What It Means to Bless
The case for training our churches in relational evangelism
The church is losing influence in our larger culture. Our evangelism challenge is growing rapidly. One indicator is that, today, many people who in the past identified with Christianity no longer do. Last year, Pew released figures that tell us that in the past seven years, the number of people in the U.S. who consider themselves Christians has gone down from about 78 percent to about 71 percent.
What’s more, the people who say they identify with no religion (the “nones”) have gone up in the last seven years from about 16 percent to nearly 22 percent. And for emerging adults ages 19 to 35, the change has been from 25 percent to 35 percent. Our mission field is getting bigger.
With this in mind, how do we best reach the unchurched? At the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, we are pursuing research to help us find answers to that question. But we do have earlier research from Thom Rainer that tells us what was working in 2000, when his survey was conducted. These findings came from interviews of the formerly unchurched and demonstrate the impact relational evangelism can have on formerly unchurched people.
For the formerly unchurched, relationships played a part in 57 percent of the decisions to return to the church. Here are conclusions about those relationships:
1. Relationships are the single biggest factor in the formerly unchurched choosing to go to church.
2. Rarely do relationships alone explain the best way to reach the unchurched. A myriad of other factors are at work, as well.
3. God sometimes works to reach the unchurched without using any relationships, using avenues like conviction of the Holy Spirit, direct evangelism, friendliness of the local church and preaching.
4. Of the relationships, family relationships are the most important.
5. The wife is the most influential relationship when it comes to reaching the unchurched.
Since relational evangelism is the biggest factor in the unchurched becoming churched, the more we can mobilize people in our churches to grow in that area, the more effective we will be at reaching the lost.
How can we best break down the challenges of relational evangelism? How can we equip and mobilize ourselves and the people in our churches for relational ministry with the unchurched?
In my church, we are equipping people to pursue what we are calling the “BLESS” practices. BLESS is an acronym for five practices that we are teaching everyone in our church to learn in their relationships with the unchurched.
B: Begin with prayer
We encourage every person in our small groups to intentionally implement one BLESS practice a week in their families, neighborhoods, networks and third space relational spheres of connection (e.g., Starbucks). It has made a huge difference. It is simple and doable. People don’t get overwhelmed.
This is also relational evangelism at its best: blessing people and loving on people in concrete and practical ways that help them take another step in the journey toward Jesus.
Rick Richardson (@reimaginer) is evangelism fellow at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism and director of the M.A. in Evangelism and Leadership and the M.A. in Missional Church Movements degrees at Wheaton College.
Vanishing Evangelism By Lizette Beard
The Sobering Reality of Church Plants and Evangelism
Since the last nationwide study of U.S. church plants released in 2007, church-planting leaders have had to help their new church planters navigate constant changes in technology and communication shifts in the American culture. However, in light of all the possible trends they could have asked us to explore in our 2015 research project, the most common request we heard from them was: What is happening in our churches? (This study looked at 843 church plants that were started later than 2008 and were still in existence at the time of the study.)
Even with church planting gaining in popularity and available resources, denomination and network experts across the U.S., Canada and Australia describe an uneasiness about what kind of life transformation is happening behind the large launches and increases in worship attendance. So, in addition to asking about attendance numbers, we asked planters to tell us more about who those attendees were.
First, we asked planters to estimate what percentage of their people were: (1) completely unchurched prior to their involvement with the church plant; (2) unchurched for many years; (3) part of other existing churches (transfer growth); (4) born into the church plant (biological growth).
Only about one-third of surveyed church plants had a majority of the congregation who had been completely unchurched or had been unchurched for many years. The church plants that were being intentionally evangelistic on an ongoing basis were much more likely to have a majority-unchurched congregation. Even among church plants, quite a few indicated minimal evangelistic activity since their launch.
Next, we asked about new commitments to Christ. Churches vary widely in how they describe “decisions” their members make (e.g., professions of faith, recommitments, baptisms, conversions, confirmations, etc.). Avoiding labels altogether, the survey asked planters to estimate (for each year) the number of “new, first-time commitments to Jesus Christ through your new church work since it began.”
