Thursday, September 27, 2012

What Keeps Sincere Leaders From Collaborating With Other Churches

We're all in the same body of Christ, on the same team, right? Our churches are facing the same cultural challenges, all working for the same goal--spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ and bringing glory to God. So why are churches collaborating with each other?

Think about it. How many of your church's ministries include another church? How many of the food drives? How many of the evangelism efforts? How many of the youth events or Christmas programs involve Christians in your area that are members of another church?

The answer for the vast majority of churches in America is: NONE. Not a single ministry effort includes cooperation with another church. (By the way, I'm very curious to see if this problem happens in other countries.)

Think about how many times churches duplicate the efforts of other churches; how many extra items are purchased when they could be shared; how many times churches are struggling to have enough people or money to make an event happen. And think about the powerful message to a community when churches do collaborate. It elevates the attention to Christ, not our particular congregation or our particular pastor.

So why aren't churches in America doing this?

Some churches disagree strongly over doctrine, including substantial biblical issues. That does make it harder to work together. But that still doesn't explain the lack of collaboration. Most churches in the same denomination in the same town do only the required minimum of collaboration. And that's usually giving a portion of their income to the denomination at large and attending an annual gathering of leaders--not actually doing any ministry together.

I've don't ministry in a town with a 1st Baptist Church, 2nd Baptist Church, and 3rd Baptist Church--all within 10 minutes drive of each other, none of whom collaborated on a single ministry event. And don't think it's limited to Baptists. I led a parachurch youth ministry project in another town and on a major intersection found four churches--one on each corner. These churches were all fairly large and successful. And not one staff member at any of the churches had ever even met another staff member from any of the other churches. They could see each other from their front door and didn't meet. Oh, and while they weren't all the same denomination, they were all from mainline denominations with very few doctrinal differences.

They weren't enemies of each other. It just hadn't occurred to them to meet the other church people, let alone work together.

In fact, what's much more likely is for a typical church to be in active competition with other churches. Their leaders work to convince their people that their church is the best church in this area, trying to get their attendees to commit to their church as their church home (and not any of the others).

Think about the mailers you get (or the ones you just sent out). Boil the advertising down and here's what the vast majority of churches are saying to their communities:

Our church isn't like all the other churches you've been to--we're better (i.e. more casual, more open to non-believers, or more spiritual, or more friendly, etc)

I don't think churches compete (vs. collaborate) because their leaders don't love Jesus or are a bunch of hypocrites. In fact, in my encounters with hundreds of church leaders across dozens of denominations I find church leaders to be overwhelmingly sincere and truly committed to serving God.

So why are these sincere followers of Jesus not working together? I think it's actually driven by the system of modern church life--and the economics built into the system.

Typical churches are dominated and defined by their Sunday services. Not only is it the central element of their Christian duty ("being a Christian means attending church"), Sunday services are the venue for collecting income (call it "tithing" if you like, it's still the income stream for the church). And no matter how much we believe in the abstract that we're all in the body of Christ, the typical church measures it success by: 1) how many people come on Sunday morning;  and 2) how much those people give during the Sunday services.

And that creates a zero-sum game for churches. If a person goes to another church on Sunday morning at 9am, then they can't also be at your church at the same time. If they give their tithe to that church, they can't also give it to your church. One church's gain is another church's loss. So collaboration is dangerous because the attendance and giving get muddled. If you hold a joint service, how do you split the offerings received? If you hold a joint community outreach program, where do you tell the new believers to come to on Sunday morning--and who will get the tithe we will tell them God requires?

As long as Sunday service attendance and 10% tithes are the core definition of being a Christian, then churches will always be driven to compete with the other churches in their area. In this environment, the ministries you offer aren't just a method for reaching the world (though they are that, too). They are also your unique features that are used to convince customers to plug into your church--and not the others.

It's just the natural consequence of their system.

However, when you don't have services at the same time and don't require a tithe to a general fund (see my earlier posts on tithing and a simple weekly schedule) the freedom to truly collaborate is amazing. Our church has done this from the start. The amount of shared ministry projects has gone up or down over the years, but we've never had a time when we didn't have at least one shared project--where we were either sending people and money to support another church's ministry efforts or having them join something we were leading.

It's not because I am more holy than the other leaders. Not even close. It's because I didn't have anything to lose--no money I was counting on. We've had members attending multiple churches (our and another) almost continuously since our founding. Because our system makes it easier to do.

What does your church system encourage? How dependent are you on the tithes of your members? What if you weren't?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Do You Suffer From Confrontation Atrophy?

Christians are bad at confrontation. It used to be a regular part of the church experience. (Read the apostles Paul, Peter, James, the whole book of Acts...these guys spent a lot of time challenging people.)

