Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Thoughts on Church Growth

I met today with one of my favourite people with whom to meet - Associate Pastor of Victory Church Lethbridge, John Albiston. He joined Victory in 2012 with the primary area of oversight being church growth. Senior Pastor Kelly Stickel joined Victory in 2011, and it is he that John credits with the change of vision that resulted in their growing in the last four or five years from attendance of about 250 weekly to over 1200 today, as well as having planted three other congregations with more planned.

Here are some of his thoughts:

Three Laws of Church Growth:
  1. Invite lots of people
  2. Don't suck
  3. Make sure people make friends
Numbers 1 and 3 are probably self-explanatory but #2 may need explanation. It's really just a way of saying, be the kind of church that guests you invite want to come back to, for whatever reason.

The breaking of any of these laws has consequences:
  1. If a church has no new people coming, it's probably because the church is breaking Law #1.
  2. If churches are obeying #1, but people are visiting once but not coming back, it's probably #2.
  3. If guests come for a few weeks, then drift away, it could be #3
One pithy phrase he uses is that fishermen don't catch the kind of fish they want; they catch the kind for which they bait their hook. In other words, a church hoping to attract young people will probably not have great success if they insist on keeping a service style that young people might consider dull and dreary. They will only attract and keep people who enjoy that kind of service. Maybe that's what they really want, but John quotes the six last words of a dying church, "We've never done it that way." 

One exception to this matter of service style was John himself. When his children were young they attended what John himself described as the most dreary mainline Protestant church, although John admits that at least the preaching was orthodox, as opposed to small-l liberal. The reason they stayed though was that his kids liked the Sunday School, so in that sense, they, "didn't suck." It's much easier to get to church when it is the kids who are saying, "C'mon, let's go!"

John also spoke of what he called both the Spiritual and the biological Great Commission.

The spiritual one we all may know:
"...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

But the biological one is found in Genesis 9 verse 7:
"...be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”
In short, both spiritually and biologically, Christians are to, in his words, "make babies, raise the babies, kick them out so they can make more babies."

And one final thought - a concept John called, "positive deviance." Not only the mainline churches, but even many evangelical churches are declining in numbers, he says. So if 95% of churches are in decline, and 5% not, don't look at what the 95% are doing, or not doing, but focus on what the deviant 5% are doing, and do it. It is a concept I learned in the business world, and one that John applies in his own field; look at what successful people (businesses, churches) are doing and do it yourself. Copy excellence.

Random thoughts, but ones I found interesting.

Take Care

Edited to add:
First of all, John messaged me already to tell me that attendance in 2011 When SCL Stickel arrived was closer to 250, so I have changed that above.
Second, I had scribbled down a note during our conversation this afternoon that turned out to be, "Relay race through time." Another of John's thoughts - the church is a relay race through time. It doesn't matter how well or fast you run your leg, if you fail to pass the baton the team will lose.

Brilliant analogy, IMO.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

He is Still on the Throne

As tempted as I am to comment on the recent US election, I will, for the most part, refrain. As I have said, I was not a great fan of either candidate.
But one thought does come to mind; John, who recorded for us the Revelation of Jesus Christ, was given a vision:
After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”  At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.  And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. (Rev 4: 1-3)
Well, the day after the election there is still someone sitting on the throne and He is still in control. Nothing in this world happens that He does not either cause or allow. Whatever happened on election night happened somehow within His will and with His permission, and whatever we may think of circumstances, God's will is still, ultimately, good, pleasing and perfect. Exactly how this all plays out remains to be seen.

And my own mission remains the same;
"...my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)
Take Care, and invite a friend to Alpha.

John

(Cross posted at An Alpha Diary)

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

There is Something We Can Do


Alpha in Prisons

One of my memories is of running Alpha for about three years at the Fort Saskatchewan (Alberta) jail and seeing wonderful results and lives changed among the inmates there. Did you know that statistically, as I understand it, among prisons in Canada, the average re-offending rate for released inmates is between 70 and 75%?

However, the re-offending rate for those who have attended Alpha in prison and come to a genuine faith in Christ is about 8% (eight percent)! Isn’t that amazing? My friends and colleagues John and Roxana Kreklo are doing a great job of communicating this to prison officials across Canada. For the good of our country, pray that they, and we, make headway and inroads in this.

