So, What’s Up with Your Church?

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I’m absolutely slammed over the next five days, especially as I gear up a “Best of 2007” compilation, go count birds for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count this weekend, handle other Audubon biz, meet with my small group, handle some things for the wife, and attempt to clear my business plate.

What that means is that I put the ball in readers’ court.

My question:

For 2008, what’s the number one issue your own church needs to address?

I’d like to know. Perhaps it will even serve as grist for the Cerulean Sanctum mill.

Doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. It could even be something mundane like not having enough parking space. No need to super-spiritualize the issue.

Thanks for sharing!

34 thoughts on “So, What’s Up with Your Church?

  1. Good question. I’m going to be involved in planting a church in the next few months, so the answer would be different than if you had asked a couple of weeks ago – or not.

    I think the biggest question the new church (or any church) needs to answer is: How do we focus on the Gospel and teach our congregation that it is more than just something for “salvation”, but that the power of the Gospel is for every area of life. A focus on the grace of God in Jesus Christ will affect more than just our Sunday meetings, it will reach into our day-to-day as we show that grace and love to those we meet.

    I believe that a focus on the Gospel and grace will lead us to go into our communities and have an impact that no program will.

    • Fred,

      I wish I knew the magic formula for getting us thinking about our neighbors. I struggle immensely with the amount of stuff I need to do in a day and how much that stuff interferes with thinking about others.

  2. Brian

    The church I am attending currently is very large, but the building only holds so many, so services are divided into 5 or 6 different times from saturday night to sunday. Anyway my problem is that I never see the same people twice, how can I get to know anyone?

    • Brian,

      That’s an enormous problem and one reason why I personally feel the megachurch model does not work in America. Most would say that small groups are the answer, and they ARE the answer in Asian and South American countries. But that model does not work as well here in the US, and we need to discover an alternative.

      • It would seem to me that a lot of Americans like the anonymity of the megachurch model.

        Doesn’t Asia (Korea?) have it’s share of megachurches supported by the cell group model?

        So if the megachurch supported by small groups is not the answer here, are you thinking that it is just smaller fellowships that may work?

        Don

        • Don,

          Joe Myers, in his book The Search to Belong, wrote that studies show that the best a church in the US can do with small group participation is about 35% of congregants. That leaves about two out of three people out of the loop. When you compare this with Asian and South American participation, you find the huge disparity.

          Why? Because of the staunch individualism we uphold in this country. No one can tell anyone else what to do, even if it’s your church doing the telling. We’ve created a disconnected society of bootstrappers that resists fellowship except on the individual’s limited terms.

  3. We are a very small rural church…no paid pastor or staff…rent a school building from a now-defunct RC church…probably will see that property sold within the next year and don’t know where we will meet.But those are not real issue.The real issue IMO is to make Jesus Christ central in all we/I say and all we/I do. It isn’t numbers or real estate. It’s the reality of Christ, first, last and always in our relationships as individuals and as a body of believers.Kat

  4. While I won’t speak for my church in particular, I will comment about the church at large in my area. There is a lot of talk about “authentic community” and “doing life together” (not quite sure what both terms mean, but it seems like they should have been trademarked by someone), most churches seem to be more like narcissistic cloistered communities.

    I think that the issue that we need to address in 2008 is getting outside of the four walls. The end of the Gospel of Mark is a good guide –

    He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

    • Don Fields

      Don,

      I’m not sure we should consider community/fellowship at odds with evangelism. Just like we shouldn’t consider discipleship at odds with evangelism. I believe that true community is a help to evangelism and a powerful witness to the lost, yet I would agree with you that most churches have neither true community nor faithful evangelism.

      • Don,

        Good points. I was being somewhat sarcastic when I used the terms, as I hear them thrown around so much that they appear to be meaningless.

        I couldn’t agree with you more that community/fellowship, discipleship and evangelism go hand in hand.

        Blessings,

        Don

    • Don,

      Ah, the disputed ending of Mark! Non-Pentecostals/Charismatics love to tweak Pentecostals/Charismatics when we quote the end of Mark.

      But you’re right. Being new monastics is not going to encourage growth of the Church.

  5. Don Fields

    Determining what kind of church we will be.

