Worth Fighting For: Key Lessons in Reviving a Small Church in Decline

I asked Jimmy Hinton to provide insight into the turnaround process in the small church where he ministers in Somerset Pennsylvania. He graciously provided these insights, reminding us that small churches don’t have to die. They can make a return to growth but it is going to take work!

Jimmy’s thoughts…

Many people have told me over the years that it is easier to plant a church than to try and change the direction of an existing church.  This is true in many ways, but church planters are faced with a whole different set of challenges.  Many of my friends who minister at small churches are frustrated at the lack of meaningful dialogue between them and their elders/deacons.  In fact, several of them feel that they are stuck in the proverbial rut and that the elders are lording over them and, in some cases, working against them.  Another friend of mine once joked (sort of) that perhaps we should be praying to God for strategic deaths in our congregations so that His church would actually stand a chance of turning around.  Some of my friends have seriously debated whether it would be better to walk away from their small congregations and plant a new church.  So I ask the question that many ministers and church leaders are asking, “Is your small church doomed?”  If the signs point to yes, is it too late to turn it around?

Matt asked if I would write some of my story on how our small church made a turnaround.  Some may disagree with me but, by all definitions, a few short years ago our congregation was a dying church.  While we are not exactly splitting at the seams yet, we have recently begun to evangelize in meaningful ways and are more unified now than we have been in years.  People are genuinely excited for the Lord and new people are coming in just about weekly.  We are appointing elders and deacons this October.  I serve at the congregation that was my home church growing up, and in my 33 years of life they have not had any elders or deacons.  We are not the exception in the Northeast.  It is quite common for Churches of Christ to not have elders or deacons in this area.

I have served at Somerset for four years this June and my wife and I are as excited as the day I began.  Just as an aside, I do not claim to be an expert minister, a church doctor, or someone who has all the answers.  I simply am a servant of God who has been, and continues to be, blessed by Him.  There are several commonalities among small churches in decline, and I will offer some biblical principles that I believe, with God’s power, can turn a dying church around.  I will add that, just like a dying marriage, a dying church is worth fighting for.  Isn’t this what Paul did with the church at Corinth?  Church “divorce” should not even be on our radar.  The church is the bride of Christ, and she belongs to Him, each and every member.  We have no business hijacking her, abusing her, or dividing her up into pieces.

1. It is not your job to change people—Many church leaders carry a burden of responsibility that they were never called to carry.  We cannot change people.  If a minister accepts a position because he wants to change people, he will burn out very quickly.  Rather, he should model, instruct, and encourage Christ-like living in all that he does.  Invite others to follow your lead.  Be an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:11-21).

2. Make known your expectations—The quickest way for church leaders to find themselves at an impasse is to hide their expectations with one another and with the congregations they serve.  I let my church leaders know what I expect of them and ask them what they expect of me.  Every few months I make adjustments (as people grow and are equipped) and keep raising the bar.  My congregation knew when I was selected as their minister that gossip, personal attacks, and anonymous complaints (all things that were going on prior to my hiring) will never be tolerated by me.  Just recently, we raised the expectations on Sunday worship.  If people are assigned to serve on a given Sunday, they will be on time and they will come prepared, just as the minister is expected to come prepared to preach.  Our worship has had a complete turnaround just simply by making expectations known.

3. Absolutely no straw-man arguments—This is one that destroys churches, quickly spreads anxiety, and is downright divisive (see Titus 3:10-11).  When a minister hears, “People are saying. . .” he usually pictures a mob of angry congregants and expects the worst.  This is the intended purpose of straw-man arguments—to create a fictitious mob in order to gain leverage and intimidate.  I have a policy that there will be no anonymous complaints.  Period.  If someone wants to throw a stone, they will write their name on it or it is dropped immediately.  I once received a nasty letter in the mail criticizing my sermons.  There was no name or return address.  I threw it in the trash and never acknowledged it to anyone else.  I’ve seen ministers and church members nearly ruined by church leaders over something an anonymous person was upset about.  If someone doesn’t have the guts to go to the person who offended them, they have no business hiding behind a straw man and stirring up the Lord’s church.

