Uplifting Tweets from Chuck Snyder: Q1 2016

Chuck Snyder’s Twitter feed (@CRSDailyThought) provides a daily thought via a quote, often from a famous person. Here is a sampling of Chuck’s tweets from the first three months of 2016.

Tweets on Light

Tweets on Friendship

Tweets with Tips for Living

Encouraging Tweets

Churches Band Together to Reach Their Community for Christ

Once a vibrant part of a manufacturing corridor that extended from Pittsburgh to Detroit, the Warren-Youngstown area of northeast Ohio has been struggling economically since the steel mills and other manufacturing plants declined and closed a generation ago. Halfway between Warren and Youngstown is Girard, a town of fewer than 10,000 people. In early 2012, Pastor Rhonda Gallagher had to decide if she would agree to lead a tiny Lutheran church in Girard.

Gallagher, who grew up south of Akron and had raised a family a little further south in Massillon, was familiar with Ohio towns whose glory days were in the past. Before interviewing at the church in Girard, “I spent three years at a church in Canton,” she recalls. “Hoover, Timken, and other major employers in Canton aren’t doing as well as they once did.”

She was not familiar with Girard, and her first impression – as she took the Girard exit off the highway – was negative. “It looked very depressed,” she says. “There really wasn’t anything attractive to me about the Girard area. I thought to myself, ‘I can’t see myself living here.’”

She was considering a call to Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, which had not had a pastor for nine-and-a-half years. The synod, or denominational governing body, wasn’t sure what to do with Trinity and suggested that the church merge with another ELCA church in a neighboring community.

“The synod actually offered me a three-year contract,” says Gallagher. “I didn’t know what to make of that. No one ever gets a three-year contract. We serve until we are called to another church. When I asked about it, the response I got was that the synod didn’t think that the church would survive much longer. If the church didn’t make it during my three years there, then it wouldn’t be charged against me.”

Gallagher had experience with a dying church. While she served at a church in Canton, that church closed. A building worth $900,000 was sold for just $150,000 to an organization that promised to protect the building from vandalism. That wasn’t enough money to remove the ornate stained glass windows that had graced the building for decades.

“It was heartbreaking,” says Gallagher.

Should she take a job at another dying church in another depressed area? She was reluctant, until the interview at the church.

“When I interviewed, they were so excited about their church and the possibilities that they saw,” she recalls. “They had a desire for growth. An excitement for Christ. They wanted to take back their city for Christ. They persuaded me not only to take the position but to move to the community.”

And Girard is just that: a community. Don’t tell residents that they live in a suburb of Warren or Youngstown, or you’ll get a lecture.

“The roots go deep here,” says Gallagher. “We may be surrounded by Warren and Youngstown, but we see Girard as a place of our own. Many families have lived here for generations. They love Girard. And they want to go to church in their own community.”

There are no megachurches in that community. The largest church is the Catholic church, St. Rose. All of the Protestant churches are small and, when Gallagher arrived, all were struggling. Today, they are doing much better, primarily because they work together.

When Gallagher arrived in town, the ministerial association was relatively inactive. Today, that ministerial association is the epicenter of Christianity in the community. Gallagher has been the driving force behind that change.

“I don’t have the title, but I’m in charge,” she says with a chuckle. “We have learned to cooperate out of necessity. We work together on a lot of things.” She then goes on to list a dozen or more events and initiatives – including vacation Bible school (VBS), National Day of Prayer, united week of prayer, praying for businesses, community Thanksgiving service, community Easter service, and local missions work – in about 10 seconds. “My mom says that I missed my calling as an auctioneer,” she jokes.

Every summer, St. Rose and a half-dozen Protestant churches collaborate on a community-wide VBS that attracts 150 to 200 children. Each year, a different church building is the site of the VBS, and non-host churches take turns leading the week-long event.

“We don’t worry about which church gets more visibility or ends up attracting more people,” explains Gallagher. “We think of ourselves collectively as ‘the church’. We see good in each other’s denominations and individual churches.”

The churches in the Girard ministerial association do pulpit exchanges, usually toward the end of April or in early May. They do Thanksgiving, Good Friday, and Easter sunrise services together. During these cooperative service, a pastor never preaches at his or her own church.

The churches also work together to support the Emmanuel Center, which serves the needy in the community. “We cook at the rescue mission once a month for 150 people,” says Gallagher. “We collect clothing items such as socks and underwear. We collect and distribute school supplies in August.”

Some pastors initially were reluctant to cooperate so frequently with churches in other denominations, but they have been won over by the ministerial association’s consistent focus on reaching people for Christ and serving the community together. “It is common to have a fear of losing your people to another church,” says Gallagher. “My fear is that someone will stop going to any church.

“We have to be unified for Christ,” she continues. “We are made in Christ’s image, not a Lutheran image. We pastors have to lead by example. People watch us everywhere, not just on Sunday mornings.

“By working together, the churches of Girard are tearing down walls and building trust. We still have a long way to go, but we’ve come a long way in just a few years.”

Resources to Help Your Church Reach Couples and Families

This article is excerpts from a fall 2014 interview with David Derry. For the complete interview, pick up a copy of Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.

Bolinger: Please describe what happens at a Weekend to Remember conference.

Derry: The Weekend to Remember conference is the flagship of FamilyLife. The conference is held around the country in roughly 100 different locations, and those locations can vary from year to year. In northeast Ohio, the conference typically is held in Akron and in Cleveland. The event is a full weekend event at a hotel, and it’s better termed a marriage getaway than a conference.

You check into the hotel on Friday night, you have dinner, and you begin this time together, which will end on Sunday around lunchtime. You’re completely away from the distractions of home, work, and children. You’re spending almost 48 hours totally focused on your spouse and your marital relationship.

Over that time, you’re going to receive a lot of Biblical principles and encouragement in your marriage. There is a lot of humor mixed in the weekend, so it’s a very enjoyable time. You get timeless principles that come from God’s Word as far as what is God’s plan for your marriage and how you can do this successfully with His help. It’s a wonderful opportunity to take some time away, be at the hotel for two nights and two days, and invest in, focus on, and concentrate on each other….

Bolinger: Tell us some of the resources that churches can use and programs that churches can do to reach people, both inside and outside the church, who are going through tough times in their marriages.

Derry: If it happens to be at a time when Weekend to Remember is approaching, then we encourage churches to promote the Weekends in their local church and encourage families to attend who can get to that. Not only can a church make information on the Weekends available, such as showing a video and making brochures available on Sunday mornings, but a church (or an individual, for that matter) also can set up what we call a group name and promote that group name to the folks in their church, promote it to friends and family, post it on Facebook, etc. Any couple that uses that group name to register will automatically get $100 off that registration for the Weekend. Beyond that, once five couples have registered using a group name, the group coordinator automatically gets a free Weekend registration that they can use themselves or offer as a scholarship to another couple that can’t afford to go. That’s how my wife and I use it – we offer it as a scholarship to a couple to allow them to go. The couple who gets the scholarship still has to pay for the hotel room, but the Weekend registration is free.

Of course, the Weekend to Remember typically comes to your area only once a year. And if a couple is struggling, and the Weekend to Remember is not for another six or eight months, you don’t want to tell that couple to wait. We need other options. And we have them.

One of the most popular options is what FamilyLife calls the Art of Marriage. It is a set of resources that were designed specifically to minister with people. These are video resources that FamilyLife has produced and makes available for purchase to individuals or churches. The church or the individual couple, the homebuilder, sponsors and does an Art of Marriage event. It’s not a FamilyLife event. The homebuilder purchases the kit and plays host to and facilitates the event.

There are different resources under the Art of Marriage label. One is a weekend event that in some ways is similar to a Weekend to Remember, but instead of being hosted at a hotel it usually is hosted in a church fellowship hall, family life center, or sanctuary. It could be hosted in somebody’s living room. It’s a Friday night and Saturday event where attendees go through a number of sessions.

