[SPEW #4] Declining Health, Issue Christians, Pronouns, Change

Five Warning Signs of Declining Church Health – thomrainer.com

When I read this, it resonated with me, but the more I read, the more the 5 signs seemed superficial to me.  (OK, I know that my inner analyst says that about everything) – but Thom faithfully talks about symptoms that indicate declining health of a church.  This is what you see.  I would like to see a companion post about 5 signs that a church is recovering.  I may post about this in the future. 

Ed Stetzer – Why I Have No Difficulty Helping “Issue Christians” to Move On

Wow – I had no idea – how pervasive this was, or how much of a problem it could cause (see I really am just a lay person).  Interesting – while Ed is just happy to let them move on, my heart went straight to why does this issue get in their way.  I have been at a church where issue christians raised a stink about various things, (a whole chunk left the church over home schooling) but I had no idea of the magnitude of the phenomenon.  What can a church do, when it’s members become “issue-ish”, and what can we do to prevent this, or to help issue christians regain some “balance”. 

I have always thought that it was simply a case of “majoring” on the “minors’ – meaning taking one’s focus off of the core responsibilities of church and of mission, and micro-focusing on some peripheral aspect of it. 

Pronouns and discipleship | Think Christian

Interesting thoughts about how we talk.  How we talk to God, to each other, about our faith, our needs, our selves – apparently is an indicator for our maturity.  Scholarly ideas with some pragmatic applications.

The Fluidity of Change | Foundation Ministries & Publications

Linking change into our spiritual development and our desire to fulfill God’s purpose.  Can we be missional and resistant to change?  When a church is resistant to change, what does that mean?  See the first link above….

Program Event Repetition

Does your organization have some special events or programs that happen on a regular cycle but infrequently (i.e annual, semi-annual or quarterly)? Does it always seem like these are thrown together, or disruptive (taking time away from more frequent programming)? Are they hard to recruit volunteers for, and hard to plan?

Perhaps treat them all like one big program, so that there is some common coordination, and process accross them. Find what works for each aspect of each program and carefully document that so that knowledge is shared. Figure out common roles and responsibilities that can be shared across events or programs. Establish a common rhythm for these events – planning, meetings, schedules. Continue reading “Program Event Repetition”

Leadership Sourcing

Recently I read this post by @outreachninja Bob Franquiz. He describes what he calls a “frankenstein church”. In his description what he is referring to is a church that brings in leadership from the outside, rather than raising leadership from within. I know that Bob is trying to be provocative, and to generate interest in his free webinar. I know that his heart is for the family of God, and the Mission of the Body of Christ.

While I usually agree with Bob in his writings, this one, kinda rubbed me the wrong way. Mostly, I struggled with it because it was not a thoughtful discussion of the benefits of building a leadership pipeline (very true), or even a thoughtful discussion of some of the bad things that can happen when new leaders from the outside that are not invested in the methods and mission pre-existing in the church (also fairly common).

The post was written in a way that suggests that the only good way to grow leadership was from within, and failing to do this always causes a resulting ugliness in a ministry that is easy to see.

So I want to add some balance to Bob’s post by talking about some benefits and drawbacks of both leadership development plans. As I do this, I want to suggest that there is a balance and there are decisions to be made about any leadership role. LIke most things there is no one right answer for every situation.

Develop leadership from within the ministry

  • is a natural outgrowth of a spiritual formation process.
  • provides mature believers challenges for their faith that causes continued growth.
  • produces leaders who are already familiar with programs, theology, doctrine, policy.
  • produces leader that are generally accountable to the remainder of the leadership hierarchy or group.


  • produces leaders that tend to be emotionally invested in status quo.
  • leaders tend to replicate themselves, so you end up with less diversity in the leadership pool.
  • requires a bootstrapping period while the first batch are being equipped.’
  • depending on the body, may not produce the broad range of talents and gifts necessary to support ministry plans

Engage leadership from outside the ministry

  • can bring in talents and gifts that are currently lacking in the body.
  • requires hiring period, but less bootstrapping so can be enacted more quickly


  • can bring in personalities and opinions that are divisive
  • can bring in leaders who are not ready to be accountable
  • can bring in leaders who are not familiar with programs etc., who can unknowingly harm existing programs.

I think that Bob in his article is focusing on these three drawbacks. He doesn’t exactly spell this out, but that is what I smell. The fact is regardless of how you “acquire” leadership, you need to have a good way to onboard leaders so that they know what is expected, and to ensure that divisions or factions don’t form. You also need to guard against stagnation and inertia within the leadership community so that a resistance to change does not develop. You should ensure that ministry plans are aligned with leadership acquisition and development timelines.

