding our lives to the Lordship of Christ. Nothing hinders personal and corporate worship more than lives that have crawled off the altar and have chosen not to surrender themselves to the care and control of Jesus.

Second, is a Sacrifice of Praise. Hebrews 13:15, “Therefore through Him let us continually offer up the to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name.” A big part of worship is offering words that acknowledge God’s character (who He is) and thank Him for His goodness (all that He has done for us). Worship is not a spectator sport but rather requires our participation as we pray, sing, and listen to the word of God.

Third, is our Service and Generosity. Hebrews13:16 , “Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.” From the greeters to the safety team to all others who come early to serve in some capacity, please realize that your worship begins when you show up! Through your acts of service and your willingness to be generous with your time you are offering a sacrifice to God (worship), which is pleasing to Him.

Fourth, is our Financial Gifts. Philippians 4:18, “I am fully supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you provided—a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” Paul thanked them for their financial support and describes these financial gifts with worship language. Giving to the Lord is an act of worship not just an act of stewardship. Is what I am giving to the Lord and the spirit by which I give it pleasing to the Lord? When it is, it is worship!

Everyone involved in making sure that the worship service gets up and running needs to see themselves as priests before God. An attitude of service and sacrifice is key for providing a holy atmosphere for people to encounter a holy God. We must have our hearts prepared to worship God through personal examination, confession of sins, and the resolution of any conflicts. During a worship celebration God is to be exalted with a focus on His goodness and eternal mercies.

Our worship services exist for God. He is our focus. We want His fame to spread throughout the world. We want Him to be honored, adored, and glorified in our midst. The sole purpose is to meet with God because He is the only one who can meet our spiritual needs. Our public prayers should reflect this adoration. They should lift the weary soul up before God just as much as our music does. Does this mean we need to pray in our God voice? No, it simply means we get our hearts and minds ready for leading people before His throne of grace.

The leaders must be spiritually focused to guide God’s people in worship. They must have their hearts prepared to worship Him through personal examination, confession of sins, and the resolution of any conflicts. There should be a celebrative atmosphere during the worship service. Music sets the tone of our worship and whether it is hymns or choruses there must be an inspiring aspect that lifts God’s people out of their ordinary lives into the presence of God.

There must also be a clear emphasis on the character of God. The sole purpose is meet with God, the only one who can meet our spiritual needs. We want Him to be honored, adored, and glorified in our midst. He alone is the one who is worthy of our praise, adoration, and worship. Any sacrifice of our time, effort, or energy that we give Him is well worth it. When the motive is right, these offerings are well pleasing in His sight!

Pslam 96:9 says, “Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness;
tremble before Him, all the earth.”

LEAN IN TO JESUS

Keeping your church focused on Christ will be an ongoing and unending pursuit. There are faith habits that you must show new believers how to develop. Also, the reality is that you should not assume that those who have been in church for years know what to do. Develop an environment that teaches how to “lean” into Jesus both personally, in small groups, and corporately as a church. When you study His word you are “leaning” into His presence to hear His voice and His direction for your life?

The total depravity of man means that in our natural state we will always lean toward sin and away from God. Yes, we are created in the image of God and even evil people are capable of doing a good deed but they remain far from God and without hope. The depravity of man means that even a saved man is capable of an evil act if He is not in the Word and walking with the Lord. That is why it is so crucial to develop a rhythm of praying and being in God’s word daily.

There are four habits that will help your church lean in toward Christ for His presence, power, and direction.

First, lean in by spending time in His word. Here is a great quote from Alistair Begg, “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.” Look for the obvious and begin to obey and follow those directions. Many are running around looking for a word from the Lord when all we have to do is open His word and begin to obey.

Determine how you will come along side your people to assist them in their spiritual progress. Consider publicizing a daily Bible reading and teaching them how to S.O.A.P. (Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer) through journaling. It is great to write down the verses and then circle the key words to consider what God may be saying to you. Suggest a great study Bible and other study tools they might use to go deeper in the word. Lean in and look at what He says.

Second, lean in by developing the habit of spending time with God. Show them what prayer looks like and how they can cry out to God and that He hears them. Four elements of prayer as seen in the model prayer are praise, repentance, ask, and yield.   One idea would be to meet with several of your disciples and teach them about prayer but more importantly show them what it means to pray by praying with them, for them, and over them.

In prayer it is also good to stop and listen for a time. When you pray remember that it is communicating with God and that involves both sides. It is wonderful knowing that He is listening to us but it is just as wonderful to know that He speaks to us also. In your quiet time develop the practice of having a pen and pad in hand. Stop and listen to what He is saying to you through His word and the Holy Spirit. Take 3-5 minutes and be quiet in His presence. Lean in and listen!

Third, lean in by developing the habit of tithing. This is far more than good stewardship but teaches them what God requires as a part of our worship. This principle is far more than the amount but teaches the Lordship of Christ through placing God first in our day, our finances, and in our relationships. The principle of putting God first in everything must be taught and reinforced regularly. We must be willing to give Him everything including time, talent, and treasures.

Philippians 4:18 says, “I am fully supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you provided—a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” Paul thanked this church for their financial support and describes these financial gifts with worship language. Once again we know that giving is an act of worship not just a matter of stewardship. You lean into His presence by giving with the right heart and the right motive.

Fourth, lean in by developing the habit of fellowship. The importance of community cannot be overstressed. We need one another and the New Testament is written from the “we” perspective not “me.” Natural Church Development says, “Loving relationships are the heart of a healthy, growing church. Jesus said people will know we are His disciples by our love. Practical demonstration of love builds authentic Christian community and brings others into God’s kingdom.”

They go on to say, “Loving relationships is the area in which churches tend to extravagantly overestimate their spiritual quality…they fail to see how outsiders can have a hard time finding access to a clique. These Christians consider themselves as ‘warmhearted’ and ‘open’ toward newcomers, but they communicate-most unconsciously-the message: ’You don’t belong here.’” We need to lean into stronger, deeper, and authentic relationships. It is important to develop these four habits of leaning in toward the Lord in the context of worship services, small groups, leadership development, and our personal walks.

The attractional approach (come and see) will connect an individual usually through a worship service or an event that, well, attracts them! The incarnational approach (go and tell) focuses more on relational evangelism and tends to connect people in smaller group settings. Being attractional or incarnational is not an either/or decision but rather a both/and. As a member of my church reminded me recently, “God sent us a little reminder that our mission field is not where we go to, but where we take Him!” Hopefully, you will continue to lean into His presence through developing godly habits that will enable you to mature spiritually by coming to age in Christ. This process will keep you from leaning away, then drifting away, and eventually maybe even dropping out.

Help your church to lean in through worship, small groups, and personal discipleship!