Five Things Every Practicing Church Leader Must Do
Church transformation, church planting, and church growth are all built on the same foundation. I suspect most of you reading this have a pretty good idea what that foundation is. If you said “Jesus Christ” you’d be right. Sort of. It’s absolutely true that the church is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, but a church that’s the body of Christ is a body that’s in motion. It’s a doing body, not a body at rest. The foundation that transformation, planting, and growth are built on are the practices, that is, the behaviors of the body.
Once upon a time, those practices were less about doing and more about knowing. Right thinking was the cornerstone of the church’s practices. The need for right thinking pressed the church into a teaching model. Preaching was aimed to change our thinking, and our changed thinking would change our behaviors, or so the story went. Of course, that thinking has aided and abetted the church in getting where it is today (with membership losses reaching well into the multi-millions during the last decade). Indeed, today the mainline church is largely still laboring within this paradigm. I was at an event recently and watched as the speaker was nearly roped, tarred, and feathered when he suggested the particular brand of denominational theology (or any brand for that matter) was virtually insignificant in an unchurched and unconnected culture.
We live in a time when actions don’t just speak louder than words … they speak louder than our “beliefs.” Although ostensibly “beliefs” drive our values and values drive our behaviors, the word “belief” is so misused by both the culture and the church that it barely means assent-to-the-facts, let alone mandate-life’s-decisions.
One note before I present the five things every practicing church leader must do. The following list presupposes two things. First, that you understand that as a Christian, you’re expected to be in church leadership. Given the state of the church, we simply don’t have the resources for consumer Christians today. Everyone in the church must consider themselves as a leader in the church. Second, the following list presumes that you are already engaged in a full regimen of spiritual disciplines (Bible reading, reflection, prayer, worship, faith sharing, etc.). If you’re not, the following list will largely be a waste of your time. Little good comes from an unfocused life.
And now, without further ado, here are the Five Things Every Practicing Church Leader Must Do.
List Fifty Reasons Why Someone Would Want to Join Your Church
At first glance, this doesn’t look like a difficult task. But don’t be fooled. It can take you a number of days to get all fifty. You may be wondering why this would make my top five list, but the reason is really quite simple. The fact remains that the majority of church leaders in North America aren’t inviting people to their churches. There appears to be two main reasons for this. In some cases, the church leader simply doesn’t believe there’s anything of positive significance going on in their church (and too often, they’re right). But in many cases, the leader simply hasn’t thought through why anyone would want to join their church.
Now, before you write this task off as simple busy work, let me share a couple of anecdotes. I remember the first time I took a crack at this assignment. I had been called to start a third church and I was working through the Church Planter’s Toolkit (Logan and Ogne) when I came across this assignment. I thought, “This will be a piece of cake.” Ha! I got to number twenty-three or so and came up against a wall. I wanted to walk away from the task, but knew I needed to go on. It took several days of musing before I got the list done. But once I did, I found it easier to talk to the unconnected about the church.
More recently, I was coaching a church planter and gave her this assignment. Like me, she thought that it would be easy. In fact, it took her over six weeks to complete the assignment. However, she told me, “During the time I was working on the assignment I found myself talking to more people about the church than ever before.” Indeed, she now pulls the list out every week, reviews it, and tries to replace at least one of weaker reasons with a new, exciting reason. The list has helped keep her positive and it’s helped keep the task of sharing her church at the forefront of her mind.
Meet Five New People Every Week
If you’re a church leader committed to (1) the Kingdom of God and (2) your local church, the fastest and most productive way to grow the church is to be intentional about making the acquaintance of five new people every week. This is another one of those tasks that sounds pretty easy, but for most church leaders, they’ll find that in the beginning this is one of the most difficult tasks they’ve ever taken on. However, let me it is the most productive as well.
When I say meet five new people every week, I mean more than having a nodded greeting. For this exercise, you only get to count someone as a newly met person if you walk away knowing their name, knowing something about them. You get bonus points for getting their card or getting some manner of contact information.
The point of these meetings isn’t necessarily inviting them to your church or having a meaningful spiritual conversation, though having either of these would be awesome (and both will happen now and again). The point is to open the door for additional conversations. The fact is, the more people you meet, the more opportunity you will have to invite them to your church and/or to share your personal faith story.
I cannot stress the importance of this practice enough. Pastors, someone should be holding you accountable for meeting these five new folk every week (and meeting them in the church building does not count). Church boards, you should be making sure your pastor has the time in his/her schedule to effectively pull this off. And while I’m addressing the church board (session, council, etc.), someone should be holding each of you accountable for the same task.