The teaching is on video, but it’s very engaging. There are multiple teachers in each session. There is a lot of humor intermixed with it, so it’s not what I would call a “talking head” kind of presentation. It’s a very engaging presentation where numerous different Biblical scholars are teaching on the subjects. If a couple or church is looking for a weekend event similar to a Weekend to Remember, then that is a good choice.

Hosting an Art of Marriage Event

Bolinger: If I sponsor that event, then I don’t have to teach the classes, right? I’m basically just pressing “Play”, and we get to hear from an engaging speaker on the topic. What happens when the speaker is done? Is there activity for the group? What do I have to do as a coordinator?

Derry: It literally is about as easy as pushing “Play”. There are some projects that the couples will complete during the weekend. Those are all in the manuals; each of the participants has a manual for the weekend. The projects and directions for completing them are in there. What the facilitator does really is up to the facilitator. You can just announce the next session and press “Play”. If you want to share more information, you can; it depends on your comfort level and ability.

The beauty of an Art of Marriage event is that participants get a very similar experience, whether there are five couples or five hundred couples. Everybody is getting the same quality of teaching, the same content in the videos. A big church may be able to afford to bring in a special speaker to host an event, but a smaller church may not have the budget for that. This resource levels the playing field for all churches. Any church can purchase the video kit or even borrow the video kit from another church that has used it.

Bolinger: This sounds like a really nice option for many families, especially families with kids. We may live too far away from Cleveland or Akron or another city that has a Weekend to Remember event. Even if we are close enough, we may not be able to afford to attend or to pay for babysitters for an entire weekend. If the host church or couple provides babysitting, then people may be able to attend entirely for free. The church benefits by demonstrating to the couples that they love them and their kids enough to offer the event for free to help the couples strengthen their marriages.

Derry: What we coach churches to do is to consider offering some childcare on site. That’s the most popular option because it enables couples to bring their kids and know that they will be taken care of the entire time. As far as the cost, that is up to each church because it’s their event. Because there is a cost for the manuals, most churches charge some type of admission, but it’s a much lower cost than a Weekend to Remember. If the church wants to charge for childcare or for snacks during breaks, that’s owned and organized by the local church. FamilyLife doesn’t say what you should charge for the event. Some churches do provide the manuals and take that out of their budget and do not charge the people who come. Again, it’s up to the church.

It is a great event. Another thing that is great about it is that it can be offered any time of the year. Unlike Weekend to Remember, which comes once a year, the Art of Marriage is offered by various churches in the Akron/Canton area a dozen or more times each year. You can go on to the Art of Marriage website or the FamilyLife website and locate an event near you. Usually you can find something [that is happening] within a matter of weeks with a very reasonable driving distance.

Bolinger: You said that the Friday evening and Saturday Art of Marriage event is one of the Art of Marriage options. What other Art of Marriage offerings are there?

Derry: Our second most popular Art of Marriage option is our small group offering. It’s a six-week video kit for small groups. The content on the videos is similar to the weekend videos, but each video is about half the time. Instead of being between 45 minutes and an hour, each video is about 25 to 30 minutes.

The reason for that is the small-group workbook has a lot of discussion questions, and you’re going to spend about half the time talking through them as a group. In the weekend event, you don’t discuss questions as a group. You watch the videos, you answer some questions individually, and you complete three projects with your spouse, but you’re not asked to share or discuss things with other couples who are there. The very nature of a small group is that you are going to have discussions. So the small-group resource is designed for small groups with discussions.

The other resource that we have in the Art of Marriage family is called Art of Marriage Connect Groups. They are also small groups, but they are not video-based. You have a workbook that you use, but the whole thing is basically discussion-oriented. There’s not a lot of teaching.

You need a facilitator whose role is to keep the conversation on track for the topics of that week. The Art of Marriage Connect Groups are topical. During the six weeks, you’ll talk about communication as a couple, how to resolve conflict, how to manage finances as a couple. You’re spending a longer period of time going deeper on one particular topic. With the Art of Marriage small group or weekend event, you do an overview and some nuts and bolts of Biblical principles of marriage on a general level.

Engaging with Couples through Art of Marriage

Bolinger: What has your experience been with how churches are using these various Art of Marriage resources?

Derry: Marriage is something that you have to work on 365 days a year. Rather than just promoting the Weekend to Remember when it comes to the area or offering an Art of Marriage event once a year, we encourage churches to provide multiple opportunities throughout different seasons of the year. A couple might be doing fine today, but then multiple different things could happen. They can have a loss of a job. They can have a loss of a child. They may find themselves in a different phase of life or a different situation where, if they are struggling financially, that may create conflict. Just because a couple is doing fine now doesn’t mean they will be doing fine the rest of the year.

Let’s say that Weekend to Remember comes to your area in March. Go ahead and promote that event in January and February. Consider offering an Art of Marriage weekend or small group in other parts of the year – definitely in the fall, but at other times, too. Try to make numerous options available throughout the year.

Think about how you can have an ongoing marriage emphasis that occurs in your church that’s not just a once-a-year or once-every-few-years type of thing. That way, when people find themselves in a place where they’re struggling, there are options available, and they can get some help right away.

Bolinger: Obviously, David, when there’s a struggle or a crisis, you want to engage a couple quickly and stay with them for as long as it takes to get them out of that situation. But all of us need some fine-tuning. We need a lot of help, a lot of the time. (Laughs.) 

Derry: When people look at one of our Art of Marriage resources, or even Weekend to Remember, they often ask, “Now, is this for people who are really struggling, for people who find themselves in crisis, or are these resources or events for people who are doing fairly well and just want to do a check-up or a tune-up?” My answer to these questions is always, “Yes.” It is for all those different groups of people. That’s because the events and the resources are based on Biblical principles of marriage, so they work in any situation with any couple at any season of life. They are adaptable to wherever a couple might be.

When you walk into a ballroom for a Weekend to Remember, you don’t realize it, but there are people there who are in every situation that you can possibly imagine, and then some. You have people there who are engaged. You have people who are married and very, very happy, doing well. You have people who are struggling. You have people who are there as a last-ditch effort; if something doesn’t happen that weekend, they are calling the attorney on Monday to file papers. You have people who are in the process of divorce. And you actually have people in that room who are divorced but who are second-guessing if that was the right decision. I know one couple who jokingly says that their divorce just didn’t work out; they remarried after they attended a Weekend to Remember.

Because these are Biblical principles, they will work no matter where you are along that paradigm. Deciding which resource to choose really isn’t the issue. You have to decide if you are willing to listen to the Biblical principles that are shared and, if you listen to them and you apply them to your life and your marriage, they will help you, whether they just give you a shot in the arm or help you get back to where you need to be.

If a couple who comes to any event or small group is really in crisis, what they need to realize is that it’s not a magical fix. You don’t come in completely broken and leave completely fixed. Only on TV does it work out that nicely. What the event or small group does is give you some help and some hope that this is something that, with God’s help, you can do. You have to realize that it’s going to take a while to work through some of these things. It might take counseling. But if you are committed to make it work, the Biblical principles will give you the foundation on which to build.

It will take a lot of effort, as does any marriage. You know as well as I do that, if you’re going to have a healthy marriage, it takes a whole lot of work just continually moving forward. When you’re in crisis and your marriage is falling apart, it’s going to take even more effort to get things back to what you really want it to look like long-term.

Bolinger: That’s where the church can play a vital role. You’re enabling churches not just to invite people to Weekend to Remember events but to stay engaged with them.

Derry: The Art of Marriage enables churches to establish relationships with couples more naturally than Weekend to Remember. Instead of people attending an event in a hotel ballroom, they are attending an event at a local church. Follow-up is much more natural and happens more easily, because the church is connected with them right off the bat.

Of the people who walk into a ballroom at a Weekend to Remember, about 40% of them are not connected to any church. They might have found out through a friend. They might have Googled just to find some help with their marriage because they knew they are in trouble. We have to work very intensely to try to connect them back to local churches that can continue to walk with them after the event. Art of Marriage enables churches to engage in their lives much more easily and in a shorter time period to be able to help them post-event

More Art of Marriage Options

Bolinger: David, you mentioned that some of the Art of Marriage resources that are designed for small groups are topic-oriented. What are some of the topics that are covered?

