The Cost of Tolerance
The Cost of Tolerance 1024 768 The Provisum Group

I recently received a phone call from a pastor of a 150-member church who was looking for help with his church’s bookkeeping. I asked him to describe the situation to me. It was bleak. According to him:

  1. The church donations had been growing but the church “never” had any money for anything.
  2. He had not seen an income statement or balance sheet in almost 18 months.
  3. No one could ever tell him how much money the church had in the bank.
  4. It could take months to get his expenses reimbursed.
  5. Only one person (the bookkeeper) had access to the church’s banking, and she was always “swamped”.
  6. Paychecks were routinely wrong.
  7. Donors had not received a giving statement in two years.

Now I could go off for hours on how a situation like this is created by unengaged leadership who have tolerated this situation for far too long. But that is not my purpose here today. This pastor called me for a solution, and I was determined to help him.

I should probably start by saying (for all the new people on the blog) that I am the president of a 501c3 called The Provisum Group. At The Provisum Group, we provide administrative services (including accounting and bookkeeping) for churches and faith-based charities. This pastor had called the right place. The calling on my life is to remove stones from pastors’ and ministry leaders’ shoes by providing these non-ministerial services freeing them to pursue the calling on their lives. I treat every request for help I receive as a divine appointment. This pastor’s call was no exception.

I deployed resources and people to assess his concerns and offer a solution. The fix was pretty straightforward. He needed a new bookkeeper. As in most cases, the conversation quickly turned to price. I gave him a list of services we would perform (including reversing numbers 1-7 above) and a price that was in the hundreds of dollars a month. I thought he would be thrilled. Instead, he was “shocked” and said that my price was almost double what he is paying now (hundreds of dollars) and if I wanted “his business” I would have to lower my price. I responded that if we did not have to provide financial statements, execute payroll accurately and on time, provide donor statements, pay bills or reimburse expenses that I would gladly take that assignment for half what he was paying. He did not appreciate the irony.

And that is my point here today. Price is not the same as cost. The price he was paying his current bookkeeper was a few hundred dollars a month. The cost was:

  1. All the donors/ parishioners who get frustrated and leave.
  2. All the people who don’t meet Jesus because of all the things his church chose not to do because they had no control of their resources.
  3. All the needs that were ignored for the same reason as number 2.
  4. All the disciples that were not made and so on.

When our focus is on making disciples of all people for the transformation of the world (Matthew 28:16-20), then the primary cost to concern ourselves with should be the people who don’t meet Jesus because of the things we choose not to do. This church’s lack of financial control was crippling their mission and outreach efforts. In conducting the business of the church, we need to keep in mind that we are talking about a really big God who says the stars and planets are but vapor in His breath. That’s pretty big. The church incurs a cost because of what we fail to do for Him—a concept whose equivalent in the business realm is known as “opportunity cost,” or the cost of either not doing a thing or doing nothing. This is the true cost of the western church in the last 40 years.

The fact that the leadership of this church did not deal with this problem (for years) had nothing to do with the will of God. They were all in agreement that God wanted the church’s finances to be handled with professionalism and excellence. Their indecision came right down to their not wanting to deal with those who will become upset by the conflict that addressing the matter would probably bring. They kept telling themselves they were being cautious to be wise, but they weren’t wise at all. After all, would Jesus have entered their staff meeting and said, “Please don’t change things. This church has been shrinking for years. Keep it up.”

The biggest cost to most churches in the 21st century is “opportunity cost.” There is no immediate physical cost for doing nothing (in this case they were ignoring a glaring problem). But the ongoing cost that’s accrued by doing nothing is that fewer people come to church, fewer disciples are made, fewer human needs are met, and so forth. When we talk something to death yet do nothing to act on it, we’re accruing “opportunity cost.” Simply put, “opportunity costs” are the things that do not happen because of a course of action not taken. In the past forty years, the Western church has gone from being a leading force in a majority Christian culture to a minority religious sect in a majority secular culture. Is the Church in its current condition because of things it has done over the past 40 years or for things it has not done?

What about your church? Do you spend more time talking about what people inside the church like or don’t like—or what the people outside the church need? Do you expend more energy trying to avoid conflict or trying to change lives? Do you spend more time talking or doing? Every choice has a cost, and every cost has a corresponding return including the choice to do nothing. On which does your church focus? “Return on investment” in the church is best measured by the number of people who meet Jesus and whose lives are changed for the better. Cost should be measured by how many people won’t hear the gospel and whose lives will never change because of the things we in the church choose not to.

Not Until You Walk Across the Street
Not Until You Walk Across the Street 1024 575 The Provisum Group

A very large, prosperous church sits on a street corner in the community where it was planted over 150 years ago. Its beautiful facilities were erected over 80 years ago. The community has built up around the church, now boasting 35,000 homes within a 5-mile radius of the church, all built after the church.

If you are a pastor or church planter, you can hardly help but wonder how many people in that neighborhood attend that church.

It’s an interesting question. The answer could be found by counting the number of addresses within that 5-mile radius that the church has on its database, due to making some kind of connection with the families who live there. Would you guess it would be 50 percent of the nearby families? Or 20 percent? The answer might surprise you.

This question alone makes a pastor or church planter wonder how many churches are reaching the people they think they are reaching. Are they reaching them? How? And if they are not, why?

