You must have a plan. If the leadership has no plan to grow, then the members don’t have a path to follow. According to one Gallup poll taken in 2020, 47% of adults are affiliated with a religious group of some kind in the U.S. Those numbers drop even lower after considering the amount of members that make up the Lord’s church. Of that remnant, the faithful are in the minority. Knowing that God is able to help His church grow is one thing, but creating an environment that encourages growth is another. According to Paul, the more streamlined and dynamic we can be in our service to Him, the more growth occurs.
“…from the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual.”
So let’s simplify it.
A growing environment focuses on two areas:
A. For Spiritual Growth…
Have an excellent customized Bible curriculum
Focus efforts on the worship service planning
Emphasis on group focused programs (teens, young adult, & seniors)
B. For Numerical Growth…
Plan to grow your staff (outreach minister, youth minister, co-minister/associate)
Look for needs and create jobs/ministries to fulfill those needs by getting others involved. Churches are often stagnant because there aren’t enough outlets for all members to plug in.
Five Job Ideas For Church Families
Social Tech Team: Perfect for a youth group looking to get involved in public communications. Facebook, Instagram, church websites, podcasts, YouTube channels, e-banners, PowerPoint slides, and numerous other lights to help your “city” (Mat. 5:14) become more visible. Online presence is crucial and a team of young people seem perfect for that job.
Scoop Squad: There are visitors who walk in the back door each Sunday and for some reason they aren’t all coming back. What if your congregation had a few folks who have taken it on themselves to seek them out in the crowd and invite them to lunch? To their home? A cup of coffee? These people are soul focused and they’re determined to keep visitors coming back to hear more about Jesus.
Conversion Crew: Appoint someone with a passion for soul winning to head up a group that’s passionate about training others in the art of conversion. The more capable teachers you have, the more likely your members will invite the lost.
The Howdy Boys: There’s nothing better than a warm smile and a handshake to make your presence in the room feel appreciated. The Howdy Boys (or the Welcome Women?) excel in conversation. They’re extroverts who can make a visitor’s first experience a stress-free one. After all, they get more than a “howdy” from a stranger. They’ll get directions to the nearest child care room, bathroom, classroom, and coffee room. Side note, “Caffeinated Christianity” isn’t a bad Bible study group name.
Builder Brigade: The question, “where can I help?” isn’t bad unless there isn’t an answer because there aren’t any options. Having a person(s) to help others find where their talents can bring Him the most glory is invaluable. If one were to place membership and then their talents were quickly put to work, the chances that apathy set in go down. Remove that “checklist mentality” by removing the option to simply attend without any responsibility. A team designed to create jobs or help others find their job is an important job.
The stats are in, and depression and suicide rates are up. For example, 7.8% of all U.S. adults experienced one episode of major depression within the last year. Suicide rates nationally have been up by 30% since 2000, with the most significant surge coming over the last decade.1 Naturally, the pandemic gets its share of the blame for a part of these trends, but can it explain it all?
I humbly suggest it does not. These problems stem from more than being cooped up in houses and having routines upset. People are more dissatisfied. A poll conducted in 2020 found only 14% of the respondents were happy. 2020 was the first time the percentage dipped so low since the General Social Survey started tracking those numbers in 1972. 2
Let us consider all the changes ushered in since Y2K. First, social media was born and has brought considerable changes to the culture and how we disseminate information. Who had heard of Twitter in 2005? Trick question. Twitter wasn’t even a thing in 2005. Though there was a Facebook (2004), it still limited who could use its platform. I could not waste my time watching cute cat videos in 2004. YouTube did not roll out user-submitted video streaming until 2005.
And let us not forget the technological advancements this millennium has witnessed. For example, Steve Jobs’ iPhone gave us “an app for that” in 2007. In 2008, Google gave us the open-source Android OS for smartphones. What kind of internet speeds did you enjoy over a decade ago? AOL was still around in the early 2000s, having people call in over their telephone lines accessing blazing internet speeds allowed by their 56k modems. (Obvious sarcasm there.) It was only a minority that had access to broadband internet in 2005. And can you remember the early 2000s when you started hearing all those businesses you patronized talk about checking out their website?
