Archives For Church Growth

I have rarely read a book that has probed my heart as much this one did. There are two groups who need to read this book: Elders and Ministers. This has to be read if a church wants to move from irrelevancy to relevancy. Yet, he challenges us because typically when we hear the word “relevant” we automatically think “unbiblical” or “conformist.” In this book you will be surprised by and even comforted by Andy’s challenges for us to be relevant AND biblical. Some pros and cons and some of my favorite quotes.


  • Innovative
  • Systems thinking
  • Looks at vision as template instead of programs/models
  • Immensely practical
  • Uses biblical wisdom
  • Tells his background to give you context
  • Seeks for each to look at his model and adapt instead of adopt.


  • He pushes the envelope and for many this is too much for them. I see it as a con only in the sense of how the reader may take this. I also see this as a pro.
  • Preaching method will make purists cringe. He rarely preaches expository sermons and will only use a verse or two if necessary. Keep in mind that this is too accomplish his the church’s vision of being a church for the unchurched.


  • As leaders, we are never responsible for filling anyone else’s cup. Our responsibility is to empty ours.
  • I think every church should be a church irreligious people love to attend. Why? Because the church is the local expression of the presence of Jesus. We are his body. And since people who were nothing like Jesus liked Jesus, people who are nothing like Jesus should like us as well.
  • We don’t grade ourselves on size. We grade ourselves on how attractive we are to our target audience.
  • The tragedy is that what comes to mind when the average person thinks of church is such a far cry from what actually took place in the era in which the church was born. In the beginning, the church was a gloriously messy movement with a laser-focused message and a global mission.
  • It’s a shame that so many churches are married to a designed-by-Christians-for-Christians-only culture. A culture in which they talk about the Great Commission, sing songs about the Great Commission, but refuse to reorganize their churches around the Great Commission. These are often the same churches where members talk about grace, sing about how “amazing” it is, but create graceless cultures where only those who play by the rules feel welcomed.
  • Every innovation has an expiration date. At some point, new isn’t new anymore, regardless of what the package says. Eventually, new ideas feel like yesterday’s news. Bread is not the only thing that gets stale over time. Every new and innovative approach to ministry has an expiration date as well. Every single one. Nothing is irresistible or relevant forever. That should unnerve you a bit.
  • When people start with the, “Don’t preachers only work one day a week?” I have a good comeback. Feel free to use it. I say, “Think for a minute about the most stressful part of your job, the part that is the make-or-break for you financially. Imagine having to do that every week on a stage in front of your family, friends, strangers, and people who don’t particularly like you. Imagine not having the option to call in sick or reschedule because you weren’t quite ready for the presentation.” End of conversation.
  • Some of my favorite messages are the ones where I open up with a statement that makes everybody uncomfortable. Create tension and you’ve created interest. Iron out all the tension and you will eliminate interest.
  • The longer you’ve served where you are and the longer you’ve done what you are currently doing, the more difficult it will be for you to see your environments with the objectivity needed to make the changes that need to be made. The shorter version: Time in erodes awareness of.
  • People are far more interested in what works than what’s true. I hate to burst your bubble, but virtually nobody in your church is on a truth quest. Including your spouse. They are on happiness quests. As long as you are dishing out truth with no here’s the difference it will make tacked on the end, you will be perceived as irrelevant by most of the people in your church, student ministry, or home Bible study. You may be spot-on theologically, like the teachers of the law in Jesus’ day, but you will not be perceived as one who teaches with authority. Worse, nobody is going to want to listen to you.
  • The church needs leaders who are willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure that we hand it off to the next generation in better shape than we found it.
  • The actual mission of many churches is Pay the Bills. No, you won’t find that written anywhere. But let’s be honest, most local churches don’t feel any urgency about anything until the money starts running out. Then suddenly they are concerned about “reaching people.” That’s when they start talking about how to attract young couples. A church can go for years and baptize nobody but children and no one is concerned. A church can go for a decade without a single profession of faith and nobody calls a special meeting. But miss budget for three or four months running? Suddenly everybody’s concerned. They’re talking about change. But not because they’ve had an encounter with God. Oh no. It was their encounter with an Excel spreadsheet that drove ‘em to their knees. Then, to add divine insult to injury, once the financial crisis passes, everything goes back to the way it was. The tragic truth is, most churches in the United States won’t change until finances force them to.


Last night I had the opportunity to speak at the Old Hickory Church of Christ on the subject, “Crafting Your Personal Vision.” I made the statement that in order to find your personal vision one needs to understand what bothers them in this world. In other words, in their heart of hearts, what do they look at and think to themselves, “This needs to change”? I made the statement that isn’t it ironic that many of the things we are most passionate about hold no eternal weight when it comes to the kingdom.