Some time ago, I was invited to a church leadership meeting to hear a pastor’s vision for the future. His idea was to plant more churches in surrounding towns. This, he explained, would be that church’s primary method for fulfilling the Great Commission and making disciples of all people.

This was extremely interesting to me because I was invited to the meeting as a consultant only because the church’s attendance had shrunk 50 percent in just ten years.

After his presentation, I asked, “How would you get people to attend a new church wherever it may be?”

He said he and his staff were working on a plan that they would share with their leadership “soon.”

Then I asked, “What will you do differently that you’re not currently doing with your existing church?”

He gave a condescending smile and replied, “It’s in ‘the plan.’”

“The plan” never materialized and neither did the vision. Nor did I convince anyone to reach their existing neighborhood, their “Jerusalem,” before exporting what they did to nearby towns, their “Judea” and “Samaria.” Without people at the home church, there would not be adequate resources to plant more churches. And if they were planted, how would they grow if they only planned to do more of the same?

At The Provisum Group, we have an exercise called “100 Houses” through which we do a variation of what was suggested above to find the closest 100 houses to the church and find out if any of them are on the church rolls as members, or as attending anything, ever. We simply take the geographic radius, then use the church database to map the closest households for which there is any contact information at all.

Generally, pastors and leadership teams are surprised by the results. The average church has contact information for just 2.2 percent of the “100 Homes” closest to the church and only 2.4 percent of the 500 closest homes.

For this particular 150-year-old church, we went beyond the “100 Houses” and found 1128 homes within a half-mile of the church. That’s 880 yards. All built generations after the church was established. Our database query was for any contact information at all for those addresses, even if the family or an individual from that address had been involved with the church only one time going back for as long as records had been kept.

Out of 1128 homes, this particular church had contact information, of any kind, for only 32.

In 80 years of existing within walking distance of 1128 homes, this church has connected with 2.84% of those homes at least once.

It is very revealing. When compared to other churches taking that test, that church is above average.

What is the problem? What are we not seeing?

The issue reminds me of a couple I knew in my early twenties who I’ll call Chuck and Mary. Chuck and Mary married just three weeks after they met. There was no convincing either of them of the wisdom of getting to know each other better before marriage. They knew what was necessary and needed no help from anyone. After all, who knew better than them the depth of their love? They were the self-proclaimed subject matter experts.

Six months after the wedding, they announced their plans to build a beautiful home on the waterfront.  For the next three years, every time they were with their friends or family, all we heard about was the “project.”

Every negotiated price, every conflict with a contractor, every zoning challenge, every color choice, all became the fodder of dinner parties and social gatherings. “The project” consumed them. Finally, after three years, the house they loved so much was complete. Chuck and Mary moved into their new fabulous “forever home.”

Ninety days after moving into their new home, Chuck and Mary filed for divorce.

What happened? Chuck and Mary had skipped over a fundamental part of marriage. One could say the most important part of a proposed marriage is getting to know the person you are going to marry and with whom you will spend the rest of your life.

Chuck and Mary busied themselves so much with the house project that they could ignore what they both knew. They had not done the work they needed to do to be effective at being married.  Their new home became a monument to the fundamental truth they ignored and was the lie they told themselves to avoid facing that truth.

When we look at the dropping rates of church attendance and membership, it is apparent that the Church (capital C, meaning Church universal) has not effectively done the work God has called us to do.

How can we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and ignore His most basic direction to go and make disciples of all people – including the neighborhood in which the congregation resides? How can a church plant a new church if the congregation of that same church will not walk across the street and introduce themselves?

God did not tell the neighborhood to go to church. God told the Church to go to the neighborhood.

Church planting is a crucial part of God’s plan to evangelize the world, if not “the” crucial part. Many astute church planters first identify segments of a population not currently being served by an existing church. But the church that cannot reach the 98 percent of its own neighborhood is not the church that can instruct a church planter on how to reach a new neighborhood. Let’s not export mediocrity to new churches and young church planters.

We must think of the resources it takes to plant a church, in terms of time, energy, volunteers, and money. We must consider how we will staff it, promote it, and fill it.

What if a church, any church, took one-third of the resources they would be willing to use to start a new church and dedicated those same resources to connecting with their own neighborhood? Which would have the most beneficial effect?

Sure, our present society might need more churches. Even more, we need more people in the churches that already exist being made into disciples who will be trained and go out to teach others, who will teach even more, for the transformation of the world.

We need effective churches much more than we need new churches. If our churches are more effective, the new churches will spring up from the trained disciples who cannot wait to go tell others the Good News.

What about your church?

When was the last time your leadership sat down and made a plan to meet and connect with the neighborhood around it and then executed the plan? When was the last time anyone from your church walked across the street and knocked on a door? How can we love our neighbor as ourselves if we don’t even know their name?

Can I make a simple suggestion? Commit to starting no new ministries until people from your church have knocked on the door of the 100 homes closest to your church, have collected the resident’s contact information, and invited your own neighbors to join you in church.

I think what you will learn is that your church needs a rekindled commitment to fulfilling the great commission, not by newer, bigger plans, but by talking to a neighbor about Jesus. I promise you, when you talk about Jesus, God will show up. He promised (Matt 28: 16-20).


