Category Archives: Difficult Issues

Nine Observations about Announcements in Worship Services

origin_4274024184By Thom Rainer

To have or not to have announcements in the worship services? That is the question many church leaders ask today. And indeed there are several tendencies or trends related to announcements, and they are often related to the size of the church.

I asked a number of church leaders of congregations of varying sizes about their practices in this area. They pretty much confirmed what I am seeing as well. Here are my nine observations:

  1. More church leaders do not think announcements should be a part of the worship services. Their churches are more likely to have announcements projected on a screen prior to the worship service, or not to have them at all in the worship center.
  2. Large churches (700 and up in average worship attendance) are highly unlikely to have announcements as a part of the worship service. As noted above, they may have the announcements projected on a screen prior to the worship service.
  3. Smaller churches (under 200 in average worship attendance) are very likely to include announcements as a traditional part of the worship service. Excluding them would likely cause some level of conflict in the church.
  4. Video or projected announcements have grown commensurate with the growth of projected lyrics during the worship music. Because the technology and equipment is available for the music, more churches also use it for announcements.
  5. With greater frequency, pastors limit making announcements unless they are a major or visional issue. This trend is growing in all churches except smaller congregations.
  6. More congregations limit announcements before or during the worship services to those issues that affect most or all of the congregants. For example, it is becoming less likely for announcements to be made about a committee meeting that involves only six people.
  7. Many pastors are still asked to make announcements right before worship services begin. Often they are handed a slip of paper or told adamantly that something must be announced. I will address this issue in a later blog post.
  8. Pastors also receive pressure from different groups and individuals to make certain their announcements are made. Most every church member has his or her own idea about priorities in the church. One pastor recently told me that a church member got mad at him because he did not announce that the member’s daughter was named salutatorian of her senior high school class.
  9. Most church leaders believe that the retention rate of announcements by members is low. If retention is indeed low, it would indicate that most times of announcements are done due to pressure or tradition or both.

What is your church’s approach to announcements in the worship services? How effective do you think they are? What is your reaction to these nine observations?

ThomRainer

 

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on January 7, 2015. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

Seven Myths about a Pastor’s Workweek

clock-pastorsBy Thom Rainer

It is an old joke, one that is still told too often. You go up to your pastor and say, “I wish I had your job; you only have to work one hour each week.” It is likely your pastor will laugh or smile at your comment. In reality your pastor is likely hurt by your statement. Indeed the reality is that too many church members have made wrongful and hurtful comments about the pastor’s workweek.

Sadly, some church members really believe some of the myths about a pastor’s workweek. And some may point to a lazy pastor they knew. I will readily admit I’ve known some lazy pastors, but no more so than people in other vocations. The pastorate does lend itself to laziness. To the contrary, there are many more workaholic pastors than lazy pastors.

So what are some of the myths about a pastor’s workweek? Let’s look at seven of them.

Myth #1: The pastor has a short workweek. Nope. The challenge a pastor has is getting enough rest and family time. Sermon preparation, counseling, meetings, home visits, hospital visits, connecting with prospects, community activities, church social functions, and many more commitments don’t fit into a forty hour workweek.

Myth #2: Because of the flexible schedule, a pastor has a lot of uninterrupted family time. Most pastors rarely have uninterrupted family time. It is the nature of the calling. Emergencies don’t happen on a pre-planned schedule. The call for pastoral ministry comes at all times of the day and night.

Myth #3: The pastor is able to spend most of the week in sermon preparation. Frankly, most pastors need to spend more time in sermon preparation. But that time is “invisible” to church members. They don’t know that a pastor is truly working during those hours. Sadly, pastors often yield to the demand of interruptions and rarely have uninterrupted time to work on sermons.

Myth #4: Pastors are accountable to no one for their workweek. To the contrary, most pastors are accountable to most everyone in the church. And church members have a plethora and variety of expectations.

Myth #5: Pastors can take vacations at any time. Most people like to take some vacation days around Christmas. That is difficult for many pastors since there are so many church functions at Christmas. And almost every pastor has a story of ending a vacation abruptly to do a funeral of a church member.

Myth #6: The pastor’s workweek is predictable and routine. Absolutely not! I know of few jobs that have the unpredictability and surprises like that of a pastor. And few jobs have the wild swings in emotions as does the pastorate. The pastor may be joyfully sharing the gospel or performing a wedding on one day, only to officiate the funeral of a friend and hear from four complainers the next day.