No, sermons don't count as confrontation. While they can challenge how people think, that's teaching. I'm talking about a person talking to another person, saying, "Scott, what you are doing is wrong."

Jesus taught us how to do it well in Matthew 18:15-17:

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

In summary:

1. Privately offer correction, if they won't listen…

2. Bring one or two others along (probably they should be mature & mutually trusted, like church elders), if they won't listen…

3. Bring it up to the church, and if they still won't listen…
Treat them like a pagan.

First, notice that this process provides for as many opportunities for you, the "corrector", to discover that you're wrong as there is for the" correctee" to listen and change.

Second, notice that you don't ask around and get the whole church in agreement before you work up the nerve to challenge. You don't call the prayer line. You don't even shop around for a lot of advice before you work up the nerve to ask.

Caveat: If you're not sure whether someone is actually in the wrong or not, then I completely support talking to an elder or counselor you trust to keep something private. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about when you believe someone is in the wrong, but get a group of people supporting your position before  approaching the other person.

Third, the worst case scenario is that you treat them like pagans. Ok. How did Jesus treat pagans? What does the bible say about how should treat those outside the church? With some distance and caution, sure, but also offering them grace and the hope of redemption. In essence, if it gets that far, you change the standard you hold them to, realizing that at this point they're rejecting God's standard entirely. You don't become enemies.

In 1 Corinthians 5:6-13, Paul makes it clear that we are to hold those in the church with a high standard and be very diligent to not allow them to dilute the name of Christ. But for those outside the church--those who have not declared that they are submitting to God's standards--we are not to take the position of judge and jury (that's God's role, he says).

This process isn't that hard. It's easy to remember and is very low-drama. In fact, I'd bet that you've been taught this more than once already. I'm teaching it to my little children (who are currently ages 7, 5, 3, and 1) and they can do this process. So why don't we do this at church? Why is it that Christians seem to do the opposite of this?

My guess: We don't have real relationships in our church. And we don't see or hear of our leaders do anything other than preach to a crowd. We never practice this. There's no place built into church life to practice this. And no amount of sermons on this topic can make up for a total vacuum of practice in the context of healthy relationships.

The point of church isn't to confront. But if we are building and experiencing real relationships (which is one of the central purposes of the church), then confrontation is inevitable. In fact, it can even be one of the most fruitful and helpful aspects of healthy community. It can be one of the features that shows the difference in a community of disciples of Jesus. But that's probably not how you feel about confrontation and conflict, is it? I mean, I could be wrong. Does that describe your church experience?

What should be normal for the family of God feels strange and hard and exhausting. It's like the whole relationship muscle, including the confrontation aspect, has atrophied from centuries of neglect. The stage-dominated culture of typical churches has been like a cast put on a broken limb, keeping us safe from messy relationships. But it's also kept us from using those muscles to build healthy relationships. And when we're asked engage in conflict, even thinking about it can tire us. And if we actually have to confront that muscle complains and complains.

It's so much easier to just sit quietly and listen to songs and sermons. Relationships are hard work!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Turn-&-Greet-Your-Neighbor Time Could Be Backfiring

[from Awake From Atrophy]

“If we truly believe that it’s essential for us to build real relationships with each other to be a healthy church," Jacob continued, "then I think it’s essential that we build time for that in our services. As I already said, it’s na├»ve to expect this to happen without our members making a concerted effort. In ancient times, when the practice of eating was dropped from church life, their members came to church from the same community. They lived together, worked together, and already had relationships. But that’s not how life works anymore in the Western world. Most people in America, for example, attend church with people who would otherwise be total strangers to them.”

“I can see that,” Randall said.

“Unfortunately, the typical church design leaves relationship building to the ‘leftover time.’ If you want to build real relationships, you have to come before the services or stay after to connect with people.”

“Well, we make at least some effort,” Drew protested weakly. “Every church I’ve been in has at least the ‘greet your neighbor’ portion, as you called it.”

“Yes, they do,” Jacob returned. “But does that facilitate real relationships? Are people more authentic with each other as a result of that time?”

“Well, no, not really,” Drew admitted.

“You know,” Jessica piped up, “if you think about it, that element might actually have the opposite effect.”

“How so?” Jacob asked.

“Well, I think a lot of people put on a ‘happy face’ during that time,” she explained. “We all end up pretending things are great. We don’t have time for a real conversation and we don’t want to share something vulnerable and awkward about ourselves only to sit down right after.”

“I hadn’t thought about it that way,” Jacob said. “It makes sense, though.”

“It seems like those attempts at relationship building actually make people less authentic,” Randall mused out loud.

[check out the rest of the book at or email me for a FREE e-book version of the book at]