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This is part three in a series about the advice pastors of larger churches give to pastors of smaller churches. Recently there has been a resurgence of articles on how to grow your church. Titles such as:

“Eight steps to grow your church:

“The four main reasons your church isn’t growing”

“How to increase your attendance by 40%…guaranteed!”

I wouldn’t have a problem if the articles were titled:

“Eight steps towards a healthy church”

“Four signs of an unhealthy church”

“How to increase the health-factor in your church by 40%”

However, I get nervous when anyone makes church health or church growth something that is simple to attain if you just follow the advice the writer gives. There are so many factors that are outside of the control of the pastor. You can have a great plan, but because the plan is dependent upon people, your plan might not, and often time does not, give you the desired results.

Another frustration for small church pastors is when they read said articles (you need to do this, and this, and this, to experience growth) and they think to themselves, “We do all that. And still my church is small.”

Ever felt that way?

Back to the recent blog I read a while back that inspired me to do this series which began here.

The writer said, “As the pastor of a little church, you know everybody; you do all the praying, all the baptizing, all the teaching; you know every family, every kid, every dog and cat; and you shepherd everybody personally. But there’s a limit to how many people you can personally shepherd.”

That’s true. So far so good, but then…

“As the church grows, you must change roles from Shepherd to Rancher.”

Whoa, take’er easy there pilgrim. (John Wayne)

It’s true that things will change for you if your church gets big. Most of us will never experience this, but still, it’s true. Going from Shepherd to Rancher might be nessesary and sound exciting, but it comes at a great personal price.

I bet when you said yes to the call of God in your life it wasn’t a call to be a Rancher. I bet you felt called to be a Minister, or a Pastor, or a Shepherd. I remember talking to a pastor who’s church had experienced substantial growth which required him to change his leadership style from a Shepherd to a Rancher. He lamented to me, “I’m almost doing nothing anymore that has anything to do with pastoring.” Another pastor told me, “Trying to become a Rancher killed my soul.”

But then, towards the end of the article, the writer says…

“You must be willing to let other people share the ministry.” I LIKE THAT!

Healthy and happy pastors train and equip the members of their church to share in the ministry. (Eph. 4:11,12) Healthy and happy churches have a large percentage of volunteerism.

What are you doing to multiply leaders? You may only have one person, but start there. And if your church happens to grow and you feel the temptation to go from a Shepherd to a Rancher…fight the temptation. Hold out as long as you can. And even if you are forced to become a Rancher, and most of us won’t be, make sure you reserve a portion of your work week to do the things Pastors do. Love people, pray, visit, meet one-on-one, mentor, take care of your soul and the souls of your people.

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In some small-church-pastor-circles it’s almost chic to criticize large churches. Small church pastors complain that the mega-churches are sheep stealing, preaching a watered-down gospel, they are tickling people’s ears, their services are like attending a secular rock concert, the pastor is like a celebrity.

Truth of the matter is that very few of us know very much about those churches. We don’t go there (oh sure, maybe someone talked to us who did), we haven’t sat under their ministry long enough to know what really goes on. We’re not friends with the pastor, we don’t know his/her heart. We might think we do…but we don’t. We might think we know what God thinks of their ministry…but we don’t.

Pastors of large churches have a lot to say to pastors of small churches. Why do I say this? It’s because, if I have decided to be a learner, then everything and everyone becomes my teacher. The opposite is true. Pastors of small churches have a lot to share with pastors of larger churches that would benefit them as well. The problem, of course, is that pastors of large churches don’t seek out the advice of pastors of smaller churches. Pastors of large churches tend to hang out with pastors of large churches. And add to this…it’s the pastors of large churches that get all the airtime. They speak at the conferences we go to, write the church-growth books we read, and have the newsletters we subscribe to. And in so doing, and I believe they mean well, they share their advice with small church pastors, usually about ‘how to grow your church.’ This can be frustrating for us because:

  1. It’s discouraging when all the advice they tell you are things you’ve already tried and still your church is small.
  2. It’s frustrating when the ideas they share with you (Here’s how we did it.) simply will not work in your unique situation.