Check out these ther ministry staffing and leadership posts:


[Spew #3] Steve Jobs and Staffing; Conversations; Leader Advice

How to Change the World: What I Learned From Steve Jobs

The passing of Steve Jobs has created a flurry of articles and blog posts advocating his sainthood or demonizing him or just remembering stuff he said.  There are two pieces of advice that you can take away from ministry staffing – Avoid the bozo explosion and Hire people who can tell you what to do, rather than hiring people you have to tell what to do.  They are related.

Seth’s Blog: Open conversations (or close them)

How you ask and answer questions can change the conversation dratically.  In ministry do we ever really want to close a conversation?  Really? 

7 Random Pieces of Advice for the Younger Leader | Ron Edmondson

Truth: this is not just for young leaders…

Contemplating Demographics

Demographics is the study of population groups. Church planters are critically focused on demographics when selecting locations for a new church plant. I expect that they want to answer questions like, are there enough people in the neighborhood to sustain a church plant.

Why is it that churches once planted and doing OK – start to (and ultimately completely) ignore demographics. That is, until the numbers start to drop.

Why can’t church leaders continue to be focused on being proactive in the community where the church is located?

Why should churches care about demographics anyway? Lets start with that. In the “Great Commission”, Jesus Himself commanded the apostles to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations in Jerusalem, Judea, and even to the ends of the Earth.” So Jerusalem is the immediate vicinity of the first church, and it is the first place they were commanded to make disciples (produce fruit). If I take this command to heart, then my first outreach should be in my direct physical community (outside the walls of the church). I think, in the communities that our church members live in.

So if I read this scripture, God Himself has commanded us to produce fruit by making disciples in our closest community – FIRST. What that says to me is this – if I spend more time and resources on foreign missions or church planting than community outreach than I am out of balance.

So how specifically do I reach my community? How do I make disciples? For starters, I need to understand who lives in my community. That is why demographics is important. If my community is ethnically diverse – then I need to reach out to different ethnic groups – even if we (our church) is not so diverse. If my community is undergoing some form of transition, then there are new families moving in that may not even know that our church exists.

The fact is, communities change. For the last 60+ years in metropolitan america, populations have been moving from urban neighborhoods to sub-urban communities to near-rural communities. Churches formed in city neighborhoods have often moved with their membership – from city to suburb to farm field. Yet the urban neighborhoods are still there – just different people live there. The suburbs that formed after WWII are still there, but the generations that built and moved into them are now passing away. Our suburbs are all in different states of generational transition, as the last of the original owners are gone or about to go. Now the younger generations are living in the city again, and collar suburbs are becoming ethnically diverse.

These transitions are opportunities for churches. Opportunities to decide – do we stay here while our membership moves further out, or back toward city neighborhoods. Do we continue to reach our demographically changing community or do we isolate ourselves or do we move to re-center around our membership? There are no simple answers, only we must consider the fruitfulness of our ministry, our mission, as our priority. Without this, our decision can be somewhat self serving – something that ministry should not become.

One thing I have noticed – as neighborhoods change through generations, those communities that have diversified, tend to become more stable over time, and churches that learn to minister effectively in ethnically diverse communities benefit from the diversity and the stability. Maybe this is what God intended – Maybe as the global community becomes increasingly more mobile and transient – the ends of the the earth will start to come to us. Especially if we don’t take our eyes off of our community as our first mission field.

the “Spew” #2

Which Customer Is Your Ministry Designed to Connect? | MarkHowellLive.com

Recognizing that ministry is not a one-size-fits-all enterprise is a very important thing.  I think this post shares a really good example of this.  While calling those we are called to minster to “customers” feels very “marketing-ish” the message rings true.  You won’t attract People if you won’t meet them where they are.  Jesus was all over that message.  We should be too.

Neil Cole: Can Groups Be Missional & Make Disciples? | Verge Network

This is a very provocative article that I don’t truly agree with, but I am positing it here because juxtaposed against Mark Howell’s article above – it makes Mark’s point stand out even more.  Discipleship is a smaller box inside the innermost box.  Look for a post on the FPM blog about this very topic in the next few weeks.

The Danger of Vision Casting | Ron Edmondson

Ron’s post on casting vision without completing vision is dead on.  I have lived through this, and his warning is appropriate.  It is not only dangerous for the organization as a whole (it can lead to dissapointment) it is dangerous for leadership for the very reasons that Ron lists.  Great post!!! The cost of completing the vision must be contemplated before you cast it. 

