Archive for the ‘Evangelism’ Category

Church (or organizational) Growth

May 3, 2023

According to the evidence at our disposal, the expansion of the churches was not organized, the product of a mission program; it simply happened. Further, the growth was not carefully thought through. Early Christian leaders did not engage in debates between rival “mission strategies.”

Alan Kreider

As one grows older and stays observant, recurring patterns of behavior occur. I took a “church growth” class in the late ’70s. I later knew several pastors with advanced degrees with that speciality. Same basic knowledge.

What I learned—it’s all about leadership, not so much knowledge.

Many businesses and churches have vision statements and mission statements. (Side note: I wonder why have both. Seems both redundant and confusing. Which are the people to follow?)

My studies over many years agree with Kreider’s. Many people joined the new first century movement because of the types of lives they saw among the believers. I’ve read histories of the plagues in Rome under emperors such as Marcus Aurelius where Christians came out of hiding (a dangerous thing) to serve the sick and dying in whatever way they could. These acts of selfless love also spurred tremendous growth of the movement.

I don’t think Jesus was confusing. Matthew says that just before he ascended, Jesus just left one mission statement—

GO into the entire world,

TEACH what he taught,

MAKE disciples (that is, followers who would presumably do this same thing),

LIVE knowing Jesus is still with them (us) guiding the way.

The question to us—are we content to sit in our little circle of friends or are we living an inviting life of service and joy?

What Is Church All About?

April 11, 2023

Promotions for a new movie called Praise This recently popped up on my TV screen. The plot centers on the dramas around a competition for best church praise choirs. At first I thought this was a reality TV show they were promoting. I thought, this performance-based religious experience has gone too far.

A few church leaders in the US (and elsewhere) surveyed the state of church attendance wondering how to attract young Baby Boomers into church. They observed the success of Jesus Music. Music companies also observed that—and changed the music’s tone and promoted new artists. Seeking to “build a church that unchurched people would attend”, these leaders teamed with the new music to build the “Rock Concert with a TED Talk” style of worship. 

The megachurch was born.

I witnessed a few early ones. Seemed OK. But, like the premise of this move more often than not praise music became a performance.

And church leaders scrambled to get numbers. 5,000 was not enough. 10,000. 20,000. Numbers meant everything.

Realizing that something more than Sunday performances was needed, they pushed small groups. These small groups mostly failed to catch on.

Jimmy Buffet playing to his loyal following of “Parrot Heads” does a better job of involving his crowds than most praise bands.

Maybe the Boomers wanted to be entertained. I don’t know. I’m sort of a Boomer, and it doesn’t fit my profile. Later generations prefer connection. Maybe we all do. And maybe it’s not all about numbers. Maybe growth is a two-edged sword. 

How did the early church grow?

Like the famous restaurant scene in Harry Met Sally, “I want what she’s having,” people were attracted to the early church because of the way they lived and the type of people they were. No gimmicks. Spirit and service. As John Fischer says, Grace Turned Outward

So many have missed the point.

Relate With People By How They Are Not What They Look Like

January 16, 2023

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream

I was a student when Martin Luther King delivered that speech. I don’t know the degree to which this comment inspired me or if I was just always this way. I have always tried to treat people individually where they are. If they are poor or rich or powerful and they have more stuffing than a Christmas goose, I deal one way. Most people are just hard-working individuals trying to do their jobs. I don’t care if they are CEO or junior assistant account executive. They deserve to be treated with honesty and respect. And I try.

Today in the US is an official holiday observing the birth and work of Martin Luther King. It is good to remember the good he did, what he stood for.

The movement did some good. Laws were passed. Barriers were broken.

Today I believe that there is broader acceptance of people of varying skin colors, races, languages. Yet, still much work remains. Some prejudices are hard to overcome. They require a change of heart in each individual.

If you read the gospels carefully, you’ll see that Jesus was doing just that. He met with people of different ethnic groups at their level of need. He healed regardless of being Jewish or not. He was forever concerned with the status of one’s heart.

How do you change hearts? We have certain Christians who think that passing more laws will suffice. That didn’t work out so well in the end for the Pharisees of Jesus’ time.

Unfortunately, you don’t change hearts with laws or with one magnificent speech. Ann Lamont wrote a wonderful little book Bird by Bird, where she tells the story of her brother. He procrastinated over writing a report on birds for school. Now it’s the night before it’s due. (Sound familiar?) He whines to his father about how he’ll ever get it done. “Just write bird by bird and you’ll get it done.”

Just like a good bread requires time to rise, so a changed heart requires time for the change to root and grow. And it happens one heart at a time.

Dr. King set out a vision. Much good did happen. But the hard work remains for each of us. What is the condition of our own heart? Where can we nurture another’s heart?

