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Church Bells in a Steeple - The Church must make a connection
Why Don’t The Bells Ring Anymore?
Why Don’t The Bells Ring Anymore? 1024 576 The Provisum Group

Last week I was talking to a pastor in Texas who was interested in learning more about how to grow his church in the 21st Century. We spoke at length about his connection strategies, how his church was connecting with the neighborhood and his relationship with the surrounding community leaders. At one point the conversation turned to his facilities and how the church had added some additional space in the 80s on to the original structure which was built at the turn of the century. While the majority of the church was the part of the addition, everyone in the community knew them by their original steeple.

In true pastor fashion, he used this conversation to make a theological point in the form of a joke. He said, “Don, do you know why churches ring their bells? So fish will jump into the boat.” It was a good chuckle comparing the Sunday morning church bells to the Church’s role as fishers of men but it made me think.

I am old enough to recall a time where on my way to and from church on Sunday morning I would pass a number of different churches and all of them would be ringing their bells. Then I thought about how I cannot remember the last time I heard church bells ringing on Sunday morning.  The church bells have gone silent.

Church bells were a way of telling the community that it was time to come to church. The precept was that most people are going to church on Sunday morning and all we had to do was ring the bell.  It was the expectation that if you heard the bells ringing, you would start making your way to church. In my article “Theology for Growth,” I talk about how in the Church, over the course of time,  “going and making” has become “hoping and waiting.” Many churches just expect people to show up on Sunday morning and many more have not rung their bells in years.  In the 21st century, we need a new precept when it comes to attending church.

What Works in the 21st Century?

Take a look at the largest, fastest growing churches in America. How many of those buildings have bells? Not many, yet many are full almost every Sunday morning. My experience has shown that these churches aren’t just expecting people to show up by proactively creating new ways to connect with the neighborhood and community around them. Churches are offering English Language classes for the refugees in their neighborhood. They are hosting parent’s night out for the children from the community. They are holding after school homework help and basketball programs for their students. I want to be clear here, the content of the connection event is inconsequential. What does matter is that the neighborhood and the community are creating connections with the Church and it is only after the church has connected with people that discipleship can begin. This is how the Church “goes” in the 21st century.

What is the Solution?

If you are trying to grow but the bells are not working, I want to let you know I recently published a guide to help you through that process. Connect: Grow Your Church in 28 Days –Guaranteed is a step-by-step plan built on decades of experience in managing churches all over the nation, that will give you simple steps that work in every church that has tried it. I would encourage you to read this guide and transition from a church that rings bells and hopes, to a church that fully lives out The Great Commission and “goes” and “makes.

Find the persAEvangelist hearts grow churchon with the evangelist's heart and grow your church
Grow your church through the evangelist’s heart
Grow your church through the evangelist’s heart 958 639 The Provisum Group

I want to tell you about a recent church service I attended. It was Easter morning. The church was packed. As the pastor was making the weekly announcements, I could hear a young woman sitting behind me talking to a friend or family member of hers.  The whole pew was filled with her family and friends. She was telling them about all of the great things that the church did and how involved the church was in the community. I could tell by her conversation that she was proud to call that church her home and she had a passion to bring people to the Church. She has the evangelist’s heart and wants to grow your church.

The pastor asked everyone to turn in their Bibles to John, chapter 11. The young woman grabbed a pew Bible and began searching for the Gospel of John. Her searching began in Genesis. As the Pastor was reading from the word, I could hear her continue to flip through the pages searching for the passage and eventually she gave up and put the Bible back in the pew.

Some people reading this may think it is a tragedy that someone in church didn’t know that the Book of John is in the middle-back of the Bible and that someone has failed this young woman in her discipleship training. What I saw was the heart of the evangelist promised to the church in Ephesians 4:11. What I saw was a gift, sent by God to help grow that local church.

The evangelist’s heart genuinely wants her church to grow.

In Ephesians 4:11, we are told of the fivefold ministry of the church. In this verse, the Bible tells us that some are appointed to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers. So not everyone is appointed to be a pastor and not everyone is appointed to be an evangelist. Apostles go. Prophets exhort. Pastors shepherd. Teachers teach. Evangelists connect. It is through the passion of the evangelist that many undiscipled people hear the gospel and connect with the body of Christ.

