The Truly Digital Church

Earlier this year, LifeWay made the announcement that it had decided to close all 170 of its physical stores. The Christian bookstore will instead move all of its efforts online.

They are not alone in their decision.

Retail banking is experiencing a steep decline in branch visits. In 2017 alone, 1,700 branches closed.

The older model for books and banks was bricks. Banks, for example, put their stock in physical branches, which is why there are (were) so many of them. The idea was that the means for expanding customer base was branch location and convenience. Putting a branch every 3-5 miles was the key to customer attraction and retention.

No longer.

Think… when you want to buy a book, where do you turn?

Amazon. 

When you have banking needs, do you think branch?

No, you think phone.

Banks aren’t stupid. They are realizing that when they eliminate a branch, they eliminate high costs (brick and mortar buildings are expensive, not to mention staffing them). Further, they can then re-invest those resources into cheaper and more efficient online services. They are even able to make the digital experience more convenient and personalized.

Win-win for both the bank and the customer.

So what does the future hold?

Let’s stick with banks.

Analysts are pointing to five powerful paths to connect with customers:

1.   Online and mobile for secure electronic transfers on all tech platforms and for nearly all transaction types, including payments and trading.

2.   Telephonic services for information, problem solving and help. Artificial intelligence offers a great way to support this channel.

3.   Enhanced ATMs with private, secure enclosures for large cash deposits, cashier’s checks, money orders, bonds and/or video chats. This personalizes service in more locations for customers while lowering overhead.

4.   House calls and business calls for investments, loans, notary services and new customer contacts. Think “Geek Squad” for banks, where bankers visit consumers. Customers consider it a tremendous positive when met on their terms and turf.

5.   A redefined in-branch experience that accounts for the other four connections.

So what should banks do?

Again, analysts have their suggestions:

  • Leave the branch alone if your customers resist change and prefer traditional experiences.
  • Keep the branch location but downsize and/or redesign it to better serve needs. This might work well with diversified customers in high-density, high-touch or high-service locations. Redefine the experience as you go; forge partnerships with food and beverage or other service businesses to split costs and reimagine customer care.
  • Close the location—sublease or sell it. Know the main types of branch transactions and fill voids to retain current customers. You could replace branches with enhanced ATMs or position house-call bankers for regular area coverage.
  • Create connections customers value most. The days when customers met banks on their terms have turned around. Bankers must connect whenever and wherever customers have questions, post transactions or need financial services.

It doesn’t take a bank analyst to choose the option that holds the most potential: it’s creating connections that customers value most. And this realization is not just for books and banks. As a recent Fox News report chronicled:

Church, as we’ve known it for the past few generations, is over. Every church you’ve ever attended, or that you drive by on your way to a Sunday sporting event, was built on a physical attendance model that is location-centric.

As a result, church leaders and pastors have spent time every week encouraging, inviting and pleading with people to come to a specific place at a specific time on Sundays. This approach has created church staffing models, systems and ministry strategies focused on improving attendance. It’s also why there is an annual Top 100 list of America’s most-attended churches.

But that way of doing church is dead.

That may be an overstatement, but the sentiment is correct. Our culture has shifted from the physical to the digital, and church growth based on the physical must be rethought in light of the digital. There is a clear place for the physical – there is no escaping the biblical and theological mandate to gather and worship and practice the “one-anothers” – but the future of the growth of the church will not be realized through physical means as much as digital means. Meaning, it will be the digital that fuels the physical.

I won’t even attempt to lay-out the implications of this for various tactics.

Suffice it to say, the implications are staggering.

The bottom line is that we can no longer do “physical” church in a “digital” world.

> Read more from James Emery White.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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comment_post_ID); ?> good article. Where I would take exception in the seeming negativity to plant a church more organically/biblically through missional communities due to the slowness of growth. I think that's the problem with church planting in the US today is that speed of numerical growth has taken priority over true and authentic spiritual growth
 
— evansavage1
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
— Mike
 
comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
— RussellC
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

What Your Church Sign May Say About Your Church Vision

I recently heard a pastor compliment another church for being a church that was actually moving forward, being “alive” and “contemporary,” brushing away the ecclesiastical cobwebs and making a Kingdom impact. Leaning in to hear the breakthrough, he said: “What was it, 13 years ago? Why, they were the first church in the county to have a digital sign out front!”

Oh my.

It would be easy to hear such a statement and snicker.

I didn’t.

I grieved.

