The Small Church Pastor and Tomorrow

Several months ago I gathered every young adult in our rural church and asked them one question, “What will this church look like in seven years?” “In seven years your  children will be teenagers and 10% – 20% of the church will pass away or move away.” We were reminded by reports, “10% of United States churches will close.”

 

Tomorrow increasingly became important to us.

 

One middle-aged woman commented, “We shouldn’t concern ourselves about the future, God will take care of that, we must take care of today.” The statement bothered me, God does take care of today and tomorrow, however, scripture cautions and duty demands us to prepare for tomorrow.
With the input of our young adults, we developed a seven-year plan for teaching, reaching and growing in our rural church. When Joshua crossed over the Jordan River, God commanded, place 12 stones on the inside the Jordan and the outside of the Jordan, as a testimony to future generations. (Joshua 4:6-7). We intended, by the grace of God to create a testimony for future generations.

 

We taught our young adults, leadership principles, such as communication, relationships, determination, and giving. Our young adults set up and clean up in the fellowship hall for various gatherings, they served Thanksgiving meals to the homeless and poor, they volunteered for open positions and gave to several projects. IF YOU DON’T TEACH IT – THEY WON’T REACH IT
We planned a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University program in a large room of the local civic center inviting other young adults to come. The results would be twofold, we would gain information about finances and meet other young adults struggling with the same issues, for the purpose of introducing them to Jesus Christ and to invite them to our church. IF YOU DON’T GET OUT OF THE BOX–THOSE WHO LIVE OUT OF THE BOX WON’T RESPOND.
We created a young adult dinner for fellowship and brainstorming on vision, purpose and planning our outreach calendar, (we desired a regional church instead of a rural church). We became partners with the local school and created ministries to area children. Our Bible Quiz teams grew, almost doubled, when we invited the community to take part. (We chose Bible Quiz to develop a discipleship for future generations). IF YOU ARE NOT EXTERNALLY FOCUSED YOU WILL BE INTERNALLY FOCUSED.
We became more interwoven, instead of compartmentalized. Our children’s groups incorporated the elderly, our young adults and elderly served together, side by side, in various outreaches, fellowships, and ministries. Just like Nehemiah did when they rebuilt the wall, “I even set the people after their families.” (Nehemiah 4:13). IF YOU ARE NOT INTERWOVEN YOU WILL BECOME COMPARTMENTALIZED.

Prayer groups began prayer before every morning service, asking for God’s help and for the Holy Spirit to move in our church and in our community. Even though the group has been small at times, it definitely is one of the most important things we do on a weekly basis.  IF YOU DON’T PRAY ABOUT IT – IT WON’T HAPPEN.
A disclaimer may be necessary:  this took months – not weeks and two families left because the church was changing. Yes, it was, no longer intrinsic but extrinsic. Our missions, benevolence and outreach finances grew, our community outreach to schools, the needy, and the poor expanded. Instead of people asking, “What is the church doing for me?” A good majority of the congregation asked, “What am I doing for God?” This is difficult, not magical and not “bought in” by everyone but it’s part of the seven-year projection. The wins have been substantial and we have just started. It is still a work in progress and may not work for everyone but we are still trying to influence this region for God.

 
Copyright by Jim Laudell. Materials may not be copied, reproduced or distributed without the written permission of the author. You may share on Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media while giving credit to the author. This post should not be construed as medical, legal or professional advice.

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The Small Church Pastor and Outreach

When it comes to outreach, it tends to be a no-brainer for the small church pastor. We know we should; we want to and we see the needs. Reaching out to the community includes two directions. Event Outreach or Relation Outreach. Event Outreach tends to “make a splash,” with a gospel singing, a fun-filled children’s day or a partnership with a public school. Often, the expense and the work involved make these events “once or twice a year.”
The other, Relation Outreach, is on a personal level. Giving groceries to a needy family, supplying needy items to a family whose home has burned, or carrying a snack bag into the ICU waiting room for wearied family members. Some churches have provided a Thanksgiving meal to a needy family or supplied Christmas gifts to a poverty-stricken family.

 
Both outreaches are what I call, “seed planting.” There may not be quick results but the influence is long lasting. Every small church wants to create, what I call, “positive gossip.” When you reach out to families with events or assisting families you are “seed planting,” and creating “positive gossip,” and as weeks roll by, families remember the generosity and kindness of the rural church. Your goal is NOT Sunday attendance but to build long-lasting relationships.

 
How can the small church serve our community?

 
DETERMINE THE NEED. While still in my twenties, a well-known pastor of a growing church, Tommy Barnett, made this statement, “Find a need and fill it.” This is a strong motivation for finding the most efficient means of reaching our rural areas and community. Some churches have a food pantry open one day a week, others give away coats during the cold seasons, and some churches supply single mothers with Christmas presents. One great outreach in the community has been the “Mother’s Day Out.” Where the church provides child care and provides financial assistance for the “single mom,” to a nail salon, beauty shop and maybe, even get her a massage and some shopping gift cards. This is a relation based outreach and likewise, meets a need.

 
DETERMINE THE COST. Cost efficiency is necessary for the small church. First, express the vision. Explain in detail the need for the next outreach. Secondly, spell out the cost for each stage. The overall cost may seem overwhelming but breaking up the cost in bite-sized pieces recognizes even the smallest gifts. Thirdly, explain “why.” Why would we want to help a single mom? Why would we want to provide Christmas to a struggling family? Even Scrooge will participate in an offering to help a family in desperate need. Fourthly, start early. Catching people off guard will often give an undesirable response. Start advertising and collecting funds beforehand.