    We have a new Senior Pastor and we have yet to develop an overarching strategy/philosophy/vision that will guide us in our decision making. This will guide us in what stays the same and what changes. It will tell us what to emphasize and deemphasize. It will guide us in our worship style and the overall atmosphere of our ministry.

      • Don Fields

        It was God-given, Holy Spirit-empowered, and simple.

        But a church has to determine if it is going to be simple or complex. We (more importantly the Senior Pastor) haven’t really made a clear-cut decision on that, so there are many questions among the people. Decisions are hard to make when you haven’t laid the philosophical foundation.

  6. Diane Roberts

    In my church and many others, we need the Holy Spirit to liven things up. Too many boring and snooze sermons. As for getting outside the walls, sorry folks. I don’t think most churches have equipped their people enough with the Spirit and the Word to get outside without messing up the society more. Sorry if I am cynical. But there is waaay too much going “out” with really nothing to give except “helping” people (which is good), but non-Christians do that all the time. So what is the difference between what we do? We also carry the gospel of what happened on a cross and a man on that cross at a historical moment in time. Uh Oh….I think I am feeling a blog post coming on at my blog. Darn Dan, you always do this to me–spark a post….LOL.

    • Diane,

      I think you hit the nail on the head when you ask about our empowerment. Most churches accomplish little because they have no direction and empowering by the Spirit to do the work God’s way. Their own way, perhaps. But not God’s way.

      Goes back to my post about my great hope for the Church in 2008.

  7. Becca

    We talked about this last Sunday night when only 6 people showed up for worship and Bible study. The pastor said we can’t force people to church and learning; they need to want to grow. I agree, but what do leaders in the church do to inspire them? No answer from the group.

    The services, classes, and fellowships that we currently have in this small, traditional church apparently aren’t doing it for the majority. Our average Sunday has dropped to around 40, when I know there is potential for 75 or more in the fringes of people who come on occasion or who have quit attending anywhere. The church’s impact on the lives of these people and their community isn’t even measurable. Do we just let these people drift and claim it’s their full responsibility to grow as a Christian or not?

    The handful of leaders are tired and discouraged. We need a spark that really can only come from the Holy Spirit. As one of those leaders, I know I need more personal time in the Word and prayer. I’m one who tends to volunteer for everything because I want to see good things done, but I know I need to start downloading on my commitments so God can be the priority.

  8. Holly

    Our church does so much well, on SO many levels, that I hesitate to mention one area. But it’s an issue that troubles my children to no end, and much as they love our church, it has been stumbling them in their walk on an increasing basis. (And, to be honest, it causes me difficulty as well, spiritually.)

    It’s the tendency for churches to want to blend what is sacred with what is common; to mix the holy things of God with the base elements of this decaying world. The pastor will give an excellent message that is truly infused with the power of God, then sadly drop references to pop culture into it that just defiles the whole sermon (at least, in our souls and minds). Could there just be one place where God’s name can be lifted up and held sacred and not stained with references to Paris Hilton, the Doors, Led Zeppelin or Britney Spears? It’s causing my children to increasingly lose respect for our pastoral leadership and, I fear, in the process become cynical about the authority and purity of the church.

    They’re not fools; my children know who Britney Spears is — and they openly question what place her name or behavior has in a sermon in a church setting. Isn’t it enough she’s all over the nightly news due to her latest shenanigan? Why can’t the church of God be a holy place for the redeemed (as well as those on the outside) to gather and sing songs to our beautiful, glorious Lord and hear of His greatness and glory, without having our souls defiled by referring to the base elements of this world? I think people just don’t realize that dropping a name like Britney or Paris isn’t just a “name” — it immediately invokes images in a listener’s mind of all kinds of sordidness — this by their own choosing.

    When a pastor or anyone else on staff mentions something like Britney Spears or some “cool” movie that’s out (and we never know what’s being referred to, since we almost never go to the movies, so we are lost in the sermon illustration, to boot!), what happens is my children go home and Google the name that was offhandledly mentioned in church. (For example, a pastor might say, “Years ago I had a collection of records like the Doors and Led Zeppelin, but God convicted me to not have them, so I got rid of them. But then I rebought them and now listen to them again.”)

