Archive for category Leadership
When I started talking about writing a book on small groups, I often encountered a reaction that went like this: “Really, another small group book? What else is there to say?” Truth be told, I would have thought the exact same thing. People who are smarter and more experienced than me had written really great books. What was left to say?
Then, I began to notice some things in the church world. These weren’t hidden things, but there were certainly needs. This is why I wrote Exponential Groups.
I Saw Pastors Who Were Stuck.
Some of these pastors had tried groups and failed. I’ve been there. Others connected 30 percent of their congregations into groups, then once they had the low hanging fruit, they began to spin their wheels. I’ve also been there. Others were stuck at 50 percent, and then others were stuck at 65 percent. Quite a few had topped 100 percent of their congregation in groups for a church-wide study, but then watched their numbers slide once the series was over. That doesn’t feel very good. I’ve had that feeling too.
I remember reading about a chef (stay with me), who through all of his failures and frustrations learned to not only properly make sauces, but also to teach others to make sauces. If the trainee’s sauce didn’t turn out correctly, then the chef knew exactly where the young cook had made the mistake, because the chef had failed at every point of making the sauce himself over the years. This is how I feel about groups ministry.
I remember launching 10 groups in January 1994 and seeing them all end in December 1994. I know exactly why that happened. The same for getting stuck with only 30 percent of our adults in groups after seven years of building groups. (By the way, 30 percent is a very common place for groups to get stuck). And, I have stories for every other place listed above. What I’ve discovered is my education in the school of hard knocks as well as working through the frustration that eventually helped me find success is the most valuable thing I can give any pastor and church. It’s very gratifying to me to watch what was once my ceiling become other pastors’ floors.
I Saw Christians Who Were Comfortable.
Back when we invited people to seeker services, often we encouraged folks to “Sit back, relax, and enjoy the service.” When we eventually came around to ask these folks to serve, we discovered they had taken us up on our offer to get comfortable at church. While this isn’t true of every church and every believer, it is true of many. Comfort prevents growth — personal growth, ministry growth, and church growth.
For the most part people grow when they are going through a painful circumstance or when they take a risk. Let’s face it: we are all more motivated to pray while we’re facing a problem than when things are calm. I quickly realized that Discipleship through Suffering was not going to catch on very quickly. But, what if we challenged people to take a risk? Could they leave their comfort and try something a little risky for a short period of time? More people jumped at the opportunity than I thought possible. There is a way to grow your church and grow your people without wrecking the whole thing.
I Saw a Sleeping Giant and a World in Need.
Our guests became an audience. Audiences must be entertained or else they will find another church that is more entertaining. It’s as if the American church has retired.
Francis Chan said the American church is not “good soil,” but is really “thorny ground.” We live in an age of constant distraction. It’s an era of convenience. Even though people are busy by their own choice, what they invest their lives in typically has little to do with the Kingdom. Why?
For one, they may not know and understand the significance of God’s work. But, as Chris Hodges, pastor of Church of the Highlands, Birmingham, AL said this last week at the ARC conference, “Growth is not an option as long as Heaven and Hell are realities.” But, this leads to another problem — many Christians perceive ministry as another thing to add on to their already busy lives. They just don’t have time. But, what if ministry could be done with the friends they have during the activities they are already doing? Where’s the excuse?
Well, then they might say, “I’m not a leader. I’m not a teacher.” Give them a video-based curriculum. They don’t have to be the teacher, and you don’t have to worry about what they might teach a group of friends. The teaching came from you. If they can gather their friends for the video teaching, then they are leaders whether they give themselves that title or not.
Audiences must be entertained. But, what if we saw our church members as an army? An army must be equipped and empowered. An army must be led. What if we could awaken the sleeping giant of the American church, call them out of retirement, and give them new marching orders? What if they began to depend on God and each other instead of borrowing from their pastors’ spirituality?
If you’re willing to try something new, I wrote a book for you.
By Allen White
Steve Merriman is the CEO and Enrolled Agent at Clergy Advantage, Loveland, CO. Steve has worked with ministers and churches for 40 years and works with over 6,000 ministers including Rick Warren, Saddleback Church; Rick Rusaw, LifeBridge Christian Church; Tim Harlow, Parkview Christian Church; and Nelson Searcy, The Journey Church. You can connect with Steve and his staff at clergyadvantage.com.
