Posts Tagged strategy
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.
“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/.
The new year is an awesome time for new starts. Everyone is planning to lose weight, lose debt, learn a foreign language, and of course, grow in their faith. The new year is an ideal time to start new groups too. Why not leverage the momentum before mid-February hits and new year’s resolutions crash and burn?
The way you launch groups in the new year, however, will greatly affect your success. While this is an ideal time to form new groups, how and when you form groups will largely determine whether or not those groups last for more than one series, or in some cases, even get started. Here are some mistakes to avoid in new year’s launches.
Mistake #1: Launching in Early January.
Senior pastors love to start new sermon series after the first of the year. While the first Sunday of the year may be for vision casting or giving a “State of the Church” address, when it gets to the second Sunday, they are ready to get their preach on and dive into a new series. This is great for sermon series timing, but terrible for group timing.
If your church launches groups in early January, it forces you to form groups in December. Have you lived through a December at church? No one is thinking about January. If they were, then they wouldn’t be buying so many Christmas presents on their credit cards.
Over the years, I’ve tried to recruit and train new small group leaders in December. I’ve also found myself standing in an empty room wondering if I had missed God’s calling on my life.
People don’t think about the new year until they are actually in the new year. To effectively launch groups in January, you need to use the first three weeks to form groups, then launch in late January, or better yet, launch in early February.
Mistake #2: Failing to Leverage the Christian Holiday of Super Bowl Sunday.
I know some of you might immediately be objecting to associating something as holy and spiritual as a small group with something as hedonistic as Super Bowl Sunday. After all, promoting anything about the Super Bowl will only weaken the attendance of the Sunday night service. At least, that’s the way I grew up.
But, think about this: how would your members respond to the idea of small groups if it resembled something that looked more like their Super Bowl parties and less like what they fear a small group might be? No one calls the church to see who they should invite to a Super Bowl party. They invite their friends, co-workers, neighbors and family members. That’s the same group they should invite to their, well, group. In fact, if groups were launched after the Super Bowl, maybe the Super Bowl party could serve as an “open house” for a group and then the next week, the study could start.
You may be saying, “Well, not every Super Bowl party would be suitable to introduce people to small groups. They might overeat or something and be a bad witness.” These things could happen. But, what if a small group became more “normal” to the average Christian’s life?. That would be a huge win.
Mistake #3: Launching Groups in January without an Easter Plan.
The downfall of most church-wide campaigns, including some I’ve launched over the years, is you can experience great success for 6 weeks, then the whole thing falls off the cliff. But, it doesn’t have to. If in the middle of your post-Super Bowl series (formerly called “New Year’s series”), you announced a next step series which would run between the Christian holidays of Easter Sunday and Memorial Day, you could easily retain 80 percent of the groups that start in your Super Bowl series. By offering a next step, your groups are given a good reason to stay together.
Now, if your church is about to launch groups this Sunday, it might be time to take a timeout and regroup. Call an audible. Do what you need to do before you have to throw a Hail Mary or punt!
If you try this, you should get at least 50 percent of your people connected into groups. If you don’t, call me. We’ll figure something out!
When you think about connecting a congregation into community or taking a crowd and turning them into disciples, the task can be quite mindboggling. Sometimes in contemplating the enormity of the task, we expend a lot of energy on things that are either not great investments of our time or are things other people should be doing. There is only so much of any small group pastor or director. Knowing where to apply your efforts will determine your success and possibly your sanity.
I tend to learn best in the school of hard knocks. Please understand while I believe all of my efforts have been well intentioned, I have made quite a number of well intentioned mistakes along the way. The good news is I have learned or am learning from most of those failed attempts, and I am now passing these painful lessons on to you.
Every small group pastor, including myself, who considers how to connect a congregation into community, typically starts with the wrong questions, which lead to the wrong strategies, which ends up with poor results. It typically goes like this:
1. How do I connect people into groups?
This is question comes from the assumption that most people file in and out of church never talking to anybody and have no real friends outside of church. People are far more connected than you might imagine. In fact, I would go so far as to say your people are already in multiple groups. The question is: how are those groups helping them to grow spiritually? What are they doing to intentionally grow in their faith?
