3 Things I learned at Exponential

Last week I attended and lead an equipping lab at the Exponential Conference in Orlando, Florida. The theme this year is Heromaker—based off of Dave Ferguson’s new book. At first glance one may assume that Hero-maker is only a marketing angle for book sales—to the contrary. A hero-maker is a multiplier, a reproducible disciple-maker, a mentor, coach, and/or a person who invests their time, resources, and life, to see others grow in Christian maturity. The leaders at the conference stressed that they were not the heroes, but hero-makers—desiring to see others become leaders in engaging and growing in the Christ-life.

But, let me clarify something I recently read—there’s a misconception regarding the definition of Hero-maker—as if the conference were promoting “superheroes” or creating prideful people—that’s far from the truth and even farther from what I experienced. I saw dedicated individuals humbly pouring out their time and life—selflessly. The main reason I wanted to write this article was to point out three things that I observed—and they’re all very encouraging.

Lostness

Exponential was sold out—10,000 people jam-packed into the First Baptist Church of Orlando. There were numerous Spirit-filled speakers on the main stage, not to mention the numerous breakout equipping labs. One thing that I loved, I didn’t see dry ice vapor-clouds, hear thumping music, and bump into hipsters. I networked and met with a myriad of believers, differing denominational leaders, and church planters—each demonstrating a kingdom-minded attitude.

With nearly every person that I met, there was a sense of urgency in reaching the lostness of their communities—worldwide. With each story I heard, people pouring their hearts out about the lostness within their community and desiring to see their churches engage mission. There were seriously devoted believers seeking practical ways to reach the lost.

But, another beautiful aspect concerning a conference such as Exponential—it’s not merely North America, or a specific denomination—it’s global and multi-denominational; not to mention, multi-diverse, multi-ethnic, and multi-generational. Everyone is working together for the common goal of reaching the unreached—to engage lostness. This one thing gave me confidence in the universal Church.

So many times, we hear dismal numbers of failure, church decline, and the ever increasing amount of closed doors—but Exponential was different. It was a breath of fresh air—Spirit-filled air—breathed out through the lives of the many who attended.

Disciple-making

My doctoral work was in reproducible disciple-making, explicitly for church planters to reach new converts. I studied and researched ecclesiastical history and what went wrong and what was done right. I studied and research many contemporary discipleship models. I studied and researched small groups, immersion groups, home groups, community groups, and all kinds of missional gatherings. I researched a few North American church planting organizations, too. I also studied and read nearly every book written in the last 100 years, pertaining to discipleship.

I mention that because I was excited to see what was happening at Exponential. While the organization that I’m the director, New Breed, plants churches via reproducible disciple-making, most do not—at least that was part of my doctoral findings. Needless to say, I was somewhat discouraged about the state of the current church—until I hit Exponential.

At the conference, there was a sincere ground swell of thousands of people and leaders dedicated to seeing things change—not for the sake of change, but to see Christ exalted and the church engaged in making disciple-makers. There were speakers who were championing the small church, movements, and innovation—all within the realm of re-discovering disciple-making.

Kingdom-mindedness

While I wished that I could report everything was awesome and smelled like roses—that’s not altogether the truth. I was able to see one thing that I didn’t like—namely, empire building. There are some organizations which are not team players—they’re focused on their own agendas—but, be relieved, I want to help you navigate toward kingdom-minded opportunities.

If you’re like me—a networker, mobilizer, and catalyst type, who yearns to see people grow in Christ and communities reached—then your best opportunity to collaborate is with the smaller organizations. The larger ones may not give you the time of day, nor be invested in true collaboration. It is what it is.

However, I can’t speak for every large organization—but I can say that the smaller ones are hungry for working together, sharing secrets and models, and seeing Christ magnified at any expense—even if it means sharing inside information which may be utilized and adapted by another organization.

The fact is, the smaller organizations are not in it for money—or better stated—they don’t have an overhead to payout. Most of them have passionate volunteer staff—they have a vision they believe in and are committed to see God bring it to fruition. As I stated, I’m the Director of New Breed, but when I met with Patrick O’Connell from New Thing, he was as excited to connecting as I was—even though we both serve in like capacities. I saw this of enthusiasm time and time again.

The smaller organizations seem to be more kingdom-minded because they are collaborative—working with other believers to reach the ends of the earth. Needless to say, I met some fantastic people and would encourage you, if you’re seeking collaboration and encouragement—attend of the next upcoming Exponential conference (www.exponential.org).

Why Demographics Matter

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This article was published in May 2016 Church Planter Magazine

If you’ve been in church planting for any amount of time, at some point you have dealt with demographics. As a pastor, I believe it is just as important to know my demographics. However, most pastors have no idea what to do with demographics or even how to read them effectively and apply them.

Demographics are important. But, let me be particularly clear: demographics will never replace the working power of the Holy Spirit. Demographics are a tool to understand culture, age, ethnicity, education, ideology, and religion(s) in any specified region.

Demographics & Exegeting Culture

Exegesis. Before my undergrad work, I thought I knew the Bible—then I was introduced to exegesis—everything changed. Biblical exegesis is a critical examination and explanation of a text, employing the original languages of Scripture.

If I am assessing a church or church plant, an imperative question is, do you know the demographics of your neighborhood, community, or city? While some pastors may be able to spout off percentages, reality comes when there’s a lack of application and comprehension. Similarly, if I can see Greek words, but have no idea what they mean, I cannot exegete a Bible passage—I’ll need help.