4. It is the minister’s job to train, re-train and equip leaders—This is one that I have fought God on for a long time.  Preachers of small churches have enough on their plates, right?  As if preaching isn’t demanding enough, ministers of small churches often find themselves caught in the additional roles of full time shepherd, deacon, secretary, janitor, tech guru, evangelist, song leader, author of bulletin articles, counselor, coordinator of church events, leader of men’s business meetings (the name says it all!), officiant of all funerals and weddings, director of education and outreach, the interim youth minister, and the go-to guy for all other decisions, including whether or not purchasing a new stapler should be approved.  Plus the minister must find time for his family—another full time job.  The irony is that ministers are taking on all of these responsibilities precisely because they have not adequately trained others to be leaders.  Paul was doing more than just evangelizing everywhere he went.  He was mentoring, training disciples, and calling others to imitate his pattern.  Paul was equipping leaders to equip the saints.  This command to equip others has really broken down in the small church.  Acts 6:1-7, 2 Thess. 3:6-15, Romans 12:3-8, 1 Cor. 12:1-31, and Eph. 4:1-16 have become my modus operandi.  Meditate on them and find ways to put them into practice.  If a church falls apart after you leave, the signs point to a dependent church where members were not equipped to serve and lead.

5.  Make it happen—We joke that this has become my motto when people come to me with fresh ideas for ministry.  Harold Shank calls this permissive leadership.  Ministers, you should model permissive leadership to your congregations, including your elders and deacons.  When a church member comes to leaders with excitement and new ideas for serving others, the best thing they can hear is, “Make it happen.”  Most idle people, I am convinced, are currently not serving because either nobody has allowed them to serve or they haven’t been taught how.  We leaders must learn to trust, equip, and empower the saints to serve.  Children will never learn how to ride a bike if the parents always ride it for them.

6.  Create structure or it all falls apart—Churches under 100, especially if there are no appointed elders and deacons, tend to follow the strongest or most domineering personality.  Because there are not recognized shepherds and deacons, nobody really knows who the actual leaders are.  Typically, small churches easily become androcentric (male-centered) and whoever happens to show up at scheduled men’s business meetings are designated “leaders” and “decision makers.”  Small churches need to get more structured and ministers need to start recognizing giftedness among each and every one of the members.  If you see someone as a potential shepherd, let him know and start building him up.  If you see certain women who have gifts, encourage them to nurture them and serve more often.  Encourage and teach your members how to work together so that nobody is sitting on the sidelines.  Working together eventually dismantles and deflates domineering people, because the congregation no longer needs a strong personality to do the work for them.

7.  Let no one despise you and be transparent—I am mostly talking to ministers here.  If people within a congregation (including elders or deacons) are giving you unfair criticism, remind them that they hired you because they trusted you to lead.  Do not allow people to despise you.  I am hesitant to offer this advice, but if a person is relentlessly harassing you for the way you lead, offer them to take your job for one week.  This is not meant to be sarcastic.  Most people have no idea how much ministers of small churches actually do or the types of spiritual problems that they are regularly faced with.  Really offer for the criticizer to have people come to them with the kinds of things that you deal with on a daily basis and allow them to come up with the best biblical solution.  At very least offer for them to shadow you for a day and ask them for input, or perhaps type up a few case studies and then ask them how they would handle the situations.  I close with this passage:

“Command and teach these things.  Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.  Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.  Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.  Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.  Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:11-16 ESV, emphasis mine).

Lead on, and may God bless and lead your small church to bear fruit!

A Minister’s Take On Church Steps Outreach (Part 3) by Jimmy Hinton

This is Jimmy Hinton’s third and final blog on how the Church Steps Outreach has been working for their congregation. I am so encouraged by this! Thanks Jimmy for passing this along. Praise God that He is up to some mighty things when it comes to reaching the lost!

In the two previous blogs, I laid down some of the guiding principles and theology behind what we do for our Church Steps Outreach.  This final blog will lay down some specifics for what a typical week looks like. I called Matt last fall to ask specific questions about how they do their steps outreach.  He did give some specifics, but told me that one size doesn’t fit all.  For example, Pennsylvania’s culture is different than Florida’s.  St. Petersburg’s population is 245,000.  Somerset’s is almost 7,000.  You get the picture.  We ended up keeping the same 5 steps that Matt laid out in previous blogs (Attract, Welcome, Relationships, Transformation, and Integrate).  We also use the same template that Matt uses at his congregation for our Wednesday nights (see link below under #2), but with minor adjustments.  For example, instead of a 20 minute devotional, we do 30 minutes, with the remaining 30 minutes working through the template.