Q1. Now that everyone is in a festive mood and ready to celebrate the birth of our Savior, let’s talk about taxes. With just a few days left in the year, what can pastors do right now to reduce their taxes for 2016?
Ministers can save a considerable amount by reviewing their housing allowance designations to make sure it’s adequate. The rule of thumb is to make it higher than what you think you’re going to spend. If you spend more than the designation on housing, you’ll lose out on big deductions.
Other ways to save and reduce tax liability before the end of the year would include contributions to an HSA or a retirement plan. Probably the easiest way to save is through a charitable contribution. As long as the check or credit card date is in 2016, you get the deduction in 2016. People are allowed to give cash contributions up to 50% of their adjusted gross income. Any excess contributions can carry over for 5 additional years.
Q2. Ministers’ taxes are not like anybody else’s taxes. What makes ministers’ taxes so unique?
There are four unique tax rules for ministers’ taxes:
(1) Ministers are completely exempt from all payroll tax. The minister (not the church) is responsible for taxes. Ministers can enter into a voluntary withholding arrangement with the church, but this is matter of convenience, but not a requirement.
(2) Ministers are entitled to a housing allowance exclusion. The amount designated for your Housing Allowance can have a dramatic impact on your tax savings. As I said before, the minister wants to set the housing allowance higher than what they plan to use in case of unforeseen housing expenses or repairs. If a portion of the housing allowance is not used for housing, then that amount will be taxed as regular income.
(3) Dual employment status – Ninety percent of ministers are considered common law employees for state and Federal income tax, but are deemed as self-employed for social security tax. Minister receive a W2 which reports their income, but they have to pay self-employment tax on the income.
(4) Opting out of social security on ministry income. Ministers for religious reasons are allowed to opt out of social security. This is a decision that must be made early on in their ministry.
There are many ways pastors can receive what we call “Tax-Free Money.” For an overview of these strategies, take a look at the “Tax-Free Money for Ministers” video on the website.
Q3. What could pastors do to save taxes in 2017 that they might not be doing now?
Ministers should implement an Accountable Reimbursement Plan for ministry income. There are huge advantages. If you utilize it correctly, you get all of the ministry expenses off the tax return and it reduces your chance of audit. We offer a free 20 minute webinar on high points of an Accountable Reimbursement Plan: Click Here for More Info.
The key is in the implementation of the accountable plan. Other than automobile, the single biggest item is human expenses, including expenses of entertaining members or prospective members in the minister’s home. There is a significant key to church growth in personal entertainment, which can be reimbursed. If minister deducts these expenses on a tax return, the minister only gets a 50% deduction, but if they are reimbursed by the church then it’s a 100% savings. This strategy also reduces social security expense.
Q4. How can a minister’s salary structure give an advantage at tax time?
How the minister’s pay package salary is structured plays a big part in the overall tax savings. A Common mistake in the church is to equate “package” and “pay” as the same. They are not! The minister’s “take home” pay that is available to provide for the minister’s family is not the same as the total pay package. The tax treatment of expenses, pay and benefits is different in the church from the business world. Clergy compensation itself is quite different from employee compensation in the business world. These are “apples” to “oranges” comparatives.
A properly structured pay package will frequently be more impactful to savings taxes than how the tax return is completed.
Q5. I just received a notice from Clergy Advantage about the mileage deduction being reduced from $0.54 to $0.535 in 2017. How can church staff keep up on changes like this?
Q5.5. With a new Congress and President in 2017, what are your predictions for any changes that might affect pastors and their taxes?
Going into my 40th tax season, I’ve learned to differentiate between talk and what is actually legislated. Best to wait and see what will actually be legislated.
By Allen White
“Nobody ever leaves ‘good enough’ for ‘potentially better'” according to Robert Herjavec of Shark Tank fame in the December 2016 issue of Fortune magazine. He makes a very good point. While Herjavec was starting his software security business, he found difficulty selling something slightly better than what people were currently using. I’m a buyer like that.