The reality is most people don’t have time for a small group and lack the capacity to maintain any more relationships. Now, before you quit your job, there’s a solution. Think about how people can leverage their existing connections to grow spiritually. Could you create an easy to use curriculum available for them to discuss spiritual things with their friends at dinner or their co-workers at lunch? The dilemma is not placing people into groups, but introducing a spiritual growth component to the groups they are already in.
If you feel your main task is to place people into groups via some dreaded system like a sign up card, trust me, you need to get out of that business ASAP. Yes, there are some exceptions to what I described above, but as Brett Eastman would say, “Let the exceptions be the exceptions.” If you build your entire system around the needs of exceptions, you will devote 90% of your energy to less than 5% of your people. For more ideas on how to connect people who are new to your church and who have truly no friends, click here.
2. How do I recruit group leaders?
You don’t. If your senior pastor is willing to create small group curriculum based on his teaching, then he will volunteer to recruit group leaders for you. You may be thinking, “That will never work in my church.” Let me ask you a question, “Has your senior pastor ever created his own curriculum?” Once a pastor has invested his time and energy in producing a small group curriculum, he won’t want to see that investment go to waste.
In just a few short weeks, your pastor can get half or more of your congregation into a study based on his teaching. All he has to do is ask. He will want to ask because he now has skin in the game. I’ve seen this happen in a church of 50 people, churches of tens of thousands of people, and both of the churches I have served on staff.
Small group pastors don’t need to recruit small group leaders. Your senior pastor will take care of this (and get a far better result).
3. How do I support and encourage small group leaders?
This is the right question. The real work of a small group pastor is to implement the systems and strategies to sustain groups over time (Wow, that really sounds like Brett Eastman). When I coach small group pastors in how to launch a church-wide series, the first task is to identify experienced group leaders and mature believers who will serve as a small group team for the first teaching series. Imagine if you suddenly had half or better of your congregation in groups, how would you manage the needs of those leaders?
Sure you could send a few email blasts or have your assistant call them, but the key to developing groups which will continue is a coaching structure to support them. This is a decentralized, one-on-one strategy. It’s the opposite of on-campus training meetings or robocalls. There is a place for training meetings. There is no place for robocalls. Everybody hates telemarketers…everybody. (I actually was a telemarketer for three days once. It was hard to live with myself for those 72 hours).
The hard work of small group ministry lies here. If you skip this step, then you will experience a short-lived, one-time success and then it will devolve into a number of leaders you can personally manage. Again, I’ve lived it. I’ve been there.
This is not a reason to become overwhelmed. This is a reason to pray. God knows what He wants to accomplish in your church during your upcoming launch. God also knows every person who can help you successfully start and sustain groups. If you ask God to direct you to the right small group team, pay attention to who crosses your path. God will answer your prayer. He’s certainly answered mine.
This last year, I had the privilege of coaching Dr. Tony Evans and his team at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas. When we started the partnership, they had a solid small groups system producing strong incremental growth, but a few adjustments netted a huge dividend.
1. Dr. Evans Produced Curriculum for His Sermon Series
Partnering with The Urban Alternative, Lifetogether helped to produce the first video-based curriculum based on his Destiny book, which was actually shot in Dr. Evans’ home. I am firmly convinced that other than Jesus Christ, the reason anyone joins any church is because of the senior pastor, especially if they are not connected to others in the church through a group, Bible study or class. (Don’t tell the worship pastor. This news will break his heart.)
People are there because they like the senior pastor’s personality and style. They glean from his wisdom and laugh at his jokes. When the senior pastor offers a curriculum featuring his teaching, it’s difficult for the pastor, but it’s a no brainer for his people. They want in!
2. Dr. Evans Invited His Members to Start Groups
On Sunday, September 1, 2013 (Labor Day weekend), Dr. Evans preached a message called The Connection Commandment.
“Even though it depresses me to know you forget my sermons week by week, I do have issues with that, the good news I have for you today is if you just remember two Jesus says everything else hangs on them. You are to love [God] with everything that you got and you are to transfer that to others and when you do you got the whole Bible starting to live inside you because He said the whole scripture depends on just these two,” said Dr. Evans.
