How to Build a Church’s Faith, Pt. 1

The title may be a bit misleading.  You can’t collectively, all-at-once increase the corporate faith of a congregation.  So how do you increase the faith of a congregation?

One person at a time.  On purpose.old-books-bible-candle-widescreen-high-definition-wallpaper-download-old-book-images-free

in my last post we covered how we had to change our approach to discipling folks who choose to partner in ministry with Crosspointe.

I won’t rehash the previous post.  What I want to touch on is the five things we (and millions of others) have seen that grow a person’s faith.  In his book Deep & Wide, Andy Stanley points to these things as essentials.  He calls the “5 Faith Catalysts.” So what are they?

These are the ingredients to a recipe that builds a person’s faith.  By faith I mean the trust and belief God’s promises and who God is.  These five things are shared by every single person who has ever become a Christian.  We may not have noticed them, but they’re there!

I’m going to do a post on each of these because they are that important.  Each one happens and your faith grows.  Take one away, it may shrink.

Catalyst #1:  Practical Teaching

When a person talks about their conversion story, almost instantly they bring up the moment they experienced practical Bible teaching.  You remember, right?  It was that moment that probably wasn’t the first time you’d heard something taught from the Bible.  Instead, it was the first time you actually understood what was being taught.  More importantly, it was the first time you understood what to do with what was being taught.

The “AHA” moment where it ‘clicked’ and you realized the Bible wasn’t some antiquated book to be analyzed, but was directly applicable to your own life!   Most Christians can tell you where they were and who was speaking the first time someone made the Bible come alive for them.

When Jesus finishes the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew tells us the crowd’s response:

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Matt. 7:28-29)

Here’s a hard truth: All teaching and preaching is NOT the same. 

This was a gnarly pill for me to swallow since I teach and preach for a living.  Here’s what we see:

The first-century teachers of the law of Moses were teaching the same Scriptures but there was something DIFFERENT in Jesus presentation style. They had the same source material, but arrived at two diverging places.  It’s clear Jesus had a passion and style their normal teachers did not.

More specifically, Jesus wasn’t satisfied to simply say what was true.  He wanted his audience to ACT on what they heard. Jesus closed the sermon with a specific call to action along with an emotionally charged promise and warning:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock…But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. “(Matt. 7:24, 26)

Jesus taught for a response.  He taught for life change.  He didn’t simply dispense information.  We rarely find him rebuking people for their lack of knowledge.  It was almost always their lack of faith evidenced by lack of application.  He wasn’t after just agreeing with facts and information.  Instead He was after active, living, do-the-right-thing-no-matter-what faith.

Remember how fascinating the Bible suddenly was?  That moment when you sat on the edge of your seat.  The time flew by.  You took notes. You underlined entire passages, then highlighted them. You wanted to know what kind of Bible the teacher or preacher was using so you could get one like it.  You couldn’t wait to come back for more! Something burst to life inside of you.

Then you did something really radical.  You went out and applied some of what you had heard.  And God honored your active faith.

Your faith collided with His faithfulness and your trust in God grew a little bit. 

Practical teaching that moves people to action is one of the primary things God uses to grow our faith.

Here’s where it changed what we did at Crosspointe.

First, I had to change.  It’s not easy to get a preacher to reevaluate what he does and how he does it.  We get into a groove and like to stay there.   Yet, in that rut, we miss a connection.

Here are a few things we do, most often without even thinking about it:

  • we  preach and teach in ways and on topics that only interest us.
  • We often put way too much information out there at one time.  We try to get folks to drink from a fire hydrant.
  • After we’ve sufficiently drowned our audience, we walk off stage without putting handles on it so they know what we said, why we said it, and how to put it into practice.

See the missing ingredients?

Practical application and relevant-to-the-listener-not-just-me teaching and preaching, and too much information.

SIDE NOTE: If you’re not a preacher or teacher in a church setting, you’ve got to understand something.  Those of us who do it get fired up about it!  We love to research, to study, the prayer, and we get truckloads of information that we believe is important to you.

Every little detail is important to us.  Why?  Because we are God’s mouthpiece for thirty-five minutes a week (+/-) and we’d better get it right! The safest way we know how to do that is to dispense a lot of information onto the audience. I had to come to a point where I realized pride was blocking me from actually doing what I needed to do – teach people how to follow Jesus.  So I had to repent and change my methods.

