Creating An Outward Focus For Your Church

What is the mission of the church?  That’s a big question, and it’s one that I won’t even attempt to fully answer in this post.  After all, entire books have been written on that topic!  But a quick summary is that the mission of the church should focus on the task of making disciples of Jesus Christ who can multiply themselves by making more disciples of Jesus Christ.  In other words, the church should exist to make disciples who make disciples.  And that mission applies both locally and globally.

That’s the heartbeat of most pastors and church leaders that I know.  But, it’s not necessarily the heartbeat of most churches.  In fact, it’s a common observation that churches tend to drift from an outward focus toward an inward focus over time, unless intentional steps are taken to maintain an outward focus.

So what do you do if you find yourself in a church that has experienced this “mission drift”?  How do you help change the culture slowly back to an outward, missional focus?  Consider some of these ideas to help get you started:

  1. Pray for a missional focus. We often have not because we ask not (James 4:2).  Spend time begging the Lord to stir the hearts of your church members toward a greater missional focus.  Use part of your weekly prayer meeting to specifically pray in this way. Consider sharing missional opportunities (both locally & globally) to pray for during these times.
  1. Assess your church’s current missional focus. Ask good questions.  What are some of the missions activities in which the church has had direct involvement during the past few years?  What percentage of the church’s budget is being spent on evangelism and/or missions?
  1. Rediscover your church’s mission (if necessary). Get a group of leaders together and talk about the mission of the church and how the church has been engaged in that mission in the past.  It’s probably the case that the church once had a very active missions/evangelism ministry.  Learn those stories, retell them to the congregation, and rediscover together what God has called your church to be and do.
  1. Continually raise awareness of lostness, both locally and globally. Share lostness stats and stories as often as you can and in as many settings as you can.  Make sure to describe the numbers in terms that are easily understood.  For example, instead of saying that your community is 92% unchurched, you could share that 11 out of every 12 people don’t go to church on any given Sunday.  You are saying the same thing, but in a way that is easily understood.
  1. Make organizational changes as necessary. Notice that this isn’t step #1, but it may be necessary to make some organizational changes.  Don’t make these decisions on your own, but build consensus that these changes are necessary to help accomplish your church’s mission before actually making the changes.
  1. Start small & create some easy wins. If you are not already doing so, involve your church in local missions projects.  Volunteer at a homeless shelter or pregnancy care center.  Pass out free bottles of water in the park.  Contact the local schools to see if there are any needs that you can help with.  Start small and build some momentum for missions!
  1. Develop strategic missions partnerships. Take Acts 1:8 as your missions roadmap and develop local, state, North American, and international partnerships.  Lead the church to pray, give, and go.
  1. Publicly recognize and celebrate members engaging in mission. I have heard it said that what gets celebrated is more likely to get emulated.  If you know of church members that have actively been engaged in missions & evangelism, make sure to tell those stories to your whole congregation!
  1. Anticipate opposition. Not everyone in your church will be happy when you begin to move from an inward to an outward focus.  Don’t be surprised when the opposition comes.
  1. Keep moving forward. Don’t be resistant to make changes or adjustments to your missions strategy if one particular missions initiative doesn’t produce the desired participation levels or faces significant opposition.  But, also don’t give up either!  Keep praying!  Keep sharing about the needs!  Keep providing opportunities to engage in mission!  Keep moving forward!

As Far As The East Is From The West: A New Study on Lostness in Kentucky

In December 2012, the Kentucky Baptist Convention released a report titled Lostness Indicators For Kentucky.  This report revealed that “many Kentuckians are unclaimed by any religious group, and most of those who identified with a religious group don’t attend services of any sort on a regular basis.

The report included a breakdown of all 120 Kentucky counties, using three metrics:

  • Percentage of population which self-identify as religious “Adherents”.
  • Percentage of population which self-identify as “Members” of a specific religious congregation.
  • Percentage of population which self-identify as regular “Attenders” of religious worship services.