He went on to invite people to open their homes and gather groups to grow together. On Labor Day Sunday, 260 people at OCBF said “yes” and turned in a card committing to launch a group. By the time the Destiny series started three weeks later, 500 people offered to start groups.
3. Dr. Evans’ Team Rearranged the Requirements
Intially, small group leaders at OCBF went through extensive training prior leading a small group. In fact, their leadership process is a year long. But, for this series, they reframed what they were asking for. This wasn’t a call to “leadership” per se. This was a call to obedience, because everyone is called to go and make disciples.
After people said they would start a group, the staff made sure everyone was a member at OCBF, which was a requirement. Now, I’ll be honest, I was nervous about this requirement until I discovered the church had 7,000 members. That’s a number I can work with. The staff invited the people starting groups to a one hour orientation to cover the basics, then let them get started with the series. Following the series the church offered additional training to these new leaders. The end result is including all of their small group leaders, new and established, in the same small group system.
What did Dr. Evans and his team do that you haven’t tried yet? What’s holding you back? Leave your comments below.
by Allen White
Check out this clever video from The Potter’s House of North Dallas. Marc Jeffrey and Travis Simons not only deal with their church members’ fears about joining a group for the first time, but also address a few of their own in a humorous way. They cast vision for what their groups should be and give everyone some guidelines for going forward.
Some things in life are just as effective and more efficient in their disposable form. Think about diapers. Our family has cloth diapers and disposable diapers. Both serve the same purpose. Yet the cloth diapers require a great deal of maintenance and care. The disposables serve their purpose, then find their way to the landfill. The added bonus to disposable diapers is the dad in our family will actually change those. Cloth diapers? Well forget it.
What if we offered small groups in a disposable form? Before the relationships get messy, before the leader needs training, before you need to assign a coach, just reboot the group. Dispose of the group before any of the usual group tensions take place. Think about it. Rather than enduring through the conflict and struggle of the small group lifecycle, we could just enjoy the first six weeks of the honeymoon phase, then cast the other problems aside.
Let’s face it. Maintaining groups for the long haul is exhausting.
1. Disposable Groups Don’t Require Coaching.
Most small group pastors feel overwhelmed by the thought of a coaching structure. Even if you can actually fill out the org chart, most coaches don’t even really know what to do. They like the title. They carry a certain amount of guilt from not coaching. For most churches, even if there is some sort of coaching structure in place, the small group leaders are basically on their own anyway. With disposable small groups, there is no need for coaching. If the group is really that bad off in the first six weeks, then you probably just need to dispose of it sooner rather than later.
2. Disposable Groups Don’t Need Training.
People hate meetings. Pastors feel their calling in life is to hold meetings. But, most small group pastors are frustrated by the low attendance and general apathy toward their meetings. Disposable groups don’t need training. Seriously, how much could they possibly mess up in only six weeks? And, if they do, then see the last sentence in Point #1.
After a long day’s work, people don’t have time to drive home, eat dinner, drive to the church, attend a meeting, then drive home and collapse into bed so they can do the same thing all over again in a few hours. Some small group pastors expect their leaders to give up part of their Saturday. Chances are slim to none leaders will show up then.
3. Why Deal with an EGR, If You Can Just Leave Them Behind?
John Ortberg’s book says it all, “Everybody’s Normal Until You Get to Know Them.” If that’s the case, then disposable groups will keep the group relationships as normal as possible — You don’t really get to know people. You do a six week Bible study. There’s plenty of value in that. But, before people feel comfortable enough to share their idiosyncrasies, you’re outta there.
What’s better is if you end up with an Extra Grace Required person, a.k.a. “weirdo,” you can cut them (and yourself)loose in only six weeks. After all, this group came together for only one series, and now you’re done! Whew! Dodged that bullet.