I could imagine that small church sacrificing to invest in the digital sign. Discussing it at business meetings. Experiencing growing excitement when installation began, and coming that first Sunday after its launch expecting new attenders and a fresh wind of the Spirit. I could imagine them feeling proud that their church was actually doing something; that life had come to their sleepy enterprise. Even something “modern.”

Again, I don’t write a single word of that in condescension.

I write it as a lament.

Why?

We all know the sign did next to nothing. There isn’t a sign in the world that could—not in the face of the American church’s situation.

A new study from LifeWay Research has found that “6 in 10 Protestant churches are plateaued or declining in attendance and more than half saw fewer than 10 people become new Christians in the past 12 months.” Approximately one out of every 10 had none. The study also found that most Protestant churches in America “have fewer than 100 people attending services each Sunday.” One out of every five has fewer than 50.

There are many reasons that could be cited for this declining state of affairs. But let’s state one of the more obvious ones:

The digital sign mentality. 

Let’s paint the church, restripe the parking lot, put in new carpet, freshen up the landscaping. And if we want to be radical, put in a digital sign out front that can flash service times and pithy spiritual sayings. The sentiment is that whatever the church needs is cosmetic. 

It’s an alluring idea. Cosmetic touches are easy on the existing constituency. They cost nothing in terms of the real sacrifice needed, which is dying to themselves and living for a mission. Cosmetic changes do not represent real change, only the illusion of it.

The problem with the American church today is simple: It’s turned inward toward the already convinced instead of outward toward those far from God and, as a result, does nothing of an informed nature in terms of strategy or tactics to reach those far from God. Even those growing are, for the most part, doing it through transfer growth at the expense of other churches.

Shameless plug: We’re offering a pair of identical Pastor’s Workshops at Meck on how to improve communication to the unchurched, raise strategic resources for Kingdom expansion, and grow numerically from the unchurched. I hope that sounds like something worth an afternoon. You can get details HERE.

So mourn a digital sign.

Not simply for the squandered expense,

… but the squandered vision.

> Read more from James Emery White.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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comment_post_ID); ?> good article. Where I would take exception in the seeming negativity to plant a church more organically/biblically through missional communities due to the slowness of growth. I think that's the problem with church planting in the US today is that speed of numerical growth has taken priority over true and authentic spiritual growth
 
— evansavage1
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
— Mike
 
comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
— RussellC
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

The One Test That Reveals Your Hate for Other People

It was a startling headline, bordering on the feel of clickbait: “Half of Millennial Christians Say It’s Wrong to Evangelize.” But it’s true. According to research conducted by Barna Group and the creators of the Alpha course, “nearly half (47%) of practicing Christian millennials – churchgoers who consider religion an important part of their lives – believe that evangelism is wrong.” Specifically, they say it’s “wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.”

Much of the impetus of this among Millennial Christians is the concern of appearing judgmental. But is evangelism a subtle form of spiritual hubris or is it compassion?

Penn Jillette is the talkative half of Penn and Teller, the Las Vegas comedy-illusion team. Penn is an outspoken atheist. But he posted a video blog on his personal website about a man who gave him a Bible, and it has much to teach Christians:

At the end of the show as I’ve mentioned before, we go out and we talk to folks, you know, sign an occasional autograph and shake hands and so on. And there was one guy waiting over to the side….

And he walked over to me and he said, “I was here last night at the show, and I saw the show and I liked the show…” he was very complimentary about my use of language and complimentary about honesty and stuff. He said nice stuff…. 

And then he said, “I brought this for you,” and he handed me a Gideon pocket edition. I thought it said from the New Testament but also, Psalms is from the New Testament right? Little book… And he said, “I wrote in the front of it and I wanted you to have this, I’m kind of proselytizing.” And then he said, “I’m a business man. I’m sane. I’m not crazy.” And he looked me right in the eye and did all of this. And it was really wonderful. 

I believe he knew that I was an atheist. But he was not defensive.  And he looked me right in the eyes. And he was truly complimentary… it didn’t seem like empty flattery. He was really kind and nice and sane and looked me in the eyes and talked to me and then gave me this Bible. And I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there is a heaven and hell and that people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward… How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? 

I mean if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you and you didn’t believe it, but that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that. And I’ve always thought that and I’ve written about that and I’ve thought of it conceptually. 

This guy was a really good guy. He was polite and honest and sane, and he cared enough about me to proselytize and give me a Bible.  Which he had written in it a little note to me… just like, ‘liked your show’ and so on. And then like five phone numbers for him and an email address if I wanted to get in touch. Now, I know there’s no God. And one polite person living his life right doesn’t change that. But I’ll tell ya, he was a very, very, very good man. And that’s real important. And with that kind of goodness it’s ok to have that deep of a disagreement. I still think that religion does a lot of bad stuff. But man, that was a really good man who gave me that book. That’s all I wanted to say. 

