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Are You Running on Empty?

In my sophomore year at Central Baptist College in Conway, AR I was leading the singing in revival services about 100 miles to the south of our campus.  Money was very tight and as I was driving down for the services one evening my gas gauge began to stare back at me reaching “empty.”  It was so low that I began praying for God to stretch out what little fuel I had.  Then I covered up the gauge on the dash with a piece of paper so I could not see it any longer.  Fortunately, I made the services, on fumes, and a member filled up my tank after the services.  

Some of you are going full steam ahead while running on empty right now and you are trying to not look at your dashboard that is showing empty.  You cannot give what you do not have and you will come to a screeching halt at some point. Your focus on ministry, mobilizing your team, and planning your next steps has caused you to begin running on spiritual fumes.  Those times of joy, being full of His presence, along with His daily freshness and vitality in your spiritual walk are only a memory.  What you do is very important but who you are is even more important.  

The danger is real because it is very easy to become so focused on the external issues of getting your ministry where you believe God desires it to be, that you ignore the crucial internal issues of spiritual transformation and health.  In Leading on Empty Wayne Cordeiro says, “We don’t forget that we are Christians. We forget that we are human, and that one oversight alone can debilitate the potential of our future.”  We all have limits (spiritual, emotional, physical, time, gifts, etc.) and we need to see them as a blessing from the Lord and not a curse.

II Corinthians 12:9 says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.’  Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.”  You may not like admitting your weaknesses or your inabilities but it is wisdom to understand you definitely have limitations and God shows up when we embrace that reality. Your nature may be that you want to go around your limits, conquer limits, deny, and break through them.  Actually, they are a gift from God to protect you!

God gave us limits to serve as guardrails placed in our lives tokeep us from straying outside His will and to continue trusting in Him.  This is actually counterintuitive to us as itgoes against our culture that teaches us that we can handle it ourselves and we don’t need anyone’s help.  Be a self-made leader and pull yourself up by your own bootstraps may be how you were raised.  Don’t depend on anyone else because you can do anything you put your mind to.  You have to reconcile that with what Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing!”  

One of the greatest dangers of leadership is the temptation to rely to heavily on our charisma and competencies while paying too little attention to our character and core identity through our personal walk with Christ.  It is easy to lead without Jesus short term but you will end up paying a very steep price long term.  Pete Scazzero says, “The reality is that it is easy to live as a Christian doing religious acts and doing Christian things without necessarily being in loving union with Jesus.”  Sometimes we live out the old adage, “fake until you make it!”

  1. Learn to slow down and abide in Christ. Abiding means you remain in Him and you are able to relax in Him.  You cannot live at warp speed without warping your soul!  Think of Mary and Martha.  You may be a Martha who is a doer and what you do is important but who you are is of even greater importance.  Sometimes our doing exceeds our being in Christ and before you know it you are running on empty and getting close to shutting down.
  2. Practice silence and solitude so you can hear God’s voice in your life.  Dallas Willard referred to silence and solitude as the two most radical disciplines of the Christian life. Solitude is finding that quiet space where you intentionally remove yourself from people and things in order to focus 100% on God. Silence is striving to quiet every inner and outer voice to be attentive to the Lord’s direction and presence.  Silence is the Christians number one need while being the hardest to develop.  It is very challenging in this busy and noisy world.  
  3. Wait on the Lord.  King David stressed its importance by saying it twice in Psalm 27:14. Do not wait on the Lord only for what He will do for you or for the results you desire but simply to spend time with Him.  David reminds us of this in Psalm 27:4, “I have asked one thing from the Lord; it is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the Lord and seeking Him in His temple.”  You must actually limit what you are doing by focusing on being with Him realizing that He can accomplish so much more than you can! 

Without slowing down, being silent and in solitude, and waiting on the Lord it will be almost impossible to live a healthy spiritual life. Are you running on empty?

“Your doing for God is fed and sustained by your being with God!”

Alarming Statistics


Five levels of health and growth help to categorize evangelical churches in America. Here is their description from Rainer Research in 2009 and what percent of churches each represents; 

  • Fast-growing (greater than 5% annually) 12% 
  • Growing (nominally to 5% annually) 23% 
  • Steadily declining (0% to 3% annually) 34% 
  • Rapidly declining (2% to 5% annually) 21% 
  • Declining toward death (over 5% decline annually) 10%. 

We know from research that 85% of all churches have either plateaued or are in decline.  Of the 15% that are growing only 1% is from conversion growth. 

In a blog and podcast, The Faster Pace of Decline Toward Death of Many Congregations, Thom Rainer’s research gives the alarming statistic that from 2009 to 2019 the fast growing churches decreased from 12% of the American churches to 3%. In that same 10-year period the percentage of churches declining towards death increased, almost doubled, from 10% to 19%.  Several pastors have shared with me, brokenhearted, that their churches are running half of what they were 2-3 years ago and will end up closing their doors if something does not change.  

