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Posts Tagged ‘numbers’

Moving to Two Services

Embody has come to the place of making a big decision: do we move to two services or move to a new location?  We’ve been worshiping for nearly 2 years now, and this is an exciting delimma to be in because it means we’re growing.  The leadership team has worked on this for quite a while and looked at options, prayed, and discussed the matter and come to the conclusion that it’s time to go to two services.

This causes some concern amongst the Embody family because it means not worshiping all together.  It bumps up against the value of community that we have forged and honed.  So, I was not surprised that the church went into anxiety mode when they heard about the change.  Now, I should say that this is not the first that they had heard about it.  We met 6 months ago to discuss the possibility and heard concerns and questions at the time…and decided that then (6 months ago) was not the time to start moving in that direction.

But now our growth is dictating that it’s time to do “something.”  It’s well-documented that when a church is 80% full (or feels that way) that the church won’t grow.  Our capacity is 100 and we start to feel full at 85-90 (something we’ve had about 7-8 times).  In the summertime (a slower time in West Michigan) we have been in the 60’s and 70’s with a few 50’s and 80’s.  If everyone who calls Embody home were to come at the same time we would be over 120.  As the Fall approaches, people will find a routine that includes worship – and people for whom worship is not part of their routine…they may be looking for a safe place to explore faith.  It’s a prime time for growth.  The way I see it the options are these:

  1. Move to a new location – (problem…there are not new locations available in our area – the place we are called to minister)
  2. Alter our worship space – (problem…we did that and created space for more people…now filled up often and feeling full)
  3. Alter our worship space further – (problem…doing that would mean more money than we have, and we can not get a loan until we can cover our own expenses – something we can not do yet)
  4. Buy the land and build something – (same problem as further altering our worship space)
  5. Worship in two seperate services until we reach the amount of people or offering to cover our expenses and make a change to our space where we can worship together again…which is a goal – (problem…many are concerned that we will become two churches)

These are tough choices to work through. It comes down to a choice between two values: 1. the value of ministering to a locale underserved by churches and 2. worshiping in the same space at the same time

Both of these are important values.  One of them, I believe, can be overcome by intentionality of community-building and spending time together as a people outside of set worship times.  The other places us outside our sphere of influence and inevitably within a snowball’s throw of another church.

Way to solve the problem #1: immense donation by a rich uncle (this I don’t want because it keeps us from working it out together – that and I don’t have a rich uncle. #2 Become tithers (this takes time and a growth in discipleship) I anticipate this coming over time, but it is not something I can push because many in the church have been burnt and feel that churches just want their money.  #3 Grow in number of regular worshipers (this takes time – unless I went around to all the churches in our area and tried to skim off the top – something I won’t do because it’s not what I’m called to do, and…it tends to gather malcontents.)

I hate having to focus on numbers of people and $, but they are a reality if not the focus.  You can’t hide from them, just deal with them.  The reason to have more people is not because they bring a pocketbook but because they have an opportunity to engage God, God’s word and faithful people in a meaningful and authentic way.

So…here’s where we are: the decision has been made, the concerns and questions heard (they have been very helpful), a “make-it-happen” team formed, the anxiety raised, the plea for help raised to our God, and I’m asking you to be in prayer for Embody as we start this next phase of growth.  (Oh, and if you’re a rich uncle – anybody’s rich uncle – call me.)

Disney and Dice

In February, while it was cold and snowy in Michigan, my family travelled to Florida and spent a week at Disney.  At one of the parks there was a ride in a haunted hotel.  The ride was inside an elevator that mysteriously rose and then suddenly dropped to a random floor then rose and fell and rose and fell until your insides couldn’t decide whether inside or outside your body cavity was the right place to be.  My bride loves rides like that.  Me…not so much.  I know the ride will even out and we’ll step off the elevator to a nice, calm stable ground until the next ride, but…not knowing if the floor was going to drop out from underneath you at any moment – or whether or not you’ll surge upward causing all the blood in your body to fill your toes – these are not my favorite things.

Church planting can be like that ride.  We’ve been keeping track of attendance to give us a good idea of where we are and what the reality on the ground is.  One week it’s up to 93 then 48 then 78 then 67 then 80 then 54.  I’m in that ride all the time.  When there are 93 or 80 our space is too small, and it’s time to have two services.  When there are 48 or 54 we are fine in our renovated office space.  It can be frustrating for me not having an calm, smooth even uphill gradation of numbers.  Granted, summer in Michigan is spotty at best, and every pastor I talk to (even in an established church) has the same struggle.

Difference being that I am trying to lead our church into the next chapter of our story.  When someone walks into a room and there are no seats for them, what’s to keep them from saying to themselves, “Selves, there’s not room for us here” or “Selves, I don’t think they need us here.”  On those weeks one of those statements is true, the other not.  We don’t have room on those days, but we do need them.