 
DETERMINE THE NUMBER OF VOLUNTEERS NEEDED. The most common complaint among small church pastors has been, “We don’t have enough volunteers to do an outreach, but much is determined by “how we said it” rather than “what we said.”

 

Don’t say this, “We need several volunteers for our Christmas outreach this year.”
Say this, “God has given us an incredible opportunity to change a single mother’s life. We only need two women to volunteer to purchase the needed items. And, we need two volunteers (maybe, teenagers) to volunteer to watch her children on a Thursday night from 6:00 to 9:00.”
Don’t say, “We are taking an offering for the needy in our community.”
Say this, “We will be receiving an offering through the next two weeks for a single mother in our community who is in need of assistance for herself and her two children.”
Don’t say, “We are collecting gifts for needy children.”
Say, “We are collecting $150 for a bicycle and a doll and baby carriage for a boy and a girl depending on us for their Christmas this year.”
You may have a better way to express the need to your congregation but when you detail the need, explain why and put dollar signs on the need, the people will open up their heart and their wallet.

 

PEOPLE WHO WON’T GIVE GENERALLY WILL OFTEN GIVE SPECIFICALLY

 

DETERMINE TO PRAY ABOUT IT. Mention the need often, making it a matter of prayer. It concerns God about the needs of people in our community, involve God in the outreach process. Prayer is a change maker. Prayer makes a difference. Charge the church to become involved in praying for the needs throughout the community. Make this a yearlong prayer request, post needs. While the church may not be able to meet every need–the church can effectively and efficiently meet the needs of some.

Copyright by Jim Laudell. Materials may not be copied, reproduced or distributed without the written permission of the author. You may share on Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media while giving credit to the author. This post should not be construed as medical, legal or professional advice.

The Small Church Pastor and Church Attendance

Several pastors this week were admitting failing to maintain steady church attendance. Each one had experienced low attendance over the last few months and were concerned.

“What is wrong with my people, they use every excuse they can find to miss church?”
“We had a great outreach on Saturday but had our lowest attendance on Sunday.”
“Do people even care about faithfulness anymore?”
“We need our musicians, singers, and greeters to be at their post but they continue to miss and don’t even let me know they will be absent – what am I doing wrong?”             “When you pastor a church of less than 100 every person counts.”

Even though pastors have taught on faithfulness, pastors are struggling with a variety of lame excuses. From “the cat had kittens” to “my nose was running.” One person just “needed a day of rest,” after spending the day at a Fall Festival. “It’s like the church is at the bottom of the list,” a Pastor moaned. One light-hearted pastor quipped, “Well, at least this church is going down slower than the last one I pastored.”

But doesn’t attendance, faithfulness and spiritual growth matter? Yes, it does but let’s look at some of the problems with church attendance.

1. THE CHURCH IS LOSING MEMBERS – I started with the worst scenario. When members of your church are leaving disgruntled this is devastating to a Pastor who has been trying to do his best but couldn’t heal the rift. Prayer and fasting are mandated in such moments and a week in a secluded location can sharpen your leadership abilities in this time of crises. Show the remaining congregation strength and security by reassuring your followers and by being honest and hopeful.

2. THE ATTENDANCE IS LOW – There will be seasons of highs and lows brought about by vacations, health reasons, and holidays plus, in rural areas, harvest time. Pray and stay encouraged. Keep in touch with your absentees. No matter where you pastor or who you pastor, there will be absenteeism.

3. UNFAITHFULNESS – There will always be certain somebodies who treat church attendance as a guest instead of a member. Absenteeism is in every church and the unfaithful have the lamest excuses. Not surprising, many Baby Boomers interpret faithfulness as Sunday Morning attendance on every other Sunday. To add to the problem, unfaithfulness hurts the church finances because the unfaithful members rarely catch up on their tithe giving.

4. PLANNED ACTIVITIES – Many events are being planned on Sundays from Family Reunions, Birthday Parties, and Concerts and even, shopping. With the church being live streamed, multiple services throughout the week and online Bible Studies, it has become much easier to stay at home. Reading a devotional has been equated with listening to the Pastor preach the Word of God. Maybe the church needs fewer activities but more mission mandated activities.

5. THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM – Attendance is not the measuring stick of the Pastor’s success level. Many pastors are great men of God but lack a support system around them. Yes, spiritual growth and church health are anemic when faithfulness to the House of God is not taught but a pastor shouldn’t beat himself up because people have lost their desire. Preach the Word, stay in love with Jesus and continue to love people.

What can we do about it? Sometimes, nothing. If we preach about it – we are scolding. If we teach on it – we are critical. And, if we ask where they were, get ready to hear excuses from A to Z. So what is a Pastor to do?

• Realize absenteeism will happen. If it isn’t a habit – don’t make it a bigger problem. Things come up and people will miss for credible reasons.
• Don’t be too harsh but express heartfelt concern when you haven’t seen a member regularly.
• Pray for each of them and send a card or text every time they miss. Let them know you miss them.
• Be willing to change service times or days if you need to make it more plausible. We changed our Wednesday night service from 7:00 to 6:00 and served dinner for those rushing in from work.
• Quit saying, “Where two or three are gathered there am I in the midst of them,” every time you have a low crowd. Don’t excuse unfaithfulness. Preach your best message and worship God. Keep focused on Jesus and not on people who are missing.

Copyright by Jim Laudell. Materials may not be copied, reproduced or distributed without the written permission of the author. You may share on Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media while giving credit to the author. This post should not be construed as medical, legal or professional advice.