Myth #7: The pastor’s workweek is low stress compared to others. I believe pastors have one of the most difficult and stressful jobs on earth. In fact, it is an impossible job outside of the power and call of Christ. It is little wonder that too many pastors deal with lots of stress and depression.

Pastors and church staff are my heroes. They often have a thankless job with long and stressful workweeks. I want to be their encourager and prayer intercessor. I want to express my love for them openly and enthusiastically.

I thank God for pastors.

ThomRainer

 

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on December 22, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam,  Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

Ten Troubling Statements Church Leaders and Members Make

Arguing-WorkersBy Thom Rainer

If you want your church to move toward a slow yet certain death, make certain your church leadership and membership affirms most of these ten statements. They are troubling statements. Indeed they are proclamations that virtually assure your church’s decline and probable demise.

What is troubling is that these statements are not uncommon. They are articulated by both staff and lay leaders at times. See if you have ever heard any of these ten.

  1. We hire our pastors and staff to do that. “That” can be evangelism. Or discipleship. Or caring for others. Or visiting people in the hospital. Some lay leaders view pastors and staff as hired hands to do ministry they should be doing themselves.
  2. We have enough churches in our community. I rarely see a community that is really “overchurched.” The number of unchurched people in any one community is typically increasing, not decreasing. This comment usually comes from church leaders who view new churches as competition.
  3. We are a discipleship church. Or an evangelism church. Or a ministry church. Church leaders who say their churches are focused on only one area of ministry are offering excuses not to be obedient in other areas.
  4. We have never done it that way before. Yes, it’s cliché. But it’s still a very pervasive attitude among change-resistant people in the church.
  5. We don’t have the money to do that. More times than not, the church does indeed have the money to focus on necessary priorities. The problem is that some church leaders don’t have the courage to reallocate funds toward those priorities.
  6. We really don’t emphasize small groups. Churches that do not give a priority to small groups or Sunday school classes can count on a big exodus of people out the back door. Those in groups are five times more likely to stay involved in a church than those in worship services alone.
  7. We have enough people in our church. This is a tragic statement by leaders of inwardly focused churches. And it is an excuse not to do evangelism and ministry.
  8. We aren’t a church for those kinds of people. Though similar to number seven, this statement is an appalling declaration made by church members who really believe people of a certain race, ethnic group, income group, or other descriptor should be excluded from the congregation.
  9. We really shouldn’t expect much of our members. Low expectation churches are far too common. Too many church leaders communicate unwisely that it’s okay for members to do nothing, give nothing, and not be concerned about growing spiritually.
  10. We focus only on our members, not guests and others. Many church leaders make this statement either explicitly or implicitly. Sometimes the facilities, the worship services, and the small groups shout “Guests not welcome!” I released a resource today that addresses this critical issue of guest friendliness.

What do you think of these ten troubling statements? Are they accurate? Are they fair? What would you add or change? [Please leave your comments below]

 

ThomRainer

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on December 8, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam,  Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

What to say to a Church Bully

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joe-mckeeverBy Joe McKeever

(This is the type of article some church people will find objectionable. I’m fully aware of that and am willing to run the risk of the flack from writing it. If it results in one congregation standing up to a member who has held the church in a stranglehold and run off preacher after preacher, if it puts just one bully out of business, it’ll be worth the flack. This is a far bigger problem than most people realize.)

No church bully thinks he’s one. He’s just (ahem) looking out for the interests of the church, since a) no one else seems to be willing to do it and b) even though it’s a difficult task, he has the courage to step up and do this difficult thing.

Cooper Manning, oldest son of Archie and Olivia Manning and thus older brother of football champions Peyton and Eli, admits that he gave his little brothers a hard time when they were children. “I never thought of it as bullying,” he says.

They never do.

Bullies—whether at home or in the workplace, on the playground or in church—think of themselves as a) natural leaders, b) gifted for ruling and c) willing to speak up and take action when everyone else backs off.

In their minds, it’s all about strength and courage, vision and leadership. Let’s talk about church bullies.

Someone is calling the shots behind the scenes at your church, perhaps running off preachers, intimidating new pastors or pushing his own agenda as though he knows best what God wants in this place.

Know anyone like that?

We think of Diotrephes in the little epistle of 3 John. The apostle John writes, “I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren [traveling missionaries who need hospitality in their ministry], either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church” (NASB).

He loves “the preeminence,” is how the KJV puts it.

Sound like anyone you know?