One Good Thing that Came From COVID-19
One Good Thing that Came From COVID-19 1024 683 The Provisum Group

Just so we are all on the same page. Covid-19 is a bad thing. Period. Sickness. Death. Quarantine. Closed churches. Masks. Isolation. Evictions. Divorces. Child abuse. Drug abuse. It is all bad. Unemployment is up. The economy is down. By just about any perceivable measure, Covid-19 is bad. And the Church overall suffered devastating effects.

The Church in America has always been an in-person endeavor. While the Church’s power comes from Christ through the Holy Spirit, on earth one of the Church’s greatest resources is relationship and connection which thrives best in-person, face-to-face. Since Covid-19, the Church has been forced to make our way in a virtual world and many churches were not ready.

Once the pandemic started, churches were immediately faced with taking their in-person, face-to-face community and making it virtual. In the first weeks of Covid-19, hundreds of churches called us at The Provisum Group asking us to help them “get online.” Many of them had no website or social media.

While virtual church will never be as meaningful as in-person ministry, for many people virtual church is becoming the “new normal.” How can poorly equipped churches respond to this?

The average church in America (pre-COVID) gets about 90 people in worship each week and has an annual budget of about $185,000. Most churches don’t have the resources or local talent pool to hire seasoned professionals with decades of church experience to spend on non-ministerial functions.

Churches are often relegated to delegating important business and administrative functions as secondary responsibilities to people who are willing to do the job but often lack the experience, passion, and/or training to perform these secondary functions well.

For example, a worship leader is asked to lead communications for the church. A receptionist is asked to keep the church’s books. A volunteer is asked to develop a website. Many churches choose to “settle” for less than ideal staffing solutions because they see no other choice.

Most ministry jobs are best done face-to-face. Running a children’s ministry is very difficult to do virtually. We certainly cannot clean and maintain the church building via Zoom.

Some ministry jobs don’t have to be done on-site. Some church jobs don’t require a physical presence at all. Jobs like accounting, information technology, human resources, communications, web and app development, SEO, and graphic design are all jobs that can be done while never stepping foot on a church campus.

Herein lies the opportunity.

Living in a pandemic has taught the church how to operate virtually. We had to adapt. Most of us had no choice. Living through Covid-19 has shown us we can do it. So why not hire the best people we can, and stop insisting they come to a “church office”?

What’s stopping a church from hiring the best web developer or SEO manager it can afford? Why not hire a communication manager who has helped grow churches all over the country? Why not hire a bookkeeper who understands clergy compensation and designated funding?

I would estimate that most churches probably need a six-figure CFO about two hours a year. So why not hire that CFO for those two hours? But people in your area who are good at what they do usually have jobs. Most do not have experience managing church functions. And yet there are people dotted all over the country who have performed these business and administrative functions for churches for decades. They probably don’t live in your town, but who cares anymore?

A “gig economy” means temporary positions are filled by independent workers for short commitments. The term “gig” was popularized by musicians. Pre-COVID, a “gig economy” was viewed as a failure of the marketplace. Post-COVID, businesses are working virtual more and therefore rethinking their long-term hiring strategies.

One group of people has collectively turned the “gig economy” into an economic opportunity. That is, skilled and experienced administrative and business professionals. Many of these professionals are exchanging expensive metropolitan communities, ten-hour workdays, and two-hour daily commutes for virtual work that can be done anywhere. Given a choice, many professionals find serving causes they are passionate about and living where they want (and can afford) far preferable to their pre-COVID grind.

I think it is pivot time for churches. It’s time to take advantage of opportunities rather than suffer from distresses. Think about it. Would you rather hire a skilled and experienced professional who is passionate about the cause of Christ? Or a skilled worship leader who has to conduct various duties for which he or she has little experience and less passion? The latter is a recipe for burn-out and turnover.

Skilled and seasoned professionals who love the Church and have passion for Christ’s cause are out there. They have the skills and experience to successfully navigate the administrative and business challenges your church or ministry is facing. Finding them takes some out-of-the-box thinking and a little commitment. But finding the right person could change your ministry forever.

The Greatest Church Outreach Opportunity in Centuries
The Greatest Church Outreach Opportunity in Centuries 970 646 The Provisum Group

“…explore the land of Canaan that I am giving to the Israelites.”

We read these words in the 13th chapter of Numbers.  Just eleven months earlier, God caused Pharaoh to release the Jewish people after 400 years in bondage.  Miracle after miracle. Plagues.  Pestilence.  The parting of a sea.  Food from heaven and water from rocks.  All of this manifested by God and experienced first-hand by the Jewish people.

In eleven short months, 600,000 Israelites walked across a desert to arrive well-fed and well-kept at the land God promised them.  The land that “flowed with milk and honey” was theirs.  All they had to do was walk in and possess it.  Instead, they complained about the fortifications and powerful armies.  They spread rumors of giants and told lies about their leaders.  The people wanted to go back to Egypt.  They wanted to go back to the way things had always been. That made God angry. So God sent the Israelites back into the desert for forty years so the generation of people who doubted the God who brought them out of bondage would pass away and never inherit the Promised Land.

But Moses was silent.

