Friday, 30 April 2010

Seasons of Life 2

continuing Jack Hayford's analysis of life's seasons...

I’m now in my 40s, in the season of summer. I’m now all that God has done in me in the previous years and I’m trusting that 0 to 40 has prepared me for this moment. It’s a good reminder to those not in their 40s yet not to worry so much about fruit. Any success before this time is a ‘wow’ bonus – God is preparing you for the season to come.

Hayford continues… ‘Then Autumn. As with the natural world life’s harvest begins in summer and climaxed in the fall. Our 60s and 70s can only be described by autumn. The season of magnificent colour and splendid holidays. No lovelier season colours our calendar. No happier times are scheduled than those at home with friends and family during those months.’

‘At 61 I’m anything but feeling old. Autumn joys are just beginning. I’m discovering the wisdom and delight of building new relationships.’
And you can also get some great late autumn fruit!

This is also the time of major transition in our working life when paid employment comes to an end. For churches, succession of the leader is a massive issue. A wise leader is thinking about managing succession at this point. Knowing when to step back and let the younger generation come through and make their mistakes – their gift will still be developing, as will their experience. At this point it requires huge strength and wisdom to know when to let go – and to do it!

‘Lastly, Winter again.’ This is 80 plus. ‘The final years are winter again as we move into our final term as a biological being. There is nothing dour or dead about winter – it concludes the cycle of seasons. Life’s winter will claim my physical frame but ahead for each of those whose faith is in Christ, there is another spring coming – the Resurrection!’

It’s good to be mindful of our season in life as we can have a tendency to get ahead of God and our own development. We need to learn patience and rest in His timing and purposes.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Seasons of Life 1

One of the things that will shape you as an individual and as a leader is the season of life that you are currently in. Jack Hayford (of the Church on the Way, Van Nuys, California) has written an article on this subject. He saw the human journey in terms of full 20 year seasons.

Between birth and 20 was the first Winter where ‘foundation points of growth were being made in body and mind while we are still beginners in the earthly journey. The evidence of our true soul is being readied to be made.’ These are sovereign foundations! You didn’t choose your parents and you didn’t choose most of your first 20 years - whether they were good, bad or mixed.

Spring follows from years 20 to 40. In this period things that will eventually grow into fruit begin to develop. In this time many people generally conclude their formal education, marry, have children and launch their lifetime’s work. This is the seed sowing time of life, which will determine the type of harvest to be garnered in the years to come. That which is learned in these years and all that is done is part of God’s training of you. He is more interested in your development than your fruit, but young men and women want fruit! We want to succeed - but God has a longer term view.

‘I used to think’ Hayford continues, ‘that whoever coined ‘life begins at 40’ was whistling in the dark trying to console himself. But I’ve recently concluded life’s third twenty-year segment (Summer) and I can say around the age of 40 there is a distinct turning point in the life of unfolding drama. Our first fruits begin to harvest during our 40s and 50s – what we have been becoming increasingly reveals itself. For example in my 40s and 50s I found that the early years of study in God’s word returned a wealth I hadn’t anticipated. I reached and grasped for things eternal and a new depth of preaching. This is only a sample of the wealth the summer years can bring.’

Friday, 23 April 2010

London Churches Update

As the leaders of London churches within Newfrontiers gathered recently to pray, we announced the news that Pete and Nicky Cornford will be moving to Australia to plant a church in Perth. Pete has been an outstanding leader amongst us, planting a brilliant church in the borough of Hillingdon and motivating and encouraging us all to continue to keep church planting high on our agenda.

His leadership in the last few years has been the primary impetus in moving forward the four latest London church plants into Richmond, Haringey, Newham and Islington. He has provided constant support to many other church planters. And on a personal note he has provided consistent encouragement and support to me. We will miss him – and we all pray for his ongoing success and a smooth transition for the Cornford family to the Land of Oz! Apart from our prayers, the London Team decided that we would support Pete in this move with £10K from our Church Planting Fund.

