Category Archives: Church Life/Ministry

The Church and the Coronavirus Challenge

The Commission for Theological Integrity

By now it’s fair to say that not a single church has escaped the impact of concerns over the Coronavirus. Churches have been urged to consider measures to ensure people’s safety, along with schools, businesses, and virtually every other assembled group of people. Governors and public health officials have called for certain forms of activity to be suspended, especially when they involve even as few as 50 people. More recently our President has recommended we avoid groups of 10 or more.

This poses some obvious challenges to churches. The average church size is somewhere around 75 people. And many churches have a significant number of elderly members. While it appears that the virus is less deadly to younger people, they can in fact be carriers who transmit to it other persons. So any recommendations to suspend public gatherings are to be taken seriously, regardless of how we feel about them.

The Gospel Coalition and 9Marks are two parachurch ministries that have provided several helpful articles and suggestions on this topic you can easily find on their websites. But as Free Will Baptists try to think practically as pastors, church leaders, and laymen, we’d like to offer three key principles that ministries should follow during this challenging time. We won’t repeat all the important, standard reminders about washing hands regularly, not shaking hands, and covering our mouths when we cough. Suggestions of this sort have been well publicized by mainstream news organizations. However, we cannot help but view this situation in light of the theological commitments God calls us to.

We don’t experience this pandemic as generic American citizens; we’re disciples of Christ. We care about His church. Therefore, we want to see this situation through a specific theological lens, particularly three key doctrines:

Civil Obedience

Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17, and 1 Timothy 2:1-2 are substantial passages on the relationship between the church and the state. How we as Christians and churches relate to governing authorities is not insignificant. Naturally we don’t always agree with everything our leaders say or do (when have we ever?). Yet it is essential that unless we are asked to disobey Scripture, we should otherwise submit to governing authorities. In our American context this includes local officials, state officials, and federal officials. It’s safe to conclude that the Center for Disease Control, in our system of government, would be included in that. Whenever we hear multiple, rightly authorized institutions giving a mandate, we need to heed it. Whenever they make a suggestion, we need to give it careful consideration.

In addition to obedience, we need to pray for our leaders. God forgive us for where we have spent more time criticizing our elected and appointed officials than we have praying for them! First Peter 2 deals especially with our attitude toward leaders, while 1 Timothy 2 calls us to pray. After all, when officials make wise decisions, it promotes peace, not chaos. We need to model Christ-like speech and Spirit-led prayer to help work toward that outcome.

Embodied Community

This article will be read by people in different states and localities. The recommendations given differ slightly from place to place, though increasingly they have moved toward the complete elimination of all non-essential travel or gatherings. What does this mean for the church, the ecclesia, which itself means “gathering” or “assembly”?

We aren’t the first believers in history who have had to be creative about maintaining an ongoing ministry of worship and witness in the midst of pandemic, plague, or persecution. History is filled with occasions when churches had to determine how to obey their government, while not compromising (in the bad sense of that word) the Christian principle of assembly.

A number of churches have already instituted measures to help them continue to gather, but to do so as safely as possible. Extensive facility sanitation, no hand-shaking or hugging, and other forms of social distancing have been observed. However, church gatherings have also had to get even more creative, especially since typical church gatherings are significantly larger than 10 people. Some churches have also sought to give their members some way to stay connected when they cannot physically gather. This includes livestreaming worship services through an online platform.

We need to be both charitable and wise as we view these practices, evaluate them, and consider how or if we may also implement them. One thing is clear: biblical community and worship is an embodied reality. People often point out that the apostles were absent when they wrote letters to churches. Yet notice how often these apostles emphasize the undesirable limitations of physical absence: “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 Jn. 1:12). This is just one example among many.

