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Posts from April 2016

Why Mother's Day Is No Longer the Big Attendance Day at Church

Mother's Day will be here soon. (That is my not-s0-subtle reminder to all you kids out there to go buy a card and a smelly candle today for mom, before all that's left are the cards that say "I like you" and the really stinky candles like "grey mist.")

I was recently in a church leadership meeting with a group of church members as we discussed the fluctuating attendance patterns at our church. At some point in the midst of the meeting, someone mentioned the BIG attendance days at church being Easter and Mother's Day.

At that point, it was clear that some of our folks were not actually considering the number of people who actually attend church on these days, but were remembering the bygone era of their early adulthood and childhood when these were the actual big attendance days.

For church leaders and pastors, planning ahead and promoting big days is not wrong. In fact, I believe it is very right. There is value in leveraging naturally high-attendance days for the sake of the Gospel. It's just that presuming that Easter and Mother's Day are the big days will reveal that the cultural calendar hasn't been checked in a while.

In full disclosure, Easter is still a pretty big attendance day for us here at our church. However, it should be noted that the total attendance this year on Easter was less than on Easter last year or in previous ones. While Chicken Little Christian will say that "We're dying! The church sky is falling!" the fact of the matter is that while we are continually seeking to find new ways to engage our community and the cultural domains, we are no more dying than any other Baptist church around. 

Wait...maybe we are dying. :-( 

Plateaued is dying, right? This will be a topic for another posting.


Back to "big days." 

Over the years, and more dramatically, over the past five or six, the shift has been clearly made in our community regarding big attendance days. James Emery White, pastor of Mecklenberg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, recently wrote an article about community outreaches and his description of "big days" is exactly what is happening here.

A “big day” approach to outreach is simple: Seize the naturally big days in terms of cultural attendance, do all you can to reach out and invite people to attend, and do all you can to “hook” them so they will keep attending afterward.

Traditionally the two big days were Easter and Mother’s Day. The rationale behind this was that Easter was the one day everybody would still go to church, and Mother’s Day was the one day that Mom (often the only churchgoer in the family) would get her way with the rest of the clan.

A “big day” approach is still effective. The problem is that many churches haven’t updated their cultural calendar. How so? The biggest days don’t tend to be Easter or Mother’s Day anymore.

In regard to Easter, there just isn’t the cultural impetus to attend that once existed. Further, Easter is now tied to “spring break” on almost every public school and college calendar, making it one of the biggest vacation weekends of the year. There are actually healthy churches starting to dip in attendance on Easter!

As for Mother’s Day, again, moms these days are as unchurched as anyone. Further, families are so spread out geographically that this just isn’t the “big day” it used to be.

What days are? Services surrounding Christmas Eve, the fall time-change weekend and then the first weekend following the start of school (either in August or September). For example, for the past several years at Meck, we’ve consistently had more people at our Christmas Eve services than our Easter weekend services. And the spike in attendance for the weekend closest to the start of the new school year is one of the biggest spikes we experience.

In talking with other church leaders, we are far from alone.

He's right. We're in that camp as well. The Christmas Eve service here is the largest we have annually, and we really don't leverage it well. That will change this year as we will put more emphasis and energy in reaching our community on that day. In fact, we're going from one service at the main campus, to three at all our community campuses. 

Growing up in church (and I have been in church since the womb) I never remember, ever, going to to church on Christmas Eve. I don't think any of the churches we were members of (we were a military family, so many church homes over the years) had a Christmas Eve service. I do remember one having a New Years Eve service, but it was basically terrible and only a handful came to "pray in the new year" and celebrate superstitions by eating black-eyed peas.

However, here, Christmas Eve is THE biggest service of the year for us.

Mother's Day...not so much.

Nevertheless, we will meet on Mother's Day and we even have scheduled a parent/child dedication (more on that at another time, since now not everyone is allowed to participate.)

Every community has potentially BIG days. It is the role of the missionally-minded pastor and leadership team to study the cultural calendar and know the mission field well enough to leverage these days best. 

Should Christians Boycott Companies?