4. There Are Always More Groups in the Sea.
While there may be some practical aspects of sustaining groups for the long term and not reinventing the wheel during church-wide campaigns, the beauty of disposable groups is an endless supply of potential group leaders/hosts/gatherers in your congregation. If you could have the same number of groups (or more) next Fall as you have this Spring, then why do all of the hard work of helping them survive the Summer, manage group dynamics, or select follow up Bible studies? After all, if you can say you have 50 groups now, and then you can post 65 groups in the Fall, why does it matter who’s actually leading the group? Numbers don’t lie. Whether your 65 groups in the Fall is made up of 50 Spring groups + 15 Fall groups or 65 brand new groups, you’ve still grown your small group ministry.
Now, disposable small groups aren’t for everyone. Some prefer the cloth diaper approach, and that’s ok. Go ahead and spend the time avoiding sticks from safety pins and sloshing number two’s in the toilet. You’ll have continuity for sure. But, for the rest of us, we’ll just show up with a big case of Pampers in the Fall, and then we’ll see who has the most groups.
Next up: Avoiding Disposable Small Groups
By Allen White
In my travels I’ve learned to automate certain things. By automate, I mean repeating the same patterns, not in an OCD fashion, but just so I don’t have to think about things over and over. For instance, I always park on the same level of the same parking garage. When I arrive home after several days on the road, I don’t have to think about where I parked. I parked in the same place I always park.
I do the same with the rental car companies. For years, I’ve used Avis. Why Avis? Someone way back when booked a couple of cars with Avis for me, so I just stuck with it for the same reasons as above. I never have to think about which rental car company I have.
I’ve also learned with Avis to use “Preferred” so I can skip the counter, go directly to the garage, see my name up in lights, find my car and get out of dodge. No lines. No conversations. I’m on my way.
The other day I received a new card from Avis in the mail. I had qualified for “Avis First.” I had no idea what Avis First even was. While airlines often change on trips, Avis is a constant. It’s automated. Now, for my “loyalty,” I received a new status. This qualifies me for free upgrades, but I’m guessing not free drinks, since they are a rental car company…and I don’t drink.
My next step with Avis First was activating my new status online. I went to the website, typed in my information, and received the following message:
“We’re sorry. You may not qualify for Avis First. Please contact customer service, blah, blah, blah.”
I felt almost special. Here this surprise came out of the blue only for me to discover this might have been a fluke. I would have happily stayed “Preferred.” I didn’t need to be “First.” But, Avis led me on. Avis promised me something, then quickly took it back. Then, I began to wonder how I’ve ever done that to other people myself.
How many times have I asked people to sign up for something, then not followed up with them? Did they feel “almost special”? The pastor invited them to host a group or teach a class or lead in some way. They said, “Yes,” then they never heard from anybody.
How many times on a whim had I tossed out an offer that I wasn’t prepared to follow through on? Now, from the size of the churches I’ve worked with, I could probably make some excuse about the sheer numbers of responses. But, to the person who took me up on the invitation, the only response they were thinking about was theirs. If I gave them a bad experience, how likely would they be to stick their necks out again?
An invitation without a next step in place is a disaster. If you invite someone to lead a small group, what’s the next step? Often I’ve offered the next step immediately after a weekend service rather than asking them to come back during the week. If people are open to joining a group, do we make them wait for us to process a card or send them to a website? What if the card gets lost or if I get lazy, do they feel “almost special”? What did it take for them to say “yes,” and will I ever get that “yes” from them again?
A good idea without a next step is a bad idea. So is a good idea with two or three or five next steps. What does this look like?
Step 1: If you’d like to join us, please fill out a card.
Step 2: If you’re patient, we will reply to your card at some point after we’ve entered it into the database and figured out what we’re going to do for you.
Step 3: Now that you’ve patiently waited, we are going to invite you to a meeting to come back to, so we can give you more information about what you’re interested in.
Step 4: Thanks for coming to the meeting, if you’re really serious about this, we’d like you to join us for training so you’ll be qualified to do what you want to do. We’ll send you some information on when the next training is coming up.
Step 5: Thanks for joining us for training. You are now qualified, provided that your a member of the church, complete an application, and set up a time to be interviewed.
Step 6: Thanks for submitting your application, we will contact you about a time for your interview.