Someone, you say to yourself and your spouse, ought to stand up to such a person and see if he can’t be put out of business before he destroys the church. He’s already ruined the ministry of several preachers and besmirched the good name and reputation of this church.

Someone should. Not you, of course.

You’re too nice to do that. And maybe a little fearful?

My question to you is: What are you afraid of?

“Well,” you reply, “I wouldn’t know what to say. Mr. Bully is a powerful person in our town. And he has a way with words. Why, he can cut people off at the knees with just a few words. I couldn’t stand up to a person like that.”

So, you’re not a fighter? Is that what you’re saying?

Good. You’re just the one for this job.

In fact, the last person who needs to take on a tyrant is another strong-willed, acid-tongued, outspoken church member who is the equal of Mr. Bully in every way.

The best person to stand up to him is the sweet-spirited and humble little lady who teaches Sunday school to the senior women and has not risen in a church business meeting to question the leadership in her lifetime.

Second best would be some older man who has served the Lord quietly for a generation or more, going about his work, always supporting the church program, loving his pastors and never engaging in gossip.

OK, we’ve got our leader. It’s you. Now all we need is a plan.

Pray. Ask the Lord. Listen to Him. Wait on Him.

Listen to church members around you. Surely you’re not the only one concerned about what Mr. Bully is doing to pastors and your church. Who are they? What are they saying? Listen and learn.

Bide your time. Again, listen to the Lord and obey Him. And remember this: The Lord is not pleased when His children wimp out.

By listening to the typical church member today, you’d think all God has is wimps.  In his wonderful book (from 1986) No More Mr. Nice Guy! Stephen Brown tells of attending a gathering of Christian leaders in Washington, D.C. During a lull in the session, a black bishop rose and asked to speak.

“My friends,” he began, “I have a message for you from the Lord. The Lord says that if you Christians ever get over your fear, you’re going to be dangerous.”

Brown says in His first miracle, Jesus turned the water to wine. Ever since, “Christianity has been turning the wine back into water.”

“Now when they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

Don’t wimp out, Christian. “Be strong and of good courage” (Josh. 1:6, 7, 9, 18).

How to Confront a Bully and Live to Tell About It

You ask him a question. That’s all.

Just hold him accountable for what he has done.

What question should you ask? Whatever the Holy Spirit puts in your heart. Trust Him to tell you. It could be something like:

“I’d like to pose a question to Mr. Bully. I know you were chairman of (whatever) committee. How was the decision made to (do whatever)?”  Then sit down and be quiet. (Do not overspeak. The simpler and more direct your question, the better.)

“Mr. Chairman, I wonder if Mr. Bully would like to respond to the rumor that he is responsible for our pastor leaving.”

“Mr. Moderator, may I ask what offices Mr. Bully holds in the church?”

“Brother Pastor, could we ask Mr. Bully to explain to the congregation why he is leading the movement to get our pastor fired?”

1. Be sure you know what you are talking about. Few things are more embarrassing that rising in a business session ready to set some people straight when it becomes obvious that you have your facts wrong.

2. Know the answer you are going to hear before you ask it. Lawyers say never to ask a question to a witness you don’t know the answer to; otherwise the matter will blow up in your face.

3. Be sweet and kind but persistent—wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove (Matt. 10:16). No inflammatory language. Nothing but kindness. Do not allow Mr. Bully to outsweet you or outspiritualize you.  Claim the high ground and stay there.

4. Do not lose your cool. Saying too little is better than saying too much. The last thing you want is to make Mr. Bully appear to be wronged and yourself the aggressor.

5. If no one else in the church rises to support your questions or to further challenge Mr. Bully, don’t push it. You cannot do this by yourself. But trust the Lord to work on people’s hearts. These things sometimes require more than a one-hour business meeting.

6. Do not let this be a personal thing, as though you and Mr. Bully are enemies. Your concern is for the welfare of your church, the honor of the Lord Jesus Christ and the man whom He has sent as the shepherd of His flock. You are not trying to humiliate anyone.

7. If Mr. Bully gets upset and displays his temper, good. Let people see him for what he is.

8. If he threatens to leave and “take my substantial contributions with me,” remind everyone present, “This is the Lord’s church, and He doesn’t need any of us.” This might be a good place to quote the line from Psalm 50 that goes, “If I were hungry, I would not ask you; the cattle on a thousand hills are mine.”

9. Where is the pastor in all this? Standing by, observing, sending up urgent prayer messages to heaven, hoping you and the rest of the membership are going to be strong and finally put Mr. Bully out of business, that’s where! If you do, or if tonight’s business meeting signals to Mr. Bully that his days are numbered, there will be joy in the pastor’s home throughout the night.