What will it take for churches to wake up and realize something must be done?  Unfortunately, many churches are sicker than they are willing to admit.  They refuse to accept that they may close their doors soon if something does not change.  Revelation3:17 gives a sobering warning, “Because you say ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy and need nothing,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.”  That passage is harsh but the stark reality is that we must be willing to repent and do whatever is necessary for His church to thrive.

As alarming and convicting as these statistics may be there is hope because Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of His church. He desires to do greater things in and through your church than you do.  Once you finally face your present reality and prayerfully determine your preferred future you can begin to imagine what that might look like.  Jesus wants to do more and greater things than the best that you can dream, envision, and pray for.  Ephesians 3:20 is very clear that He is able to do even greater things than the best “preferred future” you can imagine.

The million-dollar question is, are you willing to allow the great physician to diagnose your spiritual illness bluntly and transparently?  Will you take the time to spiritually evaluate with honesty and have a willingness to do whatever He asks you to do to be the church He desires your church to be? Are you ready to spend some extended time in prayer seeking Him and allowing Him to show you just how sick you may be?  None of us like getting bad news or a bad report but it is necessary if we are going to begin a path towards health and vitality.

Paul admonished the church at Ephesus to pray for a “spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.”  Paul challenged them to pray for enlightenment to know the hope of their calling, to understand the glorious riches of their inheritance in Christ, and the greatness of His power.  Are you praying for those things in your church?  Are you leading your church to pray without ceasing for the wisdom to know what to do, the resources to be able to do it, and the strength to continue what He has called you to accomplish?  

Dynamic Church Planting International training teaches 12 biblical principles with principle #2 being the power principle: “Prayer is the indispensable source of God’s power and wisdom in each phase of church planting.” DCPI teaches, “prayer is important because it leads us to intimacy with Christ.  God has called us first to be lovers of Christ before we become lovers of the lost, or lovers of the church. In prayer we connect with this One who is Creator and Sustainer as well as Redeemer and Friend.”  Paul challenged a church and us to “pray without ceasing.” 

Here are some things you should be praying for in the midst of these shocking and alarming statistics of dying churches.  

  1. Pray for revival!  That you would wake up to the spiritual condition of your heart and how spiritually unhealthy your church may actually be.  Ask the Lord to help you see your church through His eyes and to break your heart with what breaks His heart.  Are you willing to allow Him to expose every area that needs correction through confession and contrition?  Are you willing to do whatever it takes?
  2. Pray for laborers.  Are you asking God to raise up more people with the same burden and passion that He is igniting in your heart?  It begins with you but then you need to fervently beg the Lord to move powerfully in the lives and hearts of others in your church.  Lead by example and then begin to ask others to lead the way with you.  Paul talks about always remembering one another in prayer to the church in Philippi, Thessalonica, and others.  Have you dedicated intentional time every day to pray for those you are called to labor together with
  3. Ask God to open doors.  Only He can open the hearts of the people and do the supernatural work of transformation that is needed.  Thom Rainer in sharing these statistics says, “I have seen too many churches breakout in God’s power to maintain a defeatist attitude. The One who resurrects the dead can bring any church back to life again.”

Hopefully, you are alarmed by these statistics but you should not be dismayed nor feel defeated.  The Lord desires to do far more and greater things with your church than you do.  

Next Steps

Raising children helps you to understand the concept of the game, follow the leader.  Children copy and mimic whatever the one who is first in the line is doing.  Children mimic adult behavior whether that behavior is good or bad.  Most parents can tell about an embarrassing moment when their child repeated what they said even though they did not want it repeated.  One day they will no longer be as compelled to mimic your behavior but will determine for themselves what they will or will not do.  We must teach them why we do what we do not only show them.

We are told that most adults leave the church between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two.  Could it be that they were shown what to do but were never taught why they were suppose to do it?  Maybe we have not done well at discipling them in understanding how essential and critical being a part of local congregation is to their spiritual walk? If the only reason a teenager attends the church is because of the friends they have there then they might not need the church anymore when they make friends outside the church.  

Fellowship is important and needed but there is much more to church membership.  Church membership does not seem to matter to many any more because there are such low expectations.  Churches seem to be experiencing very low levels of commitment.  Have we knowingly or without realizing built a culture of low expectations?  Low expectations usually equal low commitment.  This is why a new member class is important because it can explain what is expected as a church member and what they can expect from their church.

You will need to decide what your new member class will look like, how long it will last, and what information you will include in the class.  This class is a great on-ramp in connecting new people to your vision and mission statement, the way your church functions, and how they can get connected in building relationships and serve in a ministry.  Thom Rainer says the three key ingredients of any new member class are information about your church, expectations of members, and a clear assimilation process.  Think expectations, information, and attitude.  

Some ingredients to include within these areas are clarifying the gospel, doctrine, leadership in the church, and how to get involved.   You want to clearly present what they can expect from your church, and what your church expects from all of its members.  Give them a copy of your doctrinal statement to read and come back ready to ask questions. Focus on the essentials of the faith such as salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone and the inspiration of the scriptures.   Help them to better understand the importance of Biblical truth.

