Recent Research into Church Growth

statsI came across this piece of research recently conducted by the Jubilee+ team (part of New Frontiers). They surveyed 359 churches last summer about the impact of social action on church growth. You can find more on the study here. Below are some of the things they learned:
The top 10 social action initiatives that have an effect on church growth:
  1. Children’s Club – up to age 11 (apart from church children’s ministry)
  2. Mothers and Toddlers
  3. Special Needs Adults
  4. Pre-school nursery
  5. Bereavement Counselling (apart from church members)
  6. Festivals/Fun days
  7. Primary School Clubs/Summer clubs
  8. Caring for Elderly (apart from church members)
  9. Cafe open to public
  10. Mental Health/Stress Counselling (apart from church members)

Church size also makes a difference to the effect on church growth – the larger the church, the greater the effect. What might be some of the reasons for this? We can suggest a few:

• Larger churches have more volunteers to help in a social initiative – this enables more time to be spent with individuals and creates a buzz.
• Larger churches have more staff to help, encourage and equip their members for social action.
• Larger churches have better facilities. People are used to high standards – think Costa outlet versus a cold Church Hall. What does that communicate about the church?
• Larger churches give a feeling of ‘something is happening here’.  This causes questions.
• Larger churches run many more initiatives and therefore people get ‘multiple touches’. Some people need many nudges on their spiritual journey.
• Larger churches are large because they are evangelistic – it’s in their DNA.
• In smaller churches, volunteers are often focused on ‘keeping the church running’ duties, e.g. Sunday set-up. In larger churches, members can focus outward.
• Volunteers are more empowered in larger churches? The leaders cannot be involved in everything so they have to release people and empower them.
• Larger churches are able to operate quite involved social initiatives, e.g. café.

This study suggests some interesting things with regards to effective outreach. While it’s ultimately got to come from people, effective programmes are a helpful vehicle – it doesn’t have be an either/or. Also (and I know I’ve blogged about this once before) it gives food for thought to those who think planting is the best or only way of reaching the lost. There are some things large churches can do which small ones can’t and we ought to think carefully about whether planting or growing is the best method of reaching the lost in any given context. Thoughts?

Can Words Be Redefined?

orwellThere was a great little piece by John Benton in this months Evangelicals Now addressing the question of whether you can redefine the word ‘marriage’. He used a great example from literature, more of which shortly. But before we get there it’s worth making a few linguistic observations in regards to the question of whether words can be redefined.
Firstly it is true that words have a semantic range, some more broad than others. The word shoe for example can be a noun covering everything from a flip-flop to a snow-boot. It can also be a verb in some sub-cultural usage – i.e. to give someone a good ‘shoeing’ means to physically assault someone.
It is also true that the meaning of a word can shift through time. There was a time when ‘wicked’ meant bad or evil; now, apparently, it can also mean good or excellent (if you’re down wiv da yoof – which I’m clearly not).
However, what you can’t do is simply take the current known usage of a word and decide it means something else. That’s just not how language works. If it was we’d be in a terrible pickle all the time trying to understand one another. I cannot decide that the new definition of car includes lorry – it doesn’t; I don’t have a lorry licence. Nor can we decide that the new meaning of ‘tea’ includes weird fruit or herbal drinks. If someone offers me a cup of tea I think I know what I expect to get.
The usage of words is known and understood within their context of use. So, it seems to me, you can’t simply redefine the word ‘marriage.’ Everyone knows what it means and what is spoken of. To redefine it is an act of linguistic and cultural terrorism which leaves all but the terrorists reeling and confused. So what sort of government would do such a thing? Back to JB’s article. He cites a passage early on George Orwell’s novel, 1984, which is all about life under a totalitarian government. One of the characters in the novel works for Newspeak, the organisation responsible for re-writing the dictionary to change the range and meaning of words available. He says:

“You think, I dare say, that our chief job is inventing new words. But not a bit of it! We’re destroying words – scores of them, hundreds of them, every day . . . It’s a beautiful thing the destruction of words . . . Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year? . . . Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we  shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it . . . The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect”

So what sort of government decides it can redefine words. Orwell would say a totalitarian one. Scary, no?

The Advocate

greatestWe’ve been having a mini series on Sunday evenings at church over the last few months looking at Greatest Hits – some of the best hymns, the stories behind them, and the rich content contained therein. One we looked at recently was called The Advocate. It was written in 1863 by a young girl called Charitie Bancroft. She was a ministers daughter and grew up in Ireland. She was just 22 years old when she composed the poem which became the hymn. See if you recognise it:

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great High Priest whose name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Saviour died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace,
One in Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Saviour and my God!