I mentioned a few days ago that it seems like we’ve seen an increase lately in the number of articles online about how to grow your church. I’m not going to mention any names, but almost without exception, said advice comes from pastors of large growing churches. I’ve chosen one such article (articles like this tend to sound the same) to dissect. You can find the beginning of this series here. And as you read, remember, I like mega-churches and the pastors who lead them. I like small churches and the pastors who lead them. I coach pastors of large churches, but most of them are just like you, i.e. leading faithfully a smaller congregation.

In this article the writer sets forth his first ‘step to grow your church.’

“Decide you really, really want to grow – Believe it or not, the primary barrier to church growth is desire. Do you really want to grow? If the answer is yes, then you must commit to this goal and be willing to accept changes. And the people in your congregation must also be willing to accept changes.”

Two things come to mind:

  1. It makes me nervous when any pastor “really, really” wants their church to grow. You can easily cross a line from wanting your church to grow to needing your church to grow in order to feel good about yourself and your ministry. “Really, really” is moving towards that line rather than away from that line.
  2. I’m sure they’re out there, but I’ve never met a pastor that didn’t want their church to grow. I know many pastors who don’t “really, really” want their church to grow but they do want to reach new people with the love of Jesus. But our writer points out, “…you must commit to this goal and be willing to accept changes.

Here the author has a good point. Many pastors keep doing the same things over and over but expect different results. Some pastors know that change is needed but they are not sure what exactly that change is. And…if they do know what changes are necessary they are faced with great resistant from their leaders and the rest of the congregation.

“And the people in your congregation must also be willing to accept changes.”

And here is where everything comes to a screeching halt.

I don’t care how much you want to grow and how much you know the need for change and how well you know what exactly needs to be changed…if your church is not willing to change the only thing that is going to change is that your head is going to be sore from hitting it against this wall.

If interested, I recently wrote an article on change. Here it is.

Your small church is perfectly designed to get the results you are currently getting. If you want to see something different, you will need to do something different, and that ‘something’ will probably require significant change. I can help you with that.

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My latest book: a call for a new

anti-war, non-violence movement

between Christians.

I mentioned a few days ago that it seems like we’ve seen an increase lately in the number of articles online about how to grow your church. I’m not going to mention any names, but almost without exception, said advice comes from pastors of large growing churches.

Before I go any further let me be clear. I like pastors of small churches and pastors of large churches. I coach pastors of small churches and larger churches (mostly small churches). I like small churches and I like large churches. We’re all on the same team. We’re in this together. God loves our churches all the same regardless of their size. This series (I think it’s gong to be a series) is not going to bash certain large church pastors or be a put down of big churches. In fact, if they had changed a few words of their post from ‘Ways to grow your church” to “Ways to have a healthy church”, I probably would not be writing this. I often find these articles to be helpful in the sense that the advice they give are, in my opinion, signs you would hope to find in a healthy church but not necessarily something guaranteed to make your church grow.

I’m going to dissect one such article that I chose at random. If you recognize who it is please keep it to yourself.

One article began with, “Do you realize that if your weekend attendance totals about 90 people, you’re an above average church (at least in the United States and when measuring by such numbers)? If you’re wondering what you need to do to grow, here are eight steps that can help you break an attendance barrier.”

First, I appreciate the acknowledgment that small churches are in the majority. Usually ‘above average’ is thought of as a good thing unless you live in North America where bigger is always thought of as better. With this writer, ‘above average’, although in the majority, still means something that needs to be corrected.

Second, why do we use numbers to measure a sussessful church at all? Allow me to pull a verse out of context:

“But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” II Cor. 10:12

The church-world has been using numbers and size as a measure of success and legitimacy ever since the Church Growth Movement bust onto the scene in the 80’s.

If interested, I wrote an article on how to measure church success and health that has nothing to do with numbers on Sunday. Go here.

Next he says, “If you’re wondering what you need to do to grow, here are eight steps that can help you break an attendance barrier.” Barrier? Who said there was a barrier to break through? What if there isn’t a barrier? Sorry, but I’ve written on this as well.

