By Dan Vis
September 16, 2019
As we continue our focus this month on building more effective ministries, I decided to pull out an article that looks at some of the more systemic problems our churches face, and suggest a few ideas for moving forward.
Just before ascending to heaven, Jesus left the church an important work: to take the Gospel to every creature. And the church has been working at it ever since. For 2000 years, we've sought to take the message of salvation to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.
But many churches today are struggling to make an impact. It's rare these days to hear someone complain: "behold, ye have filled [insert city] with your doctrine" (Acts 5:28Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us.). Few express alarm about believers who are "[turning] the world upside down" (Acts 17:6And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also;). Rather, sociologists are wondering if Christianity will survive more than a generation or two.
The statistics are startling. Some 85% of churches in North America have plateaued or are in decline. Most mainline denominations are hemorrhaging membership. And public perception is changing. One recent survey of 1000 Americans asked whether they saw the church as a positive, neutral, or negative influence in their community. Only 14% saw it as helpful. More than half viewed the church as doing more harm than good!
That should give us cause for concern. We must find ways to unshackle the potential for ministry hidden away in our churches.
I believe part of the problem is that many churches have failed to mobilize their members. In many churches, only a small percentage of exhausted leaders do the vast majority of the work. And most of those efforts revolve around just keeping things going.
Rather than exploring new and creative ways to reach out into our communities, we've taken a defensive posture--and spent most of our energy preserving a handful of traditional ministries. Few churches have taken the time to identify current needs in the community, and connect them to lasting solutions. As a result, few churches are making much impact.
The church should be bursting with outreach ideas. Every member should know how to awaken spiritual interest, build relationships, and draw people to Christ from whatever targeted segment of society God calls them to reach. Every church should be a beehive of unique and innovative ministries. And it can be, if we will re-commit to mobilizing members.
A New Way of Thinking
The transition starts with a change in thinking. It won't be easy, but it will definitely be worth the effort. In the paragraphs below I suggest seven bold ideas that are foundational to unshackling your church:
- The church was organized for service. We've been given a clear assignment: the Great Commission. Every priority should be given to reaching outward.
- The call to ministry extends to every member, whether we've been elected to a church office or not. The goal should be 100% member engagement.
- Recognize that there is infinite diversity in the body of Christ, and that God has a special ministry calling for each person, based on their unique interests, resources, and background.
- Church leaders should promote training that encourages members to find their distinct place of service, and then equips them with the essential skills of ministry development.
- Every member should be encouraged to launch some exciting new outreach ministry, or plug into an existing outreach ministry of the church that inspires them.
- Those in elected leadership positions should see their primary responsibility as promoting and coordinating ministry by members, rather than doing all the work of ministry themselves.
- Each local church should create an organizational structure that recognizes, supports, integrates, and encourages ministry done by members.
While I don't have time to develop all of these concepts more fully here, if you are a pastor or church leader you may enjoy this article on Managing Ministry. But it's easy enough to follow these ideas through to their conclusion, and see that it could lead to a radical change in most churches. Specifically, it would unshackle the church.
It Starts With You
Imagine the scene. Members all through your congregation, reaching out to all sorts of groups in your community, in unique and innovative ways. Ministry to artists, roofers, diabetics, members of specific cults, single moms, golfers, college students, and the list goes on. Each group being reached by some dedicated member, or group of members, using strategic methods specifically adapted to the needs of that group.
Everywhere, an interest in spiritual things is being awakened. Every contact nurtured and cultivated. Countless relationships are growing. Countless Bible discussions are taking place. Countless questions are being answered. A steady stream of seekers are finding their way to Christ.
And those who do come to faith, are nurtured, cared for, and discipled. Ultimately, they too are equipped and deployed to minister to some new unreached corner of your community. Everywhere there is a sense of expectancy. Of urgency. Of mission. Can you envision it?
Only one thing stands between that vision and today: individuals willing to lead the way. To step out, and launch that first new ministry. Or the next one. Won't you determine to be a part of the vision? To unshackle your church, starting with you?
Take the Next Step
Ever wondered why many churches fail to draw people from their communities? It may be because critical pieces are missing from their ministry plans! Our Unleashed Ministry Model explores the 7 essential components to building an effective ministry.