Step 7: Welcome to your interview. Let’s take some time to get to know each other and see where you can serve in our church (or can’t).
None of these steps are bad, but every additional step increases your margin for error. Either someone on your team will drop the ball by not following up with the person, not getting an email on time, or is just too busy to pick up the phone, or the person who was interested lacks the gift of perseverance and gave up somewhere around Step 3.
The next step should be both clear, accessible and somewhat automated. If you want to gather some friends and do the small group study, give us 10 minutes after the service, and we’ll give you enough to be dangerous and an experienced leader to help you. No cards. No waiting. No endless communication loop. Briefing, boom, you’re good to go.
Avis finally got their act together. After I emailed customer service, I received a reply the following day saying I was indeed special and qualified for Avis First. Granted, I wanted to feel special sooner via their website, but now I am special nonetheless.
In a couple of hours, I will pick up my first special car with Avis First. If “special” means Crown Victoria, I’m not going to feel so special…unless it’s equipped with lights and siren.
A recent article in the Orange County Register led readers to believe Rick Warren thinks the gods of Christianity and Islam are the same. Here is the original article from the OC Register: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/muslims-341669-warren-saddleback.html
Below is an interview with Rick Warren in response to these questions:
RICK WARREN ON MUSLIMS, EVANGELISM & MISSIONS
(with Brandon A. Cox & Christian Post)
QUESTION: Do people of other religions worship the same God as Christians?
WARREN: Of course not. Christians have a view of God that is unique. We believe Jesus is God! We believe God is a Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not 3 separate gods but one God. No other faith believes Jesus is God. My God is Jesus. The belief in God as a Trinity is the foundational difference between Christians and everyone else. There are 2.1 billion people who call themselves Christians… whether Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, or Evangelical…and they all have the doctrine of the Trinity in common.
QUESTION: A recent newspaper article claimed you believe Christians and Muslims worship the same God, that you are “in partnership” with a mosque, and that you both agreed to “not evangelize each other.”You immediately posted a brief refutation online. Can you expand on that?
WARREN: Sure. All three of those statements are flat out wrong. Those statements were made by a reporter, not by me. I did not say them … I do not believe them… I completely disagree with them … and no one even talked to me about that article! So let me address each one individually: First, as I’ve already said, Christians have a fundamentally different view of God than Muslims. We worship Jesus as God. Muslims don’t. Our God is Jesus, not Allah. Colossians 2:9 “For in Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Second, while we urge our members to build friendships with everyone in our community, including Muslims and other faiths, (“Love your neighbor as yourself”), our church has never had any partnership with a mosque. Friendship and partnership are two very different levels of commitment. Some of our members have hosted a Bible study with Muslim friends, which I applaud, but I’ve never been to it, and a Bible study certainly isn’t any kind of partnership or merger! It’s just crazy that a simple Bible Study where people explore Scripture with non-Christians would be reported as a partnership and others would interpret that as a plan for a new compromised religion. Just crazy! Third, as both an Evangelical and as an evangelist, anyone who knows me and my 40 year track record of ministry knows that I would never agree to “not evangelizing” anyone! I am commanded by my Savior to share the Good News with all people everywhere, all the time, in every way possible! Anyone who’s heard me teach knows that my heart beats for bringing others to Jesus.
QUESTION: That same article mentioned that you ate an Iftar dinner with Orange County Muslims. What is that all about?
WARREN: It’s called being polite and a good neighbor. For years, we have invited Muslim friends to attend our Easter and Christmas services and they have graciously attended year after year. Some have even celebrated our family’s personal Christmas service in our home. So when they have a potluck when their month of fasting ends, we go to their party. It’s a Jesus thing. The Pharisees criticized him as “the friend of sinners” because Jesus ate dinner with people they disapproved of. By the way, one of my dear friends is a Jewish Rabbi and my family has celebrated Passover at his home, and he attends our Christmas and Easter services. I wish more Christians would reach out in love like Jesus.
QUESTION: Why do you think people who call themselves Christians sometimes say the most hateful things about Muslims?