The results from the report indicated that only 51.6% of Kentuckians are identified with any religious group, and only 13.9% of Kentuckians attend a religious gathering on a regular basis.  While these results were troubling enough, the county-by-county breakdown revealed that the percentages in some Kentucky counties were far worse.

Over the past few years, the findings from this report have been used by local pastors, Directors of Missions, as well as KBC leaders to raise awareness of the great spiritual darkness that still permeates the state.  And it served as a catalyst for the new study that I am releasing today.

The new study is titled “As Far As The East Is From The West”, and it expands the 2012 report in 3 significant ways:

  1. This new study examines the spiritual differences among the 6 geographic regions of the state identified by the Kentucky Baptist Convention as the “consultant regions.”  (See map below.)
  2. This new study takes into account not only the percentage of lostness in the 6 regions and the 120 counties, but also the population of lostness in the 6 regions and 120 counties.
  3. This new study identifies the regions and counties in Kentucky that are in most desperate need of intentional evangelism and church planting efforts.

You can read the full report here, but a quick summary is provided below.

kbc-regional-consultant-group

Population:

  • The Central region has the most people (1,303,806) while the South region has the fewest people (388,048).
  • The East region has the most counties (29) while the Central region has the fewest (15).

 

KBC Churches & Church Plants:

  • The West region has the most KBC churches (506) while the East region has the fewest (247).
  • The North Central region has the worst KBC church to population ratio (1:2886) while the South region has the best (1:888).
  • The Central region has the most KBC-funded church plants (20) while the East region has the fewest (1).

 

Lostness Indicators (By Percentage):

  • The East region has the lowest percentage of religious adherents (34.2%) while the West region has the highest (65.0%).
  • The East region has the lowest percentage of members (25.8%) while the West region has the highest (48.4%).
  • The East region has the lowest percentage of attenders (10.0%) while the West region has the highest (19.4%).
  • Nineteen out of the top 25 most lost counties (based upon percentage) are located in the East region.

 

Lostness Indicators (By Population):

  • The Central region has the most religious non-adherents (611,505) while the West region has the fewest (166,444).
  • The Central region has the most non-members (902,291) while the South region has the fewest (225,343).
  • The Central region has the most non-attenders (1,152,492) while the South region has the fewest (329,497).
  • The Central & North Central regions have the most counties (7 each) in the top 25 most lost (by population) while the South and West regions have the fewest (2 each).

 

Based upon all of this data, I developed a “church planting priority index” to be used to help identify the regions and counties that are in the most desperate need for intentional evangelism and church planting efforts.  Here’s what the data said:

Church Planting Priorities – By Region

  • Priority #1: East Region
  • Priority #2: North Central Region
  • Priority #3: Central Region

Church Planting Priorities – By County

  • Priority #1: Campbell County (North Central region)
  • Priority #2: Jessamine County (North Central region)
  • Priority #3: Bullitt County (Central region)
  • Priority #4: Rowan County (East region)
  • Priority #5: Pike County (East region)

Obviously, there is much more detail included in this study; this post is simply meant to be an introduction to the study.  I will publish several subsequent posts to discuss some fascinating observations from the report, but feel free to go and read the full report now:

New Report on Lostness in Kentucky

2012 Report on Lostness in Kentucky

A Wordless Gospel?

Have you ever heard the old saying, “Preach the gospel always; if necessary use words”?  It’s a catchy phrase that has been quoted in churches and small groups for many years.  While I understand the point attempting to be made that Christians need to walk the walk if we are going to talk the talk, this catchy saying needs to be retired.  Permanently.

In his book Gaining By Losing, J.D. Greear explains why:

Our ministry begins with, and focuses on, testifying to what Christ has done.  Any “service” to our community that does not make that message clear disserves them. Acts of kindness apart from the gospel only make people more comfortable on their way to hell.