To learn more about this exciting class, click here:
Anything in this article resonate with you? Does your church operate any unique or innovative ministries? Can you point to specific ministries in your church that are consistently bringing people to Christ? How important is it for churches to be serious about reaching their community? Share your thoughts below...
|Posted by Dan Vis on 09/20/19||MEMBER|
That's the point exactly Ann. Discipleship is how we help people become more spiritually yielded to God. If we don't provide that training, no amount of ministry encouragement will work. But I've seen countless people who showed little interest in ministry blossom when we address their personal spiritual needs. It works consistently.
But of course prayer is an important part of that! :)
Praise God Valerie! I've found most church members are willing to pitch in, but they want to see something working first. Everyone's busy, and no one wants to waste time on stuff that's not bearing fruit. So show results, and people will be willing to get on board and help. Let's be that spark!
|Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 09/20/19||MEMBER|
I read this and only see how far my small church is from the ideal yet I am not going to outline its deficits but rather look to God for help. I can be an instrument for Him and ideally a spark to ignite others to service. There is a willingness to work overall so prayer and correct teaching can go a long way. Pray with me that there can be openness to the truth.
|Posted by Ann Lavenburg on 09/20/19||MEMBER|
|If members are not spiritually yielded to God they will not respond to these methods. Prayer is the key|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 09/19/19||MEMBER|
Ann, I've found the best way to motivate people, is not to urge them into ministry, but to invite them into discipleship. Then as they begin to grow spiritually, they become more interested in service.
If you've seen our Explosion Formula booklet you know there are stages of growth, from Spiritual Babe to Disciple to Worker. Trying to push babes to do work is rarely effective.
Or as that booklet puts it: short-cuts short-curcuit the plan. There's a process by which spiritual babes become disciples, and disciples become workers. If we want to engage our members, and avoid that frustration you describe, we have to understand and follow that process. Take a peek at that booklet if you haven't already. :)
|Posted by Ann Lavenburg on 09/19/19||MEMBER|
|I’m praying that members will be interested in a deeper spiritual relationship so that they will desire to participate in training. We’ve tried all kinds of things. They won’t even participate in socials. 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 09/18/19||MEMBER|
Funny Ann, I just posted a comment somewhere else on this exact issue. I think I'll just cut and paste it right here:
I think it begins with real discipleship training. Most members in the church are not effective workers because they have not had adequate spiritual training. If you can invest in them, they will become more competent to do ministry in time. That's what our discipleship track is all about of course. If you church is a training team, you can use our tools to begin working with them...
I just fixed the Help Hotline, a temporary glitch. Will send a note about your other question directly...
|Posted by Ann Lavenburg on 09/18/19||MEMBER|
Motivating people is an issue. We worked hard at our church getting ready for evangelism and still did not have any baptisms. I am currently in a Bible Study with a neighbor that we helped and I have been praying for but no baptisms from hours spent witnessing door to door and $$ spent. This past weekend 22 of us participated in PA's Faith For Family outreach in south east PA. We are planting seeds an praying for a harvest.
PS the help page is not available. So I am asking if there is a way to generate cards from a review list?
|Posted by Dan Vis on 09/16/19||MEMBER|
|I'm sure God will show you a path forward Danny!|
|Posted by Danny on 09/16/19||MEMBER|
Thanks for your encouraging comments.
I know God is in control and there is a reason for all of this. I am great full God has allowed it to happen and for the experience.
The reason we were shut down was because we followed the counsel in the Spirit of Prophecy and were successful (because we were obedient to God’s Word!)
The enemy was going to attack because of this.
Yes, God has His plans, just waiting on Him now.
|Posted by Dan Vis on 09/16/19||MEMBER|
My heart goes out to you Danny! I don't know all the circumstances, but I do know it is a common problem. Many times pastors and church leaders have had bad experiences in the past with negative or critical individuals/ministries and that can make them very defensive. God can heal this fear, but it often takes time and a consistently supportive attitude.
I'm sure if you ask God He can show you a way to continue doing ministry personally, even if it ends up being self funded, or a smaller scale than you would like. Seems you definitely have some ability to think strategically and to operationalize things. A good place to spark some ideas is our Unleashed course.
You may also be able to attract a few other church members to work with you and build a ministry team. We talk more about this in our Revival Keys course. If you haven't taken that, I'd definitely recommend taking a look next time it opens up. And keep looking for ways to plug that ministry into your local church. The doors will open with time, and as you experience success.
