Monday, November 24, 2008

11 Characteristics of Successful Churches - 2. That-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named

That-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named

This article from Hartford Seminary claims that 1,200 protestant churches are considered megachurches and while only representing less than 1% of all protestant churches, could represent as much as 50% of the total weekly church attendance.

Dallas and Houston have a total of 56 megachurches, which constitutes 4.5% of the total number of megachurches.

When I read these figures to my wife, Amy, she said, "Wow. That many church in Dallas are megachurches? Which ones do you think are megachurches?" When I told her that a megachurch is a church with 2,000 or more in attendance weekly she kind of rolled her eyes and said, "Well, yeah, there are that many here!"

And she's right! There are probably 5 such churches within a 5 minute drive from our apartment!

You'll find that many of the whirlwind of churches I have visited over the past few months fall into the megachurch category and of the few that don't, I feel that many of them will be there within the next 5 years or so.

I'm about to write something that is not popular among a number of my friends and colleagues. If you find yourself in either category, please skip the next sentence. For the rest of you, I will whisper.

I believe one indication of success is: Numerical Growth


I want to make it very clear that this is only one indicator of success, not the indicator of success. It's very possible for a church to be successfully changing lives through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ and not see much growth at all. But I believe this is the exception, not the rule.

Rick Warren said, "We count people because people count." I think that's a good way to think about it. Growth is not about the number of people, but about the number of people who are affected by the gospel. This is easy to forget when we're looking at a chart or spreadsheet, but each of those dots and numbers represents a person that Jesus cares about.

Also, Luke uses the numerical growth as an indicator of success in the early days of the church in his book of Acts.

Acts 2:41 - So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added.
Acts 2:47 - And the Lord was adding to their number every day those who were being saved.
Acts 5:14 - More and more believers in the Lord were added to their number, crowds of both men and women.
Acts 6:1 - Now in those days, when the disciples were growing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
Acts 6:7 - The word of God continued to spread, the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.
Acts 11:21 - The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
Acts 11:26b - So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught a significant number of people.
Acts 17:12 - Therefore many of them believed, along with quite a few prominent Greek women and men.


The point is that I believe a church involved in evangelism and outreach is very likely to grow over time. It is not a measuring stick, however, to say that one church is better than another because of size. It's just one indicator of success.

Friday, November 21, 2008

11 Characteristics of Successful Churches - 1. Changed Lives

The 1st Characteristic of a Successful Church is undoubtably the most important:

Changed Lives
Are lives being positively transformed through the ministry? Are people being transformed to reflect the image of Jesus Christ with their lives? Note that this is not necessarily connected with how much theology they know or how many Bible verses they can quote from memory. Are the people learning to live Christ-honoring lives and to do so in order to bring Him glory?

Be careful if you're examining your own church or ministry. External changes are easily mistaken for genuine life-change.

3 Things People Mistake for Changed Lives:
1. Theological Knowledge
If you spend enough time in a church that's teaching anything you're bound to learn something. If a guy goes to an evangelical church enough times he's going to learn John 3:16 and John 14:6. We evangelicals like the book of John. He also might learn a few new words and phrases such as "Son of God" and "Trinity," but nevermind that he probably doesn't have a clue as to what the theological implications of those terms are.

2. Church Happy-Face
There is a difference, however, between churches where lives are truly being transformed and churches that encourage people (hopefully unintentionally) to put on a happy-face for church. It makes you wonder how people sing the old lyrics "And now I am happy all the day!" in good conscience when you see how they treat one-another in church and how they respond to the pastor when he says something that steps on their toes. As a person who has been the toe-stepper-onner, I can assure you that good, solid Christians are most certainly not "happy all the day."

3. Borg-like Assimilation to Christian Culture
As a person attends an evangelical church, the songs on his iPod slowly begin to change. Is language changes into something he can use in church without getting weird looks. Soon he looks just like the other church-goers around him and late at night when nobody is around he watches The Office, but is afraid to tell any of his new friends even though they watching The Office too.

Note: This is part 2 of the 12-part series "11 Characterics of Successful Churches."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Free Video Teaching

The guys over at Swerve, the blog for LifeChurch.tv, announced preparations to launch a new website to connect churches with free video sermons: VideoTeaching.com. The site is still being developed but you can sign up for email updates.

This appears to be an extension of the idea that led to Open, which LifeChurch uses to distribute sermon series complete with high-quality trailers, video teaching, graphic design, and notes to churches for free.