On the wider front we have decided not to go ahead with our ‘Together @ Butlins’ event in January 2011 and we are now planning to make it a biannual event - look out for details for 2012.

In the light of Pete’s move I will be gathering more regularly with all our London Pastors to pray together. The next meeting will be on Thursday 9th September (not in June as previously planned) when I shall have returned from my sabbatical!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The Top 5 Reasons Churches Don't Grow 4

This brings us to the number one reason churches don’t grow.

1. Worship Services that aren’t Worth Shouting About:

Your church can have all the other growth-killers sorted and still not grow. If conflict isn’t an issue the almost certain cause for lack of growth is because the worship services don’t move, touch or inspire!

Churches can grow in areas of declining population, in economically impoverished communities and even in hostile environments. But if worship doesn’t inspire, especially its guests, then the chance of growth is almost zero. It’s not about the worship style, technology, nor the range of instruments or lack of them – it’s about the totality of the worship service. Services that blend different worship styles usually disappoint everyone but even they can contribute to church growth if they move, touch and inspire. This means that the music connects with the worshipper’s spirit and the presentation of the gospel in preaching, music and action is clear and concise. This requires that the sermon/message is so motivating that people don’t leave with a list of facts but with a heart-wrenching commitment to live their lives differently when they leave the building. This means that nothing gets in the way of the Holy Spiritin spite of our theological inadequacies and odd ways of doing church, God shows up with power that breaks the rocks of the heart and with a gentleness like a whisper in stillness.

Here’s the deal. If your worship services aren’t moving your members enough to invite their friends and relatives, let alone their acquaintances, neighbours, co-workers and everyone else, then your worship services aren’t worth shouting about. It’s time to examine the whole of this area of church life and – if necessary – get help to make changes in order to take your worship to another level.

Bill Tenny-Brittian’s view is that if you nail down these five areas of church life, you will not only grow, you’ll explode. In a good way!

Friday, 16 April 2010

The Top 5 Reasons Churches Don't Grow 3

Still in reverse order…

2. Ineffective Assimilation/Discipleship:

Even churches who don’t deal well with the above points manage to get a new member or two occasionally! Keeping these new members for the long haul is another matter.

Typically they are gone within a year, fewer still making it through a second year. Bill Tenny-Brittian worked with some large churches that have been stuck at the same attendance level for a decade, even thought they were receiving in new members almost weekly. One church had an average attendance of 500 for twelve years and when the data was examined they had received in over 800 members during that time – and also ‘lost’ 800 in the same time period. The problem was that members stayed for 6-12 months but never seemed to connect with the church.

Assimilation and discipleship don’t happen by themselves. Churches that grow have developed and successfully implemented a system for seeing first time guests make the transition from ‘pew’ to small group to friendship to ministry involvement. And they can also see a first time guest move from seeker to believer to disciple. Churches who haven’t sorted this out may receive in members but their attendance figures are flat-lined.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The Top 5 Reasons Churches Don't Grow 2

Still continuing in reverse order…

4. Lack of Guest Follow-up:

Churches, listen! Here’s a clue! If a visitor puts their contact details in the visitors book or on a ‘welcome card’ then they are interested! Some churches don’t have any way of visitors registering interest, others don’t follow up visitors until they have been two or three times and many don’t know what to do with the information when they have it. The statistic stands – follow up within 24 hours and your guest is 86% more likely to return. Leave it to the end of the week and the percentage drops to less than 25%.

3. Lack of Hospitality:

Bill Tenny-Brittian says he is constantly amazed at how inhospitable most churches are, scoring less than 5 out of 10 on this important scale. While the church members will tell you how friendly they are, in reality the nursery facilities are poor, the toilets need cleaning, the welcomers are busy with their friends or don’t exist at all. Other indicators that count in this measurement are coded language in notices/bulletins (e.g. acronyms for youth organisations that mean nothing on initial hearing), churchy language in worship and publicly identifying visitors in any way (this can range from name badges through to asking them to stand up and be recognised in a meeting). Then there’s poor signage around the building and lack of attention to visitors by church members and staff. It would be useful to have the equivalent of a ‘Secret Shopper’ visit your church and provide feedback!