I wonder what would have happened if Moses would have said “People! We’re doing this.” I wonder what would have happened if Moses had just walked into the land and said “This is ours now.”  Would God have shown up?

It could be said that the Church in America has been in a spiritual desert for the past forty years.  We all know it.  Thirty churches a day in America close their doors forever. Thirty a day!  Now, almost all church doors are locked shut because of a worldwide pandemic. As we navigate this once in a century pandemic, do we see the very hand of God in our midst or do we see declining attendance and shrinking budgets?  Do we want to embrace precipice to which God has brought us or do we want to go back to the way things were.  Are we looking at the promise and power of a good God or are we staring into the abyss of our own weakness and selfishness?

I choose the former and by doing so I must look for God’s hand in the current spiritual desert the Church finds itself.  What is the Church’s “land of milk and honey”?  What would that look like?  In the Church’s Land of Milk and Honey, the church would just open its doors and the community would show up, smiling from ear to ear. They would walk in with grateful hearts just because we opened our doors.  They would thank us for the good we are doing.  They would tell us how we have helped change their lives for the better.  They would see Jesus in us and want to meet Him.  That certainly would be “The Promise Land.”  I want that.

I think that like the Jewish people of three millennia ago, the Church finds herself at the gates of the Promise Land.  Yes, even in a pandemic or even because of it.  I think we could be looking at the greatest evangelistic and outreach opportunity in centuries.  Think about this:

A worldwide pandemic, unlike anything most of us have ever seen, has shut down much of our society.  Very soon, each community will have to decide whether or not to reopen their schools for the coming school year.  If the schools don’t open, how will people go to work? Working people need the schools to open so they can earn a living and feed their families.  It is reasonable to believe that millions of households are seriously worried about this prospect right now.  Rightfully so.

If the schools are going to open and also be socially responsible, they have to socially distance the students and teachers.  As such, they are going to need a lot more classroom space than they currently have.  Yet, in every community in America there are churches with classroom space sitting idle during school hours every school day.

Now imagine that your church allows your local schools to use your space.  You open your doors to the children of your community.  The whole community is going to say “That church is going to do what?  Thank God!”  Many in your community would be truly praising God for the first time in a long time and they would be praising Him because of the generosity and grace of your church. Their prayers have been answered!  “The schools have opened and I can go to work.”  Every day they will show up at your church feeling blessed as they drop off their children.  Walking through your doors with big smiles on their faces thanking God and praising Him for your church.  They will see your people living their faith fearlessly with great generosity.  Every day!  When have you ever experienced anything like this?  When will the opportunity to bless an entire community just by opening our doors ever happen again?

But like the Hebrews of Numbers 13, we have to trust God.  God did not ask the Israelites to fight giants or siege fortified cities.  God said “Go in and possess the land I have promised you.”  All God asked them to do was walk in and trust Him to take care of everything else.  But the people were afraid.

What if Moses ignored the naysayers and sceptics? What if Moses just walked in to Canaan and said “This is ours now.”?  What if every pastor and ministry leader in America trusted God enough to call up the superintendent of their local school district and say “How would you like some free classroom space?”

But Moses was silent.

Is She “Allowed” in Your Church?
Is She “Allowed” in Your Church? 960 640 The Provisum Group

I recently met a young woman I’ll call Katie. She is 23 years old and a single mom. She has two sons by two different fathers. She lives alone and struggles to put food on the table and a roof over their head. She is also a repeated victim of domestic violence.

Katie asked me an odd question. She asked if I knew of a church that would “allow” her to attend. I asked her why she thought some churches would not allow her to attend. She told me she had never been baptized and she also could not afford to pay the “ten percent dues.” I asked her why she thinks baptism and tithing are required to attend a church. She said “That’s what I heard.” So Katie and I had about a 90-minute conversation. I learned a lot about her and the communities of faith in my own home town.

I learned that Katie grew up in my town. She went to high school with my kids. I also learned that everything Katie knew about faith and communities of faith she learned from the culture.

Katie did not know what salvation was and that she could have eternal life. She did not know that Jesus died on a cross for her. She did not know that Jesus rose from the dead and lives today. She had never heard about Moses, Abraham, David, Peter or Paul. She did not know what Pentecost is, Advent, or Lent. She could not name an apostle or a book of the Bible.

As troubling as this is, what is more concerning is what she thought she knew. She thought/knew that “some” churches hate gay people, women, minorities and immigrants. She thought/knew that some churches require ten percent of her income to attend and others would not let her speak because she is a woman.

How could this be? She grew up in the same town as me and my family. She went to the same schools as my kids and knew many of the same people. And yet she had this perverted view of the Church. How could this be? It’s simple:

The culture is lying well and the Church is telling the truth badly.

I live in a town of about 40,000 people. In this town there are 43 churches. At least that is how many I counted in the phone book. And Katie did not know one believer. No one had ever told her about Jesus and His saving grace. She did not have a single positive impression or anecdote of the body of Christ all the while surrounded by people and churches where “everyone is welcome” and who say they love Jesus.

I think we are all pretty familiar with how the culture is “lying well.” But how is the Church “telling the truth badly”?

If Katie lived in your town (and there are Katies in every town), how would your church and Katie connect? How is your church “reaching out” to Katie? How is your church living the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all people? Sitting alone in her apartment, lonely and scared, how would your church let Katie know she is loved?