If you're in a church where your pastor might need to take a break one Sunday, or you're the pastor who has preached 51 of the last 52 weeks, the resources at Open, (and soon VideoTeaching.com), might be a good help for you.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

11 Characteristics of Successful Churches - Part 1

Dallas Skyline at NightAs a north-Texas native, I have been blessed to live in an area that is known for three things:
1. The world's best bar-b-que
2. Solid sports teams (Stars, Mav's, Cowboys)
3. A near saturation of churches

I know many of you are thinking, "I thought Dallas was known for racially tense politics, a nearly-broke school district, and abject materialism." But let's think positive!

With so many churches it's pretty easy to look around and wonder what makes one church so effective while another church nearby is struggling to survive one week to the next.

That's why I've put together my list of 11 Characteristics of Successful Churches based on my experience at 15 Dallas-area churches.

In order to keep this from being a wall of text, I've broken it into eleven separate posts. They are listed and will be linked below as they are posted over the next few days.

1. Changed Lives
2. That-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named: Numerical Growth
3. Sunday School is Passé
4. Missions: Not Your Granddad's Slide Show
5. Technology is not Optional
6. Proper Branding Cannot be Underestimated
7. A Church of Pastors
8. Focus on your Mission
9. Find Your Niche
10. Be Fearless
11. Be Dangerous

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Whirlwind of Churches

Over the last several months my wife and I have had the pleasure of visiting about 15 churches (mostly) in the Dallas area, so I thought I would share some of the things I have learned from this experience. It has been a joy to see how the different people worship and praise the same Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Here is a list of the churches we visited in the order that we experienced them.

1. Waxahachie Bible Church
http://www.waxahachiebible.org/
My wife and I consider this our home church. Pastor Bruce Zimmerman is a great preacher and a pastor who dearly cares for people.

2. Fellowship Bible Church Dallas
http://www.fellowshipdallas.org/
Amy and I attended here for a few months when we first moved to Dallas. Great worship and preaching. And they meet in a remodeled movie theater, which for some reason is totally cool to me!

3. Highland Baptist Church
http://www.highland-baptist.org/
We visited this church while they were between pastors. Highland Baptist recently hired a new pastor, but met Pastor Grant Gassiott before he was the pastor and thought he would do a great job in that position.

4. Ennis Bible Church
http://www.ennisbiblechurch.org/
I was the founding pastor of this church. This church has a promising future and is a fresh alternative to the other wonderful, but more traditional churches in Ennis, Texas.

5. Northwest Bible Church
http://www.northwestbible.org/
I heard Pastor Neil Tomba deliver one of the most amazing chapel services I attended during my five years at Dallas Theological Seminary. Northwest has a refreshing blend of tradition and contemporary music. Neil didn't preach the week we visited, but the person who filled-in did an excellent job.
Click here to watch the chapel service.

6. Watermark Community Church
http://www.watermark.org/
Watermark's service production is very well-done. The music is always top-notch and the preaching is very engaging. Their website is one of the best-looking sites I've come across.

7. The Episcopal Church in Lincoln County
http://lincolnepiscopalians.org/
My parents took Amy and me on vacation to Ruidoso, NM. My side of the family is almost all Episcopalian, so while we were out there, we visited this little Episcopal church.

8. Irving Bible Church
http://www.irvingbible.org/
I've written several times about Irving Bible Church. Like this post. Or this one by guest blogger, Justin Hentschel. Regardless of what you think about women's roles in ministry, this is a great church that's doing amazing things with an emphasis on the arts, social justice, and firm a commitment to the gospel. I have also started meeting with a group called "Lead Time" from IBC that discusses leadership in ministry. If you're in the Dallas area, come join us Tuesdays at 9:00 am in the Alcove! Lead Time on Facebook.

9. Bent Tree Bible Fellowship
http://www.btbf.org/
We visited this church because I follow Greg Atkinson's blog. This church is literally in the shadow of the massive Prestonwood Baptist Church (or Prestonworld as it's affectionatly called by the locals), but reaches their community through highly creative communication. When we were there they did a mini-musical to tell the story of the prodigal son and it was tremendous!

10. Rockett Baptist Church
http://rockettbaptistchurch.org/
This is the church where my in-laws attend. This is a small-town church where everyone knows each other, but are involved in quite a bit of local outreach. My brothers-in-law (ages 11 and 12) love going to church here! It was great to meet the young and energetic pastor, Cory Mullins.

11. Denton Bible Church
http://www.dentonbible.org/
If I could use only one word to describe Denton Bible Church it would be this: Missions. This is the most missions-focused church we've visited. Pastor Tommy Nelson is a great preacher, but the music was surprisingly traditional in style.

