Leaders are asking
'So what do you think we should do?' – or something similar – is the most common question Church Scouts are asked.
The general policy of Church Scouts is not to editorialize or recommend but rather just gather, sift, organize and deliver relevant data without comment. However, because of the frequency and intensity of this question, the general policy is somewhat relaxed in this section.
Church Scouts are constantly visiting Twin Cities churches ... talking with church leaders ... conversing with people on the streets ... reading surveys, news articles and books ... engaging with consultants ... and doing analysis to determine what it all means with respect to strategic action for church growth.
Even though not their role, it would be rude and uncaring for scouts to refuse to give any personal opinions when asked.
So, in this section only, Church Scouts express what they believe are the six major categories of changes needed to reverse the general decline in church attendance, income, participation and influence – in short, the decline in disciple-making.
In Christian terms, a disciple is a committed follower of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the big issue here is: With each new generation, in the Twin Cities, how is the proportion of believers growing or declining? See the actual data.
Usually, facts speak for themselves, but sometimes facts can become so overwhelming that leaders have difficulty in translating them into action steps.
That's why, in this section, scouts offer their priorities and views regarding the major issues they believe need attention and change in Twin Cities churches.
Christians spend a lot of time finding answers for questions (particularly in Bible studies) that people (particularly unbelievers) are not asking, but are generally unprepared to answer the big questions people are asking.
Most Christians are weak in knowing what and why they believe and unprepared to give good answers. They rely mostly on feelings and tradition.
A stronger theological foundation is needed for grounding believers in the basics of Christian faith.
This needs to be more than a creed or statement of faith. The basic concepts – with coherent reasons – need to be taught so that Christians can discuss spiritual matters extemporaneously and easily with others.
Christians should be able to talk about more than just good living; they should also be able to talk sensibly about sin, atonement and salvation, in every-day language.
Unbelievers have many questions they want anwered, but Christians usually dodge the tough questions, often with a deer-in-the-headlights look.
If a Christian can't give a satisfactory answer, it implies that there is no answer or, even worse, that the person hasn't even thought much about it.
Just to say, 'That's what the Bible says,' or 'That's what my church teaches' is not a satisfactory answer for most people. Today people want evidence that Christians have worked through the issues, not just blind acceptance because that's what they have been taught.
When Christians are asked a difficult question about the reasons for Christian faith, a common response is to offer to send some else's answer as an email link, book or video. When the Christian cannot give a satisfactory personal answer, the inquiry is often referred to a religious professional, and the impact of personal faith and experience is lost.
When faith is well-grounded, ordinary people should be able to express in their own words what and why they believe.
Increasingly, Christians (particularly evangelicals) are regarded as un-thinking. Answers should give evidence of personal intelligent thought.
The mission of the church – and individual members of the church – is to make disciples. But most training in the church is on general issues related to Christians learning more about the Bible and living a good life.
Training for making disciples should be practical, like the training for customer service in business, including actual apprenticeship, role playing and case studies on how to explain Christian faith and practice and how to give compelling answers to the real questions people are asking today.
Christians need more practice with each other in order to prepare for personal contact with people of other persuasions, to sharpen ability to converse with them.
Sunday School and youth groups should train in practical ways for real effect, not just to please parents by teaching sound doctrine.
Christians should be well versed enough on basic spiritual topics to be at ease and persuasive in conversations with outsiders.
Millennials and GenZs have lost trust in institutions (family, government, media, church, etc.) and are not inclined to submit and follow their advice. They want to discuss and dream together about how things can be made better.
The predominant form of Christian communication in the past has been preaching, and to a large degree preaching has come to characterizes Christian attitude.
Millennials especially are very adverse to know-it-all and holier-than-thou attitudes. They believe everyone deserves respect and that all options should be respected.
People know that no one has all the answers from God. They know there are hundreds of different denominations today, each one (or at least each type) believing that they are right, and others wrong, in their understanding of God and the Bible.
The effective way to communicate the gospel in modern society is through respectful conversations and discussions.
To make disciples, Christians must walk the talk. There are too many exposures of hypocrisy, and this has severely damaged the church.
Generally, Christians should listen more and talk less. Christian witness is greatly improved when there is genuine understanding of the other person's background and thinking.
Inviting and accepting unbelievers into a Christian group demonstrates that church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.
Increasingly, people are growing up with little or no spiritual background. Christians should not assume that most people know the basics of Christian faith.
