May 27, 2015

Is the American Church Dying a Slow Death?

The latest stats indicate the American church is dying a slow death.  

The Christian percentage of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing,

In 2007, there were 227 million adults in the United States, and a little more than 78% of them – or roughly 178 million – identified as Christians.

Between 2007 and 2014, the overall size of the U.S. adult population grew by about 18 million people, to nearly 245 million.  But the share of adults who identify as Christians fell to just under 71%, or approximately 173 million Americans, a net decline of about 5 million.

The decline is being seen mostly in mainline Protestant churches which includes the United Methodist Church, the American Baptist Churches USA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Episcopal Church.  In 2007, there were an estimated 41 million mainline Protestant adults in the United States.  As of 2014, there are roughly 36 million, a decline of 5 million.

While the big "C' church is in decline, there is good news.  The number of Evangelicals (those who characterize themselves as "born again" Christians) has grown from 34% to 35% and has a total of about 62 million adult adherents.  That is an increase of roughly 2 million since 2007.

Here's the bottom line.  Dying churches are continuing to die a slow death while churches that are alive are continuing to reach people and grow.  What's the difference between the two?

Churches that are just going through the motions are dying...churches that have the Spirit of God resting upon them are alive.  The churches that are growing have an anointing that can only come from God's Spirit.  What's happening in their congregation cannot be explained by their ministry programs, skills or staff.  They realize it is beyond their human abilities and rely upon the power of God's Spirit.

Churches that refuse to change are dying...churches that are flexible and adapt are alive.  If a church is dying, there's a good chance they are still operating like it's 1970.  Churches that are alive are anchored to the truth but geared for the times. 

Churches that have an inward focus are dying...
churches that have an outward focus are alive.  Churches that are passionate about reaching people are growing.  Take a look inside the fastest growing churches in the country and you will see their growth is not coming from "transfer" growth.  It's coming from reaching people who are far from God.  Many of these churches are reaching and baptizing thousands of people each year.  

Churches that are bent on preserving the past are dying...churches that are committed to reaching the next generation are alive.  Dying churches have senior adults that are more concerned about singing the songs they grew up with than they are about reaching their grandchildren's generation.

Churches that isolate themselves from their community are dying....churches that immerse themselves in their community are alive.  Churches that are dying could disappear and the community wouldn't even realize it.  Churches that are alive spend much of their time, energy and resources ministering in their community.

God is building some of the greatest churches in the history of our nation...right now.  Be encouraged.  Churches that are willing to catch the wave of what He is doing can make a huge impact in their community.  

May 26, 2015

16 Secret Rules Disney Employees Follow

When it comes to customer service, Disney sets the standard.  There is much we can learn from them in this area.

Keep in mind that new families usually decide if they're going to return to your church based on how you treat them on their first visit.  So it's critical to get this area right.

Giving families a great first experience doesn't happen by accident.  It's the result of great training and intentionality.

There are 16 key rules that Disney employees are taught as part of their training process.  Many of these can also be used to train children's ministry volunteers and help create a experience for families at your church.

#1 - Cast members.  All Disney employees are called a Cast Member.  This goes for all Disney employees from the ride operators to the janitors.

Children's Ministry takeaway -  What you call your team members matters.  Pick a name that conveys a sense of ownership and family.

#2 - Never say "I don't know."  Cast members can't say "I don't know," no matter what the question is.  Instead, they have to pick up the phone and call an operator to get the answer.

Children's Ministry takeaway - We've all had it happen.  We've asked a question at a place of business or a church and been told, "I don't know."  Just left hanging.  Feeling like you're not important enough for the person to muster enough effort to find out.

Train your volunteers to never say, "I don't know."  Instead, train them to say, "That's a great question...let me find out for you."  Then train them to do whatever it takes to find out the answer.  A great starting point is to make sure your volunteers have the information they need to answer questions.  Equip them with a list of activities, events, classes, etc that are going on.  Also make a list of FAQ's that new families might ask and equip your volunteers with the answers.

#3 - Beards can not be shaped and mustache can not extend over their lips or further than the corner of their mouth. 

Children's Ministry takeaway - This one doesn't totally translate into children's ministry, but is a good reminder that a professional appearance is important.

#4 - Hair code.  Disney cast members can not shave their eyebrows.  Hair must be neatly brushed.  Men's hair can not extend over the ears or hang over a shirt collar.  Beads are not allowed in the hair, however braids are acceptable but must be neat.

Children's Ministry takeaway - Another good reminder that a professional appearance is important.

#5 - Autographs.  Disney cast members go through signature training, if they are going to become one of the characters.  For each character, they have to follow very specific guidelines when writing signatures because they all need to be consistent regardless of who might be playing that character that day.

Children's Ministry takeaway -  Excellence is found in the details.  Another is the importance of consistency in values, procedures and culture.

#6 - Character Height - You can only be a certain height to play a character at Disney.  For example, to be a princess, you can only be between 5'4" and 5'8". 

Children's Ministry takeaway - It's important to put volunteers in the right role.  More on how to do this in this post.