    So my kids have in the past gone home and Googled (and iTuned) those names and proceeded to read scores of trashy material about these band members’ personal lives, drug use, sexual deviousness, etc etc. Kids are naturally curious, and when their pastor uses references to something, they almost always love to Google what it was he said and learn more at home. Normally this is a good thing! But NOT in the case of these pop culture references. And, it results in them developing a lowering of respect for the elders of our church.

    As for me, it makes me stumble because in the days before I became a believer, I was caught up in that whole element. As I grew in Him, it became an increasing stumbling block in my walk, to keep flooding the mind with that type of entertainment. It reminds a person of their past life before Christ and keeps you from really going on in the Lord –sort of like a poison, spiritually. Now, I grant you that some people can walk with the Lord and yet daily fill their minds with Satanic hard rock music and all sorts of dark music — I am just not one of them.

    So when references are made to these rock stars or pop artists, it has the effect of: “Well…maybe it wasn’t so deadly to my Christian walk after all….” so I reintroduce those things back into my life, because if the elders of our church think it’s OK, it surely must be…..and before I know it, I am way off course again in my walk. It has caused no end of spiritual trouble.

    Lastly, it makes it hard for me as a parent to teach my children to honor and respect church authority when so many church leaders think it cool (I guess?) to name-drop the latest pop icons. It amazes me how so many in the church have time to be so up to speed on all of it!

    Where do they find the time??

    Honestly, I mean that with all sincerity. By the time I am finished at work, then come home, clean the house, cook dinner, pay bills, teach the kids 2 Bible studies in the morning and night, intercessory prayer, and then serve twice a week in several outreaches to the low income and homeless across town — our family is beyond exhausted!! TV sitcoms — what is that??? There is no time for frivolous things, and I just don’t know or understand how so many Christians spend so much time on all this stuff.

    What’s more, WHY they do. “To be able to relate to unbelievers on their level?” I’ve heard that justification alot, and let me say, for years our family has worked in soup kitchens and clothing banks for the homeless, we’ve had countless hundreds of opportunities to speak of Christ, and I can count on one hand the number of times pop culture has come up to us as a springboard of evangelism. Almost always the springboard has been along the lines of “how to cope with life in this hard world of trials and pain — where is God in my suffering?” Now THOSE are issues we can definitely speak to! 🙂 2 Corinthians 1:4

    I guess the Lord has not made our family a “cool” Christian family — but He does faithfully cross our paths with the poor, the needy, and the downcast.

    I think I wrote a book –sorry. It’s just that was a very thought-provoking question you asked!!

    Blessings to you and your family this week, Dan.

    • Anonymous

      I so totally agree. I know this isn’t really the topic of this post, but the attempted “hip-ness” of so many churches is such a sticking point with me. My college-age kids want nothing to do with it. They are faithful, attend church at college, but have little interest in youth groups or campus type Christian organizations (such as Campus Life, Campus Crusade, etc.). They so tire of people encouraging them to attend Christian Rock concerts and asking them to listen to the latest and coolest Christian rock band. I ran across some Christian rock bands on a religion based tv station a few years ago; one very Goth-like with black eyes, hair, and nails and multiple piercings and one featuring a very Britney-esque lead singer. It made me sad. Is this what the youth of today will remember as church in their later years? What happens when, as we see happening now, the Britney’s of the world become “so last year”. Won’t the worship of their youth seem hopelessly silly? And then where is God? Just as silly? I hope not, but I fear so.

  9. A Pastor

    Holly,

    It is a grievous thing that the church today no longer can separate the sacred from the profane.

    “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said, †˜Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron held his peace.
    (Leviticus 10:1-3 ESV)

    We are offering up a lot of strange fire these days and it is only by the mercies of God that we are not likewise consumed.

  10. Dave Block

    Our key issue may be how to deal with growth without diminishing outreach. After a decade of being inwardly focused, we have developed an exciting ministry to the homeless and a small outreach to the county prison. Recently, our pastor and the majority of the leadership surprised many of us in a church meeting by recommending that we NOT buy a relatively inexpensive building offered for below market value because maintaining another facility would pull too much attention away from outreach. Despite the desire of many to increase pew capacity and provide a better facility for youth programs, the congregational vote followed their recommendation.

