Tag Archives: church

Reflection on: Why We Are Going From Small Groups to Sunday School by Jim Davis

The points that Jim Davis presents are well worth considering. While I understand the intent of small groups and see them as historically sound, from Zinzendorf to Wesley, I believe that the points that Davis presents here are dead on where many churches have dropped the ball: Biblical knowledge, Developing of Teaching Gifts, Deeper Community, Cultural Engagement, and fulfilling the Role of the Chruch.

1) Biblical Knowledge – Do a quick search on Biblical Illiteracy and more than 71,000 results come up. The first three listed are “The Epidemic of Bible Illiteracy in Our Churches“, “The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem” and “The Crisis of Biblical Illiteracy.” It is recognized across the board that Biblical Illiteracy is a problem in the church today. Davis presents why the small group model is often not enough to counter this.

2) Developing of Teaching Gifts – Romans 12:6 – 8 tells us “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” While small groups have a reason for existing, they do not allow the opportunity for those with teaching gifts to truly exercise and develop them.

3) Deeper Community – As Davis states, this one seems counter intuitive. Most churches will tell you that one of the purposes of small groups is to develop community.  Yet while it can produce relationships within the group, there are two clear negatives that seem to arise. First is that these relationships need to be organic to truly grow, yet most small groups are artificial in their development, put together by the church leadership. Second, when these relationships do flourish, it is very easy to not become a community of the church, but little communities (or cliques) within the church.

4) Cultural Engagement – Here is the purpose of gathering on Sunday morning. Ephesians 4:11 – 13 tells us, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Sunday morning is the time to “equip his people for works or service.” Here God’s people come together to learn, to fellowship, to be built up, so that they can, in turn, take Christ to the world. Yes, small groups can prepare members for this, but too often it is just a time to gather with their group of friends, thinking inward and not outward.

5) Fulfilling the Role of the Church – This is a natural follow-up to the previous point. The role of the church is to teach and build-up the body for service. It is not to entertain or to, as Davis puts it, play matchmaker. When the church fulfills its God given role, we may just find that what the small groups have tried to manufacture, God will grow organically.

Final Thoughts

Am I saying that this will solve everything? Am I giving a guarantee that what Davis has presented is indeed the answer to any challenges in the church? Of course not. No one can do this, and I certainly do not have all the answers. Yet I believe that we need to be open to honestly evaluate our current practices. Are we doing them because it has become what everyone else is doing? Is our current model truly accomplishing what we intend it to do?

Is there a place for small group? Yes. But are small groups the miracle answer that many have come to believe? No. Whether we choose to use small groups or not, I think Davis’ point of the importance of Sunday School can not be dismissed.

Grace Applied

This fall we are going to do something that will seem crazy to many. We are going from a small group model to a Sunday school model (under a different name). Most church growth material over the past 20 years would advise against this move. We are a young, growing contemporary church. Why would we make that change? Here are five reasons.*

To Grow in Biblical Knowledge

The average committed evangelical today goes to church twice a month. Many churches don’t have an evening service so that means two times a month people are being taught the Bible. Couldn’t they just open a book? Yes, but most don’t.

Small groups are rarely times of Bible teaching, but Sunday school is. Small group leaders prepare for about 10 minutes while Sunday school teachers study and prepare all week. Beginning Sept. 10th, we will replace discussion groups about the sermons (which tend…

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Why They Don’t Sing on Sunday Anymore

As you search the internet it is amazing how many articles you can find on this subject. What strikes me about them is that my experience confirms what they say. And while some may want to say that we are making an issue over contemporary vs traditional, I think they miss the point. The reasons that Thom Schultz gives in his article are clearly not a stylistic preference issue, but an issue of application and presentation. (Schultz does a fair job of further explaining this in his follow-up article listed at the end.) It is this application of the music that has driven people from their involvement, not the style of music. People want to be engaged in the worship and not simply observers, but to often the music is presented in such a way that it discourages people from joining in. Maybe it is time we re-evaluate how we are presenting the music portion of the worship service, and some times the rest of the service as well.

Holy Soup

Looking around the church last Sunday I noticed that the majority weren’t singing. And most of those who were singing barely moved their lips. The only voices I actually heard were those on stage with microphones.

That’s been the case for years now–in churches large and small. What used to be congregational singing has become congregational staring.

Even when the chipper “worship leader” in contemporary churches bounds on stage and predictably beckons everyone to “stand and worship,” the people compliantly obey the stand command, but then they turn into mute mannequins.

What’s behind this phenomenon? What happened to the bygone sounds of sanctuaries overflowing with fervent, harmonizing voices from the pews, singing out with a passion that could be heard down the street? I suspect it’s a number of unfortunate factors.

Spectator set-up. Increasingly, the church has constructed the worship service as a spectator event. Everyone expects the people on stage to…

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What’s in a Name? – Branding The Church

“Welcome to GraceLife.  We are so glad to have you here.”

Word’s like this are heard more and more often all across this country.  Why?  Because many Churches have jumped on the change your name band wagon.  They argue that by giving ourselves a new name we can better explain who we really are.  Really? So “Church” no longer does the job of explaining who we really are?