The hard part for me was (and is) developing an editing room where we cut out 90% of the extra information, though it may be important, to hone in on the practicality and application of the text.  That. is. hard. to. do. When you spend 20-30 hours a week studying, writing, praying, wrestling through a message or Bible class, it becomes your baby.  You don’t want to pair it down.  You don’t want to cut things. I get it! But hear me out:

YOU HAVE TO.

I have learned (and am still learning and fail quite often) that all that information is good…but if it doesn’t help me apply the Scriptures to my life…it doesn’t need to be there.

So I changed my preaching format from a who knows how many points a message to ONE POINT.  One idea I find in the text…and I craft the message entirely around that one point.  I don’t diverge.  I don’t get off track.  I build everything around that one point of application.  I turn that one point into what I call my main point, and repeat that main point many times throughout the sermon with various points of application.

Sometimes I will get to Saturday night and I haven’t got the main point yet…or I’ll have to reverse engineer everything I already prepared to make sure it wraps around and leads to the one point.  Why?

Because if I can’t remember the three points I spoke about just a week ago, how can I expect my audience to remember them?  I can’t. They won’t. I don’t. 

So, practical teaching builds a church’s faith by making God’s word accessible, applicable, and always the standard by which we live.

The same applies to all of our Bible class teachers, our Bible study formats, and even factors into designing and planning the worship service.  It all wraps around ONE POINT. A relevant, applicable, practical point.

Implementing this catalyst will exponentially help you and your congregation connect to the Word in deeper ways while growing your trust and confidence (faith) in God!  Give it a shot.  What have you go to lose?

In Christ,
Scott

 

 

Creating Christ-Followers

discipleshipblogpic.jpegCall me simplistic, but I believe the church has two main functions:

  1. Evangelism
  2. Discipleship

We can point to other things the New Testament shows us, like encouraging each other, loving each other, and helping everyone.  I think those fall under the umbrella of the two functions above.

When Crosspointe began our relaunch, we realized that at our core had to be discipleship.  The Barna group released a multi-phase study a couple of years back indicating only 1% of churches in America engage in an intentional discipleship model. One percent usually doesn’t fly in most things, so we sought to improve how we discipled. So what did we do?

1.  We admitted we weren’t doing a very good job

A lot of folks and church leaders believe sitting in a bible class on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night is discipleship.  I can see their point, and for a long time, I thought so, too.  While those gatherings certainly ARE a part of a holistic plan of intentionally leading people into Christ-likeness, they aren’t the main course.

Discipleship happens best in small gatherings.  Our congregation had tried small groups a while back. It failed to materialize in the long-term. We also saw the need to maximize our time together during “appointed times” with classes that were heavy on application, but also in giving options and choices to people.

When we begin to see the only real option for building a close-knit community, we were a little gun-shy on the idea of small groups.  Yet, admittedly, we had tried just about everything else, and we kept coming back to small groups and had already implemented a much more diverse Sunday School curriculum.

So we started our version of small groups, and we call them MERGE Pointes.  The idea behind them is taken from Acts 2:42-47.  The first Christians grew because they spend time together – a lot of time – and that created community that soon overflowed from Jerusalem to other parts of the region and beyond.  Helping people feel that they belong is a felt-need we all have.  God provides the solution through His Church.  His Church is the people, and the people make the community. Once we settled on this, we begin to restructure everything around that idea.  Here’s what we did next:

2.  We Asked Four Questions

  1. What should our discipleship model look like?
  2. What is our end-game for people who choose to link arms with Crosspointe in ministry?
  3. What does a spiritually mature Christian look like?
  4. What part does the church have in developing Christ-followers?

If you’re a missiologist or a church growth guru, you might think these questions are common sense.  Yet, for most of us working in smaller churches, just getting the doors open every week can be overwhelming, let alone developing a strategy to grow them in faith.

We had to be different.  We had to create a model that would truly facilitate spiritual maturity.  In our congregation spiritual formation (discipleship) didn’t exactly fall under the “MOST IMPORTANT” heading.  We had to be different here. We had to become the exception to our own unspoken rule.  Asking these questions realized a shift was needed if we were ever going to consistently develop mature Christians, so we found the problem, and we switched it up.

3.  Changing Models with a Question

We were operating under a fairly common model in our approach to discipleship.  We’ll call this the Head Knowledge Model. In this model, everything is built around increasing people’s knowledge about the Bible.  These models are teaching/lecturing models, and we had to go beyond that.