#7 - Finger nails - Did you notice that Disney cast members don't usually have nail polish on?  If they have any at all, the polish needs to be a neutral color and no one in food or beverage is allowed to have any at all.  Furthermore, women's finger nails can only be a 1/4 inch past the finger and all males can not be past their finger tips.

Children's Ministry takeaway - Another good reminder that a professional appearance is important.

#8 - Body art - Disney cast members can not have any visible tattoos, tongue piercings or ear gauges. 

Children's Ministry takeaway - Another good reminder that a professional appearance is important.

#9 - Glasses - Those that need to wear glasses cannot wear glasses that have any type of branding (logos, etc) on them.  Also, the colors and frames must be conservative in nature.

Children's Ministry takeaway - Another good reminder that a professional appearance is important.

#10 - Cleaning - Every cast member is responsible for keeping the park clean.  If a cast member spots a piece of trash, they must pick it up and dispose of it.

Children's Ministry takeaway - Cleanliness is vital in Children's Ministry and is everyone's job.  A messy and cluttered environment is a turn-off for families.

#11 - How you clean - When a cast member spots a piece of trash, they must not bend over.  That is simply not proper.  You will see them instead pick it up in a scoop like manner. 

Children's Ministry takeaway - It's not just what you do, but how you do it, that creates a culture of excellence.

#12 - No finger pointing allowed - If you ever ask a cast member for directions, he will not point with one finger.  This is viewed as offensive in some cultures.  Instead, he will use his entire hand or use at least 2 fingers to point.

Children's Ministry takeaway - While it is recommended to always walk a family to a location, in a situation where volunteers need to point someone in the right direction, teach them to point with at least 2 fingers.

#13 - Social media guidelines - Cast Members are not allowed at any time to talk about what they do at Disney on social media platforms. 

Children's Ministry takeaway - It's important that volunteers agree to not post anything questionable or offensive on social media.  Kids and parents are on social media and we must maintain a good testimony online.  Here's more about social media guidelines for volunteers in children's ministry.

#14 - First name only - Walt Disney always liked to be called by his first name "Walt," so this is why you only see cast member's first name on their name tag.  Friends and family operate on a first name basis. 

Children's Ministry takeaway - Create a family atmosphere.  Team spirit must trump titles.

#15 - Code words - There are plenty of code words that cast members use through out the park to cover up the real meaning of what is happening.  One in particular is rather telling.  When a guest throws up, you might hear the code word "Protein Spill" or as of late it has been called "Code V."

Children's Ministry takeaway - Create code words for incidents such as a child missing, accident, lock down, etc.  This will help alleviate panic if you need to communicate about an incident where people can hear.  Know ahead of time what you will do in an emergency situation. 

#16 - Cast Members must always stay in character no matter what.  Don't expect a Disney character to know anything outside of the Disney Universe.  So don't ask Tinkerbell what she thinks about Superman.  She will have no idea what you are talking about. 

Children's Ministry takeaway - Another example of commitment to the details that creates a culture of excellence.

May 25, 2015

Famous Pastor's Kid Shares Great Advice For Students

Denzel Washington, who is a famous actor and celebrity, grew up in a pastor's home.  His father, Rev. Denzel Hayes Washington Sr., was a pentecostal minister.

Denzel considered becoming a preacher himself.  He said in 1999, "A part of me still says, Maybe, Denzel, you're supposed to preach.  Maybe you're still compromising.  I've had an opportunity to play great men and, through their words, to preach.  I take what talent I've been given seriously, and I want to use it for good."

In 1995, he donated $2.5 million to help build the new West Angeles Church of God in Christ facility in Los Angeles.  Washington says he reads the Bible daily.

His faith was evident in the recent commencement address he brought at Dillard University.  The five points of his address were great advice for the students and for anyone who wants to make an impact with their life. 

Put God first.  "Everything that I have is by the grace of God, understand that.  It's a gift...I didn't always stick with Him, but He stuck with me."

Fail big.  "Don't be afraid to fail big, to dream big, but remember, dreams without goals, are just dreams.  And they ultimately fuel disappointment.  I try to give myself a goal every day, sometimes it's just not to curse somebody out."

You'll never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.  "I don't care how much money you make, you can't take it with you.  It's not how much you have, it's what you do with it."

While you're on your knees in the morning, say thank you.  "Say thank you in advance for what is already yours.  True desire in the heart for anything good is God's proof to you sent beforehand that it's already yours".  

When you get it, reach back, pull someone else up.  "Each one, teach one.  Don't just aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference."

May 22, 2015

The Key to a Marriage That Lasts

In Mark 10, the Pharisees asked Jesus about marriage.  Here's how He responded.

Some Pharisees came to Him and tested Him by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

"What did Moses command you," He replied.

They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away."

"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied.  "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 

For this reason a man will leave his mother and father and be united with His wife, and the two will become one flesh.  So they are no longer two, but one flesh."

Jesus said when a couple (btw - He said a man and woman) marries, they become one.  Picture it like this.  Two strands of rope being tied together to form one strand of rope.  You "tie the knot."