The point is this: any measures we take to preserve an ongoing ministry of worship and witness that utilizes smaller group meetings (smaller than the actual congregation), online media, or other hybrid options, should be treated as temporary measures. Through God’s common grace, we have many helpful technological tools to facilitate some degree of ongoing contact and connectedness. They should be spoken of that way, and not seen as a lasting substitute. Some pastors understandably worry about the “new normal” that we may inadvertently be creating by implementing such measures. Yet this is an opportunity for ministers (ironically through digital means), to teach their congregants about the vital need for gathered, embodied community and koinonia, and to foster in them a biblically rooted desire to return to it as soon as possible (Again, it’s impossible for this to be replicated online). In the meantime, acts of service to those ill and/or elderly would be an appropriate expression of biblical community. After all, such persons are much more adversely affected by social distancing than others. Phone calls, text messages, cards, and similar gestures are always appropriate, and now more than ever.

Most people understand that in times of crisis we all make concessions we wouldn’t typically make. Examples include showering every other day in times of water shortage, or keeping unnecessary lights off when power grids are stretched in a region. Similarly, the church is wise to consider how to foster ongoing awareness of each other’s needs, delivering food to those who cannot leave home at all, and in some instances, providing online teaching content to be viewed from home. However, let’s pray to be reminded in this time of absence and distance of how this is not God’s ideal nor design for us. Let’s pray that when we do return to gather normally we’ll do so with deeper appreciation and hunger for our gathered life together.

Neighbor Love

In these polarized times, social trust is a rare commodity. Many polls and surveys show that people do not trust others in their communities as much as they used to. Certainly biased media coverage sometimes fosters distrust. But when we strip away all the political commentary, we have one profound command staring us in the face: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This principle cuts against the grain of our present culture, which is self-focused, self-absorbed, and self-exalting. But this second great commandment of Christ has so much to say to us in this moment.

First, we must take this pandemic seriously. Imagine one possible outcome if we don’t: People may die. Our public officials tell us people will die, and we think they should be taken seriously. But imagine that it simply increases the likelihood that people will die because of the carelessness of citizens. If that’s true, then we aren’t loving our neighbors very well by traveling or gathering unnecessarily, not observing safe, hygienic practices, or reposting or retweeting dubious news about the Coronavirus online. The great thing about neighbor love is that it has a way of stripping away the politics of this situation. It leads us to ask, “What if this is more serious than we think it is? What might be the cost for my neighbor? How might my careless rhetoric reflect on the Gospel, the Church, or the Christ?”

Second, what happens if we take the situation too seriously? In other words, instead of proactively praying and taking precautions, we yield to fear. We rush to the stores and buy far more than we actually need, making groceries less available to our neighbors, who have the same needs as we do. Neighbor love forces us to look at our attitude and actions closely and ask tough questions of our behavior. Do people see faith working through love in what we’re doing and saying? Do we love our neighbor next door enough to give them a call, and make sure they’re okay, too? The appropriate level of concern will help us get to the other side of the pandemic and hopefully have a stronger witness before a lost world.

Much has been made about the economic impact of this pandemic. Christians need to be reminded that this has not only been disruptive to their regular work life, but also to churches and Christian institutions of many kinds. These kinds of organizations take a significant hit financially during crises like these, and without people continuing to be generous they sometimes never rebound. While the government is preparing some financial responses, few if any of these monies will in any way make it into the coffers of churches or religious organizations. As Christians, let’s remember these important institutions in our life and the need to uphold them in prayer and financial support during this time.

A final caution is also appropriate as we consider the full range of implications of loving our neighbors. Christians, churches, and religious organizations will choose to take different measures to safeguard themselves and others during this time. Provided direct government mandates are followed, there is a range of specific decisions that can be made by people of good faith. In other words, not everyone who takes different steps is being unfaithful or unloving. We need to exercise generous patience toward one another. We need to abstain from using social media to shame other churches for “selling out” and closing their doors (or for keeping their doors open when ours has closed theirs). These discussions should be had privately as we mutually discern best practices in keeping with public health recommendations, and at the same time appropriate for our unique organizations. Blasting our brethren (or neighbors in general) for their choices is unwise and unloving.