How do we solve it?

Look at all of your church’s communication and connection channels. Which ones are designed to reach and connect with Katie? If she is not on your mailing list, how would she read your newsletter? If she did not attend a worship service, how would she see your church bulletin? Hear the announcements? Meet the people at your connection center?

If Katie did show up, how would you know? Whose job was it this past Sunday to reach out and connect with Katie? If Katie did not make the first move (assuming she knew what move to make), how would your church find Katie and connect with her?

For most churches in America, the answer to the above questions is “We wouldn’t.” The truth is most churches quit reaching out years ago and don’t even know it.

How can that be true?

As much as we might hate to admit it, the odds are pretty good that there is a Katie living in the neighborhood around your church. She can see your church from her front door. She is desperate and your church can help her if you will just reach out to her.

Katie needs to connect with the body of Christ now. So reach out to her now.

Jesus promised to be with us as we go and make disciples of all people. He promised us and He empowered us. We have to make the first move. We have to reach out first. We have to find Katie. We have to go. We have to do something and we have to do it first.

So what do we do and how do we do it? I implore you to do something. Do anything. If you don’t know where to start, I suggest you pick up a copy of the best-selling book Connect. In it, you will find 28 things you can do that will help you reach out and connect with Katie. You will find 28 things your church can do right now to find Katie and reach out to her. The book even offers to give you your money back if you try it and your church doesn’t grow.

Jesus promised if the Church would make the first move to “Go and make disciples of all people,” He would go with us; always and forever. I’m going to reach out to Katie today. I’m going to help her find a church (I’ll probably start with mine). What about you?

This post originally ran in Church Growth Magazine where Don Corder is a contributing author.

The IRS made changes that will probably cost pastors and ministry leaders money
The IRS made changes that will probably cost pastors and ministry leaders money 1024 682 The Provisum Group

While the world was counting down to the New Year, the Internal Revenue Service was making changes to the US tax code that could take money out of the pockets of pastors and ministry leaders.

In addition to regular annual adjustment that we expect to see, they made a change that affects almost every person who drives their personal vehicle as part of their job and that can affect a number of pastors.

For the first time in four years the IRS lowered the standard mileage rate, from $0.58 per mile to $0.575 per mile. As the bookkeepers for churches and charities all across the United States, we see a number of ministries reimbursing their pastors and lay leaders for their ministry-related trips like when the pastor conducts visitation or when the youth leader drives to the annual service trip on the other side of the state.

While you as an individual can not deduct the mileage from your taxes, your ministry is allowed to reimburse you up to but not to exceed the standard rate (for example at The Provisum Group, we reimburse at $0.50 per mile). I would recommend taking some time to review your current reimbursement policies and make sure that you are in compliance with the new rules.

If you are in need of help with your bookkeeping or setting policies for your ministry, give us a call at The Provisum Group. Our CPA lead team of accountants can help make sure you are complying with state and federal laws as well as give you peace of mind that your books are true and correct. You can contact us HERE to learn more.

Raise More Money
Raise More Money 1024 682 The Provisum Group

Remember that during His earthly ministry, Jesus talked more about money than He did about heaven or hell. We aren’t afraid to ask people to love their neighbor, to serve others, or to read their Bibles. We just don’t want to ask them to give money. Money is important to God for only one reason—because it’s one of our most precious tangible possessions.  

In Old Testament times, people had to sacrifice a fatted calf or a lamb or a dove as “payment” for their sins. Today, we don’t need to purchase salvation or forgiveness; but God does want us to have enough faith to give freely of our precious possessions, our money, to those in need and toward the advancement of His kingdom on earth. 

So how do we cultivate the kind of attitude toward money that reflects the Jesus way? 

God asks us for a modest 10 percent of our income. If He asked for 1 percent, we wouldn’t notice it much. Giving 50 percent would be a heavy load. Ten percent is enough to make us swallow hard but not enough to break the bank. We don’t lose our “stuff”—our car, our house, our pantry. Giving 10 percent is a huge step of faith when you start, but then it grows your faith. 

As part of your church leadership team, you need to trust God enough to risk failure. Only 2 percent of Americans actually tithe based on their gross income (before taxes). So, what do you do? Trust God enough to risk failure. Either God is who He says He is, or He isn’t. Either God’s Word is true, or it is not. 

Being faithful to this part of God’s Word makes the church blessed. Raising money fearlessly is part of spreading the gospel. The apostle Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). So, why would you or any Christian leader be ashamed to ask people for a tithe? 

God handed down 613 laws in the Old Testament, some of them as detailed as specifying how one ought to wash his body. And keeping those laws was so difficult, people had to really want to obey. It took a great deal of faith to keep all those laws.  

In the New Testament, God set us free from those requirements. But the desire to obey is still paramount. Giving our tithes and offerings today, we have to really want to obey God. God doesn’t want our money. He just wants our willingness to trust Him enough to part with it.

The Truth About Connecting with Newcomers
The Truth About Connecting with Newcomers 1024 710 The Provisum Group

You can’t pastor a church, own a company, or be a boss and not have some mercy and grace in your heart. People make mistakes, but people are all we have, so we learn how to accommodate the frailties. And yet, at some point, someone in your organization has to care about quality and reputation. Someone has to make sure your church is doing what it says it will do. Someone has to make sure we are working the plan and connecting with people. Someone has to check the process.

