AUTOPSY OF A DECEASED CHURCH

Thom Rainer has some potent and pointed thoughts about the church at the beginning of the 21st century. They are part of a new book being released that I would encourage people to add to their library. – Steve    Follow this link to the original post and pre-ordering information. MORE

AUTOPSY OF A DECEASED CHURCH – 11 THINGS I LEARNED

by Thom Rainer

I was their church consultant in 2003. The church’s peak attendance was 750 in 1975. By the time I got there the attendance had fallen to an average of 83. The large sanctuary seemed to swallow the relatively small crowd on Sunday morning.

The reality was that most of the members did not want me there. They were not about to pay a consultant to tell them what was wrong with their church. Only when a benevolent member offered to foot my entire bill did the congregation grudgingly agree to retain me.

I worked with the church for three weeks. The problems were obvious; the solutions were difficult.

On my last day, the benefactor walked me to my rental car. “What do you think, Thom?” he asked. He could see the uncertainty in my expression, so he clarified. “How long can our church survive?” I paused for a moment, and then offered the bad news. “I believe the church will close its doors in five years.”

I was wrong. The church closed just a few weeks ago. Like many dying churches, it held on to life tenaciously. This church lasted ten years after my terminal diagnosis.

My friend from the church called to tell me the news. I took no pleasure in discovering that not only was my diagnosis correct, I had mostly gotten right all the signs of the impending death of the church. Together my friend and I reviewed the past ten years. I think we were able to piece together a fairly accurate autopsy. Here are eleven things I learned.

The church refused to look like the community. The community began a transition toward a lower socioeconomic class thirty years ago, but the church members had no desire to reach the new residents. The congregation thus became an island of middle-class members in a sea of lower-class residents.

The church had no community-focused ministries. This part of the autopsy may seem to be stating the obvious, but I wanted to be certain. My friend affirmed my suspicions. There was no attempt to reach the community.

Members became more focused on memorials. Do not hear my statement as a criticism of memorials. Indeed, I recently funded a memorial in memory of my late grandson. The memorials at the church were chairs, tables, rooms, and other places where a neat plaque could be placed. The point is that the memorials became an obsession at the church. More and more emphasis was placed on the past.

The percentage of the budget for members’ needs kept increasing. At the church’s death, the percentage was over 98 percent.

There were no evangelistic emphases. When a church loses its passion to reach the lost, the congregation begins to die.

The members had more and more arguments about what they wanted. As the church continued to decline toward death, the inward focus of the members turned caustic. Arguments were more frequent; business meetings became more acrimonious.

With few exceptions, pastoral tenure grew shorter and shorter. The church had seven pastors in its final ten years. The last three pastors were bi-vocational. All of the seven pastors left discouraged.The church rarely prayed together. In its last eight years, the only time of corporate prayer was a three-minute period in the Sunday worship service. Prayers were always limited to members, their friends and families, and their physical needs.

The church had no clarity as to why it existed. There was no vision, no mission, and no purpose.

The members idolized another era. All of the active members were over the age of 67 the last six years of the church. And they all remembered fondly, to the point of idolatry, was the era of the 1970s. They saw their future to be returning to the past.
The facilities continued to deteriorate. It wasn’t really a financial issue. Instead, the members failed to see the continuous deterioration of the church building. Simple stated, they no longer had “outsider eyes.”

Though this story is bleak and discouraging, we must learn from such examples. As many as 100,000 churches in America could be dying. Their time is short, perhaps less than ten years.

What do you think of the autopsy on this church? What can we do to reverse these trends?

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THE REAL EVANGELICAL DISASTER

I am an evangelical Christian. Unfortunately because so many Christians have abandoned authentic discipleship and think of the Great Commission as a marketing tool, I feel compelled to use the adjective. I am also a life-long Republican who found both candidates being offered by the major parties to be persons with whose values I was at odds. I found Rachel Evans blog about THE REAL EVANGELICAL DISASTER to be right on (and no, I do not agree with every theological or social position that she holds) and believe her thoughts grow from a deep concern for the most important thing that matters – “faith expressing itself in love.” (By the way, this is not a quote from Rob Bell–it is from Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus – Galatians 5.6) – STEVE DUNN

The Real ‘Evangelical Disaster’

When Republican Governor Mitt Romney lost the presidential election earlier this month to incumbent Barack Obama, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary classified the election as “an evangelical disaster.”

Concerned also by state measures legalizing gay marriage, Mohler said that, aside from the 79 percent of white evangelicals who voted as they should, the “[evangelical] message was rejected by millions of Americans who went to the polls and voted according to a contrary worldview.”

