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Visiting Churches

A Second Perspective on Visiting 52 Churches

My wife went with me to every church we visited. “What an adventure!” she said. “We had the honor of worshipping with friends, old and new.” 

Here are two key considerations to discuss: 

1. The most important thing she learned from this trek was how to—and how not to—make someone feel welcome. 

How can you better reach out to visitors and those you don’t recognize?

2. The church is the body of Christ, not a single congregation or just one denomination. We have a huge spiritual family, with varied practices. 

How should you adjust your understanding of church and Christianity to better embrace its vastness and diversity?

Learn how to make someone feel welcome when the visit your church. Embrace the fact that we are a huge spiritual family, with varied practices.

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Visiting Churches

Visiting Churches Is Lot Like Dating

Visiting churches seems a lot like dating. It’s like dating churches.

Consider these two discussion questions:

1. Church websites and social media pages are like a dating profile, with the best photos—sometimes out-of-date or misleading—and featuring positive traits while ignoring flaws. 

What changes should you make online and in printed materials to present an accurate representation of your church?

2. If visiting a church is like dating, joining a church might correspond to marriage. When you join a church, you commit and stop seeing other churches. 

What can you do to help first-timers return, form meaningful connections, and commit to your faith community?

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

Who Goes to Your Church?

The Number of First-Time Church Attendees Says Much about Your Congregation

Consider the people who go to your church. They fall into three categories. The first group are those who came to your church from another church. The second constituency consists of people who’ve gone there their entire life. The final type are first-time church attendees.

The second and third categories are small at many churches, with most of the people who go there coming from other churches. Most every church I been part of or have visited fits this pattern.

The result is that churches are largely—sometimes exclusively—comprised of people who came from other churches.

Church Shuffling

The result of this isn’t overall church growth but a migration of believers. It’s church shuffling. Yes, some churches grow because of shuffling people, while others shrink for the same reason. Yet the net result is overall zero church growth.

As a result, most churches gain attendance and members at the expense of other churches, which means that those churches lose attendees and members. This isn’t growing the kingdom of God but merely reshuffling it.

This shuffling of church members doesn’t accomplish anything to grow the kingdom of God or honor him in the process. These churches aren’t growing because of conversions; they’re not attracting first-time attenders.

Growth through First-Time Church Attendees

God-honoring growth comes not at the expense of other congregations, but when someone who doesn’t go to church starts attending.

Though some may have had a pre-existing relationship with Jesus but weren’t part of a faith community, most of these people have either just begun to follow Jesus or are checking him out.

They represent true church growth. And it’s absent at most gatherings. These churches have few converts. Instead, they have a different purpose in mind for church.

Meeting Needs

Churches that experience growth at the expense of other churches may justify this with the argument that “we’re just meeting people’s needs” or “we’re simply providing them what they want—and their old church didn’t.”

There is a bit of truth to this, but it’s a marketing mentality. This approach targets people using a consumer mindset and not a kingdom perspective.

Do you want to build a church dependent on marketing strategies or one that specializes on making Jesus-following disciples? Click To Tweet

Do you want to build a church dependent on marketing strategies or one that specializes on making Jesus-following disciples?

Don’t pursue church growth by shuffling members. Instead seek to grow with first-time church attendees and truly expand the kingdom of God.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

What is the Purpose of Church?

Make Sure Your Faith Community Focuses on the Right Thing

We need to examine the purpose of church. Why do we meet each week? What are our goals when we come together? What should our focus be? Though people will give various answers, the responses fall into two broad categories: ourselves and others.

Church Is for Christians

Some people feel the purpose of church is to serve its members, the saints who’ve been made right through Jesus. Their right standing in him places them on the inside. They expect church to meet their needs and their wants. If the church disappoints them in the slightest, most will go church shopping and leave for another destination that better matches their expectations.

If the purpose of church is to serve its members—and to a lesser extent, its attendees—it has an internal focus. It seeks to serve itself. Some people call this navel gazing.

