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I was recently contacted by Jessica Hanewinckel who is the associate editor of Outreach Magazine. She explained that she was putting together an article for their upcoming Small Church America issue and wanted to ask me some questions. I thought you might be interested in my answers. Don’t forget to read pt. 1.

Jessica: There does come a point with small churches, however, where small really is too small to survive. So some degree or growth, or at least retention, is desirable and necessary. How do we walk that line between celebrating small and working hard not to be too small?

Dave: First we have to agree on the definition of ‘church.’ Next we have to agree upon a definition of ‘survive.’ In many countries, including our own, a group of 8 people meeting in a home is regarded as a ‘church’. At this size very little is needed to survive.

But if we think of ‘church’ solely through the lens of our westernized definition of ‘church’, i.e. a building, a full-time pastor, children’s ministry, worship team, small groups, staff, budget, etc., then viability does become an issue.

I often help pastors of smaller churches determine whether or not their congregation is ‘viable.’ To determine viability I ask the pastor the following questions:

Do you (the pastor and their spouse) have enough energy and motivation to continue if nothing changes?

Does your leadership team have enough energy and motivation to continue if nothings changes?

Does the church have enough resources (time, money, volunteers) to provide the most basic of ministries one would expect to find in a church?

Questions such as these often reveal something that is hard for the pastor to admit, which is, ‘Our church lacks viability.’ This doesn’t mean that the church is not a church, (God loves them, they serve a purpose) just that the church is not a viable church, it will probably never be anything other that what it currently is. More times than not, however, this means that the church will suffer a slow and painful death. In my opinion there are many smaller churches like this in North America and they need to be given ‘permission to die’, but in a way that is honoring to Jesus and to the men and women who have invested so much in them over the years.

I don’t believe that a church is necessarily intended to live forever.

Jessica: Small churches just don’t have the resources to meet every single person’s needs who comes through their door or who is in their community. How should a small church go about deciding what to support and focus on, and what to ignore or pass off to someone else?

Dave: Smaller churches must be unapologetic about what they can’t offer people. I remember early on in one of my church plants, a family with teenagers visited and after the service the mother came up and asked, “What do you have for my teenagers?” All I could answer was, “Me”. I think I was more satisfied with that answer than she was.

I liked that part of your question that asked, what should we ignore or pass off? The word ‘ignore’ has a lot of negative connotations attached to it. For me, in this context, it simply means that there are some things we will choose not to worry about at this time. Sometimes small churches can partner with larger churches or other organizations that have developed certain ministries or programs people are looking for. It’s true, if you point someone to the big church down the street so that their child has a youth group to go to, and expect them to stay involved in your church, there is a real possibility that you will never see them again. We’ve got to be okay with this.

It all comes back to resources. What do we have to work with? What are the few things that we can do well? Capitalize on the strengths inherent in small churches rather than the perceived weaknesses.

Jessica: From your experience, are you seeing younger people interested in a small church environment? The perception is that small churches are often filled with older generations and a more traditional worship style.

Dave: I think it’s difficult, if not impossible, to characterize young people and what attracts them to a particular church. I work with pastors of every denomination you could imagine, in all the regions across our country. What might attract and keep young people in one region often times does not have the same result in a different region. I work with many smaller churches that have a high percentage of young people. On the other hand, many of our smaller churches are filled predominately with older people. The problem with churches like this is not that they are mainly populated by ‘older people’, as if ‘older’ is inherently of less value than ‘younger’, the problem is when church members, regardless of age, are resistant to the changes often needed in their church to reach new people with the gospel. Resistance to change can be found in every size church.

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I was recently contacted by Jessica Hanewinckel who is the associate editor of Outreach Magazine. She explained that she was putting together an article for their upcoming Small Church America issue and wanted to ask me some questions. I thought you might be interested in my answers.

Jessica: Explain the difference between small churches that are thriving as small churches, that are doing great ministry, that are really spiritually enriching their attenders and the community, from those that are flailing. Is the difference in programming, mindset, an understanding of the community, something else?