Today, many people come to church not because they have to, but because they are at a vulnerable and susceptible place in their lives. They’re probably more ready than they’ve ever been to accept the gospel message and dedicate their lives to Jesus. We cannot afford to have someone on our team not get the message and the actions of the church right.

One of the first things I do when I start helping a church is get on their website and sign up for communications with a special e-mail account I keep for this purpose. You would be amazed at how many churches have no mechanism for connecting with people on their website. Every so often, I check that e-mail account to see what the church has been communicating. I want to know: Have they been faithful? Are they doing what they need to do? You might be surprised how often I receive nothing or what I do receive reminds me that I am an “outsider.” I recommend you do this for your own church, but don’t stop there. Get someone to “secret shop” your church for you.

We typically send groups of people to pose as visitors to test how a church connects with the neighborhood and community. We capture the visit on video and complete an exhaustive report on the experience (Go to www.TheProvisumGroup.com/VisitorAudit to download a copy of the Provisum visitor report). Before we go, I ask the pastor what we will experience when we visit the church. Most of the time, we do not experience what the pastor thought we would experience. The way we interpret this is that either the team is not doing what the pastor has instructed them to do, or the pastor does not know what the people are doing. Either way, it’s a problem.

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how hard we have to work to connect with the churches we visit. One of our “must dos” on these visits is we cannot leave until someone writes down our contact information. More times than not, we have to ask an untrained and unsuspecting volunteer if we can leave our contact info and request to be contacted by a staff or clergy member. About a third of the time, we have to walk through the church looking for someone to whom we can make such a request. This is what I call “somebody is having a nice day.” They are just not doing their job. And we still wonder why our churches are not growing.

One time, we sent a team to another state to visit the second largest church in a denomination. We had seven people: a couple in their fifties, a young couple in their twenties with two small children, and a single man in his twenties. I had already heard from the pastor what he expected us to experience on our visit. True to form, they had thousands of attendees but still managed to do a wonderful job bringing us in. The facilities were modern. People were friendly and talked to us. The worship was outstanding. Then the pastor stood in the pulpit and told the newcomers that right outside the door, we would find people waiting to connect with us at the “welcome center.”

The seven of us had come at different times, through different doors, and sat in different areas. We went out through different doors looking for the welcome center. There was no welcome center. There was a big sign over a small desk that said, “Connection Center.” As well-churched people, it was reasonable to assume that “Welcome Center” and “Connection Center” were the same thing. (They were.) What is not reasonable is to assume that newcomers, unchurched and undisciplined people, would know that a welcome center and connection center are the same thing.

As we joined each other one by one, we formed a line in front of a small desk with some dated literature about the church. One of us had a hidden video camera and recorded it. That’s how we know that we stood there for thirteen minutes. The reason we stood there for thirteen minutes was that no one was staffing the connection center. Then one of us noticed a small sign instructing us that in the event there was no one to greet us at the “Welcome Center” to please fill out the visitor “Welcome Survey” and someone would be in contact with us “soon.” I immediately noticed two things: 1. There were filled-out surveys from the previous week still lying on the desk and 2. The box labeled “Visitor Survey” was empty.

As we stood there, thousands of people poured out of the worship center doors and walked around us to leave the building. No one showed up at the connection center. No one stopped to help us. No one noticed that a volunteer position was not filled at the connection center. The next week, when we reported our experience to the pastor, he was shocked.

Pastor: “How could this happen?”

Me: “I suggest we ask the person who is responsible for outreach and connection.”

Pastor: “I’m not sure who that is.”

Me: “That’s how it happened.”

When managing people or process, there is one truth I am sure of: You get what you inspect, not what you expect. If you inspect little, expect less. This is one truth every pastor or ministry leader needs to own. Few if any people will care more about your ministry or the people and community you have been called to serve, than you. People need to see you care. They need to see you care enough to follow up and verify that people are being served and that people are doing what they say they will do.

When people’s eternal souls are in the balance, you need to know.

Define Your Brand
Define Your Brand 1024 683 The Provisum Group

When we talk about your church’s “brand,” we are not talking about a logo, a slogan, or a mission statement. Your brand is what you want your saints and disciples to say to their friends and neighbors. Your brand is what you want the community and the neighborhood to say about your church.  

A typical church branding statement could be: “Green Park Fellowship is committed to making fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.” That sounds like a short, crisp statement that anyone in the church could memorize, right? Now imagine one of your life group leaders looking over the fence as her neighbor is weeding a flowerbed and saying, “Hey, you need to come to our church because we’re committed to making fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ!” The best response your leader would probably get is a hollow stare and a weak nod. That’s not our desired result, is it? Undiscipled people aren’t scrambling for reasons to get up on Sunday mornings and become devoted Christ followers.  

Defining your brand is done by creating messaging and moments that cause people to say things behind your back that you want them to say.

One church we work with has a committee-created, church-body-approved statement that cannot be changed. It is also so lengthy and cumbersome, it cannot be used. We solved that communication problem by creating an internal branding statement that no one will ever see written. It wasn’t adopted by a committee nor printed into the church by-laws. It isn’t framed on a wall in the church office. The “branding” is simply this: “It’s that really big church with all those nice people who do all that really cool stuff.”  