“If we do not become the movement of younger Americans and Hispanic Americans and any number of other Americans, then we will just become a retirement community,” he told NPR. “And that cannot, that cannot, serve the cause of Christ.”

As a young evangelical myself, I confess I have grown tired…no, weary…of responding to comments like these with some honest suggestions for how my fellow evangelicals might avoid said retirement, only to be discounted and disparaged for believing the earth is more than 6,000 years old, for voting for Democrats from time to time, and for daring to serve communion to gays and lesbians. The fact that I can affirm the Nicene and Apostle’s creeds, that I am an imperfect but devoted follower of Jesus Christ, that I am passionate about spreading the gospel, and I believe the Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God, and still my evangelical credentials are constantly being questioned and debated reveals just how narrow evangelicalism has become.

The word evangelical means, in the Greek, “gospel” or “good news” (evangelion). And so an evangelical, in the most basic sense of the word, is simply someone who is committed to spreading the good news that Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again. There are plenty of Hispanics, plenty of young people, plenty of African Americans, plenty of Republicans, plenty of Democrats, and plenty of people around the world who believe this to be true, and yet Mohler will not be satisfied until American evangelicals become a monolithic and reliable voting bloc that keeps his preferred politicians in power.

This, I believe, is the real evangelical disaster—not that Barack Obama is president and Mitt Romney is not, but that evangelicalism has gotten so enmeshed with politics, its success or failure can be gauged by an election.

It’s this idea the “cause of Christ” is to vote against gay marriage and for tax cuts, and that the hope of evangelicals lies in election day returns. It’s this idea that a Christian worldview is something we can vote for because it fits on a ballot.

When I tell a reporter or a new acquaintance that I am an evangelical, inevitably the person will respond, “Oh, so you are a Republican?” Sadly, evangelicalism has ceased to represent the Kingdom of God, which transcends all political parties and national allegiances, and has come to represent kingdoms of this world. And so the strengths and weakness of evangelicalism are conflated with the strengths and weaknesses of the Republican Party.
The great evangelical disaster is that evangelicalism has become synonymous with Republicanism rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This happened long before the 2012 presidential election.

It happened when we turned the Bible into a conservative position paper and Jesus into a flag pin.

It happened when Liberty University invited Donald Trump to speak in chapel because devotion to the GOP matters more devotion to the teachings of Jesus .

It happened when we traded the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord to the bad news that our influence in this world is limited to how much power we can grasp.

It happened when we restricted “Christian values” to one or two social issues while leaving others out.

So I will try one last time.

Want to win young people back to evangelicalism?

Then start preaching the Gospel again.

Start preaching the gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord and Caesar is not.

Start preaching the gospel that drew both tax collectors and zealots—political enemies— to Jesus’ side.

Start preaching the gospel that God so loved the world that God became flesh and lived among us, taught among us, loved among us, died among us, and rose again among us.

Start preaching the gospel that through Jesus, we find reconciliation with God and with one another.

Start preaching the gospel that they will know we are Christians by our love—not by our votes, not by our protest signs, not by our power, not by our campaign contributions—but by our love.

But fair warning: If you start preaching this gospel—this gospel of reconciliation and peace—you will attract more than just Republicans. You will attract people of all backgrounds and races, political persuasions and theological preferences. You will attract rich and poor, slave and free, male and female. You will attract people like me who are concerned about defending not only the unborn, but also the poor, the sick, the immigrant, and the war-torn. You will attract people like me who love Jesus but know that no single vote, no single political party, can represent my values in their totality or bring the kingdom of God to pass.

If we start preaching the gospel again, we will have to get used to ethnic, theological, and political diversity because we will share our lives with people whose ultimate allegiance lies with something greater than a political party, greater than a ballot measure, greater even than the highest office in the world.

We will share our lives with citizens of the Kingdom of God.

We will be evangelists, bearers of good news.

And no matter what happens in the halls of power, we will never be part of a disaster. Instead, we will be part of a stubborn and relentless movement of hope—the kind of hope that can heal the world.

We will be true evangelicals.

WHAT GOSPEL DO YOU BELIEVE?

by Steve Dunn

“If you believe what you like in the gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself”. – Augustine

I am the Director of  the School of Evangelism, a ministry of the Eastern Regional Conference of the Churches of God, General Conference.  I also teach several courses, one of which is a theology class called “What is the Gospel?”  Originally it was called “The Theology of Evangelism” and what the Bible teaches about evangelism–its purpose, its practice, its place in the ministry of the church. But last year, we revised the curriculum to address a severe problem within the American church.