The woman who was sitting behind me certainly had a heart for bringing people to church. She was so proud of everything the church was doing and took the social risk to bring guests. The evangelist(s) on your team needs to be so willing to proselytize that their passion will sometimes rub other people on the team a little raw. If you don’t have someone on your team like this, get one. Perhaps it’s a board member, a volunteer, or a young woman sitting in the pew.

When you find that person, you want them in leadership. This person can serve as the director of evangelism and outreach or, depending on the size of the church, they may be just responsible for the annual chili festival or vacation Bible school. This person needs to be part of the process of communicating with the community and neighborhood around you.

In the vast majority of churches, this person is a creative and relational person. They might not be the best at administration or technology. Even though good administration and technology are important, being passionate about bringing people to church and making an emotional connection is most important for the evangelist. The burning desire to see others find Jesus cannot be outsourced.

Do you want your church to grow?

Action Step

Identify at least one person in your church with an evangelist’s heart and meet with them. Ask them to dream with you on how your church can reach your community and neighborhood. Then together, try and turn one of those dreams into reality.

Learn more about how to grow your church in Connect

Appeals Court Judges Gavel
Court Brings Closure to Housing Allowance Legal Challenge
Court Brings Closure to Housing Allowance Legal Challenge 1024 683 The Provisum Group

Over the past year, I have been tracking a legal battle that has been fought over the constitutionality of the ministerial housing allowance. Last year a federal court in Wisconsin ruled that the ministerial housing allowance was unconstitutional and that the benefit was to be treated as taxable income.

My team at The Provisum Group is responsible for payroll and accounting for churches all over the country and this court case would drastically impact how we support our church partners. Fortunately, it appears that the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals was more reasonable than the lower court and ruled that the allowance is indeed constitutional.

I would love to explain this case to you in depth but I think that the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, The Provisum Group’s accrediting body, can do a much better job than me:

Thousands of pastors and churches across America just scored a major victory in the latest court challenge to the ministers’ housing allowance.

In its highly anticipated opinion on March 15, 2019 the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously reversed a lower federal district court, which had ruled in late 2017 against the longstanding housing allowance for ministers. Instead, the appeals court likened the ministers’ housing allowance to other similar benefits in the tax code for work-related housing, finding the provision permissible under the First Amendment and well-established legal precedent.

ECFA has actively defended the housing allowance, including supporting an amicus brief that was cited by the appeals court judges in their favorable decision in this case. President Dan Busby commented on the court victory, “This decision is a win not just for the ministers’ housing allowance but for the ‘more than 2,600 federal and state tax laws that provide religious exemptions’ cited by the Seventh Circuit, some of which date back to early 1800s.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), the group which brought this challenge to the housing allowance, did not indicate their intention to appeal the decision in an early press release reacting to the case.

Click here to read a more detailed breakdown of the court’s opinion.

If you and your team have questions about your pay practices or if you think you need help with your bookkeeping and accounting, reach out to my team and set up a no-cost assessment.

The Theology for Church Growth
The Theology for Growth
The Theology for Growth 1024 683 The Provisum Group

Since the day Jesus ascended to heaven, Christians have been commissioned to go into all the world and make disciples of all people. This apostolic mission is one of the most important faith tenets that distinguishes Christianity from all other religions.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).

What happens between “go” and “make”? There has to be something. The Bible does not say it, but we can reasonably assume it’s up to us to fill in the white space between the lines of this Scripture to fulfill the Great Commission for our generation. It is reasonable for us to infer that between “go” and “make” is exactly what Jesus and the disciples did in their day, which is, connect. The church can’t reach all people if we don’t go; and we cannot make disciples if we do not connect with people. This mission has not changed. However, the world has changed and so has the way we go and connect.

In the first few hundred years of ministry, the church in the West was a minority religious sect in a majority secular culture. Somewhere between Emperor Theodosius I making Christianity the “religion of the empire” in the fourth century AD and Emperor Charlemagne reviving “the Holy Roman Empire” in the early ninth century, the church became a leading force in a majority Christian culture. The church remained more or less in this leading role until the late twentieth century, but I don’t think anyone would argue that today, the church in the West is once again a minority religious sect in a majority secular culture.