WARREN: Well, some of those folks probably aren’t really Christians. 1 John 4:20 says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” And 1 John 2:9 says “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.” I am not allowed by Jesus to hate anyone. Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about evangelism. In the past 10 years, Saddleback Church has baptized over 24,000 new believers. No other church comes close to that record. You are likely the most evangelistic church in America. What’s the key?
WARREN: We are willing to do what many other churches are unwilling to do. We are willing to go beyond our comfort zone.
QUESTION: For instance?
WARREN: Because Jesus commanded us to take the Gospel to everyone, I spend much of my time with groups of people who completely disagree with what I believe. I’m constantly trying to build a bridge of love to nonbelievers, to atheists, to gays, to those I disagree with politically, and to those of other faiths. We don’t wait for these people to come to church; we go to them and share with them on their turf, not ours. Every member is a minister and a missionary. Saddleback was a missional church 30 years before the term became popular. We just called it being “purpose driven”.
QUESTION: “Building a bridge” sounds like compromise to many people.
WARREN: Building a bridge has nothing to do with compromising your beliefs. It’s all about your behavior and your attitude toward them. It’s about genuinely loving people. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Before people ask, “Is Jesus credible?” they want to know if you are credible. Before people trust Jesus they must trust you. You cannot win your enemies to Christ, only your friends. It’s part of what Paul calls “the ministry of reconciliation.” It is Christ-like to treat people with dignity and listen to them with respect.
QUESTION: Why are most Christians so ineffective at sharing their faith?
WARREN: I have a whole seminar on that! First, they don’t really have any unbelieving friends. They spend all their time with other Christians. As a result, they are afraid to share their faith because it feels unnatural to them. For most people to come to Christ, you must build a relationship with them first. You must love them. The truth is, most Christians love everything else more than the people around them that Jesus died for. Second, many don’t really believe that people are lost without Christ. Third, many Christians are afraid of the criticism they will receive from other Christians if they hang out with unbelievers. It was the religious people who hated Jesus the most. They criticized him for associating with tax collectors and lepers and prostitutes and politicians and going to parties. Lost people loved Jesus but the religious folks saw his associations as dangerous compromise. The same is true today. Modern Pharisees still use guilt by association as a weapon. Just read the blogs. They’d rather hunker in a bunker and attack those courageous enough to reach out to non-Christians. I do not fear the disapproval of others. I fear the disapproval of God on my disobedience to what he has clearly commanded us to do.
QUESTION: What is the P.E.A.C.E. plan?
WARREN: It is a biblical strategy of ministry based on five activities Jesus modeled in his ministry. Saddleback members have been beta testing it for the past nine years all around the world. Each letter of P.E.A.C.E. represents one of five things Jesus taught his disciples to do: P stands for Plant churches. E stands for Equip leaders. A stands for Assist the poor. C stands for Care for the sick. E stands for Educate the next generation. The PEACE plan is accomplished by local churches through local churches. It is based on three passages of Scripture and the specific instructions Jesus gave to his teams that he sent out. There are at least a dozen major differences between the PEACE Plan and the traditional, typical mission program of NGOs and parachurch organizations of the past 100 years. It is a return to the missional strategy.
QUESTION: What is the PEACE Center?
WARREN: Based on Jesus’ instructions in Acts 1:8, we practice the PEACE Plan in three dimensions: PERSONAL PEACE – my ministry to those closest to me; LOCAL PEACE -our congregation’s ministry to our community; and GLOBAL PEACE – serving other local churches around the world as those congregations do their own local PEACE. The PEACE Center is the building on our church campus that houses about three dozen of our 300 ministries to the community. It offers our food bank, job training, family counseling, legal aid, car repair, tutoring, English as a second language, legal immigration assistance, and many other ministries.
QUESTION: I read an article that claimed you were building a PEACE Center to bring Muslims and Christians together in peace.
WARREN: It was the writer’s mistake. He got two different stories confused. Our recently opened PEACE Center, on the Saddleback Church campus has NOTHING …zero… to do with our Muslim friends.