How about the state of politics and civil discourse since 2000? “Not my President!” That slogan began in 2016 with protesting against the outcome of the election, isn’t that correct? But, no, people were saying that about President Bush, too, after the whole hanging-chads debacle in the 2000 election. And oh, what noise in the “streets!” Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Antifa, Black Lives Matter, MAGA, and Proud Boys. In some respects, we’ve regressed to the tumultuous Vietnam War era of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Now, I am aware that correlation is not causation. However, I think that the one wishing to connect the dots can demonstrate how all these things we have mentioned have stoked the fires of depression and discontent. The fake perfection of social media makes people think they are unattractive and have unfulfilled lives. The disinformation and propaganda of the internet arouse our righteous ire against our enemies, foreign and predominantly domestic. And the technology puts all this information in our hands nigh instantaneously. Then, we can easily share our misery or righteous indignation with everyone around us.
The question is, how do you respond to all of this? I advise you not to react like a particular man from Turkey’s Mersin province when the contagion of Christianity began turning his world upside down. His zeal caused him to persecute the Christian sect. He was willing to dedicate his entire life to Christianity’s eradication, traveling even a great distance to ferret out its adherents living among the populace of a province that was not even his home. Finally, on that fateful road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to this man and made a profound statement. “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26.14 NASB1995).
What is a goad? There was a time when cattlemen moved their livestock by poking them with a sharpened stick. That sharpened stick was a goad. So, if our man from Turkey, Saul of Tarsus, was like one of God’s cattle on a thousand hills (cf. Psalm 50.10), he was stubborn. Rather than accept the direction of his master’s prodding, he pushed back against the sharpened stick, injuring himself. That is what self-righteousness does. A person can be a crusader for many things, some of which seem very important, but when he runs contrary to the will of God, he only causes self-harm.
Polls show that the United States has effectively “democratized” Christianity. In other words, nebulous “spirituality” is up while “organized religion” is down. People think they can “swipe right or left” as they do with a dating app when engaging with God. This mindset was becoming ensconced even before COVID-19. I would add that governmental regulation to close our assembly halls during the pandemic and our well-intentioned compliance with them enabled the creation of a “virtual faith” among some of our members. The result is that people have lost the sense of community and purpose that the church provides.3 Hence, people are depressed and dissatisfied.
Now that fear has subsided, and SARS-CoV-2 is not the killer it once was, thanks to treatment regimens borne amid fiery trials and this virus reaching an endemic state, things are opening back up to pre-pandemic conditions. And people are ecstatic to be returning to a semblance of normalcy. Yet, something is still inexplicably missing. Young people particularly notice it. There is an empty void even with involvement in social issues or opportunities to contribute to a good cause.
Whether one attributes Blaise Pascal or Augustine with the credit for first articulating the existence of a “God-shaped hole” within us, it indeed exists. Per Jesus’ statement about unclean spirits, we know evil fills an empty void (Matthew 12.43-45). If not “evil,” per se, definitely self (cf. Romans 1.25). If people continue in their self-righteousness and ignore the gentle prodding of the Savior through His Word, they will continue injuring themselves, feeling depressed and dissatisfied. Yes, they kick against the goads. It is time to stop kicking and move forward in the direction He intends.
Back in 2016 Facebook created their “fact-checking program.” The focus of the program is to “address viral misinformation and false claims, particularly those that have the potential to mislead or harm.” Since 2016 hundreds of thousands of posts have been flagged as “misleading” or containing “false information.” While this program has been met with mixed reviews and opinions, there is a valuable lesson we can learn from fact-checking and that is to, well, check your facts.