A nice young man named Storm calls me once in a while from Citrix. I’ve been their customer for many years, since I’ve found GotoMeeting to be a very stable platform for my coaching groups. Storm would like me to consider Citrix’s version of Dropbox. He’s a very nice young man. He gave a solid presentation. He checks up on me now and then. The only problem is Storm wants me to sign up for Citrix’s version of Dropbox, and I’m a longtime Dropbox user. Good enough wins over potentially better.
Now, if the Citrix’s version came bundled with GotoMeeting and gave me a discount, then maybe. But, I have Dropbox links in my emails, my articles, everywhere. It’s a lot to unlink just to link back up with a similar product. If Dropbox had a catastrophic failure, then maybe I would switch to a different platform. But, until I have a compelling reason, I have no motivation to change.
Let’s pretend you are Storm from Citrix, and I am your church member. You want me to join a small group. I “don’t have time for a group” a.k.a. “it’s not a priority in my life.” Why? I have friends already. I have a regular quiet time. I’m involved with other things at church. Now, without overselling small groups or making them mandatory (both tactics will fail), why should I join a small group? How are groups better than what I’m currently doing?
If you can answer this question, then people might abandon what they’re doing for something they perceive as better.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.
By Allen White
While every small group pastor is unique, most fall into one of four types of small group pastors. Having talked to thousands of pastors over the years, I have found some change their strategies very willingly, while others are very reluctant. Some are ready to take the hill. Others prefer to analyze the approach before they take the hill. Whether your style is ready, fire, aim or ready, aim, fire, the way you are wired reveals a lot about how you lead your groups. While no one fits perfectly into any one category, in general, pastors are closer to one approach over the other three.
Are You the Innovator?
Innovators are quickly attracted to new ideas. In fact, they become easily bored with the strategies they’ve implemented. Often, they will switch to a new strategy before they’ve allowed the current strategy to bear any fruit. They thrive on change.
Innovators are a lot of fun to be around, but since they have an idea a minute, they can quickly overwhelm other people. They tend to change approaches so often that their followers can become fatigued. Eventually, they find that their latest and greatest new ideas are met with an eye roll instead of a drum roll.
If you’re an innovator, you tend to be impulsive. Because you come up with idea after idea, often you can be accused of being flaky. Innovators tend to be great starters, but poor finishers. They need people around them who will keep them focused, allow them to play in the lab, but keep things consistent for those they lead.
If you live on the bleeding edge, you just might be an Innovator.
Are You The Shepherd?
Now, before you get all messianic on this one, let me give you a few insights. The Shepherd’s chief concern is how their decisions will affect people. Often their concern is to the point of not making a move forward at all. They would rather take a pass on a great idea than rock the boat in any way.
Shepherds are highly relational. Often a shepherd becomes a small group pastor because he or she was a really great small group leader. They are great at managing the relationships they can handle, but there is a threshold for the number of group leaders they can effectively lead.
These folks are very reluctant to change, especially if they perceive a change would adversely affect people in any way. They would prefer to ignore new strategies than embrace them.
Often a shepherd is the victim of the Peter Principle: everyone is promoted to their own level of incompetence. This means the shepherd was an awesome small group leader. They might have even been an amazing small group coach, but when they are put in charge of the whole thing, they keep the number of small groups small and manageable. After all, how could they personally care for 50 or 100 or 1,000 small group leaders?
Shepherds perform best in smaller churches with a couple dozen groups. In larger ministries, they would quickly become overwhelmed and would need to learn leadership in a completely different way. Their focus would need to change from connecting with every group leader personally to being personal with a small group leadership team, who along with their coaches, would care for the group leaders. This is not impossible, but it’s unlikely.
Generals are ready to charge the hill. They’re not quite on the bleeding edge of Innovators, but they are right behind them. Generals don’t need a fully proven and complete strategy to move forward. They just need the marching orders and the green light. They are ready to go.
Generals easily abandon ineffective strategies. If something over a given period of time doesn’t produce the desired results, then that method will quickly be replaced with effective new ideas. Generals are not impulsive like Innovators, but they are impatient with things that don’t move at a steady pace. Sometimes things that are working on a small scale are abandoned before they’ve been given the opportunity to flourish. But, at other times, the General calls the right shot and refuses to waste his or her time and energy on something that is not bearing fruit.