The tone of good conversation should be two or more people discovering things together about a topic, not pressuring a change in thinking.
One person should not assume a commanding position, even with greater Bible knowledge, unless it's clear that the others want that one to be the leader. Never become condescending.
Merely unloading information and personal opinions is not enough. Content and presentation should be enticing and should encourage continued exploration together, not closure.
The Bible has lost credibility and authority among most people in the Twin Cities today. It's not sufficient to say to unbelievers 'because the Bible says so.' In fact, that response is more likely to arouse hostility and drive people away. Understanding and respect for the Bible needs to be carefully rebuilt.
Many people – perhaps most people – think Christianity comes from the Bible. Actually, the Bible comes from Christianity.
Christians should make it clear that Christianity comes from the birth, life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. People became Christians before the New Testament was even written.
The Bible is a collection of books written by men, God-inspired, about Jesus, to keep Christianity from degenerating into human philosophies over time.
Old vs. New
In the minds of most people, the Bible is a single unified book and every passage is to be taken as literally as any other passage.
Most people don't understand that the main message of the Old Testament (law) is replaced by the message of the New Testament (grace). Without knowing this, people find many contradictions and discrepancies in the Bible and conclude that the Bible is not accurate and trustworthy.
Most of the big stumbling blocks to Christian faith – the unbelievability problems – are from the Old Testament.
It was not God who decided to bind the Old Testament and New Testment together inside a single cover. That was man's idea, well meaning, but it creates considerable confusion today.
The Old Testament is about how God dealt with the ancient Jewish people. The New Testament is about how God deals with everyone today. This is a huge difference that needs to be made clear. It's not all the same.
In America it used to be that quoting the Bible was regarded as quoting truth.
For most people today, the Bible has little or no relevance to their lives. The challenge for Christians today is to learn to explain the Bible in a way that makes it an important and trustworthy guide for life.
When multiple interpretations of scripture are possible within bounds of sound hermeneutics, Christians should choose the interpretation that it is most sensible and accord with people's actual experience.
Christians should be willing to say 'I don't know' and not feel that they must have an answer for every spiritual question. Focus on what is clear and don't be afraid to leave some questions unanswered or subject to multiple interpretations.
Insisting on a particular interpretation that is open to various interpretations can cause the Bible to lose credibility in the the minds of unbelievers, especially conflicts with science. They conclude that if the Bible is wrong on a subject that is proven, it is likely to be wrong on other subjects too.
There is a central message in the Bible. Jesus stated it sustinctly in Matthew 22:36-40: Maximum love for God, self and neighbors.
As much as possible, Christians should stick with the central message.
In general conversations, avoid code words and phrases that may be dear to believers but unintelligible or weird to unbelievers. Don't try to impress with superior Bible knowledge.
People today are not sure what "Christian" means, and it has different connotations to different people. It's important to give and demonstrate clarity on the key points.
Jesus said we should be known by our love, but sadly Christians are known more today as people of intolerance, judgment and hypocrisy, a shrinking culture identified with the past. We need to build strong and vibrant Christian community. People need a secure sense of belonging.
People may visit a church and acknowledge that the facility was excellent, the music wonderful and the message extremely well presented ... but they don't come back. Why?
The most important factor determining whether or not people will come back and engage with a church is not excellence of the presentation but how the group makes them feel. If they feel that they wouldn't fit in, or they don't care to becomes friends with that group, the visitors won't be back.
People don't necessarily want the biggest and best, but they want to be with people they like, who make them feel comfortable, even with differing ages, backgrounds and beliefs. They want much more than getting information or watching a good performance.
Most people want some kind of involvement with the group, to do things together. They want to make new friends and develop personal relationships.
Many pastors and worship leaders who think people come to church almost entirely for the music and sermon would be surprised to know how important friendships are for attracting and holding people to church. Music and sermons get almost all the attention, and people's feeling get little attention.
Many people in church believe that they are friendly, but usually they are friendly with each other, giving only slight recognition to newcomers.
Even though most people want to make new friends and acquaintances in church, some want to remain relatively anonymous (at least for a while), and it is important to know and respect the difference, individual by individual.
Many churches are praying for revival, patiently waiting for the Lord to cause people to return to the spiritual passion they once had. But most people in the Twin Cities are unchurched and can't be called back to something they never experienced.
The thrust of the gospel is new life in Christ, transformational life change. It is forward looking.