This article really has two goals: 1) to empower members to get involved in lay ministry and 2) for leaders to be more supportive and empowering of these lay ministries.
Prayers are with you that both happen!
|Posted by Berith Bermejo on 09/16/19||MEMBER|
And God does intervene, Danny. I also felt like that a couple of years ago, maybe not to the extent that I was hindered by the leadership but that there was no support. The few that were open to ministry continued to be active, and only by God's grace were we able to start a church plant that is growing today.
I don't know what God's going to do for your situation, but I'm praying for you and your church. Philippians 3:13-1413 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
|Posted by Danny on 09/16/19||MEMBER|
Easy enough to say. Church members are being shackled and controlled by leaders rendering them unable to serve in a “church setting”. I was personal ministries leader 2 years ago. My team and I implemented health expos a Good Samaritan centre and other programs working with the community. While God was blessing, the devil used church leadership to shackle us and render us null and void. Now the church is not doing any ministry and are happy to be stagnate.
God allows this, but those who desire to work are often hindered by the enemy.
It’s so not easy to just give advice on “unshackling the church” but when the leadership have control over the people then we have to wait for God to intervene.
|Posted by Dan Vis on 08/13/18||MEMBER|
It is true Monica, sometimes people are resistant to change. If we can't spark change in the whole church, we can sometimes do it in one department. If not there, we can always launch some small ministry of our own. As God blesses in whatever sphere of influence we have, our ability to create greater change will increase. So it's a process. But God gives grace!
Glad you will be joining us in Worker Tools...
|Posted by Monica on 08/12/18||MEMBER|
The old finds it difficult to embrace the new. The new are not encouraged to join in and if you try to join in you are seen to ambitious, am only here to worship and go back home. At present even thoough our team for this year is Missions I am yet to see any unique or innovative outreach in our community. Reason I have sign up to Worker Tools.
Thank for sharing your thoughts.
|Posted by Fiona van Wyk on 08/10/18||MEMBER|
|Thanks, Dan. I have just signed up!! I look forward to that. :-)|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 08/09/18||MEMBER|
|Great Fiona, looking forward to having you with us, as always!|
|Posted by Fiona van Wyk on 08/09/18||MEMBER|
|So true, Dan, about a church needing to be productive, not just active. Something to remember. The class sounds like one to attend. Thank you for that.|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 08/07/18||MEMBER|
That's a wonderful way to reach out into the community Carole, and yes we should always be warm and welcoming! Of course these are only part of the process. In particular there needs to be some way to move people to decision. We'll explore the entire process more fully in Worker Tools.
Sounds like your church is thriving Berith! What a wonderful testimony. Hopefully one or more members can join us for the upcoming training. It's perfect for growing churches that want to fine tune their outreach strategies. Though I believe it will also be helpful for established churches wanting to reinvigorate existing ministries. Very exciting!
AnnMarie, love your comments to Dixie, and I can assure you she does just that. She and her husband were wonderful encouragers at our church in Illinois! As for Worker Tools, go ahead an sign up now. It doesn't start until the 19th. And you want to make sure you don't miss the cut off date on the enrollment period. Be sure to say hi to Johnny!
|Posted by AnnMarie Goyen on 08/07/18||MEMBER|
Hi Dixie please don't under-estimate the powerful role you can still play as a "senior". While you may not be up to being as involved as you used to be with your energy and talents, you now have an opportunity to give a most precious gift. Time and encouragement to others. Look for someone around you that you see God moving in their life - maybe in an area of ministry where you loved to work and speak words of affirmation and encouragement into their journey. Pray for them - and let them know. Give a card - recently I received one from a friend with a little poem she wrote - it is a beautiful thought that will make me think for weeks to come. Remember the things that used to be really hard for you and share wisdom on how to avoid some of the potholes that make serving in God's kingdom harder than it needs to be.