Many recent studies have shown that the beliefs of teenagers and younger adults raised in the church  do not reflect the ‘faith that was once delivered unto the saints.”  And what they do believe directly contradicts in a number of cases what the Bible teaches us about the faith proclaimed by the prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles.

In search of explanations, researchers found two disturbing realities. (1) What these young people believe reflects very closely what their parents believe. (2) What their parents believe is a reflection of what is being taught in American pulpits.

Ed Stetzer has often been quoted as saying that the gospel is “a bloody cross and an empty tomb.”  Some may consider it hyperbole, but is still true. But is that the Gospel that is affirmed by American Christians today?  Is that the Gospel being preached for American pulpits?

When Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a close look at the religious beliefs held by American teenagers, they found that the faith held and described by most adolescents came down to something the researchers identified as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.” 2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.” 3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” 4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.” 5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

Doesn’t this sound like what you have been hearing in the pulpit lately?

This is not the Gospel that leads to the sacrificial servanthood presented by Jesus Christ nor does it affirm the uniqueness of Jesus’ declaration, “I am the way, the truth, and the life–no one comes to the Father except through me.”  And it totally negates the necessity of the Cross as the expression of God’s love.

Kendra Creasy Dean has written:

“Moralistic Therapeutic Deism has little to do with God or a sense of divine mission in the world. It offers comfort, bolsters self-esteem, helps solve problems, and lubricates interpersonal relationships by encouraging people to do good, feel good, and keep God at arm’s length.”

It is a gospel of comfort and convenience, performance and payoff.  It requires no true obedience. It is devoid of grace. This gospel is what the preachers of health and wealth present. This gospel is what the therapists of the pulpit proclaim. This gospel makes a convenient civil religion for a pluralistic America. This gospel is self-centered. It is all about Me and little about Him.

But ultimately, this gospel is not the Good News of the Kingdom.

(C) 2012 by Stephen L Dunn

CALLING OPEN MINDS: THE KINGDOM OF GOD NEEDS YOU

I came across this powerful challenge via Spencer Burke’s The OOze

Calling Open Minds: The Kingdom of God Needs You (by Dr. Bradley Duncan)

The kingdom of God needs open minds. The kingdom of God, also called the kingdom of heaven or the church in the broadest sense of the word, is God’s work on this planet. Jesus calls believers to a great mission to spread his message and deliver freedom to all people. To do this he’s enlisting those with open minds to help with the cause.

Calling Truth-Lovers: The kingdom of God needs people who love the truth. The message that God has for today. The point. What the speakers recorded in the Bible would say to us today if they were standing here on the stage. People who can hear the challenge in the words. People who grapple with less-than-obvious meanings. People who care about the harmful effects and missed opportunities, when we believe “easy” interpretations passed down by tradition instead of grappling with the hard concepts ourselves. God is calling open minds!

Calling Good Listeners: The kingdom of God needs people who can listen. To teach others we have to engage them in discussion. Hear their opinions, thoughts, beliefs and questions. Have an open mind about what we will hear. Guide them to the water but don’t make them drink! We need to care and relate. We need to share ourselves with people — using our ears more than our mouths! The kingdom of God needs people that can deliver God’s good news through listening! What’s more, to hear God calling we need to be good listeners. We need to be open to what he will say. If we want to know truth we need to open our ears!

Calling Thinkers: The kingdom of God needs people with diverse ideas and from diverse backgrounds. We need to understand how different people view the world. We need to hear ideas we don’t agree with! We need to hear solutions, plans, visions and dreams of people willing to think out loud. The kingdom of God will not prosper through inward focus of like-minded people, but through expansions across all boundaries. Calling Scientists! Tell us how you see the world, in its vastly intimate detail. Calling Philosophers! Can you help us understand the complexity of being human? Calling Literary Geniuses! Can you teach us the swelling power of human language to both bind us and liberate us? God is calling thinkers to join his cause!

Calling People with Differences: The kingdom of God needs to meet you. It needs to understand you. It needs to learn from you. Will you please come and tell us what we have been too blind to see? Will you please tell us your story, your concerns, and the ways you have been misunderstood? We’ve never invited you in, so we really don’t know you at all! God is calling you, and we need you as partners. Armed with diversity we can avoid isolating ourselves, avoid the blinders, avoid the narrow, controlling, suffocating pressure to conform. All we need is some people with diverse backgrounds and ideas! Please join us, and please help us to open our minds.