In the first few centuries of the church, the order of ministry for a minority religious sect in a majority secular culture was:

Connect
Evangelize
Convert
Disciple

“Going” meant actually traveling to a new place where most people knew little to nothing about Jesus and His kingdom. Once in this new place, the missionary/disciple would become part of the community and connect with his neighbor or her coworker. Relationships would form and grow until the credibility of the disciple was established in the eyes of the non-believer. Then the disciple would share the good news with his new friends. This led to the culminating moment of conversion when the non-believer became a new creation in Christ and then the process of training disciples or disciple-making began.

As a leading force in a majority Christian culture the order of ministry changed. The order of ministry became:

Evangelize
Convert
Connect
Disciple

Through most of the Dark Ages, it was hard to tell where the state ended and the church began. In many cases, the king of the domain was also the head of the church. As such, “going” was funded by the king and conversion was mandated by the state. There was little need to “connect” or “disciple.” By the mid-twentieth century, there were few places left in Western civilization in which there was no church and no one had heard of Jesus. We were rapidly running out of places to go. By the late twentieth century, “going” and “making” was being sadly replaced by “hoping” and “waiting.”

Let me illustrate. Fifty years ago in the West, if someone walked through the door of a church for the first time, he was probably looking for “a church,” meaning they just moved to the area and needed a new place of worship or for some reason decided to look for a new place to worship. Today, when someone visits a church, she is probably looking for “an answer.” Before, almost everyone was “well-churched,” meaning they had attended church for most of their lives, or at least believed they should be attending. They knew what was expected of them inside and outside of the church. They also knew what to expect when they began attending a new church. In order to successfully grow a church, churches just needed to meet the expectations of the new visitors. Churches focused on making worship, preaching, programming, and facilities the best they could be.

One of the most distinguishing characteristics of this late Christian-era church was the way it connected with people. Most of the connection methods were passive and rear-loaded. They were passive in that they were dependent on the new visitor initiating the connection. The church would wait for the visitor to fill out the connection card, visit the connection center, register for a new member’s class, attend Sunday school, or request a meeting with the pastor. Connecting with other believers and developing relationships with them was “rear-loaded”: it was a byproduct of the engagement initiated by the new visitor.

This all changed in the early twenty-first century. Who hasn’t heard the name of Jesus in the United States and Europe? As of the writing of Connect, if you ask 100% of Americans if they are a Christian, seventy five percent will say yes, but only twenty-one percent will be in church on Sunday. Only eight percent of Americans will attend church three or more Sundays in a month.  In the post-Christian era, people are not just “un-churched”; more often than not, they are “undiscipled.” Undiscipled people are the raw material of disciple-making in the twenty-first century.

Today, people visiting for the very first time are probably looking for an answer. The church can no longer assume that visitors are well-churched, know what is expected of them, know what they want, or what to expect from a church. Many times, there is some life event like an illness, financial crisis, or moral failing that precipitates a person visiting a church for the first time or for the first time in a very long time. Many times, undiscipled people walk through the doors of a church with a giant “should” in them. People who walk into a new church with a big “should” in them are looking for spirituality in everything: “I should solve this,” “I should try church,” “I should try something different than what I’ve been doing.” When they walk through the doors of the church for the first time or the first time in a very long time, they expect the rafters to rattle, the ground to shake, and the angels to sing. This is their moment. “OK, God, I am here. I have done my part. Do Yours.”

It is like joining a gym in January. Most people join a gym in January because they have about ten pounds of holiday “should” on them. In the same way, people are visiting a church because they think they “should” in order to find something they need. But just like the people who join a gym in January, many quit going by February.

Post-Christian era visitors do not know the routine. They don’t know how to be discipled or even that it’s an option: they do not know if discipling is something that could solve many of their problems or not. At best, they become passive participants in their own discipleship. What they do not know is that the disciples and saints are passively waiting for these new undiscipled visitors to proactively raise their hands and say “I am ready to connect. What do you want me to do?” The Post-Christian era visitor has very little firsthand experience with church and walks through the doors of the church with secular values and expectations.