One goal of this class is giving them the information they need so that six months down the road you will hopefully not hear, “If I had known that I never would of joined.”  Another goal is to challenge them to be functioning members of your church and not spectators.  It gives them a clear process of how they can get involved.  They are taught the importance of small group Bible studies, serving on a ministry team, and how they can be discipled one-on-one.  You clarify your purpose (the what) but you also show them your process (the how).  

Make this entry level class a priority by asking all prospective members to attend.  This is not meant to be a qualifying school but rather a way of informing them of what Biblical membership looks like.  A great inexpensive resource you can give those who attend is I Am a Church Member by Thom Rainer.  This is a great reminder to those desiring to become a part of your congregation of how important it is to have the right attitude.  There are six pledges in the book to help them understand the gravity and responsibility of becoming a church member.

Some churches have decided to not use the term “member” because of what it has come to mean in our culture.  When someone thinks of membership it usually refers to what rights you have.  Thom Rainer says, “We join our churches expecting others to serve us, to feed us, and to care for us…God did not give us local churches to become country clubs where membership means we have privileges and perks.  He placed us in churches to serve, to care for others, to pray for leaders, to learn, to teach, to give, and, in some cases, to die for the sake of the gospel.”

You must determine how long your class will last but make sure it does not last too long.  Some churches do an overview with a luncheon and others last as long as twelve weeks.  Do not feel like you must cover everything but rather give an overview of how your church carries out the mission of God.  The temptation is that more is better but not necessarily.   Stress Bible truth and expectations but also show them how they can step into an environment where they can grow.  Clearly state your expectation for maturing in Christ through your process of discipleship.  

Teach your vision and mission statement in the new member class by explaining the action steps required.  These action steps describe what the member should do next in order to grow and move through the process.  The process does not guarantee transformation, only God transforms, but it places the member in a position that encourages movement and growth as they desire to become more like Christ.  Make sure your mission statement clearly describes what they should do next. Higher levels of commitment will require higher levels of expectation.

Don’t Complicate Things

Complexity seems to have become the norm rather than the exception.  Keeping things simple in our lives and in our churches can be a difficult thing to accomplish.  The process of simplification may be “simple” but it is not easy to carry out nor is it easy to maintain.  The way we are inundated today with ema

Complexity seems to have become the norm rather than the exception.  Keeping things simple in our lives and in our churches can be a difficult thing to accomplish.  The process of simplification may be “simple” but it is not easy to carry out nor is it easy to maintain.  The way we are inundated today with emails, texts, phone calls, and multi-tasking ensures that it will be very challenging.  Many of the thoughts and the content in this article come from Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger.  It would we worth your time to read this valuable resource.

A simple church is defined as “a congregation designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.”  The simple church process is far more that just eliminating unnecessary activities from your life.  It challenges you to think through what a discipleship process should look like in your church.  It introduces you to the four essential ingredients of clarity, movement, alignment, and focus.  God designed spiritual growth to be a process where the disciple is continually moving forward.

Rainer and Geiger add to the Simple Church definition by saying, “The leadership and the church are clear about the process (clarity) and are committed to executing it.  The process flows logically (movement) and is implemented in each area of the church (alignment).  The church abandons everything that is not in the process (focus).” The imagery in the scriptures illustrates a progression of growth as a disciple follows Christ from spiritual infancy to spiritual adulthood.  Are people growing, maturing, and becoming more and more like Christ in your church?

  1. Clarity is the first of these four essential ingredients we need to consider.  Simple Churchdefinesclarity as “the ability of the process to be communicated and understood by the people.”  Remember it is not enough to know what you should be doing (purpose) but you also need to know how to accomplish your purpose (process).  A mission statement must have actionable steps to accomplish your purpose.  What 3- 5 things are clear expectations that you have for every member of your church? What steps do you have in place to accomplish them?
  2. The second ingredient is movement and is defined as “the sequential steps in the process that cause people to move to greater areas of commitment.”  Clarity means that you know what you are called to do and can articulate it well but movement is where the actual implementation occurs.  The process of discipleship in the scriptures describes infants and babies who do not know how to care for themselves.  What will we do to help the new believer until they know how to tie their own shoes and how to use a fork to feed themselves?  (Hebrews 5:12)
  3. Developing and designing a process that places people in an environment that encourages spiritual growth is a leaders responsibility. In Ephesians 4 we are called to build up the body of Christ and that is a construction term.  When building and constructing anything, whether it is an edifice or people, it requires a blueprint.  The third essential ingredient is alignment and is defined as, “the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process.” This ensures that you are working together with the same goals and not competing against one another.
  4. You should not be functioning off of multiple mission/vision statements but one unifying statement that promotes teamwork. The fourth essential ingredient to simplifying your ministry is focus.  Simple Church defines this as “the commitment to abandon everything that falls outside of the simple ministry process.”  Focus means that you evaluate ministries and do not sustain them based purely on personal preferences and history.  Is what you are doing right now making disciples that are growing and becoming more and more like Christ? 