Because we are a rural church, Wednesday attendance has always suffered.  Before beginning Steps, our average Sunday attendance was just over 70 and our Wednesday attendance hovered around 20.  Since 20 people were present on Wednesdays, we began with all of them.  I took adequate time to explain what each of the 5 steps were, then had everyone sign up to minister in one group.  Several asked me where I felt they would serve best.  I emphasized that people should pray about it and only sign up for a group where they would best be using their gifts.  In other words, they shouldn’t sign up for a group just because it looked like that group needed more warm bodies.  We all worked together to organize us 20 into the best group possible for each of us.

 Wednesday Nights:

1. 30 minute devotional—The devotional is always rooted in scriptures about evangelism and the church’s response to new converts.  We began with 1 Corinthians 12-14 and are now going through Acts.  This is really helping us all develop a healthy theology of evangelism and the examples laid out in Acts are giving us courage and confidence to model the behavior of the first Christians.

2. 30 minute template—Don’t let the word template scare you.  I probably prefer the word “structure” over template but either way, the point is that you are consistent each week.  You can see a copy of Matt’s template here: https://mattdabbs.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/churchstepsclasstemplate.pdf  We do everything the same except the times have been adjusted.  In 3 months, the only thing we have changed at this point are the time adjustments.  This structure is so important because it allows everyone to communicate and celebrate what blessings have been going on throughout the week, where new visitors are in their journey, and who has/has not been contacted throughout the week.

3.  How do we keep it all together?–Communication, communication, communication.  As I mentioned before, e-mails are a lifeline for us.  I’ve created distribution lists for each of the 5 groups in my e-mail contacts.  They are always kept current as we add people to each group.  I remind each of the 5 groups almost weekly how important each of their ministries are and offer them encouragement (usually through a mass e-mail to all 5 groups at once).  I took a lot of time this week and, for the first time, e-mailed each of the 5 groups a separate e-mail with some reflections and suggestions to fine-tune their specific ministry.  Then I emphasized the need for each of the 5 groups to have weekly contact within their own group so that they know who (of the new people) they are responsible for.  We have tried to not let one week go without having some sort of contact with our new people.  Until they are fully integrated into the church, they will need very consistent contact with their new church family.

4.  Not just a way to get new people—Everything we do is deeply, I mean deeply, rooted in God’s commission for us to reach a lost and dying world with the Good News of Jesus Christ.  If people are doing this to pad their numbers at church, new people will see through them immediately and run.  We are all being driven by a love for God and a love of neighbor.  We reach people because we love them and care about them, not because we want to grow the church.  Though there is a structure in place, we must never lose sight that we are doing this because we genuinely love people, want them to join our family, and want to spend eternity with them.  We reach everyone the same regardless of social-economic status.  We have no target demographic.  We have no agenda.  We simply call others to join us in blessing people, teaching them, and joining together as the body of Christ in response, to further grow, equip, and mature.

A Minister’s Take On Church Steps Outreach (Part 2) by Jimmy Hinton

More from Jimmy Hinton on how they have implemented Church Steps Outreach in Pennsylvania!

Hopefully my previous blog brought some encouragement to ministers of small congregations who may feel stuck in a rut or who are just trying to be more evangelistic.  Just to share a little more background—I’ve always believed (and still do!) what 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches, namely that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”  But I have learned that there is far more than just preaching scripture, and it demands real action from everyone in the church.  Sermons alone don’t cut it.  Let’s be real.  How many ministers put every ounce of energy, prayer, and time into sermons, wake up early Sunday morning to pray over their notes, spend time in prayer specifically asking God to prepare hearts, then they deliver the Word with every ounce of raw energy they have left, hoping that the sermon will finally be the holy grail of all sermons?  You know, the one that kick starts your anemic congregation into spiritual fruit-producing action?  The sermon resonates.  You can see it on their faces.  Finally!  A breakthrough!  You get the high fives as people exit the building.  Wheels are turning and ideas are renewed.  Then next Sunday the same tired eyes look toward you longing for another zinger to get them through the week.  You soon realize that you are tired, your elders and deacons (if you have any) are tired, and even the pew potatoes are tired.  What inevitably happens when people are tired, bored, and frustrated?  That’s right. . . church fight!!