Only about 8% of the people in the Twin Cities are atheists. Most people are spiritual.They are trying to design their own spirituality, and generally they are willing to listen to what others believe as long as they don't feel that others are condemning them or forcing their beliefs on them.
There are always people drawn to God because of major problems in their lives, but most people are quite content and don't feel burdened by sin in the biblical sense. Churches that target their message to guilt and crisis might do better to target to emptiness and lack of fulfillment.
The powerful message of the church community is positive life change, a new kind of clean life in Christ and power of the Holy Spirit.
Many churches have become too professional, requiring large staff-to-attender ratios. This leads to bureaucracy and economic inefficiency and limitations. Churches pay people to do what volunteers should do, and need to do for growth and fulfillment.
Training is mostly on Bible knowledge and not enough on how to seize opportunities, build action teams and communicate the gospel to unbelievers.
Christians are often too nice, even to the point of being hypocritical, for fear of offending someone. Christians become too sensitive and therefore there is not enough direct accountability for fulfilling group responsibilities. Leadership requires honesty and firmness.
Decision making is usually slow and timid, but needs to be fast and bold. Churches should not be afraid to take risks. The objective is to grow, not just hold the fort.
There are usually too many old board members leading our churches. There should be more fresh blood and shortened time for newcomers to be accepted into leadership positions.
Pastors should take more time to talk with laymen about what specifically laymen do on their secular jobs. Pastors often act as if church work is all that matters. Pastors would understand their congregation better if they invested more time in dialog about day-to-day work of ordinary people and would be better at team building with the church human resources. It would be an eye-opener if pastors would frequently spend a couple of hours at work on the job with people in the church. Sermons would be more relevant and friendships would grow deeper.
Leaders must learn to think analytically, hearing what people are thinking and replying with effective feedback communication.
Ministry jobs can be assisted by automation (large meetings, video, online sermons, email blasts, web sites, etc.) but cannot be replaced by them. The personal touch is extremely important.
The church landscape looks like silos, each church a flurry of activity within but largely oblivious of the activities of other churches. Twin Cities churches could benefit from greater collaboration and mergers.
Movement is an important characteristic of a growing church. There's always something new. There's a sense of excitement for new challenges, improvements and extensions of ministry.
Strong leaders never let the church stall.
Not only should the congregation be moving to larger size and community involvement, but individuals within the church should also be moving to new levels of spiritual maturity and service.
One size does not fit all. Allow people to remain the shadows for a while until they decide but give them many opportunities to move. Make many jumping points.
For most newcomers, the first visit to the church is online. The website should be designed to convince browsers that the church is worth a visit.
The outside sign should be crisp, modern and well lit.
The church facility should be warm and inviting, communicating friendliness, putting people at ease.
Internal signage and directories should make it clear and simple where to find the meeting room, restroom and ask for information.
The amplification system should deliver sound that is crisp and clear, so every word can be heard without straining.
The bulletin or other hand-out at the worship service is a very important part of the church communication, and it should be designed th drive people to the website for more information and details.
The website should be more than a format filled with dramatic pictures and listing of times, places and staff. It should have current news every week to feed movement within the church.
Millennials and GenZs are very adverse to bigotry, and they sense it instantly. A church may say it is tolerant and accepting of other people, but the young generation just looks around to see if that's really true.
Millennials are generally regarded as people born between 1980 and 2000. Gen Zs are people born after 2000.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average age in the United States in 2018 is 38. This means that half of our country is now Millennial or Gen Z. This is the half that is growing and shaping our country and our churches.
To be truly effective and prepare for the future, the successful church today must be skilled at teaching, training and motivating these new generations. Children and teens ministry must be growing or we're losing ground.
More than 30% of the Twin Cities population now consists of people of color – more than a million people, and growing fast.
To be racially integrated today, a group should be 20% or more people of color. Millennials visiting a church look around and get an instant impression of the degree to which it is exclusive or inclusive.
People of different ages and races do not always have to meet together as a group, but they should know each other and have meaningful interaction with each other.
One size does not fit all, so targeting ministry to particular segments within the group is still important. Different segments will prefer different kinds of music, different levels of spiritual maturity will need different style and content of teaching, etc., but all segments within the larger group should feel accepted and comfortable with each other.
Over the last hundred or two hundred years, the American church as taken an increasingly anti-science stance towards new discoveries. A very high percent of young people today think that must choose between the Bible and science, but can't have both.