Generals are early adopters of new ideas. When they see a strategy that has potential, they are ready to take action and make it happen. Sometimes in their haste to take the bull by the horns, they run over people and even lose a few in the quest to accomplish the goal. Shepherds are horrified by the temperament of Generals.
Generals need the insights of Innovators. They’re not going to come up with all of the new ideas, but they will execute like nobody’s business. Generals would be wise to hire an Analyst to help with the details. Generals see the big picture, but often jump over several steps to get there. If an Analyst (below) is subject to perfectionism, the General is subject to what I call “Good-enough-ism.” A wise General would also hire a Shepherd to stay in awareness of the emotional condition of the sheep especially during major transitions.
Analysts are, well, analytical. They carefully and deliberatively study a strategy before they make a move. While their due diligence can be admired, they often can become stuck in the paralysis of analysis. This is partly due to need to see the whole picture before they get started, which unfortunately is rarely afforded to pastors trying a new approach. They also tend to be perfectionist, so they do not want to make mistakes. This often causes them to miss opportunities.
Analysts are going to let someone else (or a lot of somebodies) try an idea and then evaluate their results before they serious consider making a change. They are inspired by Innovators and Generals, but are also frustrated that their emotional make up doesn’t allow them to venture out to the cutting edge of things.
The good news about analysts is they save their ministries and their people from the trial and error that others might recklessly inflict on their people. The other side is their reluctance and often skepticism holds them back from what they could achieve. An Analyst who is coached by an experienced small groups pastor can make great progress with a much lower level of risk.
The Analyst would be a great team member for a General or an Innovator. They could certainly offer balance and consistent follow through to their leader. Analysts work well as the leader in a more traditional environment. A General or an Innovator would blow up a traditional environment. An analyst would be careful to study changes and move only when it’s advantageous within the organization.
Which Type Are You?
No one fits neatly into any one of these categories. In fact, it would be good to consider which type would be your secondary approach. For instance, a General-Innovator will lead much differently than a General-Analyst.
Lead with your strengths. Don’t try to lead like someone else. God wired you the way He intended to. Lead with your strengths, then staff to your weaknesses. If you’re an Innovator, you will always leave out details. Hire an Analyst. If you’re a Shepherd, then either lead a small flock well or work for someone who needs your relational skills to keep things in balance.
By Allen White
Have you ever thought about how you might be wasting your own time? You see the problem with most pastors and leaders is they are multi-talented. The problem with being multi-talented is that we tend to depend on ourselves and not bring other people into the equation. For instance, if you write your small group discussion guide because you’re able to do it, then you may or may not invite other people to help you write the discussion guide, because you can do it. But, is this the best use of your time?
In the work that I do producing curriculum, there are things that I can and cannot do. I can direct a video shoot, but I can’t shoot the video — which is a good thing because I bring in very talented people that can do that. I can write a study guide from cover to cover, but I can’t do the graphic design and layout. So I have a terrific designer who does all of that for me including the cover of my new book, Exponential Groups.
What are you the most gifted to do? Is it teaching? Leading? Organizing? What is your number one gift to the kingdom?
Now imagine that this is your only gift and that you have no other gifts. How would you get things done?
You would delegate. You would find people that have expertise in things where you lack expertise. You would find people who need to grow in their gifts through using them. You would equip and develop them.
So here’s a question for you, why not delegate everything that is not part of your primary gifting? If you’re a leader but not a teacher, then mentor someone else to do training for you. If you are an organizer, but you are not heavily relational, then find relational people to coach your leaders.
There are times when we need to do things that are not in the center of our wheelhouse as far as our gifts and abilities go. Those are called emergencies. That’s when we need to put forth the extra effort to do things that we are not truly gifted or called to do simply because they have to be done.
Everyday should not be an emergency. Everyday you should exercise your primary gifts. Everyday you should delegate everything else to somebody else either staff or volunteer. There’s a reason for the name “Tyranny of the Urgent,” it’s a tyrant. You can’t do your best working for a tyrant. Step back. Clear your head. Stop the emergency. And, get on with doing what you do best, not what you do least.