10. Do not get into a tit-for-tat argument with Mr. Bully’s wife or adult children who rise to his defense. Do not take that bait. Be sweet. Saying less is better than too much.

What happens next?

11. If the pastor is moderating the meeting and feels impressed by the Lord, he might ask the congregation at some point, “Does anyone have a motion to make?” And then wait. See what God does.

Once the pastor knows that the membership has Mr. Bully’s number and that they are reining him in, he becomes encouraged to resist the man himself. After all, what is going to happen—mark my words—is that the pastor’s office phone will ring early tomorrow morning. It’ll be Mr. Bully trying to cut his losses and still come out on top.

This is critical now, pastor. Don’t you wimp out. Do not give in to him.

Ask the Lord what to say to him.

If necessary, ask if you can call him right back in a few minutes. (Don’t give him a reason. You could be in your bathroom or have someone standing there. Just say, “I need to call you back. Give me three minutes.”)

Then get on your knees and ask the Lord what you should say.

And remember, pastor, this is not about you. Even though you will feel it is in some respects and if Mr. Bully is neutralized, you will feel you have just been handed a wonderful present.

But you are going to love the Bully family and be kind to them. After all, they are bruised now. They had taken pride in Dad’s domination of the church (they wouldn’t have called it that in a hundred years, but no doubt felt he is the leader of the laity and stands up to lazy pastors, that sort of thing) and now he has been humiliated.

Do not apologize. You didn’t do anything in that business meeting but moderate. The congregation rose up and held him accountable and took whatever action they did. Just assure them of your love and tell them, “It’ll be all right.” Then shut your mouth.

Don’t you undo in private what the congregation has finally gotten up the nerve to do.

Dr. Joe McKeever writes from the vantage point of more than 60 years as a disciple of Jesus, more than 50 years preaching His gospel and more than 40 years of cartooning for every imaginable Christian publication. For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.

Nine Issues Regarding Pastors and Office Hours

clock-pastors

By Thom Rainer

I know. I’ve been there.

Almost every week, and sometimes two or more times a week, a lay leader would wait in the church parking lot to see what time I arrived. He would also come back in the afternoon to see what time I left.

I was pastor of the church. This layman’s perspective was that I earned my pay by being in the office over 40 hours a week.

In a more recent scenario, the lead pastor of a church I know required all of the other pastors to have set office hours. But he also expected them to be relational and in the community. He kept track of their hours in a very legalistic way.

So what should a pastor and staff do regarding church office hours? What should be the expectations of the church members about their schedules? Allow me to respond by noting nine key issues.

  1. Pastors must be out of the office on a regular basis to be a relational presence in the community. The most effective pastors I know give relational presence a priority. That presence is to both church members and those who aren’t members of the church.
  2. The office hours of a pastor demand flexibility due to unexpected issues. A pastor must rush to the hospital when he gets word that a teenage girl was seriously injured in an automobile accident. Such emergencies and events can neither be planned nor neglected.
  3. The pastor’s office often is not conducive to sermon preparation. It is not unusual for a pastor to spend 20 hours or more per week working on sermons. But it is not unusual for the pastor’s office to be the source of multiple interruptions. Sometimes a pastor must go elsewhere to get the sermon done.
  4. Most pastors have evening responsibilities. Their only time off, therefore, may be during a weekday. Obviously the pastor can’t keep office hours for those days.
  5. A few pastors are lazy. Thus, the overused joke that the pastor is “visiting the greens” (i.e. the golf course) has been repeated too many times. Yes, some pastors do take advantage of their flexible schedules. But don’t assume that all pastors fit this category. Most pastors have a greater challenge with workaholism. And insisting on rigid office hours is not a solution to a problem of laziness.
  6. Some laypersons have unrealistic expectations about pastors’ office hours. They are certainly the exception, but just a few can make life miserable for a pastor. As I noted above, one layperson made my life pretty uncomfortable.
  7. The best situations I have seen take place when the pastor and the church have an informal understanding about office hours. I strongly prefer informal agreements since pastors have totally unpredictable schedules. I know of one example where the church asks the pastor to be available for 20 hours a week for meetings, counseling, and drop-by visits. But the church members clearly understand that the schedule cannot be rigid.
  8. Some pastors prefer to have clearly designated office hours for a part of the week. When I was a pastor, I designated Monday as an office day for staff meetings and meetings with church members. If an emergency occurred, the church understood. If they needed me at other times, which they did frequently, I understood. But I tried my best to protect Mondays to be in the office for meetings.
  9. The office hours of church staff other than the lead pastor should reflect the nature and needs of that position. A student pastor, for example, should be in the schools and the community more often than in the office. An administrative pastor may spend the bulk of the week in the office.