So, let me provide some help in which exegeting demographics can assist you to understand your culture and context.

Targeting. I won’t dive too far into targeting, but it can be highly effective. If you don’t know whom you are targeting and why (besides the gospel), you will never know how. With the ever increasing population shift of people groups through immigration, urbanization, and gentrification, church leaders must know who is in their community, the projected growth, and why they are there. People don’t just migrate somewhere for no reason.

Targeting specific people groups within my neighborhood is done when I notice a growing population shift within a specific grouping. Maybe there is a rise in a particular ethnicity, race, religious affiliation, or socio-economic status. Targeting will help leaders critically examine and explain what is occurring in their region, along with actually reaching them.

Community Needs. Every community has a need —when exegeting a community, you may uncover areas of plight, addiction, homelessness, or any myriad of social injustice and demand. The church should not only be serving these needs, but reaching the people affected by them, with the gospel. A comprehensive approach to help break the chains of poverty, despair, and bondage are fundamentals of the gospel.

Areas of Resurgence. Perhaps within your community an old box store was torn down, an old strip mall demolished, or restaurant closed? What’s replacing it? That’s the question you need to be asking. Municipalities must have tax revenue. Something will either be built in tis place, or your community is seeing a decline, both provide ample answers. We need to be observant and do a little homework. Is the old strip mall being torn down for some surge of economic growth? If a new restaurant is being built—what type is it? What does that tell me about the neighborhood? Should the church be revisiting its vision?

Areas of resurgence seem to occur within regions periodically, or cyclically. We once were geared up for the suburban sprawl, as people left cities. Now, people are leaving the ‘burbs and flocking to urban neighborhoods. Likewise, trends are showing that Wal-Mart and some of the bigger corporations, like Anheuser Busch, are in decline, as Millennials shift to more organic shops and craft brews. What does that tell us? It tells us that the church may be seeing a shift in mega-churches, possibly seeing future decline, while smaller more personal churches/church plants may be seeing growth.

Demographics & Spiritual Pulse

Spiritual Warfare. When I came to Richmond I wanted to know a little more about where I was engaging gospel ministry. It was revealed that Richmond, Virginia was one of the few cities along the eastern seaboard that was not affected during the Great Awakening. As well, there was a notable revival among African-Americans just prior to the Civil War, but the war squashed the Spirit’s zeal. Why is that important? History tells me what occurred within my community.

I know that some may not be advocates of prayer-walking, but there is most definitely a spiritual warfare taking place behind the scenes of your church. Do your homework and know your history.

Assessing Culture. While the Apostle Paul walked around Athens he was assessing the culture (Acts 17:14–31). With demographics in hand, what should I be looking for? I think if we are wise stewards of this information, we try to assess who lives within our community, city, and region. We want to know which religions are here because they’re not the same, nor can they all be approached in the same manner. Likewise, ethnic groups are not the same and bring with them a culture, perhaps, much different than our own.

If I want to engage the culture, I need to get out and view the community (walk it, ride it, experience it) and then read the demographics. For instance, our church has an inner city Liberian church plant. In questioning their pastor, he expressed that he wanted to reach his neighborhood more. I took one glance at the demographics and assessed that he should engage the culture with diverse arts projects (graffiti & folk art), music, celebrate recovery, and helping homelessness. Did all of that come from one look at the demographics? No, it came from experiencing the neighborhood and then reading the demographics.

Demographics & Sermon Delivery

Contextualization. I’ll use the same passage from Acts 17:14–31 regarding the Apostle Paul. When Paul was in Athens, he wandered around the marketplace (17:19) and assessed the culture, what they bought, how they talked, what they talked about, and how they worshipped.

Paul was examining how he was going to deliver the gospel to the Athenian people. While he was exegeting the people, he must have witnessed or understood much about their culture because he utilized an Epicurean philosopher and a Greek Stoic to explain the gospel (17:28–29). This is so important.

As a pastor I need to know the education level of my audience. If I’m constantly utilizing twenty-dollar theological terms with a congregation of people that have not graduated high school then I will have a hard time contextualizing the gospel to them. This is true if I am reaching a different ethnic group, or socio-economic group, as well.

There’s no reason to spend countless hours studying and preparing a message that no one understands. Demographics will help you understand who are the people within your region and help you reach and teach them the gospel.

 

Tools for How to find demographics:

Mapping: www.peoplegroups.org; www.census.gov; www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/00

Community facts: www.factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml

Race/Ethnicity: www.factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/searchresults.xhtml?ref=addr&refresh=t

Psychographics (lifestyles, values): www.neilsen.com/us

Religious Data: www.thearda.com; www.religions.pewforum.org

Why Demographics Matter

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If you’ve been in church planting for any amount of time, at some point you have dealt with demographics. As a pastor, I believe it is just as important to know my demographics. However, most pastors have no idea what to do with demographics or even how to read them effectively and apply them.

Demographics are important. But, let me be particularly clear: demographics will never replace the working power of the Holy Spirit. Demographics are a tool to understand culture, age, ethnicity, education, ideology, and religion(s) in any specified region.

Demographics & Exegeting Culture

Exegesis. Before my undergrad work, I thought I knew the Bible—then I was introduced to exegesis—everything changed. Biblical exegesis is a critical examination and explanation of a text, employing the original languages of Scripture.