I’ve seen fights break out in small churches that, when investigated, began out of sheer boredom.  Kids do this all the time.  Lock 2 or 3 kids in a room with no toys for an hour, tell them to sit still, and see what happens.  A lot of church sickness is rooted in unfocused leadership combined with boredom and ending in frustration.  Unfocused leadership usually results from a failure of us ministers to properly equip, teach, and train the saints, and boredom because, more often than not, ministers at small churches either don’t show others how to help or leaders don’t allow them to.  I’ve seen a lot of burned out ministers of small churches claim that they do most of the work and that many of their members are lazy.  I don’t believe this to be the case at all.  How many Christians show up to church and say, “Let’s see how little I can contribute to these chumps!”?  I’ve found that the majority of people are begging leaders to let them serve and the leaders don’t know how (or seem to have the time to) show them how to serve.  So. . . what have I learned in the last few years that are guiding principles which can help a church become evangelistic?

1.  Structure is vital—Most small churches I’ve been to are warm and genuinely welcome and care for visitors.  But once a visitor has come in the door a few times, the regular members are usually not attentive to their needs anymore and let them slip through the cracks.  Through our Steps Outreach, we have given members specific ministries that are all tied in to directing, guiding, teaching, and discipling our visitors.  No longer do visitors come in and 3 months down the road wonder if anyone even still notices them.  We are now working on a plan to assimilate our new people into the church and give each one of them a clear purpose.

2.  Community is vital—Paul tells us that the church is Christ’s body and that every single member is valued and must work in conjunction with every other member.  Luke tells us that the church “had everything in common.”  Both Paul and Jesus offer warnings against idle members.  If we read it in the Bible, why don’t we practice it?  We must genuinely believe in every single member, faults and all, and believe that they are capable of (and should be) working just the same as the next person beside them.

3.  Communication is vital—In the last 3 months e-mail has become a lifeline, and so has our discussion time on Wednesday evenings.  With almost 30 new visitors, we have a lot to keep track of.  We try to know what the needs of our visitors are—what works for them, what doesn’t, who’s ready for Bible studies, and who isn’t.  As communication breaks down, so does the ministry.

4.  The biblical cycle of Blessing-Gospel message-Church response-Further blessing is vital—Acts 3 & 4 are this cycle in action!  Peter and John heal a crippled man at the Temple (blessing).  That man publicly rejoices in the Lord.  Peter preaches the Gospel to the attentive crowd and 5,000 men believe as a result.  Peter and John are arrested and released.  They return to their church and pray.  The church responds by being one in mind and sharing possessions.  And so the cycle repeats: “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33 NIV).  Interestingly, our new people have taken the lead in attracting others to Jesus and inviting them to church!  We are there to bless them and reach them with the Gospel message.  The church is responding in healthy ways, which further blesses others.

5.  Peace is Vital—Believe me when I say that not all agree on method.  We don’t argue about this, we celebrate it.  To be honest, I was quite nervous even suggesting that we change the structure of Wednesday evenings.  We are pretty traditional and have never, to my knowledge, changed the structure of Wednesday evenings in our 113 year history until February of this year.  We communicated it well and let people know that if they disagreed with the way we do something, they needed to offer suggestions rather than attacks.  Peace has been a welcomed friend and has allowed us to grow and mature.

More tomorrow on what this all looks like in action.

From Matt:

This is so encouraging to me to learn from Jimmy’s structure here. I love innovation and transformation. In sharing this, Jimmy is helping me refine our process too! One of the things we are considering is making this a regular part of our small group ministry (1 Sunday night each month, all groups would work through this process). Thanks Jimmy for taking the lead, bringing about change and dealing with people in loving ways. Praise God for the results He is bringing to your congregation!