Conclusion

The Lord will have the final word on how we choose to respond to the information we’ve been provided. Let’s respect civil authority, work diligently to cherish embodied community, and practice neighbor love. Our commitment to these biblical principles is central to our ability to navigate this turbulent situation. And together let’s pray that the fallenness of this world will continue to awaken us to the hope of the Gospel, for the end of earthly corruptions, the “freedom of the glory of the children of God,” and the “redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:18-30). May our temporal concerns press us to hope more fully in God’s eternal promises.

Biblical Theology and Vision: Do We Need Mission Statements?

W. Jackson Watts

I was recently having a conversation with a friend who is also a pastor. He shared with me that he and his church leaders were going through an extensive evaluation of their entire ministry, especially as it relates to their church’s health and potential changes that may be needed. He raised this question: “What is the difference between a church’s mission statement and its vision?” One of his lay leaders had asked about this. There was some confusion as to which was which in their ministry.

My short answer is more or less what I believe most people would say: Mission is what you do, and vision is where you’re trying to go. To thicken this a bit, your vision is where you are hoping to go, or what you want to become as an organization. Your mission would be the thing you need to do faithfully to get there.

In the course of our conversation I was reminded of some important caveats, clarifications, and challenges that all of us church leaders need to understand and communicate about mission statements. In this article I want to explain some of the background that needs to be made more explicit in this discussion. Then, I’ll offer five theses regarding mission statements in our churches.

Learning from Others

Most of the lingo of mission and vision actually arises from outside ecclesiology and biblical studies. It arises from the vast body of leadership literature that has emerged over the last couple of generations. Those writing on organizational leadership have long discussed the relevance of having a motto, slogan, mission, and/or vision as part of founding, developing, and growing companies or businesses. I’m not sure when, but at some point this literature began to influence and shape the evangelical church world.

Let me hasten to say that I don’t view this influence as entirely negative. In fact, I’m deeply appreciative for those gifted leaders who have called attention to the need to give those in Christian organizations, including churches, clarity about what they ought to be doing to help their ministries be fruitful. In God’s common grace, He sheds abroad the knowledge of how groups of people work in coordinated cooperation toward important goals. What could be more important than for Christians to work together to fulfill Christ’s mission for us?

Of course, the first obstacle that emerges is when we listen more to corporate leadership gurus than Christ and the apostles. If Coach K has more sway over how we seek to lead and make men than Jesus, we’ve got a problem (and I like Coach K!).

As with anything that can resource our ministry, we have to filter it through the grid of Scripture. The New Testament must have more purchase over our thinking about growth, leadership, and structure than Warren Buffett, John Kotter, or even believers like Thom Rainer. I have benefited from people like these, but sometimes you get the impression that having a short, memorable mission statement is next-to-godliness.

The Center of the Bible: The Debate Continues

The question of balance and emphasis naturally leads us into what Scripture may contribute to our thinking about mission and vision (however you choose to define those). Biblical theologians are scholars who seek to trace out patterns and themes in Scripture as they unfold. Unlike systematic theologians, biblical theologians tend to place more emphasis on identifying specific themes or teachings across Scripture (or genres of Scripture) as they unfold organically. Think Graeme Goldsworthy or G.K. Beale (biblical theology) versus Wayne Grudem or Kevin Vanhoozer (systematic theology) for modern exemplars of these two approaches. We have seen some efforts to bridge biblical and systematic theology, but generally theologians tend to occupy one lane more than the other. Some will dispute this characterization, but I think it’s fair.

What does this have to do with mission statements? It’s a question of emphasis and focus. For example, there has been a long-standing debate in biblical theology about what theme stands at the center of Scripture. In recent years we have seen several significant book-length treatments on this issue, such as God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, Kingdom through Covenant, and more recently, God’s Relational Presence. And it’s not just writing theologians who are in on this project. Retired pastor John Piper’s emphasis on Christ’s supremacy in all things and enjoying God forever permeates all of his writings. These themes are compelling because they seem to fit with what a plain reading of Scripture reveals: it’s all about God!