If I am assessing a church or church plant, an imperative question is, do you know the demographics of your neighborhood, community, or city? While some pastors may be able to spout off percentages, reality comes when there’s a lack of application and comprehension. Similarly, if I can see Greek words, but have no idea what they mean, I cannot exegete a Bible passage—I’ll need help.

So, let me provide some help in which exegeting demographics can assist you to understand your culture and context.

Targeting. I won’t dive too far into targeting, but it can be highly effective. If you don’t know whom you are targeting and why (besides the gospel), you will never know how. With the ever increasing population shift of people groups through immigration, urbanization, and gentrification, church leaders must know who is in their community, the projected growth, and why they are there. People don’t just migrate somewhere for no reason.

Targeting specific people groups within my neighborhood is done when I notice a growing population shift within a specific grouping. Maybe there is a rise in a particular ethnicity, race, religious affiliation, or socio-economic status. Targeting will help leaders critically examine and explain what is occurring in their region, along with actually reaching them.

Community Needs. Every community has a need —when exegeting a community, you may uncover areas of plight, addiction, homelessness, or any myriad of social injustice and demand. The church should not only be serving these needs, but reaching the people affected by them, with the gospel. A comprehensive approach to help break the chains of poverty, despair, and bondage are fundamentals of the gospel.

Areas of Resurgence. Perhaps within your community an old box store was torn down, an old strip mall demolished, or restaurant closed? What’s replacing it? That’s the question you need to be asking. Municipalities must have tax revenue. Something will either be built in tis place, or your community is seeing a decline, both provide ample answers. We need to be observant and do a little homework. Is the old strip mall being torn down for some surge of economic growth? If a new restaurant is being built—what type is it? What does that tell me about the neighborhood? Should the church be revisiting its vision?

Areas of resurgence seem to occur within regions periodically, or cyclically. We once were geared up for the suburban sprawl, as people left cities. Now, people are leaving the ‘burbs and flocking to urban neighborhoods. Likewise, trends are showing that Wal-Mart and some of the bigger corporations, like Anheuser Busch, are in decline, as Millennials shift to more organic shops and craft brews. What does that tell us? It tells us that the church may be seeing a shift in mega-churches, possibly seeing future decline, while smaller more personal churches/church plants may be seeing growth.

Demographics & Spiritual Pulse

Spiritual Warfare. When I came to Richmond I wanted to know a little more about where I was engaging gospel ministry. It was revealed that Richmond, Virginia was one of the few cities along the eastern seaboard that was not affected during the Great Awakening. As well, there was a notable revival among African-Americans just prior to the Civil War, but the war squashed the Spirit’s zeal. Why is that important? History tells me what occurred within my community.

I know that some may not be advocates of prayer-walking, but there is most definitely a spiritual warfare taking place behind the scenes of your church. Do your homework and know your history.

Assessing Culture. While the Apostle Paul walked around Athens he was assessing the culture (Acts 17:14–31). With demographics in hand, what should I be looking for? I think if we are wise stewards of this information, we try to assess who lives within our community, city, and region. We want to know which religions are here because they’re not the same, nor can they all be approached in the same manner. Likewise, ethnic groups are not the same and bring with them a culture, perhaps, much different than our own.

If I want to engage the culture, I need to get out and view the community (walk it, ride it, experience it) and then read the demographics. For instance, our church has an inner city Liberian church plant. In questioning their pastor, he expressed that he wanted to reach his neighborhood more. I took one glance at the demographics and assessed that he should engage the culture with diverse arts projects (graffiti & folk art), music, celebrate recovery, and helping homelessness. Did all of that come from one look at the demographics? No, it came from experiencing the neighborhood and then reading the demographics.

Demographics & Sermon Delivery

Contextualization. I’ll use the same passage from Acts 17:14–31 regarding the Apostle Paul. When Paul was in Athens, he wandered around the marketplace (17:19) and assessed the culture, what they bought, how they talked, what they talked about, and how they worshipped.

Paul was examining how he was going to deliver the gospel to the Athenian people. While he was exegeting the people, he must have witnessed or understood much about their culture because he utilized an Epicurean philosopher and a Greek Stoic to explain the gospel (17:28–29). This is so important.

As a pastor I need to know the education level of my audience. If I’m constantly utilizing twenty-dollar theological terms with a congregation of people that have not graduated high school then I will have a hard time contextualizing the gospel to them. This is true if I am reaching a different ethnic group, or socio-economic group, as well.

There’s no reason to spend countless hours studying and preparing a message that no one understands. Demographics will help you understand who are the people within your region and help you reach and teach them the gospel.

 

Tools for How to find demographics:

Mapping: www.peoplegroups.org; www.census.gov; www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/00

Community facts: www.factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml

Race/Ethnicity: www.factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/searchresults.xhtml?ref=addr&refresh=t

Psychographics (lifestyles, values): www.neilsen.com/us

Religious Data: www.thearda.com; www.religions.pewforum.org

 

Urban Areas Are Dynamically Changing—And Why The Church Better Prepare Now

As someone who assesses cultural trends, demographics, and global movements, it is not easy being a visionary and trainer. One of the hardest aspects for “early adopters” is translating what you see coming and getting others to invest in that vision. For the most part, only a small percentage of people are early adopters of vision and even a smaller part are vision casters.

adoptioncurve1

The Reality of Inner City Churches

It’s amazing how we view the works of Schaeffer, Wagner, or McGavran with deep regard, yet when they were writing, not many evangelicals paid attention to them. So, this leads us into what is happening with global movements, urban areas, and immigration.