    It probably was the right thing to do. Still, we have the challenges of limited parking near a college and packed pews during our two services. Adding a service on Saturday nights has been mentioned as an option. That might be the best thing, but I would miss some people altogether most weeks. At least now if I go to a different service and Sunday school, I can see them between services or after the second service.

    There may be deeper spiritual issues, but this is the most obvious challenge in what I believe to be an increasingly vibrant church.

  11. marie

    The one thing I am concerned about in my fellowship is the lack of communication. We are a LifeGroup church and I would dearly love to know what is going on with all the LifeGroups. How do they minister to each other and to their neighbors? What is the LORD calling them to? Etc, etc, etc….

    We get little snippets here and there, but I want details!!! It’s so encouraging to know how God is at work in other groups. But, some of the leaders of these groups are turned off by having to report what is going on. (My husband is the LifeGroup Pastor and this is a HUGE frustration for him.) I suggested we start having competitions between the LifeGroups in order to keep up with each other better. And then report the results to the church as a whole when we gather together on Sundays in testimonial form by people from each group. (We are a small church).

    Thanks for the outlet Dan!

  12. Amy Heague

    Early last year, my husband & I were struggling with the whole youth group thing, there was SO much stuff we were encouraged to attend & we felt that there was an underlying sense of competition when it came to who had the biggest & coolest youth ministry. Well after placing it back with God, we ended up focusing on building individual relationships & one on one discipling. Well our attendance numbers dropped by 95% but I tell you what we now have a tribe of strong young people passionate about Christ & serving the body, we are now in the process of encouraging them to find someone to do the same with. Was it tough & taxing on our already full family life & Church commitments – YES, was it the best thing we ever did – YOU BET!!! What is even more exciting, is that as we discussed these things with our regional leaders, it appeared that God was saying the same thing to ALL of us. I am not from America, but I think the Church as a whole today is really struggling with the whole numbers game thinking.
    It is my hope that through Christ & the guiding of the Holy Spirit we will reach our community & be busting at the seams of our building capacity. But it is my hope that those people will be strong passionate disciples, not just church attenders.
    That said, I am much more convicted about our little youth ministry of 3 than I ever was with our youth group of 20.
    So, I say all that to say, our biggest hurdle at the moment, is working with the current members of our congregation who are happy just to bumble along & not jump on board with discipling OTHERS.
    I think as church leadership our biggest goal this year is not to ‘push’ serving, but to encourage our people to LOVE JESUS MORE. To reflect deeply on our Saviours love for us, His sacrifice, His grace, His Mercy, His forgiveness (etc.) I think a lot of Christians forget that stuff the longer they sit in the pew. Service & the desire to “reach all the world (aka your local community) comes out of your love for Christ, not just because it is a duty to be filled.

    Good question Dan, you do realise these responses will just get longer!!!!;-)

  13. Ben

    I am still on the honeymoon stage at the church I recently joined (two months ago), so I won’t comment on my experiences there…yet. But I could certainly describe several issues that my previous church should address.

    I left this last church because — bottom line — I wasn’t growing spiritually and sadly, there didn’t seem to be people there concerned about my spiritual growth. It took some months before someone from the 20somethings group invited me to join their mid-week get-together, which was rather unfortunate considering I attended this church all throughout college breaks (Xmas, summers, etc.) and knew many of the post-college folk on some level. When some group leaders approached me and invited me specifically, I expressed great interest. They asked me to write my e-mail address down since I wanted directions to the house. I did, but never heard from them. I’ve moved on from that church and have thankfully found a place where I’m growing. But my concern is with these same experiences that some of my siblings who still attend there are no doubt going through: no one seriously taking an interest in their spiritual life, which needs direction. While there are challenges for sure (e.g. quality vs. quantity) as the last post points out about youth, it’s still disconcerting that I’ve been so fortunate to have people speak so deeply into my life through relationships (outside the church in some cases!) and that that doesn’t seem to be happening in their lives. I don’t know… I guess that’s discipleship or something…

  14. Normandie

    My husband and I, like Ben, are in the honeymoon stage with our new (as of one year) multicultural church as it reaches out to a mixed community and does it well. The humility among the leadership first caught our attention: all focus on Jesus and none on them. How refreshing. Their small groups seem to be working to keep closeness within such a large body. My husband loves the Saturday morning men’s prayer meeting, which grows weekly. Their main issue right now involves resources to complete all the tasks they believe the Lord has given them–the newly enlarged sanctuary, outreach to save a dying church in a nearby university town, a youth center for this city that had 22 shooting deaths among youth last year. Fortunately, it’s also a church that understands Who provides, One who has never let them, or us, down.