Enter Alabama Crimson Tide Fans.

I have witnessed a lot of SEC fanatics and the conference has some of the craziest fans in the world. The team that takes-the-cake are Alabama Crimson Tide fans. These people are dedicated and come in masses overtaking the Facebook, Twitter and every other social networking site. It is phenomenal and somewhat impressive. It’s also somewhat comical because these fans (every school has them…BAMA just has more) have real problems differentiating between Tide football just being a game versus the meaning of life. Remember this guy?

BAMA fans I realize you are getting mad right now and probably have websites, pictures and evidence to prove me wrong. I can hear the chorus now, “Robbie, there is a reason why BAMA has 14 national championships and your team doesn’t.” I guess so. I even think it is hilarious when I go to some of the major conferences among some of the youth ministry circles I run around in. Without failure I will see more Tide paraphernalia than any other team combined. It’s hilarious. I wish I saw more VOLS stuff there but we have had little to cheer about. I digress.

My point?

Why are we not that passionate about the gospel? What would it look like to have droves of people lining up to hear, proclaim and share the good news of Jesus Christ? I look at some other settings like The Village Church, The Church at Brook Hills, Mars Hill Church and North Point Community Church and the masses are coming to hear the gospel and I wonder, “Why can’t we do that?” I am not talking about copying models or giving up core doctrines but I think it comes down to something: passion. I wish we had 1/8 the passion for the gospel that BAMA fans have for football.

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. (1 Cor. 15:1-4).

What do you think?

I had the opportunity to interview Dan Kimball, teaching pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California. Dan wrote the book, “They Like Jesus but not the Church,” and has a keen awareness of perceptions people have of the church. We talk about some of those perceptions and also talk about the way the church needs to think about those on the “outside.” Dan is really perceptive on intentional, missional living as a Christian. You will enjoy.

We are continuing a series of how people perceive the church and using Proverbs 6:16-19 (7 Deadly Sins) as a framework for our discussion.

16 There are six things the LORD hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
17 haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19 a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

Abraham Lincoln is famous for saying, “No man has a good enough memory to make a successful liar.”  Lying has no place in our ministries but I am surprised at the temptation there is to do it.  Not so much the blatant lies but it is the lies of omission where we do not tell the full truth of something.  Like when I tell a student I am going to make it to one of there ball games knowing I do not have the time to do it and then when I do not show up telling them, “I was busy!”  No, you should have never committed in the first place knowing you couldn’t follow through.  

Something that was frowned upon in both the Old and New Testaments was the evil of lying.  When a person withholds truth or forges the truth there is a loss of trust between the two individuals.  Growing up, I had issues with lying.  I lied to make me look better in certain circumstances and to pad my ego.  To a certain extent, there has been the temptation to do this in ministry.  Example: people in the church know I have taken a lot of courses on Greek and Hebrew and sometimes they say things like, “Ask Robbie about the Greek of this particular word.”  Now there is the temptation for me to think that I know a lot and so I can probably give them an answer that sounds like I know a lot and if I use enough “scholarly” language I can even dupe people into thinking I am an expert.  

That’s lying.  

So if someone asks me about Greek or Hebrew I will respond by giving them what I think may be the right answer but I try to refer them to people smarter and more capable than I.  I am really just (to use Mike Yaconelli terminology) a klutz in the kingdom of God and a spiritual nincompoop.  The generation we seek to reach is tired of seeing Christian leaders amount to nothing more than liars.  I struggle often with my own hypocrisy knowing I am held accountable even more than those who do not teach.  I am not an expert at what I do and often I struggle with incompetence and spiritual stupidity.  I admit that I am not the greatest at what I do and there are plenty of men (and women) who are more qualified to do what I do.  But I admit that!  I am honest and transparent about my spiritual life which is something churches need to do starting with its leadership and letting this mentality trickle on down.  

Lies can and have killed churches.  How many church splits have started with a lie or a forgery of truth?  It’s a shame.  We need to be truth-tellers and truth-seekers.  “Did you hear about so and so Robbie?”  My response should be, “No, but I am going to go to so and so to see if what you say is the truth!”  

Buy the truth and do not sell it—
wisdom, instruction and insight as well.  (Prov. 23:23)

We are continuing a series of how people perceive the church and using Proverbs 6:16-19 (7 Deadly Sins) as a framework for our discussion.