Derry: Some are general; some are much more specific. One that I encourage churches to start with is called Building Your Marriage to Last. It gives a general overview of the Biblical principles of marriage. More specific ones include one on communication, one on conflict, one on finances, one on growing together spiritually as a couple. There also are different parenting studies such as disciplining a toddler and parenting a teenager.

We have a newer Art of Marriage Connect Group that’s called Marriage in the Second Half, for couples around 25 years who are facing things – such as empty nest, retirement in the relatively near future – that are good in some ways, even things to celebrate, but which also bring into a marriage some unique challenges. A lot of times, a couple has focused on their children for most of their marriage, and when those kids move out, suddenly it’s just the husband and wife, and sometimes they look at each other and say, “We don’t know each other quite as well as we thought we did, because we have spent so long focusing more on the kids than on our marriage.”

There are over 15 different topics – parenting and marriage – from which a church can choose depending on the needs that are there among the couples who want to go through something.

Bolinger: And these tend to be six-week series, six weeks if you do one session per week?

Derry: For the most part, yes. Some may be five, some may be seven, but six weeks is what we were shooting for when designing these. It’s a long enough time that couples can begin to get to know each other and trust each other, but short enough that you don’t lose people who can’t commit to every week for 10 weeks or 12 weeks.

Bolinger: A church has a couple of options here. If you know who will be coming and you have a good feel for where they are in life, then you might pick a couple of them that seem the most applicable to those who are likely to attend. But if you are casting a wide net and inviting a wide range of people, and you’re not sure who is going to come, then you may get people in all different stages of marriage and situations. If your church has enough facilitators and enough rooms, then you could run two or three different series at the same time and appeal to different audiences. A financial one has broad appeal, but it may attract a lot of younger couples who don’t have kids yet. A lot of folks may attend a parenting series. Older couples whose kids are in college or beyond, or maybe nearing that stage, may go to the Second Half series.

If a church keeps varying the series, couples who attended one series will come back for another that is a good fit.

Derry: Exactly, Chris. What we know from working with a lot of churches is that it is not a cookie-cutter process. We don’t come in and say, “You should do A, B, and C, because every church does A, B, and C, and this always works well.” When we sit down with a church or a couple that is a Home Builder, we ask what they are doing now and where they sense that God is leading them and calling them to help. “What does that look like as you begin to dream about what you could do?” Then we suggest tools and resources that they can use. But every church and every situation is different.

Some churches offer a couple of different series at the same time. A church could do a marriage small group study and a parenting small group study at the same time. They could move from one to the next. A church may repeat Building Your Marriage to Last every six or eight weeks and take six groups through it in a year, or they might take one group and run it through different studies, and it could take that group years to get through all the different topics. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. You can make a variety of topics available, and people can jump in and get on board whenever they need to and want to, so that help is always available.

Bolinger: Let’s say that my wife and I are impacted greatly by a particular study. We may say that next time we want to be the facilitators for this study and invite our friends and neighbors. It made a positive difference in our marriage, and we want to see other couples benefit from it. It doesn’t have to be at a church; I could purchase the materials and do it in my home, and maybe attract people who don’t go to my church and don’t want to go to my church.

Derry: What happens when you have a group of six couples go through a study is that some number, maybe five, of them go on to do another study of a different topic, but one of those couples says, “We really want to take some other people through this on our own.” That couple pulls away and starts another group on the same topic. You can’t predict how it is going to work. It really is about how God is calling and using people to do it. We don’t want to get in the way and tell them to do it a different way.

Helping Blended Families

One other resource that we haven’t talked about yet is Smart Stepfamily. There is a book and a video study by Ron Deal, who has been one of the leading experts in stepfamily, or blended family, ministry for a long time. He actually joined the staff of FamilyLife a few years ago, and that brings a whole new paradigm to FamilyLife where we’re much better able to help blended families or stepfamilies. That’s an area that churches typically are not really comfortable or educated enough on what to do.

We all know that there are some unique challenges that come with that. If we know people who are in a second or third marriage, then we realize that, for example, during holiday seasons, they go through some unique challenges that we don’t necessarily have in a family where all the kids are ours biologically. You’re dealing with stepparents and step-grandparents and other things that make it more complicated.

FamilyLife has resources that individuals can use in their living rooms for just their families or for other families that they invite to be a part of that study. Some churches are beginning to launch stepfamily ministries, or blended family ministries, to help these families succeed. We know that statistically a second or third marriage is even more likely to end in divorce than a first marriage. It’s so much harder, and people get discouraged and give up because they don’t see any way to make it work. If you base it on Biblical principles then, yes , it’s still hard, and you’ll have to put in extra effort, but that marriage can work because God tells you how you can build that marriage on Biblical principles. It has been exciting to see churches and people beginning to use those blended family resources.

Why Collaborate?

There are many challenges we face as leaders, such as:

  • Burnout and loneliness
  • Similar burnout and loneliness among others who lead with us
  • Lack of new leaders
  • Lack of vision or creativity and resulting struggles with casting a vision
  • Lack of buy-in for our vision

I believe that one simple thing can provide solutions to all these challenges: the practice of collaboration. And I’d like to share the story of how I began to learn it.

A few years ago, I returned to the U.S. after a mountain-top experience visiting my homeland of Australia. Although my time there was wonderful, the tearful goodbyes and return to my life in the U.S. awakened my grief at the loss of home and family. The many hours spent beach-combing for exquisite shells there remained with me, and I found myself wandering my inner-city Cincinnati streets and continuing the same habit of collecting – not shells but broken things. I didn’t realize that I was doing it until things began gathering in a box by my back door.

During this time, a friend invited me to make art for his counseling center for inner-city kids. I knew that such art needed to be honest about the challenges of life but also hopeful. So it seemed fitting to make something out of the junk I’d gathered from the same streets where these kids live. I began to see the trash in new ways, no longer signs of something discarded but opportunities for something new. My habit of collecting broken things changed with my new perspective—I began looking for the perfect piece of glass or green bottle cap to complete my creation. Somehow—and I don’t know exactly the moment it happened—I began to be drawn into the re-creation.

As I began to see the potential for healing and hope in this repurposing of junk, I wanted to invite my community in some way. The city was still recovering from race riots, and tension had become a normal part of life in the neighborhood. So I considering making more of this art and having a little one-woman art show.

But I’m glad I didn’t. If I had, then I would have missed the opportunity to learn the power of collaboration. I realized that the power was not in looking at the art but in creating it.

And so I created “The Collect: A City-Wide Trash to Art Event.” Through local media, I invited local folks to donate their junk at any of six cafes across the city. Among the treasures offered, we got a watch-band collection and box of camera lenses and a pair of old shoes. A team of 18 artists chose the trash that most inspired them and transformed it into amazing art, which we auctioned for charity.

During this six-month process, as I worked with local media, cafe’s, artists, and neighbors, the project took on the color of many stories and became so much more interesting and multi-faceted than if I’d done it alone. I started watching how we all felt a little homeless, how we all longed to belong somewhere. I had an opportunity to hear stories of how others were also taking what felt broken—in themselves and their communities—and were finding new ways to create something new.

By the end of this collaborative process, I felt part of something. I felt home.

If I had just done a one-woman art show, I would have tried, and probably failed, to solve my problems alone. I would have missed the opportunity to let the community shape the idea. Instead, I invited others to see behind the scenes, to join the process. Although I started it, I lost track of whether I was making it or it was making me.

We think the product is the point, but community grows in the process. Our call as leaders is not to show our plans but ourselves.

As pastors, we think it’s our job to fully shape a five-year plan and sell it to folks. But what if we brought people into the process much earlier and allowed them to help shape the vision? What if we trusted that the best ideas grow from the community and that, when folks help shape and execute ideas, there’s no point at which we have to push for “buy-in”? Might we feel less lonely, less burned-out? Might the ideas be bigger and more beautiful? Might they connect more with our communities (since that’s where they grew)? Might the process of working together itself develop leaders and community?