So when we’re trying to develop short, memorable statements that describe where a congregation needs to go, or how they intend to get there, it’s crucial that those statements are grounded in Scripture. Generic and unclear statements like “our mission is to have an impact,” or “our vision is to be excited about Jesus,” while well-intentioned, probably fail to reflect a clear New Testament message.

Where Shall We Go?

With that being said, let me suggest five theses about the use of mission statements in our churches. I think the same would apply to vision statements, but I’ll focus on the former since they tend to receive the most emphasis.

1-Mission Statements are only as good as your ministry alignment. Not unlike James’ words about being a hearer and a doer (Jas. 1:22-24), we may be able to develop a mission statement that is pleasing to the ear and thoroughly biblical. However, if we don’t persevere in the intentional, long-term work of developing all areas of ministry to work toward the fulfillment of that mission, then the statement is useless. Having a mission statement might be necessary, but it’s insufficientfor getting everyone moving in the same direction. People may know it, but if they aren’t shown how to take practical steps toward it (including specific changes), then the mission will remain just a statement on a wall. As an aside, I use the word “persevere” above intentionally. If you’re not planning (or willing) to stay in your current ministry for another ten years, don’t spend the next year trying to launch a new mission statement. It’ll take much more time than that to make real progress toward it.

2-Mission statements can benefit all church members, but they’re essential for the leaders. Leaders have to first buy in to the stated mission of the church. They make most of the decisions for the church day to day, from the development and implementation of policies, the care of members, the teaching of classes, and most importantly, modeling what it means to be a faithful member.If they don’t believe in the mission, or are constantly at odds with other leaders about the specific strategies that will fulfil the mission, this will have a cascading effect on the rest of the congregation.But if the leaders are committed to and excited about the mission, this can be contagious, in the very best sense of the word.

3-Mission Statements don’t create health; they can create clarity. Sometimes when churches have been around for several decades they’ve had time to see many ministries started. Often these ministry areas lose focus, compete for resources, and/or lack the volunteers they need to be truly effective. Underneath all of this is the question, “Do these ministries actually work toward a clear goal that is not at odds with other ministries?” A mission statement can bring clarity to an organization or church where there is a sense that everyone is going in different directions. It’s not even that everyone is doing badthings. Rather, they’re just not examining those directions in light of the larger direction that God intends for his church. Clarity, then, is vital. It won’timmediately bring health. But they can be partof a path toward greater health.

4-Mission Statements are no substitute for the problem of ignoring Scripture. In some ways thesis four is an extension of thesis three. If a church intends to become healthy and stay healthy, it’s not enough to add a mission statement or tweak an existing one. Even once a church anchors its mission statement in Scripture, it has to be committed to a full range of biblical principles and practices. Side step any fundamental command for the church, and you’ll have an unhealthy church with a great mission statement. To illustrate, if sin isn’t addressed, it will spread. If discipleship is a buzzword and not a regular behavior, the church will flounder. So if your mission statement is something like, “Our mission is to glorify God by living the Gospel,” and there is no actual recourse if members don’tlive the Gospel, or they get no help in living the Gospel, then you have mission failure.Don’t expect the church to be fruitful if you’re not being faithful to Scripture.

5-However you define mission or vision, be clear and consistent. Ultimately I don’t think that the precise definition a church uses for these statements will determine success. I will say that whenwe present and adopt statements as churches, we need to clearly explain their meaning, how they relate to each other, and what functional authority they will have over how decisions are made. If we do this, I think it will help the entire congregation have the right expectations.  

Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart

Matthew Pinson

Lately I’ve been hearing from a lot of Millennial-generation ministers in the Free Will Baptist Church who are getting burnt out on the market-driven model of church still being celebrated in certain segments of evangelicalism. These are younger ministers who, as recent surveys have shown, prefer the organic over the organizational, depth over shallowness, doctrine over pop psychology and self-help, substance over style, and shepherd over CEO.