Powerade is the sports players elixir. It’s refreshing, it replenishes electrolytes, and gives you 34 grams of beautiful sugar. It’s got potassium, sodium, and 35 grams of carbs. But Blue Powerade bears a striking resemblance to Windex. At a glance this window cleaner may seem like Powerade. It’s blue, you could easily put it in an empty Powerade bottle and call it Powerade, but it isn’t. Windex is Windex, no matter how you try and label it. Many times something may quack like a duck and walk like a duck, but it isn’t a duck.
Galatians 1:6 says, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”
Paul warns us that as Christians we will encounter misinformation. Those who spread it may have a way with words. What they teach is convincing and appealing. But upon closer examination, their Powerade is actually Windex. These people will claim that you can receive salvation with just a prayer, that God approves of homosexuality, that every person has their own truth. We need to start Bible fact-checking the claims and teachings of those around us.
So many Christians are led astray by false teaching. It’s our job to test what is taught with scripture because on the day of judgment each person will be held accountable. Be noble-minded and search the scriptures. Don’t drink the Windex just because it’s in a Powerade bottle. Look at the content and compare it to God’s Word.
As Christians we must keep the church pure and free of misinformation. Let’s all start fact-checking our spiritual sources using God’s infallible Word.
It’s no news flash to observe that our culture seems hopelessly divided along political lines. That seems to impact race, gender, and other lines, too. The most tragic consequence of this is that it has not left the church unaffected. Social media is often a barometer for how emotional and passionate brethren on both sides of this divide can become when discussing some specific aspect of this. We cannot hope that social media will provide the answer. Who your friends are and what their leanings are on political issues influence what shows up on your homepage as they share politically or socially charged blogs, videos, and the like. Pundits have, for a few years, theorized and analyzed the reality of a “political social media bubble.” Barton Swaim, in an August 1 article on The Weekly Standard online, said, “more than any other social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter are avenues for the kind of acrimony that has embittered our politics and poisoned reasonable dialog” (https://www.weeklystandard.com/barton-swaim/a-political-social-media-bubble). It’s not just conservative publications making that observation. Google the term “political social media bubble” and conservative, moderate, and liberal outlets can at least agree about its existence (a trip to The Guardian, New York Times, National Review, et al finds plenty of material if written from different points of view drawing different conclusions).Too often, God’s people get drawn into this hurtful, messy arena and turn on each other like gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. The God of heaven must certainly weep.
This weekend, I visited the Lord’s church in Chesapeake, Virginia, a state that is often a political cauldron boiling hotter than many other places. I’m not sure how many congregations were represented, but we had to have had close to half white and half black people attending (with various Asian and Hispanic visitors there, too). Politics were mentioned a few times, but only in the sense that they have too often become a stumbling block and distraction in the Lord’s church and that they cannot solve our nation’s problems. But I was beholding the answer without it having to be pointed out. Those in attendance had a thirst for a “thus saith the Lord.” People of different colors lovingly, naturally worshipped, fellowshipped, visited, laughed with, and enjoyed each other throughout the weekend. It was genuine. It was deep. It was powerful. And it was neither contrived nor manipulated. Its glue and bond was the blood and body of God’s Son. Christ is the great uniter. As we unite on His terms and His way, we destroy barriers. That’s by design.
What Paul says to Jew and Gentile in Ephesians 2:14-18 can have application between black and white, Republican and Democrat, rich and poor, male and female, or however our country wants to erect barriers. Christ is our peace and can break down the barrier of any dividing wall. He helps us view each other as “fellow citizens” and “family” (2:19) who are “together” (2:21,22). When we get ahold of that, nothing can keep us apart!
I will try to use social media to encourage and edify others (1 Thess. 5:11; 1 Cor. 14:26b).
I will avoid the shocking, inflammatory, and divisive tactics increasingly characteristic of S.M. (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10; Prov. 12:18; Prov. 15:2,4; etc.).
I will ask, “Would I say this in the way I am saying this?,” if face to face with this person or this group of people (Prov. 23:7).
