Thursday, May 29, 2008

Church Growth

What image comes to mind when you think of the term "Church Growth"? It is a term that comes up in my conversations with Christian leaders a lot. Almost everyone wants to do something that promotes it. There are entire conferences on the topic and books by the thousand as well as pod casts and newsletters.

But what do we mean when we use it?

In a rough sense I think people usually mean that there are more people with more resources doing more good things for God and supporting the Pastor's programs. Here is what I think when I use the term.

The church is like a school system. New babies are being born each year and entering the first grade of the school. They study, learn, play and grow individually and as a group. Each year the students master new ideas, acess new knowledge and acquire new skills as they grow in stature physically, mentally, socially and spiritually.

Their teachers have certain goals each year and know when a particular student is accomplishing those goals. Each student and his/her parents know how well he/she is progressing and if remediation is needed.

More on this later.

Monday, May 26, 2008

How to Bring Real Change

Why are churches impotent? After attending church for decades many dedicated members are not much better off than their neighbors who have read the Sunday papers while we went to church. Is it possible for the local congregation to actually promote growth and change in the lives of its members?
The answer is a resounding "YES!" but it has to operate with specific, planned interactions. The early Apostolic churches did it. They led people to Christ and took them out of their despair and trauma into health and power. How did it happen?
I have some knowledge about what is necessary to build a healing-growth community. It comes from my research into intentional therapeutic communities. Psychiatrists and psychologists discovered some powerful ways to heal and educate emotionally broken and traumatized patients. I actually implemented these ideas in several churches and in a psychiatric hospital. We saw them work well. God showed up and the combination of prayer and love and truth set many folks free.

First, people are broken through dysfunctional relationships. Through healthy relationships they can be restored. Although some mental and emotional dysfunctions have strong biological components, their healing and change must always include the positive support of other humans. In other words, medicine alone is rarely if ever enough.

Second, we know the kinds of relational interactions that bring positive changes and the kind that bring more dysfunction. It follows that ordinary people as well as counselors can learn these skills and apply them to build up others. When a group learns and applies these positive skills the up building effect is powerful.

Today this is called, "The Psycho educative Model of Emotional Growth and Healing" but historically Christians called it "The care and cure of souls".

Third, these positive skills are"The fruit of the Holy Spirit". St Paul notes that the main sources of healthy change are faith, hope and love but the greatest is love." (I CO:13:13) Since each and every Christian has the Holy Spirit with him and in him (John 14:17) it is an rather easy for us to learn how to release the fruit of the Spirit. (Gal 5:22ff)
Ergo: "When every member of the community releases the fruit of the Holy Spirit the healing flow of Jesus will be evident."

The world is hurtling out of control and people are falling into depression, anxiety and dysfunction by the millions. However, a healthy church community brings hope and healing and salvation. Now is the time to learn how to be change agents.

Next we shall look at the ways to develop a community that cares and cure souls. Ponder these items and let me know what you think.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Is The Church Dead in America?

A lot of people are pessimistic about the church of Jesus surviving. I am concerned about the state of Christian leadership in America but frankly I am not too worried about the church.

Oh, yeah, I agree that the church as we have known it for the past few centuries will not likely survive. However, that might be great for spiritual growth.

I don't see very many Christian leaders who really want to lead. Oh, I see a lot of people who want folks to conform to their programs and preaching but not many really want folks to get fired up, get on board with Jesus and get going into the world to make a difference.

What is it about Christians that they are ferociously into control? Why do so many leaders complain about the lack of motivation among their members? I learned from Steve Griebling the truth that everyone is motivated. But, they are not very motivated to do what we want. This makes preachers pretty uncomfortable because they have a wonderful plan for others.

When I was assigned to oversee the small groups at College Hill Church I jumped at the opportunity. I had a wonderful plan for how the groups needed to operate and what they should do. I quickly discovered that certain groups had been going for years and they had no intention of changing just because I came on staff. These people told me in no uncertain terms that they liked what they were already doing and had every intention to stay the course.

The church women had run "circles" for a long time and they liked them just the way they were. This was my baptism into church power structures. I learned from these people a very, very important lesson. Here it is. "If it ain't broke, don't change it!"

I suddenly became a great and successful ministry leader. I stumbled into what was working and I affirmed it and blessed it and marketed it. I blew the horn for women's circles and all kinds of small groups that were considered old fashioned and out of tune by "the experts". I mentioned them in the announcements, listed them in the bulletins and wrote glowing reports for the annual meetings.

