Just try to picture what it would have been like to witness Jesus entering Jerusalem in Triumph; can you?  Just picture it, the great King of Heaven riding into the city, people line His route and they shout:

Hosanna to the Son of David.

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest!

And there He is; riding a donkey!

That is hardly the way a “normal” king would ride into His new capital…

…but Jesus is no “normal” King!  His Kingdom is not of this world, He was entering the city not to conquer Rome but to conquer sin and death.  The people were excited, the city was alive with anticipation, and the enemies of Jesus were no doubt quaking in their boots.  Even though He was King of a heavenly kingdom, Jesus entered God’s city nevertheless, and the picture is even more important than it would have been if He rode a mighty steed with thousands of troops behind Him, for if that were His mission that day, it might well have been yet another great occasion that history has all but forgotten.

Truthfully, history has often tried to forget Jesus and His arrival in Jerusalem that day, but it just can’t, for the impact of what He would do there that week is with us still, two thousand years later.  Jesus, the Great King was victorious in Jerusalem, even though it looked like He wasn’t.  He was all-powerful, even though it didn’t look that way with Him riding a donkey.  He utterly destroyed His Enemy there, even though it looked at first like the Enemy carried the battle.

In all honesty, Jesus completely confounded His critics and foes, for He was meek and mild, so different from the world of men; He didn’t play their game. He had a different agenda, and by that agenda you and I have hope all of these centuries later.  My hope is that we all will take time this week to pause in awe of all that Jesus did for us in Jerusalem so long ago…

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The Vision Rollout

We’ve been going through some ides on how to turn a church around so that it can grow both spiritually and numerically and begin to prosper for Christ.  Yesterday, we left off at the point where our leadership adopted a vision statement for the church which set out the elements contained in the “Great Commission” given by our Lord in Matthew 28:18-20.  Today, let’s pick up where we left off and I’ll tell you how we announced it to our people.church_clipart_white

Since the vision our leadership adopted for our church was so very important to our future, we decided to make a really big splash to impress upon our people how important this was going to be in the life of our church. We set a date which was something like September 6, 2009 as the “official” roll out date.  In the four or five weeks leading up to that time, we advertised this special date and set about sprucing up the building.  This may sound strange to you, but it was a deliberate strategy to grab the attention of our congregation.  For one thing, the building needed a whole lot of “sprucing up.”  For another, it gave us an opportunity to win some of our very long-time members over to our way of thinking, for we were aware that if we try to do anything differently, there were some really wonderful people who would oppose us.  In one particular case, I recruited one of the most influential and intelligent ladies in our church to take charge of the redecoration of the church, a lady who really loved the place and wanted to make improvements that were long overdue.

By bringing her into the project, she became an ally to it rather than a potential critic, and since she was very influential with the ‘long-timers’ (the church had been founded in her living room) our new-fangled notions gained a hearing; very important!

We painted, we cleaned, we got new furniture… we gained immediate results that everybody could see and touch: we gained credibility for a leadership that badly needed it.  We also had a six-week sermon series leading up to the big day; two sermons from the Sr. Minister, two from the assistant minister and two from me, each dealing with an aspect of the purpose of the church.  You can guess which of us got to deliver the two “tough” ones!

This all came off with incredible success.  People joined in the work who seldom did much of anything, and the facilities got a whole new look to them which would help us as time went on; more about the “look” later in this series.

In the next post, I’ll tell you what we did for “phase 2” of our rollout, which was all about spiritual growth…

Vision

Where there is no vision, the people perish

Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)

Of all of the things that I have seen, the one that is most destructive for any local church body is a lack of a vision.  Gossip can be dealt with, divisions can happen but they can be dealt with; how can you deal with a lack of vision?  This results in a church that goes nowhere.  It might amble on for a while, but then someone comes up with a really great idea, and there is no way to tell if that idea will move the church forward or sideways because nobody has any thought about where to go.church_clipart_white

Sometimes Christians feel that churches should exist to meet the needs of those less fortunate, so they push for programs to meet those needs… and the church dies, but nobody can figure out why.  Didn’t Jesus urge His followers to help the poor and sick?  Yes, He did, but that wasn’t why He established His church!

We know exactly why Jesus established His church, it’s in the church’s Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

If this is what we, as the Body of Christ are commanded to do, doesn’t it stand to reason that we should have a vision in our local churches that encompasses this imperative?  I would say so!