Dave: There can be many reasons why a small church can be thriving instead of flailing, just as there can be many reasons why a larger church can be thriving instead of flailing.

a. Thriving small churches are content without being complacent. They are ‘comfortable in their own skin’ and are not trying to be something they are not, i.e. a large church.

b. Thriving small churches focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t do. It’s been my experience that there is almost nothing a larger church can do that a small church cannot do, if the small church is willing to do it on a smaller scale.

c. Thriving small churches do a few things well. I compare this to the menus in restaurants. Some restaurants have three pages of menu with everything a person could ask for: breakfast, lunch, dinner. Out here on the west coast we have a very popular fast food chain called In-N-Out Burger. All they offer is burgers, fries, and drinks. On the company website they state their philosophy: “Give customers the freshest, highest quality foods you can buy and provide them with friendly service in a sparkling clean environment.” Thriving small churches have an ‘In-N-Out Burger’ mindset.

d. Thriving small churches are made up of people who are on the same page. The problem in many churches, whether they be small or large, is seldom a lack of vision, but one of competing visions. The pastors of thriving small churches are constantly pounding into the minds of their people: who we are, what we do, how we will measure success.

Jessica: How can small church pastors be encouraged? Many feel they’re just failed large church pastors, or that their churches are less than the large church down the street. Where does the right mindset begin?

Dave: Unfortunately our Christian culture defines success using three words: bigger, more, and new. Therefore, if your church seems smaller, less, or old, you are not viewed as successful. This cultural definition, of which few of us can escape, contributes to our discouragement. It is ingrained in all of us to want to be successful. I think our encouragement and contentedness is in direct proportion to the consistency and meaningfulness of our time alone with God. And once again, this is true for pastors of larger churches as well.

It’s sad but some pastors might have to look outside of their denomination or affiliation to find genuine encouragement. I am seeing more and more denominations reaching out to their smaller churches but they often, inadvertently, do it in a way that still makes the pastor of a small church feel like they’re being looked down on, like they are something that needs to be fixed, like they don’t quite measure up.

Jessica: How should small churches measure success?

Dave: Mother Teresa said, “God has not called us to be successful. God has called us to be faithful.” Paul said, “…it is required of stewards that one be found faithful.” (I Cor. 4:2)

A small church measures success by how faithful they have been with what God has given them. If they have 20 members then they will strive to be the best 20-member church on the planet. The trick is to find ways to measure success that has very little to do with ‘attendance-numbers.’ A great exercise for pastors of smaller churches is to ask their leadership team, “How could we measure success if we couldn’t use numbers?”

 

1.25.14a

So this is the last in a seven part series about what I would do different if I were planting a church again. In case you didn’t know, Ellen and I planted three out of the five churches we pastored before I retired and became full time leadership coach. A few of the ways I’d do it differently are actually repeats of ways I did church in the past, but most of them represent a new approach to ‘church’. And remember, my list is in no way a criticism of how you do church or how others do church.

If you have questions then post a comment and I’ll reply. Also, this list was not in any order of importance, it’s just what came out of me as I began writing. Ready? Here we go.

If I planted a church again…

#32 We could show honor and respect and appreciation for all denominations and expressions of the church, regarding our ‘experiment’ as one way, not the best way, and a way that may, over time, prove to have failed.

#33 We wil love all people and regard all who claim Jesus as Lord and the Bible as the word of God to be our brothers and sisters in Christ.

#34 Teaching on Sunday mornings would be exegetical book studies.

#35 Members would be encouraged to have their ‘pastoral needs’ met by one another rather than expecting them to be met by the pastor. This does not mean the pastor would never be involved in meeting pastoral needs members might have.

#36 Certain decisions effecting the church will be made communally or democratically. These type of decisions will be determined by the pastor.

 

1.25.14a

Each part of this series contains five or six ways I’d do it different if I were planting a church again. I’ve already done it (planted a church) three times before retiring and becoming a full time leadership coach. A few of the ways I’d do it differently are actually repeats of ways I did church in the past, but most of them represent a new approach. Also, my list is in no way a criticism of how you do church or how others do church.

If you have questions then post a comment and I’ll reply. Also, this list is not in any order of importance, it’s just what came out of me as I began writing. Ready? Here we go.

If I planted a church again…

#27 I would be responsible for and the authority over the church, but I would not be responsible for or the authority over the individual members who make up the church.

#28 Submission to me as pastor would be voluntary, rather than expected or enforced as it relates to the individual participants in our church.

#29 I can add or subtract to this list as I see fit.

#30 Should there be a need to begin another home group we would do so and plan to have regular gatherings of the different home groups for fellowship.

#31 We would not have as a goal to ‘grow’ our groups. If groups grow they will do so organically through relationships instead of programs.

What are your thoughts?

dave

Each part of this series will contain five or six ways I’d do it different if I were planting a church again. I’ve already done it (planted a church) three times before retiring and becoming a full time leadership coach. A few of the ways I’d do it differently are actually repeats of ways I did church in the past, but most of them represent a new approach. Also, my list is in no way a criticism of how you do church or how others do church.