Beyond all this, the most beautiful part of collaboration is this: one of our deepest human longings is to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. When we have a seed of an idea and plant it in a community, we get to watch it take on life and color which we, alone, could never have created. In collaboration, the folks in our community get to enjoy the unfolding with us, watching God in his creative element. Whatever we’re making takes on the story of the soil from which it grows. Although we were the instigator of this idea, we can look over the life that grows from it and know it was bigger, more beautiful, and more multi-faceted than we could have created alone. We feel a small part of something large. And there is no shame in the smallness. It’s a moment as transcendent as taking in the stars on a clear night or singing in a choir when we feel our connection to one another and to God.

Collaboration is permission to be human, together.

Reaching Men, Part 3: Man-Friendly Music and Sermons

This series is comprised of excerpts from Chris Bolinger’s interview with David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church and three other books. For the complete interview with Murrow, pick up a copy of Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1. For more insight from Murrow, visit http://churchformen.com or pick up a copy of one of his books.

Part 1 of the series

Part 2 of the series

Part 3 of the series: below

Bolinger: Is traditional music more appealing to men, especially men who don’t like to sing? What’s the best approach to music that you have found in your studies and your experience?

Murrow: Like you said, there are different kinds of men. There are men who are really into contemporary worship. I think that they tend to be the minority, but they are really into it.

Here are just a few best practices:

  1. Don’t repeat songs over and over and over and over. There was a tendency about 10 years ago for songs to just go on for seven, eight, nine minutes long. That really frustrates men.
  2. Play music in a key that men can sing.
  3. Avoid what I call the love songs to Jesus: the songs that describe Christ as our love object rather than our leader. (I’m desperate for you…I’m longing for you.) Think about the mental gymnastics that have to take place in a man’s mind as he pictures himself being desperate for Jesus or reclining in Jesus’s arms or being held by Jesus. It’s really a high hurdle. I mean, I suppose if a guy’s gay that’s probably a very appealing image, but for a straight man that’s probably not a really appealing image. So you just need to be really careful with that sort of imagery.
  4. You said you have a men’s Bible study and you sing. Usually, I recommend that men’s small groups don’t sing, especially in the morning. Just get right down to business. If you are going to sing, then sing one song and be done with it – one song with two or three verses, four or five minutes tops, just to get the blood flowing, and then get into it. The men are not there to sing.

When men come to church, they want to learn a mind-blowing truth about God that rocks their world. That’s why they’re there.

Bolinger: At my church, we do five worship songs before we get to the sermon. I sometimes think that’s a bit much, at least for some of the men. So if we were to make a change to be more man-friendly, what could we replace one of the songs with? We don’t necessarily want to do a call and response or something else where men have to read back a long passage because some men don’t really like to read either. So what would be a good alternative to maybe that fourth or fifth worship song?

Murrow: You have the full range of creativity at your beck and call. You can do skits. You can play a video. You can do an object lesson. I think one of the great indictments of the church is how uncreative we are. We all have our liturgies, even if we don’t acknowledge that. We tend to do the same thing in the same order, week after week after week. When we break up that routine, when we are little bit more creative, I think we put men on their toes. Men really do like the unexpected.

At church we tend to get into our routine. We get into our liturgy, whether we are Baptist or Methodist…we’ve all got our liturgies, and we just tend to ride that horse week after week. We do four or five songs, we have an offering, we do a sermon, we do communion…we become very predictable. One of the hallmarks of Christ was his unpredictability. He was always doing and saying things that were completely off-the-wall.

The church that I attend here in Alaska used to be that way, about 10 years ago: very unpredictable. Crazy things would happen all the time. I came to church anticipating that a creative, unusual thing was going to happen. We don’t do that anymore. We’re out of our adolescence. We’re a 25-year-old church now and we’ve settled into our dull routine. It really makes me sad.

Bolinger: OK, let’s spend some time on another big topic which is the lesson or the sermon: the teaching time that’s part of the worship service. You said that Jen is choosing man-friendly topics with titles where men will say, “Oh, I want to hear more about that.” Talk more about sermons. I think that in your book you wrote that a typical man appreciates a different type of approach to a sermon than a typical woman.

Murrow: I don’t even want to say it the way you said it. I don’t think that many women have a different approach. I think that if you do a man-friendly sermon, both men and women will understand it well. Women are blessed with a very flexible, multitasking brain. Women can “do masculine”, but men don’t usually do well with highly verbal, feminine-type presentations. So, if you preach to the men, the women are going to enjoy it as well.

This is a good piece of advice for all pastors: all things being equal, shorter sermons are better with men.

Bolinger: When you say “shorter”, how short is shorter?

Murrow: Let’s be even more fundamental than that. Obviously, you need to have something to say. You can’t just go to the pulpit with a bunch of familiar, Christianese-type things. You’ve gotta have a message. You have to have something to say that’s going to be life-changing.

If I were going to plant a church in the next year, I would preach 10-minute sermons, and I would market my church that way: home of the 10-minute sermon. I think within a year, the church would be packed. When people are polled, long, boring, irrelevant sermons is the number one thing that people don’t like about church. Do you know which churches in North America have the largest gender gaps? African-American churches, which have a tradition of very long preaching – 90 minutes to two hours is not uncommon, so three-hour worship, and 90-120 minutes of that is the sermon. I’ve sat through those sermons, and typically it’s a lot of very familiar things repeated over and over and over again. “This is the day which the Lord hath made…” You know, it’s just not really groundbreaking material.

So, all things being equal, shorter is better than longer.

The other way to get men in the door is to use an object lesson consistently. Men are visual learners, and although men appreciate a verbal sermon, they absolutely glom onto a visual sermon. A lot of skilled preachers are using video to supplement their sermons, but the very best thing is for the pastor to actually bring an object into the pulpit when he or she speaks. Whenever I work with pastors on their sermons, I always ask, “What’s your object lesson? What are you going to build this sermon around?”

The last time I spoke in a church, I spoke from inside of a box. The next week I planned a sermon with a guy – I had him on a ladder; he preached from the top of a ladder. I worked with my pastor a couple of weeks ago on a sermon where he was talking about the difference between grace and works, and he used a debit card versus gift card. He built his entire sermon around a debit card, which is where you pay in and you pay in and then you withdraw your own goodness out of the bank versus a gift card where God just gives and you spend it on whatever you want.

If a pastor really wants to turn his church around and get men in the pews, the most effective thing that he can do is to preach a concise sermon and build it around an object lesson. If a pastor will do that, then he will have a church full of men in five years. I’m not even going to talk about theology or content. I’m just saying mechanically that’s the best thing you can do: short, concise sermon built around an object lesson.

Bolinger: A lot of pastors try to structure their sermons around three points or four points, oftentimes starting with the same letter. Is that good for men, or is it better to have an object lesson? Obviously, if you have an object lesson, then you have one object, so you have one main point. So men would rather have a single point than three or four points to remember?

Murrow: Yes.

Bolinger: What about the aspect of a story? I know that a lot of times I won’t remember the main points of the sermon – if there is an object lesson, then I’ll remember the object; if there is a prop, then I’ll remember the prop – but I remember good stories. Is that a unique thing for men or is that across gender: the fact that people really remember stories that are integrated into a sermon?

Murrow: Stories can be very powerful. That is the part that we tend to remember; our brains are wired to remember stories. We’ve been telling stories around the campfire for thousands of years. So stories are important. The most skillful preachers don’t just salt their verbal sermons with stories – oh, that’s a nice illustration. Instead, they build their entire sermon around an illustration, a central story, a central metaphor, and they go back to that story over and over and over again. So you might start off with the story of Abraham Lincoln attending church, and then all through your sermon you keep bringing it back to that, you just keep hammering that point home. It’s like in the Army: you tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, you tell ‘em, and they you tell ‘em what you told ‘em. If a guy can walk away from a church service with one big idea, he is going to love going to church. The problem is that we give them so much content on Sunday morning, and it’s such a cornucopia, a salad bar of different theological truths, that men end up walking away with nothing.