Friday, 9 April 2010

The Top 5 Reasons Churches Don't Grow 1

I came across an article by Bill Tenny-Brittian - a church leader who is often called in to help churches in the USA that are stuck, plateau-ed and declining. From his experience he maintains that the failure of a church to grow arises from one of six issues. Although the article has ‘five’ in the title, he states,

‘ can major on ‘fixing’ the top five for the rest of eternity, but if you don’t take care of this one single issue, it will be for naught. I’ve said it before, and I suspect I’ll say it again, and again, and again. The most heinous church growth killer is unresolved conflict. Period.’

Having given this foundational issue at the outset, he lists the top five growth-killers in reverse order:

5. Ineffective Attendance Tracking:

Few churches do this well but growing churches tend to do this exceptionally well. If you want your church to grow, you have to know who’s there and who’s not. If you don’t get contact information from visitors – how can you follow them up? And if you don’t know who’s not there then you can’t do effective pastoral care. Bill T-B has debriefed hundreds of church drop-outs and found that one of the top reasons that they no longer attended was that they missed a Sunday or two (for all sorts of reasons) and no-one bothered to contact them and ask if they were OK.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Rest - holidays, study breaks and The Finish!

I have a week off at Christmas and then the first week of January is a study break. My study break is very different to my normal routine. I read, prepare, pray – and play 18 holes! At Easter, I have the same routine – a week’s holiday, a week’s study break. I am far more creative as a result of those study breaks because I have just come off a week’s holiday and it would be my view that the leading edge of my church comes out of those times. It makes me more fruitful. Then in the summer I have six weeks out. Some of you are now asking – ‘What happens to your church?’ Your church is far more robust than you realise – it can survive without you. And if it can’t - then you haven’t built anything. In fact you have filled the gaps so much that you have left no space for others to come through. Sometimes, by getting out of the way, hearing from God, being refreshed, I find that I see things totally differently after just a week or two. And build team. Allow others to help you. Give away as much as you can!

The purpose of rest is to enable you to run well! Please think about the principles that I have laid out here and apply them in your situation. I really believe that doing this will enable you to run well.

The aim of running is to get to the finish – be intentional about running well, resting well and finishing well! My aim is to go through the finishing line at speed – to the glory of God!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Rest - refreshment from elsewhere

Another thing that can help in refreshing us is to take up an interest beyond ministry. Bird watching? Train spotting? Golf? Give yourself to something else for that time. For me it’s sport. I've always loved playing sports - I watch sport and have all the Sky Sport channels. I think all church leaders need Sky Sports (more high fives!)… Deb is different (surprise!) - she reads. What is your other interest that takes you out of this goldfish bowl?

Also friendship is important. Now for some of you this is an area of pain. If you are involved in a church plant and you’ve moved from your home town and church then you’re just longing for someone to connect with. And it’s complicated in ministry. You have to be intentional about making good friends in such situations – it might not ‘just happen’ by itself. You need to connect with some people that fuel you and don’t drain you. Some people I’ve seen are so compassionate that they spend all their time with those that they are pouring their lives into. Sometimes this can be feeding a lack or void within – but true friendship is essential.

I’m a task orientated person. As a result I have come to the topic of rest and seen it as a task! After 6 years of leading a church I realised that the prospect of doing what I was doing for 30 – 40 years was daunting. In making rest a task I plan ahead for it. So, the first things that go into my diary each year are my holidays, all my time off and my study breaks. These are all essential for my sense of well-being and my ability to stay the course long-term. I’m not suggesting that you must do this in the same way but I would say that you need to take the principle of rest as a task and apply it to your own life and situation.