June 5, 2018

Elton Trueblood

The church is never true to itself when it is living for itself, for if it is chiefly concerned with saving its own life, it will lose it. The nature of the church is such that it must always be engaged in finding new ways by which to transcend itself. Its main responsibility is always outside its own walls in the redemption of common life. That is why we call it a redemptive society. There are many kinds of religion, but redemptive religion, from the Christian point of view, is always that in which we are spent on those areas of existence that are located beyond ourselves and our own borders.

Elton Trueblood is one of my theologian/mentors who helped me figure out the Apostle Paul. Since Paul wrote to early Christian fellowships, he included a variety of instructions that he said weren’t from God but were things that he instructed out of common sense for the good of the fellowship of these new Christians.

I presume well-meaning Christians have been tempted to lift a sentence, one instruction, from something Paul wrote and build their life around it, or build a theology around it, or build a church around it. They had been doing it for about 1,800 years, actually. And I didn’t like anything that I heard. I thought that in the light of Jesus’ teachings, this couldn’t be true.

Trueblood helped me broaden my view of Paul. N.T. Wright completed my journey.

I like this thought from Trueblood (which I received in the Daily Dig from Plough Publishing) in this day of people bringing their own agendas loosely based on a statement from Paul or otherwise into churches and denominations.

As a friend said yesterday, so many people go to church general meetings with an agenda.

And I replied, “Yes, an it’s not the one Jesus gave us.”

Our challenge…are we inward looking or outward?

Get a Guide, or Be a Guide

April 2, 2018

“Do you understand what you are reading?” said Philip to the Ethiopian. “How can I sir, unless someone guides me?” came the reply.

How did Philip know the Ethiopian government official was reading from the book of Isaiah when he approached him? People in those days did not read silently just to themselves. They read aloud.

Why did Philip, an observant Jew up until a few days ago, go to an “unclean” man–darker skin, sexually impure? God told him to. If you are around my age you remember the comedian Flip Wilson who had a routine, “The devil made me do it”? Well, God made Philip do it.

Side note–could you as a modern Christian go up to a person of another race and/or one who is not “straight” and guide them through the Scripture to a belief in Jesus? Could you accept them into the fellowship no strings attached–just like God does? Something to ponder.

Could you, like the Ethiopian eunuch, ask someone for help? Oh, and then listen to your guide?

Could you, like Philip, not only respond to God’s urging, but also be of such an open personality that someone different from you would actually ask you to sit beside them and guide them?

We only read about Philip in one chapter of Acts of the Apostles. Yet, he is a powerful example to us about reaching out to people we have been taught to hate and sharing effectively with them.

When God’s Spirit whispers to you, are you listening?

Billy Graham

February 22, 2018

Billy Graham

Only God can give us a selfless love for others, as the Holy Spirit changes us from within. This is one reason we must receive Christ, for apart from His Spirit we can never be freed from the chains of selfishness, jealousy, and indifference. Will others see Christ’s love in your life today?

Rest In Peace, Billy Graham

He was such a good communicator that students and faculty from the speech and communication departments of local universities would attend his rallies to study him. Hopefully some got the message 😉 He stayed above politics and divisiveness in order to reach all people around the world with this message. If only we could all learn from the example.

What Cannot Be Measured Cannot Be Managed

June 13, 2017

My early career education consisted of engineering and management. The mantra of each was What cannot be measured cannot be managed.

I started thinking about this after several meetings and conversations about the number of churches in my county in west Ohio. The population of Shelby County is approximately 57,000. There are about 100 churches. The rural Midwest of the United States is supposed to be one of those “Bible Belt” areas where “everyone” is a Christian–or at least a church member.

So, there are about 570 people per church. There may be only three churches in the county that are larger than 400 in average attendance. Most of the rest are lucky to have 100 in attendance. Excluding Christmas and Easter, there probably are not as many as 15,000 our of our 57,000 people in church on a weekend. And this is the Bible Belt.

But–does this statistic have any meaning?

Does this relate to the spiritual life of the area?

Is there a correlation between church attendance and spiritual life?

Check out Acts 2. Humans didn’t manage the growth of the early church. It was a manifestation of the outpouring of the Spirit. People joined because “I want what she’s having.”

Maybe in the US we aren’t living the sort of life that attracts others?

Maybe we focus more on politics than on the Gospel?

Maybe our priorities are internal to our group (congregation) rather than external to others?

What if it’s not about managing and more about living a life in the Spirit?

Who Did Jesus Come For–Why Everyone, Of Course

December 20, 2016

“9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own,c and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” — Gospel of John, chapter 1

When we talk about Jesus, who he was, what he did, and his invitation, do we digest what John says? “Which enlightens everyone.”

Do the people have different appearances than us? Different lifestyles? Different gender roles?