Activity does not guarantee maturity.  Being busy is not equal with better.  Our responsibility as leaders is to design a process that partners with the transformation process revealed in Scripture.  This process should place people in the right environments for God to transform their hearts and lives.  It is showing people how to love God, love others, and then serve people in the church and outside the church.  It is asking your people to commit to being faithful to worship services, being a member of a small group, and then serving on a ministry team.  

This requires a laser focus willing to say no to some good things to ensure that you are involved in the best things.  Are you cluttered with activities that keep you busy and give you a false sense of accomplishment but disciples are not being made?  Jesus offers us an intimate relationship with Him. Are you as a church more infatuated & impressed with all the bells and whistles, the trinkets and trimmings, the buildings and furnishings, and the programs and ministries than you are a personal, powerful, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ?

 Is your church accomplishing what God called you to do?  Are you fulfilling the Great Commission and carrying out the Great Commandment?  Without a clearly defined process to fulfill your purpose it is easy for a church to experience mission drift.  Over time you have slowly but surely drifted away from your primary calling and the reason you exist.  

Check out the seven churches of Asia in Revelation 2-3 and determine to remember who God has called you to be, repent of any areas of disobedience and neglect, return to being who God intended you be and then you are in the place where revival can occur in your congregation!

Do Not Steal My Glory

Jeff Christopherson in Kingdom Matrix says, “Churches can be reduced to man-centered organizations but the Kingdom of God cannot.  Should a church find itself functioning in the miserable state of pragmatic human-centered strategic planning, it is in exceedingly dangerous territory.”  The extreme example of this is putting into practice whatever works believing that the end justifies the means.  Churches focus on spicing up their messages, speeding up their music, and sprucing up their facilities and many times nothing actually gets any better. 

Paul tells us that one plants, one waters, and that it is God who gives the increase.  Christopherson puts it this way, “Whenever we focus on the goals over the process, we will always be tempted to produce the fruit ourselves,” This leads to a belief that bigger is better and size determines our worth.  The reality is that numbers do not equal gospel influence anymore than attendance to church guarantees spiritual maturity.  Just because you listen to truth it does not mean your values and priorities are being transformed. 

Joshua was a mighty warrior and man of faith.  He challenges the Israelites to decide, once and for all, who they will worship.  In Joshua 24:1-13 he communicates God’s word to them and shares seventeen rapid-fire proclamations.  It begins in verse 3, “But I took your father Abraham from the region beyond the Euphrates River” and ends in verse 13 with “I gave you a land you did not labor for, and cities you did not build.”  God tells these mighty warriors who had conquered this land in verse 12, “It was not by your sword or bow.”

We must be careful to never take credit for what God has and is doing.  Yes, we still must accept our responsibilities and obligations but we should always remember that God will not share His glory with anyone.  When Jeff Christopherson was planting a multiplying church in Toronto one of the things God impressed on their group very clearly was, “Do not steal My Glory!”  Joshua would concur and challenges us to always obey God’s word, to not pursue the gods of this world, and to never give our allegiance to anyone but God.

Planning and strategy are good things but it must be prayerful planning.  Thinking through how we can be more effective and efficient is important but we must remain true to the gospel and the scriptures.  While some will scream loudly that size does not guarantee spiritual maturity it could also be argued that small does not guarantee it either. Jeff makes this clear when he states, “Just because my church claims to be a community of Christ does not automatically mean that it is advancing the cause of Christ.”

New Testament churches have a purpose according to Ephesians 3:10, “This is so God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church.”  The local church does not so much have a mission for God but rather God has local churches to carry out His mission.  If we are not advancing God’s kingdom then is it possible that we are reducing its impact and influence?  In Revelation 2:5 Jesus says this to the church in Ephesus, “Remember then how far you have fallen, repent, and do the works you did at first.”  

Daniel Im in No Silver Bullets gives clear and sound biblical direction in developing strategies and systems.  He defines a system as “a group of related parts that move or work together.”  It requires training your members in the areas of assimilation, outreach, and discipleship to name a few.  All of your systems can use prayer planning, strategic thinking, and intentionality.  This is the biblical directive of equipping one another as instructed in Ephesians 4:12, “For the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ.”

In the area of discipleship Daniel Im states, “Since the starting point for every church’s vision should be the Great Commission and Commandment, it makes sense to view your discipleship pathway as the strategy that’ll get you to the vision.”  We know that our core identity is that we are His disciples (followers). In John 13:35 Jesus says, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” Jonathan Parnell defines a disciple of Jesus as “a worshipper, a servant, and a witness.”  Are you identified as following Christ with precise compliance?”

Being identified as His disciples means that our core mission and objective is making disciples.  Matthew 28 commands us to go and make disciples of all nations. Daniel Im continues, “After all, a discipleship pathway is the intentional route that you have set up in your church to develop and form missionary disciples for Kingdom impact.” Most discipleship is pouring into people already saved, which is good, but it is not making “new” disciples, which is even better.  Evangelism is inviting people to Christ while discipleship is investing in them. 