Imagine if you are visiting a foreign country and walked into a restaurant. In this country, the culture is different. In this foreign culture, it is considered rude for the waiters in restaurants to approach diners until the diner initiates the process by standing and summoning them to the table with an obvious hand motion. But you don’t share the same culture and are unaware of what is considered proper behavior for diners in this foreign culture. There were twenty staff people standing around talking. Not one makes eye contact with you or proactively reaches out to you to initiate a connection. There was a big sign out front, saying “Visitors Welcome,” but no one spoke to you, helped you to a seat, or brought you a cup of water to quench your thirst. What would this make you think? How would you would feel? Would you come back?

Do you see the inherent disconnect between the late Christian era Church members and the Post-Christian era undiscipled visitor? Once again, as a minority religious sect in a majority secular culture, the order of ministry has reverted back to:

Connect
Evangelize
Convert
Disciple

Connecting with undiscipled people has to be front-loaded in a relationship, meaning the church has to make the first move and proactively provide the energy that leads to connection with visitors and undiscipled people. Most churches today are still acting like a leading force in a majority Christian culture and passively waiting for connection to happen as a visitor-initiated by-product of being in church. Both groups are waiting for the other to take the first step and initiate connection. It is a perfect recipe for decline and decay.

This is why I wrote Connect.

The church cannot “make” disciples of undiscipled people if we do not connect with them. If we are going to fulfill the Great Commission, the church is going to have to take the lead in this Post-Christian era and initiate connection with everyone we meet, and in everything we do. Technology has replaced much of the “going” of the past. The making of disciples has not changed much in 2,000 years, but the in-between ⸺ the connect part ⸺ has changed dramatically in the last forty years.

In Connect, I am going to provide you with a literal checklist of twenty-eight tested and proven tasks that will improve the “connect” of your church, so you can engage in “making” disciples and fulfill your purpose, the Great Commission.  If you, or a designated staff member or volunteer, does each of these tasks once a day and keeps doing them, you will connect with more undiscipled people, your church will grow, and you will receive the deep satisfaction and fulfillment of achieving your purpose.

Connect with Church Visitors
The number one thing churches can do to get visitors to come back
The number one thing churches can do to get visitors to come back 640 426 The Provisum Group

A few months ago, I was talking with a pastor friend of mine who was lamenting that his church was having trouble getting more visitors to come back to his church. By all accounts, it sounded like he was doing everything right. He had his most enthusiastic members on his welcome team. It appeared he checked all of the boxes.

Visitor Audits

One service offered by The Provisum Group is to have our staff secret shop a church. We call it a “Visitor Audit”. We sent a member of our communications team to visit my friend’s church to see where the disconnect might be.

My friend’s welcome team was on point. They saw a new face enter the church and quickly welcomed him. He said he and his family was moving to the area and he was church shopping before the move. They offered him a tour of the facility and showed him the fabulous children’s ministry. They introduced him to the nicest people you could imagine in the nursery.

They gave him a number of pamphlets about all of the great activities the church had to offer and walked him to the sanctuary.

After service, they sought him out and asked him how he liked the service and told him about the neighborhood and where the best restaurants and parks were.

Finally, he said to them, “Everyone here is so nice. How do I connect with this church?” There was a noticeable pause. It was clear no one was prepared to answer that question.

Right there was the critical flaw in my friend’s welcome plan. He had all of the right people in all of the right spots doing all of the right things but his team never considered asking for a way to connect with the people who visited their church. They just assumed that everyone wanted to be a part of their church and never thought, “How do we keep the conversation going after that first visit?”  “How do we stay in touch with this person after they leave Sunday service?”

When our team does a Visitor Audit, one of the “must do’s” is they have to leave contact info with someone or die trying.  You might be surprised how often our team has to proactively and diligently work to leave contact information with a church and how rarely churches actually follow up. We also ask the pastor before we come, what he/she thinks our visitor experience will entail. I can tell you we rarely experience what the pastor thinks we should.