Last week another boycott was recommended by Christians and this time, the online petition for boycott has garnered more signatures that just about any other one leveled at companies and corporations in the past.

When it comes to boycotts of companies making unbiblical decisions and instituting policies foreign to biblical truth, there have been many instituted over the years. I remember the boycotts of Disney, Nike, Amazon, Starbucks, AT&T and many more. The latest is a recommended boycott of Target based on their public statement  and newly instituted policies regarding opening public restrooms to transgendered people. 

We should have seen this coming. 

In fact, no one should be surprised that Target stepped up and publicly made this statement.

The worldview divide is growing larger. There will be no fence-sitting on issues of gender and sexual identity issues for any corporation, church or individual. No longer will people be able to say "I have no opinion." This is especially true for churches and Christians. 

You Have the Right to Boycott

I have no problems with people participating in boycotts. It is the right of every person to choose where to go and with whom to do business. 

The question that I have been asked by numerous people has to do with the biblical affirmation of boycotting and whether these are effective. 

Personally, I doubt that Target will change their stance. They will likely lose some money in the short-term. The financial hit may be significant. Though the cultural shift has happened, the restroom issues are a bit more "personal" and some, even non-believers, aren't quite to the point of affirming this shift. Nevertheless, I do not believe the outcry will be significant enough for Target to reverse it's stance. If they do, it will likely be temporary. Why? Because...worldview. 

Do I agree with Target's stand? Absolutely not. I am totally opposed to what they have stated and their newly instituted policy. However, that doesn't necessarily answer the question "Will the boycott do any good?" 

Some have postulated that we are in the place we are as a nation and culture because the church has been unwilling to stand firmly on the teachings of the Bible for so long. I do not doubt that truth of that statement, but we must remember that Christianity is more than a stand for moral goodness. It is much deeper than behavior modification. Christianity is about heart transformation through the power of God through His Spirit and the name of Jesus Christ. I believe the churches who have capitulated on the teachings of God's Word will be held accountable for that. In the meantime, those churches who have sought to stand firmly have been marginalized by the culture and many struggle to wonder if they're making a difference.

Should the church and Christians just stand idly by while cultural shifts continue to occur? No. That's never been the "salt and light" calling of believers. Neither should we turn into spiritual "Eeyores" who just live under a cloud and say "Oh, bother" all the time with a "sky is falling" countenance. It is clear that the gospel is still powerful and God is the change-agent for a world far from him.


Photo credit: Kevin Dooley via / CC BY



But, Should You Boycott

Should Christians boycott organizations and corporations? addresses this in a succinct article (full article found here.)

Ultimately, the Bible says nothing regarding boycotts.

Paul, in his first letter to the church in Corinth, states that while we are not to associate with the sexually immoral (which, by the way, the culture shift has pushed to the forefront as it relates to a biblical understanding of godly morality) he also states that we are still part of the world and ultimately cannot disassociate from all immoral people. The only way to totally disconnect from the immoral is to leave this world, which for Christians ultimately is our goal.

Yet, in the meantime, be salt and light, right?

Paul is writing to a church in the aforementioned passages (1 Corinthians 5) and he's pretty clear about associating with those who claim to be Christians but live contrary to God's Word. This is a huge teaching for the family of God as many Christians have seemingly chosen just portions of Scripture to hold high and honor. This teaching is needed today as it has been since the founding of Christ's church. Nevertheless, these verses are not exactly applicable when speaking of boycotting companies.

The only way to avoid ungodliness is to leave this world.

So, should you shop at a store that has publicly made statements that offend and are blatantly opposed to God and the gospel? That, as Paul speaks of in Romans is a matter of conscience, as led by the Holy Spirit. In areas where God's Word is not clear (and there are specific situations where that is the case) the believer, living in the Spirit, with the mind of Christ, will be guided into holiness and righteousness. 

Some will be convicted to join a boycott. Others will be led to not do so. Does this make either a "bad Christian?" Well, if you read Facebook posts and blogs (well, other ones, not this one, right? Ha.) you will find that some deem that it does. 