I found myself in a church that utterly lacked direction and vision, and had been so blinded for a quarter of a century with predictable results.  For reasons that I’ve never quite been able to comprehend, I was asked to join the leadership of the church after I had been there for a couple of years.  As the “new kid” in the group, I decided that early on I would mostly just listen, and boy did I hear a lot of nothing.  Now, to be fair, I wasn’t new to church leadership by any means, but I was new in town and new in that church; in fact after being there over two years, I was still the newest member of the congregation!  Seldom did I ever hear anyone mention God’s purpose for the church when something was discussed; it was usually all about what would be fun and what would be popular with the “old people.”  At first I thought they meant elderly people, but I came to realize that they meant the ones who had been in that church the longest: Yikes!

I convinced the other leaders that we should adopt a vision for the church that we would apply to everything we did, and they agreed that I could develop and present a proposal.  My proposal took the form of a 12 page document that contained the Biblical imperatives for the church, discussed the various aspects of the application of these principles, drafted a ‘Vision Statement’ and outlined a method of implementation of the Vision Statement so as to impress upon the congregation its importance to the life of the church… and shock of all shocks, they agreed!  This was the beginning of the complete transformation of our church.

The Vision Statement that I came up with was nothing more than a re-statement of Matthew 28:18-20 in a form that showed the two aspects of the passage: GO and TEACH TO OBEY. Most Christians have a handle on the GO part, but once the person comes to Christ they seem to think that the job is done, when in fact it has only just begun: That kills churches!

Here’s what I came up with:

The Vision of Milan Christian Church is to take the Gospel of Christ to those who need to hear it, to bring them into relationship with Christ through the waters of Christian Baptism, to teach them to become disciples of Christ, and to equip and encourage all Christians to live their lives as Christ would live.

You may well wish to criticize this for one reason or another, and that’s fine by me.  I am not suggesting that these are divinely inspired words.  Some might say that it’s too long, but as I see it, a vision statement is not a slogan, nor is it a mission statement for a company or other secular organization.  I have seen some churches that have a similar statement that says something like “Our vision is to bring about the Great Commission” or something along those lines, and that might be easier to remember, but most people aren’t sure what that is, so I spelled it our as applied theology. (Oh, sorry, I wasn’t going to be ‘academic’ in this)

This post is getting kind of long and I want to be respectful of your time, so tomorrow let’s pick it up from here.  I would like to pique your curiosity by leaving you with one little point…

From the day that our leadership decided to implement this vision statement, each and every ministry activity that goes on in our church must explain how that activity will accomplish our vision, even if it is obvious.  It always amazes me how many people want to lead a ministry, but have never given any thought to how it fits into God’s purpose for the church… but these days, we have solved that problem by forcing them to think about it, and our ministries all have God’s priority as their priority, and the people no longer perish!

Quick Focus: “Growth”

I’ve received comments from a couple of people for whom I have a great respect, reminding me that a church can appear to grow numerically without ever growing spiritually, and this is true!  Please, let’s understand that for the purpose of these posts on church growth, I am using the term “church growth” to mean BOTH spiritual and numerical growth TOGETHER, not separately.

To address the issue of simple increases in attendance without spiritual growth, yes this can be done in much the same way a sports team might increase attendance; by providing a more entertaining product.  This is NOT what I am talking about!  A huge church that is a mile wide and an inch deep is NOT growing for the purposes of this discussion, because it lacks the attribute that must be present for their numerical results to qualify, at least in my mind, as building the Body of Christ.  That attribute (result, really) is lives that are changed for Jesus Christ.

In the same way, a church that claims that its people are growing spiritually, but where numbers never increase is also not growing for the purposes of this discussion, because they bear no fruit, and we know that branches that do not bear fruit are cut off from the vine.  In short, they might just be mistaken about the growth of their people.

Don

OK, How do you Know all this?

Before I go much further into church growth, I should show you the respect of answering this simple question:  How do you know this?