16 There are six things the LORD hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
17 haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19 a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

The first phrase we will consider is “haughty eyes.”  What does that even mean?  The Hebrew word is rum (pronounced like “room”) and is used extensively in the Old Testament (used over 190 times!) and has a wide variety of meaning.  The word basically is used to denote literal height (something is high) and can be used metaphorically to exalt or negatively to be proud (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, p. 2132).  In our context it is used with the noun “eyes” so it is referring to something negative as in looking down on someone with a sense of arrogance and pride.  What the proverb writer is saying is that the Lord hates those who think they are better than people by looking down on them.

A New Testament example of this is the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14.  The Pharisee looked down on the tax collector because he thought he was better than him.  “God I thank you that I am not like one of them.”  That is haughty eyes.  Dan Kimball in his book The Like Jesus but Not the Church shares Maya’s story:

Before my friend became a Christian, you could talk to him.  It was normal.  He became a Christian after he met a girl, and then through her got converted.  But after his conversion, you couldn’t talk to him anymore.  Every conversation was about condemning something about my lifestyle.  All he did was keep telling me things I was doing wrong.  I shouldn’t be smoking.  I shouldn’t be drinking.  He didn’t like the way I dressed or the music I listened to.  I was mad at the church for turning him into this kind of very negative person.  (p. 98).

Kimball didn’t say it (at least explicitly) but what she is experiencing is someone who has haughty eyes.  When we see someone who has tattoos, smells like cigarettes and beer and drops an F-bomb in conversation what is our typical response?  “This person is hopelessly lost!”   Our response should be one of compassion, mercy and tender care.  Instead of placing our judgment on them and their actions we should serve them which is a little like what Jesus would do (see John 13 and Phil. 2:5-11).

Instead of “haughty eyes” I advocate we put on “humble eyes.”  Haughty says “I am better than you” while humble says “I am a sinner like you.”  Haughty says, “You have to do this to come to church” while humble says, “we will take you as you come so we can learn about Christianity together.”  Haughty is a position of status while humility is an act of service.

I wonder if the perception people have on the church looks like we have haughty eyes.

Discussion Questions

  1. In what areas in our ministries do we need humility?
  2. Do you think it is fair what Maya said in Kimball’s book?  Why or why not?
  3. How have you had haughty eyes on people in the last few months?
  4. What would it look like for a church to really become agents of humility?
  5. What Scriptures speak to pride and humility?

I got an idea for a post when listening to a conversation that was, in essence, gossip.  I have been thinking a lot about the church lately which sounds a little bit strange considering thinking about the church kind of goes with my job description.  But, when I say thinking about the church I mean I have really been meditating, pondering, wrestling and struggling with the ideas of church.  I am reading a book that has slapped me across the face when it comes to thinking about what other people think about the church.  The book is The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons and his premise is that we just don’t listen to what people are saying about the church.

That has spun me in a thousand different directions as to why the church is not relevant in our current circumstance.

Gabe said, “Many churches are increasingly exhibiting less and less real influence in the communities where they’re located.  If they were gone tomorrow, one can’t help wondering if anyone would notice.”  (The Next Christians, p. 25).

Talk about a shot to the lower abdomen.  I want to begin a series of posts with the framework of, “what do you think the perception is of the church is from the unchurched?”  I was talking with a student in my office today and we discussed tomorrow’s See You At the Pole day.  While there are a lot of redemptive things about this day I poignantly asked her, “What do you think people’s perception is when they walk by and ya’ll are huddled up praying around a pole?”  She seemed to think that it would be negative, awkward and maybe even a little resistant.

So…I would like to offer a discourse on the seven deadly sins (Prov. 6:16-19) and use that as a framework for people’s perception of the church.  Sound cool?  After that I hope to give you a review of Lyons’ book.

See you tomorrow.

Memphoplin (Part 1)

June 22, 2011 — 6 Comments

For the first time in a long time I have the opportunity to blog.  I was out of pocket for most of June with back-to-back mission trips and we have VBS this week so my blogging has been pathetic at-best.  What I wanted to do is share a few stories about what we did as a church and some of the experiences we shared.


We worked with Memphis Urban Ministry (specifically the Raleigh Community Church of Christ) in operating their day camp.  From 9am-11:30am (M-F) we had a VBS where they participated in “Walking through Jerusalem.”  Each day they got to experience a different marketplace and learn about the culture when Jesus was on the earth.  You could tell that the kids were absolutely amazed at what they saw and experienced.  Jerica Briggs, one of the hardest working individuals I know, operated the day camp while we were there.  She had a special gift from God that enabled her to reach the students in a way not many could.  In the afternoons we helped with various activities and assisted the staff in whatever capacity we could.

