Part 1 of 5
What we described in last week’s post, whether you realized it or not, was a decentralized church. If you implement The ABCs of Church Revitalization, the orientation of your church will necessarily shift away from a pastor and building-centric mentality. Over the coming weeks, we’ll build on that ABC foundation, those elementary principles, and provide practical steps and proven models to vastly increase your church’s footprint through decentralization.
Look through the phrases in the next section and check off the ones you’ve heard leaders at your church say recently. If you’ve heard at least 15 of them, then chances are your church is fairly healthy. By healthy, I mean biblical. Each of those phrases is a sign that your church is being properly run as an ekklesia or “assembly” of “called-out ones” equipped to live out the Great Commission rather than as a centralized institution where people are treated as “customers” to attract and retain. For comments you haven’t heard, see if you’ve encountered the corresponding “red flag” phrases, which indicate tendencies to depart from the biblical definition of “church” and its intended “customer” – i.e. the “lost” in the community that the ekklesia should be pursuing.
By the way, churches too often associate growth with health. However, getting bigger doesn’t necessarily imply more disciples or Kingdom impact. Many churches become larger the wrong way – by attracting non-believers and “stealing sheep” from churches that simply can’t compete with the facilities, amenities and programs they offer. In fact, for most Americans, losing weight is the first step to better health. Likewise, a church that invokes the ABCs will drive away many not ready to commit to living for Jesus, leaving only those who accept their biblical responsibility to BE the church personified, making the church temporarily smaller but permanently healthier.
Phrases Pastors are Often Heard Saying in a Healthy Church…
- “It’s your responsibility to lead people to Christ.” VS. “Please hand out these invitation cards.”
- “Dig in to scripture and learn how to share and defend your faith.” VS. “Just tell your story because no one can refute that.”
- “Surrendering to Christ is about life transformation into His image.” VS. “Simply repeat after me…”
- “Let’s see where the Holy Spirit leads our worship service today.” VS. “This is the way we’ve always done it.”
- “If you’re not making any disciples you’re not living out the Great Commission.” VS. “Support the mission team we’re sending to our sister church in Haiti next month.”
- “You should be the pastor of your neighborhood.” VS. “We’re a pastor-led church.”
- “Your street, workplace and family are your personal mission fields.” VS. “Can you lead a small group this Fall for us?”
- “Changing lives of those less fortunate requires forming lasting relationships.” VS. “We need a few more volunteers for our holiday outreach event.”
- “We’re planting a new ministry to reach underprivileged youth in our community.“ VS. “We can’t take on any more local missions projects until we finish construction of the new building.”
- “We’re going to set aside the first fruits of all giving to bless the ‘least of these’ in our city, following Jesus’ model of leading with compassion.” VS. “Without your generous support, we can’t meet our church expenses this year.”
- “We’re launching a personalized discipleship track we expect all members to complete.” VS. “We’re launching our new Small Groups and hope many of you will join one.”
- “Small Groups should act as Neighborhood Groups, responsible for praying, caring and sharing the Gospel with those where your group meets.” VS. “Our Small Groups are designed to build friendships and foster fellowship among our congregants – they’re welcome to study whatever curriculum they’d like.”
- “How can we more fully utilize our facilities throughout the week to meet the pressing needs all around us?” VS. “We can’t host those foster care workshops because they conflict with our Wednesday night services.”
- “I wonder how our church’s impact would increase if we raised up and planted ‘home churches’ in local apartment complexes.” VS. “How can we boost weekend attendance?”
- “Every deacon, elder and their wives should be discipling a couple people if we’re ever going to transition from addition to multiplication.” VS. “Deacons and elders are already overwhelmed as it is managing church affairs and visitations.”
- “Let’s relieve those three members from some of their responsibilities here at the church and mentor them to help start their prison ministry.” VS. “We can never find enough volunteers to tackle all the roles we have to fill each weekend.”
- “Our worship services are designed to equip and refresh the saints for the work of ministry.” VS. “We give the invitation every weekend because there are so many non-believers among our congregants and our members aren’t very good at sharing their faith.”
- “Actually, the fact that he is a long-time member and influential leader is exactly why we have to go to him directly about this.” VS. “If you confront him about that, I don’t think we’ll be seeing him again and it could cause a split.”
- “Our goal here is not loyalty to our church, but a life changing relationship with the Lord.” VS. “Too many people are slipping out the back door – how can we get more to engage here at the church?”
- “Our leaders alone can’t possibly reach this area for Christ – we need an army of servant evangelists.” VS. “Our city continues to move away from the Lord – there’s little we can do but gather and pray that their hearts will change.”
Resistance to Decentralizing
If you’ve heard the second phrases far more than the first ones, it’s not surprising. If your church operates in a centralized mindset, you’re in good company. Decentralization does not come easy. Churches have banked their futures, jobs, finances, etc. on the “skyscraper” concept – not taking up much ground; growing up but not out. Most church leaders feel adopting or morphing into the church structures and models we’ll be addressing in the coming weeks would risk all they’ve worked so hard to build. They fear relinquishing power, knowledge and responsibility much more now than they did when they first planted the church and had little to lose.
It’s Your Turn
What other statements have you heard at a church that would indicate a predominantly centralized view and definition of “church”?