In communications, whether this church is loading up a truck of young people to help flood victims or hosting a Parent’s Day Out, all of their communication is weighed against this message: that big church full of nice people who do cool stuff. We’ve so permeated their communications with this message that now the saints and disciples tell their friends, “Come with me! You’ll love all these really nice people. And they do such cool stuff.” The result is that the community and neighborhood see that congregation as the big church with the nice people who take care of other people and do cool stuff.  

Back in the 1990s there was a book by Steven Covey called 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the chapters was titled “Start with the End in Mind.” Author Steven Covey challenged readers to decide what we want on their tombstones. He encouraged the reader to consider what they wanted their epitaph to be. I’ll tell you mine:

“Here lies a man of integrity and respect. He loved his God. He loved his family. He loved his fellow man and he always tried to do his best.”  

Now, how am I going to get that on my tombstone? I’m going to have to live it every day of my life in front of everyone I meet.  

An epitaph is something that is said when you’re gone. Same with branding. What do you want the neighborhood and community to say about your church behind your back? Your branding statement, whether only used internally or emblazoned on the wall, challenges you to live up to it every day. Create the message and live the message. That’s how your church is going to get the reputation (or brand) it wants.

Most churches create a committee that ends up with a wordy statement, often just to accommodate the thoughts and feelings of the people in the room tasked with coming up with the statement. The statement may please the ear, but does it connect with people? If you’re a communications leader or pastor and for some reason you’re unable to change the mission or vision statements of your church, you can still write one that works for you. One church we work with started with this committee-driven statement, “We are Christ followers who care enough to share truth, show grace, and shine love to our community; and an evangelistic force, equipped and spiritually educated, to impact culture beyond the walls of the church to all people everywhere.” This is a fine thing to aspire to be. There’s nothing wrong with any of those words. You just can’t very well say that to the neighbor over the fence. It doesn’t connect.  

As you work through your branding, keep your statement short. I advocate making statements no longer than a haiku poem—17 syllables. One organization we worked with had a pretty wordy branding statement that had included things they were against. What they were for and what they were against were really good things. There was nothing theologically wrong with it. But in the end, we simplified it to “God is good. He is who He says He is and His Word is true.”  

Define Your Brand

Have a discussion with a leader or staff member about specific ways they see your church living the brand. If you don’t have a branding statement, start a discussion about what your church would like people to say about it behind its back.

Community Connections on a Budget: 3 Steps
Community Connections on a Budget: 3 Steps 1024 683 The Provisum Group

In order to grow, one thing has to happen: The church has to interact with more people. Then we need to connect with those people by capturing their contact info and then reaching out to them.

The order of discipleship in today’s world is: Connect, Evangelize, Convert. In most cases, the neighborhood is not going to be evangelized until they’ve first connected. To fulfill the mission to make disciples, people are the “raw material” needed. No people, no disciples. When you’re on a limited budget or have few resources, then for the time and money invested, you want to make as many connections with as many people as possible.

In order to analyze the ability to make connections, one of the first questions I ask a church I’m serving is, “How many names are on your database?” This is not a membership or money question. It’s an evangelism question. The answer indicates how engaged the church is with the community and neighborhood. If a church that gets 200 for worship has 400 names on the database, it’s not doing much to engage the neighborhood.

Generally speaking, a church needs about two to three times as many names on their database as they get in worship just to support worship attendance. Why? Because, statistically speaking, for every unique individual who visits your church more than once a month, about 3.43 unique individuals attend less than once a month. If that same church with 200 in worship was doing a decent job of evangelizing the neighborhood and creating community, I would expect them to have 1,000 – 1,200 names on their database. The database represents real people. Connecting with those people is how churches grow.

Let me give you three steps to extending yourself into the community—whether or not you have any budget:

STEP ONE: Hold a Reach Event

To grow your people connections, you have to capture names from the neighborhood, meaning the people all around you for whom you have no contact information. To “reach” the neighborhood you have to invite the neighborhood to “come” and “connect” by using media such as signs, door hangers, advertisements, social media, target marketing or knocking on doors. To invite the neighborhood, you have to have something to invite them to. I call what you invite them to “reach events.” What makes a “reach event” unique is using media to reach people for whom you have no contact info. I recommend reach events be non-religious—and involve food. Non-religious because we want people who live far from Jesus to come. Food because everyone eats and likes good food.

How much you spend on your “party” or “reach event” depends on your budget. If your church has a large outreach budget, you can do just about anything: a chili cook-off, a carnival, a car show. Let’s say the church has no money and no young people. That church can have a Parent’s Day Out or Date Night and let the young parents in the neighborhood drop off their children for a couple of hours with kindly grandparents at the church to watch them. Or, you can show the movie Dumbo or Cinderella in the sanctuary for the kids and grill some burgers in the parking lot, so the young parents can sit around, drink sweet tea, relax, and meet each other.