What is your perspective regarding pastors and office hours? What do you think of my nine issues? Let me hear from you.

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on December 1, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam,  Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

Seven Ways to Deal with CAVE Dwellers in Your Church

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By Thom Rainer

They are in every church. They are critics. They are naysayers. If your church has regular business meetings, they will be the negatively outspoken people.

They often begin sentences with “I love you pastor, but . . .” And the moment you hear “but,” you cringe. You wait for the verbal assault.

Critics and naysayers are in every church. They are CAVE (Consistently Against Virtually Everything) Dwellers (This phrase originated with Curt Coffman in his work on disen-
gaged employees.). They can make your life miserable . . . unless you learn to deal with them.

I am not the best role model for dealing with CAVE dwellers. When I was a pastor, I struggled with critics and naysayers. I still do. So I asked some church leaders who, in my opinion, have a very healthy approach to these people. Here are seven things I learned from them.

  1. Accept the reality that every church and organization will have CAVE dwellers. You will deal with them in a more healthy fashion if you are not blindsided by them. And you will realize than the green grass of other churches may be a bit brown.
  2. Pray for your own attitude. I am glad Jesus did not hold my sins against me through his death on the cross. My attitude should be like His, and I should seek prayerfully to have the right attitude toward CAVE dwellers.
  3. Pray for the CAVE dwellers. Even if you consider them your enemy, we are supposed to pray for our enemies. Sometimes I have to ask God to give me the grace to pray for these people because they have hurt me so much.
  4. Stay above reproach. Don’t stoop to the negative, gossiping, bickering, and deceitful level of CAVE dwellers. Pray that God will give you the strength, wisdom, and grace to live above such attitudes and actions.
  5. Spend more time with positive church members. CAVE dwellers can be the squeaky wheels that demand constant oiling. If you spend too much time with these members, you will become emotionally and spiritually drained. Be intentional about spending time with church members who energize and encourage you.
  6. Spend more time with church leaders in other churches. You will develop invaluable friendships and camaraderie. And you will soon discover you are not alone with these issues.
  7. Ask other members to help you deal with CAVE dwellers. I recently heard from a pastor who did just that. He was shocked to find more than one encouraging church leader willing and ready to help him deal with these people. The comment from one of these positive members hit home: “Pastor, we did not know you were having to deal with these issues. We wish you had told us sooner.”

Yes, you will always have people in your church who seem to be consistently against virtually everything. They are emotionally draining. They are discouraging. And they never really go away.

Our challenge, in God’s power, is to deal with CAVE dwellers in the most positive and God-honoring way we can. So, how do you deal with CAVE dwellers? What would you add to the seven ways I noted above? Let me hear from you.

 

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on November 17, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam,  Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

Top Ten Sources of Discouragement of Pastors and Church Staff

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By Thom Rainer

I love those men and women who serve local churches. I love their commitment and sacrifice. And I wish I could do more to help them remain energized and encouraged.

In this post, I share the results of an informal Twitter poll where I asked pastors and church staff to share with me those areas of ministry that discouraged them most. My motivation for doing so is primarily my love and concern for these church leaders. It is my prayer that this awareness will encourage church members to be even more supportive of and prayerful for these leaders.

Here are the top ten sources of discouragement of pastors and church staff listed in order of frequency. Admittedly, there is overlap in some of these responses, but those who responded often made their own distinctions. A representative quote follows each category.

  1. Conflicts/complaining/murmuring. “I find myself physically exhausted at the end of the week just from dealing with naysayers. My problem is exacerbated by naysayers using social media as their outlets.”
  2. Lack of fruit and spiritual maturity in church members. “I invested two years of my life in him. But his life today is as carnal as it was two years ago.”
  3. Apathy. “The low level of commitment of so many of our members really discourages me. Sometimes I wonder if my ministry is making any kind of difference.”
  4. Church members who leave the church for seemingly silly or no reasons. “It breaks my heart to lose a church member just because we made a slight change in the times of worship services.”
  5. Expectations by members/lack of time. “It seems like I am expected to be omnipresent. I just can’t keep up with all the expectations of me.”
  6. Performing tasks where the pastor/staff does not have competencies. “I know nothing about finances. I am not a good administrator. But both functions consume my time.”
  7. Meetings/committees. “I would rather get my teeth drilled than go to our monthly business meetings. It’s nothing more than a forum for complainers and whiners.”
  8. Family concerns. “The attacks on my wife for no good reasons have caused me to get my resume out. I can’t stay any longer.”
  9. Staff issues. “Every day at the church is stressful because of staff conflict.”
  10. Lack of volunteers. “So many church members seek their own preferences, but are unwilling to serve others.”