A Minister’s Take On Church Steps Outreach (Part 1) by Jimmy Hinton

JimmyHintonI minister at the Somerset Church of Christ in Somerset, PA.  The question was brought to me around Thanksgiving 2012—“Could you teach a class on evangelism?”  This was a great topic to teach because in 2012 I preached the entire year on the Great Commission.  Yet, despite the polite pats on my shoulder week after week and the frequent “What a powerful and motivating sermon,” the numbers were beyond troubling—not one single new person was added to our small church in 2012.  Either God had abandoned his church of 75 or we had fallen in love with the idea of evangelism but didn’t know how to actually evangelize (myself included).  Something needed to change or we were one generation away from joining the ranks of the numerous Churches of Christ in the Northeast who are closing their doors for good.

This was going to be our ticket, a class on evangelism!  Then I came across Matt Dabbs’ blog series on their Steps Outreach Ministry.  One line struck me, (paraphrasing) “Isn’t Bible study our answer to everything?”  Instead of teaching about evangelism, Matt had a vision for doing evangelism.  This was my “aha” moment.  A lifetime of “survival mode” church mentality flashed before my very eyes.  I’ve been part of small churches my whole life.  In my 33 years, I can only recall witnessing roughly 40 baptisms and I know of several of those who have left the church.  How did we get to this point?  80% of the Churches of Christ are 100 members or less, yet we ministers are failing to equip the saints to evangelize a lost and dying world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I have a deep love for small rural churches and am quite familiar with them—familiar enough to know that most of the ones I’ve visited or have ministered at are wrestling with their own survival.  Many small churches have leaders who are worn out and members (including leaders) who simply do not know how to reach the lost.  It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that they’ve never been taught by example.

Something had to change.  I presented the idea of Steps Outreach to our tiny, tired Wednesday night group.  We fleshed it out for a couple of months and in February of this year, decided to implement it.  In 3 months, we more than doubled our Wednesday attendance, we’ve had close to 30 new local visitors with the majority of those having made us their church home, we had 4 baptisms this week, we have more demand for Bible studies than we have people to lead them, we have 4 new people who don’t read or write and who have never before found a church to accept them (one of those 4 was baptized last night!), and our boost in Sunday attendance has given worship a more meaningful direction and purpose for everyone who assembles.

There will be a follow up blog or two about how we actually do Wednesday nights.  At the advice of my friend Matt, it is quite simple.  Boiled down, we simply share our faith in Jesus with others.  We love them.  We welcome them.  We teach them.  And we make disciples of Jesus.  That means everyone who comes in is intentionally cared for and assimilated into the Lord’s church.  They all have a purpose.  This takes time, but we are working to equip our new people just the same as our regular members.  God can and will transform the small rural church if we allow Him to.  To the frustrated minister and the worn out leaders of our small churches, I offer you this message: there is hope through Jesus Christ.  Be willing to re-examine the way you do ministry and listen to God’s calling for you.  Cast the Bible’s vision to reach a lost and dying world on your congregation and invite them to join you.  Offer clear structure, direction and guidance, be flexible, and allow yourselves to be taught by members of the church as well as your new people.  As in the case of our dear sister who was immersed on Wednesday, they have a lot to offer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhWz4e6Zf5I

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EZ61jePRTU

A note about Jimmy
I am proud to call Jimmy Hinton my friend. He and I first met at Harding University and again in graduate school at Harding School of Theology. Several months ago Jimmy and I were able to catch up and have a conversation about evangelism that was so encouraging to me. Since then, Jimmy has sent me several updates that have been a joy to me to read as God is bringing the increase in their congregation! Thanks Jimmy for writing such a powerful article on the way God is able to use us if we just make ourselves available!

Tomorrow Morning’s Post is One You Will Want to Read

JimmyHintonA friend of mine is doing two guest posts. One will be posted in the morning and I have to tell you that I was moved by what he has to say. His name is Jimmy Hinton. Jimmy is a minister at a small church in Pennsylvania. Over the last several months Jimmy got inspired to start a movement in his congregation toward reaching the lost. God has been working through that congregation to reach lost people. I really wanted to post it today. Instead, I will get you ready to read what he wrote. His post sprang out of a few outreach ideas we have been implementing here in St. Pete (Church Steps), so I passed his post on to our members who are a part of that ministry, thinking it would encourage them in their work. One dear sister wrote me back saying she read it with tears in her eyes because of God’s faithfulness. So I am looking forward to posting Jimmy’s post in the morning and look forward to hearing any thoughts or reactions you guys might have about what God is doing there.