Luke 14:28-29

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,

Vision, Strategy, Policy – In Search Of

When casting vision, you need strategy to complete it.  This post from my other blog is complementary to Ron’s post above, providing a simple framework for contemplating organizational change using vision, strategy and policy.  Organizational change is hard – don’t kid yourself into thinking that if I can envision it, someone else will make it happen.

@ronedmondson @markchowell @vergenetwork @regenerateweb

Dealing With Leaks

At a time when Wikileaks is on people’s mind – I want to talk about MinistryLeaks.

Ministry leaders dread dealing with people who want to separate themselves or defect from a church. I use the word leak, because depending on the volume it can be an annoyance, or a crisis. There is a natural process for people to leave a church – people move, people go to be with the Lord, older people follow their kids/grandkids.

I thought about using a play on the old “huggies” saggy diaper that leaks ad campaign – “Do you belong to a saggy church that leaks?” – but reconsidered as it casts a negative pallor on the church.

I really want to have a discourse on how to contend with an unnatural leakage – people “dissing” the church – people leaving a ministry because of dissatisfaction, dissillusion, discontent, disagreement, disuinty, dischord… I want to define (for myself) what I think call a leak. A leak is a sustained period of declining membership or attendance or turnover in either category that exceeds 2-5% per year and is less than 30% in any 4 year period. A dangerous leak involves core leaders and historic or founding families. A pipe burst usually centers around staff or facility transitions – new pastors or departing pastors or directors or moving the congregation. Sometimes changes in worship service, or ministry programs are a trigger. Please do not conflate in your mind a trigger event and any person’s decision to separate. The reasons for leaving may have been forming over a long time, and the trigger simply struck the powder. Our job as leaders is to assess each situation, and determine whether there is a ministry problem to address, a personal problem to address, or simply an organic, natural separation because of circumstance.

Here are some “Don’t’s” to ponder when participants are dissin’ your ministry:


  • Don’t take it personally – The sense of indignation or hostility that often accompanies ministry defections is perhaps the largest barrier to discovering whether there are valid reasons for people to vote with their feet.


  • Don’t assume you understand what is really going on with people – Your ability to determine what is causing folks to dribble out the door is dependent on your willingness to hear from them what is really going on. Perhaps there are needs that they have that were not previously known, or that simply misunderstood.


  • Don’t resist difficult truths – when you hear from people that say unpleasant things about your leadership, ministry community, ministry programs – start from the position that there is a kernel of truth behind what they are telling you from their perspective. No ministry is perfect. If you don’t have an inventory of your ministries gaps or weaknesses, start one. Behind the defections, there is likely a short list of gaps that you need to pray about.


  • Don’t discount the value of a message because of the delivery style – just because the message is delivered in a stream of invective, or because the messenger personalized the message, or because the message feels like a parting shot. Wounded people tend to lash out. Deal with it, if someone was spiritually wounded on your watch – you are partly responsible – if not for the problem, then certainly for the solution.


  • Don’t assume you understand the others experience – as a leader, you have likely been immersed and invested in this ministry for years. You probably have very close relationships within the community. Your experience of the ministry is probably very different from that of a newcomer, or even of a long time spectator. Their perspective on your ministry’s effectiveness and attractiveness is going to be vastly different from your experience. When relatively outsiders tell you your ministry stinks, they are smelling something different from you. When long time insiders tell you the same, you have to recognize that you may have become disconnected.

I recognize that each of these don’t’s is contrary to our human nature. As mature believers we need to be prepared to deal with people who are hurting, lashing out, misinformed, discontented, as well as being under spiritual warfare. We cannot afford to dismiss these dear brothers and sisters without at least trying to understand how things feel or appear from their unique perspective.

The “Do’s” are just as important:


  • Do attempt to hear each individual who is leaving – having an “exit interview” process that is prepared so that you are able to detect themes and patterns in the reasons that people provide (true or not) that may provide clues to the “smells” that exist in your ministry.


  • Do respond positively to each instance of criticism or critique – Since there are probably 10 who won’t for every person who will send a critical e-mail, you must assume that the critic is not alone in her opinion. Responding positively is not the same as a polite refutation of her critique, but an offer of genuine conversation aimed at building understanding. The temptation is to return fire by rationalizing or justifying the status quo. This response however polite, does not help the critic feel heard. It also presumes that you understand all of the context of the criticism, or that you and your critic are actually using the words the same way. You may find in a conversation that you completely misunderstood what they said in a letter or e-mail. Remove the beam from your eye before attempting to remove the spec from your critic’s eye.