Gotquestions gives this solid information regarding those who feel led to join a boycott. These are questions that must be answered:

  • How far should the boycott extend?
  • What about the subsidiaries of the parent company? In some cases, when a boycott is to a corporation, there are many other businesses under the same umbrella that are ignored. Sometimes, as is the case in our multi-leveled corporate world, some "Christian" companies even fall under that banner.  For example, let's say you feel led to boycott Sony because of some of their movies or business practices. You'd also need to boycott Reunion Records, a popular Christian music label featuring some wonderful artists in Christian entertainment. Why? Because Sony Entertainment owns that company. BTW - that's just an example, not a call to boycott Sony. If you did, you'd also have to stop watching Jeopardy. Just sayin'.
  • Should vendors who sell to the boycotted company also be boycotted?
  • How will the effectiveness of the boycott be judged? Is the purpose to make a public statement? That's fine, and if that's the purpose of the boycott, go for it. If the purpose is to shut down the corporation, it could happen, but again, know your gauge of success.
  • What about Christians employed by the company? Some would say "They need to get another job" and that's easy to declare from a distance, but just consider the possibility of having every Christian working at a non-Christian business leave (BTW - corporations don't go to heaven, so is there really such thing as a Christian company?). Is this a wise strategy of the church? It is effective for missional engagement in cultural domains to have every believer walk away from their job, where they are surrounded by non-believers, and hide in a holy huddle for the sake of moral protection? 

Should you boycott? That's up to you. However, consider the reality of taking a stand for Christ. Consider a biblical worldview, without forsaking your opportunity to witness and love those who are enemies of the cross. Larry Osbourne says it well, when he declares that "the enemies of the cross are ultimately not our enemies, but victims of our Enemy."

The Shelf Life of the Local Church

It was a number of years ago at conference for pastors where I first heard this said aloud.

"The local church has a shelf life."

It was a shocking statement and caused many, myself included, to perk up and listen.  When I think of "shelf life" I think of food with dates printed on packaging. You know, like Twinkies, which supposedly have a shelf-life of three-thousand years. 


Photo credit: Photog Bill via / CC BY-NC-ND



You see, for my entire life, I have heard how God's church is strong, solid, founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ and because he is eternal, therefore the church would be as well, or so I thought. I even mentally went back to the passage in Scripture that seems to be the antithesis of this "shelf-life" statement. 

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18 (ESV)

That's good stuff. It has to be. It's in the Bible.

Yet, when Christ was saying this to his disciples, seated likely in a synagogue, or near one, in the city of Caesarea Philippi, he was making a clear statement about Peter, his role and calling and ultimately about the church as a whole, and not the local expression of it. And, by the way, this city had (and still does have) a huge cave that goes deeply into the mountain, with water coming from it. This was where a temple to Pan was built and was known, in that day, as the "Gates of Hell." Interesting, huh?

Nevertheless, to be told by a pastor that the church has a shelf life was still astounding. Then, as he explained it became clear. The local expressions of church do not last forever, especially if they never adjust to the changing culture (understanding the change is method, not message-oriented.) We have all seen and heard of local churches that no longer exist. Europe is full of empty buildings that used to house churches. Many now stand empty while others have been converted to pubs, libraries and other such community-focused centers.

The churches listed in the New Testament, especially those in the book of Revelation, are not featured on Outreach Magazine's fastest growing or largest. When these cities are visited (and here's another thing, in the Bible, there's never a church smaller than a city. Think about that one!) today, the sites are historical archeological digs. Since the churches did not likely have buildings, meaning no building program or debt to pay off, there are no first century church buildings to visit.

How Long is the Shelf Life?

This is a difficult question. Some churches in our nation have existed for a couple of hundred years. However, it's difficult to find strong, healthy, growing examples of churches at that age. It's also difficult to find strong, healthy, growing examples of human beings that age as well. In this renewed era of church planting, there are many young churches that are making great impact. Some are large and have the tag of "mega-church" but many others are small when it comes to using old scorecard metrics (i.e. attendance and budgets) but are healthy and definitely impacting and engaging lostness. However, regarding age of these churches, most are barely entering puberty. Some have entered the emerging adulthood era of life.