The phrase "tying the knot" comes from the custom of tying a couple's hands together during the wedding ceremony.  It has also been traced back to Sweden, where sailors would send a piece of rope to the girl they wanted to marry.  If the girl returned the rope with a knot tied in it, it meant she was accepting his wedding proposal.

As Jesus continues talking about marriage in Mark 10, He says, "What God has joined together, let no one separate."

God established marriage to be a permanent relationship that would last a life time.  He doesn't want the knot that was tied to be pulled apart.

But there is an enemy.  John 10 says, "The thief is come to steal, kill and destroy."  The enemy's desire is to snap the marriage union.  There are several ways he brings the pressure. 
-Lack of communication
-Abuse (emotional & physical)
-Feeling constrained
-Trust / jealousy
-Quick changes
-Spiritual differences
-Parenting disagreements
-Baggage from previous relationships

Every couple faces one or more of these pressures and the tension it puts on marriage.  And it is hard for any couple to stand up to the pressure by themselves.

The key to a marriage not being pulled apart is found in Ecclesiastes 4.  It says, "And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him.  A cord of three strands is not easily torn apart."
The key to a marriage that lasts is the 3rd cord...which is God.  When you wrap Him around your union, He will keep the enemy from pulling you apart.

The more you surrender to His will and way as a couple...the stronger the third cord will become around your union.

Matthew 6 says, "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

When a couple makes their decisions based on God's Word, treats each other like Jesus would and puts God first in every area of their life...the cord becomes strong enough to withstand the pressures that are trying to pull them apart...and their marriage lasts for a lifetime.

May 21, 2015

3 Keys to Creating Lessons That Help Kids Grow Spiritually

Want to see kids' faith grow?  Here's 3 keys to creating lessons that will help kids grow spiritually.

Anchored to the Word.  The Word is what causes kids' faith to grow.  1 Peter 2:2 says, "Long for the pure milk of the Word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation."

The foundation of any lesson must be God's Word...not a value...not an object lesson...not a cute theme.  These can all be used to illustrate God's Word, but should not be the starting point.

Our lessons must be filled with the seed of God's Word.  When planted in the hearts of kid, it will result in spiritual growth. 

Application of the Word
Once the Word is planted in the hearts of kids, it must be applied to their life.

Information without application results in lack of transformation.  Obedience should always be the bottom line of the lesson.  Filling kids' head with knowledge without showing them how to apply it will short-circuit their faith.

James 1:22 says, "But don't just listen to God's Word.  You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves."  

If we don't challenge kids to live out what they hear, we are causing them to be hearers-only.  Hearers-only are like a person that looks in the mirror and sees they need to comb their hair, but quickly moves on without taking time to fix their appearance. 

Spend as much time teaching kids how to apply the truth as you do teaching them the facts of the truth.  How can they live this out at school?  How can they live this out in their neighborhood?  How can they live this out on their sports team?  How can they live this out at home?

Accountability to the Word
Psalm 1 tells us, "Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.  That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither - whatever they do prospers."

To help kids bear the kind of fruit we see in Psalm 1, we must hold them accountable to what we've ask them to apply.  Accountability will help kids develop spiritual growth habits that over time will shift to intrinsic spiritual disciplines.

Let's tie all three of these keys together in a practical example:

Anchored in the Word (start with a Bible passage):
Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.  So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.  When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept.  Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph.  "Look, we are your slaves!" they said.  But Joseph replied, "Don’t be afraid of me.  Am I God, that I can punish you?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.  He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.  No, don’t be afraid.  I will continue to take care of you and your children."  So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.
Genesis 50 

Explain the story of Joseph's brothers harming him.  He had to decide if he would obey God and forgive them or get revenge.  Joseph made the choice to forgive them. 

Application of the Word:
God wants us to forgive people when they hurt us.  Who do you need to forgive?  Will you forgive the person at school who tripped you?  Will you forgive your brother or sister who got you in trouble?  Will you forgive the kid on your team who called you a name?

If someone hurts you this week, will you forgive them?

Accountability of the Word:
The next week, take time at the beginning of the lesson to ask kids if they forgave anyone.  Have them share about it with their leader.  

These 3 keys will activate kids' faith and move them forward spiritually.   

May 20, 2015

One of the Best Children's Ministry Talks You'll Ever Hear....And You Won't Believe Who Gave It

We're in the process of purchasing a building for a new campus.  The building is owned by the city, so the city council had to vote to accept our proposal.  As with any city council process, citizens were allowed to share their views about whether or not we should be allowed to purchase the building.

Anytime you have an open forum, you never know who will show up to oppose your project or what they will say.  Such was the case on the night of the final vote.  When a man approached the podium, we didn't know who he was or what he would say.

But as he started to speak, our hearts began to fill with joy.  He proceeded to share one of the best talks I have ever heard about the importance of children's ministry and how God blesses a church when it makes children's ministry a priority.

This man is not a children's pastor...not a volunteer who was given lines to say...not a person who has been to a children's ministry conference...not a man who subscribes to children's ministry magazine....but he gets children's ministry....I mean...really gets it.

Listen to his words and be reminded of how important children's ministry encouraged...and be challenged to give your all to help reach the next generation (his talk is the first 3 min. of the video).