It’s time for the three-point sermon to die, unless all three points support one big idea. You really just need to go to one-point sermons and make that point well and then trust the Holy Spirit to further illuminate the text during the week.

Bolinger: And that big idea needs to be something actionable, right? Something that he can do something with when he leaves the building and goes into his regular life, is that true?

Murrow: Well, that would be the best: actionable. Or just something that changes his mind about something. Something that opens his mind to a new possibility. The best sermons that I’ve ever heard are ones that just really challenged me in my personal life.

We’re talking about the importance of visuals. Let me take you back to Saint Martin’s Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas in 1966. I am five years old. Pastor Lorenz calls the children forward for the kids’ sermon. Pastor Lorenz asks for a volunteer. David Murrow puts his hand up in the air. I walk over to Pastor Lorenz, he hands me a sheet of paper and he says, “David, would you tear this sheet of paper in half?” And I tear the sheet of paper in half. Then he reaches over and hands me a phone book and he says, “David, would you tear this phonebook in half?” And I pull and tug and work as hard as I can on it but nothing. I can’t do it, right? Then Pastor Lorenz turns to me and says, “David, this is why you want to go to church every Sunday. When all these pages are together, we are strong, but we when we are just one page out there by ourselves, the devil can come along and tear us up.” Now here I sit in my home in Alaska and I can still tell you word for word what I heard 48 years ago when I was a five-year-old kid because it was short, it had a visual, and I got to do it with my own hands.

So if you want to become a great teacher of men, you need to develop sermons and curriculum that involve hands-on learning that people personally experience. That’s where the rubber meets the road when it comes to men.

Pastors are taught in seminary to speak words. They are not taught to implant truth. And I think actually in seminary they kind of dismiss these sorts of methods as “entertainment”. “Oh, that’s just entertainment. You’re just entertaining the crowd. What people need is the true meat of God’s word, which is spoken words from a person’s mouth.”

I think that in the church today we only trust two paths: mouth-to-ear and book-to-eye. Those are the two paths through which God’s pure truth passes. We’re just so far behind on this. We live in a highly visual culture. We’re quickly transitioning out of a mouth-to-ear and word-to-eye type of communication regime, and yet we stubbornly cling on those because we think anything else is just entertainment and pandering to the weak in the lowest common denominator. It just infuriates me when that elitism rears its head, and we tend to characterize anything besides book-to-eye and mouth-to-ear as unspiritual. It’s just wrong.

For the rest of the interview with David Murrow, pick up a copy of Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.

Copyright 2015, 2016 Revitalize Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved.

Reaching Men, Part 1: Why Men Struggle in Church

This series is comprised of excerpts from Chris Bolinger’s interview with David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church and three other books. For the complete interview with Murrow, pick up a copy of Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1. For more insight from Murrow, visit http://churchformen.com or pick up a copy of one of his books.

Part 1 of the series: below

Part 2 of the series

Part 3 of the series

Dave: I’m a television producer by trade and have been working in the TV business for almost 30 years. And that was actually very helpful when I began to notice the gender gap in our churches, because in the TV business you learn that everything has a target audience…The culture of the church is very much oriented toward women. Women seem to get church in a way that men don’t. That’s what started me down this road of researching and writing about men in the church.

Serving as an elder in a Presbyterian church, a mainline church, you learn very quickly that “if Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” A lot of our time was spent creating ministries for women and keeping women happy. Most of our ministries revolved around traditionally feminine roles in caring for the sick, caring for children, ladies’ teas, ladies’ scrapbooking nights. It definitely was skewed toward women, in particular, older women.

If you think about a 55-year-old woman with an empty nest, which is our typical Presbyterian layperson today, you know she misses her family. Her children are busy. Her grandchildren are in a faraway city. So we created an institution where every Sunday she can have children in her arms and she can use her gifts.

But men’s gifts lie fallow. The things that guys are into – strategic planning, sports, competition – these things are frowned on in the church. Church is supposed to be a warm, nurturing place where we hold hands and love each other. It’s definitely very much more of a grandma thing than a young man thing. The culture doesn’t really fit men’s culture.

Bolinger: You saw this in your own church, but what did you see when you started doing research in non-mainline churches and churches outside your own area?

Murrow: It was just at the beginning of the third wave of the megachurch movement. The first wave was Saddleback and Willow Creek. The second wave was in the 1990s. I wrote the book in the early 2000s when this third wave – the church planting movement – was getting started. And I noticed that these church plants had a very different culture than our Presbyterian church. They were much more – dare I say? – more masculine in their viewpoint. They were more aggressive about evangelism. They were more into innovation. You didn’t have the traditional ladies’ teas and lace curtains. It wasn’t that sort of a church environment anymore. It’s a much more amenable to guys.

So that was one of the things that I incorporated into my research: how are these churches able to grow so quickly? I realized it was because they were in large part creating an environment where men would stay and be fed and be satisfied and be challenged. Once you have men in the church, the women gravitate to those churches. The more men you have involved in a church, the more likely you are to find growth there. Once a church becomes 70% female, which is what most mainline churches are moving toward, your church is basically going to die. At that point, you’re just performing hospice service for a dying institution.

Bolinger: So you saw a different model, a different approach, with the church plants and some of the up-and-coming large churches or megachurches which you weren’t seeing in the mainline church you were attending. We’re seeing men being attracted to these church plants and megachurches. Are we seeing men attracted to any other types of churches?

Murrow: Primarily that’s the case: the larger the church, the smaller the gender gap. If you have a big church, chances are you’re about 50/50.

Men’s ministry really has not taken off in the local church. In the 1990s there was the Promise Keepers phenomenon. We thought there was going to be a really big movement into men’s ministry. It just hasn’t materialized; it hasn’t been a force like we thought.

There are other areas where men are attracted. We are finding growth in some ministries such as John Eldredge’s Ransomed Heart that is doing well with men. There is a movement toward men dealing with their wounds – the Crucible Project, for example – that’s finding some success. We’re not seeing the big huge numbers, but we are seeing the foundation for some future growth, because men are dealing with their core issues instead of just going to church, and that’s a good thing.

Bolinger: Dave, when you say that “men hate going to church”, what types of men tend to be the most reluctant to go to church, the same church that is attended by their wives or their girlfriends?

Murrow: Let’s look at the problem this way: Think about the skills that you need to be good at being a churchgoer. The person up front, the pastor, is obviously a very highly verbal person. He has to have emotional sensitivity, because he’s got to deal with counseling and chaplaincy type issues. He has to be studious; you have to love to read and study the Bible and other books. The other people who are up front at church, who get a lot of stage time, are musicians – the worship leader and the members of the band. To rise in a church, the big four skills that you need are to be emotionally sensitive, to be studious, to like music, and to be verbal.

If you take those four characteristics and look at the population, there are more women than men in the population who possess those gifts. Now there are certainly men out there who are verbal, studious, sensitive, and musical, but their numbers tend to be a bit smaller. So one of the reasons that we see more women than men in church is because what we ask of churchgoers is more likely to be found in a woman than in a man. The guys that we tend to find in church are verbal, sensitive, musical, and studious.

So it’s really just a numbers game. We’ve created a culture where the gifts that we value are more commonly found in women than men, and that’s why we see more women there.

Bolinger: You’ve mentioned the gifts and talents that we see in the people up front. What about the folks that are sitting in the pews? What are we asking of men who come to church but aren’t up front? What might get them fired up instead of turned off?