There’s a saying that you don’t ask $100 per hour people to do $10 per hour tasks. Now before you ask for a raise or start thinking too much of yourself, realize that there are things that only you can do and there are things that a lot of other people can do. The more you focus yourself on only the things that you can do, then the better you will serve your church, your people, and the more satisfied you will be with your life and ministry.
I’m not going to make a conclusion. I’m going to give you an assignment. Take out a piece of paper or start a new document. Draw a line down the middle. On the left side write “To Do.” On the right side write “Stop Doing.” Be sure to include all of the tasks that are not in your primary gifting in the “Stop Doing” column.
When you’re done with the list, take a look at all the items in the Stop Doing column. Now write down the names of people who could do these things at least 30% as well as you can. Then stop doing them. Your timeline is immediately. You don’t need to ask for permission. You just need to make sure that things get done — regardless of who does them.
You can thank me later.
By Allen White
If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you are probably wondering:
Does this really work, or is this all talk?
I’ve talked about the churches I’ve served and all of the churches I’ve coached. Today, I want to introduce you to one of those churches.
The Case Study
Back in 2011-2012, I had the privilege of coaching Van Dyke Church in Lutz, FL.
(If you want to read the original case study I wrote about them back in 2012, CLICK HERE).
Why am I using an example that’s five years old? Because I want you to see what happened then, and where things are five years later.
Believe me, it’s easy to create a lot of excitement for one six-week church-wide campaign or 40 Days series, but what happens after that series ends, the number of groups you retain, and the way you support them, is more important than starting dozens or hundreds of new groups for a campaign.
This is a marathon, not a sprint. We want to build things that will last.
Back to Van Dyke Church, in 2011, they had 1,800 adults in their weekend services and about 400 people in groups. After working with them for 9 months, Van Dyke grew to over 2,000 people in groups. That’s 110% of their adult attendance. This is what Pastor Matthew Hartsfield says about the experience.
“Like most churches, Van Dyke Church had a small group ministry for years. However, group ministry was not deeply imbedded in the culture of our church, and we never exceeded 22% of our adult weekend worship attendance in groups.
“That all changed when we started working with Allen White as a coach for our small group ministry. With his help, we created and launched our own sermon-based curriculum and developed a systematic approach to creating a small group culture of adult discipleship. Within one year, we saw dramatic impact:
• Our first launch we moved us from 22% to 56% in groups (1,000 adults)
• Our second launch took us from 56% to 89% in groups (1,600 adults)
• Our third launch went from 89% of adult weekend worship attendance to over 100% (over 2,000 adults).
“Today, four years later, we are still sustaining close to 90% of our adult weekend worship attendance in small groups!
“Allen’s coaching helped us create a small group ministry that generated results across the board:
• People get connected in community.
• People grow in their study of the Bible.
• People serve in mission together through their small group.
• People develop leadership skills as small group hosts.
• People become more evangelistically motivated to invite outsiders to small groups.
“Allen White was used by God in an essential way to help us move to an entirely new level of spiritual growth and impact as a church.”
While Pastor Matthew is very generous about his words regarding my coaching, I would say God had a much bigger role in this than I did. But, then again, the reason I was even coaching this church and so many others is because of what God taught me through the Exponential Group Launches in my own churches.
What made the difference from Van Dyke Church? They were committed to groups, but in 2011, they made some significant changes which produced exponential growth. Here’s what they did:
Tip #1: Focus on a Long Term Win.
Let’s be honest here. Launching one church-wide campaign or series for six weeks creates a lot of excitement, but often it doesn’t produce lasting results. For some strange reason, people get the idea that after the six weeks is over, they’re done. Where would they get an idea like that?
Notice how Van Dyke’s groups few. They went from 400 in groups to 1,000 the first time around. But, they didn’t wait a year to do it again. In fact, the Fall 2011 series ended before Thanksgiving, and the next series began in January. Not only did they add another 600 people in groups, they kept the 1,000 who were in the Fall groups.
Before the Fall series ended, they announced the Winter series. Before the Winter series ended, they announced the Spring series, and ended up with over 2,000 people in groups, which means they had more people in groups than in their worship services.