I could tell you that I have been in church leadership for about 25 years, that I’m ordained as a minister and as a Bible College Professor and have the church_clipart_whiteexperience you might expect upon hearing this.  While the foregoing is true, the answer I would prefer to give, which is also true, is that I have been in the front lines of turning a church around that had basically been written off as dead; and turn it around we did! Of course, I also need to point out that the Holy Spirit had a little something to do with it also.  I can also tell you truthfully that I have undertaken quite a bit of study and research on the subject and I have discovered a number of very interesting facts that I will be sharing with anyone who cares to read it, right here in this series of posts… at no extra charge I might add…

The truth is, none of this is rocket science.  I will tell you how you can do your own research and you will see what I am talking about. As we go, I will also share with you exactly how we turned our church around, what we tried and what worked and what didn’t work… and why.  I will also share with you some applied theology to show where our priorities must lie if we are going to change lives for Jesus Christ in a real and practical way.  Finally, I will share all of this with you in a direct and simple way that will be very easy for anybody to understand.  I may at times be rather blunt, but better the point is made than having it hard to follow because it’s buried in too much “nice-nice.”

Fair enough?  OK, let’s clear the decks and get into it in tomorrow’s thrill-packed post!

So What is “Church Growth” Anyway?

I’d say that one of the most misunderstood terms these days is “Church Growth.”  I hadn’t even posted on the subject and I got the question about what I mean by the term:  Is it the number of people or the maturity of the people?

Plenty of Christians will say that the number of people who attend a particular church is irrelevant as long as they are growing in the faith.  I happen to think there is a point to be made there, but it also misses something very important: If the members of a given church are “mature” in their faith and in their walk with Christ, that should cause the number attending to increase…church_clipart_white

How is that, you ask?  Simple!  To be a mature follower of Christ means that you will begin doing the things that Jesus did.  If you do the things Jesus did, and Jesus was bringing the Gospel to the world, then you should be too. If you are taking the Gospel to the world around your neighborhood, shouldn’t there be fruit?

It is my view that a church cannot grow numerically until it’s leaders and congregation grow enough spiritually to do the things that cause church growth.  Therefore, in these posts, I hope that we can understand the meaning of “church growth” to be both in the growth of the people there spiritually and resulting in a growth in numbers.

While we’re at it, I’ll give you what I mean by “spiritual growth” as well.  When I say “spiritual growth” or “grow spiritually” I mean the growth of the people in their understanding of the teachings and application of Scripture in their daily lives such that they bear Biblical fruit as a result.  To put it another way, I mean that the people are becoming true disciples of Jesus Christ, understanding that a “disciple” is someone who knows what the Master knows, as revealed in the Bible, and who does what the Master does.  Jesus, the Master, when He was on the earth took the truth of God’s Word to the people around Him to make disciples, who in turn would do the same, with the result of more and more people coming to a mature knowledge of Christ. When this is not happening in the church, you can easily tell because there is no numerical growth.

You  might think that this is an over simplification, and maybe it is, but is surely a significant indicator as you will see in future posts on this subject. One thing is certain; there are a lot of numbers mentoned in the book of Acts!

Blogging is kind of funny…

I’ve been doing this blog for quite some time now.  Maybe not as long as some of course, and certainly not as successfully as many, but I’ve been doing it long enough to realize a few things that I’d like to share now.church_clipart_white

First, since I started this blog in October of 2011, I’ve found that my original intention for the blog has changed and the blog has become something quite different, and I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not.  Along the way, I’ve also noticed that when ever I write what I might call a “serious” post, my viewership that day crashes.  Lesson learned: Academic isn’t what people want to read here.

I’ve also noticed that when I do something that is short, inspirational and has a nice picture, viewership soars. Lesson learned: keep it short and hopeful.  Finally I’ve learned that if I keep a post short and hopeful, I can get away with a little bit of teaching by ending it with a thought-provoking question…

As I write this, thinking about these things, my mind is telling me that I’m about to get serious and kind of long, so I’ll come straight to my point before I lose you (hopefully):

There is something that I really need to share with you, which I believe to be very, very important, but it is serious.  Why should I bother to write about it when all I will do is crash my viewership and be speaking only to myself? Yes, I’m kind of thinking aloud here so please bear with me for a moment.  How can I present this topic in a series of short, hopeful and, maybe even inspiring to some, manner without watering down the importance of it?

I don’t know, but I’m going to try!

The subject is what causes a church to grow, and what causes a church to shrink and die.  Gee, in today’s world I’d say that is kind of important!

Wouldn’t you?

I’ll start my quest tomorrow and I guess we’ll just see how it goes.  I hope you’ll give it a try.  If I bore you, let me apologize in advance, and please don’t hesitate to tell me about it!