I’m not against church growth. But I must admit that I am more interested in church health than church growth and, we do have that thing called The Great Commission that cannot be ignored.  Each church needs to answer the question, “What are we doing to reach new people?” But for me, the right question is not “What must we do to grow?”, but “What must we do to be the healthiest and happiest small church in our town?”

I’m going to come back to this article on Wednesday. Leave a comment. Let me know what you think.

***

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an anti-war movement…between Christians.

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This is the last in a six part series on reasons why preaching on tithing doesn’t work. If you haven’t been following me on this until now, you might want to go back to the beginning.

To summarize, pastors don’t speak on tithing that often and sometimes this is due to fear, i.e. fear that people will think “All they want is my money.” Also, our people tend to only hear about tithing/giving when the church is in trouble. Speaking on tithing might bring some change but it is usually limited, minimal, and temporary. Peaching on tithing seldom deals with the underlying reasons why most people don’t tithe.

Here are my recommendations. Tell me what you think.

We need to speak more about tithing/giving rather than less. Preach on money regardless if the offerings are up or down. The more frequently we allow this subject to come up the less awkward and uncomfortable it will seem when we talk about it. Schedule a few times a year to preach on this and take any opportunity you have when preaching your ‘non-tithing’ sermons to touch upon it if the sermon passage brings it (or something related to it) up. Remember, Jesus talked a lot about money, giving, materialism, and our attitudes about these things.

The next time you preach on tithing be honest with your people about the reluctance you have to share on this topic. Tell them how pastors are afraid of turning people off, being misunderstood, etc.

Focus your tithing sermons on the underlying reasons why people hold on to their money: fear, materialism, selfishness, lack of faith. Once again, topics Jesus regularly spoke on.

And don’t forget to pray, asking God to fill your church with generous people. Since we’re mentioning prayer…if you are mad or irritated with your church, or even specific members of your church, due to a lack of giving, hold off on until you have brought these feelings to God and received an adequate amount of healing so that your sermons can be filled with love, and grace.

***

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Let’s remember that Christians can read the same Bible and come to different conclusions about tithing. Some believe that the Bible does teach tithing for Christians today and some disagree. Same Bible, different conclusions. Both love the word of God but both have different positions on this. So…if you don’t teach tithing then simply substitute ‘giving’ or ‘stewardship’ and this series will still relate.

This is part five of a six part series on why preaching on tithing doesn’t work. If need be, you can start the series here.

We have this idea that if people don’t tithe we can correct this by teaching on tithing. The assumptions are, a) they don’t know about tithing and once they hear about it they will change, b) they know about tithing but have drifted out of the habit of tithing and once we teach about it they will change, c) they know perfectly well about tithing but are ignoring the scriptures and once we teach about it they will come under conviction, run forward during your sermon weeping and wailing and begging you to take their money.

I don’t doubt that sometimes…sometimes one of these three happen. But this is rare and we’ve already discussed why this is so in previous parts fo this series.

Here is the fifth reason why preaching on tithing doesn’t work. I think we miss the underlying reasons why people don’t give or give sparingly.

People don’t give because fear. They worry that if they give then there will not be enough left over to meet their living expenses.

People don’t give because of materialism. Our culture has convinced us that we always need the best and the latest thing on the market. The advertisers job is to make us discontent with what we have so that we will buy what they have.

People don’t give because of selfishness. We all have to fight the urge to put ourselves first. Selfishness tempts us to hold on to what we have whether it be our time, talents, or money. It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine.

People don’t give because of a lack of faith. In God’s economy what goes around comes around, or in Bible words, “Whatever a person sows, that they will reap.” A lack of faith in God’s promises hold us all back at some time or another.

Now have you noticed that one could teach on fear, materialism, selfishness, and faith, and say nothing about tithing. These four examples apply to many areas of our lives but are particularly applicable to tithing, they are some of the foundational reasons whey teaching on tithing doesn’t work.

Hey…I’ve just given you a great four-point sermon.

____________________________

A call to all Christians to join with me in a new

non-violent, anti-war movement… with each other.

This is part four of a six part series on Why Preaching on Tithing Doesn’t Work. In case you’re just now joining us, you might want to go back and start here.