Some of the other sources of discouragement that did not make the list but had multiple votes are: loneliness; communication problems; members who hold tenaciously to tradition; divorce/family problems among church members; low pay; and counseling.

Please pray for your pastor and staff. They are under attack consistently. They not only need your prayers; they need your clear and consistent encouragement.

What do you think of these sources of discouragement? What would you add? Let me hear from you.

 

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on November 12, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam,  Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

How to Repair a Church in Mid-Flight

(Apology:  For the places where I have occasionally mixed my metaphors in this piece, readers may want to know that this is my spiritual gift . Thank you very much.)

Smiley Anders, humor columnist for the New Orleans Advocate, ran this story this week.

An automobile mechanic was removing the cylinder head from an engine when he spotted a well-known cardiologist in the customer area.  “Hey, doc,” he called. “Want to take a look at this?”

The eminent physician walked over. The mechanic said, “Look at this engine, Doc.  I opened its heart, removed the valves, repaired or replaced anything damaged, then put everything back in place. And when I finished, it worked like new.”

“So, how is it I make $64,000 a year and you make a million when we’re both doing the same work?”

The cardiologist said, “Try doing it with the engine running.”

Repairing a damaged church “with the engine running”–that is, in the midst of continuing operations–is much harder than starting afresh with a church plant and building it right and healthy from the ground up.  You’re making repairs “in flight,” so to speak.

By “repairing a damaged church,” we refer to any number of situations. Some we have encountered include these:

–The leadership is rotten to the core and needs to be replaced.  A small group of leaders have kept one another in office for decades, squelching all attempts at accountability, innovative ministry and outreach.  Major surgery needed.

–The church has no written guidelines (i.e., constitution and by-laws), leaving a vacuum which is filled by strong personalities determined to get their way.  A healthy written plan which sets up orderly procedures for selecting and replacing leaders can work wonders.

–The elected leaders are kind, well-intentioned people but without the courage to make tough decisions or the willingness to take a bold stand.  They need to be replaced as soon as the Lord raises up a stronger team.

–The Sunday School in that church is dead and needs to be replaced by an entirely new structure for teaching the Word and reaching people.

Fixing such churches would be easier if everything could grind to a halt and the church be “put on the rack.”  All the church members could retire to the waiting room and get a soft drink and read the paper. Meanwhile, in the service bay the ministers and other key leaders could open the engine, remove the defective components and replace them with parts straight from the factory with a full guarantee standing behind them.

Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. Leaders will have to do surgery on this patient while the motor is still running and the car is tooling down the interstate.

It’s a great metaphor, and an apt one.

So, staying with the metaphor, the  Lord’s mechanic who would do heart surgery on a church “barreling down the interstate” will need skills in at least ten areas….

1) Leadership needs a clear vision on what needs to be done.

Unlike surgeons in the operating room, pastors cannot do exploratory surgery on their patient, the Lord’s congregation.  If a leader has no idea what’s wrong, he should bide his time and do his work and pay attention.  Do no surgery–i.e., make no large-scale changes–until the diagnosis is complete and He is certain of God’s leadership in this.

2) Likewise, the leader needs an equally clear appreciation for what not to tamper with, the areas which are keeping this engine running.

In a building, some walls are said to be load-bearing and some cosmetic.  Tear down a load-bearing wall and the entire structure is endangered. Likewise, with the church, some things should not be changed lest everything come loose.  Wait on the Lord, pastor.

Some entrenched leaders have been kept in place for decades because they are faithful and irreplacable. Remove no one just because they’ve held a position for ages. Young pastors in particular should respect the veteran workers who have kept the body of Christ functioning well through the years, and not be threatened by them.

3) Leaders will need good people skills.

In the medical field, they call this the “bedside manner.”  Any pastor intending to do major surgery on a church had better build a consensus among the people and earn the trust of his leadership.  The only way to do that is by faithfully serving them.  Given time, most will see whether the Lord’s servant is trustworthy.

