Thursday, October 24, 2013

Five Missional Misfires

Every church would say they are in it for the mission. Which is why misfiring on that mission is something to be avoided at all costs. Yet it happens all the time.

Here are five of the most common misfires:

1. Seeing other churches as the competition.

When I started Meck in Charlotte over twenty years ago, there was a large and once-thriving church experiencing stagnation and severe financial struggles. In an interview, the pastor was asked why the church was facing such difficulty, and his response was telling: “When we started, we were the only good Bible-teaching church around. Now there are more to choose from.”

I remember being stunned at the complete orientation toward transfer growth from existing believers, and the complete blindness to the vast numbers of lost/unchurched people.

But even more, I was taken by how strongly so many people involved in local churches view other local churches as the competition, as if it’s McDonald’s against Burger King.

I remember saying to our earliest core group, and have continued to say ever since, “We could have a hundred churches around us, and it wouldn’t matter. We’re not after churched people!” I would often go further and add, “We’re not even primarily after people looking for a church…we’re after the person who, right now, the last thought on their mind is being in a church this weekend.”

Bottom line: If you see other churches as the competition, you are reducing the mission to reaching the reached. That is not the Great Commission. Instead of being fishers of men, you’re just keepers of the aquarium.

2. Criticizing “seeker” churches for being all evangelism and no discipleship.

It used to make me mad, now I just sigh at the ignorance. First, that they would bring out the tired moniker “seeker” when it is so passé, even among those churches that once consciously wore the label. Second, that they insist that if you prioritize the lost or unchurched in your outreach, you are somehow de-prioritizing the existing believers in your community or those who have moved into your area and are in need of a good church home.

Why the insistence on a false dichotomy that it either has to be evangelism, or it has to be discipleship?

The Great Commission makes it clear that we are to do both. Why can’t people see that if a church prioritizes the lost with outreach, as Jesus said we are supposed to, it doesn’t mean they aren’t strengthening existing believers for life in Christ and the cause of Christ? And why insist on taking shots at churches that are oriented toward the unchurched in their outreach as if they don’t care for the believer, or discipleship?

It’s such a straw man.

Bottom line: If you can’t make evangelism and discipleship a “both-and” instead of an “either-or,” you will never fulfill the “both-and” nature of the Great Commission, which was to “make” disciples and then “teach them everything.” And if you insist on this misfire, you will end up dropping the ball with one or the other side of Jesus’ marching orders.

3. Saying you’re after the unchurched, but clearly targeting the already-convinced.

For most churches, this isn’t conscious. They talk about reaching the lost, or going after the unchurched, but when you examine their “front doors” – meaning their weekend services, website, mailings, ads – they are targeting the person actively looking for a church home, or someone already in one. Regardless, it is clear that it is assumed they are a Christ-follower.

“Dynamic preaching!”

“10-week series on James!”

“Communion this weekend!”

“Looking for a good church home?”

“Fifty-voice choir!”

Really, who is attracted to any of this? Only the already convinced, and often already-churched.

If you think touting that your church is bigger, better, more dynamic, has better Bible study or its own worship band with CD’s is going to reach the “nones” that are now the second-largest and fastest-growing religious segment in the country, then you need to get out and meet a few.

Bottom line: If you say you’re after the unchurched, and want to reach the unchurched, then for heaven’s sake (literally), try targeting them.

4. Substituting social justice for evangelism.

In what is arguably a reaction against the previous generation’s emphasis on social morality – namely abortion and same-sex marriage – young Christians (and now older ones as well) are giving renewed emphasis to matters of social justice, including a new interest in public policies that address issues related to peace, health and poverty.

This is all well and good.

The misfire is when the mission of the church is reduced to social justice. In other words, we’ll buy Tom’s Shoes, but not witness to Tom.

Bottom line: Social ministry should not be paired against evangelism. We should extend the Bread of Life as well as bread for the stomach. But we must never begin, and end, with the stomach alone. The scandal of the cross – and humanity’s desperate need for it – doesn’t play as well as the hip work of IJM or supporting Bono in Africa. Yet think how tragic it would be to have compassion for the immediate needs of this life, but not the eternal needs of the life to come.

So yes, buy a pair of Tom’s Shoes.