Hi Dan, very excited about worker tools and will sign up shortly - once I have finished prayer secrets. We have just completed ministry placement and I am now Discipleship elder for the next two years. I have been thinking and praying about how to introduce your materials to the church and now I have the mandate to do this. Need everyone's prayers as to God's wisdom and timing so as to bring maximum blessing to the Church. Also super excited that Johnny Wong will be coming to my church next month in Auckland NZ to share at our regional day. Hoping to pick his brains too :)
|Posted by Berith Bermejo on 08/06/18||MEMBER|
|Everything resonates with me. Our mother church started a fellowship that has Sabbath services in a vegetarian restaurant in the city. Since it started last year, it has brought 6 souls to the Lord with a number of seekers regularly attending. Being part of this fellowship has been such a blessing to others, and especially to core members who started it. We have all grown in faith.|
|Posted by Carole Bliss on 08/06/18||MEMBER|
|One of the outreach ministries our senior Pastor does, is to make cookies and bring them to the firemen and policemen in our community. They learn who we are, and are invited to come visit our church. One Sabbath, they came and were honored by our Pastor with a plaque.|
This is done with our hospital across the street also.
We are encouraged to reach out to our neighbors, friends, people within the church, we may not know, get to know them. Greet visitors, connect them with people of like interests in the church. Be a warm and welcoming person, wherever we are.
Good Message, Thank-you,
|Posted by Dan Vis on 08/06/18||MEMBER|
What a powerful story Pam, and what a difference working together in ministry can make! Ministry is more than service, but ministry without service doesn't usually work. :)
Hi Dixie, there is a special need for those who are bit younger to take up the mantle from those who are a bit older. We need to praise God will raise up more from that generation. Of course, God has something for all of us--but it's always adapted to our needs, gifts, and abilities. I'm thankful for that!
|Posted by Dixie Mende on 08/06/18||MEMBER|
|Thank you, Pamela, for your story about the church ladies cleaning and cooking for a rival pastor's family. It is encouraging to me to know that humble efforts mean just as much and every little bit helps. Some of us are now seniors who have had a life of service but can not now do what we use to do. thank you again.|
|Posted by Pamela Kendall on 08/06/18||MEMBER|
Your mention of a "beehive" above reminded me of various object lessons that illustrate the principle of teamwork - everyone working, and everyone working toward the common goal of reaching the community for Jesus. Bees, and ants ( Proverbs 6:6Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: ) all work together to bring back a harvest of food for their queen and the whole tribe. Ants especially team up to carry food items many times their size. And tree branches connected firmly to the trunk (Jesus) reach out in all directions pouring forth life-givng oxygen for the entire area around them (and each branch also produces seeds/fruit).
It reminds me of a story I recently read in the August 2018 issue of Adventist Frontiers magazine (pages 32-34). The missionary learned that his former opponent (former pastor of a different denomination that had resisted the missionary's work) was in serious difficulty. His wife was ill/demon possessed and not able to care for the children and housework well - the children's clothes were dirty, the house was dirty, not enough food to eat, etc. The missionary felt inadequate for the task of "catching a big fish" - a pastor for God as he felt the pastor had more education than he did. God told him to use what he had and not to do it alone and he gave him the "ant" illustration above. He talked to his wife who mobilized the ladies of the church to go and do the laundry clean the house, cook for the family etc. The pastor was away trying to recruit help from his former members who all either made excuses or didn't show up to help. When the pastor returned from his fruitless mission he found the house clean, food cooking, etc and he was overwhelmed with the display of love and compassion for his family. The next Sabbath without invitation, the pastor (former opponent of the SDA missionary) showed up at church with his children - this mobilization of church members and the work they did was not only ministry, it was effective ministry!
|Posted by Dan Vis on 08/06/18||MEMBER|
Fiona, I love that the church is active and out in the community. But the goal of course is not just being active, it's being effective. In other words, if you spend lots of time and money sowing to the community, but you never reap a harvest there's a breakdown in the process. That's why the Worker Tools course is so important. It shows how to build ministries that actually work.
I love this quote from an old hero of mine.
Emotion is no substitute for Action
Activity is no substitute for Productivity
Production is no substitute for Reproduction
Pretty thought provoking isn't it?
|Posted by Fiona van Wyk on 08/06/18||MEMBER|
|Interesting thoughts, Dan. One church I know of nearby, has a group that goes out to do the gardens of anyone in the community; they also have a community meal one evening a week; also a prayer group; a craft group, sometimes a Bible study on Sabbath afternoon - it is not a large church, but it is an active one. It is true - we all need to get involved. It is good for me and good for the community! :-)|
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