I began thinking of this even more over the past few months as I've had discussions with pastors sensing God's call to revitalize and rebirth some churches that would be getting Social Security checks and AARP cards if they were individuals. The North American Mission Board of the SBC is even placing a focus on "Replanting" churches to see new life arise.

A good friend and denominational leader shared with me that there are a handful of churches in our region basically staying open because of the life-support of a few attendees and members. The closing of their doors is inevitable unless something happens. Oh, the members love Jesus and these churches have rich histories and some Kingdom-honoring stories in their past. The problem is that no one seems to be writing current chapters of God's grace and glory and the prospect of future chapters is dim.

Yet, it does not have to be this way.

Some Churches Need to Close

While it grieves me to see a church close for good, the sad truth is that some need to do so. Why is this? Jesus stated why when he addressed some local churches through his revelation to John.

  • Ephesus (Revelation 2:5) - "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent."
  • Pergamum (Revelation 2:16) - "Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth."
  • Sardis (Revelation 3:2) - "Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God."
  • Laodicea (Revelation 3:16) - "So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth."

Most Churches Don't Have To Die

Here's the thing. As I read these warnings in Revelation, there is a certainty about what is to come, but also warnings. Warnings with helps. A number of "if" statements abound. If the church (and here it's the local expression of church) will repent of the sin of complacency, routine, disengagement from the lost world, pride, loss of love, etc. you will remain. If the church will shift from a focus on method and renew the focus on message, you will remain. If the church will be the church, not soiled by the sins of the world and the culture, not falling into legalism or liberalism, but firmly grounded on the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the Word, it will remain.

In other words, if the local expression of church remembers who they are and why they are, they will remain.

The Warning

The warning to pastors and church leaders is simple here, however. Often missed in church growth and health events and conferences. Don't miss this - if your goal is to keep your church've already started dying.

Now, the church is the bride of Christ. I'm not minimizing the role and identity of God's church. However, sometimes our love of the local expression and the legacy of our work can overwhelm our love for the bridegroom. There is no place for a "fourth person of the Trinity" and even the church doesn't get to be upgraded to that level. God, and God alone, is our focus. Our local expressions of church exist for one reason, and that is to bring Him glory.

I wonder if many of the dead, closed, and dying churches missed that?

I wonder when they did? Because here's a reality check...even a young church can launch and live with this focus wrong. When that is the case, even if the local expression has an incredible weekly show, awesome graphics and promotional items, and even a solid preacher of the Word...if the focus is not on Christ, that church is already dying.

So, the church has a shelf life it seems in most communities. But does it have to be that way?

Why "I Don't Love Him/Her Anymore" Is Not a Valid Reason to End a Marriage

As a pastor, I have had the great privilege of counseling married couples over the years. In some cases, marriages have seemingly been hanging by a thread. Others have experienced great betrayal and pain. Some just need encouragement to press on. Yet, there are some that eventually unravel regardless of counsel and prayer, by the willful decisions made by the offender or the offended.

While there are many reasons (and sometimes just excuses offered) as to why a marriage is over offered by a couple, a very common phrase that I have heard is "I just don't love him/her anymore." And to that, I often respond with "Okay, so now tell me why you think you have a right to end your marriage." And the confused look on the face of the one seeking to leave the marriage reveals that he/she thought the "I don't love my spouse anymore" was a valid reason. 


Years ago, I heard Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott share about the three types of love that are needed for sustaining marriage.  They refer to the findings of Dr. Robert J. Sternberg, a psychologist previously at Yale University and now Professor of Human Development at Cornell University. His "Triangular Theory of Love" postulates that love can be understood in terms of three components that together may be viewed as a triangle.

These three components are passion, intimacy, and commitment.


The Parrotts explain this well this way...