If our mission now was leading people to a growing, active faith and life with Jesus Christ, then a growing relationship means growing faith.  The question we then needed to ask was this:

What grows people’s faith?  

That question leads to a few more specific questions:

  • What fuels the development of faith?
  • What are the ingredients that, when combined, result in greater confidence in God’s character and promises? 

It was then that we found and borrowed a page from Reggie Joyner and Andy Stanley. The premise is this:  every person who follows Jesus has five (5) common ingredients in their story. They call them the Five Faith Catalysts.

  1. Practical Teaching
  2. Private Disciplines
  3. Personal Ministry
  4. Providential Relationships
  5. Pivotal Circumstances

The first three of these five should be viewed as such:  These are our responsibility. These are the part we play in growing.  The other two are God’s part that we have no control over.  I’m going to expound on those five things in the next post, but I want to plant the seed here.

Everyone who follows Jesus has these five things.  Everyone who grows in Jesus continues to experience and do these five things. So, we needed to create a model that on-purpose exposed people to these five things.

4. Engagement over Attendance

This may seem like blasphemy to some, but we chose to follow a path that values engagement and connection above attendance. Getting people together in one place to learn is great.  Getting a bunch of people together in small clusters and in different places to apply what they know is better.

We think the Sunday worship gathering and Wednesday nights are good things.  We also recognize that people are busier today than ever before.  That may seem like a cop-out, but keep following me.

During the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, there are a whole lot of people trying to impose the Jewish Law onto newly converted Gentile Christians.  The Apostles meet, and James stands up and says something incredible:

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God                                                                                – Acts 15:19, ESV

If the church makes it harder for people to come to Christ and grow in Him, we’re failing. It’s that simple.  Seriously.  If all we were doing was making our members and their families busier, than we weren’t helping at all.  That could explain why so many felt disconnected or had walked away.  We had turned church life into another thing to be at.

A lot of our families lamented that they couldn’t be there because of work and other obligations (which aren’t bad ones).  Kids need to get to choir and band, work makes you stay over, homework, study and child rearing take a toll.  So we wanted to take the “busy” out.

We stopped judging people’s faithfulness by how many services they attended consistently and started to measuring spiritual growth by engagement.  We still believe that if you can be there you should, but we also gave MERGE Pointes to make getting together with brothers and sisters for encouragement, learning, and application easier.

The Conclusion

We decided to commit to creating a discipleship model that is extremely relational.  While it’s always dangerous to be disconnected from other Christians, it’s really dangerous when we’re struggling.  MERGE Pointes provide the small-group, relational approach, FOCUS Pointes (our ministry teams) provide the service opportunities and ownership of each member, and our Sunday and Wednesday meeting times provide practical, yet in-depth bible study to apply to your life NOW.

Relationships are everything.  Coming to worship on Sunday morning just simply isn’t designed to facilitate the relationships (and the feeling of belonging) required to stay the course and grow in Jesus.  God never intended it that way.  We come on Sundays to worship God, gather around His table, and hear from Him.  It’s about Him – not us.  We gather other times through the week to learn and grow together in Him and with each other.

That’s the path we’re on, and it seems to be working.  Our Sunday evening numbers were pretty low…but now we have 8x that meeting in MERGE Pointe groups during the week! I don’t say that to toot a horn or look at numbers, but rather to look at how many people are engaging, and committing to what God is doing through Crosspointe.  People crave community. If your discipleship model isn’t giving them that, they’ll find it somewhere else.

Love in Christ,
Scott

 

Rebuilding the Machine

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the Lewis_Hine_Power_house_mechanic_working_on_steam_pumpbreaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47, ESV) 

Not to sound too mechanical, but when a congregation is on mission it runs like a well-oiled machine. Things happen organically.  The Holy Spirit uses the gifts of each member to meet the needs of the world.  When that happens the Kingdom is built and glimpses of the resurrected creation poke through.

After we decided to relaunch Crosspointe in God’s direction, the first thing we had to tackle (after attitude, see previous post) was how we got things done.  The DNA of the body had been mutated, and so the inner-workings needed to be tweaked.

As I wrote about earlier, we switched our focus from church people to unchurched people.  That required us to look at the whole ecclesiology (leadership/ministry structure) of Crosspointe from top to bottom.  When we laid out every ministry that we were involved in we found something incredibly frustrating:

Most of our ministries weren’t actually doing anything.

