Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ten Trends Impacting American Churches, Part 1

Dr. Randy Stone

The following list was assembled not as a detailed research project, nor was it the product of a survey of the largest churches in America. This list is merely the simple observations of a single staff person. Through conversations with colleagues, countless conventions, and tireless training events, I have surmised that the following are true. You be the real judge. I welcome your opinion.

1.               Church Size. Churches are making decisions concerning what type of church they want to be….Supersize or Boutique. [1],[2] Churches are mimicking business models. Just as businesses are choosing to specialize only in selected merchandise, a number of churches are directing their focus so that they may be good or the best at a few things.[3] Once refined, they often “franchise” to additional locations. Other churches are choosing “to be all things to all people”.  This model requires massive staff, organization, facilities, and of course, money. Both approaches seem to work.  Big and small churches are healthy and growing, while at the same time, midsize and neighborhood congregations are disappearing. Incidentally, reports are that… a growing number of Southern Baptists attend churches with more than 1000 in worship each Sunday, about 7% of the 45,727[4] congregations in our denomination.

2.               Institutional Internalization. The mission of the church has been lost. For a vast majority of churches, the overwhelming goal of the local congregations seems to be “preservation of the institution”, rather than the “pursuit of the mission”. The energy and resources of the churches have been increasingly directed to staying alive or preserving status quo. In the last 50 years the number of churches has increased by 50% while the number of baptisms has plateaued or declined.[5]  Church splits and starts seemed to have weakened congregations as the evangelistic zeal has faded.

3.               Crisis in the Clergy.  There are three sub trends in most clergy issues. A. Moral and Ethical Failures. The integrity of pastors, staff, and denominational leaders has eroded with each new scandal in the local or national news. People desire to trust and believe their pastors, but it becomes a challenge with the growing number of moral and ethical failures. B. Theologians vs. Leaders. I see a growing desire for pastors to be strong theologians rather than strong leaders. I have discovered that you can educate a leader, but you can not always develop a leader from an educated person.  Our seminaries are producing a great number of excellent theologians who unfortunately do not understand how to direct a local congregation toward spiritual health and vitality. C. Competence vs. Expectations.  Local congregations want pastors like Adrian Rogers, who can evangelize like Billy Graham, who are on call 24 hours a day, and are able to lead the church into dynamic health without changing anything. Pastors can not realistically achieve what most churches believe they want.

4.                  Dropout, Disillusioned, and Disengaged Christians. I personally know hundreds of people who have withdrawn from the church. Their reasons vary from change fatigue, irrelevance of sermons, worship wars, group life issues, and spiritual complacency to name a few.  Whatever the reason, I see a growing number of people who profess to be committed Christians, but find their church life increasingly unfulfilled. They want to follow Christ personally, but have chosen other options like staying home, starting house churches, and church hopping.  

5.                  Search for the Supernatural. Libraries, book stores, and the internet are experiencing phenomenal growth in topics about the spiritual and supernatural. People are searching and seeking to discover meaning and purpose. They desire to find a life that transcends the ordinary ones they live, but rather than engaging a culture and society that is hungry for truth and spiritual realities, the Church is absent and silent. Now is the time to speak to the metaphysical and epistemological vacuum that is evident.

To be continued……

[1]Oliver Libaw, “More Americans flock to Mega Churches” Accessed 9/21/11
[2] Ed Setzer, “Mega Churches keep Growing” Nov 22, 2011
[3]Chris W. Tornquist and John B. Aker, “The Shadow of a Megachurch”, Accessed 9/15/11
[4] Russ, Rankin, “Southern Baptists decline in baptisms, membership, attendance”  June 09, 2011,
[5] Bill Day, Leavell Center for Church Growth, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Navigating Through a Crisis

By Dr. Reggie Ogea

In his recent book Catastrophic Crisis, Steve Echols asserted that “leadership is always on trial, but never more so than during a catastrophic event.”1 With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 upon us, and all of the recent catastrophic storms interrupting communities and congregations in the United States, it is good time to consider the impact of decisive leadership when navigating through a crisis. 

Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York City when the crisis of 9/11 emerged.  Giuliani demonstrated that during times of crisis, leaders must excel in four areas:  Be highly visible, composed, vocal, and resilient.2  We can make the application to congregational leadership during times of crisis.

High Visibility.  A crisis is not a time for leadership retreat, but leadership visibility.  People in the midst of a crisis want a leader who “shows up.”  Those of us who live on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico understand hurricanes and their aftermath.  Chaos and destruction is everywhere.  Several days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, my pastor visited me for advice.  He knew that I had experienced a similar catastrophic storm in an earlier pastorate.  “What’s the best action I can take as the pastor of our church?” he asked.  I responded, “Have a church service on Sunday in the parking lot for those who will come, and take charge.  People will appreciate you for showing up.” 

Composure.  When navigating through a crisis, leaders must maintain poise under pressure.  Emotions must be kept under control.  A calm demeanor exudes confidence.  Peter Steinke defines this leadership trait as a “nonanxious presence.”  “Leaders today cannot be as anxious as the people they serve.” 3  In the midst of a crisis, a leader’s face and voice tone determine whether or not people panic or remain calm, give in or maintain hope.