Murrow: Let’s look at the basics. Let’s go to a traditional mainline Lutheran, Methodist, or Episcopal type church. What skill set will you need? You’re gonna have to like to sing. You’ll need to be able to read – lectionary readings, responsive readings, read off the screen. If you go to a Sunday School class, then you’ll be asked questions about a text and may have to read a text from the Bible. You have socializing before and after the service – coffee hour and those sorts of things. It’s a lot of soft, interpersonal skills or verbal or artistic skills that a lot of guys simply lack. You think about your average oilfield worker, air conditioner repair man – you know, that blue-collar guy – he often lacks those soft, interpersonal skills. He not quite as good at churchgoing as his wife is, and that’s where you see a lot of the discouragement.

It’s not that men hate God or hate Christ; it’s that they hate churchgoing because their wives are simply better at it.

Bolinger: And given a choice between church on Sunday morning or going out and playing 18 holes of golf  or doing some yard work, a lot a guys are probably gonna choose the alternative to church versus going and sitting and doing things that they’re not terribly comfortable with or that don’t play to their strengths. They’re going to do something that plays to their strengths.

Murrow: That’s exactly right. Chris. The example that I like to give is this: when I was a young man in my early 20s, I briefly took up the game of golf. Now I learned after two or three rounds that I have absolutely no knack for the game. You’ve heard of Tiger Woods? Well, I spent most of my time in the woods, looking for my ball. I just never was very good at golf. I was always in the sand trap, shot a lot of balls in the water – just really wasn’t good. So after two or three bad rounds, I did what most men do when they are not good at something: I quit. I put my clubs away and never picked them up again.

We’ve set up a situation where men try church and they don’t find God there, they don’t find anything that they’re good at there, and they feel like they’re not needed there. There’s really only one man who’s needed there, and that’s the pastor. Since they’re never going to preach, they don’t see a future for themselves within this institution.

They feel that they can connect better with God outside of the institution of “organized religion”. I’ve talked with men who’ve had profound experiences with God while they were out hunting or out on a boat on the water. It sounds like a dodge: “Oh, I can connect to God better out on my fishing boat than in church.” So we say, “Oh, you’re just making excuses.” But it’s true. I mean, these guys have profound experiences with God out in the field, doing things with their kids. They experience God at a gut level. I think it’s because they’re in their area of competence. They feel comfortable there, and God speaks to them in their comfort.

Bolinger: I guess that the picture is bleak, but not entirely bleak because you mentioned up front that church plants and some nontraditional churches and megachurches are having good success reaching men. Some of it may be outside the Sunday morning worship, but if you look at the worship they’re getting about as many men there as women. So what are they doing differently? What are some things that they are doing that a traditional, non-megachurch can do to have similar success with men?

Murrow: That’s the wonderful thing. You do not have to have a 2,000-person church to attract men.

For the rest of the interview with David Murrow, pick up a copy of Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.

Copyright 2015, 2016 Revitalize Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved.

Reaching Men, Part 2: How a Methodist Church Grew by Reaching Men

This series is comprised of excerpts from Chris Bolinger’s interview with David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church and three other books. For the complete interview with Murrow, pick up a copy of Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1. For more insight from Murrow, visit http://churchformen.com or pick up a copy of one of his books.

Part 1 of the series

Part 2 of the series: below

Part 3 of the series

A Key to Church Growth: Attracting Men

Murrow: A few years ago, I was doing pastor training in Illinois. I always start off with a junk question. I ask, “How many of you have more active men than women in your church?” Nobody ever raises his hand. This particular time, one little hand in the back raised up and, to my surprise, the hand had nail polish on it. This was a female pastor.

I said to her, “What is your name?”

She said, “My name is Jennifer Wilson.”

I said, “You’re a pastor?”

She said, “Yes, I am, I’m the pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in LaSalle, Illinois.”

I said, “Jennifer, you’re telling me that you have more active men than women in your church?”

She said, “Yes, I do.”

I said, “How have you been able to do that?”

She said, “I bought your book, and I did everything you said.”

I looked around the room and said, “Folks, I didn’t pay her to say this!”

After the session I got together with her to talk to her about her strategy. She’s in this little, 160-year-old mainline church in the middle of corn country in a town of 10,000 people. What she did is she took several of the steps that we recommend at Church for Men.

The first thing she did is she changed the decor in her church. Like most mainline churches, her church was covered in quilts, banners, flowers…laced doily on the communion table. These decor items send a very powerful message to men that that church is for women, particularly older women, grandmas, because these are the types of things that grandmas decorate with.

So she very gently and carefully took those decoration items down. She replaced them with some big-screen TVs. She has big-screen TVs in the sanctuary, so people can see the words of the music and stuff like that. She repainted. Pinks and lavenders came down. She used Army green, colors of the field, rust colors and stuff like that on the walls.

She opened an Internet café in the Fellowship Hall and made that kind of a hip place to hang out and drink coffee.

The Methodist hymn book was gender-neutralized a few years ago. She put back the guy-friendly songs: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, Onward Christian Soldiers – songs that talk about battle and blood. She also put male pronouns back in the Scripture. She doesn’t read the gender-neutral Bible translations anymore.

She preaches sermon series that focus on guys’ needs. She did series called “Power Play”, “Men and Sex”. She really goes after the things that guys are interested in.

You would think that she’s discriminating against the women, and the women would throw up their hands and say, “What about us?”

The women are delighted because for the first time they’re in a church with dynamic men who really get the gospel and who really want to serve. They’re not carrying the burden themselves.

She’s big on mission. They’ve had several big visions and fundraising campaigns to expand the church and to do a community center for kids. She’s really appealing to that side of men that want to reach out, to expand, to grow, to challenge the community.

The church is growing by leaps and bounds. They’ve had to add a third service. They had to break out the back of their narthex wall because they had to seat more people. It’s just really been a wonderful turnaround story.

The long answer to your question – Can a small church do what the megachurches are doing? – is yes. Yes, a small church can, a traditional church can, but you just have to be very careful about cultivating your men and creating an environment on Sunday morning where visiting men come in, feel comfortable, feel wanted, and feel needed, and then your church will grow.

Changing a Church’s Look and Feel

Bolinger: Let’s take your points one by one and spend some more time on each one. You’ve given concrete, practical, straightforward things that a church leadership team can undertake. It’s not a complete revamping of the church, but it’s some calculated steps with an emphasis on reaching more man than we reach today.

Let’s start with décor. It seems like a fairly easy one, although it could be problematic. You mentioned taking down some of the banners and putting up some TVs so that it’s easy to see the words and easy to have some visuals. A lot of men are visually oriented, so you can give them some man-friendly visuals during the worship service. Who might object to this, if a church decided to make this change?

Murrow: It’s going to be the people who created the banners. Churches tend to be full of passivity activists, people who are in church precisely because they want the church service that they had back in the 1950s. They want the experience that they had when they were young, so they come into the church and expect to see the banners and the quilts and the flowers and the lace doilies. You remove a lace doily from a communion table, and you wouldn’t think that would be a big deal, but the problem is that the lace doily was brought from the Holy Land in the 1960s by Aunt Agnes. By removing that, our dearly departed sister is being dissed. We’re forgetting this wonderful thing that Aunt Agnes brought from the Holy Land. The person who sewed the banner, especially if she’s passed on – these become living memorials to the saints. So yes, there’s always going to be opposition.

I made a film about Pastor Jen and her struggles to change her church. It is called Amazing Grace: A Church for Men. If you just Google that, you can watch it online for free. You can see how she handled it.

She actually went to the women’s group in the church and said, “We’re trying to expand to a younger crowd and get more guys involved. Do you all agree with that?” They all said yes.

She said, “One of the things we’ve learned is that these banners send a message to men that this is kind of a women’s place. They’re beautiful banners, but we really don’t want men to come in and think that this is just a thing for women. We want them to understand that this church is for men as well. So, is it okay if we were to take these down for a while? Maybe try a little bit of a different look here in the sanctuary and see if we get more men involved?”

When she explained it gently and carefully to the women, the women were all on board. They understood. So the banners came down, and they’ve never gone back up. They’re in a closet behind the organ. And guys come to the church.

Men and Music

Bolinger: OK, let’s talk about music in the church. What type of music does Pastor Jen’s church do?