    Like Ben, we fear for our former church, which, in trying to be culturally relevant, loses any sense of the sacred. Humility is touted as a goal, but pride looms large as a recognized, unconquered fault. One of our present pastors remarked that insecurity breeds pride. I think he’s correct, but if insecurity keeps the leadership from standing humbly before God, what is it going to do to the church?

  15. In my church, I have heard the talk about ‘more of a local/regional impact’ within the community. This even went to the point of where in the annual budget for 2008, monies for missions was increased, but overseas missions was cut 25 % and the balance to go towards local/regional missions. The church realized that even though it has helped needy people around the world, it was lacking in areas of helping people locally.

    This shift got started during Christmas when the church (for the first time since this program was started) did not promote Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child (Christmas gifts to overseas kids) but instead did Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree (Christmas gifts and food to local needy families where at least one parent is in jail/prison) where the person who bought the gifts actually delivered them to the families.

    The question is “How do we go out to reach our community while shattering the ‘stereotypes’ (republican, adulterous, politics riggers, money loving, masculinity-robbing, bigots, and anti-abortion signholders on the first Sunday in October) while at the same time not compromising the Gospel?”

    We’ve seen the fad trends come and go with major financial investments and little to show for in reference to both souls and operations. The Christian fitness club, the Christian coffeehouses, the Christian ‘nightclubs’, the Christian ‘alternative’ arcade have come and gone and the only people who went there were the church kids.

    We’ve seen the Christian ministries to the poor, the Christian ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ come and are still here and do help, but non Christians tend to avoid these places or learn to play the Christian game until the need is met because they expect to be condemned, sermons drilled into their ears, and (especially in the South) recruitment to join the Republican party to ‘vote in’ God during the next election.

    We’ve seen the other churches do ‘servant evangelism’ such as take the ghetto art off the concrete onramp to the bridge (to reappear next week), give bottled water to construction workers to not see them in church next Sunday, give away iPods-Wal Mart gift cards, etc. during the service, wrap Christmas presents for free at the local megamall, and very few of those people ever walk through the church door.

    We’ve seen other churches / ministries try to re-create the servant evangelism or the Christian nightclub believing they knew what went wrong and that they will not repeat the failures.

    Based on discussion, I believe that we are finally figuring out that no amount of servant evangelism, Christian cafes, ‘revival raffles’ to win a new car, Christian block parties, mass crusades, etc. is the solution. We are believing that being believers equipped with the Word to be doers of the word and that actions and time passed by doing the word will have more effect to produce quality converts and not quantity counts on the rollbooks.

    • Amy Heague

      Onward, Forward, Toward, I agree with you whole heartedly, but, I think we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak in underestimating the value of servant evangelism. Yes, not every person who receives this ‘service’ will ever walk through our church doors, but I know I did seven years ago & as I gave my life to the Lord, all those little moments of service from Christians that cared, added up to an overwhelming sense of God’s love for me, and if Heaven rejoices over the ‘one’, shouldn’t we?…
      The challenge for the Church is discovering the difference between serving because they think that is what they should do & trying to boost numbers & serving because that is where God has called them to to fulfil His purposes.

    • Onward –

      Great thoughts. Both you and Diane Roberts point out similar issues and hint at a similar resolution (Holy Spirit empowerment), but you both stop short of showing practical examples. I’d love to see either further comments here or a post on your blogs (which Diane hinted) that talk about some practical, Holy Spirit empowered, approaches to getting outside of the four walls.

      Blessings,

      Don

  16. Christlikeness.

    Folks at my church know how to be good. Most of them are good, some really good. They know (for the most part) how to give and help and care and support. They know how not to sin, and generally don’t (though there are always going to be exceptions).

    I just don’t think any of us really has a clue how to let His Spirit into our lives so that we can and will be like Him.

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