I wish every Christian, not simply those who are Millennials, would have that line – from an atheist, no less – burning in their psyche: How much would I have to hate someone to not share my faith?

> Read more from James Emery White.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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comment_post_ID); ?> good article. Where I would take exception in the seeming negativity to plant a church more organically/biblically through missional communities due to the slowness of growth. I think that's the problem with church planting in the US today is that speed of numerical growth has taken priority over true and authentic spiritual growth
 
— evansavage1
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
— Mike
 
comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
— RussellC
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

The Slow Death of Refusing to Change

It was a fascinating project.

Two Danish researchers traveled to 54 newsrooms in nine countries in search of desperately needed innovation in journalism. Their motivation was clear: “When citizens of Western societies, to a deeply disturbing extent, turn their backs on original news journalism, spend less time on news on radio or television, buy fewer newspapers, and express a growing distrust of media institutions, we need to submit the core content of the news media – journalism itself – to a critical review.”

They found that the crisis of journalism and legacy news media “is structural, and not just a matter of technological challenges or broken business models.” As a result, they found that the “news media most successful at creating and maintaining ties with their readers, users, listeners and viewers will increasingly be media that dare challenge some of the journalist dogmas of the last century.”

They walked away with nine core ideas, nine different ways (or movements) by which news media in the Western world are currently trying to “forge closer ties and stronger relations to their communities and audiences.” Here are the nine:

  1. From neutrality to identity. Let people know exactly what you stand for, who you are and from which perspective you view the world.
  2. From omnibus to niche. Create strong bonds with a very targeted audience. You can’t reach everyone, so don’t try.
  3. From flock to club. You aren’t after users or readers, but members who register or pay to join into a community.
  4. From ink to sweat. Quit thinking of journalism as simply a story you write or tell; create physical journalism in the form of public meetings, festivals, events and stage plays. Think “live and engaging.”
  5. From speaking to listening. Move from a “walled-up fortress” to an open and accessible house. Personal dialogue, physical presence… have the conversation be two-way.
  6. From arm’s length to cooperation. In the name of “independence” and “neutrality,” modern journalism has kept its distance from various citizens and interest groups, not to mention public institutions and private corporations. The move now is to involve citizens directly in everything from research to delivery. Even the subsequent debate of published stories.
  7. From own to other platforms. The old idea that it weakens business opportunities and journalistic control when content is released on social media is being replaced with the idea that at least cooperation with social media has the potential to enhance and deepen engagement and strengthen journalism itself.
  8. From problem to solution. Don’t just denounce or decry, or simply reveal and relay—add a solution-oriented dynamic to the work. “They read more, they are more likely to share content, and they express more interest in knowing more about the issue when the piece has a constructive angle.”
  9. From observers to activists. Taking a campaign-oriented approach to journalism, or advocacy mindset, creates relevance.

The researchers find no reason “to preach one particular model… for the future. All the experiments and ideas unfolding in the current media landscape… indicate that there will be dozens, if not hundreds, of different models, all of which carry a hope for the church in the future.”

The bottom line is that the church of the future will exist because of a focus on innovation and experiment. It will be founded on the courage and ambition of radical innovation. There will have to be a new understanding of the need for dramatic change and open-ended experiments. The message and intent is timeless and not to be changed, but the methods must be ruthlessly reevaluated.

Oops. Did I just write “church?” I meant “journalism.”

Or did I.

> Read more from James Emery White.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> good article. Where I would take exception in the seeming negativity to plant a church more organically/biblically through missional communities due to the slowness of growth. I think that's the problem with church planting in the US today is that speed of numerical growth has taken priority over true and authentic spiritual growth
 
— evansavage1
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
— Mike
 
comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
— RussellC
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Are You Staying Current in Your Communication?

Confession:

One of my favorite movies of all time is You’ve Got Mail—the Nora Ephron written and directed, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan acted, rom-com that recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.

There. I said it.

Much of what I love about it is the nostalgia, and Millennials would probably feel it even more than I would. The AOL greeting when signing in, “bouquets of sharpened pencils,” an actual bookstore, The Godfather quotes… it had a little bit of everything for me.

This made it all the more painful when some staffers at Marie Claire decided to honor the movie’s 20th anniversary by showing it to a group of their Generation Z coworkers. Painful, in that it was largely lost on them. Not the story itself, mind you, just the cultural nostalgia many of us so love.