Murrow: Pastor Jen’s church does not have a praise band. They have not gotten rid of the hymnal. There is no drum set in this church. They play traditional hymns on organ and piano. And the church is packed with young families.

I think a lot of smaller churches will think, “We need contemporary worship.” And so what they’ll do is they take several middle-aged and older musicians and try to teach them how to do contemporary rock-‘n-roll in a space that’s not really conducive to that type of music. It just falls really flat.

Well, Grace has avoided that pitfall. They’ve stuck with traditional music – hymns played on an organ and played on a piano – which is appropriate to the space that they are in. And they are continuing to attract young families because they do what they do and they do it well. They’re not trying to be something they’re not. They’re not trying to be a rock concert…

Bolinger: OK, so the church in LaSalle demonstrates that you can have a traditional approach to music – traditional hymns, a choir – and attract men. I presume that men who don’t like to sing appreciate the fact that the words of the hymns are man-friendly, so men can stand there listening while a hymn is being sung and can be reassured and strengthened by that.

Murrow: It’s a mix of hymns and praise songs. They’re just careful that they’re all man-friendly.

They’ve even thought through the projection system, which they use to put the words of the hymns and praise songs up. The projection system puts the words up and then behind it are still images. They used to have flowers and all this “girly stuff”. They’ve taken those off and now they use natural scenes that would appeal to either men or women: mountains, streams, rivers, rocks, hikers. They use the great outdoors. They put an image of the great outdoors behind the words of the song that they are singing. Even that tiny little visual cue is encouraging to men because men are all about the outdoors. They are really intentional about looking at the little things that they really want to send a message to men that you’re wanted and valued, and you’re understood here…

Impact on Women

Bolinger: I watched the Amazing Grace video about Jen’s church a couple of months ago…It was great to hear from the pastor about what she had done and why. But the real selling point for me is about two-thirds of the way through the video where you interview some of the women in the church, and they talk about what it’s like to have their husbands and brothers and others in the church, active in the church. For me, that was the home run, because getting the men involved is not just good for the men. It’s good for everybody.

Murrow: Far from feeling discriminated against, these women were feeling empowered because finally, finally they were not having to drag their men to church. I can tell you, they felt so liberated by this, that they were no longer the spiritual drivers. They and their husbands, they and their brothers, and they and their sons were all following Jesus together, rather than the women constantly having to be, “Come on, let’s go to church, let’s go to church.” No, the men want to go and it’s such a different dynamic in those families now. I can tell you, the women feel supremely blessed and they are more than happy to let the men have their ministries and let the men lead in these areas because it’s caused so much more balance.


For the rest of the interview with David Murrow, pick up a copy of Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.

Copyright 2015, 2016 Revitalize Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved.

How Can Your Church Reach Young People for Jesus?

How do young people come into a faith relationship with Jesus Christ? The research is clear: the vast majority of people (young, as well as old) come to faith through a relationship with a Christian friend or relative.[1]

Jesus often modeled the process. To the demon-possessed man (Mark 5:19) he said, “go home to your friends and tell them what wonderful things God has done for you…” When Zacchaeus believed, Christ told him that salvation had also come to his friends and family (Luke 19:9). After Jesus healed the son of a royal official we learn that the Centurion, and all of his family and friends, believed (Mark 2:14-15). Jesus knew that the way the Gospel would travel around the world would be through relationships.

How to Get Started
The foundation of an effective outreach strategy for young people is building relationships with them. How do you start building relationships? C.S. Lewis gives us a wonderful insight: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.’ ”[2] To reach young people, we must create times and places where friendships can grow between Christians and non-Christians. Think of these as “relationship greenhouses”.

How do such friendships flourish? Two ingredients are required: (1) time and (2) common interests. In other words, young people need to spend time with Christians with whom they share things in common. Once you have these two ingredients, you’re well on your way to effective outreach.

These days, finding one of those two ingredients — time — may prove difficult. What do you do when people tell you that they can’t make it because they don’t have time?

Change the Question
The leaders of a Lutheran church in Burnsville, Illinois encountered this problem. They conducted small group meeting after small group meeting but had few attendees. The common excuse? “We just don’t have any time.” Then an insight hit them and they solved the problem. Rather than asking, “Would you attend our group?”, they started asking, “What kind of a group would you change your schedule to attend?”[3] When they found people’s “hot buttons” for which they would make time, they solved their small group attendance problems!

There are two categories of groups for which young people will change their schedules to attend: recreational and developmental. The first category relates to how young people like to spend their free time. The second category relates to dealing with major life concerns, such as health, finances, relationships, and employment or school.

To attract young people, you need to build your “relationship greenhouses” around felt needs. If the attraction is strong enough, the promise appealing enough, and the first step small enough, then young people will come.

From Felt Needs to Deeper Needs
But focusing only on felt needs limits your potential for nurturing deeper relational and spiritual growth. A good “relationship greenhouse” moves from felt needs to deeper needs. What are the deeper needs of young people where real relationships will grow? Young people are looking for five things:

  1. a place to belong
  2. a sense of balance
  3. authentic relationships
  4. help through transitions
  5. spiritual answers

If you can provide for these deeper needs, then you will see people coming back even after their felt needs have been met.

From Deeper Needs to Eternal Needs
Ultimately, the “pilgrim’s progress” will move from deeper needs to eternal needs, and the pilgrim will develop a relationship with Jesus that fills the God-shaped vacuum inside every human being. But young people won’t make those jumps from felt needs to deeper needs to eternal needs with people they don’t know or trust. Disciple making is a process. And such journeys take time. I recommend Bob Whitesel’s book, Spiritual Waypoints,[4] for a helpful discussion on facilitating people’s journey from ignorance to intimacy with Christ.

What’s Our Product?
A marketing executive with Ford Motor Company once said to me, “I’ve often imagined what it might be like if our church were a business. What would be our product?” He went on to answer his own question: “I think our product would be ‘relationships.’ A relationship with God through Jesus Christ, relationships with others in the body of Christ, and, finally, relationships with people in our community.” Hmmm. That’s a great product, isn’t it? And there’s certainly a need in the “marketplace”!

[1] See Side Door: How to Open Your Church to Reach More People by Charles Arn, Wesley Publishing House, 2013, p. 9.)
[2] C.S. Lewis. The Four Loves. Harcourt, Brace, & Company, Orlando, FL: 1988 p. 247.)
[3] David Stark. Growing People Through Small Groups. Bethany Press, 2004, p. 94.
[4] Bob Whitesel. Spiritual Waypoints: Helping Others Navigate the Journey. Wesley Publishing House, Indianapolis: IN, 2010.

Baby Steps toward Church Transformation

A few years ago, there was a television commercial promoting Fram Oil Filters. While the spokesman walked around an auto repair shop, a mechanic overhauled an engine in the background. At the end, the spokesperson held up a Fram Oil Filter and said, “The choice is yours. You can pay me now, or you can pay me later!” The message was simple: If you spent a little more on a premium Fram Oil Filter now, then you would avoid the much bigger expense of an engine overhaul later.

If your church is declining in size and vitality, then you have a similar choice. Will you chart a new path now, or will you continue to do what you have been doing until you run out of options and face a major overhaul, or worse?

After over a decade of working with hundreds of churches, we have found a way that churches can “pay now” and avoid disaster later.


The dynamic power in this change process is rooted in the word transformation. Transformation, by its very nature, requires deep and lasting change (Romans 12:2). Such change rarely occurs quickly, easily, or without significant sacrifices. At its core, it requires repentance.

To repent simply means to turn around, to change directions. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for repentance is shuv, which literally means to turn around. If a farmer is plowing with a team of oxen, when the animals would get to the end of a furrow, he would yell, “Shuv,” i.e., turn around, go in the opposite direction. Thus, to repent means to turn away from what you are doing and move toward another option.

Declining churches need to turn away from inwardly-focused, self-protective behaviors and turn toward loving God and loving others. They need to adopt activities and behaviors that take them out into their communities with the Gospel.