Just don’t forget Tom.

5. Thinking outreach is offering them what they already have.

A flyer recently arrived in my mailbox from a new church plant, promising me relevant and practical messages; contemporary “urban” music and great coffee. The idea is that if you offer such things, people will come who wouldn’t normally come.

It’s a subtle and enticing temptation. All we have to do is encourage casual dress, offer Starbucks coffee, play rock music, and then deliver a “felt needs” message in a style similar to the popular speakers of the day and we will automatically grow.

And if you want to guarantee your growth comes from a younger demographic, just throw in skinny jeans, designer t-shirts, and a noticeable tattoo. It will instantly turn the most middle-of-age pastor into a Millennial magnet.



People already have those things. They do not need to go to church to find them. If they want Starbucks, they’ll go to Starbucks; if they want to hear contemporary music, they have iTunes and their iPod. They may appreciate those things once they attend, but it is not what will getthem to attend.

This approach may have worked back in the 80’s and 90’s, but that was because the typical unchurched person was a Baby Boomer who had been raised in a church, just starting to have kids. They had the memory and the experience; once they had kids, they actually wanted to find a church. When churches took down the cultural barriers associated with attending (eliminating stuffiness, boredom, irrelevance, empty ritual, outdated music), Boomers were attracted.

And yes, back then, if you built it, they came.

But this is no longer our world, and hasn’t been for quite some time.

As uber-marketer Seth Godin notes, “The portion of the population that haven’t bought from not waiting for a better mousetrap. They’re not busy considering a, b and c and then waiting for d. No, they’re not in the market...As a result, smart marketers don’t market to this audience by saying, ‘hey ours is better than theirs!’”

Bottom line: The foundational way that people divorced from the church and a life in Christ will come to church and find that life in Christ is if a Christ-follower does three things: build a relationship with them, share how Christ has intersected the deepest needs of their life, and then invites them into the community to see, hear, taste and explore.

And actually, that’s pretty much the bottom line for all five.

James Emery White
Editor’s Note
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president.  His newly released bookis The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press).  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Friday, March 15, 2013

30 Reasons Church Leaders Need a Coach

By Scott Thomas

A church planter's life can get pretty lonely. Even the best can unintentionally paint themselves into a corner due to how many new situations they face. This is why the most successful planters need a coach. A good coach can save planting pastors a ton of time and heartache.

Here are 30 reasons why you should consider finding yourself a planting coach:

1. Coaching helps to remind a leader of the Gospel.

2. Coaching exposes a leader's blind spots.

3. All leaders are capable of succumbing to sin's deception.

4. Leaders are models for faithful obedience.

5. Coaching is preventative maintenance for a leader.

6. The stakes for a church leader are high.

7. Coaching models biblical community.

8. Coaching provides a prayer partner for the leader.

9. Leaders can be prideful.

10. Leaders are often lonely.

11. Coaching is a practical means for a leader to pay careful attention to self.

12. Coaching brings encouragement to the leader.

13. Coaching can protect the flock from a leader’s mistakes and bad decisions.

14. Coaching improves a leader's perspective and objectivity. 

15. Coaching facilitates the leader's growth and equipping
16. Coaching sharpens a leader's calling.

17. Leaders lead where they have walked themselves.

18. Coaching is a means for intentional accountability and submission.

19. Coaching helps a leader identify and fight arrogance.

20. Ministry is a difficult and complicated task.

21. Leaders in a coaching relationship model discipleship.

22. Shepherds need to be shepherded.

23. Coaching sharpens a leader's skills and abilities.

24. Coaching provides a safe sounding board.

25. Coaching is fun.

26. Coaching encourages friendship.

27. Coaching provides affirmation for a leader's decisions.

28. Coaching enables personal sanctification.

29. Coaching protects family and marital health.

30. Coaching is a means to obtain gospel reflections from a fellow leader.

Scott Thomas is the President of Acts 29 Network and Pastor of Global Church at Mars Hill Church. Scott has been a pastor for 30 years—first as a youth pastor and then as a lead pastor and church planter/church replanter for 16 years.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Seismic Shift in Outreach