Your discipleship pathway is what shapes character, transforms hearts, and develops the believer.  Your leadership pipeline is what equips these disciples to live out their calling.  Daniel Im uses a great analogy that helps us picture what this should look like.  “If your church was a car that had to get you to a particular endpoint, which would be the vision, the discipleship pathway would be the fuel, and the leadership pipeline would be the engine.  Both are equally important and have to rely on one another if the car is going to experience any movement.”

Galatians 6:14 says, “But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.”  Do not steal His glory! 

God Desires So Much More

A couple of years ago, Dr. John David Smith, our executive director of missions, challenged our association by giving us a picture of where we were as cooperating churches.  It was to many painful, and I am thankful for the courage of leaders to tell us what we need to hear.  Hopefully, we will receive it with a spirit of humility and repentance.  Whenever you give negative statistics, it does deliver some pain, but my prayer is that it will also call us to prayer and that we will actively pursue God’s vision and mission for His churches. It is estimated that 4,000 to 6,000 churches will close their doors this year! 

Church health researchers tell us that 85% of all churches in North America have either plateaued or are on the decline. We are also told that of the remaining 15% which are considered healthy and growing, only 1% of those churches are growing because of conversion growth (people being born again and baptized). We have approximately 1200 BMA churches listed in the directory and handbook.  That means that over 1000 churches have plateaued or are on the decline.  We must be willing to at least consider the possibility that this is our present reality.

This suggests that as an association of churches we have 180 churches that are healthy and growing.  Our primary motivation should not be size and numbers but rather a healthy church as described in the scriptures.  Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all nations and our identity is to be a disciple; an obedient follower of His commands.  As disciples, our mission is to be making disciples.  Are we being transformed daily and becoming more like Christ?  Are we obediently seeking and engaging others to help them find and follow Jesus?

In Ephesus 3:20-21, Paul says, “Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to His power that works in us— to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.” God desires far more for His churches than we do.  He desires to see every church bring Him glory and to proclaim His name to every nation. Do you not have a nagging feeling that God intends more for us than only a Sunday worship service?  Do you not sense a higher calling than a wonderful time of fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ?   

Todd Wilson reminds us in his book, More,that the incarnation of Christ means that we are the sent ones and the resurrection of Christ means that there is no place we are not sent.  In the Exponential devotional, “Made for More,” Erika Rizkallah says this, “As His church we are chosen by Jesus to carry Christ’s fullness into every corner of culture and sphere of society. The church is the people of God, saved by the power of God, for the purposes of God.  It is all the people of God on everyday mission to fill everything in every way with the fullness of God.”  

You can download Erika’s six-week devotional guide and the Made for Moreresource kit (exponential.org) and it is well worth your time as they lead you through six necessary shifts based on the book of Ephesians.  We see in Ephesians 3:10 that, “This is so God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens.”  God wants his people and His churches to be everything He has commanded us to be.  He also desires that we be everywhere He has directed us to be.

The resource kit will walk you through each chapter of Ephesians with the focus on these shifts.  This free resource instructs us, “Paul’s letter to the churches in Ephesus provides our roadmap. We will work through each of the six chapters together. Each chapter highlights a theme element, a critical move, and an essential shift in thinking and behavior to put us on a pathway toward mobilizing God’s people, God’s way.”  

The themes of chapters 1-6 are:

  1. Made to Do More
  2. Made to Go More
  3. Made to Win More. 
  4. Made for More
  5. Made to be More
  6. Made to Love More

The critical moves of each chapter are:

  1. Mysteries: Illuminate the Mystery
  2. Masterpieces: Investigate the Design
  3. Motivations: Motivate with Love
  4. Missionaries: Organize for Fullness
  5. Mission Fields: Activate for Purpose
  6. Methods: Prepare for Battle  

The essential shifts every church needs to make are:

  1. From more effort to more Jesus.
  2. From more volunteers to more masterpieces.
  3. From more guilt to more love.
  4. From more hierarchy to more missionaries.
  5. From more programs to more mission fields.
  6. From more strategy to more surrender.

Here are a couple of things to begin to see the “more” that God desires for your church.  

  1. Begin to pray and ask God to do a great and mighty work in and through your congregation.  Develop a prayer strategy that involves everyone in your congregation that you possibly can.  Dedicate times to pray and fast to show God how desperate and serious you really are.  
  2. You must believe that God has “more” for your church.  Dare to dream that God has a plan for your church to glorify Him and make a difference in His kingdom work.
  3.  Then you should be willing to evaluate the necessary elements required for a church to bring Him glory. You must begin to evaluate your biblical alignment and obedience to the word of God.  There must be qualified godly leaders who can effectively lead the church to make the necessary changes.  You must also consider looking at congregational health in the areas of fellowship, discipleship, worship, ministry, and mission.  

Are you effectively engaging the community with the gospel of Jesus Christ and if not, why not?  Are you making disciples and if not, why not? 