The transformation of a church occurs when a plurality of people move from being primarily a spiritual club for church insiders to being both a caring assembly and an externally-focused ministry serving others in the name of Jesus Christ. The church therefore seeks to emulate Jesus by serving others rather than being served (Matthew 20:28).

Merely doing “church” better or getting more people in the pews is not the goal and is not acceptable. Nothing short of deep change or transformation is the true goal. When that happens the church will be different, behave differently, be renewed, improve the way it lives out its calling, and ultimately bring more people to Jesus.

Transformation of Patterns

Practically speaking, the transformation of individuals and of churches involves the transformation of patterns. For instance, if you try to lose weight, stop smoking, or change an addictive behavior, it’s not enough to depend upon will power or making a New Year’s resolution. Yes, it begins with commitment and resolve, but there must also be corresponding life pattern changes. Simply wanting to do the right thing is not enough.

David Maister, in his wonderfully-titled book, Strategy and the Fat Smoker, makes this powerful statement: “The primary reason we do not work at behaviors which we know we need to improve is that the rewards (and pleasure) are in the future; the disruption, discomfort and discipline needed to get there are immediate. To reach our goals we must first change our lifestyle and our daily habits now. Then we must summon the courage to keep up the new habits and not yield to all the old familiar temptations. Then, and only then, we get the benefits later.”1

So how do we change our bad habits now so we can gain these wanted benefits later? One way is to begin taking some baby steps!

Baby Steps

Dave Ramsey, the personal finance guru, talks about getting out of debt in “the same way you learned to walk—one step at a time.”2 For instance, it is much easier to take the baby step of starting a $1,000 emergency fund than to take the giant leap of removing a $100,000 of debt. Therefore, start with small, relatively easy to do tasks, like starting a small savings account for emergencies, and eventually you will be able to completely change your lifestyle and reach your ultimate goal of having financial peace.

What would be some meaningful baby steps related to transforming your church and ministry? To put it another way, what can you do now to begin opening doors to your community with the Gospel?

One way to jump-start the process is to take advantage of the expertise and experience gained by others in similar situations. Instead of reinventing the wheel, use something that is tried and true, and you will begin to establish a clear path for your baby steps.

To help you get started, we have developed a workbook entitled Skill Builders: Leadership Tools for Opening Doors to Your Community,3 which provides practical skills to help churches engage their communities with the Gospel. These are skills that can be applied in any kind and size of church.

Consider, for example, the case of a small, stagnant church located on the far western edge of the Ozark Mountains. With an average age of 72, the congregation was known in the community as the “church for old people.” However, after taking some baby steps, the congregation took up the challenge of reaching young families with the Gospel. They planned a special week of summer camp activities for children. The members developed their own lessons and activities. To help ensure maximum participation, they provided meals and snacks. The summer program concluded with a Mexican dinner and mariachi band concert. The whole community was invited.

To prepare for the crowd, members were asked to park in a vacant field across the road. They used golf carts (one of the perks of having elderly members in your church!) to ferry members to the door. The paved parking lot at the church was reserved for guests. When a local restaurant heard of the event, they volunteered to donate the tacos, rice, and beans for the meal. The members donated the dessert. With over 500 people in attendance, this was the single largest event in the church’s history. Over 80 prospects were identified. The congregation is building on this success with a weekly afternoon camp experience for children. More than that, the church is now thriving and growing and is no longer viewed as just a “church for old people.”

Resolve to Start the Process

Taking baby steps like the ones mentioned above is a great way to begin breaking old patterns and start revitalizing your church and ministry. Certainly, there are others as well. (Check out the other articles on this website for more examples!) What’s really important at this point is that you simply resolve to start the process.

Back when I was growing up on the farm, my dad used to say, “Don’t just stand there, do something!” The point is clear. If you want to accomplish anything worthwhile, you have to get started doing it. And what could be more worthwhile, indeed eternally important, than being instruments of Christ in opening doors to your community for the Gospel?

The tendency, of course, after reading an article like this is to put it aside and not really do anything differently. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the dozens of books and binders and CDs that you have in your office, church, or home right now and then mentally make a list of how they fundamentally changed your life. The reality is that probably none of them made a significant difference. This article won’t either, unless you allow the Holy Spirit to spur you to take action and start doing some things differently.

The choice is yours. Do you want to pay now or pay later? Will you take seriously Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations” and experience the joy the angels feel whenever even one sinner repents? By investing yourself and your congregation in a church revitalization process now, you can be sure that, by God’s grace and power, there will be those who will not have to pay later for their sins in hell, because they will come to know the One who has paid for everything by giving His life for us all.

1 David Maister, Strategy and the Fat Smoker (Boston: Spangle Press, 2008).

Dave Ramsey, “Take Control of Your Money One Step at a Time”.

3 Terry Tieman and Dwight Marable, Skill Builders: Leadership Tools for Opening Doors to Your Community (Cordova, TN: Transforming Churches Network, 2012).

Fixing the Leaks in Your Church

Imagine you and the rest of your congregation are on a boat. The boat may be large or small. It may be powered by wind or motor. You might know where you are headed or you may not. However, if your church is struggling and in need of revitalization, then your boat is certainly taking on water, sinking into the deep.

Chances are that, if your church has been struggling for any amount of time, you have several holes in your boat where water is entering. Signs of leaks in your boat may include:

  • Your worship tastes like two-day-old fast-food fries.
  • Your nursery and restrooms look like a truck stop.
  • Your building has an odd musty church smell (you know the one).
  • Your theology has some elements that are debatable or even errant.
  • Your pastor retired ten years ago but told no one.
  • You have a conflict rooted deep into the bedrock below.
  • Some of your communication leaves people guessing rather than informed.
  • A few difficult people have completely handcuffed your leaders.
  • Your discipleship is stuck somewhere in the 1960s.
  • Your community outreach is on life support.

Too often in struggling churches, our response to taking on water is to try to get more resources – particularly people and finances – to help bail water from the boat. There are two major problems with this response:

  1. It focuses on dealing with the results, not the causes, of the problems we have created, so it is very likely to fail.
  2. It doesn’t attract new people, because no one wants to jump onto a sinking ship, so it weighs down the existing congregation.

Instead of focusing on the getting more resources to help manage the result of your problems, you must now identify the actual problems that have led to your church’s decline. What is making your church take on water and sink? Where are the holes? Where are the leaks?

Don’t go at this task alone, as your perspective is too limited! Seek the help of the most spiritual and/or influential in your church, enlist help from outsiders, and look to God’s Word prayerfully. Read through Jesus’ letters to the churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2-3. What kind of letter would Jesus write to your church today, and why? Be sure to guard your heart, as this task can easily lead to despair.

After you’ve made a master list of your church’s needs, the next task is to categorize these “leaks”. Try three categories based on the difficulty of fixing the leaks.

Some leaks are easy to fix. Rooms can be painted in a day or two. Church communication can be improved immediately. Denominational resources may be readily available. Your building can be cleaned well in a week. Begin by fixing these areas as quickly as you can, creating momentum. This momentum will be helpful as you address more challenging leaks.

Some leaks are harder to fix. They require significant change to the church’s culture. They necessitate the church’s influencers to be on board. They require funding that may not be available. Prayerfully begin taking small steps in the direction of addressing these issues, preparing yourself for when the opportunity is right to fully address them. I can tell you of the times when the right family moved to our church at the right moment. I can tell you of the times that God dropped thousands of unexpected dollars into our offering plate at the right time. I can tell you of the time that difficult person approach me to complete the very task I thought he would be the hurdle to complete.

Some leaks seem impossible to fix. They require major change in the church’s structure. They require new staff that you cannot afford. They may require a significant property upgrade. Instead of letting these issues constantly eat at you and consume your emotional energy, make these issues your top prayer priority, turning them over to God. Apply the truths of Philippians 4:4-9 to these leaks. Trust in Christ and ask for his peace. After all, he walked on water and can keep your church afloat!