Friends, the solution to a great number of our society's problems is right in front of us, but do you think anything will be done about it? Do you think those with the power and position to act will do so?

Aside from some kind of divine intervention, probably not, I'm afraid. But divine intervention is what we're all about, so the least we can do is pray.

Take Care

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

No Ideology Can Last Forever

It may seem so when a particular ideology is in place, or on the rise, but no matter how right contemporary opinion might be considered, a future generation will very probably look back and ask, "What were they thinking?" In fact, I believe the current state of sexual morality, of political correctness in matters of race and religion and "victim group" entitlement cannot last . They are rapidly chipping away at the foundations of what we surely once thought was a sound society
There is only one who is the same yesterday, today and forever. that is the unchangeable God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

Here is where we seem to be today: from here...
Transparently obvious truths cannot be publicly spoken when an ideology is in ascendancy. Questions cannot be asked. Things become unsayable. And the vast mass of people meekly fall into line, sensing the direction of the prevailing wind. Most people find it is altogether safer to capitulate or at least to keep quiet...
And here, perhaps is a possible explanation of how quickly things seemed to change, from sanity to the current insanity, and how completely nonsensical ideas and policies came to considered rational.

And so it will continue for a time. How long? Who knows? Things will in all likelihood get worse for Western Christians before they get any better. It took the better part of three centuries before the extreme persecution of the early Christians was over. We are worried over what has transpired in not much more than a generation, and what some may consider persecution is nothing compared to what they suffered, and some are suffering even in the world today.

But you have heard the expression, "The [Christian] Church is an anvil that has worn out many hammers." Ideologies have come and gone, and the naïve expectation of this privileged generation seems to be that that pattern should now stop; that the season of peace we have enjoyed should never end; that, having once been known as a, "Christian Nation," (I'm speaking now of all of what might be known as, "Western Culture) we Christians should enjoy perfect acceptance and unanimous approval for ever.

The Christian Church is Christ's own Church; founded by him with the promise it would never die.  And it won't, but we in this nation and on this continent should have no expectation that its permanent home and stronghold will forever be North America.

In fact, and I know I've said this before, I see an analogical parallel between God's glory leaving the temple (Ezekiel 10) and what is happening in Western culture today. The torch is being passed, if I may be forgiven for mixing metaphors, and just as the Christian faith spread from Jerusalem, to Europe and across the Atlantic to North America, I can see it now continuing its generally westward path across the Pacific to the great nations of Asia and to the, "ends of the earth."

In the meantime, I do what I do, living what days I have left according to Acts 20:24
...I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
Take Care

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

We Can't Cut Down the Tree and Still Enjoy the Fruit

"... many today ...want a world permeated with Western values such as freedom, justice, and equality that no longer preserves a knowledge of their ideological source."
 
Theodore Dalrymple

An interesting piece here that I present without comment because in my opinion it needs none. It's another case where it's best for me merely to say,

Just Sayin'

Take Care

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Why Young People Leave the Church

My commenting friend Warren, on a previous post, made me aware of Pete Enns. I haven't read all his material, so cannot either recommend or condemn his views, but I did find this entry interesting and challenging. I agree with much of it.
"The 2011 Barna survey on American Christianity published “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church.” And here they are. I read through them and I think to myself, “Yup. Yup. Uh huh. That one, too. And that one.” These ring utterly true to me from my experience..."
You can read about the issue more in-depth at the link, but briefly, here are the 6 reasons:
  • Reason #1 - Churches seem overprotective.
  • Reason #2 – Teens’ and twenty-somethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
  • Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
  • Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  • Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  • Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt. 
A few thoughts of my own:

Regarding #3, I spoke recently to a young man who asked, "If I don't believe the universe was created in six actual days, will I go to hell?"

My answer, aside from just saying a flat, "No!", and paraphrased here, went something like this:
"Some people believe the earth is 6000 years old and everything was created in 6 literal days, but I don't think it's necessary. It's important to read the Bible and ask, 'What does it really say, and what does it not actually say?'
Genesis 1:1 says that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. It doesn't say when the beginning was; just that in the beginning God created everything. And that, in my opinion, doesn't conflict with science. It concurs, to me, with the concept of the, 'Big Bang.'
The next verse, Genesis 1:2 (NIV) says, 'Now the earth was formless and empty...' It doesn't say when, 'Now' is/was. In my opinion, the first two verses in the Bible could represent times millions of years apart. The earth doesn't have to be, 'young,' Biblically speaking."
Same with the six days. Leaving aside the possibility of completely figurative language, I don't think they necessarily have to be literal 24-hour days and I don't think they have to be literally six consecutive days."