Communication.  A key component in crisis intervention is public communication.  People need to hear the facts from the leader early and often.  Perception and presumption can be minimized by simply telling people the truth.  John Baldoni studied the communication secrets of great leaders after concluding that leadership failure is not attributed to lack of vision, ambition, or desire, but lack of execution.  And lack of execution can be traced directly back to lack of communication. 4

Resiliency.  God has so wonderfully designed the human spirit with the ability to rebound from sudden trauma and interruption.  Leaders who express high levels of visibility, composure, and communication in a crisis also must exhibit resiliency.  The ability to “spring back” into action soon after the shock and shudder of a crisis produces leadership leverage.  Soon after a crisis, people want to know if they are going to make it through the crisis.  They will embrace the confidence of the leader.  The Apostle Paul demonstrated resiliency throughout his itinerant ministry, summarized in his challenge to the Corinthians Christians: “Be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”5  Being steadfast and immovable personify resiliency.

Storms interrupt.  Crises explode.  But life must go forward.  Navigating through storms and crises requires leadership visibility, composure, communication, and resiliency.

1Steve Echols and Allen England, Catastrophic Crisis: Ministry Leadership in the Midst of Trial and Tragedy (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2011), 132.
2Rudolph W. Giuliani, Leadership (New York: Miramax, 2002).
3Peter L. Steinke, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous no Matter What (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2006), xii.
4Jack Baldoni, Great Communication Secrets of Great Leaders (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003), xv.
51 Corinthians 15:58, Holman Christian Standard Bible.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Characteristic Excellence

By Dr. Randy Stone
NOBTS  has five core values . This year the faculty, staff and students have been asked to focus on the value of Characteristic Excellence.  The past few months I’ve been visiting a number of churches across the south and have discovered that mediocrity rather than excellence seems to be the core value for most churches. I really try to participate as a worshiper but I find myself distracted by the inattention to details and how little changes could dramatically improve the worship, communication, organization, or general presentation of the church I am attending. I’m certain my experience as a staff person and church leader push me to watch and listen more critically than I ought. In some cases I’m embarrassed by our churches and what we are communicating to the casual attender who enters our doors. Responding to Jesus’ ministry the crowds said, “He has done all things well.” Mark 7:37 Here are a few thoughts about some basic principles that can help any church “pursue ministry excellence.”  

Purpose.  Know the purpose of each action, activity, ministry, or program. You must ask “Why are we doing the church pot luck dinner?”  We expect the “Youth rally to accomplish….?”  Every song selection, media presentation, announcement and prayer should have a purpose.  

Priority.  Too many churches do too many things with too little results. The new motto seems to be “Busyness is next to Godliness.” What are the most important things you do? Invest in them! Use your resources (people and money, time and attention, commitment and communications) wisely!  What produces spiritual and or numerical growth?  Don’t clutter up your Sunday mornings with too many programs.  Don’t fill your week with activities that distract from one another and compete for resources. Allow your people to breathe spiritually.   

Planning. Take the time to map out what you want to accomplish. Projects and ministries need to be considered weeks, months, and even years before you do them. Think about the seasons in your church. Some activities will flow much better at certain times in your church. Don’t forget to think about personal, school, and community calendars.

Preparation.  After your purpose is determined, a priority is established, and planning is considered. Make a commitment to prepare.  Invest the time preparing the details. Make sure you have included elements for success. Think about space, resources, leadership, or training. The little things make a big difference.  

Participation. Consider how to engage people in the ministry activity? Who are the leaders? Who is the target group? Who needs to be part of the experience? Think about worship teams, ministry teams, the congregation, committees, age groups or small groups.

Presentation. How does this “look” and “feel” to the audience.  We take a lot for granted. Guests do not know your congregation. When someone is on stage…introduce them.  When you have an activity that targets  guests, make sure you communicate time and location. (Not “Joe’s house regular time”.) Ask  staff or leadership teams if something is too “internalized.”  We may value something because we are “family”. Outsiders may be frightened by the lack of competency they see.  Telling personal stories can overcome this to some degree. Make yourself “presentable” to guest who are considering your congregation.

Productivity  What did the activity, ministry, program, experience produce?  If you plant a crop you expect some produce. If you practice the piano you expect to play. What is the effort you’re expending in ministry producing? Sometimes it’s not what we believe.  Sometime the fruit we get is not what we thought we planted.  Is our activity producing spiritual fruit (new believers, spirit filled Christians, servant leaders, healthy families) or just tired and angry church members?

Evaluation  Review regularly and determine whether or not you should continue to do an activity, program, or ministry.  If you were not already doing something….would you start doing it now? Why should you continue doing a certain ministry or activity? If resources were limited could you eliminate this program or ministry and not impact your evangelical effectiveness or discipleship efforts? The smaller the church the more selective it must be. Better to do fewer things well than a lot of things poorly.

These are few of my thoughts. Your comments are welcome.   Check back regularly for contributions from our faculty.  Press on in the pursuit of excellence!