If you’re a church planter or pastor and haven’t heard the term diaspora, you will. If you want to know what is coming to urban churches then studying diaspora movements (and immigration) is essential. One of the major shifts in global population is the flowing dispersion of immigrant people groups. God is sovereignly moving people around the globe like never before.

If we couple that with the influx of hipster urbanites, gentrification, and urban renewal, it’s a massive powder keg awaiting implosion with inner city churches—they are not prepared for what is coming. The reality—these churches will die out. With the movement of refugees—either fleeing persecution, or temporary visa status—for work—refugees are coming to cities all over the world.

What Immigration Tells Us

Western churches in urban areas will be forced to reach people of ethnicity—not that urban churches haven’t always tried this—but cities will be more ethnically and culturally diverse than ever. We should know that immigration to the United States is the only cause for population growth.[1] Where do the immigrants go? Cities.

Without immigrants (legal), the United States would not be growing in population, but plateauing or even declining. Just to clarify, if you’re linking immigration with the Hispanic culture, let me help you. Currently, Germany and Ireland are the top two countries with diaspora peoples coming to the U.S.—Mexico is third, but only by a small portion of one percent, compared to the United Kingdom (4th).[2]

How Does This Change Urban Evangelicalism?

Immigration and diaspora models play a huge role with engaging urban areas with the Great Commission (Matt 28:18–20); as well as, the combined hipster, gentrification, and urban renewal (for taxation). I’ve heard it said, “We need to stop mega-churches from “gobbling” up old city churches for satellite campuses because they know nothing about the people in the city, plus there are extant churches available, which can do a better job.

Supposedly, the theory goes, there should not be mega-churches, or any Anglo church planters in urban areas because they are outsiders, do not understand the culture, and cannot engage the people. Another argument is Anglo church planters cannot reach African Americans, the prominent majority of urban population (I’ll refute this in a moment), and cause their churches to dwindle in attendance. The argument suggests that church planters and mega-churches should solely invest in small “indigenous” churches, working with and beside them. While I would have agreed with this model ten years ago (and to some extent do)—it’s as archaic as the tape cassette—well, maybe the CD.

Within the next five to ten years, domestic churches and church planters will be forced to reach across the cultural lines of socio-economic barriers, engage ethnic diversity evangelistically with E–2 to E–3 evangelism, and evaluate demographic and ethnic data. If a church doesn’t know who is in its neighborhood, it cannot reach it.

Ethnic Diversity

Take a look at any recent urban demographic data and compare it to fifteen years ago. Census reports won’t show the true picture, as many of the people groups living within a city either fail to report their true identity or will not report at all (mainly because of privacy, legal issues, or fear). Think about the major influx of Islam in just fifteen years and how many mosques are now within your city.

Earlier I stated that I would refute why African American churches should be the only churches to plant churches or do Great Commission work in urban areas. Why not? It makes sense, right? The reason is because the advice is antiquated. It’s a tape cassette. While I devoutly pray that brothers and sisters in Christ (and all people) would no longer view skin color, that we would invest in urban African American projects, events, and churches, and have more African American church planters, dialogue, and such—the fact is—immigration is a game-changer! African American culture will be melded into the many ethnic cultures already here and arriving. To reach an entire city it is going to take a concerted effort of all peoples.

Most cities, like Richmond, Virginia (a smaller scaled city) are becoming more and more ethnically diverse: Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, and European. To think that things are going to stay the same, especially in light of gentrification (even though I disagree with it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening), are antiquated and ignorant. Urban churches wishing to survive must engage foreign people groups. They’re here and more are coming.

The Good News

First, we have the ability to know, study, engage, meet, and communicate with every people group within our cities. I personally know that major missionary organizations are working side-by-side in mapping the nations within cities. This information is available and can assist churches and church planters in engaging urban areas with the gospel. Here’s a good resource from Keelan Cook.

Second, the nationalities sometimes have unreached people groups (UPGs) among them. We’ve seen this here in Richmond. Many of the refugees will one day desire to go back home—what better way to engage missions than to have UPGs return to “go and make disciples” in their own homeland.

Lastly, churches should be working together, collaboratively, as kingdom workers to reach every city with the gospel. However, this is going to take a multi-pronged approach. Existing mega-churches should find ways to purchase dying empty church sarcophaguses—keeping these “kingdom properties.” Targeting areas of resurgent growth and ethnically diversified areas with house churches works well, as a church planting movements may manifest. Strengthening and revitalizing churches, which can be saved, and ones within lower socio-economic areas are a must. Some of these areas may need food dispensaries, job creating, and addictions help—to break chains of poverty. As well, traditional style church planting (having a sending church) and more innovative church planting techniques (parachuting) must be implemented. We’re all on the same team—let’s reach our cities and the peoples of the world.

 

[1] Steven A. Camarota, “Projecting Immigration’s Impact On the Size and Age Structure of the 21st Century American Population,” http://www.cis.org, December, 2012, accessed September 3, 2015, http://cis.org/projecting-immigrations-impact-on-the-size-and-age-structure-of-the-21st-century-american-population.