Reaching Out—Siders!

Most people enjoy the feeling of thinking they have the “inside” track. It might be the inside track towards a better job or the inside track of knowing the right people in order to accomplish your goals.  Having the inside track means you know the right people and you know the right steps to get where you desire to go.  With that said, no one enjoys feeling like they are the outsider.  You don’t feel like you know anyone you need to know nor do you feel accepted by him or her.  All of us, at one time or another, have felt like an outsider and it was not a good feeling.

Your church must be careful to not build a culture that promotes a mentality of rewarding the insiders while rejecting the outsiders.  We should never make it seem like being a card-carrying member means you have certain insider information and rights.  Actually, the focus of those already on the inside should be on how they can serve and minister to those who are on the outside.  Matter of fact, Jesus focused on the outsiders by loving them and reaching out to them.  It has been said, “Jesus leaving the ninety-nine to find one seems crazy…until you are that one!”  

Jesus pulled no punches with the religious crowd in Luke 4:25-27 reminding them that Elijah did not go to the aid of a widow from Israel but rather a foreigner, an outsider from the region of Sidon.  Jesus continues by telling them that even though there were many lepers in Israel Elisha went to Naaman a Syrian, also an outsider.  Jesus did not place much stock in lineage, social standing, or pedigree.  The deciding factor on the individual these prophets would help was not based on that person being an insider but rather whether or not they responded in faith.

InKingdom Matrix Jeff Christopherson writes, “Outsiders would be blessed if they responded to the revelation that God gives.  Insiders would be ignored, passed-over, disregarded, (or worse) if they did not demonstrate faith in God’s revelation.  Others, any others, even Gentiles, would receive a blessing from Him, but His hometown, through their own unbelief, would be completely passed over.” How sad that those who watched Jesus grow up would miss out on His salvation.  Their “inside” information did not seem to help them at all because of their lack of faith. 

 Jesus’ message of reaching outsiders was not well received.  They drove Him out of town and wanted to kill Him by throwing Him off a cliff.  It should not catch us off guard or surprise us when some of our “insiders” are not overjoyed about reaching “outsiders.” Unfortunately, way too many insiders seem to have blind spots about who they should be reaching out to and are not interested in obeying Christ’s commission.  It is very sad that some Christian “insiders” can even become angry and enraged by the thought of reaching certain outsiders.  

Peter finally figured this out and learned his lesson in Acts 10 when he says, “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him.”  He did not come around without some strong hesitation and arguing.  You must be ready to address these challenges, excuses, and disobedience.  Prejudice is real and should not be ignored.  It creates an inward focus on those you already have and causes you to forget that your church actually exists to obey the great commission.

The challenges will be plentiful as “insiders” say things like, “Shouldn’t we focus on taking care of who we already have first?” The bean counters will want to know, “How much is this going to cost us?”  Those in control will wonder, “Will we still have enough votes on our side at the business meeting if we grow too much?”  The “white and uptight” will struggle with worshipping with the “down and out.”  The legalists will worry about new people not following the already well-established unwritten rules that all of the “insiders” know well.

What if pursuing the de-churched and un-churched once again became our priority? 

 What if loving the lost, last, and least was more important than our personal preferences? 

 What if we once again did what Jesus did; built relationships with sinners who were far from God? 

 Jeff Vanderstelt recently tweeted, “When the church doesn’t expect normal Christians to be on mission in their every day life, then we’ve misunderstood the very nature of what it means to be God’s people.”  When the church is not interested in reaching outsiders it has no reason to exist.

Maybe we are asking the wrong question.  Have we become more concerned about how many are attending instead of how many are engaging people far from God?  Have we become so focused on seating capacity that we have forgotten about measuring our sending capacity?  Have we become so busy with all we are doing around the church that we have forgotten our primary purpose and are neglecting God’s mission? Jesus made our purpose and mission very clear when He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”  Are you making disciples?

*Here are a few more questions to evaluate your ministry.  

*Are lives being changed and transformed?  

*Are you seeing disciples being made?  

*Has your church chosen survival and scarcity over the opportunity to make a significant impact in your community?  

*Does most of your present ministry focus on the “insiders” or are you actively engaging in ministry that serves the “outsiders” on a regular basis?  

*Are you striving to be the fullness of Jesus Christ in every corner of your culture and every sphere of your society? 

Many health issues are amplified and the symptoms get worse when we shift from being outwardly-focused and become inwardly focused!!! 

Do We Need Revitalization?

 We usually will go to our family doctor once a year for an annual checkup.  We want to make sure everything is ok and hope for a clean bill of health.  Maybe we need some minor adjustments or simple instructions to improve our health such as starting to walk more.  Basic steps such as that can make a huge difference in our overall health.  The greater problem is if we ignore our health until very drastic steps must be quickly taken and.  Usually, the longer you ignore sickness the worse it becomes until it can even be life threatening.