I’m not sure I will elaborate much on my list, maybe a little, but not much. If you have questions then post a comment and I’ll reply. Also, this list is not in any order of importance, it’s just what came out of me as I began writing. Ready? Here we go.

If I planted a church again…

#21 Members would be encouraged to make opportunities to be together between Sundays but there would be no pressure or expectations to do so.

#22 Our Sunday gatherings would typically include a meal.

#23 We would expect personal offenses to occur but also expect love, forgiveness, and reconciliation to result. Members reluctant or incapable of reconciling would have to leave. Members leaving for this reason would leave with a blessing from the group.

#24 The ‘Fruit of the Spirit’ (Gal.) would be the evidence of spiritual maturity.

#25 People joining our group would be asked to sign an agreement to this list.

#26 If, after a period of time, an individual proves incapable of, or no longer wishes to, live thy this agreement they will be asked to leave the group with a full blessing from the group.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Photo on 2010-10-08 at 13.04 #2

Each part of this series will contain five or six ways I’d do it different if I were planting a church again. I’ve already done it (planted a church) three times before retiring and becoming a full time leadership coach. A few of the ways I’d do it differently are actually repeats of ways I did church in the past, but most of them represent a new approach. Also, my list is in no way a criticism of how you do church or how others do church.

I’m not sure I will elaborate much on my list, maybe a little, but not much. If you have questions then post a comment and I’ll reply. Also, this list is not in any order of importance, it’s just what came out of me as I began writing. Ready? Here we go.

If I planted a church again…

#15 Participants would be responsible for their own walk with God and spiritual growth.

#16 The church would be pastor-lead but member-driven.

#17 Worship in our meetings would not be limited to or dependent upon musical instruments or singing. We would have an expanded understanding of what worship is.

#18 There would be a focus on learning and practicing the spiritual disciplines.

#19 This whole approach to ‘doing church’ would be regarded as an experiment that might not work. We will be fine with it if it does not work. We would be comfortable with closing it down if need be.

#20 We would share our possessions with one another with the understanding that they be returned within an agreed upon period of time and in the same or better condition then when they were borrowed.

What are your thoughts? Which of these do you think would work and would not work? Which of these resonates with you the most? Leave a comment.

dave

I made a list of everything I would do differently if I started a church again. I came up with 37 changes I’d make. A few of my clients said they’d love to see my list so I thought it might make for a good blog series and possibly generate some interesting conversations.

Each part of this series will contain five or six ways I’d do it different. A few are actually repeats of ways I did church in the past, but most of them represent a new approach. Also, my list is in no way a criticism of how you do church or how others do church.

I’m not sure I will elaborate much on my list, maybe a little, but not much. If you have questions then post a comment and I’ll reply. Also, this list is not in any order of importance, it’s just what came out of me as I began writing. Ready? Here we go.

If I planted a church again…

#12 Our Sunday meetings would be more liturgical.

#13 We would not have a typical Children’s Ministry program. Children would be present with the adults.

#14 Any community outreach we chose to be involved with would be a partnering with already established organizations such as; local elementary schools, convalescent homes, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, etc.

#15 Excommunication would be practiced for unrepentant gossip, slander, or rebellion towards spiritual authority. This action would be decided upon by a select group of lay-leaders overseen by the pastor.

#16 All differences of opinion (political, theological, philosophical) would be allowed and encouraged unless held and communicated in a mean, disrespectful, judgmental, divisive way. Such behavior would be grounds for excommunication.

There ya go. What do you think? Which one resonates with you the most? Which one the least? Leave a comment.

dave

A while back, I can’t remember what prompted this, I made a list of everything I would do differently if I started a church again. I came up with a long list of changes I’d make. A few of my clients said they’d love to see my list so I thought it might make for a good blog series and possibly generate some interesting conversations.

Each part of this series will contain five or six ways I’d do it different. A few are actually repeats of ways I did church in the past, but most of them represent a new approach. Also, my list is in no way a criticism of how you do church or how others do church.

I’m not sure I will elaborate much on my list, maybe a little, but not much. If you have questions then post a comment and I’ll reply. Also, this list is not in any order of importance, it’s just what came out of me as I began writing. Ready? Here we go.

If I planted a church again…

#7 Offerings collected would be used to support the needy within our own group, with emphasis upon the needy elderly, those struggling to pay their own bills, and needy single mothers. If there were no people like this in our group we would then, and only then, seek out such people outside of our group to support. Support would not be limited to financial support.