The fourth reason why preaching on tithing doesn’t work is, well, because it doesn’t work…at least not to the degree we hoped for.

Recently on my Small Church Pastor Group Page on Facebook, I said, “We have this idea that if you teach on tithing you’ll get tithers. When has that ever really happened?” I was surprised by how many (actually only a few, but still) who reported that they’ve had pretty good luck with preaching on tithing. Usually, for me, when talking to a pastor about this, the conversation goes something like…

Pastor Bill: I’m really concerned about our giving. If something doesn’t change we’re going to be in trouble soon.

Me: How do you intend to respond to this?

Pastor Bill: Well it’s been a while since I’ve taught on tithing. (See part one) I guess it’s time.

Me: How did it go the last time you preaching on tithing?

Pastor Bill: Well, giving went up a little but then it creeped back down.

Me: What are your reasons for believing that you will get different results this time?

When we talk about teaching on tithing ‘working’, I’m assuming we mean resulting in people who were not tithing, changing and becoming tithers, permanent tithers. And what we’re really hoping for is that a large enough group of non-tithers will become tithers that it will turn things around for us as a church financially…especially if we are barely getting by or are in financial trouble.

There is an explanation why preaching on tithing seldom gives us the results we’re looking for, and we’ll touch upon this in part five.

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Last week I started a six part series on why preaching on tithing does not work. Now I realize that some of you do not preach on tithing because you don’t think tithing is a mandate for New Testament believers. If that’s where you’re coming from then just substitute the word ‘tithing’ for ‘giving’ or ‘stewardship’ and this series will still relate.

In part one I said that one reason why preaching on tithing does not work is that we seldom preach on tithing. There are some reasons why we don’t, but the main point to part one was that if you think that an occasional sermon on tithing is going to create tithers, you are probably fooling yourself.

In part two I suggested that the number one reason we don’t preach on tithing is fear. We’re afraid of turning people off or people turning on us. Have you ever had someone get pushed out of shape because you preached on tithing? Have you ever had someone get pushed out of shaped because you didn’t preach on tithing? Sometimes you just can’t win. Anyway…we fear losing people and this fear can cause us to hold back on teaching things our church members need to hear.

The third reason why preaching on tithing doesn’t work it because we wait until the church is in trouble financially or until we’re mad. Often these go hand in hand.

Not too long ago I was talking to a pastor who was concerned about a downward trend in giving in his church. The pastor was facing the very real possibility of taking a cut in pay. His family was already barely getting by. I could tell he was frustrated, (who wouldn’t be?), and I could tell he was mad. He wanted to discuss the need to preach on tithing. But before we went any further…

Me: You sound pretty mad.

Bill (not his real name): I don’t mean to sound that way. I’m not really mad, it’s just frustrating to hear how people spend their money with no regard to the church or tithing.

Me: I get that…but you sound pretty angry.

Bill (short pause): Well, I guess you’re right. I am mad.

Me: I understand. But we might want to deal with that before you preach a sermon on tithing or address this problem to the church.

If the only time people hear about tithing is when the church is sinking financially then it won’t have as much effect as if we preach on tithing even during the good times. As I’ve already said, it’s going to be uncomfortable talking about tithing if the only time we talk about it is 1) very seldom, and 2) when we’re in trouble. Also, if we are angry, that vibe will slip out (no matter how good we think we are at hiding our true feelings), and anger, irritation, guilt or shame are a poor motivators.

Always deal with your frustration or anger before you preach, and especially if you’re planning to preach on tithing.

****

 

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Christians can read the same Bible and come to different conclusions about tithing. Some believe that the Bible does teach tithing for Christians today and some disagree. Same Bible, different conclusions. Both love the word of God but both have different positions on this. So…if you don’t teach tithing then simply substitute ‘giving’ or ‘stewardship’ and this series will still relate.

In part one of this six part series, I said that the first reason why teaching on tithing doesn’t work is because so many pastors seldom teach on tithing (or stewardship, or whatever word best describes what you think the Bible has to say about giving). If you believe in tithing but seldom teach on it, how do you expect one sermon a year (some pastors don’t even do that) to do the trick? The reason why the topic of tithing/stewardship is neglected brings us to our second reason.