[2] Susanna Groves, “Http: //www.diasporaalliance.org,” http://www.diasporaalliance.org, March 13, 2015, accessed September 3, 2015, http://www.diasporaalliance.org/americas-largest-diaspora-populations/.

A New Year’s ReFocus: Recovering From Mission Drift

This article originally published in January’s Church Planter Magazine, you can get it here and read many other articles relating to the field.

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People broadcast their resolutions every year, only to hear them muffle into the everyday noise of life. As church planters, we can spend a vast amount of time in preparation for a launch. We pray, fast, seek, and preach about the vision that God has entrusted to us in serving and making Him known within the community.

However, somewhere along the journey, we lose focus of the mission that God provided. Maybe it was the launch, perhaps seeing growth, or reaching a different people group? Maybe it’s the sermon preparation time, endless service projects, or the bi-vocational work? Regardless—whatever it is—a year has gone by and we find ourselves drifting from our missional mooring.

It’s time to refocus, regain, and reignite.

ReTurning Home

It’s time to turn around and go back home—at least for a visit.

I love being with God in the streets. It seems that the Apostle Paul did, too (Acts 16, 17). As many church planters do, claiming kingdom property begins with prayer walking in the streets—trekking urban terrain with the Spirit of God. It doesn’t seem long ago that we spent countless hours in prayer or day after day looking to talk with one single person. Let me ask you: when was the last time you did that?

The streets are where we meet people. Remember the old Sesame Street song, “Who are the people in your neighborhood”? Maybe that’s before your time—Google it. The point? As planters, we moved into a neighborhood to interact and build relationships with people. The intention was not to become comfortable, but to make God known.

Whenever I am away from home, I miss my family. I’m not a fan of hotels. But, when I return home my wife and daughter give me giant hugs and refresh me in the reality of being a dad and a husband. I think when planters fall into mission drift they forget their urgent sense of calling to a neighborhood, community, and even, to Christ. As the start of a new year has begun, return back to the core of the mission—return home—be refreshed in the reality of your calling.

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January’s CP Magazine

ReGaining Sight

The Apostle Paul was once named Saul, a law-abiding Pharisee. Saul served God diligently and with passion (Phil. 3:5–6). As someone who studied the Scriptures with zeal, it seems that works, desire, and accomplishment blinded Saul. Even though he was attempting to serve God, Saul had extreme mission drift—he lost complete sight of what the Scriptures were trying to reveal. God met Saul on the road to Damascus and caused physical blindness (Acts 9). It wasn’t until three days later that Saul regained his physical and spiritual sight.

I often wonder about the thoughts that went through Saul’s head. Here he was serving God with passion—perhaps he thought of himself as a modern day Phineas, saving the people from a plague of God’s wrath (Num. 25:6–9)—only to find out that he was persecuting Him. It seems that sometimes God has to step in to our world to help us regain our sight.

Vision is imperative. As the Message conveys, “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves” (Pro. 29:18). That was definitely true in my first church plant—I practically did everything wrong. Originally the vision was clear, but the motives and actions blinded the mission.

As you read this it’s the beginning of a New Year; make sure that you’re still casting the vision. Mission drift is preventable. Maybe it’s time to have the scales fall from your eyes—to regain your sight and refocus on Christ.

ReIgniting Devotion

As redeemed people, our passion and zeal for God come to us as gifts of faith. With that stated, anytime that I try and become more holy, I fail—miserably. One thing I know to be true—that when I devote myself back to God—to soak in His presence—He ignites my soul.

I love the Psalmist’s reflection, “Part your heavens, Lord, and come down; touch the mountains, so that they smoke” (Ps. 144:5). Maybe it’s just me, but I yearn for the presence of God to be with me. I want to feel the glory of God in my life—that I may glorify Him. I feel like Moses, “If your presence will not go with me … ” (Exodus 33:15), well, you can fill in the blank.

Reigniting our devotion to Christ is essential. From time to time we lose focus and sight of God’s mission and need to spend valuable time with Him. The New Year brings new opportunities. In seeking new opportunities, this should compel us to seek more devoted time—more reading, more prayer, and more spiritual disciplines. As Martin Luther proclaimed, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”

So, to begin your new year right, set aside time to refocus the mission, regain the vision, and for God to reignite the soul.

Why Churches Must Plant Churches That Plant Churches

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Published in December 2015 Church Planter Magazine

“Why would I want to do that?”

That was the answer that I received when I asked a pastor if his church would support church planting.

Did he really just say that? Let me try this again, but this time I’ll rephrase it.

“Why wouldn’t your church want to be involved in the Great Commission?”

Now he had the same look that I had—confused. Bewildered. As if someone just stolen his lunch money. I was sort of in shock, but not really—I’m beginning to get used to this type of answer.

I won’t go into detail about how he justified his church’s involvement in the Great Commission by sending money to missionaries, feeding the homeless, and sending Christmas boxes (all good, by the way).

A Gospel Passion

The Apostle Paul proclaimed, “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16b)

People ask me, “Why are you so passionate about church planting?” I reply, “It is not church planting that I am passionate about, but the gospel.”

To be a disciple of Christ means, to desire to be more like Christ. Churches that plant churches that plant churches epitomize disciple-making and gospel-centered fruit.