Maybe you’ve heard the old adage attributed to Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel; if necessary use words.” Quaint and tweetable, but very wrong. You cannot preach the gospel without words. The gospel is an explanation about an act that occurred in history once and for all. We testify through words that Jesus did for us what we could never do for ourselves by living the life we should have lived and dying the death we should have died, in our place, so that others can believe that message and trust in it. Saying, “Preach the gospel; if necessary use words,” is like me saying, “Tell me your phone number; if necessary, use digits.”  Apart from digits, there is no phone number. Apart from words, there is no gospel.

Amen!  If there are no words, then there is no gospel.  That’s basically what Paul said in Romans 10:13-17: “For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

Amen! Faith comes from hearing words.  In particular, the words of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Therefore, you cannot preach the gospel without words.

Still, we cannot ignore the intention of the saying above.  We must preach the gospel using words, but our lives must reflect the message that we proclaim to others.  It’s not either/or, but both/and.  We must proclaim the gospel AND live a life worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27).

The best definition of evangelism that I have ever heard comes from my former seminary professor Chuck Lawless, who said this: “Evangelism is being, doing, and telling the good news of Jesus Christ. Evangelism is never less than the telling of the good news, but assumed is a lifestyle that supports the message.”

Preach the gospel; words are necessary so use them as you live your life on mission for Him!

Engaging Your Church in Local Missions

LoveLoud 2015

In my role as a Director of Missions, I work to engage the churches of my local association in an intentional Acts 1:8 missions strategy.  Recently, we conducted a local missions event called “LoveLoud Pike”, which included 3 days of missional service by members of our local churches serving our local communities.  Our projects consisted of 3 types:

  1. Evangelism & Outreach
  2. Community Service
  3. Construction

Our biblical motivation came from 1 John 3:18, which states “Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.”  In other words, we did not just want to say that we love our local communities, but we wanted to prove it by our deeds.  I have listed below some of the projects that our teams participated in.  All of these can be easily reproduced in your church or local association:

  1. Light bulb giveaway – It’s probably a safe guess that you have at least one blown light bulb in your house. The same is probably true for your neighbors as well. Purchase some light bulbs and pass them out to folks, free of charge.  It may just open up an opportunity for you to tell them about the light of the world as well!
  1. Water bottle giveaway – This is especially effective on hot, summer days. Go to a local park or any place where people are gathered outdoors and pass out free bottles of water.  And look for an opportunity to tell them about the One who can give them Living Water!
  1. Free car wash – Grab a bucket, some sponges, a water hose, and some signage, and get to work. This project takes very little prep work, but can be very effective, especially when people find out that it’s free!  People will ask you what the catch is, and they will all but throw money at you, but do not accept money under any circumstances.  Simply explain that God’s grace is free, and so is the car wash!
  1. Community service projects – Contact your local school board or government officials and ask if there are any projects that you can do around their schools, businesses, or parks. Our teams painted, cut weeds, filled potholes, and did lots of landscaping, simply because we asked how we could serve our neighbors.
  1. Neighborhood landscaping – Grab some weed killer and start walking through neighborhoods. Once you see a home that could use a little help, simply knock on the door to ask the homeowner if you can spray or pull up their weeds.  Again, do not accept payment!  (Note: we ran out of weed killer on other projects before actually engaging in this project, but we look forward to doing it next time.)

The possibilities are endless, but these are just 5 examples to get you thinking about ways that your church can engage in local missions.  It’s not rocket science; it just takes a little gospel intentionality!

What are some ways that you or your church engages in local missions?  I’d love to hear from you!

When Good Intentions Are Bad

Spinning Wheels

(Image courtesy of iosphere at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Is there ever a situation when good intentions are actually bad?  Absolutely!  Good intentions are bad if you never act on those intentions.  You’re left running on a spinning wheel, going nowhere.  This is true in your personal life, your personal spiritual development, and your personal ministry.

The solution to this problem is simple: Don’t just have good intentions; be intentional.

This is true in so many areas of our lives.  You may have good intentions to show up at your job each day, but unless you actually show up, you won’t have a job very long.  You may have good intentions to pay your taxes, but unless you actually pay them, you’ll be hearing from the IRS.  You may have good intentions to spend time with your family, but unless you actually make the time, your family will suffer for it.