I thought for years that John was quite Greek in thinking. After all, he began with the Greek word Logos. Translated as word, it is steeped in Greek philosophic meaning. But that was probably just influence by the German theological movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s that strove to remove the “Jewishness” from the New Testament.

John’s writing is obviously quite Jewish (I have read explications of Revelation that relate the narrative to Jewish Temple worship). It must have pained him deeply to write “his own people did not accept him.”

We make the simple and miraculous too complex.

“To all who received him.”

Yesterday I talked of invitations. Last week of gifts. Both are implicit in these simple opening verses of the Gospel.

And there are no conditional clauses. No “if…then…else” statements.

Receive Jesus. Believe in his name. Become born a second time–born of God himself.

In December we recreate the invitation and the gift in our worship and study. Do we receive the gift? Do we pass along the invitation to the gift? To everyone?

Showing Beats Telling Every Time

April 4, 2016

I picked up the morning paper and immediately saw articles about problems caused in people because of drugs. Overdoses among those released from prison are proportionately high. Locking people in prison for using drugs had essentially no effect.

There are many other stories about what drugs and addictions do to people daily in every news source.

There are other things that people do that destroy their lives–physically, emotionally, relationally. We know about them. We see them. We read ancient texts that describe them. It’s not a new phenomena.

Yet, what have followers of Jesus really done about it?

Do we point fingers and preach (telling) about how bad those things are?

Do we support locking people away in prisons or other institutions? Anything to get them off the streets and away from our sight?

Helping people after they’ve gone far down the wrong road is exceedingly difficult. There are people who do that. They should be celebrated as heroes. (How about that media? Celebrating people who help rather than loud-mouthed politicians? Maybe that would solve a few things?)

What about before they get so far down that road?

I wrote Friday about repentance. Turning away from the road you’re on and going down a different one. About how Matthew says Jesus began his ministry the same way–preaching repentance.

However, Jesus did it differently than John. Reading at the end of Matthew’s report, Jesus leaves his followers (us) the “Great Commission”. I love the way Jon Swanson approaches his writing. I wish I could be like him. But I guess I’m more like me. Today, Jon paraphrased that passage:

“Make more followers of me the same way I made followers of me. Spend time with people, showing them how you live. When you do, make sure that you are choosing to spend some of that time with every class of people. The kind you fit with, and the kind you don’t.”

What if we (including me…and you) did more of this when we can reach people before they get too far down that road?

I’ve always liked the heart of American liberalism more than that of American conservatives. The emphasis on helping people. However, they picked up some ideas in the early 20th century from Europe about using the power of government to help. Governments really can’t solve all problems.

Who can help? Who can solve the problems?

Well, Jesus of course. But not miraculously by some lightning strike from the sky, but through his followers. Who show people how to live and save them one person at a time. And one at a time until we reach every single living person. Isn’t that what we were commissioned to do when we signed up?

What’s An Evangelical And Why Are We So Popular?

March 11, 2016

Evangelicals must be an important group of people, whoever they are. Not from a religious point of view. Not even from a spiritual point of view. I guess more from a “traditional family values” point of view (therefore many who voted for a Mormon for president thinking they were voting for a Christian).

I bring up that voting thing, because we don’t read story after story every day in the news about evangelicals changing lives. We read about evangelicals as a voting bloc.

I guess all evangelicals vote for the same candidates. Well, er, not exactly if this year’s Republican race to the Presidential election is an indication. Evangelicals love Cruz. Except when they love Trump. Well, maybe they like Rubio. Or Carson (oops, he’s dropped out).

I was raised in the Methodist Church. If you are British, especially English, that may have more meaning than in the US. John Wesley and his friends (who followed spiritual disciplines methodically–get it?) decided to take the church outside the walls and preach and teach to where the people were.

The article about evangelicals in Wikipedia credits Wesley as one of the founders of the movement. The article estimates that about 13% of Christians are evangelicals. It tries to define evangelical, ultimately ending in confusion. But it begins by saying evangelicals believe in salvation by grace through faith in the resurrection of Jesus. Hmm, I figured that would define all Christians. Guess I’m wrong?

In the early 70s, I was trying to figure out what it meant to be evangelical. At that time, evangelicals did not participate in politics (remember those days?). I found a group called Evangelicals for Social Action. Christian evangelicals working for peace and justice for all people.

Sometime in the mid 70s to be evangelical meant being white. And building schools where white people could send their white kids so that they wouldn’t have to go to school with black kids. And I came fresh from the movement of Christian people working for civil rights–for black people. What’s an evangelical?

In the end, I am saddened that society thinks of evangelicals as a voting bloc to be manipulated.

I wish that we were back to the roots of the word where articles about evangelicals reported on how we change lives of hurting people through teaching, preaching, feeding them and bringing them into a life-changing community of worshipers and servants.