Tuesday, December 15, 2009

First Cheeze Whiz Church of (your town here)

If your church has been holding its own for many years, but not really growing, you have to ask yourself if God is pleased with how you are doing things. It’s likely you are fearful of change. Could you be preventing the Holy Spirit from making your fellowship bloom? We in the church growth industry say YES! Most likely, your membership is larded with crusty, stodgy, stubborn fogeys afraid to take the next step.

Fortunately, you don’t have to stay where you are, studying old Bibles, visiting the sick, suspicious of visitors, stuck in a scripture-morassed, languishing congregation.

Now, you have a choice. You can stay where you are -- just a dried up root in the desert of the American religious scene -- or you can learn how to be like sprawling, successful box-store churches radiating life, growth and top-ten Christian music. You, too, can know the joys of looking down at smaller churches and antique “Christians.”

The first thing your body needs to do is get rid of those confining principles that hold you back. Though at first it might go against the grain, you must embrace an ends-justifies-the-means approach to your faith: Everything is permissible as long as it isn’t too immoral. Some of your older members accustomed to obsolete values like integrity and honesty may frown at that bold statement, but when you show them the line graph demonstrating explosive growth among churches that switch over to a utilitarian values system, their eyes will be enlightened – or else they will get out of your way.

New, dynamic churches use business-model evangelism: AIG and Merrill Lynch worked out so well that they’ve become gleaming models for churches on the grow. Goldman Sachs and General Motors serve as stellar examples to churches. By taking stock of the keen methods such high-powered businesses use to create growth, churches put the same kingdom-building principles found on Wall Street to work for God. So far, it has been a rousing success.


Both in numbers and in profit margin, these innovative congregations are exploding, growing, and planting sister campuses everywhere. Turn-a-buck church franchises are nothing to sneeze at, spinning off thousands of money-making cottage industries: Church how-to books, church management software, lay leader training programs, fill-in-the-blank workbook blockbusters, women’s Bible study materials and the big profit-producer -- pastor conferences. We have found that there’s a silver lining for long-suffering servants in this big, new industry.

Never before has it been easier to use market strategies to manipulate congregants into becoming satisfied audience members. And satisfied, they are. Spectators are enjoying more than they ever realized all the pleasures church could give. Goal-setting programs; household organization tips; family time management advice; entertainment and attractions; Bible-lite, success-tip sermons (with a bare minumum of all that annoying, turn-off Jesus stuff); computerized “personalized” mailings that members can’t tell from the real thing; Wal-Mart style greeters; fill-in-the-blank spiritual growth classes – and all of this will make church members feel like they’re family.

Since cutting edge fellowships are looking for fresh ways to attract self-centered unbelievers, they must occasionally appeal to the flesh. Coffee bars in the foyers, big screens in the sanctuary, theme park like Sunday schools, small-group buffets. While they make sure that everything is to the taste of visitors -- not too warm, not too cold -- they also like to say, “It’s not about you.”


But really. It IS about you. It’s about hundreds and thousands of YOU. Classes, services and amenities galore scream: It’s about YOU! But, should you complain that the water is a little tepid, then, suddenly, you will find that it’s NOT about you.

Vibrant, growing churches believe that they should do everything they can to bring in the unchurched, or, if that doesn’t work, the other-churched. They will bend over backwards to please, because in making it about you, they are making it about God, or at least about something larger than you, whoever or whatever that might be.

You won’t hear a lot of church jargon at these successful churches. If they quote the Bible, it will be in a translation that doesn’t sound like the Bible. And they won’t hang a lot of confusing and threatening symbols around, like crosses and banners, because that’s offensive to some, and they don’t want to offend anyone except stuffy old church people who can’t change with the times. (They will take their money and their help in the nursery, but they don’t want to attract any more of their type if they can help it. It’s bad for image, and it distracts from the “brand.”)

In the quest for larger numbers, many useful, new tools are available. Churches seeking to grow should take advantage of such resources. Books on growth and management, church growth software, creative conference speakers: all are available to help you be all you can be for God. We in the church growth industry are your partners. We do the work of the Holy Spirit so you don’t have to.

A small investment in relatively inexpensive church management software allows church leaders to keep both docile and pesky members under their thumb very effectively. You can categorize, manipulate, manage and control members with a simple mouse click. With most software you can even drag and drop members with the touch of a button. One company, PowerMember™ church ministry software, says that they “utilize cutting edge drag and drop technology so that you can manage your church ministry volunteers with unparalleled ease.” Imagine that! (Words in blue are from actual church software web sites.)

Everything is now automated (“personalized” letters, emails, phone calls). It can’t be any easier to organize your church to specifications. Coming soon, you will be able to implement automated Bible studies, automated hospital visits, automated potlucks.