Regarding #5, the question often arises, "What about those who have never heard of Jesus?"
there are those in Christendom who will say they are automatically condemned to hell. I believe that is an overly narrow view. I remember discussing this in the context of 'believers' in the Old Testament and the answer given was that the, "Old Testament Saints" were saved by standing on the promises of a coming Saviour.

Well, Biblically speaking, when were the first promises given? In the garden of Eden, to the first humans (Genesis 3). So in essence, every descendent of the first two humans ("Adam and Eve" by name), or more correctly, of Noah's family, can be beneficiaries of those same promises. The Old Testament is a history of a narrow lineage; the Jewish people, and their relationship with God. It says nothing of God's relationship with other people; South Sea Islanders, Native North Americans, people of the Orient. If God could reveal Himself to Abram, and he (Abram) be counted as righteous through his faith, who's to say others could not have been as well. It must be clear that many other events happened in other parts of the world that are not recorded in the Bible.

There is a much greater discussion here, especially in connection with Jesus' exclusive claim in John 14:6, but I have attempted to address that elsewhere and I'll not get into that here.

Regarding #6, this is why I think so highly of the Alpha course, and why I do what I do. Alpha welcomes all, and welcomes any question, without condemnation. Anyone, regardless of background, religion, station in life, sexuality, gender identification or any other factor or characteristic, is welcome to come and hear the Jesus story and the Christian perspective on life, and be introduced to the One who can change their life forever for the better.

My prime desire, and I have been criticized for being too open, for assuming too much generosity in God's grace, is to remove roadblocks that may stand between anyone wanting to know more of God, and the very God who is calling them.

Take Care

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Does Science Argue for or against God?

Here is an interesting and challenging bit by Eric Metaxas. Many people hold out the fine tuning of the universe as a proof of God's existence. I don't. It all could be just an incredibly unlikely coincidence. There's no proof that it isn't. But in my own opinion, the existence of God certainly seems to be the simpler of the two explanations. It certainly is an indication that a belief in God is not unreasonable, simple or naïve. And that double negative (not unreasonable), after all, is the very idea reflected in the title of this blog.

The only reservation I have with Mr Metaxas' presentation is in the blurb below - that chances are less than zero. It is hyperbole, of course, a figure of speech, because odds or chances, no matter how infinitesimally small, cannot be less than zero, (can they?) That just gives the other side one more piece of ammunition, however small, to attack the argument.
"Why are we here? Literally. The latest science says we shouldn't be. It says that the chance life exists at all is less than zero. So, is science the greatest threat to the idea of Intelligent Design or is science its greatest advocate? Best-selling author and lecturer, Eric Metaxas, poses this intriguing question and comes up with a very unexpected and challenging answer."

Take Care

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Party At The End Of The World


I thought this was a particularly poignant phrase to describe the recent massacre at the Orlando gay nightclub. I suppose I should begin with the de rigeur assurance that, "our thoughts and prayers are with... etc, etc." I don't mean to be disrespectful or hard-hearted by saying that, because my prayers really are with those affected by this tragedy. In fact, I sent an email to a local gay-friendly church here in Edmonton whose minister I have met and spoken with. I cannot begin to know or understand what sadness they must feel, and even though we differ in opinion with respect to matters of sexuality, I know their pain is real, and I wish them the peace that can only come from the God of all comfort.

But Check out Mark Steyn's site and listen especially to the first (left's official lie) and third (Party at the end of the world) audio links. Many in the West seem to be partying while the enemies are at the gates.

Meanwhile, things are happening in the Kingdom that don't get so much notice.

I comment only in passing on the events of the day, reminding myself constantly not to pay so much attention to the news and to remember that God is in control. As I say on my other blog...

"...I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)"

That is my passion, my purpose and my mission. I just have to keep coming back to that myself.

Just sayin'

Take Care