The church’s initiatives seek to meet the preferences of its members. It does this by feeding the flock each Sunday morning (never mind that we’re supposed to feed ourselves), providing programs that the members want, and having a pastoral team that jumps whenever a member calls.

Churches for the Lost

Others say that the purpose of church is evangelism, to rescue the lost who need Jesus to save them. In this case, these churches have an external focus. They want to reach the world for Jesus, to convert sinners and bring them into the fold.

This fulfills Jesus’s final instruction to his followers to go out into the world and tell people about him (Matthew 28:19-20). We sometimes call this command, the great commission.

Churches Are for Both

Most churches claim to be for both the Christians (the insiders) and the lost (the outsiders). This is a more appropriate position with the implicit intent being to prepare the insiders to go into the world to connect with the outsiders.

Yet this seldom happens. Or if it does only a small minority follow through by going out and telling others about Jesus.

Most churches that claim to have both an inward and outward focus, however, major in meeting the members expectations and minor in telling the world about Jesus.

Though their ideals say one thing, their actions and investments counter that claim.

Do our actions honor Jesus by following his commands? If not, this is an ideal place to start. Click To Tweet

The Purpose of Church

The purpose of church should be to prepare its people to go into the world. In doing so they serve as a witness for Jesus through their actions and their words.

Though many people worry about the words they will say, their initial concern should be about their actions. This is because few will listen to what we say if what we do turns them off first.

Do our actions honor Jesus by following his commands? If not, this is an ideal place to start.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

We Need an Emergent Mindset

Seek Ways to Make Our Faith Communities Relevant to a Postmodern World

In the early 2000s there was much talk about the emergent church. The idea was to address shrinking church attendance by taking steps to be more pertinent to a younger audience, many who dismissed the religious practices of prior generations. These people weren’t turning their backs on Jesus, however, just the institutional church. Therefore, churches need an emergent mindset.

Though this need is even more pronounced now than ever, we don’t hear much about the emergent church movement anymore. But this wasn’t a fad that died out. It’s more likely that the people doing this aren’t talking or writing about it. My post, “What Happened to the Emergent Church?” addresses this.

Even so, for churches to remain pertinent to changing demographics, they need to embrace an emergent mindset. First, we need some background. In my post I wrote:

“The emergence movement seeks to reimagine church in fresh, new ways to connect with a disenfranchised society that is open to spirituality, albeit apart from the traditional church.”

What does this emergent mindset mean for today’s churches?

Avoid the Status Quo

If churches do the same things they’ve always done, they’ll get the same results. This means that for churches that want to reverse their decline in attendance will need to reverse their practices. This doesn’t mean they must change, or even should change, what they believe and teach—providing that it’s biblical. Instead, they need to reevaluate everything else they do that surrounds it.

Many churches today struggle with declining attendance and an aging congregation. For most of them, the only time they grow is when another declining church closes and those members seek another place to attend.

Advocate Change

To move away from status-quo church practices means to embrace change. Most people, however, don’t like change. This is especially true with long-time church members who have fixed expectations. They may oppose needed changes by threatening to withhold donations. They may even follow through.

In short, they use money to selfishly manipulate the church into doing what they want her to do.

To avoid this unproductive response as much as possible requires teaching about the need to adapt to meet changing societal expectations. Becoming what future generations need and will be drawn to requires an emergent mindset. This can help churches grow numerically and not shrink.

Launch New Initiatives

After about ten years of existence, churches move toward becoming institutions. As they do so, self-preservation becomes key and most other activities become secondary.

If you think your church is the exception to this truth, look at your numeric growth. If it’s stagnant, you are an institution. If you’re seeing healthy, Jesus-focused growth, you may have overcome this generalization. It’s also likely that you have an emergent mindset.

For everyone else, know that doing what’s required to attract the next generation is most difficult from inside an institution. Instead of attempting to do this from within, an alternative is to launch a new initiative that comes from your established church but is not a part of it.