There are more specifics to what we did but I want to share with you one story about one of the inner-city children.  Jerica explained to us that the Raleigh community looks like a nice neighborhood (and it did) with nice suburban homes (there were) but the problem is that when the black folks started going out of the city toward the suburbs the white folks left (white-flight).  As a result, the gangs moved in and crime has escalated in areas outside of Memphis.  One example is the story of John Doe (not his name but I want to keep things private) who, at the age of seven, aspires to be in a gang.  When asked, “What do you want to do in life?”  He said, “be in a gang.”  He already knows the gang symbols, the gang colors and the Tuesday before we came his house was “shot-up” by another gang because his dad was in a rival gang.  I have experienced some rough kids in my day but this one has to top them all.  There was no respect for authority, he did not trust us, and he could care less about the songs we sang or the games we played.

Yet, toward the end of the week, because of one of our adults Clay, this rough kid started singing and participating in the games.  I could tell that a change was occurring in his demeanor and he (though he wouldn’t admit it) actually wanted to be there.  I can’t speak for the teenagers but only speak for myself in saying that I have failed in reaching the inner-city communities of Springfield.  I have falsely assumed things about them (like they don’t want to listen) yet they, in my experience, were more hungry for the Word than I was.  Any affirmation or praise that we gave them was soaked up like water in a sponge.  They were more than willing to learn and even showed signs of absolute brilliance.

The problem with these mission trips is that we go thousands of miles on thousand dollar budgets to get an experience on reaching the poor yet we fail (miserably I might add) at reaching people in our own backyards.  I think there are some serious reasons we are not reaching our inner-city folks like we should:

  1. Racism – Not everyone is a racist but I believe there are many who still cannot worship with people of a different race.  Not only is that ethically wrong to be like that it is biblically wrong (see Matt. 22:37-39; Col. 3:1-11 to name a couple).  Mixed in with this idea of racism there may be the assumption that we have an African-American church in town that can reach “those types of people” while we can reach “other types.”  Something is incredibly wrong when brothers and sisters in Christ cannot worship each other based on skin-color or socio-economic status.
  2. We are not set up to reach people like that.  I think this assumption is correct.  If you look at our church buildings, most of them are set up to suit the member’s needs.  After all, the members are the ones who pay to keep the building in operation.  You have these massive buildings that say nothing more than, “Look how much money we spent on this building!”  to make matters more difficult, our attire says, “You have to own a suit or a dress in order to show up for services.”  That may not be the intention but that is there is assumption.  Then we say, look right…dress right…then act right and then you can come to our services.  If someone was addicted to crack the last place they would go is a church.  Why?  Because they have it all together right?  Someone got upset at me one time because I did not wear a tie on Sunday night while I preached.  I looked at them and said, “Why aren’t you wearing a tie?”  “Well that’s expected of a preacher to wear a tie not me!”  I said, “Where in the Bible does it say that?”  The argument quickly fizzled and the point I made was that we are never going to reach inner-city folks if we do not set up our building, worship and mentality to address their real needs.

Of course, all of this is operating under the assumption that we need to bring them to a location.  What would it be like to grab a few people from church and on Wednesday nights or Sunday nights bring the church into the community?  Chew on that for a little bit…read the gospels and Acts to see where I am going with this thought pattern.

I am going to pause here because I feel like this is enough for now.  The experience opened my eyes about ministry and how we as a church are not being mission-minded like we should.  Tomorrow I will talk about Joplin.

My friend Rusty Pettus has a series on visiting churches that I thought was excellent (read the latest one here) but since we were on vacation I thought it would be helpful to share my thoughts/experiences of visiting a sister congregation.  First of all, it is humbling visiting other churches because as I am critiquing every move this church makes I am reminded that visitors are doing the same thing when they come to Main Street.  That is humbling!  Here are some things that the church did well on that I was thankful for:

  • The “seasoned” elder – This guy was amazing and went beyond simply introducing himself as he looked at my daughter Amelia and said, “You have a beautiful dress sweetheart.”  She blushed and smiled like she had been asked out on a date for the first time.  It was great to see.  He also announced our names before the congregation and other names of those visiting as well.  We were amazed at how friendly this church was in introducing themselves to us. 
  • Familiar patterns – It is good to be able to visit a church and not have to worry about what will pop up next in worship.  Not that I disagree with what other churches are doing but sometimes it is easier to just worship in a familiar way without being uncomfortable in another setting. 
  • Family oriented – I could tell that these people loved each other very much.  Some churches I have visited I could tell immediately that these people did not get along as they dispersed immediately after the closing prayer.  This church family stayed after a while and talked to each other, to me and to other visitors.  It was really  warm and welcoming.