As I mentioned in a recent blog, they’re a part of a generation, two-thirds of whom prefer traditional over modern church architecture and prefer the adjective “classic” to “trendy” to describe their approach to church. This is backed up by recent studies by Barna, LifeWay, and Gallup. (I cite this not because I think there’s one “sanctified” church architecture, but because it shows that studies of Millennials explode the myth some in my generation still seem to believe—that all younger people like their church experience to be like their coffee shop experience: “hip and trendy.”)

Frankly, if it weren’t for all the studies, I’d be surprised by how many of these young ministers complain about the Gen-Xers in my generation who don’t get them, who prefer CEO’s over shepherds as the model for modern ministry. The last several conversations I’ve had like this have led me to mention a book I’ve been reading by Harold Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart. The book’s publisher, Lexham, has also published a practical ministry strategy manual by Senkbeil in its Lexham Ministry Guides series entitled Church Leadership and Strategy: For the Care of Souls.

The sorts of things this 70-year-old pastor says about ancient, organic ways of shepherding God’s flock offer a more sustainable model than the CEO approach to church leadership that seems to be failing so many pastors who’ve tried it. These sorts of things resonate with these young people who desire to invest themselves in more organic, sustainable ways of life rather than the throwaway disposability of contemporary secular culture.

I still haven’t finished the book; I’ll let you know what I think of it when I do. I wondered what it would be like to read this conservative Lutheran pastor (with whom I have obvious ecclesiological differences). But his aim is to write in such a way that conservative Christians across denominational lines can benefit from it, and it has endorsements from well-known Baptists and people from a host of other denominational backgrounds. The thing that stands out the most about it is that much of it reminds me of the biblical wisdom I’ve heard from treasured personal mentors of mine in ministry—people like L. V. Pinson (my grandfather), Leroy Forlines, Melvin Worthington, and Lewis Williams (my pastoral predecessor in Colquitt, Georgia).

So I was surprised when this book I’d been reading was receiving so much positive press at the very same time when so many people in my own generation in certain quadrants of the church are still rehearsing the corporate and market-oriented models of pastoring. The Gospel Coalition has lauded this book as one of the best books on pastoring in a long time. It won the “Best Ministry Book of 2019” award from Christianity Today magazine. A number of well-known Christian leaders have promoted the book. There’s all this praise for a book that is simply discussing the time-honored, classic pastoral tradition that was handed down to me by the ministry mentors who shaped me.

I was listening to an interview with Senkbeil by Dan Darling last week, on his ERLC podcast “The Way Home.” I thought the readers of this blog, including many young pastors who are trying to find their way toward a biblical, authentic, sustainable ministry in a world of gimmicks and “get-big-quick” schemes, would find it intriguing. Here it is.

Editor Addendum: Senkbeil’s book is currently for sale at a discounted price at Westminster Seminary’s online bookstore.

Some Thoughts on What Unchurched People Want in a Church

Matt Pinson

Ultimately the question of what unchurched people want in a church is very unimportant compared to what the Bible says people need in a church. But over twenty-five years ago, some church growth experts started telling pastors that the main impediment to their growth was their lack of consumer orientation or cultural relevance or, for lack of a better word, “coolness.” This advice was associated with what was known as the “seeker-sensitive” or “attractional” movement. Many pastors began to engage in an extreme makeover of their churches to rid them as much as possible of any vestige of Christian tradition. While a small minority of these churches experienced growth, most did not. And recent data shows that most of the growth that is occurring, in churches of all sizes, is in transfer growth, not conversion of the unchurched through evangelism.

From Attractional to Missional

This phenomenon has led many ministry practitioners to question the received wisdom of the church growth movement, and refocused the emphasis on church health. Some have labeled this as a shift from an “attractional” church model (“How can we best attract customers?”) to a “missional” one (“How can we best embody the mission of God?”). It has also coincided with the preferences of members of the Millennial generation and Generation Z, many of whom prefer the authenticity of a boutique shop or locally owned restaurant over Wal-Mart and Red Robin.