Calling Justice-Lovers: The kingdom of God needs you! Jesus came to liberate the captives, and sent his Holy Spirit to continue the work through people. He needs people who will open their arms to humanity in all its diversity of backgrounds and mindsets, to be ready to accept them into the kingdom as God pours out his love and extends his call to all. The kingdom of God needs people who are ready to accept the unexpected! Because here they come! God needs people who will open their hearts to the oppressed and abandon their own comfort in order to speak up for them! Still slaves? Still exploited? Still without advocates and without options? People are in desperate need of liberation. The kingdom of God is coming to find those people! God is calling justice-lovers to partner with his mission.

Calling Compassionate Hearts: The kingdom of God needs people who can be open to people with needs. Who else will God send if we don’t go? Calling Humanitarian Innovators! We need massive global organization of people who care, to fight hunger, sickness and poor living conditions. Can you help us!? The kingdom of God needs to reach the world and bring God’s love. We need open hearts. We need talent and innovative thinking! Calling Financial Wizards! We need to invest our resources in things that matter, things with lasting return! We need organic, compounding growth of every dollar we invest, by wisely investing in change and in people who can bring change! We need no-nonsense guidance on how to do this! God is calling the workers into the fields, to carry compassion to the world and gather the harvest of the rescued masses of hungry, naked, homeless, sick and poor. Who will respond to this call?

Calling Women: The kingdom of God needs you! You are now free and unlimited. Please don’t hold back in providing your wisdom and leadership. We all the know that the men have typically held the roles of leadership and responsibility, while women worked along-side. But we need the diversity of opinions, talents, and emotions to find a way to reach others. We want the women to step up (and some of the men to step down to make room), because we need the balance and the differences that you bring. We need your talents that we have swept under the rug for too long! We need the “other half” of the church! How can we accomplish anything if we’re only 50% utilized, and lop-sided at that! We don’t need only “hunter-gatherers” to build the kingdom. That will leave us out in the woods! God is calling women. God is calling men to make way.

Calling the Defenders of the Future: The kingdom of God needs people who care about the Earth, sustainability, global sciences, and global clean-up. We live in our garbage and exhaust! We burn the Earth’s limited resources to fill the sky with soot. We have focused so long on spiritual things that we’ve made a mess of our house. We need a wake-up call! God’s kingdom on Earth is not just in the present, or for our children or grand-children. Though the future is unknowable and God’s timing is likely to be surprising, we need to prepare for the long haul! What if the kingdom of God on Earth is to continue for hundreds or thousands of generations!?!? How many zeros can we put on God’s plans for this planet? Future generations will be affected by the decisions we make today. Defenders of the future, please speak up. Please guide us to find better solutions for a sustainable planet.

Calling Global Business Experts: The kingdom of God needs you, because the global economy is supported on the backs of slaves, exploited children, and unappreciated laborers. Please help us leverage economic influence to end modern-day slavery! We don’t need the chocolate, coffee, or cell-phone chips so badly that its worth using humans as battery-powered machines to feed our consumption. Help us bring massive change to the businesses that provide our goods, help us apply pressure and generate public awareness. Help us use our dollars (or Euros or whatever) as votes to end exploitation! We don’t want it any more. The kingdom of God needs visionary leaders who can help us free the slaves through a massive grass-roots movement and the will of consumers to reject slave-made goods.

Calling the Spiritually Sensitive: The kingdom of God needs people who can sense God, hear him calling, and lead us in responding. Where is God going? What is he up to? What will change when we listen and follow his new direction? Can we keep up with God? We have lots of questions and we need those connected people, those relational types, those spiritually aware and open-minded people, to offer their guidance, to help answer our questions. We need a Vision! A Vision of a better world and a Vision of what God is calling us to create in his kingdom. We pray “May your kingdom come, may your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”. So what is God’s will on Earth? Please help us see it. God is calling visionary leaders to show us his thoughts and movements for today. God is calling us all to step up, with open minds and hearts, with open spirits, to hear him calling and to bring change. We just need to respond.

_______________________

Dr. Bradley Duncan is an aerospace engineer living in Boston. He blogs athttp://GraceEmerges.blogspot.com and started the “Open Church Initiative” Facebook page.

MULTIPLE WORSHIP SERVICES — MULTIPLE STYLES (PART 1)

The church I serve as Lead Pastor has multiple worship services.  Several years before I arrived they made an intentional decision to offer multiple styles as well as multiple times.  The logic was simple.  Worship is the heartbeat of a church and the chief connection for most persons with God and one another.  Worship is the means by which we intentionally affirm our connection to and commitment to the Living God.  Worship matters. Worship matters immensely. Although worship is about God, worship is also about the worshiper.  It is a very personal expression of one’s relationship with their Savior and Lord.

