Archives For models

StepsPeople are not born in crowds, nor do they die in masses.

It’s very easy to get caught up in our models of church ministry, a menu of programs or even trying to satisfy all the felt needs of people in the church. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether you call it Sunday School, small groups, Bible Fellowship, 101, 201, 301,401, 1 Million and 1. The primary issue is not what model of ministry or what program, but what is happening to people?

Have we created a path for the unconnected to get connected in a relationship with someone who sees themselves as responsible for knowing and helping them take their next spiritual step?

I think we sometimes spend too much time programming to move crowds through programs instead of helping individuals move to higher levels of intimacy in strategic relationships.  Because I don’t have experience with every model of ministry, I’m assuming some models are more relational than others. I’m just guessing, small groups are probably better at connecting people in relationships than classes. If a person focused on relationships they could probably make any model work, but some may require more work than others.

Bottomline: good Sunday Schools do this, bad Sunday Schools don’t; good small groups do this, bad small groups don’t; good Bible Fellowship does this, bad Bible Fellowship doesn’t; I’m not sure how classes do this, but it’s probably a good idea to evaluate our programming (whatever that programming is) on its effectiveness at connecting people in forward moving, spiritual-step-taking relationships.

Just because we have one or all of these types of programs doesn’t mean that on the other side of it people who participate in these programs are any closer to a relationship that will help them take their next spiritual step. Especially when we spend more time focused on orchestrating programs than orchestrating steps into greater levels of relational intimacy. In fact, there are probably programs in our churches where people can stall out relationally and yet feel like they are “winning” when it comes to church participation.

It’s tragic when church participation and spiritual growth represent divergent paths.

While I don’t think I have a complete answer, here are few things I think we can do:

  1. Figure out the best environment for people to connect.
  2. Make that environment the destination.
  3. Eliminate any programs that are not steps to that environment.
  4. Create programs that make stepping into that environment easy, obvious and strategic.

I promised someone quite a while ago that I would write something about church models. So I am going to deliver on my promise—even if it is slightly belated.

Generally when we think of church models we think of systems. When we think of Saddleback Community Church we think of seeker services and concentric circles, we think of the bases (101, 201, 301, 401) and moving around the baseball diamond. Spiritual growth is seen as moving through the bases. At Grace Community Church of which John MacArthur is the senior pastor we think of “unleashing God’s Truth one verse at a time.” While a slogan, it summarizes the model—large and small teaching environments. Preaching on Sunday Morning and Sunday Night, teaching in Sunday School classes for all ages. Spiritual growth is seen as right living stemming from comprehending right doctrine.

For many, these churches represent (but did not originate) opposing models. They have been commonly named the “outreach” church model and the “teaching” church model. If you stand in the “outreach church model” you may view the teaching church model as simply a different methodology. You see a difference between “the message” and the method. In fact the common view is that the message should never change, but the methods should always change so as to be relevant to the culture trying to be reached. If you stand in the “teaching church model” you see the preaching of God’s Word as the method and the message. Thus any tampering with the method is a tampering with the message. As Mark Dever has written in the Deliberate Church, he would rather see every other area of his personal ministry fail, than to see his ministry of the preaching of the Word to fail. In the teaching church the preaching of the Word is the primary ministry of the church and there is no close second.

I want to say that the discussion deteriorates from here to a lot of name calling. So, I am going to lay all my cards on the table and use a secular tool to guide what I think is the real issue underlying church models, why the debate is so fierce, why outreach vs. teaching church is a false dichotomy, why “balance” is a “sucky” term and should not be part of any well meaning Christian’s vocabulary and ultimately what I think is the real solution to the church model problem.

The secular tool I am referring to is what has been developed by Jim Collins & Jerry Porras in several articles on vision & leadership, among them the books Built to Last and Good to Great. So throughout the rest of this blog I will be referring to the way they have defined the terms: core ideology, core purpose and core values, envisioned future, tangible image and mission.

(For those who think that the secular market place (if you haven’t stopped reading already) has nothing to say to the church organization, I ask that you bear with me a little longer. I am not asking us to judge the church by worldly standards. I am just trying to establish a common vocabulary and define the terms in the clearest possible fashion. Collins and Porras have been the only ones who distinguish between all of the terms we commonly use in the church interchangeably.)

Collins and Porras see vision as an envisioned future that stems from core ideology. Core ideology consists of an organization’s core purpose (why it exists) and core values/philosophy (what it believes). These two things are so part of the culture of the organization they are virtually impossible to change. Out of the core ideology is birthed the envisioned future which consists of a tangible image (what do we want to become) and a mission (a time sensitive plan on how to get there.) The mission may be constantly changing as it is achieved or needs to be revised, but it should never be incompatible with the core ideology. (For further study see “Building the Vision” in Built to Last).

Most discussions on church models jump to systems and ignore the core ideology. We assume that the core values of Bible believing evangelical churches are the same. Sure we differ on some minor issues, like worship styles, baptism, communion etc . . . But we all acknowledge that many of the issues that divide are secondary. This we know is true because the statements of faith from the two example churches are virtually identical. Equally true however is the fact that churches can have the same beliefs and yet have very different core values and ministry philosophy. That would be the case for Saddleback and Grace Community Church. We can’t assume that agreement theologically means agreement philosophically. We muddy the issue because we like to point out how philosophical differences in others are mis-readings of the text or theological inconsistencies. I think that this confuses the issue. Well meaning traditional Calvinists are always trying to make Arminians of the Rick Warrens of the world. In the end, I think we are sidestepping the real debate; theological name calling is as old as time.