The Seismic Shift in Outreach
There has been a seismic shift in outreach that few church leaders are understanding, much less pursuing.
From the 1950’s to the 1980’s, the vanguard of evangelistic outreach was direct proclamation of the gospel.  Whether the crusades of Billy Graham or the creative approaches of Willow Creek Community Church, presentation led the way.
This led to joining a community, and eventually, being discipled into participation with the cause.
From the 1990’s thru the 2000’s, community took the lead.  People wanted to belong before they believed.  Skepticism was rampant, and trust had to be earned.  Once enfolded, Christ was often met in the midst of that community.
Cause, again, was the last to take hold.
From the 2010’s forward, “cause” has become the leading edge of our connection with a lost world, and specifically the “nones” (and it is increasingly best to replace the term “unchurched” with the “nones”).  Consider the recent Passion Conference in Georgia.  What arrested outside media attention was the commitment to eradicate modern-day slavery, not the 60,000 students in attendance much less the messages related to the Christian faith.
In a word, “cause.”
This made the gathering of 60,000 college students in the Georgia Dome for that cause become attractional.  In other words, then and only then did “community” come into play.  Then, after exploring that community, Christ could be – and was – introduced.
Think of this shift in terms of moving people through stages of introduction:
Unchurched >>> Christ >>> Community >>> Cause
Unchurched >>> Community >>> Christ >>> Cause
2010’s -
Nones >>> Cause >>> Community >>> Christ
It is important to note how far the message of Christ is from the mind and sentiment of the average “none.”  It’s not that the church should “bury the lead” in terms of putting Christ at the end of the line – remember, we’re talking strategy.  It’s just that leading with Billy Graham’s simple “The Bible says” was a strategy designed for people in a different place spiritually than many are today.
The more post-Christian a person is, the more evangelism must embrace not only “event/proclamation”, but “process” and “event/proclamation.”  Earlier models were almost entirely “event/proclamation” oriented, such as revivals, crusades, or door-to-door visitation.  As I’ve written about in other places, this is only effective in an Acts 2, God-fearing Jews of Jerusalem context.
“Process” models are needed in Acts 17, Mars Hill, nones/skeptical contexts.
Like the one we live in today.
The presentation of Christ must remain central to our thinking, to be sure.  That is the only reason we are even talking about strategy; the goal is to present Christ and Him crucified.  But is that where we start?  On Mars Hill, the spiritual illiteracy was so deep that Paul had to begin with cultural touchstones, lead in to creation, and work his way forward.
It took him a while to get to Christ.
And community?  It matters, but the average person has tastes of that already.  Maybe not functional, but they don’t seem as drawn to it as they used to be.  Perhaps it is because of the lure and illusion of social media, or because they’ve simply given up on it, but it’s not the great “search” it once was.
So there has been a great, seismic shift.  Today, it is cause that arrests the attention of the world.
Which brings us to the challenge.
First, to recognize the seismic shift, and begin to strategize accordingly.
Second, to realize how difficult this will be.  If cause is in the lead, and community close behind, the church is at a deficit.  In the minds of many, our causes have been mundane (let’s raise money for a fellowship hall!) or alienating (Moral Majority!).  And the close second of community?  Our reputation for dysfunction in that area is legendary.
But there is great irony in the challenge.  Jesus wed mission and message together seamlessly, proclaiming the Kingdom that had come while healing the leper and feeding the hungry.  He mandated concern for the widow and the orphan, the homeless and naked, the imprisoned and hungry, while speaking of the bread of life and a home in heaven.
In other words, we should have been nailing this all along.
And if community is lurking in the back of the minds of people as a felt need, that should be a calling card as well.  Jesus challenged his followers about the importance of observable love toward one another as the ultimate apologetic for His life and ministry and message.
And even if it takes a while to get to Christ, He should be presented raw and unfiltered in all of His scandalous specificity.  As Moltmann proclaimed, “the crucified God.”
So as we ponder the rise of “cause” as the cultural bridge over which to walk, perhaps the greater truth is more elemental:
Do all three.
Imagine a church that had community, cause and the undiluted message of Christ in the vanguard of its efforts.
It might just become the church Jesus had in mind all along that would reach the world.
James Emery White
Editor’s Note
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president.  His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press).  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.