I will not use Social Media to pick fights or put people on the defensive (cf. 2 Tim. 3:1ff).
I will not be Nellie Nitpicker and Contrary Charlie. About. Every. Single. Little. Thing.
I will respect that my connections have connections that are not Christians and I want to be sure to say what I say in accordance with Ephesians 4:15 and 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
I will sever connections with individuals who consistently display a lack of self-control with their words and attitudes. Souls are too precious.
I will abhor the thought of doing what would put Christ to an open shame (cf. Heb. 10:29).
I will double-check myself to avoid bragging and self-promotion (1 Cor. 13:4-5).
I will conquer the desire to have the last word, pile on, or fight fire with fire (Mat. 5:39-42).
I will not let the false teaching, bad attitude, or meanness of another be my rationale for behaving in a way that brings Christ shame or jeopardizes my own soul (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-27).
I will always be trying to set the table for productive evangelism or retrieving the wayward (Jas. 5:19-20; Col. 4:6).
I will always try to portray the doctrinal, moral, and ethical values of my Lord, thus avoiding reflecting and glorifying whatever values conflict with His (Mat. 5:14-16).
I will try to promote, not pummel, the bride of Jesus, appreciate, not attack, the elders, and unite, not untie, wherever possible.
I will shun passive aggression in myself first, but also in others.
I will deal with dirty laundry in its appropriate way, which is not on Social Media.
I will actively try to show grace to everyone, including cantankerous curmudgeons.
I will, foremost, realize my own imperfections and try every day I use Social Media to do so in the way Jesus would, if He had Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, a blog, LinkedIn, etc. In a way, through you and me, He does. I will let that sink in!
USA Today’s Maria Puente is reporting music star Kanye West’s tweet where he writes, “I write this to you my brothers while still 53 million dollars in personal debt…Please pray we overcome…This is my true heart….” (USAToday.com). Hearing that Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla were going to give away some of their billions to philanthropic causes, West tweeted that he wanted to be a recipient of some of that charity. Since most of us will probably not make a total of $53 million in our lifetimes, we have a hard time imagining how someone could accrue that amount in personal debt! Perhaps horrible investing, profligate lifestyle decisions, and the like might explain it, but the lack of restraint and wisdom seems appalling. How could one person be so foolish and wasteful? We wring our hands and shake our heads, maybe condescendingly.
Until we consider something.
In a spiritual sense, we all faced a debt infinitely greater. Jesus illustrates this in a parable regarding a slave who owed his master 10,000 talents (Mat. 18:23ff). Biola University business professor Philip Massey did some modern-day math equivalency with that figure and estimates in 21st Century dollars that debt would be $7.04 billion dollars, and according to the 2010 Forbes list of billionaires would need to be at least the 102nd most wealthy person on the entire planet just to be able to pay such a debt (chimes.biola.edu). Jesus’ point in the parable is to show how utterly audacious it is not to forgive the relatively minuscule transgressions others commit against us in light of how great our spiritual debt is to God. All the combined wealth of the world is not enough to pay for one sin (cf. Mic. 6:6-8; Mat. 16:26). Colossians 2:14 uses the term “debt” to describe our sin problem, but the same verse tells us that we had someone more powerful and capable than any earthly magnate or mogul to help us pay off our debt. In fact, “having nailed it [the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us] to the cross,” He provided payment sufficient for the sin debt of every single person in this world.
Can you imagine anyone refusing help who faced such an insurmountable obligation? Yet, the majority of this world has done and will continue to do so. By refusing to submit to the Lordship of Jesus, they continue to pile up their debt. When the Day of Accounting comes, they’ll stand bankrupt and unable to pay. The consequences will be eternal!
Without Christ, we all face a debt that cannot be sufficiently estimated. We need His blood applied to our sins or our situations are hopeless! How Zuckerberg will respond is unclear. How Jesus will respond is ironclad! Reach out to Him.