But it’s understandable, and a good reminder of how that world no longer exists.

The demise of small bookstores under the weight of big-box stores? Oh my. Most of the big-box stores are even gone. And the ones that are left? We’re actually rooting for them! (Hang in there, Barnes and Noble!)

Chat rooms? Really?

Rent control for $450 a month? That’s reached the point of comical.

And logging on to the internet through a dial-up connection? What does that even mean? Even the very use of AOL for email or anything else tends to mark you as over-50 (guilty!), which is why even the title of the movie is lost on younger ears.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? Realizing how much things change. And how quickly. Even after just 20 years.

This needs to serve as a reminder to us, how the coming generations we need to reach through our churches have grown up in a very different world, and we need something different than a dial-up modem to connect with them. Why?

Because while you get “You’ve got mail,”

… they don’t.

James Emery White

Sources

Cady Drell and Danielle McNally, “We Showed ‘You’ve Got Mail’ to Our Gen-Z Coworkers and Now Feel Very Old,” Marie Claire, August 1, 2018, read online.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> good article. Where I would take exception in the seeming negativity to plant a church more organically/biblically through missional communities due to the slowness of growth. I think that's the problem with church planting in the US today is that speed of numerical growth has taken priority over true and authentic spiritual growth
 
— evansavage1
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
— Mike
 
comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
— RussellC
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

The Unmistakable Value of Self-Awareness

Dunkin’ Donuts has made a very astute move. They’ve dropped the “Donuts” from their name. From now on, they will simply be known as “Dunkin’.”

Why was this a strategic move? Because, as a business, they are more than donuts. In fact, much more. Most of their business comes from beverages and by dropping the “Donuts” from their name, they can now freely pursue being “beverage-led.”

And in just being Dunkin’, they leave their pivot foot in place for if/when they aren’t beverage-led anymore. Who knows what the future will hold? Right now, 58% of their sales are beverages. In years to come, 58% of their sales could be bagels. They just don’t know.

They are not alone in following this branding strategy. In 2011, Starbucks Coffee became just Starbucks. Then-CEO Howard Schultz noted, “It’s possible we’ll have other products with our name on it and no coffee in it.”

Precisely.

Even Weight Watchers is becoming “WW,” opening up a new mission that is less focused on dieting and more focused on health and wellness.

It reminds me of a historical lesson. In the late 1800s, no business matched the financial and political dominance of the railroad. Trains ruled the transportation industry of the United States, moving both people and goods throughout the country.

Then a new discovery came along – the car – but incredibly, the leaders of the railroad industry did not take advantage of their unique position to participate in this transportation development. The automotive revolution was happening all around them and they did not use their industry dominance to take hold of the opportunity.

In his video The Search for Excellence, Tom Peters pointed out the reason: the railroad barons didn’t understand what business they were in. Peters observes that: “… they thought they were in the train business. But, they were in fact in the transportation business. Time passed them by, as did opportunity. They couldn’t see what their real purpose was.”

So if Dunkin’ isn’t in the donut business but the food and beverage business, and Weight Watchers isn’t in the diet business but the health and wellness business, what about the church?

Well, you’re not in the Sunday School business, the Awana business, the Upward Sports business, the Men’s Fraternity business, the Catalyst business, or any other programmatic business.

Let’s go further: you’re not in the small group business, women’s ministry business, men’s ministry business or any other sub-ministry business. All of these may be well and good and helpful, but they are not your business and should not be treated as such.

Do you know what business you’re in? 

You are in the business of evangelizing the lost, assimilating the evangelized, discipling the assimilated and unleashing the discipled. It’s been that way for nearly 2,000 years.

Everything else is just donuts.

 

> Read more from James Emery White.

Sources

Vanessa Romo, “Dunkin’ Deletes Donuts from Its Name,” NPR, September 26, 2018, read online.


 

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> good article. Where I would take exception in the seeming negativity to plant a church more organically/biblically through missional communities due to the slowness of growth. I think that's the problem with church planting in the US today is that speed of numerical growth has taken priority over true and authentic spiritual growth
 
— evansavage1
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
— Mike
 
comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
— RussellC
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Why Minding Community is Better than Finding It

One of the great myths of relational life is that community is something found. In this fairy tale, community is simply out there – somewhere – waiting to be discovered like Prince Charming finding Cinderella. All you have to do is find the right person, join the right group, get the right job or become involved with the right church. It’s kind of an “Over the Rainbow” thing; it’s not here, so it must be over there.