If you’ve launched one church-wide campaign, then you lost those groups, you would be led to believe that doesn’t work.
And, you are right! It doesn’t work.
But, if you put in the effort the first year, whether you launch in the Fall or in January, your groups will continue, and you will add more groups each time. If you’re only doing one campaign every Fall or every New Year, even though you are committed to groups and campaigns, you have placed your church in an endless cycle of Ground Hog Day.
You know the definition of insanity, right?
The key is a sequence, not just one series.
Tip #2: The Senior Pastor is the Groups Champion.
Pastor Matthew and Van Dyke Church actually created their own curriculum, which is possible for any church, even if you shoot it with an iPhone!
I remember the day after our team coached their first video shoot. Pastor Matthew called us into his office and asked, “Now that we’ve shot this video and are making curriculum, how do we recruit leaders? And, how do we get people connected into groups?”
His Discipleship Pastor had tried to generate this kind of interest in groups for two years. What did it? The senior pastor made the investments.
So, how do you recruit leaders and connect people into groups?
If you’re the small group pastor or director, you don’t recruit leaders. In fact, if you do recruit, you’ll get 30% of what your senior pastor will get.
Pastor Matthew stood up in his weekend series and invited people to open their homes and do a group. Think about this: at that time, he had been the pastor for 18 years. If someone wasn’t connected to other people in the church, why were they there (other than Jesus)? They were there because they connected to the senior pastor! They liked his personality and his teaching. They laughed at his jokes. The senior pastor is the reason they’re there. (Now, don’t tell this to your worship pastor. It will break his heart.)
When Van Dyke Church launched their first study, Pastor Matthew recruited 60 new leaders. When they launched the second time, he recruited 60 more. Then, on the third time around, he recruited over 40 leaders, which put them way over the top in the ratio of groups to service attendance.Their small group director trained and supported the leaders, but their senior pastor did all of the recruiting.
Tip #3: Groups have Remained on the Front Burner of Ministry.
After the first year, Van Dyke Church didn’t offer three self-produced curricula in a single year, but they still kept their energy focused on groups. They offered a weekly discussion guide. They produced one series a year. Their groups went up and down, like everybody’s, but after five years, they still retain a much higher number of on-going groups than where they started.
Pastor Matthew saw the benefit of groups for Van Dyke Church as he stated above: connection, growth, serving, leadership development, and evangelism. What other ministry in the church does all of that? There was no looking back for them.
So, what about you? How do you double, triple, or quadruple your groups? How do you get your senior pastor on-board?
This is why I created the Leading an Exponential Group Launch course. The principles and strategies that brought success to Van Dyke Church can also bring success to your church.
Before we started together, Pastor Matthew was friendly toward groups, but he wasn’t the champion. Let’s get your senior pastor to champion groups in your church.
What are your thoughts?
By Allen White
After spending the year pouring into others, often we get to Summer and dream of a tropical paradise. For more of us, that tropical paradise amounts to a week in Myrtle Beach. (There are better places to vacation in South Carolina, but as a resident for nine years now, I’m not allowed to tell you, especially if you’re from Ohio.)
Let’s face it for those of us overseeing discipleship and small group ministries in a church, Summer is really sort of an annual sabbatical for us in a way. After that week of vacation, what do we do? Sure we pitch in at VBS or youth camp. We might lead a mission trip or speak on a weekend or two. But, often we have more discretionary time in the Summer than in most other times of the year. What you invest in yourself now could make a huge difference this Fall.
Now that you have six weeks of your “sabbatical” remaining, here are a few thought about making your time productive and your Fall awesome.
Contagious by Jonah Berger. A professor at the Wharton School of Business discovers the best approaches and appeals to marketing. With great stories like the $100 Philly Cheese Steak and a Youtube sensation called “Will It Blend?” the author will take you through the six key areas of effective promotion. As you think about promoting your small groups this Fall, you will uncover some interesting thoughts from Berger about what to present and how to make it work.
Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley. This is Andy Stanley’s “Gentlemen, this is a football” speech. Starting with the incredible stories of the inauspicious beginnings of North Point Community Church and challenging the church to be the church, Stanley delivers a solid whack on the side of the head.