Some hadn’t functioned in years.  They still occupied a line in the budget.  They still were broadcast that we did that particular ministry, but it was actually dead.  We had thirty-two ministries led by people who hadn’t attended here in years.  We did some spring cleaning and decided on a more people-focused approach.

Here’s what we did:  We took everything we did and came up with six areas.  We call these our FOCUS POINTES.  We took everything we’d done over our sixty-year history and threw out anything that didn’t reach unchurched people.  We found, through research, current results, and members, the five areas that Crosspointe was doing really well – and we cut off everything else. We added one more, MERGE POINTE groups, which is our version of small groups that didn’t exist) Here are the areas we came up with:

6 Focus Pointes:

  • Facilities
  • Sunday Morning
  • Merge Pointe (small group)
  • Community Engagement
  • Youth
  • Children’s

To be clear, each of these has sub-categories, but instead of being spread out, operating with no guidance or accountability, we brought them under one umbrella.  We had the deacons move from just kind of “floating” in some instances, to being the heads of the teams made up of members who wanted to serve on that particular team.

Each FOCUS POINTE team has a meeting quarterly (at least) to make sure goals set (initially in these first two years by the shepherds) were being accomplished.  Each leader of the FOCUS POINTE meets twice a year to give an update, ask for solution, tweak the operations, and provide accountability.  Here’s the key to the whole thing that we’d been missing:

Accountability.

We had people signing up for things and then not showing up.  We had folks “calling off” an hour before on our Facebook Page.  We had needs go out and no one responding.  Let me be clear here:  you can hold volunteers accountable.  We often operate under the idea that if we say something, they don’t volunteer anymore, or they’ll leave.  Let me say two things to that:

  1. No. They will continue to volunteer if AND ONLY if you communicate clearly the expectations, and provide the tools and resources for them to accomplish it. If you provide all that, but fail to make sure the task is being accomplished, you create an environment where “somebody else will do it.”
  2. Yes, they may leave.  I’ve found, and I’m not being callous or hard-hearted, that if they do leave, their heart left a long time ago.  If someone is offended by you making sure they do the thing in which they committed to doing, they have a problem, not you.

What usually happens is that 20% of the people in your church are doing 80% of the work.  You might find your volunteers are burning out, and then leaving.  That’s what happened here.  I think this happens for one reason:

We don’t put spiritually mature people in charge of things.

A church usually jumps at the idea that somebody wants to volunteer to teach, serve, head up an event, and we usually let anyone do it!  That’s not a bad thing, per say.

What is bad, is not looking at the fruit the tree is growing.  If the person leading your ministry is accomplishing goals, but outside of “church” they have no integrity, there is a problem.  I’m definitely not saying our people don’t possess integrity.  I am saying that a lot of churches put people over things who should be growing first. We had been guilty of that is well.

When you couple lack of accountability with spiritually immature leaders, you will always miss the mark.  As a result, the key 10-30 people will always end up having to do everything.  They will burn out.  They will leave.  Your congregation will shrink.  It might even die.

I know this from experience.  The thing is, as I write this, while we have seen dramatic improvements in this area, but we still have the same problems.  

People get mad when they are held accountable and they take their ball and go home.  They quit mid-project because it wasn’t being done “their way.”  Some of our people refuse to participate at all.  Some actively disparage what God is doing and gossip and gripe.  I used to get mad about it…but now it just makes me feel sad for the folks who operate like that.  What must be going on in their lives to create such selfishness and bitterness?  So instead, I acknowledge the hurt, and then I pray for them.  That’s all I can do.

I’m not sure any congregation will ever totally be free from this because – Satan – but, accountability, teams, and spiritual maturity lead to a better chance at success. Making sure you hone your focus on the things you do well will help.  Do those things better, keep striving, and always be willing to adjust the approach.

We’re definitely not there yet.  Getting a large group of people who aren’t used to a “team-based” system to work together isn’t easy.  The only thing that we’ve found to make it easier is accountability.  We must set specific goals on our end, and work with each FOCUS POINTE to make sure it is accomplished.

I hope this helps you.  I’m blessed to serve the greatest congregation on the planet.  I love them (even the ones who don’t like me), and I see so much improvement.

Next post, we’ll look at our discipleship model.

God is great,

Scott