On the young man’s Facebook page, he made hopeful comments. He had just graduated High School when he wrote, “Can’t wait to see what’s in store for my future.” Randomly, several weeks later, he gushed, “Some day, I’m going to travel the world.” The Colorado Mesa University student from Lakewood, Colorado, was 19 years old when he went hiking in Bangs Canyon south of Grand Junction and fell to his death on Saturday.
Obituary columns are supposed to be filled with wrinkled faces and names that sound like our grandparent’s generation. Birth dates should go way back to the early or at least mid-1900s. We’re just not conditioned to think that death can come to the young. But if we are careful Bible readers, we realize that there is no guarantee that we reach Moses’ inspired guideline for life expectancy of 70 or 80 (Psa. 90:10). We listen to James as the Holy Spirit leads him to write, “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (4:14). It does not say that the vapor floats around for a century and a half or more. We do not get to decide how high and long our vapor hangs in the air.
The fact of this uncertainty ought to cause all of us, wherever we are on the time continuum, to take the attitude James urges. He writes, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that'” (4:15). Such a statement shows submission under God, humility before God, and obligation to God. This will help us see each day as a gift from Him and should cause us to use it wisely and productively to accomplish His will. It should also prompt us not to delay following and submitting our lives to Him. Instead, it should cause us to not delay becoming a Christian, leaving a lifestyle of sin, or getting actively involved in serving Christ.
Most of us will likely reach a ripe old age. The law of averages are at play. But we do not get to choose if we do or do not. What we can choose is who we serve and when!
A man is about to be put to death for preaching Christ. He is composing the last known words he left to history, and it is addressed to another, younger preacher. The entire letter is less than 2,000 words, making each sentence all the more meaningful. In the middle of describing “an unashamed workman,” Paul makes this statement, “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife” (2 Tim. 2:23). Paul has just discussed the vitality and value of being a vessel of honor in God’s house (20-21). One is cleansed and prepared for His use who flees lust and pursues the Lord (22). Paul follows the admonition in verse 23 by describing the characteristics of a good workman and vessel of honor.
Social media has got to be one of the devil’s greatest tools for tempting God’s people to violate the principle of 2 Timothy 2:23. One has got to wonder how many confidently asserted statements and vehement arguments are properly categorized as “foolish” and “ignorant.” We’ve all seen the disputes and strife they generate! Brethren speak ugly to one another and venomously about the object of their scorn. I cannot remember how many times I heard the late Wendell Winkler say, “You can be right and be wrong. If you’re not kind, you’re the wrong kind.” Do we ever stop to consider that we can neutralize our effectiveness by un-researched, unstudied, and uninformed statements nevertheless brashly and confidently stated?
And what about those who “innocently” start these bash-fests? As a young boy, I remember having a football card of Conrad Dobler. For some reason, I thought he was so cool…until I saw him in a commercial. He’s sitting between two fans and he pits one against the other until the whole crowd is in an uproar. The commercial ends with him grinning as he leaves the middle of the fracas. Was he innocent in all this? Of course not! That’s the point of using Conrad Dobler, the meanest man in football, in the commercial.
Remember what Paul tells the Romans. “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (14:19). The next social media mudslinging you chance upon, ask yourself this. Am I looking for peace or longing to take a virtual punch? Am I actively seeking to edify, or am I looking to don my orange demolition jacket? Hear the inspired words. “Avoid foolish and ignorant disputes!” When you come upon one, just keep moving. You are not likely to help the cause of Christ, but you may hurt it!
While I am certain that there are those who will say that they are still seeing as many public responses in their assemblies as ever, most will observe what I have observed. As I think back to my childhood, public responses to the invitation were commonplace—nearly every service. When I first began preaching, public responses requesting baptism or public repentance by members very regularly occurred. Steadily, particularly in the last five to 10 years, such responses have declined. The burning question is, “Why?”
One might point to the growing influence of the world and its impact on the heart of hearers. One may point to weaker, less distinct preaching. One could talk about how potential responders will feel judged or condemned by the others present. One could speak of the philosophies and world views of the age, whether secularism, naturalism, postmodernism, or emergent theology.