Hey church, the same is true about you!  The longer you refuse to ignore signs of being unhealthy the sicker you will become.  Even though the sickness your church might be experiencing can be very complex the solutions can actually be very simple.  A church says, “We never see visitors and no one ever gets saved!” The solution can be as basic as inviting more people and sharing your faith regularly!  The reality is that if your church attendance continues to decline eventually you will have to close the doors unless something changes.

There are different levels of sickness just as there are different stages of cancer.  Are you willing to diagnose just how sick your church is?  Are you brave enough to cry out to God and ask Him to show you where you are falling short of being the vibrant body of Christ He desires for you to be?  Are you willing to repent of the things He shows you that need to change for your congregation to be healthy and thriving once again?  There are different levels of church sickness that you need to consider so you can take the steps necessary, whether they are simple or not.

  1. Maybe you need to refocus on why you exist. Your church exists for His glory and so that “God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known.” (Ephesians 3:10) In Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren reminds that according to Acts 2 the church is to grow warmer through fellowship, deeper through discipleship, stronger through worship, broader through ministry, and larger through mission. Which one do you need to refocus on the most?  Pick the one big thing you need to work on and refocus on that for the next three months. The dictionary says, “The verb refocus means to readjust an optical device.”  It can also mean to change your priorities.  The word of God is our lens and it is to be our rule and standard. Look through His lens and see what may need to be made clearer.  Paul says, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”  In II Chronicles 20:12 it tells us that when God’s children were terrified because a mighty army was descending upon them, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”  That is a great place to begin by refocusing! 
  2. The prescription for health may require more than a simple tweak or adjustment; it may demand revitalization.  When you take the two root words of revitalize and add the “ion” it means to make live again.  It is the idea of restoring vitality to your church by giving it back the vigor and vitality it once had.  Thom Rainer describes the difference between refocusing and revitalization like this. Refocusing means you want to improve by asking, “How can we do this better?”  Revitalization wants to fix what is wrong and asks, “How do we make it right?”  In our Activate initiative we describe the lifecycle of a church in three stages.  Are you inclining, reclining, or declining?  The longer you have been on the decline the harder it will be for revitalization to occur. There is no silver bullet or plug-n-play that fixes everything overnight.  There is a big difference in the time required to lose 5 pounds and losing 100. There is a big difference in commitment if you decide to get in shape to run a 5K and running a marathon.  It may not be easy but it is always worth it when we are battling for God’s glory. 
  3. Another option may require a church considering replanting.  There are many different ways this can look.  It might mean handing the building over to a healthy congregation or to a new church plant.  It could also mean selling the facilities and reinvesting the resources into advancing His kingdom.  A congregation might need to prayerfully consider what could be done to use the investment that was already made and who might be able to focus on reaching that community for Christ.  Every church has a lifecycle and there comes a time to accept that. 

Recently on a podcast I heard Mark Clifton say, “For a neighborhood a building represents a sacred space.  Every neighborhood benefits from that sacred space. When they see that space decline and fall into disrepair it reflects on the glory of God.  We know that building is not the church but the unchurched, the unsaved, they do think it is a representation of the glory of God.  It is worth reclaiming that property for God’s glory.”  He then quoted a friend who said, “A vacant church looks like a long abandoned castle of a long forgotten king.” 

Consider contacting us to see how our Activate initiative might be able to help you evaluate where you are and what steps you might consider next.  Ultimately Activate is a discovery process, led by the Holy Spirit, driven by the pastor (along with the support of a team within the church), supported by the huddle, and coached by the BMA Activate staff.  You can email me at larry@bmaam.comor Heidi Sorrells, our Pastor’s Advocate, at heidi@bmaam.comand she will be happy to help you any way she can. 

Autopsy of a Dead Church

They say there is a first time for everything so this is the first time I am running someone else’s blog in its entirety here but I think its worth it. Our Activate ministry is a:

BIBLE-BASED DISCOVERY process, LED by the HOLY SPIRIT,
driven by the PASTOR, supported by a TEAM within the church, DISCIPLED by the pastor’s Huddle, and COACHED by the Activate staff.

We utilize Thom Rainers book mentioned here in the early stages of this church renewal/revitalization process! My prayer is this will challenge you and your church to seek to be healthy and multiply!

From Thom Rainer:

“I was stunned.

When I wrote Autopsy of a Deceased Church five years ago, the response took me by surprise. While all authors expect or hope their books will be bestsellers, I frankly didn’t see it coming. Hundreds of thousands of book sales later, Autopsy became the all-time bestseller in the genre of church leadership.

Why? Why did church leaders, both vocational and laity, respond to the book with this level of interest? The concept was simple. We interviewed church members of churches that had closed their doors or died. We performed an autopsy of deceased churches. We found out why these churches died.

After about a year of receiving questions and comments from readers, I saw a common theme emerging. The readers wanted to know what they could do to prevent their churches from dying. Ironically, a book about the death of churches became a book about hope for churches.

While the sales of the book remain strong to this day, I think it’s worth noting what we have learned in the five years since I wrote the book. On this fifth anniversary celebration of Autopsy of a Deceased Church. Here are six things we’ve learned.