The results show that church plants reporting higher numbers of new commitments to Christ each year are those that:
1. Prioritize both a public and a digital church presence.
2. Emphasize strategic outreach after the launch.
3. Invest in their leadership pipeline among members.
4. Regularly communicate the vision and commitment to plant a daughter church.
However, across all plants, the average number of new commitments per year begins to taper off after year three.
In the midst of celebrating all of the good and exciting work happening in church plants, the sobering reality from the survey is that two-thirds of the church plants have mostly connected with people who were already a part of a church and, overall, church plants are decreasing in evangelical effectiveness with each year they are in existence.
Lizette Beard is project manager for Lifeway Research.
At War With Our Own Desires By Kevin Harney
What Happens When a Small Church Begins to Grow?
Corinth Reformed Church had been at the corner of 100th Street and Division for exactly 100 years. They had grown from about 50 people to 250 in a century. You don’t have to be a math genius to figure out that the church had added an average of two people per year. And, as you might guess, most of the growth was through birth and marriage. One interesting twist was that half of the church was made up of just three families.
Just before their hundred-year birthday, the pastor announced his retirement and the church hit a significant moment of decision. They had built a beautiful new worship space that was twice the size they needed. They had always had a heart to reach their community with the gospel, but never seemed to be able to connect in a way that brought nonbelievers in.
They decided their next pastor should be someone who was committed to help lead them in mission right in their own community. They resolved to count the cost and commit to evangelism as a core value.
That is when they came knocking on my door.
About two months later I found myself preaching at the church and meeting with the congregation. As I interviewed the adults and high school students, I asked if they were serious about reaching the lost.
They assured me they were. I told them, “All evidence to the contrary.” They seemed shocked, but I pointed out a host of reasons unchurched people would feel unwelcome in their church. They were lovely people, but virtually everything they did was designed around tending to the sheep already in the flock. Very little was intended to reach those who were wandering and far from God.
They assured me that if I came and led them into their community with the gospel, they would follow. They were ready. They would sacrifice. They were in.
A few months later I began what became a 14-year ministry at that small country church. For all 14 years we engaged in organic outreach together. What that means is that we sought to make our personal lives, our homes and our church centered on the call to reach out with the love, grace and truth of Jesus—in natural ways.
Over those years I learned that small churches that begin to really reach out with the gospel would discover that their desires are at war. They want to reach the lost, but most are fearful of the changes that will come with new believers. Each of the stories below is real (except the names). I hope they will give you a window into what you might face if you are part of a small church that begins to do effective outreach.
Mildred: “The Church Is Big Enough”
I went to visit Mildred in the hospital and while I was at her bedside she asked, “Pastor, can I tell you something?” I nodded an affirmative yes and braced myself. “I think we have enough people now. I think the church is big enough.” She told me that she remembered the meeting about a year earlier, before I was their pastor. She assured me that she was all for new people coming to Jesus. But now we had enough. “I like knowing everyone and feeling like a family. With all the new people, our church feels different.”
I said a quiet prayer for wisdom and continued the conversation. “Mildred, there is a family that lives across the street from our family. They have become our friends. Our family loves them! We are praying they will come to Jesus and someday become part of Corinth Reformed Church.” I looked at her and asked, “Should I tell them they are not welcome?” She was shocked. “Of course not!” Then I explained that if they came, there would be more people.
She got it! Her eyes welled up with tears. She assured me that anyone who needed Jesus should always be welcome at the church.
Margaret: “I Don’t Like Guitar Music, But …”
Margaret called the church office early Monday morning and asked to meet with me. As a young pastor, I had already learned that it is rarely good news when someone wants to meet and talk first thing Monday. And, since we had introduced guitar music in a worship service for the first time in a hundred years that very Sunday, I had a firm conviction she was not coming to tell me how much she loved it.
My suspicions were confirmed when Margaret said, “Pastor, I just do not like that guitar music. It does not help me worship.” Again, I paused and prayed for wisdom. Then, I asked, “Do you think we should not do the guitar music?” Her response shocked me, “No, Pastor, I think we should do it. I think we can reach new people and keep our young people in the church.” Then she looked me right in the eyes and said, “I just want you to know I don’t like it.”
Something clicked in my mind and something broke loose in my spirit. I can only call it deep praise and humility. I looked at this woman of God and realized what she was saying. She wanted me to know that she was willing to sacrifice what she loved for lost people who Jesus loves. She wanted me to know that it would be hard for her, but she would lay down her tastes and likes and pick up her cross and follow Jesus for the sake of the gospel.