Which is why so many people – and you’ve seen them and probably flirted with this yourself – go from relationship to relationship, city to city, job to job, church to church, looking for the community that they think is just around the corner if they could only find the right people and the right place. The idea is that real community exists somewhere and we simply must tap into it. It’s not something you have to work at; in fact, if you have to work at it, then you know it’s not real community.

This mindset runs rampant in our day. If you have to work at community in a marriage, you must not be right for each other. If you have to work on community where you are employed, you’ve got a bad boss or bad coworkers or a bad structure. If you have to work at community in a neighborhood, you just picked the wrong subdivision. If you have to work on things with people in a church, well, there are obviously just problems with the church or its leadership or… yep, its “community.”

I cannot stress enough how soundly unrealistic, much less unbiblical, this is. Community is not something you find; it’s something you build. What you long for isn’t about finding the right mate, the right job, the right neighborhood, the right church—it’s about making your marriage, making your workplace, making your neighborhood and making your church the community God intended. Community is not something discovered; it is something forged. I don’t mean to suggest any and all relationships are designed for, say, marriage. Or that there aren’t dysfunctional communities you should flee from. My point is that all relationships of worth are products of labor.

This is why the Bible talks about people needing to form and make communities, not just come together as a community or “experience” community. It’s why principles are given – at length – for how to work through conflict. It’s why communication skills are articulated in the Bible and issues such as anger are instructed to be dealt with. It’s why the dynamics of successfully living with someone in the context of a marriage or family are explored in depth. As the author of Hebrews puts it so plainly:

So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet… run for it! Work at getting along with each other. (Hebrews 12:12-14, The Message)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> good article. Where I would take exception in the seeming negativity to plant a church more organically/biblically through missional communities due to the slowness of growth. I think that's the problem with church planting in the US today is that speed of numerical growth has taken priority over true and authentic spiritual growth
 
— evansavage1
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
— Mike
 
comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
— RussellC
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

8 Strategic Decisions that Serve Your Mission

At the church I pastor, Mecklenburg Community Church (Meck), our mission is clear: to help spiritual explorers become fully devoted followers of Christ. In our culture, we’ve observed that the “nones” – those with no religious affiliation – are on the rise and, as a direct result of this, Generation Z is proving to be the first truly post-Christian generation.

In order for Meck to be effective at not only reaching the unchurched, but unchurched nones and (specifically) Generation Z, we realized that we had to make some decisions. Eight decisions, to be precise, that have proven to be strategic in serving our mission.

1. Rethinking Evangelism

It is time to rethink evangelism, and that begins with capturing a new understanding of evangelism; one that sees evangelism as both a process and an event. When someone comes to saving faith in Christ, there is both an adoption process and an actual decision event. In light of today’s realities, there must be fresh attention paid to the process that leads people to the event of salvation. The goal is not simply knowing how to articulate the means of coming to Christ, but how to facilitate and enable the person to progress from a point of having no relationship with Christ to one where they are even able to consider accepting Christ in a responsible fashion.

2. Adopting an Acts 17 Model

In Acts 2, we find Peter speaking to the God-fearing Jews of Jerusalem. His sermon wasn’t even the length of a good blog, yet 3,000 repented because they had a good, foundational knowledge of the Scriptures.

Move forward to Acts 17, with Paul on Mars Hill speaking to the philosophers and spiritual seekers of Athens. Here was a spiritual marketplace where truth was relative, worldviews and gods littered the landscape, and the average person wouldn’t know the difference between Isaac and an iPad. Sound familiar? Paul couldn’t take an Acts 2 approach here, much less give an Acts 2 message. He had to find a new way to connect with the culture and the people in it. He had to go all the way back to the beginning of creation and work his way forward.

This is precisely where we find ourselves today. Which means our primary cultural currency needs to be explanation.

3. Being Cultural Missionaries

I think we all know what a good missionary would do if dropped into the darkest recesses of the Amazon basin to reach an unreached people group. They would learn the language, try to understand the customs and rituals, and work to translate the Scriptures – particularly the message of the Gospel – into the indigenous language. When it comes to worship, they would incorporate the musical styles and instruments of the people. They might even attempt to dress more like them. In short, they would try to build every cultural bridge they could into the world of that unreached people group in order to bring Christ to bear.

Why is it that what would be so natural, so obvious, so clear to do in that missiological setting is so resisted in the West?

In being cultural missionaries, we must be laser sharp in our focus, which means pulling out all the stops to reach the unchurched in our city.