Though these are no doubt factors, I am not fully satisfied with them. Weren’t these stumbling blocks in place in previous generations. The names of the philosophies may have changed, but they were there. Consider another theory. Are we losing the traditional, real social connection and fellowship of days gone by as we lose ourselves in the virtual world of social media (some of the same desensitizing factors could apply to TV and movies, too)? Before you dismiss this theory, consider some reasons why I promulgate it.
Some use social media as their “confessional” or front pew, where they confess their failings in marriage, attitude, speech, or actions.
On the other hand, social media outlets—particularly those having photos as part of their makeup—create an artificiality. We don’t post unflattering pictures (and may plead with those that tag us in them to delete them), don’t generally admit to weaknesses of character or anything that may make us seem inferior to others (financially, socially, intellectually, etc.). Image replaces integrity.
Increased time on social media, cultivating that virtual world and its relationships, may be robbing us of real-time, real-life relationships. We often neglect those in front of us for those we’re “visiting” by phone or tablet.
How might this impact public responses? Are we meeting the needs of James 5:16 and 1 John 1:9 via the virtual world? Are we afraid to show vulnerability, need, or weakness, lest we be deemed “inferior”? Have we desensitized ourselves, losing the ability to be “real”? There may be huge holes in my theory, but I suspect there is at least some truth to it.
What can we do to reverse the trend? Hopefully, giving it some serious thought is a start. We cannot reduce ourselves to mindless minions who are consumed with the superficial while disconnecting from the authentic. We must renew a dedication to fellowship and relationship, now more than ever! The people on Pentecost were disturbed enough by clear, divine teaching to make that known in the clearest terms (Acts 2:37). Let’s help the church be a place of real connections and relationships so we can help each other when spiritual needs exist.
Prefatory note: I am writing as a guilty party rather than an innocent bystander. The following words are directed inwardly at least as much as outwardly.
It is getting hard to remember what we did before we got our smartphones. How did we keep from answering everyone’s texts immediately or looking up the minutest factoids about athletes, actors, and ancient history before we let another moment pass? What did husbands and wives, other family, and friends do at dinner and other public and private places? Why did we ever engage in face to face conversations with the person in front of us when we could have been blowing them off to inbox or text a person hundreds or thousands of miles away from us? Wasn’t good manners and courtesy way overrated?
It seems like an epidemic, whether an etiquette virus or relationship dementia. Too often, we have become so absorbed with posting, tweeting, Facebooking, and like communicating with our cellular device that we have slowly started disconnecting with the real world and the moment. Last Sunday, sitting at the airport, I was amazed to see rows and rows of future passengers glued to their seats with eyes glued to their laptops and phones. The airlines have even modified their policy in recent times to allow one to never have to cut off their “handheld devices” so long as they are in airplane mode. I’m no expert, but I wonder for how many of us our tools of technology have become avenues of addiction? I have given a little thought to this, and now offer some totally unsolicited advice:
Choose the person in the room who can see whether you are paying attention to them over the one elsewhere who won’t know you didn’t answer their message immediately.
If you choose face-to-face interaction, try putting your phone away and even out of convenient reach.
Try to be self-aware of how much time you are spending with and how often you gravitate toward your phone.
If it is an urgent or emergency situation, consider excusing yourself (if possible without divulging that you are tending to your phone) until after you’ve completed the text, call, or message.
As much as possible, stow the phone when it’s family time, date time, double-date time, or social or spiritual fellowship time.
Realize that any excuse given for why you are answering that text or message will almost always sound lame. Don’t excuse rudeness. Eliminate it.
We can really help each other break this habit, and we need to do so with love and patience while realizing most of us are guilty of these things at least sometimes. Let us not let the virtual and technological worlds interfere with and even hamper our “realtime relationships.” May we all practice “hanging up” our smartphones more often!