The experts were missing what their "customers" wanted and I was forced to acknowledge that these men and women actually loved their old fashioned styles and were learning to follow Jesus more fervently be being in them. And, over time some of them caught the wave of innovation and tried some of my new ideas.

Find what works and affirm it.
Find what is broke and fix it.
Find people that want to do things and support them.

God is at work and He has given us the church but it has many forms. Get fired up and get going.

Comments or brick bats?

Need a coach? Call me! 513-697-6494

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

You Can Win

I have written several books and done numerous workshops on topics that emphasize developing
A lifetime of---


Now it is your turn to nominate some person or church or school that is developing great relationships with God, neighbors and self.
Steve Sjogren, for example, developed one of the most original and creative ways to evangelize unchurched folks and it is also a cool but simple way to build GREAT RELATIONSHIPS. Steve calls it, Servant Evangelism and it has taken hold all over the world. (See the blog link)

Who else is innovative and simple in the ways they are training folks to love and care for one another? I am teaching tomorrow night at the Vineyard on building great relationships as parents and grand parents.
The person who offers the best suggestion or makes the best nomination as judged by me, after all I am the king of this blog, will get to choose two of my books as prizes.

Great relationships

The data are in and the results are no surprise. People are looking for great relationships in this life.

Despite the widespread disillusionment with organized religion people are flocking to people and events that promise a better "spiritual relationship". Who doesn't want and need a better relationship with God?

Divorces are happening all around us, even to people who teach and preach about the "Sanctity of marriage". How can that be and why do so many remarry almost immediately? People want a great relationship with their family.
It isn't just marriages that are failing, so are companies. We spend more time with work colleagues than we do with our spouse and kids. The stresses and strains of work and the pressures of being so different in style, personality and preferences brings on an enormous amount of conflict and loss of effectiveness at work.
The Sweeten Life Systems' tag line is "A Lifetime of Great Relationships!" Our crew is dedicated to personal growth in our relational skills so we have the ability to help you grow in your relationship with God, family, friends, co-workers and yourself. And, we know how great relationships work or conversely, do not work. It is not rocket science.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Families in Need of Help

I'm not going to write about the sea. My baby brother is always Screaming and being sick, my Dad keeps shouting at my Mom, and My big sister has just got pregnant, so I can't think what to write. (Amy, age 6)

What a tragic note from this little girl, Amy, age 6. It is the kind of notes that drew me from teaching to counseling. I interacted with so many warm funny and wonderful kids that had such thorny home situations that my heart was always on the verge of breaking.

Karen and I took two brothers home with us on Christmas one year because they, and their sisters, would have had no gifts and no celebration unless we reached out to them. Robert and Maurice came to school dirty, unkempt and unready to learn. Robert was pretty smart but Maurice was dead last in every subject I covered.

That was in 1961 in another state so I have no idea where they are or what they are doing. But I often think of Maurice and Robert and wonder if they ever rose above the multi-generational poverty they inherited along with the dark hair and round faces.

It was apparent that these boys were not only biological products of their parents, grand parents and great grandparents but also inherited their social and spiritual DNA. Back then I thought a visit to our church or Sunday school would quickly straighten them out but after a few years of trying to teach kids who got no support at home I lost some of my enthusiasm.

I learned over the years that such desperate homes leave emotional and spiritual scars that also keep their victims in chronic poverty. Yes, of course we can help some scape but turning such a long term situation into a positive mental, emotional and economic life style is very, very difficult.

The only hope is for Christians and churches to "adopt" a few families and keep them involved in positive activities so they can learn positive behaviors and habits. Add prayer for emotional healing and personal tutoring some of them will thrive. Rescuing just one family would be a wonderful thing.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The "God is Dead Rally" Has Been Cancelled!

The Volcano eruptions in Chile show how majestic and overpowering is MOTHER NATURE and the God who created all nature. It does make our efforts and actions look somewhat small and powerless. I am as concerned as most about caring for creation for God told us to "Tend the Garden..." that He made. However, when I look at the pictures of these lighting flashes and the ash coming from this one volcano I realize that the power of nature to change nature by making it warm or cold is so much greater and widespread that our human actions look puny.