The answers lay before us: move to a bigger space and risk having 60 people in a big old hollow space on a given week; move to two services and roll the dice (not a very reformed thing to say) with what happens.  I am leaning toward rolling the dice because I know who’s rolling them, and he already knows (in fact commands) the outcome.

More

April 18, 2011 1 comment

I ordered 30 palm branches for Palm Sunday.  I thought that would give us enough to hand out to the few kids who didn’t make their own last week and then give some to the parents out in the congregation as the kids sang “Clap Your Hands All You People”.  But when I went to the flower shop, my friend Pat threw in an extra bundle.  This made 45, and should have been a hint that God had more in store.

The firemarshall would have been unhappy.  Fortunately, we gathered around a bowl full of water for part of our worship service on Sunday, so if there were a fire, we would have been just fine.  During the baptism of Jonathan James Albin I looked out to see a sea of people and the extra chairs we set up in the back to fit them in.  Our worship space is under renovation (hoping…praying to be done by Easter), and it should allow us to fit 110 or so more comfortably than they were squeezed in on Sunday. 

Would you like to know the secret I’m harboring?  I’ll release it to you, but only if you promise to be gentle with it.  I’m holding it and keeping it safe in my heart of hearts.  If I tell you, you have to place it in your heart and put it in the place where you and your Maker converse, where it’s just the four of you sitting near the warmest part of the secret place – near the fire tended by the Spirit, where the Son brings in wood and the Father lets you sit on His lap and listens, and asks for you to do the same.

Here it is:  I want more.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t talking about numbers, but I’d be lying if I said that was all I wanted.  I want more.  More listless wanderers, more hurting, broken aimless, more faithful without a church family, more hungry, and more hunger.  I want more than I’ve had, and more than I’m expecting.  And I don’t want it just to be financially solvent (because we all know that the more I want is not the more who have more or know how to be stewards of more…yet).  I want to see what God can.  I want to see what God will.  I want to see and glorify and magnify and proclaim – for the burnt and hopeless, for the publican, for the Elijah, for the tired – what God wants to and is willing to and is waiting to do.

O God bring more this Easter.

Countdown to Easter

April 11, 2011 Leave a comment

If I’m playing by the “church planting rulebook” then I’ve got about 8 months to make things happen. 

The rulebook, which nobody likes to invoke or even think about has a lot to do with numbers and money.  On our current trajectory we will need to double our offerings (whether by doubling our attendance or our giving) by January 1, or… well, let’s say the trajectory will need to change.  Outside funding covers roughly 50% of our budget right now, and we’ve bumped up against the very common 75 person wall.

New churches tend to hit a plateau at about 75.  It’s where people start to feel really comfortable.  They like the people they’re worshiping with, they enjoy the size, knowing everyone, feeling like afamily.  It’s really nice, and it can lull you into a comfort coma.  The comfort coma ends up ending a lot of church start-ups because people get stuck and can’t move to self-supporting.

At the same time, the “church planting rulebook” kind of makes me nervous, if I’m honest, because it doesn’t feel very “organic” or “authentic” or whatever catchy word you want to use that actually does carry a meaning that jives with me.

Enough about that.  Let’s just say this: Easter is one of the prime opportunities before us to get to meet new people.  Unfortunately, the best case scenario doesn’t help us much.  It’s this: Best Case Scenario: the church’s invitations to their friends, the mailers that go out bring in 70 more people.  20 of them stay and begin to grow in faith from wherever they are on the continuum.  This is really what I hope for ( and I’m remembering that God can do immeasurably more than I hope for).

These new folks have no reason to give to help support Embody.  Many of them won’t know Jesus yet, and, honestly, how could I ask them to or expect them to give in the offering plate?

Ok, here’s where this posting turns into a short rant:

The “church planting rulebook” stinks.  We encourage churches to start, but give them only 3 years to get off the ground and onto their own feet.  But the reality is something very different.  We’re not trying to steal sheep from other churches.  We’re trying to bring good news to people who haven’t been walking with Christ.  And any pastor will tell you that no matter what church they’re leading they see this: sacrificial giving…no, even tithing doesn’t come until someone is far along the path of discipleship.

Something’s not quite right about the whole system.  OK.  Enough about that.  I look forward to reading this posting some day and saying, “O me of little faith”.  God’s going to show up.  I just have to do my part, right?  Right.