One of my favorite neighborhood reach events for a church on a tight budget is a food truck festival. You invite a conglomeration of food trucks to your parking lot and let them set up shop. Food truck festivals are fun for the whole family and appeal to a wide spectrum of people. Even better, food trucks will partially pay you back a percent of their revenue for the day. Many of them won’t end up paying you the full amount owed, so you have to go into it with your eyes open. But because you get some return income, a food truck festival is less expensive than other kinds of parties. Your expenses will involve a generator, some porta-potties, whatever name-capture materials you may need, and some advertising. (The Provisum Group can help you get door hangers to canvas the neighborhood for a few pennies per household.)

STEP TWO: Ask Your Neighbors for Their Contact Information

Your reach event needs to be FREE to the neighborhood, but you want to capture names. To do that for large events like a car show, we suggest you place orange vinyl construction fencing around the entire party and create “choke points” — openings in the fence that people will funnel through. Make as many entrances as you can adequately staff for the entire day, so the neighborhood doesn’t get discouraged by long lines or tempted to hop the fence. At the entrances, your smiling gatekeepers will offer a paper wristband to attendees once they have texted a number you’ve set up ahead of time, or written down their e-mail address or signed up on the church app. I’ve seen a food truck festival result in as many as 3,000 new names in a day.

STEP THREE: Contact Them

In the first thirty-six hours after your reach event, you can expect thirty to forty percent of the people whose names you collected to unsubscribe or bounce (fake e-mail addresses). But sixty to seventy percent won’t. That group is your target for follow-up. Remember what happened on the Day of Pentecost. We are making a crowd out of a crowd (Acts 2). Make sure you have a prerecorded video ready to go thanking them for coming to your event and inviting them to the next worship service or at least an email, text, or message from your church app. Also, make sure you have a group of volunteers standing by to input all the new contact info you collected into your database and/or your e-mail platform. Then start sending them your weekly e-newsletter.

Case Study of a Dying Church That Held a Reach Event

How this works in real life is best illustrated by a wonderful story that happened to a dying suburban church. Back in the 1950s and 60s, this neighborhood church grew to about 400-500 in worship. That was a huge church in those days. When I was called in a few years ago, which was more than forty years after their peak, the church was down to about sixty people in worship, mostly seniors, and the church was broke. They didn’t have a website or social media. They didn’t even have a spreadsheet with members’ names. Nothing had changed year after year except for when a parishioner died. Over the years, their predominantly white middle-class neighborhood had become an ethnically mixed, working-class neighborhood of young families of a different race. The church had never adjusted to the times. Now they had a huge gap generationally, racially, and culturally with their neighborhood.

The pastor wanted to know what to do, so I told him to go out and find $500. He couldn’t imagine how he could find $500 from his members. I advised him, “You cannot be certain that there are not ten saints who have been praying for revival in this church for the last thirty years. Find them and ask them for the money.” He did. They gave. With the money, we had a huge vinyl sign made very inexpensively, white with big dark blue letters that spelled out “FREE COOKOUT THIS FRIDAY.” The church was geographically situated so everyone in the neighborhood had to pass by the church to get in and out of the neighborhood. We moved the sign around for a week to face different directions in order to ensure everyone saw it.

That Friday, the church brought in someone’s grill, got some hamburgers and hot dogs, and had ten of the saints on hand just to love the people who came. The first night, fifteen people showed up for free food, mostly young parents and some kids. Seeing who he’d attracted, the pastor asked for another $500 to purchase basketball hoops. When he got to church on the following Sunday, someone had already put up the hoops in the parking lot. The church kept advertising their free food nights and started a three-on-three pick-up basketball tournament. It grew. Today, every Wednesday night the church has 80 to 100 people come for a free meal, basketball (weather permitting), and a short Bible study.

Next, we helped with their website, name capture and e-welcome series. An e-welcome series (sometimes called a “drip campaign”) is three to five pre-produced e-mails, with video if you can do it, thanking people for coming and highlighting the ministry’s best attributes.

Today, that church has a spreadsheet with about 1,000 names. But that’s not all they have. One Sunday, a check for $15,000 landed in the offering plate. In the notes section on the check were two words: “Well done!” They hadn’t had air conditioning in fifteen years, but they were able to get it working. Then another big check landed in the offering plate. They opened an area of the church that had once been used for children’s ministry but had been locked and chained off because of mold—and no need for it since no one with children attended. They got a work crew after it with bleach and paint. Suddenly young families started showing up on Sundays. The next Easter, they had a neighborhood Easter egg hunt with over 500 kids participating. Today they have two weekly worship services and a Wednesday night fellowship and Bible study. They’re still growing, and they’ve also managed to put $100,000 in the bank. Their average attendance on Sunday mornings is 150 people of all backgrounds and ages.

A final note about free food: One church we serve is a fast-growing urban congregation. They shut down their free food pantry because they realized it communicated the opposite of what the church stood for. What the church thought it was saying was, “We care about you.” But what the neighborhood was hearing was, “You think I’m poor because I’m _______.” (You can fill in the blank with anything.) The food bank in the recipients’ minds underscored their perceived lot in life. Instead, the church started a community meal once a week. It took off. The message the church now sends is, “We care about you so much that we want to invite you over for dinner and get to know you.” And by the way, they are fast-growing because they are stringent about capturing names and follow-up.

Remember, to grow your church you have to meet new people and invite them to come. Then you need to get them to connect. Reach events are the best way to do both.

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