In the beginning of this year, I founded a collaborative initiative here in Richmond called, Planting RVA (RVA stands for Richmond, VA). My goal is to see Richmond saturated with the gospel. With 121 countries, Richmond is ripe for the harvest—a diverse, cultural, and beautiful area, but one that desperately needs more churches planted. Richmond was one of the only cities on the eastern seaboard that was not affected by the Great Awakening—a spiritually darkened city.

With an original intention for a multipronged approach of house church movements, comprehensive and traditional church plants, satellite campuses, and revitalizations, it was an uphill battle from the get-go. I found that dozens of pastors were willing to talk about it, but very few were willing to get their hands dirty—to break up any fallow ground.

And so, my passion is not necessarily for churches, but for the gospel. Churches that plant churches that plant churches are gospel saturated. Their intention is outwardly revealed—to make Jesus known, to bring glory to God, and to make disciples. Church multiplication is the result of disciple-making, which is the command of the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20).

The Harvest Is Ripe

Jesus declared, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road” (Luke 10:2-4).

This verse is sometimes misconstrued. Some pastors will exegete this passage as a call to prayer, but the context is Jesus sending out His disciples. He sends them out with nothing, other than His authority. Jesus was indeed telling these disciples to pray, but He ordered them to “Go.”

When I rephrased this to my pastor friend, he didn’t understand that intrinsically church planters are disciple makers. This is why I am so passionate about planting churches that plant churches—it is fulfilling Christ’s command. We cannot plant churches without making disciples—it’s nearly impossible (unless you pay people or draw them in with false benefits, but that won’t last).

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Living in Reality

The current model of Western Christianity is broken. I’ve written about this many times and will share it with you. Western Christianity is hemorrhaging! Seventy percent (70%) of the U.S. population reports a connection with Jesus Christ, yet according to David Olson, on any given Sunday less than 17.5% of the population actually attends an orthodox worship service.[1] This number includes Roman Catholicism.

Even though Olson’s statistics display 17.5%, Doug Murren, of the Murren Group, declared that number to be too high and suggested Olson’s 2008 numbers were lagging behind. Murren’s ghastly number of 12% is staggering![2] Furthermore, Murren’s research indicated “20% of people leave their church every year, which would require a visitor rate of at least 30% of a church’s size per year, just to grow.”[3]

Once again, Olson declared that American Christianity would need to plant 2,900 new churches a year, just to keep up with the current pace of population.[4] However, with over 7,000 churches closing each year, and only 4,000 opening, an article in Outreach Magazine noted “15,000 new churches [are needed] every year to keep up with population.”[5]

The Barna Group assessed that “more than one-third of America’s adults are essentially secular in belief and practice.”[6] With a population of roughly two hundred forty million Americans, “one hundred seventy million of them (71%), either consider themselves as having no religious affiliation at all or Christian in name only.”[7] As JR Woodward observed, “Functional Christendom has given way to a ‘spiritual,’ secular and pluralist society where a growing number view the church with suspicion and some with downright disdain.”[8]

And so, with 80 to 85 percent of churches in America either plateauing or in decline, there is an urgent call for church revitalization and planting.[9] For this reason, the church must re-engage the church planting apostolic call of the missio Dei. The Western world is officially a mission field and is in dire need of apostolic movement.

If these numbers do not cause you to see the vital need for church planting then nothing will—but perhaps you’re among the complacent crowd? My call to you today is not for you to get up on the soapbox and scream out for revival, but to begin revival within your own heart. Start living the life of Christ on mission within your home, neighborhood, and community—get engaged in the Great Commission by making disciples and helping plant churches that plant churches.

If evangelicalism is to re-engage the Western culture it will not be with political agendas, but with a true apostolic movement, where Christ is Lord and the Church is sent.

If you’d like to be a part of Planting RVA, either as a church planter or a supporting church, please feel free to email me pastor@oakhallbc.org

[1] David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis: Groundbreaking Research Based On a National Database of Over 200,000 Churches (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 181.

[2] Doug Murren, “De-Churching or Re-Gathering,” themurrengroup.com, March, 2015.

[3] Ibid, 5.

[4] Ibid, 181.

[5] Rebecca Barnes and Linda Lowry, “Special Report: The American Church in Crisis,” Outreach Magazine, June 2006, 1, accessed October 16, 2015, http://www.simplechurchathome.com/PDF&PowerPoint/AmericanChurchCrisis.pdf.

[6] George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2014), 16.

[7] Aubrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches For the 21st Century: A Comprehensive Guide for New Churches and Those Desiring Renewal, 3rd Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 12.

[8] JR Woodward, Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012), 30.

[9] Aubrey Malphurs, Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 200.

The Ugly Truth About The Church & Church Planting

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I’ll say it … someone has to speak up. We should be ashamed at the actions of the Western Church.

For years I have been involved in church planting. However, it wasn’t until I became involved in finding financial support for planters and developing a collaborative initiative for church planting that I saw the ugly truth.

Before I begin, I want to shed light on some reality. Sometimes I feel like I’m beating a dead horse with these numbers—and while numbers are data, they reveal the truth. With 80–85% of all American churches either plateauing or in decline, and only 10–15% of pastors equipped to turn around churches, we need to admit there’s a huge problem. An elephant in the room.

Only 26% of America is evangelical (I realize that some don’t like that terminology) and a staggering 71% of Americans are either nominal in their faith or have no religious affiliation at all. 96% of Americans have heard the name Jesus Christ, placing us in a post-Christendom society. Lastly, just to maintain the 26% evangelical rate (to keep up with population growth), we would need to plant 3–5,000 church per year![1]

But it’s never going to happen and I’ll tell you several reasons why.