Just make sure that this initiative your launching is truly something fresh and not merely repackaging what already isn’t working.

Make sure your church is around and viable to help future generations encounter Jesus in meaningful ways. Click To Tweet

Embrace the Emergent Mindset

Make sure your church is around and viable to help future generations encounter Jesus in meaningful ways. Doing so will require you to stop doing what you’re currently doing, embrace change, and start a fresh way for people to experience God.

It won’t be easy, but it is essential.

Categories
Christian Living

Who Teaches You?

Do Sermons Belong in Church?

We go to church to learn about God, right? So sermons belong in church, right?

Who told you that? It was likely the minister at your local church. That’s who I’ve heard it from, and church is always the place where I heard it.

Isn’t that self-serving?

Think about it. A church hires a preacher. The church pays the preacher. The preacher tells us we need to be in church every Sunday to learn about God and that he is the one to teach us. One of the things he teaches us is to give money to the local church, often 10 percent of our income.

Why does the local church need money so badly? In large part, it’s to pay the preacher. The greatest expense at almost all churches is payroll, usually over half of their total budget, sometimes much more.

We don’t need preachers to teach us; that’s the Holy Spirit’s job. Click To Tweet

So we hire someone who tells us we need him and then asks for money so he can stick around. If we didn’t revere our preachers so much and cling to our sacrosanct practices, I’d call this a racket.

As I read about the church in the New Testament, there is plenty of preaching. But I wonder if sermons belong in church. In the Bible, the preaching is always directed at those who are not following Jesus, the folks outside the church.

Yes, there is teaching inside the church, but I’ve not yet found any passage that says it happens every Sunday or is given by paid staff. In the examples I see, missionaries do the teaching when they come to visit or the congregation instructs one another as they share with each other.

John writes to the church and tells them plainly: “You do not need anyone to teach you.” Then he clarifies: “His anointing teaches you about all things.”

So it is God’s anointing, the Holy Spirit, who reveals truth to us. Therefore, we don’t need anyone to teach us, especially a paid preacher. John says so.

I suppose, then, if we go to church to learn, what the preacher should be telling us is how to listen to the Holy Spirit. Once we’ve learned that, the preacher’s job is done; we don’t need him to teach us anymore.

God’s anointed one will teach us and reveal truth to us. Then we can spend Sunday mornings sharing with each other what we’ve learned through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

But that will never happen. Preachers need to be needed, and they need us to pay them. They would never say anything to work themselves out of a job.

They want their paychecks too badly to tell us plainly what John said and what his words truly mean for the church of Jesus: We don’t need preachers to teach us; that’s the Holy Spirit’s job.

[1 John 2:27]

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Don’t Be a Baby Christian

Learn How to Eat Spiritual Food and Feed Yourself

The author of Hebrews (who I suspect was Paul) warns the young church, the followers of Jesus, that they need to grow up. Though many of them should be mature enough to teach others, they still haven’t grasped the basics themselves.

They persist in drinking spiritual milk when they should have graduated to solid food.

A Baby Christian

When most people hear about this passage, they assume the baby Christians, those subsisting on milk, are other people. They reason that this verse couldn’t be a reflection on their own spiritual status—or lack thereof.

The truth is that I fear the church of Jesus is comprised of too many spiritual infants.

If you don’t believe me, let’s unpack this analogy. In the physical sense, babies drink milk and are wholly dependent on others to feed them. As babies grow they graduate to solid food and begin to feed themselves, first with help and then alone.

This is how things function with our physical bodies and how things should function with our spiritual selves.

Mature Christians can feed themselves and don’t need a sermon every Sunday. Click To Tweet

The Sunday Sermon

So when people go to church on Sunday to hear a sermon, they expect their pastor to feed them. They subsist on spiritual milk. They are a baby Christian. Instead they should feed themselves and don’t need to hear a sermon every week in order to obtain their spiritual sustenance.