  1. Most members of dying churches didn’t see it coming. Many of the members were still dealing with the shock of the death of their churches when we interviewed them.
  2. Many of the members and leaders of these churches would have begun revitalization efforts if they knew how. I am so grateful for the revitalization revolution taking place today. Churches have resources and knowledge they didn’t have five years ago.
  3. “Minor” issues kill churches. Most of these churches did not die because of some major heresy. They did not die because of a mass exodus of the population surrounding them. They died because they lost their focus. They died because they fought over things that really did not matter. They majored on minors to the point of death.
  4. The silent majority killed churches. Some members saw the problems. They knew the power brokers in the church. They knew the personnel committee ran off a pastor without cause. They heard the constant chorus of not-so-well-intending critics attacking church leadership. But they said nothing and did nothing. Their silence was a dagger in the back of these churches.
  5. Some members waited for the silver bullet. Many of them said they kept waiting on that young pastor who would attract new young families. Some of the churches got those young pastors, and they ran them off when change began to take place. Most of the churches, though, never got the young pastor. They waited until death.
  6. A church does not have to die. Death is not inevitable. But most of the members of these churches would rather see the church die than change. They got their wish.

Thanks to all of you who purchased a copy of Autopsy. I am honored and humbled by the response. Now, for the first time ever, we have a video resource for the study of this book. Perhaps it’s time take a group through this book and see what God will do to move your church in the right direction.

I pray your church will not be the next autopsy performed.”


Sent on His Mission

Jesus established His church during His earthly ministry.  What have we learned from His word, from the history of the church, from our experience, and from our present context?  The New Testament is all about churches being planted, growing, multiplying, and reaching people with the gospel.  Leslie Newbigin was a British theologian, missiologist, missionary, and author who said, “An unchurchly mission is as much a monstrosity as an unmissionary church.”  God has called His churches to carry out His mission!  

The Gospels are the story of Jesus who “loved the church and gave himself for it” (Eph 5) and said “I will build my church” (Matt. 16).  Actsis basically about the church planting efforts of Paul and the Apostles.  The epistles are primarily instructions to the new churches on how to run a church.  Ed Stetzer put it this way, “The church’s mission is Kingdom expansion – but the Kingdom is realized through the church.  In Ephesians, God’s intent is that through the church, the manifold wisdom of God would be made known (Ephesians 3:10-11).”

    Here are some simple observations about how our churches should operate:

  1. Go to them, do not wait for them to come to you! You cannot expect the “build it and they will come” mentality to be effective any more.  “Attractional” is not all bad but the word of God instructed the disciples to “go out into the highways and hedges” and to “go into all the world.”  Our motto should be, “We are coming to you!” Churches must have a strong “missional” and “incarnational” dominate strain in their DNA!   
  2. Pursue transformation, not isolation!  People need to “see” how God has changed and transformed our lives.  The only way for that to happen is to do life with them. They want to know, “Can Jesus really make a difference in my life?”  People in our families, at work, and who live next door to us need to experience a friendship with someone who has a powerful daily relationship with Jesus Christ!
  3. Form communities, not just groups!  The difference is that a group meets at a particular time to accomplish a particular goal while communities are families who support and serve one another.  Spiritual families are then birthed out of the harvest, and members of these families engage in activities that carry out the mission of the family.  They fight spiritual battles together and rejoice when victories occur.
  4. Follow the Holy Spirit, do not just copy someone’s model!  Make sure your ministry vision is driven by biblical principles not personal preferences.  Principles, unlike church models, are timeless and transcultural. One size and one style does not fit all. Find out what God wants you to do and you can only discover that on your knees.  Plant the seed and water and God will give the increase.  Remember, form follows function!
  5. Focus on making disciples, not on the three Killer B’s!  (Buildings, Bodies, and Bucks).  It must begin with making disciples!  If we never reproduce disciples we will never reproduce leaders. If we never reproduce leaders, we will never reproduce churches and multiplication will not occur.  We are called to equip, empower, and then release workers out of the harvest into the harvest!
  6. You must first serve before you can lead!  Jesus said in Matthew 20:28, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  Shepherds exist to serve the sheep.  In The Emotionally Healthy Church Peter Scazzero says, “I learned that leadership is not always being the strong one; instead, it is being the weak one who is made strong by God alone.”
  7. Focus on people, not on programs!  It really is about relationships.  The “self-made” man or women is a myth.  God did not create us to follow Him alone and create an island for ourselves.  We need one another for counsel, encouragement, to ask helpful questions, and to lend a listening ear when needed.  All of us need relationships with others that help to empower us by sharing God-given resources!

 These are some simple observations that God and godly mentors have been trying to teach me.  All of us need to be lifelong learners.  Leaders are learners and they have a teachable spirit. They never stop wanting to learn. They refuse to believe that once theyhave a position of leadership, the pursuit of learning to lead has stopped. Leaders must have a passion for their own personal growth—spiritually and as aleader.