4) The leader will need a support team.  No heart surgeon works alone.

This would involve professional staff as well as laypeople. A pastor needs to be constantly building his team, men and women who share his vision and the same commitment to Christ and this church which he possesses.

5) Leaders need courage. This is risky business and some patients die on the operating table.

Doctors often tell patients the risks of surgery as well as possible side effects so an informed decision can be made.  The risks may be expressed as, “If we do surgery, you have a (blank) percent chance of being well. If we don’t, you have a one-hundred percent chance of dying.”  In the same way, congregations need to know what they’re getting into when they vote to do the changes leaders suggest.

Both the patient (the church) and the surgeons (the ministers and other key leaders) should be equipped with Holy Spirit courage in attempting to revamp a church on life support.

6) Leaders need tenderness.

Sometimes leaders have to be very tender and gentle, and sometimes strong and plain-spoken.  If the leader is operating in the flesh (“Well, this is just the way I am; you knew that when you called me!”), many will be unnecessarily hurt and left wounded in the road as the others try to go forward.

7) Leaders need to give attention to detail.

Surgeons must be meticulous and have staffs just as devoted to getting the details right. In the operating room, a thousand small procedures protect the patient from infection and the team from error.

Among the church leadership team, someone should be checking to make sure proper procedures are being followed, that everyone has been informed, that resources are on hand, and eventualities planned for.

8) Leaders need patience.  Often the surgical team puts in long hours, and then stays close-by during the recovery.

Pastors trying to turn a diseased church into a healthy one need to remind themselves that this is often labor intensive and time-consuming.  They should not expect the changes to happen easily or overnight.  This is why the best and strongest churches tend to keep their pastors and staffs for decades. Churches with quick turnover in leadership almost never thrive.

9) Leaders require the full support of the patient.  

No cardiologist would attempt heart surgery without the agreement and participation of the patient.  Likewise, pastors cannot “fix” a church if the congregation is unwilling.

In counseling a young pastor who had taken a church of older members who assured him they want to change in order to become viable, I urged him to stay close to the membership and not assume that one show of hands a few years ago suffices for all time. Let them constantly be involved in decisions and periodically vote to go forward. Allowing them “ownership” will head off many problems.

10) Once leaders have learned to repair the vehicle “while the engine is running,” they should not assume this is a once-and-for-all operation.  As cars need constant tune-ups, churches are always needing maintenance and adjustments.

The exhausted leader will want to tie a ribbon on the patient as he/she/it is discharged from the hospital and take a vacation.  Bad idea.  Just as no patient can be pronounced as healthy forever, no congregation should be abandoned by its leaders who have written their constitution and bylaws, removed defective parts of the engine, and put good workers in their place.  Stay with this now.

We are not saying this is a one-man show and the pastor should do everything himself (and infrequently, herself).  Quite the opposite. And, just as firmly, we recommend that the pastor have close at hand staffers and other leaders who are constantly monitoring the congregation and can tell by the sound of that knock in the engine where the problem is.

Some are always knocking.  Pray for helpers with trained ears, pastor.

Millennials and the Demise of Print: Five Implications for Churches

Thom Rainer

As the president of an organization that has huge investments in both print and digital assets, I watch the trends related to the two closely. Current discussions focus on a few basic issues. First, digital communication is pervasive and growing. Any metric will affirm that reality. Second, print as a form of communication is suffering in most areas. Third, print will have occasional rebounds that will give print adherents hope that it is not going away. In the past couple of years, for example, print book sales have stabilized.

But a recent article by Henry Blodget in Business Insider shed some fresh perspectives on this issue. He notes the allegiance to print media is highly influenced by the age of the readers. Simply stated, the older you are, the more likely you are to like, or even prefer, print. Of course, that information is really stating the obvious.

The Stark Reality of the Future of Print

But Blodget notes recent research that is almost breathtaking. The research looked at media preferences for different age groups. The stark reality of the future of print is most noticeable in the 16-to-24 age group and the 25-to-34 age group. The Millennials have absolutely no loyalty to or preference for print media. Blodget’s words are worth repeating:

“Media consumers in the 0s, 10s, 20s, and 30s have no such print alliances. To them, the idea of printing on a dead tree and then trucking it to houses and newsstands seems ludicrous, old-fashioned, inconvenient, and wasteful. To these folks, paper-based publications are a pain to carry and search, easy to misplace, and hard to share, and the information in them is outdated the moment it appears. For those who weren’t raised on paper, digital is superior in almost every way.”