Now my friend’s church has improved their welcome process and asks for contact information at every service. They have a well-designed email autoresponder campaign that feeds new email addresses into their newsletter but none of this would matter without someone first asking, “How can we connect with you?”

Capturing contact information and responding to it is the first step in disciple making and making a connection with church visitors.

Don’t Just Work In It. Work On It.
Don’t Just Work In It. Work On It. 1024 640 The Provisum Group

In order to become a great leader you must learn to make things better in your organization. The first way to start to make things better is to ask great questions. Great questions lead to better answers and more clarity about the true and current status of your organization. Once you have true and clear picture, you will have a better chance of plotting a course of action that will improve and grow your church, non-profit, or business.

As a church consultant, I have audited many church financial balance sheets. The audit process can often feel painful to staff members, but it is necessary to insure organizational health.

In the same way, leaders must audit their ministries, systems, and models. Why? Ministry auditing makes things better.

Andy Stanley, of North Point Community Church offers six questions that every leader should ask on a regular basis. These are great questions.

  1. Do I have the right people at the table? Do I have the right people who are informed to make the right decisions?

I like this question because without the right people, you really have nothing. The wrong people in the wrong positions always lead to the wrong decisions and the wrong results. If you manage others in your organization, you must ask if you have the right people in the right positions.

  1. Where are we manufacturing energy? Where are we pretending? Where are we trying to convince people to go to that we don’t want to go to ourselves?”

There is a difference between buzz and hype. Buzz means that there is a groundswell of interest. Hype means that somebody is trying to sell others on being interested. In your organization, you want buzz. You want people to want to do the ministry activities. You must regularly guard against yourself and your other staff from trying to make things happen that just don’t have genuine interest.

  1. Where do I make the greatest contribution to the organization?”

This question leads you to self-evaluation. Let’s face it: you’re not really good at everything. Don’t believe me? Just ask your spouse. You must stay in your lane. Every good leader knows their strengths and their weaknesses. Stay in your lane and make the biggest contribution you can.

  1. “Who’s not keeping up?”

Every organization has people who are ahead and behind. Nobody likes to be behind. However, when we fail to evaluate who is not keeping up we are discrediting the work of those who do. I’m not saying you have to automatically fire people who don’t keep up with you, but you do need to be aware and take appropriate action.

  1. What have we fallen in love with that is no longer…? What have we become emotionally attached to that no longer belongs? What is our way but is no longer the best way to…?

Just because the rotary phone used to be a good idea, doesn’t mean you have to keep using it today. Every system and ministry in your church was at one time a good idea. However, your church is not a history museum or an art museum. It is a living and breathing group of people. Just because something worked in the past doesn’t mean it works for today. Organizational leaders need to be rigorous in their evaluation of their systems, ministries, and models regardless of how in love they are or used to be.

  1. “What would a great leader do?”

I like this question because it allows leaders to step outside of themselves and to imagine and dream what somebody else might do. This process often frees mental roadblocks and allows a leader to think clearly and creatively about how to move forward.

For more from Andy Stanley, check out: www.insidenorthpoint.org.

You Can Train a Dog to Climb a Tree…But Why?
You Can Train a Dog to Climb a Tree…But Why? 300 188 The Provisum Group

Church leaders are notoriously famous for hiring the wrong people. Pastors often hire people who are passionate or competent or full of integrity—but lack all three. Unqualified hires lead to poor work, poor relationships, and lack of motivation. Without using good principles when you hire people, you will be hiring tree-climbing dogs.

In Kingdom work, willingness is admirable but not enough. Integrity is essential, but good character may not insure excellent job performance. Competency is fundamental, but if an employee is dishonest, there will be problems.

Here are four attributes to look for in your next hire:

Desire

A prospective hire should want to do the work. A great hire wakes up in the morning with an “internal start button” and is autonomously motivated to make things happen.

What to look for: During your interview process with candidates, you need to be able to find somebody who wants to do the specifics of a job instead of hiring those people who “can do” or are “willing to do” a job. Motivating the unmotivated is a terrible way to lead a church. But desire isn’t enough…

Competency

A prospective hire must have job-specific levels of competency. This doesn’t necessarily mean a candidate must be perfectly aligned based on their past work experience. That kind of idealism will also lead you nowhere.