This growing dissatisfaction with the same old answers of the church growth movement, which most pastors of typical churches have tried to no avail, surfaced in several things I read and listened to recently. This included a book by Jared C. Wilson, The Gospel-Driven Church: Uniting Church-Growth Dreams with the Metrics of Grace. Wilson started his ministry in the seeker-sensitive megachurch world, but got burnt out on it. Since then he has written several books that present a more “gospel-driven” approach (characteristic of Mark Dever’s 9Marks and other increasingly popular church health ministries) to other leaders of large churches who seem to be getting burnt out a little on the seeker-sensitive or market-driven approach to church life.

Some of my reading coincided with some seminars presented at the recent Free Will Baptist Leadership Conference by Gordon Penfold, an expert in turnarounds and revitalizations of what he calls the typical “neighborhood church.” What was interesting about Dr. Penfold is that, while he (rightly) stressed that we don’t need to keep doing “business as usual” in dysfunctional churches that have lost their desire to evangelize and grow, he did not outline the same old “seven steps to achieve quick growth in your church by stylistic tinkering” that we have grown accustomed to hearing.

His focus was more on church leaders understanding themselves and the dysfunctional systems that most often cause churches to stagnate and decline. He suggested the need for a more holistic, church health model rather than the corporate and consumer-driven models so often heralded as the silver-bullet solution for the plateaued church—“If you just make your church more marketable to your customer base and their consumer tastes, more people will come and the church will explode. . . .” In his own way, Dr. Penfold was echoing what we’ve been hearing more and more by church health advocates—pastors like Mark Dever, Harry Reeder, Mike McKinley, Jared Wilson, Colin Marshall, Tony Payne, and Brian Croft, who are experiencing growth in all sorts of demographic settings while utilizing the ordinary means of grace found in the Bible.

The Studies Show . . .

Reading and hearing these things caused me to think back over some of the studies that have been done over the last two decades of the unchurched, and what they look for in a church. It has always puzzled me that the actual studies of the unchurched have almost always shown that what is important to them is not the style of a church or the way a church appeals to the consumer tastes of its “market base.” Yet, despite these studies, over and over again, I would repeatedly hear pastors in our denomination who were discouraged because they did not think their churches were “relevant,” “cool,” or “entertaining” enough, and that that was what was needed to bring about growth. The studies consistently showed that, while these characteristics were important for some transfer members who grew up in evangelical churches, they were not generally important to the unchurched.

Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to matter to many what the studies showed. People were in such a panic mode because of our rapidly changing, secularizing culture that they were willing to throw whatever trendy method they could against the wall to see if it might stick. Yet they never really knew (and still don’t know) what the long-term consequences would be of all these tactics that had never before been tried in the 2,000-year history of the church.

In view of this ongoing problem, I was prompted to reflect back over the studies I’d seen over the last couple of decades. Here are the major ones:

Barna

 The Barna Group, in the late 1990s, pretty close to the beginning of the seeker-sensitive movement’s influence in the Free Will Baptist denomination, studied what was most important to unchurched people when they visited a church. Out of the 22 most important things that attract people to a church, the study found that the top five things were:

  1. The theological beliefs or doctrine of the church
  2. How much the people seem to care about each other
  3. The quality of the sermons that are preached
  4. How friendly the people in the church are to visitors
  5. How much the church is involved in helping poor and disadvantaged people.

Things related to worship, style, and music ranked only 12, 13 and 15. (Source: “Americans Describe Their Ideal Church,” Barna Research Online, October, 1998.)

Rainer, Surprising Insights from the Unchurched

 Thom Rainer and Lifeway have studied this over and over again, always with the same results: Substantive things are what attract people to church—things the Bible talks about, done with excellence, not cultural trends and targeting consumer tastes. This is summed up in Rainer’s book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, which studied the “formerly unchurched”—those who were unchurched but then joined a church. Here are the top ten reasons listed for why they joined:

  1. The pastor and his preaching (90% said this)
  2. The church’s doctrines (88%)
  3. Friendliness of the members (49%)
  4. Other Issues (42%)
  5. Someone from the church witnessed to the individual (41%)
  6. A family member attended the church (38%)
  7. Sensed God’s presence/atmosphere of the church (37%)
  8. Relationship with someone in the church who wasn’t family (25%)
  9. Sunday school class (25%)
  10. Children’s or youth ministry (25%)