Churches have chosen to drop the word “evangelical”, “fundamental”, “gospel” and” Bible” from their name because it is “confusing”, “people really didn’t know what it means” or “it leaves a bad tastes in people’s mouths.”

So they change their name to something like, “GraceLife,” “LifeJourney,” “Crossway”, “CrossPoint,” etc. Now you may ask “Well, what is wrong with that?”  My answer is that, in and of itself, it is not wrong. The problem lies not in the new name, but the justification behind it.

Let’s take a look at these reasonings. First, what exactly does” GracePoint” mean anyway? This is clearer than “Gospel”? It seems to me you have to do as much explaining to non-churched people (and probably those raised in the church) of what “GraceLife” means as what “Evangelical” means.

Second, most of these churches have dropped using the word church in their name.  Now for some it may still be in their official legal name, but in their regular everyday usage they simply refer to themselves as “GraceLife”. Apparently the word church turns people off.  Really? So here is what I take from this.  We have allowed society to coop words like “church”, “evangelical”, “fundamental” and “gospel” so that we are afraid to use them. As a result, we choose the easy route and simply avoid them rather learn to defend their true meaning. So some have chosen to change their name rather than educate people.

But as problematic as I see this rationale, there is a more disconcerting reasoning behind the trend.

Marketing

“We need to get people’s attention.”, “How can we get people to remember us?” So churches come up with a new name (and maybe a cool logo) so people recognize it immediately. After all marketing research has shown that catchy names and slogans are easier for people to remember. They call this “branding,” not unlike the symbol burned into the hide of a young calf by a rancher.

Now before you think that I am bashing marketing, I am not. Marketing is a great tool, but it is just a tool. A tool that has clearly worked in the world around us. When you see a Pepsi logo you know immediately what it is. But as a church are we supposed to be looking at corporate America as our example? Marketing should not be the guiding force of the church. That is to say, marketing research should not be a reason to justify a change, though it can help us find the best way to communicate the message of the gospel.
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Catchy Names, Slogans and Logos

So marketing research has shown us that catchy names and slogans stick with people. I can quickly prove this true by throwing out several slogans to you and you will know exactly what it is. First, “Have it your way”, Second, “just do it” and third “your in good hands.” If you guessed that respectively these are Burger King, Nike, and Allstate you would be right. So catching slogans help us remember the company to which they are attached.

The same is true when it comes to logos. If I showed you a picture of “Golden Arches”, a “Red Target” and a “swoosh” odds are you would know what companies they represent. The first is McDonald’s, second is Target and third is Nike. Yes marketing has a job to do and when branding is successful, the logos becomes indelibly written on people’s minds.

Stepping beyond the slogans and logos we now come to the names. Marketing tells us that names should not be bulky. They should communicate what is important about your “company” in as few syllables as possible. So we look for quick easy names. As a result, rather than ” Walton’s Departments Store” we have “Wal-Mart”, rather than Boston Mass Transit Sandwich Shop” we have “Subway” and rather than “Sound of Music” we have “Best Buy”.

In each of these cases, branding served the companies well, but how does this transfer to the local church? When does branding cross the line from being a tool used by the church to being a guiding force of the church’s direction?

We Are Not Trying To Please People But God

It seems to me that the answer is not as complicated as people would have you think. Twice in scripture Paul poses the answer.  In Galatians 1:10 he presents the question we must all ask ourselves. “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

In 1 Thessalonians 2:4 presents it not as a question, but as a statement of truth. “On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.”

Now I present these not as a condemnation of marketing in the church, but as a challenge to those who elevated marketing to the level higher than it should be. What is the deciding factor in your decision-making, pleasing God or pleasing man.  After all, that is the very essence of what marketing is. It is an attempt to find those things that will tickle peoples ears.  Those things that will get people excited and talking about the product. It is to find those things that please man. And while this does not automatically place it in opposition to God, it must make us stop and think.  Have we so taken from the world around us, that we see its systems on the same level as the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Thinking of Christ

So as I hope I have communicated, I am not simply throwing marketing techniques out the window, but I am questioning their emphasis.  Is a catching name, slogan or logo where we need to be putting our emphasis.  If not, then what should be the emphasis of the church? As I ask this question I shake my head thinking, “Is this a question that should really need asking?” The emphasis of the church should be nothing less that Christ Himself.  This is why we come together.  We come together to worship Him.  We come together to entreat His help and guidance.  We come together to hear His word.  We come together to build His body. This is the church, believers in Christ who join together to build up one another and Glorify God.

For 2,000 years the church has had a “logo” that is automatically recognized the world over.  The Cross.  It symbolizes the sacrifice that Christ made, that He gave His life as an atonement for the sins of the world.  Travel the world over, and you will find the Cross.  In homes, on mountainsides and at the pinnacle of Churches.  Yet today, how many church building are built without a Cross visible to the sorounding community.  Instead, we send out our flyers in the mail with our churches new exciting logo.  A logo that too often fails to promote Christ’s Church, but rather simply our local congregation. Yes, perhaps the logo has a cross within it, but not at the forefront as it has always stood.