4. Skewing Young

One of the natural flows of the church is that left to itself, the church will grow old. It will age. And that means, by default, you will not reach the coming generations. So while the goal is not to simply be a church for young people, neither is the goal to be a church for old people – a church that will have one generational cycle before closing its doors. This means the leadership of the church must invest a disproportionate amount of energy and intentionality in order to maintain a vibrant population of young adults.

At Meck, we’ve used three simple strategies to accomplish this goal: 1) To attract young people, you have to hire young people; 2) To attract young people, you have to platform young people; and, 3) To attract young people, you have to acknowledge young people.

Bottom line? Sometimes bridging a cultural divide is as simple as who you hire, who you put on stage, and who you acknowledge.

5. Targeting Men

At Meck we unashamedly target men in our outreach, in our messages, in our… well, almost everything. We have become convinced through years of experience that if you get the man, you get everyone else within his orbit – specifically, his wife and his children.

What does it mean to target men? It means you think about male sensibilities in terms of music and message, vocabulary and style. One of the most frequent things we hear from women is: “My husband loves this church. I could never get him to church before. But now he comes here even when I don’t!” And she will go where he wants to go. Get him, you get her. Get him and her, you get the family. It’s as simple as that.

6. Prioritizing Children’s Ministry

At Meck, we prioritize children’s ministry above every other ministry. Why? Because it is the most important ministry for the mission of the church. Too many churches treat children’s ministry as a necessary evil. It’s often severely underfunded, understaffed and underappreciated. Wake up. Children are the heart of your growth engine. And if an unchurched person ever was to come to your church uninvited, it would probably be for the sake of their kids. And if they come because they were invited, what you do with their children will be a deal breaker. If you want to reach Generation Z, realize that many of them are in your children’s ministry right now or will only be reached if they choose to enter it. Make sure that when they do, it is an experience that will have them begging to come back.

7. Cultivating a Culture of Invitation

At Meck, a culture of invitation is both cultivated and celebrated. That’s what we do and what we’re after. We talk about inviting our friends and family all the time. We create tools to put in the hands of people to use to invite their friends all the time. We celebrate and honor people who invite people all the time.

Such tools can be something as simple as pens with the name of our church and our website to hand to someone needing a pen, or empty pizza boxes with a card inside inviting them to Meck and a voucher for a free pizza – no strings attached – to bring to someone when you see a moving truck. For special times in the life of the church, like Easter and Christmas, we design tools to be fun – fun to give and fun to receive. People use these things all the time to reach out to their unchurched family, friends, neighbors and anyone else they interact with in their orbit.

8. Discipling Your Mission

I cannot begin to express how important it is to “disciple your mission.” I’ve never heard that phrase, so let me coin it. To “disciple your mission” means that you develop your discipleship, first and foremost, around who it is you are trying to reach. We are trying to reach the unchurched, and even more than that, the nones, in view of the pressing challenge of the rise of Generation Z. So our discipleship is going to be two-fold: serve the needs of our existing believers for missional engagement, and disciple the newly converted on the most foundational aspects of Christian life and thought.

So where does discipleship find its home at Meck? It’s not in the weekend service and it’s not even through small groups. We created the Meck Institute, a community-college approach to discipleship that offers classes, seminars, experiences and events designed wholly for spiritual growth and formation. They are offered on all days of the week at a variety of times, and we also have online classes.

So those are our eight strategic decisions. But here’s the secret sauce – the ingredient behind all of those decisions.

We really are on mission.

We really are turned outward. We really are after the unchurched. Really.

Our mission is one of the most important values that we hold as a church and one that shapes everything we do. What is killing the church today is having the mission focused on keeping Christians within the church happy, well fed, and growing. Discipleship is continually pitted against evangelism and championed as the endgame for the church.

The mission cannot be about us…

… it must be about those who have not crossed the line of faith.


 

Read more from James Emery White

 


Contact an Auxano Navigator to learn how strategy can serve your mission.

 

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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comment_post_ID); ?> good article. Where I would take exception in the seeming negativity to plant a church more organically/biblically through missional communities due to the slowness of growth. I think that's the problem with church planting in the US today is that speed of numerical growth has taken priority over true and authentic spiritual growth
 
— evansavage1
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
— Mike
 
comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
— RussellC
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Understanding Gen Z: See Their Perspective

Born between 1995 and 2012, at 72.8 million strong, Gen Zers are making their presence known. It is the generation that is now collectively under the age of 25. They’re radically different from the Millennials, yet no one seems to have been talking much about them until recently.