Wow. Those words are painful for an old print adherent like me. But facts are our friends, and I would rather deal with reality than deny reality.

Five Implications for the Church

Of course, after I read the article, my mind traversed quickly to implications for local churches. I see at least five at this point.

  1. Churches not fully acclimated to the digital age need to do so quickly. It’s a matter of gospel stewardship. There is no need to compromise biblical truths, but there is a great need to be relevant.
  2. More of our congregants will be turning on their Bibles in the worship services rather than opening them to a print page. Some pastors view this practice as troublesome. One pastor recently commented to me: “How do we know if they aren’t looking at sport scores or something else?” We don’t know. And we don’t know where their minds are wandering if they don’t have a digital device with them.
  3. Church leaders should view this change as an opportunity to be more effective missional leaders. We would not expect international missionaries to go to a place of service without learning the language and the culture. The language and the culture of the Millennials are all digital.
  4. Leaders must keep current with changes in the digital revolution. While old guys like me will never be as conversant with the digital culture as our children and grandchildren, we must do our best to understand this ever-changing world. What is current and relevant today may be dated and irrelevant tomorrow.
  5. Social media is a key communication form for the Millennials; churches and church leaders must also be connected. I recently wrote an article on this issue. For now, a church not involved some way in social media is neglecting a large part of the mission field.

Implications and More Implications

I recently was reading a print magazine article to one of my grandsons who was cuddled in my lap. He saw a photo on the page and tried to swipe it like he would on an iPad. When nothing happened he declared my “picture was broken.”

That is the age and the era that are quickly approaching. The implications are many and staggering. But we in churches cannot be complacent. The very communication of the gospel is at stake.

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on May 14, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

Nine Rapid Changes in Church Worship Services

Thom Rainer

If you were attending a church worship service in 1955 and then returned to the same church in 1975, the changes would be noticeable but not dramatic. Churches were slow to change over that 20-year period. If you, however, attended a church worship service in 2000 and then returned to that same church in 2010, there is a high likelihood you would see dramatic changes in just ten years.

What, then, are some of the most significant changes? Please allow me to offer some trends from anecdotal information, church consultations, and objective research. As a caveat, some of the data based research comes from an excellent study, The National Congregations Study by Duke University. This study, fortunately, is longitudinal, so it is able to look at changes over many years. But the study is also dated, with the latest data reported in 2007.

From these multiple sources, I have assembled nine changes that have come at a rapid pace in many churches. Please note my perspective. I am offering these from the perspective of a researcher; I am not making qualitative assessments. Also, with every trend there will be thousands of churches that are exceptions to the norm. But these are the changes in the majority of churches in North America.

  1. Choirs are disappearing. From 1998 to 2007, the percentage of churches with choirs decreased from 54% to 44%. If that pace holds to this year, the percentage of churches with choirs is only 37%.
  2. Dress is more casual. In many churches, a man wearing a tie in a worship service is now among the few rather than the majority. While the degree of casual dress is contextual, the trend is crossing all geographic and demographic lines.
  3. Screens are pervasive. Some of you remember the days when putting a projection screen in a worship center was considered a sacrilege. Now most churches have screens. And if they have hymnals, the hymnals are largely ignored and the congregants follow along on the screens.
  4. Preaching is longer. I will soon be in the process of gathering this data to make certain the objective research confirms the anecdotal information.
  5. “Multi” is normative. Most congregants twenty years ago attended a Sunday morning worship service where no other Sunday morning alternatives were available. Today, most congregants attend a service that is part of numerous alternatives: multi-services; multi-campuses; multi-sites; and multi-venues.
  6. Attendees are more diverse. The Duke study noted the trend of the decrease in the number of all-white congregations.
  7. Conflict is not increasing. In a recent post, I noted the decreasing frequency of worship wars. The Duke study noted that overall church conflict has not increased over a 20-year period.
  8. More worship attendees are attending larger churches. Churches with an attendance of 400 and up now account for 90% of all worship attendees. Inversely, those churches with an attendance of under 400 only account for 10% of worship attendees.
  9. Sunday evening services are disappearing. This issue has stirred quite a bit of discussion the past few years. I plan to expand upon it in my post this coming Saturday. Stay tuned.

I have tried to present these changes from a research perspective instead of injecting my opinions or preferences. Obviously, I have my own, but I would rather hear from you. The readers at this blog are much smarter than I am anyway.

Do you see these trends in your local congregation? What would you add?

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on May 7, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

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