Although they did a lot of things very well some things could have been improved on…

  • Facilities – this is where Main Street struggles as well in that it was like a maze getting to classes since it was an old style building.  To make matters worse we were a little late and there was nobody to direct us to class so we had to find our own way using their mapping system.  At least they had a map…Main Street does not. 
  • Mediocre Class – This is very important to me as a father and as a minister.  I asked my kids what they learned about and they could not tell me a single thing.  I asked them what did they do and they said, “We ate crackers…sang…and that was it.”   The auditorium class I went to was done in an old style way where they handed out lessons (done by Gospel Light in 1989…1989!!!) and the gentleman talked for a few minutes trying to moralize the text.  To me, the bible class is the meat of our discipleship and too many people treat it as a “necessary burden” and do not approach it with precision and planning.  My kids know that Jesus loves them but they need to know more than that. 

Other than that the church was very loving and I would recommend the church to anyone.  It hit home with me because I immediately realized some of the things at Main Street that need to be changed immediately.  We are not geared towards our visitors and too often people come in and leave without even a handshake or phone call.  It is sad and even somewhat pathetic.  We need to get better in how we treat/welcome visitors and I thought the church we visited did an excellent job.

Today was a day of rest and burning.  I felt like I was laying on the surface of the sun as every skin cell of my epidermis is either red or a hue similar to red.  We had fun sitting on the beach but I have observed that fun is to be had wherever as long as there is family there.  I have seen my children more this week than I have all summer…seriously.  This is good. 

I have been thinking a lot about church this week, specifically about the way we have done church the past few years.  I think the times are just about over where we can hold a gospel meeting and expect to convert many lost souls.  Gospel meetings are more about revivals now than they are about seeking lost souls.  Also many of our churches are busy doing compartmentalized ministry where our churches look more like marketing agencies than the living, breathing community of God.  Churches that succeed are those with strategic business plans lead not by God-fearing shepherds but by creative “executive ministers” who have MBAs but couldn’t exegete a passage if his or her life depended on it. 

The sad part is that I am not sure this is a bad thing. If people are converted and lives are changed.  The verdict is still out but the irony of it all is that I am not sure I have a better solution.  I can criticize, critique and remain cynical but I am not sure I can offer anything else and maybe nobody can.

But that is the beauty of it in that we continue to struggle and we continue to find unique ways to do kingdom.  I do know one thing in that what we are doing now is not working.  Maybe just initiating conversation or dialogue about new ways to be the church without the usual bantering or polemics that we so often see with these discussions. 

What do you think?  I did not know I was getting into this type of discussion but it has been on my heart lately as I have been fairly frustrated lately. 


Prayer for Strength

June 30, 2010 — 2 Comments

Would you pray with me right now? 

Father, it has been a while since we have had intimate time with each other and I am afraid I have worried more about the checking account than I have my spiritual account.  My tank is low at this time God and I need restoration and I need something new.  I have depended so much on my own intellect, drive and effort and I have neglected you as the giver of all things.  I confess this freely before you but this is not news to you as you know the deep chambers of my heart and somehow that doesn’t scare me.  I should be afraid but knowing that you are aware of what is in me is liberating.  I hide things from all people but to you, O God, they are known and they are evident.  I am thankful for this.  God, I want you to be with Main Street and the members in it.  We need a renewal and we need to catch on fire and we are so close to doing it but we need some sort of spark somewhere.  I can’t put this to words right and I am not sure what I am asking for but I can’t help but to think that we are not doing the best we can.  That may be the result of my leadership and others and so create a spark in me as well. 

Father, be with the youth group.  There is so much to pray for I do not know where to start.  I imagine you are tired of the activities that occurs in youth ministries that only keep people busy and do not transform lives.  Sadly, I am a hypocrite when it comes to this.  Father help me do better.  There are people in the youth who need to commit to Christ through baptism or perhaps recommit to Christ through confession.  You know these people and some even that I am not aware of…be with them.  Be with the parents, Father, who have difficult responsibilities when it comes to the rearing of their children.  May they realize that a half-hearted job in raising children will most likely lead to half-hearted spiritual children.  Spark them Father! 

Be with the Church abroad both in the U.S. and in foreign countries.  The Church is so much bigger than America as it is all over the world.  Help us not to be narcissistic in our thinking but to open our eyes to what you are doing all over the world. 

Father, there is much more to pray about and so I leave that to you.  Be with the readers of this prayer and help them to utter similar yearnings that are festering in their hearts. 

I love you.  Amen.