God inspired David to sing this hymn:
Psalms 8:1-9 For the Chief Musician; on an instrument of Gath. A Psalm by David.
Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth, Who has set your glory above the heavens! From the lips of babes and infants you have established strength, Because of your adversaries, that you might silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, The moon and the stars, which you have ordained; What is man, that you think of him? The son of man, that you care for him?
For you have made him a little lower than God, And crowned him with glory and honor. You make him ruler over the works of your hands. You have put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, Yes, and the animals of the field, The birds of the sky, the fish of the sea, And whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
Yahweh, our Lord, How majestic is your name in all the earth!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Church Leaders are Behind the Curve

Leaders Need A Way Through the Wilderness
One of the greatest gifts in Christian leadership is discernment of the times and the ability to offer wisdom to those in leadership. The Sons of Issachar were said to "Understand the times" and "Jonathan was a Counselor to King David" as to how to plan a wise strategy for the future". (I CHR 26-27)

It has long been said that wisdom and counsel were my spiritual gifts and call. I am not a "Top Banana" that wants to be King or President. So, despite the fact that I have often served as CEO, Founder, President and "Top Dog" in several organizations it is not my desire or gift.

I much prefer to advise, counsel and offer insight to people in charge. For many years I have served as a consultant/coach to Pastors, Business Presidents and CEOs and I am still doing it.

I see a lot of need for wisdom and counsel right now among Ministry Leaders. Almost every church is trying to build on old fashioned ideas that fit the young Boomers well but have changed over the decades. It reminds me of the song that says: "When Will They ever learn; When Will They Ever learn?"

Monday, May 05, 2008

Discernment of the Times

My mother in law is almost 92 years old. She was born in 1916 into a family steeped in poverty and stuck in dysfunction. The large family lived in a tiny house making a hard scrabble living in southern Illinois and barely made it through WWI, the great flu epidemic of 1918, The Great Depression, WWII, outliving four husbands and rearing two girls almost alone.

Because of her grit, hard work, faith in God and the blessing of living in America Hazel has lived a wonderful life. Last week I asked her how many times she had been overseas and we counted five trips to Hawaii, two to Israel, several to various places in Europe and all around the USA. In some ways Hazel is a poster girl for American exceptional ism, upward social mobility and how a rising tide raises all boats, even the desperately poor in origin.
We are living in a unique time. About 100 million Americans have lived through the past five or so decades and have also benefited from the material, spiritual, educational and economic tide. Robert Fogel won the Nobel Prize in 1993 for writing about the dramatic changes in the lives of Americans over the last century and the implications for a giant spiritual awakening.

Go to and look up Fogel's book, The Fourth Great Awakening and get it with Lindsay's Faith in the Halls of Power to see what God is up to in the 21st Century.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Can We Do More to Help Troubled Folks?


Several surveys conducted during the past decade suggest that the prevalence of depression among college students is growing, and that it eclipses the rate in the general public. Richard Kadison, MD, chief of the Mental Health Service at Harvard's University Health Services in Boston, Mass, offered what he called some "scary" statistics.

Citing a 2000 survey by the American College Health Association, Kadison said that within the last school year, 61% of college students reported feeling hopeless, 45% said they felt so depressed they could barely function, and 9% felt suicidal. The National Mental Health Association's College Student and Depression Pilot Initiative lists suicide as the second leading cause of death among college students.

Another survey by researchers at Kansas State University in Manhattan has shown that from 1988-1992 to 1996-2001, the proportion of students who came to its counseling center with depression increased from 21% to 41%. A 1999 survey by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, reported that 30% of college freshman felt overwhelmed by the transition to campus life, compared with only 16% in 1985. The US Surgeon General's report on mental health in 1999 indicated that about 20% of US adults will experience depression at some time in their lives.

Todd Sevig, PhD, director of the University of Michigan Counseling and Psychological Services, examined 1992-2002 utilization data from counseling centers at the 11 universities that comprise the Big Ten Conference. "There has been roughly a 42% increase in the number of students seen at these counseling centers," he said.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in Boston, also has recorded an increase in the number of students seeking counseling. Kristine Girard, MD, chief of Mental Health Services, said that from 1995 to 2000, the proportion of the student body seeking counseling increased from 8% to 12%. "That figure continues to rise at about 1% per year, and it taxes our services," said Girard.

The USA is experiencing a dramatic rise in Mood Disorders and the churches founded by the Great Physician are doing little to alleviate the problem. Some large churches are adding Professional Counselors to the staff but that is too little to late. Others refer to Christian Counselors and that too is too little too late. (I founded and chair the largest clinical counseling center in our area.)

We desperately need more prevention and training in personal growth. It has been over 30 years since I did an Ed. D. dissertation on the topic of "Equipping Christians to minister care and counsel to one another. Yet, few churches are doing anything to deal with emotional, relational or spiritual problems.