When pastors feed their congregation each Sunday, they keep their people in an immature state (albeit with more head knowledge) and help justify their continued employment. Instead pastors should teach their church attendees how to feed themselves, to not need a pastor to teach them.

If ministers do this, they could work themselves out of a job. But that’s okay, because there are plenty of other churches in need of this same teaching.

Some might infer this means that the mature Christians, those who can feed themselves, don’t need to go to church. This is only half correct.

Mature Christians can feed themselves and don’t need a sermon every Sunday, but they do need to meet together and be in community with other believers.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Hebrews 5-7, and today’s post is on Hebrews 5:12-14.]

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Categories
Christian Living

To Be Served or to Serve Others

Consider Your Attitude toward Church and Your Motivation for Going

When I listen to people talk about church, I often hear what draws them in and what drives them away. They enthuse about programs for them and the youth group for their kids. They gush about the skill of the minister delivering inspiring sermons, the excellence of the worship team, and the size of the church. They never mention opportunities to serve others.

And when they leave a church or complain about the one they’re attending, two common phrases are “it’s not meeting my needs” and “I’m not being fed.” Never mind that it’s their job to feed themselves, and they shouldn’t expect church to do it for them. They attend church with a consumer mindset, but this is not what church is about.

To Be Served

In short, these folks desire for their church to serve them. That’s why they selected it, why they became members, and why they attend. And when the church falters in meeting their expectations, it’s also why they leave, often in a huff and complaining to anyone who will listen.

They expect something in return for their presence and for the money they give. They have a transactional perspective: “I show up and give you money so that you will give me something of greater value in return.” Seldom do they seek opportunities to serve others.

To Serve Others

Only once have I heard someone complain that their church provided no service opportunities for them. My friend quietly found a new church that provided options to serve others. The family quickly got involved and plugged in by serving others.

Jesus freely gave to serve others, and we should follow his example. Click To Tweet

Not only is this an admirable attitude, but it’s also something Jesus modeled. Jesus didn’t expect others to serve him (though some chose to do so); he looked for ways to serve them. He taught them, healed them, and pointed them to the kingdom of God, all without expecting anything in return (Mark 10:45).

In the end, he died for them—and for us—covering our many failures (sins) to make us right with Father God and reconcile us to him. He gave his life for us, so that we could live with him forever (Matthew 20:26-28).

Jesus freely gave to serve others, and we should follow his example.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

How a Business Mindset Influences the Church

A Church and Its Congregation Shouldn’t Let a Corporate Mentality Infiltrate It’s Thinking

In “Why Business Practices Hurt the Church” we discussed how business thinking has improperly affected the big-picture perspectives of church. Yet the business mindset goes deeper than that, negatively influencing church practices and attendee attitudes.

Spiritual Outcomes Are Not Quantifiable

The business world measures everything, but when churches try to do that, they end up with a focus on finances and attendance. This is a business mindset, not a spiritual one.

Churches shouldn’t measure their success numerically. And when they do, they shift the focus from what matters to God to what matters to humans.

We can’t measure changed lives, but that’s precisely what matters most to God.

Measure What Matters

I once attended a church’s annual meeting. They spent much time talking about the 103 baptisms they did that year and the 103 people who joined their church. It was a grand celebration of their success and the marvelous manner of God at work.

However, as an addendum to the end of their meeting, they shared their beginning and ending membership numbers. The difference was not 103 but one! In a busy year with 103 baptisms and 103 new members, they had only grown by one person. That meant 102 people quit their church.

Don’t measure what makes you feel good, but count what matters.

Churn

The business world calls this loss of customers churn. If a business churns customers so fast that all their effort is spent trying to stay even, then something is wrong, seriously wrong. But this church wasn’t smart enough to realize that—or at least to admit it.

Some churches call this the back door. They grow when people come in the front door and shrink when these folks slip out the back door. Another apt term is leaking. Some churches leak people—a lot of people.

Churn is bad for both businesses and churches. It must be fixed, yet the approach to do so differs. The business mindset addresses churn by looking at customer service and product offerings. Churches should not.

