More from Jimmy Hinton on how they have implemented Church Steps Outreach in Pennsylvania!
Hopefully my previous blog brought some encouragement to ministers of small congregations who may feel stuck in a rut or who are just trying to be more evangelistic. Just to share a little more background—I’ve always believed (and still do!) what 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches, namely that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” But I have learned that there is far more than just preaching scripture, and it demands real action from everyone in the church. Sermons alone don’t cut it. Let’s be real. How many ministers put every ounce of energy, prayer, and time into sermons, wake up early Sunday morning to pray over their notes, spend time in prayer specifically asking God to prepare hearts, then they deliver the Word with every ounce of raw energy they have left, hoping that the sermon will finally be the holy grail of all sermons? You know, the one that kick starts your anemic congregation into spiritual fruit-producing action? The sermon resonates. You can see it on their faces. Finally! A breakthrough! You get the high fives as people exit the building. Wheels are turning and ideas are renewed. Then next Sunday the same tired eyes look toward you longing for another zinger to get them through the week. You soon realize that you are tired, your elders and deacons (if you have any) are tired, and even the pew potatoes are tired. What inevitably happens when people are tired, bored, and frustrated? That’s right. . . church fight!!
I’ve seen fights break out in small churches that, when investigated, began out of sheer boredom. Kids do this all the time. Lock 2 or 3 kids in a room with no toys for an hour, tell them to sit still, and see what happens. A lot of church sickness is rooted in unfocused leadership combined with boredom and ending in frustration. Unfocused leadership usually results from a failure of us ministers to properly equip, teach, and train the saints, and boredom because, more often than not, ministers at small churches either don’t show others how to help or leaders don’t allow them to. I’ve seen a lot of burned out ministers of small churches claim that they do most of the work and that many of their members are lazy. I don’t believe this to be the case at all. How many Christians show up to church and say, “Let’s see how little I can contribute to these chumps!”? I’ve found that the majority of people are begging leaders to let them serve and the leaders don’t know how (or seem to have the time to) show them how to serve. So. . . what have I learned in the last few years that are guiding principles which can help a church become evangelistic?
1. Structure is vital—Most small churches I’ve been to are warm and genuinely welcome and care for visitors. But once a visitor has come in the door a few times, the regular members are usually not attentive to their needs anymore and let them slip through the cracks. Through our Steps Outreach, we have given members specific ministries that are all tied in to directing, guiding, teaching, and discipling our visitors. No longer do visitors come in and 3 months down the road wonder if anyone even still notices them. We are now working on a plan to assimilate our new people into the church and give each one of them a clear purpose.
2. Community is vital—Paul tells us that the church is Christ’s body and that every single member is valued and must work in conjunction with every other member. Luke tells us that the church “had everything in common.” Both Paul and Jesus offer warnings against idle members. If we read it in the Bible, why don’t we practice it? We must genuinely believe in every single member, faults and all, and believe that they are capable of (and should be) working just the same as the next person beside them.
3. Communication is vital—In the last 3 months e-mail has become a lifeline, and so has our discussion time on Wednesday evenings. With almost 30 new visitors, we have a lot to keep track of. We try to know what the needs of our visitors are—what works for them, what doesn’t, who’s ready for Bible studies, and who isn’t. As communication breaks down, so does the ministry.
4. The biblical cycle of Blessing-Gospel message-Church response-Further blessing is vital—Acts 3 & 4 are this cycle in action! Peter and John heal a crippled man at the Temple (blessing). That man publicly rejoices in the Lord. Peter preaches the Gospel to the attentive crowd and 5,000 men believe as a result. Peter and John are arrested and released. They return to their church and pray. The church responds by being one in mind and sharing possessions. And so the cycle repeats: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33 NIV). Interestingly, our new people have taken the lead in attracting others to Jesus and inviting them to church! We are there to bless them and reach them with the Gospel message. The church is responding in healthy ways, which further blesses others.
5. Peace is Vital—Believe me when I say that not all agree on method. We don’t argue about this, we celebrate it. To be honest, I was quite nervous even suggesting that we change the structure of Wednesday evenings. We are pretty traditional and have never, to my knowledge, changed the structure of Wednesday evenings in our 113 year history until February of this year. We communicated it well and let people know that if they disagreed with the way we do something, they needed to offer suggestions rather than attacks. Peace has been a welcomed friend and has allowed us to grow and mature.
More tomorrow on what this all looks like in action.
This is so encouraging to me to learn from Jimmy’s structure here. I love innovation and transformation. In sharing this, Jimmy is helping me refine our process too! One of the things we are considering is making this a regular part of our small group ministry (1 Sunday night each month, all groups would work through this process). Thanks Jimmy for taking the lead, bringing about change and dealing with people in loving ways. Praise God for the results He is bringing to your congregation!
You stated the truth quite well when you wrote “ministers at small churches either don’t show others how to help or leaders don’t allow them to.” The latter part of that is highly relevant in examining why generations are leaving the churches and not returning. If I had a business and I would not let allow and did not want my employees to contribute, then I would be on the way to bankruptcy. The retaining of power by a certain group who are both tired and out of ideas but who refuse to cede even 25% of their power is a recipe for disaster. If I were in leadership, I would want all the help I could get. Perhaps that is why I am not in a leadership role…
Very well said, Jim. You hit the heart of Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15. I have a lot of interaction with ministers in a tri-state area and, sadly, the consensus is consistent: elders, deacons, and ministers are at odds and the health of the church is suffering. We are in a position where (fortunately?) we don’t have elders or deacons. We have adopted a plan with a very specific timeline, combined with a congregational study, to select and appoint elders and deacons in October. A good number of our men are serving in ways that are really impressive. They are learning from me, but I am probably learning even more from them. We have all agreed that it is antibiblical to work against each other or for any one person to domineer. Leadership that strings red tape all over the building is leadership that is asking for people to leave.
Thanks for telling me how much of the bible I summarized. I won’t try to take your job. I was just using old time common sense taught to me by Jewish relatives of blessed memory. So are the elders, deacons and ministers blaming each other? Disagreeing over the methods? Or some won’t modernize? I am just curious who is hindering the progress. You might be careful getting deacons. Some churches run better by committees because women can be included. A bunch of chauvinistic elders and deacons can run the women right out.