We are afraid to teach on tithing/stewardship. We’re afraid that visitors will lump us in with the television preachers who are constantly asking for money. We’re afraid that we might offend members of our church who in turn might leave or cause trouble for us. There are legitimate fears. I don’t fault a pastor for worrying about this. Remember, I was a pastor for 28 years. I know these fears.

Jesus talked a lot about money, material possessions, and our attitudes and practices concerning them. Don’t be afraid to talk about tithing/stewardship but do so without coming across as a jerk, heavy-handed, or resorting to guilt and shame. Have you noticed that guilt and shame seldom motivate people to change? I actually believe that many of us need to talk more about money rather than less, and I will unpack that thought in part six.

Coming up next: Teaching on tithing doesn’t work because we wait to do so until the church is in financial trouble and we are mad.

****

Have you checked out my latest book?

Get Your Copy Here.

Get Your Copy Here.

 

You know me…I’m the small church pastor’s biggest fan. I’ve spent the last ten years of my life working with and encouraging pastors of small churches. Every week I hear of the discouraging things pastors have to put up with: dysfunctional boards, gossip and slander, criticism directed towards the pastor, unrealistic expectations…the list could go on and on. But maybe, just maybe, sometimes, perhaps…it’s the pastors fault. Maybe it’s your fault. Why?

You get what you tolerate.

If you tolerate dysfunction, gossip, slander, unrealistic expectations, guess what. You get dysfunction, gossip, slander, and unrealistic expectations. You get what you tolerate.

Now I know that it’s easy for me to sit here in my ivory-tower (actually it’s an old remodeled farm house) out in the country and tell you what to do, but you’ve got to stop putting up with some of the stuff you’ve been putting up with or tolerating.

I know that ‘timing is everything’. A pastor can ‘deal with things’ too soon or too late. My experience tells me that most pastors wait too long before they confront people or problems. Also, I’m not suggesting that you rush in recklessly without a well thought out, well prayed out plan. But you get what you tolerate.

Deciding that you are not going to tolerate something can be costly. You might lose someone. It might get worse before it gets better. Let’s be honest, for some of you it could cost you your job. I understand if you’re not willing to pay that price. I get that, I do. But there must be something you could do. Some plan you could develop and work slowly over time that would move you towards what you want and need rather than settling for what you are currently getting that is causing you so much grief and discouragement.

What are you currently tolerating? What can or should be done about it?

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imagesMaybe you heard the story. One man walks up to another man who is repeatedly hitting his head against a wall. The first man says, “Why are you doing that?” and the second man says, “Because it feels so good when I stop.”

It’s not unusual for me to talk to a pastor who, in my opinion, is hitting their head against a wall. Usually this is something to do with their church, some area of constant frustration for the pastor. Maybe despite the pastors greatest effort they cannot convince their people to join a small group, or participate in an outreach, or change worship style, or some way in which the church is organized. They try and try and try…no luck.

Some things need to change but will never change. Some things will change, but not now. Some things will or can change but it’s going to take patience and time.

If you’ve been pastoring for more than thirty days you’ve discovered that change freaks people out. But I don’t want to get side-tacked on the issue of change. I want to address that sound I hear, that “thud, thud, thud” of a head hitting a wall.

Is there something your frustrated with in your church, does it feel like you’re hitting your head against a wall? Maybe you are. Now you can to get a sledgehammer and bust the wall down, or buy a stick of dynamite and blow the wall up, but if you do there will be some collateral damage. I’m not suggesting that we give up on implementing change. Leaders bring about change. Leaders see the need for change when others don’t. But great leaders know when to bring about change and when not to. Leaders are able to recognize when they are hitting their heads against a wall.

Every pastor should have a “Things to address later” shelf in their study. This is where they put great ideas or areas that need to change in their church but it’s not the right time. Everyday they walk past that shelf and remind themselves,’one day but not now.’

Its your choice. You can keep hitting your head against that wall or you can stop. If you do, it will sure feel good.

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