Don’t just have good intentions; be intentional.

The same is true in our practice of the personal spiritual disciplines such as Bible study, prayer, evangelism, worship, etc.  You may have good intentions to study the Bible, but unless you develop a workable plan to do so, your Bible will begin to collect dust.  You may have good intentions to pray, but unless you intentionally make time to do so each day, your prayer life will likely stagnate. You may have good intentions to share the gospel, but unless you get the proper training and devote time in your schedule for this purpose, it probably won’t happen.

Don’t just have good intentions; be intentional.

This is also true in the ministry of the church.  Pastor, you may have good intentions to make disciples in your church, but unless you develop an intentional plan to do so, your church will probably include many spiritual infants.  You may have good intentions to train leaders in your church, but unless you take intentional steps to do so, you may face a large leadership void.  You may have good intentions to lead your church to be more actively involved in missions, but unless you intentionally lead them in this direction, it probably won’t happen on its own.

Don’t just have good intentions; be intentional.

James says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22)  Although James’ focus is specifically on the Word in this verse, the same principle applies.  After you encounter God’s Word, you should have good intentions to live it out.  However, if those good intentions don’t lead to tangible actions, James says that you are deceiving yourself.

Don’t just have good intentions; be intentional.

So, are there areas in your spiritual life or ministry where your good intentions have not led to tangible actions?  If so, what is one step that you can take today to act upon your good intention?

Remember, don’t just have good intentions; be intentional!

Cultivating A Culture of Evangelistic Prayer in Your Church

MEDION DIGITAL CAMERA

Making disciples.  That’s the Great Commission in a nutshell.  And yet while it can be summarized in two simple words, countless books have been written to describe the many facets of the Great Commission.  It’s not my intent to address all of those facets in this post however.  My purpose in this post is to address what I believe to be one of the Great Omissions of the Great Commission and that is compassionate, intentional, evangelistic prayer.

In Matthew 9:35-38, Jesus sees the crowds all around him, and he has compassion for them for they are like sheep without a shepherd.  His compassion for them is what leads him to say to his disciples in verses 37-38: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Commenting on this verse, David Platt says:

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, ‘Here’s the harvest, now go!’ Instead, He says, ‘Here’s the harvest, now pray.’ Jesus will eventually get to the ‘go’ part, but first His followers must be on their knees, asking and pleading with God to send out workers.  This is precisely what we should be doing in our churches as we seek to send people out regularly into this dark world to proclaim the gospel.

And yet this type of prayer is often missing in a typical church prayer meeting.  I’ve heard it said that churches often pray more to keep saints out of heaven than to keep sinners out of hell.  So, the question is how can you cultivate a culture of evangelistic prayer in your church?  Here are some quick ideas to get started:

  1. Teach on the topic of prayer. Specifically, teach on the need for compassionate, intentional, evangelistic prayer.  Use passages like Matthew 9:35-38 or Luke 10:2.
  2. Model evangelistic prayer for your church. Your church members will follow your example.  If they hear you regularly praying with an evangelistic emphasis, they will be much more likely to do so as well.
  3. Be disciplined in your prayer meeting. Set aside a portion of your regular prayer meeting to pray specifically for the lost by name.  Stay disciplined and do this before allowing anyone to share “normal prayer requests” such as health, financial, or emotional concerns.
  4. Conduct a commissioning service. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, every member of your church is “either a missionary or an imposter.”  Indeed, God’s people are a sent people (John 20:21).  With that thought in mind, consider holding a special commissioning service for all of your church members.  Pray over them and send them out into your community!
  5. Utilize technology. Technology is your friend. Part of NAMB’s TenTwo prayer initiative is for believers to pray Luke 10:2 at 10:02 each day.  Utilizing your smartphone, you can set a daily reminder to help you to remember to pray for more workers.  You can also utilize social media to periodically remind church members to pray evangelistically as well.

These are just some ideas to get you started.  What are some other ways to cultivate a culture of evangelistic prayer in the church?