What of names? For years names of churches helped people to find them and to know what they believed.  The word church simply means “of the Lord”, that is to say a group of people committed to the Lord.  And while church has been taken into use by other religious groups, the almost universal understanding of the word is an assembly of Christian believers.  Beyond this, churches often gave a geographical part to their name, not to say that those are the only people they reached to, but to know its location.  And, until recently, almost all churches identified their beliefs system through terms such as “Evangelical”, “Baptist” and “Methodist.” In many of these cases, these were denominational identifiers to unite them with others of like thinking.

When I hear a name like “GraceLife” there is nothing that tells me we are speaking of a church.  There is nothing to tell me where they are found. There is nothing to help me understand their beliefs. And if I come from a particular denomination, there is nothing that lets me know this is a like minded body.

Final Thoughts

Lest you think I am judging all churches that changed their names as wrong, I am not.  I simply want us to stop and think seriously about why it is we choose to change names. What is it that is guiding our change?  Is the change glorifying to God or is it pandering to man? Is the name change really the image change we want to present or is our concern changing the image people have of us as a body?

So go ahead and change your name if it is for a valid reason.  Create your logos and slogans, but remember that the only change that really matters is the change that comes from within.  A change in the hearts of your people.  It is this change that will stick with those who look at your church, not names, slogans and logos you present.

 

Yet One O’er All The Earth

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

She is from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

‘Mid toil and tribulation
And tumult of her war
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with Thee

Words by Samuel J. Stone, 1866
Music by Samuel S. Wesley, 1864

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Ephesians 2:19-22

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
1 Peter 2:4 – 6

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:4-6

 

Have you ever helped build a structure.  No matter how small the structure, one of the things that is needed is a good foundation.  I helped build a pergola, which is simply corner post and cross slats on the top.  Still, we were required to lay four foot deep concrete footings.  Why? Because the strength of the building is dependent on a solid foundation.

A church building is no different, and just as the church building needs a solid foundation, so the Church, the body of believers, needs a solid foundation.  In his song, “The Churches One Foundation” Samuel Stone tells us what that foundations is.  He writes, “The Churches one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord.”  This image comes straight from the Bible in Ephesians 2:20 where we are told that “Christ Jesus himself (is) the chief cornerstone.”

But as I continue through this hymn, it is the second verse that we too often forget.  Our foundation is Christ, but the Church reaches far beyond my local congregation.  Stone writes, “She is from every nation, Yet one o’er all the earth.” harkening us back to the words of Revelation 7:9, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”  Too often we fail to see beyond the walls of our local church. We forget that the church is far beyond this.

He goes on to write, “Her charter of salvation, One Lord, one faith, one birth; One holy Name she blesses, Partakes one holy food, And to one hope she presses, With every grace endued.” Going past the building walls, going past the denominational walls,  the body of Christ is one.  I am drawn to Ephesians 4:4 – 6 where Paul writes, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Too often we let our difference divide us, forgetting what we have in common.  There is indeed, “One Lord, one faith and one hope.”  All of this growing from our one foundation, Jesus Christ in whom and with whom we are unified into one body.

 

 

Read more about “The Churches One Foundation.”

Historic Evangelicalism

I recently taught a a series on “What is an Evangelical?” It was an eye opening experience. There are, of course, many statements out there on what it means to be evangelical. The most notable include “An Evangelical Manifesto” and The Gospel Coalition’s “Foundational Documents.” Now both of these have writers and/or supporters for whom I have great respect. The problem is that we still do not have a clear definition of what it means to be “evangelical.” It becomes even more confusing when we add into this the term as it is commonly used today.

So what does evangelical really mean? Evangelical is a term that is thrown around today as much in the media as in the church. It is, in point of fact, a terms that is as common today as “White House.” Yet, while there is no question what is meant when people refer to the “White House,” evangelical is not so clear, despite being in the public vernacular for the last 30 years.

The presidential election of 1976 placed “Evangelicalism” at the center stage as both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter readily identified themselves as born-again evangelicals. America sat up and said, “evan-what?” This had such an impact that Time Magazine declared 1977, following the election, the “Year of the Evangelical.” Since then the battle has been on to define evangelicalism.

What I have found is that we have mistakenly come to identify “evangelical” with a political position, most often conservative Republican. (Understand that I am of this political persuasion but have come to believe it is not a defining characteristic of being evangelical.) I have also found that much of what the media refers to as evangelical today, is not truly evangelical. As a result of my study, I have come to a conclusion that there are 10 of what I refer to as “Historically Essential Components of Evangelicalism.” It is these essentials that I use to define “Historic Evangelicalism.” These ten essentials are:

Historically Essential Components of Evangelicalism

    1. Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone)
      1. The perspicuity of scripture
    2. Sola Fide (Justification by faith alone )
    3. Charitable handling of theological conflicts
    4. Priesthood of all believers
    5. Experiential heart
    6. Desire for Holiness
    7. Emphasis on the role of holistic worship
    8. Affirm the doctrines of historic orthodoxy
    9. Passion for missions
    10. Concern for the poor and disadvantaged

It is these 10 point I refer to when I use the term, “Historic Evangelicalism.”