  • Passion – the biological part of love: This it the spine-tingling sensation that moves us toward romance. It starts with our hormones. It’s sensual and sexual, characterized by physiological arousal and an intense desire for affection. The Song of Songs, for example, celebrates the physical love between a man and a woman in passion-filled poetry: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth — for your love is more delightful than wine” (Song of Songs 1:2).
  • Intimacy – the emotional part of love: Love without intimacy is only a hormonal illusion. You can’t desire another person over the long haul without really knowing that person. Intimacy has a “best friend” or “soul mate” quality about it. We all want someone who knows us better than anyone else — and still accepts us. And we want someone who holds nothing back from us, someone who trusts us with personal secrets. Intimacy fills our heart’s deepest longings for closeness and acceptance.
  • Commitment – the willful part of love: Commitment looks toward a future that cannot be seen and promises to be there — until death. “Without being bound to the fulfillment of our promises,” writes philosopher Hannah Arendt, “we would be condemned to wander helplessly in the darkness of each person’s lonely heart.” Commitment creates a small island of certainty in the swirling waters of uncertainty. As the mooring of marriage, commitment secures love for our partner when passion burns low and intimacy wanes. Commitment says, “I love you because you are you, not because of what you do or how I feel.” (full article here)

As I talked to a young couple this week in premarital counseling, I shared this information. I shared that the if you grade these on a scale of 1 - 10, that there are times you will be a 10 out of 10 on the passion scale, but not always. There will be days you are a 10 out of 10 on the intimacy scale, but again, not always. Then, there's the commitment, or willful, scale. There are days you can be 10 out of 10 on this one. The difference is that on this scale, it's your choice. This is the willful determination to love. This is the realization that love is a choice.

So, when a person says "I just don't love him/her anymore" it is a statement of will. It is a choice. It is not a feeling. And, understanding this reality, no man or woman is given biblical grounds for disavowing the "commitment" scale (or to put it another way, to disavow the vow) regarding marital love.

Oh, and by the way, if the husband and wife wake up one day and discover that they're a 10 out of 10 on the commitment scale (which should be every day), a 10 out of 10 on the intimacy scale, and a 10 out of 10 on the passion scale...that's a good day to call in to work and take a personal day. That day is going to be a good, romantic day!


When Political Ideology & Biblical Theology Conflict

I was at a luncheon earlier this week sponsored by a local ministry focused on reaching immigrants for Christ. This ministry (not named here for security reasons) has been used by God in ways that even the founders find amazing. Dozens of African, Middle Eastern and Asian immigrants have come to know the truth of the gospel through this ministry and have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ. A good number of our church members serve at this ministry regularly and have experienced these stories first-hand.

It is truly amazing and the stories reveal the supernatural, transformational power of our Lord.

As this ministry is not positioned to expand to many of the largest urban areas in our nation and throughout North America, where immigrant families reside, we are now positioned for what could perhaps be a Great Awakening among the church in the United States, spurred by the growth and rescue of many who were not born in this nation. 


Political Ideology vs. Biblical Theology

Following the luncheon I had some time to talk with old friends and reconnect with some I had not seen for years. One gentleman, a brother in Christ and business leader in the city was there. We reconnected and he then revealed that his awareness of this ministry in our city was fairly new. His excitement at what God was doing was evident and it was good for me to see how others react when first realizing how God is reaching the nations in our city.

With our city being one of eleven "sanctuary cities" in the US, many immigrants are finding home here.

My friend, not only a conservative, Bible-believing brother in Christ, but also active in the conservative political community shared his struggle.

His honesty was refreshing.

His statement simply revealed his challenge of asserting a popular political belief regarding immigration among conservative politicians and the reality that God is bringing the nations here and many are coming to saving knowledge in Christ.

To put it simply - he finds himself at odds with an ideology and a theology. 

The issue of immigration is a political firebrand and often elicits way too many negative comments on blogs and news stories. Nevertheless, as with most issues in life, there comes a point where personal ideology and biblical theology meet. The wise person will recognize this and seek God's wisdom.

Ultimately, biblical truth trumps personal thoughts of "right and wrong" every time.

It's good to have a crisis of belief every now and then.