Small Groups for the Rest of Us by Chris Surratt. My friend, Chris, released this book last year. He offers a unique approach to groups in an approachable and transferable way. So many small group models just don’t work other places. Chris’ thoughts will work in churches large and small.
Living Forward by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy. As pastors we are focused on fulfilling God’s plan for our lives. But, often we spend our days spinning our wheels and crying out to God for direction. While we should never be presumptuous about our own plans, the reality is if we don’t have a plan, then not very much gets accomplished. Living Forward helps you plan ahead for every aspect of your life. It’s not about getting rich quick or reaching the pinnacle of success as much as it’s about planning to give every area of your life what it needs when it needs it. How do you know how to do that? You have a plan.
Take an Online Course.
Not too long ago, I received a handwritten Thank You note from the campus pastor at my church. He was thanking me for giving to the church. The note was nice, but honestly, I don’t give to my church. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love God, and I also love my church. But, when it comes to giving I give to God, not my church.
I have given a tithe of my income to God for most of my adult life. Well, with the exception of when I was part of a denomination that required me to tithe to them. I know tithing is controversial to some, but I see it this way, just as the Ten Commandments are a minimum standard for morality, the tithe is a minimum standard for giving. I don’t have a spiritual gift of generosity, so I need a minimum standard.
People argue that tithing is in the Old Covenant. Aren’t we freed from the Law? Actually the tithe was established before the Mosaic Law when Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20). Jesus validated the tithe in the Gospels when he said to the Pharisees, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things” (Matthew 23:23, NLT).
Now that you’re confused, here’s the deal: I tithe to God, but I don’t give to my church.
My parents set a great example for me. My father took a job with Hallmark Cards when he was 18 years old and retired 37 years later when he was 55 years old. You don’t find many jobs like that anymore. My mother also had various jobs over the years at an insurance company and then a Christian bookstore. Our family had what we needed, but we weren’t wealthy by any stretch.
Every month my dad had three checks laid out on the top of his dresser: a tithe check, a building fund check, and a missions check. My jaw dropped when I saw the amount of money he was laying out each month. But, we never went without. God provided what we needed.
I didn’t inherit all of my parents’ generosity, but I give a monthly tithe out of obedience to God, and God has provided for my family’s needs. I will admit there were a few episodes in my adult life when I fudged. And, wouldn’t you know, those were the months when my car would break down or some other emergency would happen. Not so coincidentally, the repairs usually amounted to the same as my tithe. Lesson learned.
Ok, now I’m going to split a hair — I give to God through my church. The Bible says in Malachi 3:10 to bring the tithe into the storehouse, which by interpretation means the church. (Debate me in the comments). Nothing new there.
So, here’s the reason for my rant — a while back my church sent me a letter announcing that I was in the Top 20 Percent of givers in the church. It depressed me. I am not a generous person. In fact, when I am generous, I tell everyone about it. There goes my blessing…
The bottom line here is I have tithed to God through churches I loved and churches I tolerated (and to a denomination once upon a time). The storehouse has changed over the years, but the tithe is to God, and I’m going to give it regardless of whether I am thanked or despised. It’s between me and God. The church is only a vehicle. Oh, and for those who never see me put anything in the offering basket, I give online.
So, Dear Church, please save the time and expense of writing me Thank You notes, and use my tithe to win the lost. If I didn’t believe in what you were doing, I would find another church. And, if the church turns into something I dislike and I choose to stay, my tithe will be there.
“Churches have cancelled their Sunday school classes, Sunday evening services, and some have even abandoned their Midweek service because they have small groups now. How am I supposed to tell people about my missionary work and raise support?” While Fred didn’t say these things directly, this is what I heard. Having started over 14,000 small groups in churches in the last four years, I was more than a little implicated here.
Now, the purpose of our lunch was not a confrontation. Fred and I have been friends since college. South Carolina is his home district, so we see each other every four years when he is itinerating here.