Worship style, music, and other stylistic or consumer-oriented factors were named by only 11% of the respondents as having anything to do with why these formerly unchurched people joined a church. (Also interesting is that  Rainer says it is a “myth” that “the unchurched are turned off by denominational names in the church name,” and “only 4 out of 100 formerly unchurched indicated that a denominational name had a negative influence on them as they sought a church home.”) (Thom Rainer, Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, 21, 38).

Rainer, Ham, Kinnaman on Why Young People are Leaving the Church

The same basic insights found by others holds true for the question of why young people leave the church, as seen in Thom Rainer’s Essential Church, Ken Ham’s Already Gone, and David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me. Young people are leaving all sorts of churches at the same rates—large and small, urban and rural, contemporary and traditional, charismatic and liturgical. As with the more general surveys like those of Barna and Rainer above, these studies show that the reason young people are leaving the church has nothing to do with stylistic factors and everything to do with the lack of solid teaching, the lack of intergenerationality and mentoring across the generations, the lack of love and community, and what they see as hypocrisy in the church. Church style is way down the list and usually is not listed as a factor. These studies are also undergirded by more serious sociological studies by scholars such as Christian Smith and Melissa Lundquist Denton, whose results undergird David Kinnaman’s conclusion that:

“After countless interviews and conversations, I am convinced that historic and traditional practices, and orthodox and wisdom-laden ways of believing, are what the next generation really needs.”

—David Kinnaman, CEO, Barna Group

Millennial Preferences in Church Architecture

A few years ago the Barna Group conducted a study for one of the largest church architectural firms in the country, which wanted to know what style of church architecture Millennials preferred. When shown pictures of the “stage” or “platform” as well as the outside of traditional and modern church buildings, two-thirds of Millennials preferred traditional structures over modern ones. This is not to argue, of course, for a “sanctified” architecture; it simply shows that many of our assumptions about what “the young folks” will actually prefer have been overturned by the Millennial generation, and similar preliminary reports are coming out of the even more secularized Generation Z. This confirms an earlier study by the Cornerstone Knowledge Network and Christianity Today, and another by Lifeway Research that said that the new church buildings most evangelical  pastors wanted to build were the exact opposite of the more traditional structures that two-thirds of unchurched people said they were most comfortable with.

Fuller Youth Institute, Growing Young

These same sorts of considerations continue to be borne out by the research. For example, the Fuller Youth Institute’s latest study, Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church, lists the top ten qualities churches don’t need to “grow young”:

  1. A certain size (young people don’t care whether a church is large or small)
  2. A trendy location or region
  3. An exact age (young people don’t care whether a church is old or newly planted)
  4. A popular denomination . . . or lack of denomination (young people aren’t negative on denominations)
  5. An off-the-charts cool quotient (“For young people today, relational warmth is the new cool.”)
  6. A big modern building
  7. A big budget
  8. A “contemporary” worship service
  9. A watered-down teaching style
  10. A hyper-entertaining ministry program (“We don’t have to compete. . . . Slick is no guarantee of success.”)

Conclusion

We have many dysfunctional churches, and many that have lost interest in evangelism and are more about internal dynamics than reaching out with the gospel. They need the sort of revitalization that is being talked about by Eddie Moody and Danny Dwyer in the Refresh church revitalization program of the National Association of Free Will Baptists. This program is built on rich, biblical church revitalization strategies.

I also talk with lots of Free Will Baptist pastors who are seeing steady, if modest, evangelistic fruit and gospel growth in their churches. But so many of these decent, faithful pastors are utterly discouraged because they’re comparing themselves to celebrity pastors and consumer church growth methods that don’t and can’t work for most churches and most pastors. What these pastors need to compare themselves to is the New Testament, not to contemporary trends that are more concerned about consumer marketing than the solid biblical teaching, zealous evangelism, and rich community and koinonia we see in Scripture. But if they look at most of the latest studies, they will find that those things are what the unchurched in our increasingly secularized communities say they really want when they get serious about finding a church.