This was the time when churches were engaged in the worship wars–pitting generations and expressions of praise to God against one another.  Some churches tried to blend, only to make everyone unhappy.  Others chose one over the other.  Choosing tradition at the expense of discouraging and disconnecting future generations. Others chose contemporary, basically jettisoning the spiritual needs of previous ones.

My church chose multiple styles, affirming the importance of worship by allowing for the heart and the temperament of all generations to be unimpeded in their offering of themselves to God.

It is a decision I affirm.  It places affirmation and support over convenience or ideology.

It is a ministry value that requires a commitment by the church as a whole. That is to make sure that all worship services are of the highest quality, receiving the best support, planning and leadership as possible. In particular, one service dare not be preferred over the other by the pastor and leaders.  Nor can the leaders allow the worshipers in either style to claim theological superiority over the other. All worship services must operate from a clear vision that honors God. Different styles can unfortunately confirm a consumer mentality. Give us what we want!  Worship leadership must constantly reinforce, we are helping you give to God what God wants–by reminding all of us what God is due and equipping us to offer it.

(c) 2011 by Stephen L Dunn

GIVING UP YOUR PERSONAL RIGHTS FOR THE GOSPEL

What is more important to you: your personal, spiritual, and ministry rights, or the integrity and advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Don’t be too quick to say it’s the gospel.

Over several decades in ministry, I’ve discovered there are not as many Christians and church leaders as you might think who walk the walk when it comes to laying aside their legitimate human and spiritual rights for the sake of the gospel. Yes, many pastors preach it on Sundays, but how they live is often quite different. It’s the fruit of the “professionalism” of Christian leadership.
A question dating back to Paul

This was the primary question facing Paul—would he fight for his personal and spiritual rights, or would he choose to lay them down for the integrity and advancement of the gospel? Paul’s answer, found in 1 Corinthians 9, is “yes,” and he lived it out in his ministry.

The primary issue facing Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 was that certain church leaders in the city of Corinth were questioning, accusing, and opposing Paul (1 Corinthians 9:3). How could these latecomers to church leadership question Paul? They apparently wanted to build themselves up in Corinth by undercutting Paul. Paul said he would rather die than get robbed of his ability and grounds to boast in Christ.

Paul spends a good part of this chapter emphasizing that he’s free in Christ (9:1), that the risen Christ had commissioned him as an apostle on the Damascus road (9:1), he was the founding apostle of the Corinthian church (9:2), and he also provides a rather long list of personal and spiritual leadership rights that were his. In other words, he had authoritative rights! Paul had the “right” to confront, attack, and start a huge fight with these would-be leaders, and he would have likely won with no problems. How dare anyone question Paul’s apostolic calling and credentials! After all, he has rights! He could have decided to take a strong stubborn stand in defense of his personal rights, blow up the church in Corinth, and leave it in ashes. But this is not how Paul responded.
Paul’s primary concern

His primary concern was not his personal reputation or rights, but the reputation, integrity, and advancement of the gospel of Christ.

From The Resurgence read more

ULTIMATELY, FAITH … WORKS

Two kinds of Christians undermine the witness of the Body of Christ.  The first are people who believe that faith is defined by believing in a set of doctrinal propositions and focusing on that belief as their “ticket to heaven.”  A right set of beliefs is more important than actions that reflect those beliefs.

The second is the group of Christians who still embrace the world’s evaluative standard of “what’s in it for me?”  They are often looking for a method or program that will make them happy. And they want to find such a solution that costs them as little as possible.

“Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” – James 2:18, New Living Translation

Ultimately faith works. By that I don’t mean faith is simply effective for coping with living. I mean faith, if it is true faith, works.

The world is concerned with tangible benefits. But tangible almost always has to do with material things.  A place in my Father’s House in the future is a tangible thing, and rightly so. But if it makes me so heavenly minded that I stop worrying about those who are poor and oppressed on this planet, or those whose lives are a shambles on this side of eternity, then I have lost the true meaning of Jesus’ words, “I am my Father are one.”

If all faith is to me is a means to make life easier on this planet, then I will be loath to put those tangible benefits at risk to share my faith or to lay down my life for a friend.  I will never choose the way of sacrificial servanthood.

Ultimately faith works.  It takes what it believes and daily applies it to the utmost to do what Jesus came to earth to do and commissioned us to do until he returns.  Truth faith is neither a set of beliefs or a set of tools. True faith is a lifestyle that reflects what Jesus would have us to do.

(C) 2011 by Stephen L. Dunn