While there has been a great deal of conversation about “fixing” the Millennial generation, we are in danger of missing the next generation as they step into the workplace – and leadership roles at our churches.

As a group, on one hand they have been notorious about dropping out from your church. On they other hand, they make up a significant part of both your ministry participants and prospects.

They are also beginning to step into very visible leadership roles in your church.

So what does Gen Z look like, and what does that mean for your church?

The Quick Summary – James Emery White, Meet Generation Z

Move over Boomers, Xers, and Millennials; there’s a new generation–making up more than 25 percent of the US population–that represents a seismic cultural shift. Born approximately between 1993 and 2012, Generation Z is the first truly post-Christian generation, and they are poised to challenge every church to rethink its role in light of a rapidly changing culture.

From the award-winning author of The Rise of the Nones comes this enlightening introduction to the youngest generation. James Emery White explains who this generation is, how it came to be, and the impact it is likely to have on the nation and the faith. Then he reintroduces us to the ancient countercultural model of the early church, arguing that this is the model Christian leaders must adopt and adapt if we are to reach members of Generation Z with the gospel. He helps readers rethink evangelistic and apologetic methods, cultivate a culture of invitation, and communicate with this connected generation where they are.

Pastors, ministry leaders, youth workers, and parents will find this an essential and hopeful resource.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Research from various sources confirms that younger generations, especially Gen Z, are interested in spiritual matters – it’s just religion they are rejecting.

In beautiful and surprising ways, Gen Zers are searching for God on earth, not some trendy program your church has to offer. In effect, your challenge is not just to reach a younger generation, but instead to create a more fuller expression of Jesus lived out in your church.

The most defining characteristic of Generation Z is that it is arguably the first generation in the West (certainly in the U.S.) that will have been raised in a post-Christian context. As a result, it is the first post-Christian generation.

Perhaps the most defining mark of members of Generation Z, in terms of their spiritual lives, is their spiritual illiteracy. This is, of course, the defining mark of the post-Christian world. They do not know what the Bible says. They do now know the basics of Christian belief or theology. They do not know what the cross is about. They do not know what it means to worship. But their spiritual illiteracy is deeper than that. They are more than post-Christian. They don’t even have a memory of the gospel.

We have to become cultural missionaries and act according to that identity. I think we all know what a good missionary would do if dropped into the darkest recesses of the Amazon basin to reach an unreached people group. They would learn the language, try to understand the customs and rituals, and work to translate the Scriptures, particularly the message of the gospel, into the indigenous language. When it comes to worship, they would incorporate the musical styles and instruments of the people. They might even attempt to dress more like them. In short, they would try to build every cultural bridge they could into the world of that unreached people group in order to bring Christ to bear.

James Emery White, Meet Generation Z

A NEXT STEP

Author James Emery White poses some excellent questions for you to consider as you contemplate reaching Gen Z. Take time in your next team meeting to review the questions below.

Why is it that what would be so natural, so obvious, so clear to do so in the missiological setting described above is so resisted in the West?

Do you or does your church approach your community with a truly missiological mindset, the same way you would if you were in a new country?

What’s the average age of staff members and attenders at your church? Are you comfortable with that? If not, what can you do this year to start changing that?

We live in a world that is more open than ever to spiritual things. Not defined religion, but spirituality in general. How do you see this manifested in the world? What might it mean for the church and its mission to reach people?

Every generation must translate the gospel into its unique setting without transforming the message itself. If an average non-attender from Generation Z were to sit in your service this Sunday, would the experience make any sense to them? If not, how can you work to translate elements of the service so that the service connects with them without compromising the truth it contains?

When it comes to outreach in your church, are you honestly willing to do whatever it takes to reach the next generation? Are you willing to lose those who can’t see that it’s not about them?

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 70-2, released July 2017.


 

This is part of a weekly series posting content from one of the most innovative content sources in the church world: SUMS Remix Book Summaries for church leaders.

SUMS Remix takes a practical problem in the church and looks at it with three solutions; each solution is taken from a different book. Additionally, a practical action step is included with each solution.

As a church leader you get to scan relevant books based on practical tools and solutions to real ministry problems, not just by the cover of the book. Each post will have the edition number which shows the year and what number it is in the overall sequence. (SUMS Remix provides 26 issues per year, delivered every other week to your inbox). 