  • Do admit to challenges and weaknesses – people respond very differently to people who are willing to accept their position and admit that there may be a problem. Every ministry has weaknesses and challenges. They should not be a secret – there should be an active and public process for adressing them. Even if you are temporarily unable to address the criticism, this will let the critic know that they are not unappreciated – it can move them from being part of the problem, to part of the solution.


  • Do ask for positive suggestions – to take the last point one step further, many of your critics are smart folks who may have ideas you haven’t considered yet. At a minimum, it turns the tables from being them telling you that you stink, to asking them to wash your feet. Even if “they got nothin'” – your critic is allowed to move from a position of disappointment, conflict, emnity – toward a position of empathy, collaboration, progress – she is allowed to change teams. The choice is hers, but the opportunity is there.


  • Do leave the door open – it is easy to see those who ultimately decide to leave our ministry as “the problem”, “the enemy”, “difficult”, “divisive” – whatever adjective or noun you assign to them. Recognize that when they disagree with your prioirities, policies, or choices, perhaps the most mature thing that they can do is to separate – so that they are not a divisive influence. They may continue to serve in your programs or affiliates because they genuinely do not want to damage the valuable parts of the ministry. If the issue is not centered around sin or doctrine, and you have confidence that the defector is still qualified for ministry – there is no reason to disqualify them because of disagreements over matters of less spiritual consequence. Establish and maintain communications in ways that do not make it more difficult for them to change direction or reverse their decisions.


  • Do wish them to find a safe and satisfactory place of worship and fellowship – OK differences are irreconcilable. We can’t meet on this. It doesn’t matter why, but you don’t want them to leave feeling like they are persona non grata – like you said “…and don’t let the door hit ya on the way out…” If you are not praying for them and their next church, you should be looking to your own heart in this situation.

Our job as leaders is primarily one of stewardship. While people are leaving, perhaps the most tangible impact is in contributions. Perhaps right behind that is volunteer program staff. As a steward of these resources you should be actively managing the impact and looking to expenses and programming and recruiting volunteers. ‘Cuz you are still accountable for the fruit.

This is tough. I feel it. So maybe the best approach is to maintain the seals. What do I mean? I believe that many swells of dissatisfaction develop over a period of time. Perhaps more frequent candid feedback is a good thing – would it not be better to see the swell forming months before people start defecting? Would that not give you time to respond with more than a “that’s too bad.”

The church I am currently attending has an interesting process, each year every member renews his or her membership in a formal conversation with leadership. It is advertised as a time to re-commit – and a time to provide feedback. It is a form of regular accounting – that is people can drift away, and if they are not regularly attending (because of lifestyle) you may not know that they have defected – or are dissatisfied.

I am aware of a church that gave a congregational survey periodically with what the leadership saw as their top 5 challenges asking the congregation to rank them and also a place for a write in challenge – so they could capture items that they had not thought of. They reported back to the congregation the following week with a report on the congregation’s response, and a committment to build a plan to address the top 1 or 2 items on the list. The next week they had a proposal for a plan to address the first one and so on.

These churches have pro-active mechanisms to “maintain the seals of satisfaction”. I don’t advocate either method – make up your own. Just recognize that if you don’t act – you may be forced to react.

Last point – really! Some times a new church “shows up” on people’s radar in the area. This church is growing rapidly. It has momentum. It is different, has a bit of spectacle, the pastor is a showman, and, and, and… Your congregation have “snuck in” a service at “CoolNewChurch.com”. People don’t leave your congregation to attend because they are lured and seduced by the shiny stuff happening at CNC. They leave because they are dissatisfied with your church. Don’t blame CNC – they are doing the best they can to produce fruit for the kingdom. Don’t blame your folks or think of them as shallow for being attracted by the big show at CNC. CNC 4 years ago used to be HappyNormalChurch.com just like you. Somewhere along the way their leadership had a vision for change that allowed them to overcome 30 years of inertia to transform themselves into something cool and new to attract more people to God’s Kingdom. Good for them. If this has happened or is happening in your area of ministry, your job is simple:
    1) figure out what is happening or not happening in your ministry that allows people to become and REMAIN dissatisfied long enough to consider leaving.
    2) Formulate a plan to do something to prevent them from remaining dissatisfied for very long.