I have walked the long journey of leading a small church forward in outreach. I have also coached and talked with leaders who have done the same. What I have learned is that when a small church begins to grow, we discover we are at war with our own desires.
Mildred needed to have a shift in thinking. But when she realized it was not just about numbers, but about real people coming to Jesus, she was converted. Margaret needed her pastor to know she was ready to sacrifice for the gospel. In every case there was some kind of battle when this small church began changing. But, through it all, Jesus was glorified, we learned to be the church, and new people came to faith in Jesus and became part of God’s beautiful family, the church!
Kevin Harney contributing editor, is the lead pastor of Shoreline Community Church in Monterey, California, the founder and visionary leader of Organic Outreach Ministries International Organic and the author of the Organic Outreach series and many other books, studies and articles (KevinGtlarney.com). For more on innovation and outreach, including vectoring ministries out into your community, see chapter nine of Organic Outreach for Churches.
Building a Small Church Dream Team By William Vanderbloemen
4 Tips for Effective Staffing in Smaller Congregations
While some might think that staffing and team issues are limited to the larger church, they actually may be even more pronounced in smaller settings.
One bad hire or poorly handled key volunteer has a much larger ripple in a church where everyone knows everyone. As we have helped hundreds of churches (big and small) with their team building, we have gotten to see some key best practices for different ministry settings.
1. Don’t hire until you have to. Placing an emphasis on quality over quantity is key. It may seem attractive to have a large staff, but I have found that the amount of time given to personnel issues is larger than anyone ever expects. Keep things as small as you can for as long as you can.
In my experience, people generally hire too quickly, and fire too slowly. That is especially true with smaller churches that are beginning to grow. Keeping staff count low will keep resources flexible and the church in a place of unity. Consider outsourcing some services, such as bookkeeping or administrative help.
2. Hire leaders, not specialists. Too often, churches look for people who are specialists, but the reality is that churches need to find leaders who know how to build teams, motivate others to action and develop leaders around them.
There are very few specialists needed in church work. Someone needs to be able to preach, and the worship leader needs to be able to carry a tune. Beyond that, hire leaders. They will figure out the specialty skills of children’s ministry, student ministry and other sections of the church’s work. Hiring leaders of leaders will multiply your church’s vision and kingdom impact because they are developing the gifts of those around them. It may take more time and cost more in the short term, but the long term payoff is more than worth it.
3. Develop leaders from within. The most successful small churches see the potential for leadership in their own congregation, and spend time finding and developing those leaders. The great thing about raising people up from your congregation is that you know the cultural alignment piece is already there, and in my estimation, culture trumps competency every time.
I believe that most skills can be taught, but cultural fit simply cannot be. To measure potential for skill, consider giving a potential hire leadership over a terminal volunteer project to assess his or her capacity for ministry. Depending on the role you’re looking for them to fill, allow them to run a church event, produce an Easter or Christmas service or direct vacation Bible school. By delegating projects to them, you’ll quickly be able to see their leadership potential.
4. Pay competitively (or get stung later). When you hire from within, you will likely hire someone who is coming to the church from a marketplace position, and more often than not, they are taking a pay cut to join your team. Early hires at small churches come for vision, not money. While nobody in the ministry goes into it for the money, people still have families to take care of. Paying your team salaries that are competitive with market averages is an important part of honoring your staff and cultivating loyalty. And when your church grows and you have to hire from the outside, you’ll be able to compete (yes, it is competitive out there) with other opportunities.
Far too often, I’ve seen a growing church not be able to afford an outside hire because they have been paying cheap labor in the early (and smaller) days. Keep up with what’s competitive and pay accordingly. It’s a financial hit up front, but the dividends are well worth it.
Read more: OutreachMagazine.com/ William-Vanderbloemen
William Vanderbloemen is president and CEO of The Vanderbloemen Search Group, and is the co-author (with Warren Bird) of Next: Pastoral Succession ‘that Works. For more information: Vanderbloemen.com
The above article, “What It Means to Bless” was written by Richardson. The article was excerpted from OutreachMagazine.com.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”