>> Subscribe to SUMS Remix <<

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

VRcurator

VRcurator

Bob Adams is Auxano's Vision Room Curator. His background includes over 23 years as an associate/executive pastor as well as 8 years as the Lead Consultant for a church design build company. He joined Auxano in 2012.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> good article. Where I would take exception in the seeming negativity to plant a church more organically/biblically through missional communities due to the slowness of growth. I think that's the problem with church planting in the US today is that speed of numerical growth has taken priority over true and authentic spiritual growth
 
— evansavage1
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
— Mike
 
comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
— RussellC
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

The 5 Non-negotiables of Leadership

What does a leader do? The answers (and books) are endless. But there are five things every leader must do for the organization they lead, not least of which when it comes to the church.

1. Uphold Core Values

Every organization has a set of core values (At least, I hope they do). It is the leader’s job to uphold those values. To make sure they are followed, honored and embraced. If a core value is “excellence,” then that value is only as real and formative as a leader makes it by upholding it throughout the organization.

At Meck we have 10:

  • The Bible is true and the catalyst for life change.
  • Lost people matter to God and, therefore, they should matter to us.
  • We aim to be culturally relevant while remaining doctrinally pure.
  • It is normal to manifest authenticity and to grow spiritually.
  • We want to be a unified community of servants stewarding their spiritual gifts.
  • Loving relationships should permeate the life of the church.
  • Life change happens best through relationships.
  • Excellence honors God and inspires people.
  • We are to be led by leaders and structured biblically.
  • Full devotion to Christ is normal.

My job is to uphold all 10; celebrating when one is fleshed out, admonishing when one is not.

2. Cast Missional Vision

If there was one task almost universally affirmed for a leader, it is casting vision. But not just any vision – it must be the casting of missional vision. If we’re taking a hill, you need to define where the hill is and why it is worth taking.

Meaning: “Here’s the target on the wall. Here’s what we’re trying to do.”

On a more personal level, casting missional vision is helping individuals see how they are contributing to the vision in ways that expand their own vision about their investment.

It’s walking up to a person serving in the nursery and saying: “I’m so glad you’re serving. Thank you. Because of you, there’s a young couple in the service able to explore what Christ can mean for their lives. That’s what you’re doing.”

3. Create Unity

The Bible teaches that the number one requirement for becoming a pastor is leading your own personal family well. Why? Because the church is a family. Almost every organization would be served by being led as if it were a family. The question is whether it is a functional family or a dysfunctional family. The answer lies in whether the “parent” does the hard work of keeping everyone unified relationally.

A good leader works to bring parties together, work through conflict, and create open lines of communication. I’ll never forget a time when my two daughters were at a relational impasse at the tender ages of 8 and 6. Susan sat them down, brought them together and helped them talk it through. It ended, if I recall, in a time of prayer.

My wife is a good leader. My daughters are close friends to this day.

That is the goal organizationally.

4. Give Permission

Only a leader can give permission. This isn’t about control, but the privilege of turning people loose. A leader enables people to develop their gifts, chase ministry dreams, take risks and explore new ventures. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament letter of Ephesians that the job of a church leader is to equip people for ministry. A leader clears the way for people to follow paths of God’s design and leading.

Going further, a good leader sees things in people and encourages them to explore things they never dreamed of for themselves. So it’s not simply permission, but provocation. It’s putting your arm around someone’s shoulders and saying, “I see you doing this,” or “I think you could make a difference here.”

5. Develop Other Leaders

I don’t know if I have ever read this statement (I can’t believe it would be original to me), but I believe it to the core of my being: “Only a leader can develop another leader.”

Which means that developing other leaders is one of the indispensable things a leader must do. At Meck, we’ve developed an entire Leadership Development Program through which we take 100 burgeoning leaders annually. It’s a one-year program that requires reading six books, attending three seminars (on leadership, mission and values, and the personal life of the leader), attending a three-day retreat (covering a course on systematic theology), cohort gatherings, engaging the annual Church & Culture Conference, and more.

Sound robust? It is.

It’s also one of the most important things I do.

So there are five things a leader must do. There are many more, of course, but these five?

All are musts.


Talk with an Auxano Navigator about leadership in your church.


> Read more from James Emery White.

Download PDF

Tags: , ,

| What is MyVisionRoom? > | Back to Leadership >

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> good article. Where I would take exception in the seeming negativity to plant a church more organically/biblically through missional communities due to the slowness of growth. I think that's the problem with church planting in the US today is that speed of numerical growth has taken priority over true and authentic spiritual growth
 
— evansavage1
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks Thom, You’re exactly correct. Now how about some solutions when confronted by one of these wayward actors?
 
— Mike
 
comment_post_ID); ?> This is hilarious. Well done!
 
— RussellC
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.