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National Day of Prayer Neighborhood Outreach Idea

The National Day of Prayer is Thursday May 2nd. Typically at Northwest, we dedicate the Wednesday night before to a prayer service. We gather prayer requests and then people pray over the request cards in the pews, prayer room, classrooms, or wherever they feel comfortable to pray. This year we are going to do something a little different. We are going to take some prayer cards into our neighborhood around the building. We will tell them that we want to do a better job praying for our neighbors and want to know if they have anything they would like us to pray for during the national day of prayer Wednesday night service. We have prayer cards we will hand them and just let them write whatever they want to write. No commitment, no strings, no big sales pitch. Just prayer requests.

Here is the prayer request card. If you would like to try this idea and want your information on it just let me know and I will adjust it and send it to you in a pdf.

PrayerCard

Paradigm Shift: The Problem With Books on Evangelism

I probably have a dozen books on how to do evangelism on the shelf. About five years ago I tried to teach a class on evangelism from some of these books and what we ended up with was a whole lot of information without much visible action or change. Some of them have hundreds of principles on hundreds of pages. We got a lot of facts, strategies and styles in people’s head but we couldn’t tell that they were doing any more outreach than when we started. Looking back I can’t help but think that was because we were teaching “About” evangelism and not actually doing it. We taught principles and how to have a conversation and what things to say or not to say or how to tell when it was time to leave someone alone but at the end of it all what it lacked was a real pairing of people who want to outreach with people who need reached out to.

I have already talked Church Steps here until I am blue in the face but what I am most thankful for is that we aren’t teaching about anymore. We are equipping and sending people. Guess what? They will figure out most of what they need on how to do it when they do it and when the process what happened. Think about this

We can spend 13 weeks filling up someone’s head with what could happen or we can send them and then
teach them through processing what they actually experienced. Which do you think
is a more effective teaching and learning strategy?

Developing Christians to Evangelize and Disciple

I have already posted a bunch of posts on our the outreach program we have been working on at Northwest called Church Steps (please check out that page if you don’t know what this ministry is but want more info on equipping and facilitating outreach in the congregation). The goal has been to engage our members in reaching out to others. To make a long story short, we laid out 5 steps that help us identify where people are at in their walk so that we can help get them to the next step:

Step 1 – Attract: Those we have invited but who haven’t come to anything yet where any of our people are – small group, worship, class, event, etc
Step 2 – Welcome: Those who have come to something. They made the move to show up…I know, very attractional but you have to start somewhere and it is working!
Step 3 – Relationships: Once they come we want them to connect with others
Step 4 – Transform: at some point, someone has to sit down and teach them about Jesus. It doesn’t just happen
Step 5 – Integrate: once they are baptized, they need to get involved

So we have had this class meeting every Wednesday night since last May (get the template here, template explained here). In this class we talk about who we know who we want to invite to church, study with, coordinate contact with those who have stopped attending, encourage our shutins, etc. We take our visitor information and get people to contact our visitors and invite them to small group, class, lunch, celebrate any victories from the past week and spend time studying and equipping. It has had a tremendous impact. Our people are on the lookout for visitors. Our visitors are finding the people who wrote them on Sunday and thanking them. Connections are being made but it has to get deeper.

This mirrors Jesus’ ministry
As I was thinking over the last 11 months of doing this something hit me between the eyes. I realized that if you look at Jesus’ ministry, the five steps is actually descriptive of what Jesus did. He invited people to follow him, formed a relationship with them, taught them and then sent them. What is more, people are at first most comfortable starting where Jesus started – inviting people. It is less threatening to invite someone via card or call than it is to study with someone. But what has happened is, the more we have gotten people doing steps 1-2 work, the more they realize the need to get deeper with these people (steps 3-5). So now they are asking for ways to take it beyond cards, calls, etc. What they are asking for is a way to move their ministry toward the more difficult steps. I don’t want it to sound like we haven’t had any movement on steps 3-5, we just haven’t been as intentional about it until now. I am very excited about this development.