This is an example of why I always doubt what I read in newspapers and blogs about ministries. Secular reporters trying to cover churches and theological issues often get it wrong. But then Christian bloggers, instead of contacting the ministry, blindly believe, quote and repost the errors made by secular reporters. Then those errors become permanent, searchable, and global on the Internet. I couldn’t count the number of times a secular reporter has gotten a story about Saddleback wrong but then it is perpetuated by Christians who never fact-check. And the three factors I mentioned about the Internet make it impossible to correct all the misperceptions, and outright lies that get repeated over and over.
QUESTION: You mentioned legal immigration services. How many languages do Saddleback members speak?
WARREN: At last count, I heard we speak 76 languages in our church family. One of our 10 values, the “A” in our S.A.D.D.L.E.B.A.C.K. strategy, is that we are an ALL-nation congregation. We are a multi-ethnic church. We want our congregation to look like heaven will look – with every age, race, tribe, and economic background represented.
QUESTION: What is the goal of your ministry?
WARREN: To know Christ and make Him known! To live out Jesus’ Great Commandment and Great Commission! In fact, this has been the motto of Saddleback Church since we started it in 1980: “A great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will grow a great church.” Everything we do comes out of these two great texts. God’s five eternal purposes for both our lives and the church proceed from these verses. The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life explain this in detail.
QUESTION: Through the PEACE Plan,Saddleback became the first local congregation in 2000 years of Christian history to send its members to literally “every nation” as Jesus commanded.
WARREN: That’s correct.
QUESTION: How did you accomplish that?
WARREN: By taking Jesus’ command seriously. When Jesus said, “Go to EVERY nation” we asked ourselves as a church family, “Has any local church in 2000 years ever actually done that? If not, why don’t we be the first!” So we set a goal to send our members to every nation of the world to do the five tasks of the P.E.A.C.E. Plan by the end of 2010. Of course I know that the Greek ta ethne refers to people groups or tribes not political nations, but you have to start somewhere! So we decided that we would send our members on mission to all 197 nations in the world. (There are 195 nations in the United Nations. The only two nations not in the United Nations are Taiwan and Serbia.) On November 18, 2010, a Saddleback team went to the last nation, #197, a small island in the Caribbean called, St. Kitts. Now, our goal for the next decade, which we call our Decade of Destiny is to mobilize a network of churches who will commit to planting new churches in the final 3,600 unengaged people groups that still do not have a Christian church.
QUESTION: How many members did you send out to complete your church’s goal of taking the gospel to every nation?
WARREN: 15,867 members were sent out. Of course, we’ve gone way past that in the last year.
QUESTION: What is your mission goal this year?
WARREN: Within a year from this Easter, we intend to plant new churches in 12 strategic cities around the world as resource centers and base camps for the greater goal of planting churches in the 3600 unengaged people groups.
QUESTION: What are those 12 cities?
WARREN: Tokyo, Berlin, Johannesburg, Bangalore, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, London, Freetown, Moscow, Mexico City, Amman, and Manila. Anyone who’d like to be a part of the team should contact me at PastorRick@saddleback.com or on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
QUESTION: Are you promoting Chrislam?
WARREN: Of course not. It’s the lie that won’t die. No matter how many times we refute it and correct that lie, people keep passing it on as truth. Jesus is the only way to salvation. Period. If I didn’t believe that, I’d get into a much easier line of work! But I do believe that everybody needs Jesus and I am willing to put up with false statements and misunderstandings in order to get the Gospel out.
QUESTION: What are your greatest frustrations about evangelism?
WARREN: That Christians would rather argue than evangelize. That people are more interested in winning arguments that in winning people. That people are more interested in making a point than in making a difference. That people put politics above the souls of people. That people are more afraid of guilt by association than allowing others to go to hell.
QUESTION: If anyone wants to learn or teach their church how to be more effective in evangelism and missions what should they do?
WARREN: Write to me at PastorRick@saddleback.com and ask me for an invitation to the group of leaders I train each week through a private webcast.
QUESTION: Any last word?
WARREN: Reach one more for Jesus! Anyone who’s read Purpose Driven Life knows those were my father’s last words and deathbed instructions to me. It is the theme of my life and I invite you to make it yours. Nothing is more important than the eternal destiny of those around us.