What to look for: During your interview process, you need to be able to see a correlation between the type of work they have done and the type of work you will be asking them to do. This safeguard protects you from hiring somebody who is passionate about the work but has no idea how to actually do it successfully.

Integrity

A prospective hire already has integrity BEFORE an official offer is made. Passion and integrity cannot be forced. Either the person you want to hire has it, or… they don’t. Do not put yourself in a situation in which you have a passionate and qualified candidate who is dishonest, impatient, or unstable.

What to look for: During your interview process, ask the prospective hire questions about difficult work situations in the past and how they were handled. Also, make good use of getting to know people before you hire them so you can get a good sense of their character before a job interview skews your clarity.

Chemistry

This is an idea from Andy Stanley. A prospective hire must eventually develop chemistry with you and your team. While it is hard to determine chemistry during an interview process, you need to do your best to determine if there is enough evidence to move forward.

What to look for: During your personal reflection time before you make an offer, ask yourself chemistry questions like… “Do I like this person?” “Could I see myself enjoying working with this person?” “Based on what I know about this candidate, do I think our team’s chemistry grow or shrink as a result of this hire?” As a hiring manager, you are entitled to like the people you work with.

To borrow language from Jim Collins, a pastor must find ways to get the right people in the right seat on the right bus. The right people are essential if you want to lead your organization to move toward all that God has for you and your church.

If you need more resources in this area, I recommend:

Minding His Business
Don Corder

Next Generation Leader
Andy Stanley

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
Daniel Pink

The Provisum Group Accredited by National Financial Accountability Organization
The Provisum Group Accredited by National Financial Accountability Organization 150 150 The Provisum Group

REYNOLDSBURG, OH – The ECFA (Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability) announced today the accreditation of The Provisum Group of Reynoldsburg, OH.

ECFA accreditation is based on the ECFA Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™, including financial accountability, transparency, sound board governance and ethical fundraising.

The Provisum Group joins a growing number of Christ-centered churches and ministries across America, supported by over 27 million donors that have earned the right to display the ECFA seal.  When an organization is accredited by ECFA, it demonstrates its willingness to follow the model of biblical accountability.

“We are pleased to accredit a ministry committed to release untold resources into the Kingdom of God to grow God’s Kingdom on earth and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Dan Busby, president of ECFA.

Founded in 2013, The Provisum Group (www.theprovisumgroup.com) provides accounting, IT, and marketing services for their nonprofit and church clients in order to streamline organizational resources.

ECFA, founded in 1979, provides accreditation to leading Christian nonprofit organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance with the ECFA Standards pertaining to financial accountability, fundraising and board governance.  For more information about ECFA, including information about accreditation and a listing of ECFA-accredited members, visit www.ECFA.org or call 1-800-323-9473.

Conflict Isn’t Always Bad
Conflict Isn’t Always Bad 1024 640 The Provisum Group

Conflict isn’t always bad. In fact, it’s often a catalyst for growth.

 

High-capacity leaders have a tendency to create friction with one another. Yet if a leader stewards this type of tension, it has the potential to lead to new growth in the organization.

But let’s be real here and say that human beings are emotional creatures. Somebody will always be getting mad about something. There are many leaders who avoid conflict entirely because they have never observed a healthy way to enter into healthy conflict.

If you plan to lead in a church, you must embrace the reality that there will be real emotions connected to the conflict. This doesn’t mean you should go looking for conflict, nor does it give conflict prone individuals the right to pick fights with each other. It simply means that as we live and work in peace with one another, we must be ready for anger and hurt feelings.

The question is this: how do we process our anger? Do we have a process for keeping “short accounts” with one another to keep the leadership team healthy? You need a plan for how you and your team will work through conflict. Conflict is coming. It’s inevitable. Do you have a plan?

To dive deeper in this topic, I suggest three resources.

My book of course, Minding His Business, is a great example of how I handle conflict.

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking when the Stakes Are High

Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

Patrick Lencioni

All three provide a great framework to do conflict well, and avoid the potholes of anger and bitterness.

May God give you courage to embrace and step into the difficult conversations in your life and your ministry.

– Don