We grew up in a denominational church where missionaries raised their own support. They are faith-based missions. If God had called them, He would certainly provide. Unlike the Cadillac missions programs where missionaries are fully funded and spend all of their time doing the work of their calling, this denomination calls on their missionaries to work for four years, then take a year to raise support. During that year, they are required to speak in at least eight church services per month.
In the good old days, missionaries could easily hit at least three services per week: Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Midweek. But, things have changed. As Sunday evening services and Midweek Bible studies have declined, small groups have taken up the slack. Well, or else, people are attending the weekend service and doing little else in terms of their spiritual growth. Either way, with only four or five Sunday morning services in a month, it’s getting harder for missionaries to get eight services per month. How do they get their message out? How do they raise support?
Feeling partially responsible for Fred’s dilemma, we brainstormed a little over burgers and Cajun fries at Five Guys. How do missionaries reach church members when they don’t have access to them? Since small groups are off-campus in many cases, how can missionaries connect with them? We came up with a couple of ideas.
1. Produce a Simple Downloadable Curriculum for Small Groups.
Without going heavily into a missions message, what could missionaries simply produce and offer to small group members? This doesn’t need to be high production, but it does need to be high felt need. The curriculum could focus on a cause to live for and tell the missionaries story in the process. The topic could also deal with common issues small group members face like relationships, conflict, stress, parenting and any number of topics. Of course, missionaries would also want to include a video or information about their ministries. After all, the small group is receiving free downloadable curriculum from the missionary who sponsored the project. Here are some other thoughts on creating curriculum.
2. Offer a service to the church in exchange for access to their email list.
If the missionary can’t reach church members through a weekend service, then how can the missionary reach church members directly? There is hesitation here in not wanting to go behind the pastor’s back or do something covert. The best way to avoid those issues is simply to ask. How can the missionary serve the pastor and congregation in exchange for one targeted email to the congregation. Granted the missionary could include a hook like a free ebook or another resource to invite church members to join their own list.
3. Pastor – would open part of your services to a missionary?
Most missionaries I know can’t even get through to a Senior Pastor. We all understand pastors are busy, but could you at least take their calls and hear them out? God will provide for the needs of missionaries, but more often than not, this provision comes through local churches.
Now, I understand after sitting through many missionary services as a kid that missionaries need to tune up their presentations. Slide presentations of villagers in foreign lands did not hold my attention as a child. Instead missionaries could hold the congregations for ransom: “If you don’t support me, I’ll get out my slides.” But, there are more compelling ways to tell stories.
Again, video is a huge key — not just to show a video in a service, but also to distribute the video via Youtube and other social media. Tell a compelling story, and people will flock to you. Use Facebook and Twitter to your advantage. Get your message out there, missionaries.
Maybe some missionaries are already doing this, but I haven’t seen it. If you are a missionary effectively using video to tell the story of your life’s work, then comment to this post and let us know what you’re doing. I mean it.
Now, about my friend, Fred Kovach, he leads an organization called Beyond the Borders, which leverages technology to reach people for Christ, disciple them, and train them. Fred and his wife, Crystal, serve as media missionaries with Global University, working with Assemblies of God missionaries world wide to provide technology tools to reach local communities with the Gospel. The Kovach’s also travel overseas to provide technical support to missionary television studios. For more about their ministry, go to: http://www.fredcrystal.com or http://www.globalreach.org/.
Trying anything new involves a certain amount of risk. Some people jump into things haphazardly and take foolish risks. Others hold back and risk little or nothing. Sometimes no risk is riskier than the other options.
The bottom line is change causes a sense of loss. You’re saying goodbye to the way things used to be and welcoming something new, sometimes unproven. It’s risky business for sure.
If we risk too much on the wrong things, we ended up bankrupting the leadership credit we had in the bank. But, if we don’t risk any change, we are just burying our leadership “talents” in the ground, which really doesn’t help anyone.
The fear of every pastor is that change will alienate the base. If the stakeholders become upset, they might leave, or worse yet, they might stay but just stop giving. If the change alienates the base, reduces giving, and ultimately costs the pastor his job, then why would anyone want to take a risk?
It’s possible to take risks that aren’t so risky. There’s a big difference between a strategic risk and reckless abandon. The approach makes a big difference.
How much risk are you comfortable with?