#8 The Sunday morning ‘teaching time’ would be much shorter (15 min. max) in order to make more time for group participation such as: sharing, prayer, mutual encouragement, and the practice of certain spiritual disciplines.

#9 Sermons would be more interactive, i.e. followed up and interspursed with questions, discussion, and comments from the members.

#10. (Keep in mind that this list is not in any order of importance.) This model of ‘dong church’ would not be a good fit for everyone. Those for whom it is not a good fit would be encouraged to leave early on rather than later on.

#11 We would not invest time or money in ‘outreach’ or ‘evangelistic’ events. Instead we would strive to fulfill the ‘Great Commission’ relationally, one-on-one, seeking to be a positive influence in the lives of our unchurched friends, relatives, neighbors, and co-workers.

So…what do you think? Which one of these points do you like the most? Which one do you like the least? Leave a comment.

scared

Let me say from the start…I have no intention of planting a church again. However, I’ve said that before, only to end up planting a church again. But really, Ellen and I planted three churches and that seems enough.

Occasionally I’m asked, “Dave, do you think you will ever plant a church again?” First, I start out by laughing, and then I say something like, “No, I’m quite convinced that what I am doing (coaching pastors) is what God has for me now.” In case you missed it, I pastored for almost thirty years and then retired in 2006 to begin Small Church Pastor. I’ve been coaching/consulting full time ever since.

A while back, I can’t remember what prompted this, I made a list of everything I would do differently if I started a church again. I came up with 37 changes I’d make. A few of my clients said they’d love to see my list so I thought it might make for a good blog series and possibly generate some interesting conversations.

Each part of this series will contain five or six ways I’d do it different. A few are actually repeats of ways I did church in the past, but most of them represent a new approach. Also, my list is in no way a criticism of how you do church or how others do church.

I’m not sure I will elaborate much on my list, maybe a little, but not much. If you have questions then post a comment and I’ll reply. Also, this list is not in any order of importance, it’s just what came out of me as I began writing. Ready? Here we go.

If I planted a church again…

1. I would try to be a humble, benevolent dictator, surrounded by a few people not afraid to get in my face and be honest with me.

2. I would continue my coaching practice and therefore be bivocational.

3. I would meet in the home and multiply home gatherings if necessary but not because of a plan to multiply home meetings.

4. If multiple house churches eventually developed I would be a ‘circuit-rider’ and visit each house church once a month.

5. We would have minimal operating expenses.

6. We would not be a 501c3.

That’s all for now. Leave a comment, tell me what you thinking.

“The Four Questions” by Garris Elkins

1365473900About 20 years ago, I began asking myself four questions. I also asked the same questions of our church staff during our quarterly planning sessions. The questions helped us engage a process of evaluation where we could leave behind what needed to be left behind and keep what we would need for the coming journey into a new season.  Asking these four questions is not just a good exercise for an individual or a church staff, it is a wise practice for a business, a family or a group of friends who share life together.Here are the four questions:

 

1) What do I like about what I am doing?

2) What do I not like about what I am doing?

3) What do I want to keep?

4) What do I want to get rid of?

Asking these four questions caused me to stop, think and evaluate my life and how I was expending my energy and resources. It was not always easy.  The questions confronted me. As I adjusted my life and efforts around the answers to these questions I found my life becoming more simplified and focused.

One reason it is important to ask these questions is because our lives can become cluttered.  Just because we do something for a time does not mean we should keep doing it.  If there is no flushing mechanism in our life and calendar we will end up bogging down trying to carry too many things. We can become overwhelmed and immovable when we should be light and unencumbered.

As I examine the last 33 years of ministry I realize there were times when I did not ask these questions.  Those times did not carry with them the focus, energy and joy needed to live and lead well.

Here is my suggestion – find some time this week and ask these four questions about your personal and professional life.  If you are married, ask your spouse to answer these questions with you.  At the end of your question and answer time, do something with the answers you discovered. Make the needed changes and trust God to walk you forward.

Once you write down your answers also write a date on your calendar to ask the same questions again a few months down the road. This will help you stay accountable to the adjustments you made.  Asking ourselves challenging questions is one way we can steward our lives to have a greater impact for God by offering him a life not encumbered with things he doesn’t want us to carry.

 

Garris and his wife, Jan, live in Southern Oregon where they serve as pastors of Living Waters Medford. They enjoy walking in the hills that surround their home and lingering over a cup of good espresso. You can find Garris at garriselkins.com and prophetichorizons.com

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