Even fast-growing churches face challenges, however. Studies show that, among superior, growth-oriented congregations, leaders are aging, even as these churches are seeking younger members. This disparity in age presents a problem, but new challenges call for innovative measures.


A congregation can save itself thousands of dollars a year simply by the use of virtual pastors. Good, solid preaching is available now for your body. Why pay a dull, pudgy or balding speaker when you can project the very best preaching in the nation onto your home church screens? For a small monthly fee, Christian celebrity pastors can speak to your members each week.

Your expensive, aging pastor is not tailoring sermons to your church body as it is. If your pastor is on the cutting edge, he is already using sermon series ideas produced by other pastors in other parts of the country, so why not give your members a younger, brighter, more engaging speaker on Sunday mornings? You’ve streamlined your worship team to give it a fresh, young look. Now it’s time to rejuvenate the pastoral team.

PowerMember™ says churches can “custom build ministry structure, add staff on the fly and match them according to the most sophisticated matching criteria available that includes their Spiritual Gifts, Heart (passion), Abilities, Personality and Experience. You can also match congregants with ministry positions according to Meyers/Briggs criteria.”

It’s like moving pawns on a chessboard – SO EASY!
And for pastoral care, nothing quite compares with the auto-church method.

Never worry again about failing people in their time of need or them leaving the church in anger because no one called. Empower your Care Partners to serve as an early warning system. Be confident that no one can slip away or fall through the cracks due to a lack of adequate pastoral care. Automatically mobilize letters, calls, visitation teams, crisis teams, hospital visit teams, food delivery teams, and all your other care ministries in time to make a difference.

Gee, thanks. I’m so glad the auto-alarm went off in time. For a moment, I was worried that the church leaders didn’t care.

Thankfully, pastors never even have to know the member or soil their hands. Everything is done automatically.

To show they are very, very compassionate leaders, pastors can use this great software package to do those chores of drudgery:
“Sign automated mail-merged letters that communicate you care to your congregants. (Yeah. That'll do it.) Be made aware and always become a part of their times of need through automated letters placed on your desk each week.”

If your mechanized church software doesn’t quite do the job at times, no problem. Every contingency is accounted for:

“With our church ministry software, you can easily identify adherents who meet the profile of being likely to leave so you can effectively manage backdoor issues.”
Oops! Someone dropped the ball here. Adherents aren’t adhering very well, I guess. As long as you keep backdoor issues at the back door, and prevent an embarrassing commotion at the front door, all is well.

Know the issues that drive satisfaction and dissatisfaction in your church. Know who are your raving fans and those who are dissatisfied and for what reasons. Know who is considering leaving, and for what reasons. Get the information you need at the time you need it to manage your congregation's morale.
Why not plant listening devices in members’ homes? A little extortion can produce “raving fans” in no time.

Some software even keeps track of who your members’ friends are in church, so that if you need to influence them at some point you know who to call on to do the job.

So what is next for innovative churches? Once they have weeded out the deadwood, marginalized older members, standardized the worship experience, implemented mission and vision plans, defined and sharpened their “brand,” and tracked members’ behavior through software, what then? How can they keep growing when it seems they have reached the pinnacle of contemporary perfection?

It’s time we pushed the envelope a little further and hooked new, unchurched people with methods proven successful through the latest research. One method, only now coming into consideration in the most up-and-coming churches, has proven a winner in every broad study and market-research survey.

A practice popular in the apostle Paul’s time, and now demonstrated successful through computer models, is the re-establishment of a church-growth bonanza-producer, guaranteed to grab attention and multiply members: Temple prostitution. Both time-tested and cutting edge, this growth strategy is more than a gimmick. Studies show that a church can expand its outreach exponentially through this practice.

Face it. Sex is big in our culture. The porn business is a multi-billion dollar industry, and it’s time the church cut into that obscene profit. Instead of clucking at sex from the sidelines, churches bold enough to step out can actually use the power of sexual appetite to fulfill the Great Commission. Some members, stuck in the 20th century, will treat this innovative strategy in the same way they treated the introduction of guitars in the sanctuary. But the fields are ripe for harvest.

If you can introduce donuts and coffee, surely you can use the most powerful force in modern culture to boost attendance figures.
So you have a choice. Stay as you are and hope to hang on until all your members die off, or join the most exciting, most active sector of Christendom today, growing and exploring new ways to grow every week.


eugenelmason said...

Love the sarcasm and you're right on the money in terms of non-biblical practices of megachurches in North America today. Do wish you had a little more practical "how do we move away from this" advice, though. Grace to you, Gene.

Provender said...
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