22 years old! Wowsers!

Chesterton on Reason

gkcThere’s a good article here from on G.K.Chesterton’s apologetic work. One little poem, quoted at the start of the article, I really liked. Here it is:

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

Boettner on freedom under law

lawHere’s a lovely quote I came across the other day from Loraine’s Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination on the freedom of life that comes from following God’s ways:

“The spiritual law, like the civil law, is “not a terror to the good work, but to the evil”; and we find a good analogy for this in human affairs. Compare the law-abiding citizen and the criminal. The law-abiding citizen goes about his affairs day after day unconscious of most of the laws of the state and nation in which he lives. He looks to the government officials and to the police as his friends. They represent constituted authority which he respects and in which he delights. He is a free man. For him the law exists only as the protector of his life, his loved ones, and his property. But when we look at the criminal the whole picture is changed. He probably knows more about the statutes than does the law-abiding man. He studies them in order that he may evade them and defeat their purpose. He lives in fear. He defends his secret room with bullet-proof doors, and carries a revolver for fear of what the police or other people may do to him. He is under constant bondage. His idea of liberty is to eliminate the police, corrupt the courts, and bring into general disrepute the laws and customs of society on which he tries to prey.”


Leadership According to Billy Graham

leadershipHere’s an interesting little book by Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley looking at The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham. Leadership might not be the first thing we associate with Billy Graham but Myra and Shelley demonstrate that Graham was a naturally brilliant leader. Here’s some of the standout quotes in the book. I’ve identified those not from BG in brackets:

  • “It’s not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena” (Teddy Roosevelt)
  • A keen sense of humour helps us overlook the unbecoming, understand the unconventional, tolerate the unpleasant, overcome the unexpected, and outlast the unbearable.
  • When wealth is lost, nothing is lost. When health is lost, something is lost. When character is lost, everything is lost.
  • Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.
  • Hot heads and cold hearts never solved anything.
  • Leaders are dealers in hope. I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.
  • Pray for a tough hide and tender heart.
  • Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are stiffened.
  • “A person who has had a bull by the tail once has learned sixty or seventy times as much as a person who hasn’t” (Mark Twain)
  • Mountaintops are for views and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valleys.
  • Make no little plans. Make the biggest plan you can think of (Harry Truman)

Surprising Insights From the Unchurched

surprisingOn the recommendation of a friend I’ve just got round to reading this stimulating book by Thom Rainer. To my shame I have to say the book was published 12 years ago and I’ve never quite got round to reading it. But when the back cover says “It’s pastoral malpractice to ignore this book” (Lee Strobel), you’d better get reading. So I guess most of you will have read it, but for those who haven’t it really is worth a look. A couple of caveats. First, it’s 12 years old and like anything research based things change pretty quick. Second, it’s American and I’m not sure all of the conclusions work over here in the UK. Third, the sample of people interviewed was 353 which just feels a little small to be absolutely definitive. Nevertheless the insights are stimulating and worth pondering.

So here’s the headlines:
Of the formerly unchurched: 
– 90% said the pastor was a significant factor in choosing a church
– 91% said doctrine was a significant factor
– 97% said that the preaching was a significant factor
– 90% said that friendliness was a significant factor in choosing to return to a church
From the churches that are doing well at reaching the unchurched:
– average tenure of pastor 11.8 years (comparison churches 3.8 years)
– 87% of pastors leading such churches are seminary trained
– 71% of said pastors describe themselves as task-oriented
– These pastors spend 22 hours a week on sermon prep (comparison church pastors 4);
– 10 hours a week pastoral care (comparison 33);
– 5 hours a week on personal evangelism (comparison 0)
– and more time with family and less time opening, locking, setting up buildings (than comparison group)
In conclusion Rainer says that churches successful at reaching the unchurched are:
– theologically conservative
– give evangelism priority
– Teach the Bible well (especially the preaching)
– Have an effective small group strategy
– Are friendly
– Seek excellence
– Provide a new members class
– Never forget the power of prayer
I guess some of that really isn’t rocket science is it? Preach well, lead well, be friendly. But what is interesting to consider is the role the pastor plays. The mindset and focus of pastors leading churches that are successfully reaching the unchurched is significantly different from pastors of churches that aren’t. And it isn’t all about being Bill Hybels or Rick Warren. It’s about an intentionality to lead well, preach well, and keep outsiders front and centre in the church’s thinking, planning, and praying. Thoughts?