No Collaboration

Approximately one year ago I founded a collaborative initiative in Richmond, Virginia, called, Planting RVA. While I’m not promoting it, I’m using it as analogy. I believed (and still do) that if any city is to be saturated with the gospel, it must be a collaborative effort of gospel-centered churches, associations, and denominations. Biblical students understand that reaching cities (like Paul; Rom 15:20) is imperative for saturation. So, while many different associations were initially intrigued at the idea, the reality of collaboration became a farce.

Organizations, denominations, and associations will only get involved if there’s an asset for them or perhaps to find out what someone else is doing, but not for support. Don’t fool yourself. I quickly found out one truth—the American church is very self-centered.

One local Baptist seminary (President) advised me that they are only involved in events and programs that benefit them. I humbly asked if they’d like to help sponsor a collaborative church planting conference, if they had any students that may be interested in church planting, or professors—I was shot down:

“We basically ‘sponsor’ the events, programs and worthy causes which arrise out of our own work, ministry and budget” (cut and pasted).

I asked for a one on one meeting to discuss the fact that Planting RVA works with their “primary denominational partners: the BGAV …”

I was shot down again. Even from sharing coffee! (The blasphemy!)

Anyway, what I find abhorrent about the response is the revelation as to why certain churches in our area decline to help collaboratively plant churches and to see kingdom growth—because they’re taught to be empire builders—to align only with theological and doctrinal presuppositions. How do I know that? His last email response:

“As I am sure you know, even though we live in a postdenominational age[,] most connect with the church planting enterprise through denominational networks of one kind or another.  This is primarily true because one’s theological perspective and church starting methods must be compatible. Consequently, as the seminary has needs for church starting expertise we will seek those resources through our partner organizations.”

This leads into the next point….

Lack of Unified Love

Lack of unity, self-centeredness, and greed will never help grow Christ’s kingdom. This ‘every man for himself’ mentality is not Christian love, nor can it reach an unchurched, unreached, and starving culture.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that seminaries should indeed teach theology, doctrine, and align themselves with the agencies that support them—but to what extent? I love hearing about Together For the Gospel and these types of conferences, but when it comes to the actual aspects of working together—we’re all going down in separate ships because of our self-centered way of doing things.

Let me give you an example. Ever see a McDonalds? I bet next to it you’ll see a Burger King, Wendy’s, Chick-fil-A, or other food dive. But, drive five miles out of town; do you see a McD’s, Chick-fil-A, or one of those grab-and-go places? No, you don’t. Why is it that they all stack up on top of each other? Why don’t they build in small town USA, the projects, crack allies, or low-rent districts—that’s easy—it’s called revenue. It’s business 101. You go where the money is and don’t allow your competitor to reap all the profits. Don’t allow them to be the only game in town.

However, with this same model that denominations (and even non-denominations) desire to plant churches with and how they view the Christian faith. It’s a business—it’s greed and it’s also arrogance—it’s the mentality that we do it better, more hip, more missional, more liturgical, more traditional, more conservative, more blah, blah, blah.

Let me ask you this: Do you think starving people care about where they get a meal? Oh, but why don’t you make sure they get the fat steak cooked perfectly, right?

Read on …

Forget The Empire—Think Kingdom

Recently, I was invited to speak about church planting at a local conference. While I already knew how things behind the curtains of church denominations and associations worked, one message rang loud and clear—the American church is empire building. The motto: How can your church grow and become large?

I agree. Churches need revitalization. Here’s a secret about church planting. When churches plant churches the kingdom grows. If a church is in decline, one sure-fire way to grow is to plant or support a church plant. Why do I have the idea that you’re scratching your head?

Here’s the deal, if a church plateaus at 200 people (average church in US) and they plant another church, as they grow to 200 people, the mother/sending church has doubled in size. And, as the next generation (3rd church plant) is sent out, there is a potential of growing the kingdom even larger, to 600. This is first-century church growth.

But, that stands against the current model of empire building—of, I want ‘my’ church to be large (*as if it were yours!*). I hope this is convicting someone? But I bet it’s only angered some to justify their positions.

The reality: As long as the American church desires to “go it alone” and not work together, we will never see a Jesus movement occur and gospel saturation happen. We’re too busy with our own agendas.

I leave you with this to think about; the words of Jesus when the Disciples confront him:

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward” (Mark 9:38-41 ESV).

 

[1] This number varies depending upon the data. Mainly due to the addition of 1,800 churches closing per year—this adds to numerical figure, from 3,000 to approximately 5,000.

Why Churches Must Plant Churches That Plant Churches (Part II)

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This is the second part of a three part series (here’s the first article)

I have listed three reasons why churches must plant churches that plant churches. The first part was gospel passion. Churches must have an intentional reality for outwardly making God known. Why? Because …

The Harvest Is Ripe

Jesus declared, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road” (Luke 10:2-4).

This verse is sometimes misconstrued. Some pastors will exegete this passage as a call to prayer, but the context is Jesus sending out His disciples. He sends them out with nothing, other than His authority. Jesus was indeed telling these disciples to pray, but He ordered them to “Go.”