The best place to start is an understanding of core values and ministry philosophy in these two church models. In my next blog that is where we will begin. To be continued . . . .

I have learned over the years that teachers, especially the good ones, have several enigmatic sayings like, “There is no such thing as teaching, only learning.”
As a first year teacher, I asked a good friend of mine and master teacher to observe my junior literature class. After the observation her advice came in this form. “My mother, who taught for 40 years, said to me, ‘Talking is not teaching.’”

Every teacher who is honest recognizes that grades don’t only reflect a student’s ability to learn; they also reflect a teacher’s ability to teach. As a teacher I had the accountability of frequent tests. Students demonstrated, at times weekly and daily, whether my talking was actually teaching. I saw it in their grades—whether they learned the lessons or not. A teacher has two options when it comes to teaching. They can learn the material and communicate it through talking. Or they can guide students through systems whereby the student arrives at the same destination as the teacher. I began to see teaching not as acquiring certain information, but arriving at a particular destination. In Communicating for a Change, Andy Stanley writes of the need for pastors to take people on a journey toward a particular destination rather than merely communicating information.

It is easy to stand on one side of the Grand Canyon and beckon to our students across the chasm, “Come on! You can do it!” Shouting out directions, “turn left there, go around that tree, no not that one.” It is another thing to walk back across the chasm and lead each student by the path we have come. Good teachers guide students down the path they have taken. The best teachers find short cuts and new paths based upon the student’s abilities—all the while with the goal at arriving on the other side. Some of our students may have a limp and have to take an alternate path. But it is our job to help them arrive at the same destination.

As pastors we are in the business of teaching. We want people to arrive at a particular destination. Let’s face it; we are sometimes called preachers, because we are seen primarily as talkers. With all of the talking, preachers are in the most danger of losing sight of what actually helps people get to the other side of the grand canyon. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that our processes/systems by and large trump what we say. Our processes and systems are our most powerful tools in helping people become spiritually mature.

At the 2006 Drive Conference the components of a system are defined as:
1. Expectations/rules

Example: Northpoint Community Church has a rule for its family production called “No Dropoffs” They expect for parents and children to attend Kidstuf together. They reinforce this expectation by not offering anything during the Kidstuf timeslot that would compete for a parent’s attention. There are no adult Sunday school classes on Sunday morning, no adult worship service occupying the same timeslot. Andy Stanley is rigorous about ending the service on time so that parents can pick up their children to attend together. There is a very important lesson here: Our stated expectations are meaningless if our systems reinforce different expectations.

Key Questions: What expectations do our systems reinforce? How can we align our systems with our expectations?

2. Rewards (or lack of) What is rewarded is repeated.

Example: We began a family production (a shared experience for children and parents) in our church in November of 2005. To see what we did, go to . Within a month we went from 15 children to 150 parents and children in the same room. Huge win if numbers was our win. It was extraordinarily tempting to advertise the success of our numbers. But a large crowd was not my goal—transformed lives was. I felt that I needed to make a conscious effort to redefine the win: from numbers to transformed lives. Shortly thereafter my team began to work on ways to gather stories of how the family production was impacting family’s lives. I intentionally began telling these stories rather than numbers to our production staff, small group leaders and church staff. I would retell the stories during the family production, while the team found creative ways to reward parents who were winning. I.e. teaching their children about faith and character during the week. We set up a discussion board on our website where parents and children could write about how they were interacting with the virtue of the month. The curriculum provided by was also very creative. We gave away a foot of duct tape for every story of resourcefulness written by the children. At the end of the month we taped our co-host to the wall. We had over 170 stories.

Key Questions: What do we reward? Do we reward the behaviors we want to see repeated? Are we currently rewarding things that we don’t want repeated?

3. Consequences (or lack of)

Example: over the summer we began enforcing small group leader/student ratios in our children’s small group program. This communicated several things. It communicated to our small group leaders that we did care about their sanity; it meant that we were serious about not slamming a single small group leader with a large group of 25 four year olds. It communicated to our parents that we cared about the safety of their children. There was an unforeseen positive consequence. In our laid back So. Cal beach climate we now have parents arriving early to ensure their child gets a spot in their small group. I think Jim Collins calls these policies with teeth.

Key Questions: Have you changed anything recently that resulted in inadvertent results? What were they? What about your system created them?

4. Communication (content and style)

According to David F. Wells, at the 2006 Desiring God Conference:
it becomes more and more imperative for preachers to make sure that the truth that they are preaching intersects with what is going on inside people’s minds so that the line is drawn so clearly, that people in their own lives know whether they are being obedient or not and what they should do with that truth when they have heard it. Now that is contextualization. And so it goes all the way through from people sitting in pews in American and missionaries preaching in Hindu contexts in India.

Our communication, its content must align with what we are trying to produce in our systems, and its style must intersect with what is going on inside people’s minds so they know what we are asking them to do.

Key Question: Am I spending time on Sunday communicating strategy to the church members? Does the content of my communication align with or contradict the created/established system?

5. Behavior (of those in charge)
Example: I think we can all come up with some examples of this one. The most compelling reason to change is seeing such change lived out in our own lives as leaders.

Key Question: Where does my own behavior not align with my expectations of those who follow me? What must I do to change that? (By the way, when you do change misaligned behavior in your own life you have great power in helping others make the same change. Plus your living illustration is preachable.)