Cultural Analysis and the Dynamics of Leading Change in the Church: A Review

Jackson Watts

In his Symposium presentation “Cultural Analysis and the Dynamics of Leading Change in the Church,” Rev. Dr. Jackson Watts tackles the tough topic of implementing change in a congregation. Noting shifting demographical factors like the graying and shrinking of the evangelical church, Watts draws a correlation between these factors and an inability to change. He then seeks to wed biblical principles of change with socio-cultural concepts to assist church leaders in more effectively leading change in their churches. Such change will require “critical listening, thick description, and pastoral sensitivity” (57).

Watts points out that each church is best understood as a culture. This means that a congregation has its own “unique set of beliefs (spoken and unspoken, practices (symbolic and practical), values (inherited and derived), dispositions (conscious and subconscious), and artifacts (religious and mundane)” that define individual roles and responsibilities in the fulfillment of the institutional mission (59). This means that any change, even a small one, will have significant impact on every aspect of the church’s self-understanding. Because of this, change must always be tethered to the culture and values of the congregation.

Thus, the process for change begins with listening and loving one’s congregation. One must become a part of the culture and be a student of the history, traditions, and relationships present in a church body. All of these factors define meaning and determine value in the organization of relationships gathered together for a common goal. Only after such listening and learning, can one effectively begin the process of leading change. This is the first step of developing a “thick description” (an interpretation of the way relationships, rituals, and rhetoric interact to define a community, 61) whence a leader can cast a vision for change.

Watts then introduces the sociological concept of liminality. Liminality is a reference to a process of transition (usually of individuals but also organizations) from one set of identifiers to another. Similar to a sixteen year old getting his driver’s license, the process of liminality describes the period of the young person being unable to drive, obtaining a permit, receiving instruction, and eventually becoming a licensed driver. Even after such a change, it takes some time for the young driver (and especially his or her parents) to get accustomed to the idea. It is precisely this type of process that a church undergoes when implementing change. Change introduces ambiguity and must be understood as a process that leads to a new reality, thus impacting the culture. People become naturally uncomfortable in the liminal, in-between stage, of change.

A pastoral perspective will remember that congregants in this liminal phase are not simply “selfish, unyielding, rebellious, ignorant, unrepentant traditionalists” (63). Rather they are complex cultural creatures, spiritual beings embodied in time and space (63). This means that our attempts to lead change must always take a “total personality approach.” We must be sensitive to their needs as thinking, feeling, loving, worshiping beings. Watts then mines Forlines’ “total personality approach” of theology for important implications for the process. Such an approach to change will mean that a “one-size-fits-all approach” will never be adequate (65). Each individual and each congregation is unique.

Watts then turns to a discussion of the types of change in a congregation. He sums them up in three categories of 1) addition, 2) alteration, and 3) subtraction (65). Changes 1 and 2 can be difficult because congregations don’t perceive the need. In these cases careful consideration, description, and consensus are paramount. He notes, “as a general rule, the degree of listening, prayer, planning, communications and implementation is proportionate to the extent of the reforms to occur” (67). The final form of change, subtraction, can often be more difficult because even when congregants intellectually understand the need for change, they are often emotionally and experientially connected to previous forms and identity.

With these principles in mind, Watts offers a paradigm for leading change in the local church. Leaders must take the time to see what is going on. Leaders must then investigate why these things are the way they are. Finally, the leader is called to respond. He or she asks the question, “what should be happening?” Applying evaluative judgments to the current culture, changes must always be proposed with sensitivity to the spiritual, social, emotional, and physical needs of individual congregants and the body. Such reflection and care mirror the “ministries of Jesus, Paul, and the apostles” and exemplify the biblical principles of “wisdom, compassion, and courage” (70). May all our attempts to lead change in our congregation be characterized by this pastoral heart. The full presentation can be seen here.