Their problem goes much deeper than service and product, but until they realize this, they’ll never fix it.

The Consumer Mentality

When people feel free to leave a church, often over the smallest of slights, they view themselves as a customer shopping for the church that offers the most value. This is a consumer mindset, not a godly perspective.

We shouldn’t shop for a church that provides the services we want. Instead we should look for a faith community we can help.

We shouldn’t shop for a church that provides the services we want. Click To Tweet

Consumerism Turns the Church into a Service Provider

When people go church shopping, the church becomes a service provider. Which church offers the best services? Then the focus shifts to programs, service styles, and preaching power.

Instead of asking, “What can the church do for me?” the better question becomes “What can I do for the church?” Don’t seek to be served but to serve.

Customer Complaints

The business that wants to improve, grow, and remain viable listens to its customers. While we all like to hear good news from happy people, the real value comes from the frustrated people who still care enough to share their opinion. So the wise business leader listens.

Yet when most people apply this attitude of a business mindset to their church and share their “concerns” with their pastor or church leaders, they do so with the wrong motives. In reality they want to turn the church into their vision of an ideal congregation that fits them perfectly.

Their so-called concerns are little more than a selfish attempt to change the church into what they want for themselves.

Church is Not about the Customer Experience

Businesses talk much about the customer experience. They strive to make the experience of each customer the best they can in order to retain patrons who will continue to buy from them.

When church leaders apply this to their congregation, they begin pandering to the demands of members in order to maintain their attendance and receive their offerings each week. Yet each move in this direction is a step away from God.

Members Are Not Customers

Applying business practices to church implies that members are customers. This carries with it all sorts of negative connotations, such as a consumerism mindset and the need to maximize the lifetime value of members, that is their donations.

The best response is for churches to do away with membership. After all, it’s not biblical.

While modern business practices do much to advance the cause of capitalism and commerce, these same thoughts hurt the church. We must keep this from happening.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

Church Membership Has Its Privileges

Why We Shouldn’t Join a Church

A few decades ago American Express unveiled the tagline: “Membership has its privileges.” Their ads implied that great benefits awaited those who qualified to carry one of their exclusive cards.

To start, there was a high annual fee and, as I understand, minimal annual levels of usage for their various membership tiers. The card became a status symbol, separating the fortunate few who carried it from the masses who didn’t. It generated pride and caused envy.

Church does the same thing when it touts membership. To become a church member, there are hoops to jump through: attend classes, agree to certain teachings, follow specific rules, and commit to donate money, possibly even at a certain annual level.

Once we do so, the church accepts us as one of its own. We are fully embraced and become one of the flock. We are elite, and, even if we won’t admit it, we swell with pride over our special status. Now the church and her paid staff will care for us.

To everyone else, they offer tolerance but withhold full acceptance. After all, church membership has its privileges.

There’s one problem.

Church membership separates attendees into two groups. Click To Tweet

Church Membership Is Not Biblical

We made it up.

Having members separates church attendees between those on the inside and everyone else; it pushes away seekers. Membership splits the church of Jesus, separating people into two groups, offering privileges to one and instilling resentment in the other.

It is a most modern concept, consumerism at its finest.

To my shame, I have been a church member. Never again.

Although perhaps well intended, membership divides the church that Jesus wanted to function as one. Jesus accepted and loved everyone, not just those who followed him or offered money.

Paul never gave instructions about church membership, Peter never commanded we join a church, and John never held a new membership class.

I confess my sin of being sucked into this unholy institutional practice of church membership, at both the local and denominational level. I stand in horror over my role in promoting division among the followers of Jesus. Father, forgive me.

Though I will never again join a church as an official member, I am open to attend one, to immerse myself in community, to engage in corporate worship, and to serve others.

This is what church should be. This is what the early church did. This is what Jesus wanted when he prayed for unity. And this is what I will do.

Read more about this in Peter’s new book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.