When I rephrased this to my pastor friend, he didn’t understand that intrinsically church planters are disciple makers. This is why I am so passionate about planting churches that plant churches—it is fulfilling Christ’s command. We cannot plant churches without making disciples—it’s nearly impossible (unless you pay people or draw them in with false benefits, but that won’t last).

Why Did Paul Not Want To Plant More Churches in Rome?

Paul’s “ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named” (Rom. 15:20)

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What did Paul mean when he said that he did not want to plant churches where “Christ had already been named”? He even clarified to the Roman churches, “I no longer have any room for work” (15:23). Did Paul establish a church plant in every village and every town? Did he reach every person? Why was he so ambitious to go and plant new churches in “Spain” (15:24, 28)? Did he reach all of Rome?

The understanding that church planters come alongside the working power and mission of God is an understatement—they breathe it!

Paul was a man moved by the Spirit of God to plant churches in new regions (Acts 16:6–10; Rom. 15:19). He understood the power of God. He also understood the missio Dei, the sending of God. For Paul, the gospel of Christ manifested itself in action and power wherever he went (c.f. 1 Thess. 1:5).

So, what did he mean in Romans 15:20? First of all, Paul does not consider the phrase “to preach the gospel” as some type of individualistic evangelism or an outreach event. We may view it that way today, but that was foreign to Paul. He was an apostolic pioneer—Paul established disciple-making churches. Discipleship was (and should still be) the DNA of the early church.

So, Paul was more concerned with establishing bodies of gathered believers (ecclesias) in two or three focused areas of resurgence, within each region. This meant that his assignment in each “region” was to create disciples who disciple people that disciple others, and so on.

Paul’s missiology was Christological. For Paul, Jesus was Lord of all. Paul’s passion was to assemble and see disciples create “reproducible ecclesias.”[1] Paul was sold out. He believed in the power of the gospel to infect people with a pioneering discipling-evangelism. The “infected” people were then, also, sold out to the mission of God, within the everyday rhythms of life.

Paul shows that church planting is more than preaching the gospel, a building, or a vocation. Church planting involves discipling converts into an “obedient” surrendered faith (Rom 15:18). Church planting does not build upon another man’s foundation, but upon the work in Christ.

Paul’s driving “passion to work where Christ was not known,” was confirmed in his apostolic nature: “like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it” (1 Cor 3:10a). Paul relied on others.

The Apostle rightly assumed that anyone who was infected with the gospel would in turn, go, make disciples, and plant churches. Each church body became a sending church, not once or twice, but until the region was saturated.

So, the answer is that Paul did not have to reach every single person. Paul’s belief in the Holy Spirit affirmed his faith that God was at work within His church.

[1] Alan Hirsch, and Dave Ferguson, On the Verge: a Journey Into the Apostolic Future of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 136.

Church Planting & Expecting Great Things!

There is one quote that I have placed in every book that I have written. It is by far one of my favorite quotes—I’ll get to it in a minute.

My favorite quote was stated by one of the most famous missionaries, known as the “father of modern missions.” His name? William Carey.

If you’re not familiar with William Carey, you should be—his story of what God can do with a humble and willing heart is profound.

Another one of Carey’s accomplishments, was that of a Bible translator. He was the first to translate the Holy Scriptures into Bengali. Carey also translated it into twenty-eight other languages. Amazingly, Carey was a self-taught man. He only had a fifth grade education!

Needless to say, it never hindered his passion for Christ.

When Carey desired to follow his calling into India, he had little—to no—support. The larger and more “established” churches would not recognize his desire to see foreign missions attached to the local church.

However, Carey knew that mission and church were inseparable. He would be way ahead of his time, asking for a collaboration of denominations. Carey desired to see Christ’s church set aside its ecclesiology for the aspect of evangelization and mission.

While in India, Carey was mostly viewed as a fanatic. His “enthusiasm” in wanting to see the world come to Christ and Christians work together for the gospel was viewed as abnormal.

Carey once declared, “Would it not be possible to have a general association of all denominations of Christians, from the four corners of the world…I recommend this plan, that the first meeting be in the year 1810, or 1812 at furthest…”

It never occurred in Carey’s lifetime—but it was established 100 years later, in 1910. Carey was a man before his time. Sometimes the greatest fault of visionaries is exactly that—they see what others cannot see and yet they press on with passion for what they see and believe.

John the Baptist was such a man. He paved the way for Christ; a man who only ate locusts and wild honey and wore garments of camel hair. The camel hair symbolized a coarse, itchy, and abrasive culture against God’s purposes.

Of course, John paid the ultimate price for his obedience by losing his head, but he gained eternity. The Baptist was never ashamed to call himself a servant of the Most High God. He was never afraid to confront the fears of being disliked or being less than someone else. John was humble; yet passionate that God was doing great things.

Likewise, Carey was eerily similar in his understanding of God’s calling.

This brings me to that famous and favorite quote of his; Carey once declared, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”

I have always tried to attempt great things for God, not out of compulsion, but love, and yet, I always expect great things to happen. One aspect of Carey’s statement that baffles me, and yet also inspires me, is that Carey believed we ought to “expect great things from God,” even before we “attempt” them.

Don’t misunderstand him, he wasn’t in the “name it and claim it” crowd, but believed that God was sovereign over all things. William lived his theology. He took such bold adventures because he believed in a God that had already overcome death and sin and given him life eternal.

So, let me ask you…do you expect great things from God and attempt great things for God? If not, what’s stopping you? As Carey said, “Go ye’ means me!”