I gave this assignment to a pastor I’m coaching. He’s struggled with the assignment, sometimes only meeting two or three new people every week. However, recently he managed to meet his goal for two weeks running. When we were doing check in, he realized that two of the ten folks he met during those two “productive” weeks had actually showed up for a worship service during the month. He was ecstatic. Now, a 20 percent return is unusual (in the words of all those diet commercials, “Results are not typical”); however, for a moment let’s postulate that you’ll get a 5 percent return. Take a moment to do the math. If every single church leader in your church, including yourself, engaged in this practice, how many new connections would be made each month. Multiply that by twelve and then multiply by 5 percent to get the number of new, first time guests that would walk through your door this year. Let’s say that a church of one hundred has fifteen leaders. Those leaders would meet 75 new people this week. At the end of the year, they would have met 3,900 people. If 5 percent dropped into church you would have 195 first-time guests this year. Churches with adequate follow-up should be able to retain between 50–75 percent of first visitors, so you’re likely to see almost one hundred new members. All because your church leaders were intentional about meeting five new people each week.
Encourage Someone in Their Faith Every Day
Paul reminds his readers that they should be encouraging one another in the faith and the writer of Hebrews adds that we should encourage one another daily. In a world gone spiritually mad, our fellow disciples need all the encouragement they can get to simply sustain their walk. Of all the assignments, this one is by far the easiest and, in fact, would have an incredible affect on the church.
Here’s the assignment. Once a day, pick up the phone, send an email, or pound out an SMS text to a fellow church member (leader or not) and ask them how their spiritual walk is (“How can I support you in your spiritual walk this week?). Listen to them and then ask them how you can pray for them. Then don’t forget to pray. Although this sounds simple, apparently this isn’t easy since it’s apparently rarely done. Indeed, in the past two years when I started teaching about encouraging one another, I’ve had less than ten people who could recall anyone doing this for them. On the other hand, I’ve had many church leaders confess that if they got just two or three calls like these each week that it would significantly strengthen their ministry.
Have At Least One Spiritual Conversation With An Unconnected Person Every Week
This assignment probably sounds more intimidating than all the others … maybe even combined. However, there is no more effective way of growing the Kingdom than by having spiritual conversations with the unconnected. Please note that the assignment isn’t to whip out your Bible and share the Gospel. It’s not to convince someone into the Kingdom of God. It’s simply to have a single spiritual conversation with an unconnected person each week.
I realize that the majority of those reading this article would classify themselves as introverts who may be saying how impossible this is. However, it’s not that difficult to find yourself in the midst of a spiritual conversation if you’re simply willing to be “out” where your neighbors (the unconnected) are and then to look for opportunities to simply be kind. At a recent conference, the speaker shared that they’d had four spiritual conversations with four different strangers within twenty-four hours. His secret was to time his presence in the breakfast nook of his hotel before the rush started. He’d sit and sip his coffee while reading the paper and keep his eye on what was going on around him. Invariably, the breakfast nook would fill up and he’d spy someone with an armful of breakfast looking in vain for an empty table to sit at. He’d motion to the vacant chair at his table and mumble something about not biting. Invariably, they’d take him up on his offer. Most of the time a conversation ensued and he’d share that he was leading a Christian spirituality conference. Sometimes that shut down the conversation, but more often than not the guest shifted the conversation to matters of the heart, soul, or spirit. Ultimately, they would have a spiritual conversation that either planted seeds or watered them.
When the spiritual conversation is had with our unconnected friends, relatives, acquaintances, neighbors, or co-workers the potential for deeper and ongoing conversations presents themselves to the point that at some time there will be an opportunity to share your own faith story – and that’s when lives are truly changed.
Be a Mentor
The final thing that all practicing church leaders must do is to be a mentor in the faith. In other words, to take someone along the faith journey with you. This is best accomplished by following the adage, “Do not ministry alone.” There’s a toxic practice in the church that has literally been killing off potential leaders for years. Although, I hear in church after church that the long-time members are tired and want someone to take over their church ministries, I’ve found that they’ve not prepared anyone to take on the task. There’s almost an isolationist bent in our independent spirit that has left the church without adequate leadership.
There’s a simple solution to the problem – one that we’ve been almost harping on for years. Do No Ministry Alone. This is true for the pastor, but it is even more true for the rest of the church leaders. It doesn’t matter what you do in the name of Jesus, whether it’s writing checks for the budget, leading a small group, taking up the offering, visiting someone in the hospital, or cleaning the restrooms … do not do it alone. If you do it alone, you’ve lost an opportunity to develop a ministry leader. Without more leaders, the church is going to experience a desperate leadership vacuum … oh wait, we’re in a desperate leadership vacuum. Perhaps it’s because our current ministry leaders continue to do ministry alone.
So, there you are. The five things practicing ministry leaders must do. Combine these five with your regular spiritual disciplines and you’ll see amazing results in your congregation.