12. St. Paul Episcopal Church
http://www.stpaulwaxahachie.org/
This is the church I grew up in as my family is Episcopalian. This church is full of great people and has a very nice traditional service.

13. LifeChurch.tv - Edmond Campus
http://www.lifechurch.tv
This is probably the complete opposite of St. Paul Episcopal! LifeChurch's Edmond campus probably had the best production of a worship service I've seen. I was very impressed with how the people responded to Pastor Craig Groeschel's message that was delivered at another campus. He asked people to raise their hands or read along and the people at the Edmond campus responded accordingly. I've never seen a church that uses technology as well as LifeChurch. Check out this video they made discussing church unity.


14. Church of the Holy Apostles
http://www.holyapostlesfortworth.org/
Another Episcopal church for the list! This is the church my aunt and grandmother attend in Fort Worth. Almost all Episcopal services are the same, but the thing that stood out about this church were the stained glass windows which highlighed each of the Apostles along one side of the church and notable saints of old along the other side.

15. One: Twenty One Community Church
http://www.121cc.com/
This is a smaller church (for the Dallas area) that I would guess has around 1,500 in attendance. We went to this church because I follow Tilling the Soil blog, by Ryan Brymer, who is in charge of hospitality at One: Twenty One. Here's a video highlighting that ministry from Tilling the Soil and One: Twenty One.


16. LifeChurch.tv - Fort Worth Campus
http://www.lifechurch.tv
This was our most recent church to visit and while the Ft. Worth campus is surprisingly small (I'm guessing 500-1000 people), but has a huge vision for reaching it's community through creative communication. Here's a service intro video to check out.


Those are the churches we have visited and we have learned quite a bit about different approaches to ministry through this process. If you know of other churches in the Dallas area that I should visit, let me know! I'm always interested in learning more and seeing different types of services!

The next few days I will share some of the things we have learned through this process. I would love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

3 Blogging Roadblocks

There are basically three things that can keep a person from blogging as often as he or she should. There are probably more than three things that prohibit regular blogging, such as lack of food, electricity, or the occassional forgetting of a password. None of these were the cause, however, of my recent hiatus.

1. Failure to keep up-to-date with other similar blogs.
Since I do most of my work from home these days, I have very little use for my laptop on a regular basis and choose to work on my desktop most of the time.
Monitors

While this does offer me a much more comfortable place to get things accomplished with the 700 gigs of harddrive space, 2 gigs of RAM and plenty of desktop real-estate, I quickly realized that I was failing to follow my fellow bloggers closely because the feeds are all saved on my laptop.
For this reason I will be switching to a web-based RSS reader this week. It may take some time to move over all of my feeds and to organize them. Any suggestions for which feed-readers to use would be greatly appreciated. Right now I'm looking at going with Google Reader, but I'm open to suggestions.

2. Pregnant Wife
You might not want to use this excuse unless it's true otherwise in a few short months your readers may be asking, "What about the baby?"

Just so everyone knows, it is true and the due-date is December 7. And before anyone makes the joke, it's December 7, 1941 that will live in infamy; December 7, 2008 will just live in famy. Needless to say, our lives have been frantic, but fun the last few weeks in preparation for our new arrival. We have a name picked out, but we're not telling anyone. We're also open for suggestions here too!

3. Political Season Goes into Hyperdrive
I try very hard not to talk about politics on DigitalWorship as I do not think this is the forum for those types of conversations. That being said, I am a political junkie, so most of my posts undergo a multi-layered filtration as to not contain some political shadings. Growing up, elections were like the Super Bowl. No. I take that back. Mid-term elections were like the Super Bowl. Presidential elections were like the Olympics.

(For readers from other countries, the US has a presidential election every 4 years and every 2 years we have elections for Congressional seats as well as most state governors. Thus, 2008 is a presidential year (as I'm sure you are aware), and 2010 will be a "mid-term election" as only congressional seats are up for election on the national scene. Each of the 50 states has it's own state election cycles, but still fall with regularity on the even-numbered years.)

If you're interested in discussing politics I am much more active in that area on Facebook and Twitter. This is a picture of where I watched the debates on my desktop computer and Twittered my thoughts on my laptop. My wife's computer is the one on the left, but she was using her laptop at the time.
Watching the Debate


These three things have consumed my thoughts over the last few weeks. I have some cool stuff to report in the area of the internet and the church, so keep your readers pointed to DigitalWorship and I'll pass those stories along to you in the coming days.
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