Next move – So here is what we have to do. We have to get new people in, another group who will start where they are comfortable (working steps 1-2) and get those who have been doing it for 11 months working on those in steps 3-5. It is such a natural progression and now, after nearly a year it has finally clicked, not because I told them it needed to but because they now have the desire to go deeper with people. We are going to provide a regular fellowship event for the visitors we are contacting and may start providing funds for Sunday lunches with visitors. We are also going to start setting up Bible studies with those who are in Step 4 during Sunday morning Bible class using Jesus 101.

Please, contact me – I really want to encourage you guys…if you want to get your people moving on actually reaching out to their friends, connecting with your visitors and actually doing Bible studies with non-Christians please email me and let me send you all the resources. All free, all in pdf…easy to set up and facilitate – matthewdabbs@hotmail.com

Church Steps Outreach is Spreading!

Some time back I introduced something on the blog called “Church Steps”. There were several people who were interested in trying this approach to outreach out. I got some feedback from a friend of mine who decided it would be worth trying this out where he ministers in Pennsylvania. My friend’s name is Jimmy Hinton and he said I could share the note he sent me this morning here on the blog. I got so pumped listening to what God is doing there in that congregation and I wanted to pass it along, thinking someone else might read this and decide to try this out in their congregation. Here is what Jimmy wrote,

“Matt,
I just wanted to let you know that we are 3 weeks into our steps class on Wednesdays. So far, we have more than doubled our Wednesday evening attendance (from about 16 to 34), we have 9 new people coming to church who have all told me, “we have found our church home,” (we had 11 new visitors alltogether but 2 can’t be here on Sundays due to their schedules) we have a family of 3 who have not attended in a long time come back to church, and we have 1 member who asked me if he can give a testimony Sunday about how he was in a very bad place spiritually but, because several people (from our Wed. night group) noticed and reached out to him, he is now called to reach out to existing members who are going through faith struggles.

I just wanted to share the blessings, brother! Thank you, again, for the blogs you wrote about doing the steps ministry. Oh, and I have a Bible study set up next month with a family of 5 who all want to be baptized together, but want to study with me first!”

Praise God for that! It is amazing what God is able to do in us and through us when we decide it is time to get to work for the Kingdom of God! If any of you want to know more about this approach to get a congregation more involved in outreach, feel free to email and we can talk it over. If you like it, I will get you the information and templates you need to try it out. If you don’t think it fits for your congregation, I totally understand. Email me at – matthewdabbs@hotmail.com or leave a comment here on the blog. Thanks for reading!

Q & A on “Church Steps” Outreach (Part 2)

Here are some questions a friend of mine asked about how to implement “Church Steps” at the congregation he ministers at. These questions were from those in the congregation who are interested in implementing this approach:

Question: Do they use a questionnaire to find out what people are willing to do?

Answer: We introduced Church Steps to the congregation through a big combo class that introduced all of this and at the end we had signups for all the steps and for the class. From those signups I created 7 email lists: All who signed up, just the class, and one for each of the five steps. I use the emails for each steps as needs arise that aren’t met in the class. I use the class email list every single week to remind people what is happening and to come. I rarely use the email list of all those who signed up.

Question: Does one person (member) stay with a person from start to finish or do they move along with different people at the different steps?

Answer: This depends on where the person is in the process. If someone comes and is ready to study from the beginning, we get someone with them to study and that person would help guide them through from study, baptism, to integrate/involvement. If a person has just come for the first time, we are going to have several people via the Wed night class contact them over a number of weeks to try to see what clicks and so that they feel welcome. Sometimes in Step 2 a connection is formed and the person who establishes that wants to continue on with any future needs of that person. We welcome that. Hope that makes sense.

Question: [Paraphrasing his point/question]: What do you do about being mindful of gender…(for instance, sending women to reach out to women)?

Answer: The gender thing – we are very much aware of that when asking who is going to take a particular person and contact/connect with them. I have ladies contact ladies and will ask “Which one of you ladies wants to take “Sarah Smith”?

Additional thought on implementing Church Steps in a congregation: The important thing here is that this is a framework that you can take an innovate to fit the congregation there with your particular set of talents and strengths. I don’t say that to try to avoid your question but to say that there are some things that you will figure out as you go along the way. As others have said before, sometimes we freeze up because we want to see it all and have every answer before we start. Some answers won’t come until you start. Hope that makes sense!