My Pitch To NBC

March 28, 2011 1 comment

I have a few shows I watch on TV (understatement).  Dana usually reads while I find out who’s voted out or find out who shot J.R.  But every once in a while Dana gets into a show, and I love it because it’s another shared activity we enjoy like brushing our teeth or not laughing out loud when Bis goes into a raging drama queen moment over something non-existent.  Happily, Dana picked up on a show called “America’s Next Great Restaurant”.

Ten people who have an idea for a new restaurant chain go through the preparation for starting a restaurant while four knowledgeable investors weed them out until there’s a winner who receives three of his/her restaurants in three prime cities in the U.S.  The investors give them chances to show off different parts of their plan: taste, look, name, menu, etc. in front of hundreds of regular people who vote on their favorite in a particular category.

Last night’s episode got me thinking about having a reality show of my own: “America’s Next Great Superchurch”.  Yuck!  Here’s how it would go: Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Kirk Cameron gather a bunch of church planters in their preparatory stage.  They give them the chance to finalize and hone their plans: look, feel, name, liturgy (or lack thereof), theology (or lack thereof), proposed leadership structure, financial plan, pastoral staffing plan, pastoral vacation plan, pastoral family plan, church values, church mission statement, location, space plan (facilities).  Then they give unchurched, dechurched and churchy-type people the opportunity to cast their vote on these individual aspects of the church plant.  Rick, Bill, and Kirk wittle down the contestants until they get to the final one who receives as a reward…funding for thier new church plant.

Ugh!  I can see this actually happening in our media-rich church culture.  Yuck.  OK, let’s stay with this for a minute…  This could really work for some of these planters.  They could really get a lot of kinks worked out and the expert advice of some people who understand the business of church and the culture of church.  (I can hardly continue this, it’s killing me)  Ok, keeping going, Jim.

The winner receives money to go along with his/her well-planned design for a new church plant.  They are like a hiker who is all packed up and exercised, stretched out, has their pack, water, food, maps, matches, and Swiss Army knife.  There’s a problem, though – at least I have seen that it can be a problem.  It’s this:

You can plan and think and prepare, but there’s one thing you can’t plan, understand, or prepare for: The Holy Spirit.  The Spirit blows where He wants and how and when.  A hiker plans for certain types of weather and the wind brings something different.  The hiker prepares for a temperature range and the wind brings El Nino (whatever that is).  The hiker brings water purification, but the wind dries up the spring. 

Embody Christ Fellowship started with a beautiful plan, and we’re still using most of it, but we’re finding that there’s a need to trust and wait and pray and lean on the power of the Most High God to pave the way into hearts.  Rick Warren, Bill Hybels and Kirk Cameron know something, but the Holy Spirit is the One who knows the hearts, minds, needs, and desires of His creation, the ones he desires to bring back into reconciliation.  Some trust in chariots, some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. 

Come Holy Spirit!

95

January 10, 2011 Leave a comment

We had 95 people in worship yesterday!  I know.  Where did that come from? Right?  I’ll tell you:

Makenna Sue Slagh, one of our youngest worshipers, brought about 25 people.  She was baptized and brought the family.  It doesn’t hurt that her dad has 6 brothers.  We knew it was going to be a full day, so we pulled the chairs a little tighter and set up some wooden chairs in the back as well.  It was just great!

95 is terrific, but normally we’re not that large.  It was full, and a little crowded.  Felt wonderful and helped me see the future a bit.  It leads us well into this next week when we meet after worship for a church meeting.  We’ll be talking about our space issues and what’s next for Embody.  Here are some of the things that go into our conversation:

1. How we talk about it: this is our first big meeting and our first big decision. So HOW we make our decision is almost as important as what our decision is.  We don’t want our church to be a congregational church – meaning that all decisions are made by everybody (there’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s not to be our way).  Also, we don’t want to be episcopal – meaning that one person makes the decision and everyone else just goes along with it (also good, but not to be our way).  We’ll be presbyterian in our “polity” – meaning that there is a leadership group that makes the decision after hearing the heart and mind of the congregation. 

2. Prayer.  I’m going to ask everybody to pray in preparation for the meeting and we’ll pray during and after.  God will point us in the direction.

3. We are preparing Embody to think about the issue by giving them a survey. It allows people to answer some questions anonymously and to think through their answers on their own.  We’ll also have the results to tabulate.  Hopefully, many people will participate.

4. We aren’t just “willy nilly” having a meeting.  This really is an important decision and we really DO NEED the hearts and minds of the church to be shared. 

5. We’ll be sharing important information about our finances that give rise to our need to have the conversation.

6. Finances aside, we need to keep our church growing.  We’ve reached a point where many church plants plateau and end up dying.  They get comfortable with the people they have and close off and end up closing the doors.  We want to grow (not for numbers’ sake) because we want more and more people to know the goodness of God and the difference God makes in lives.

OK.  So, now that you know that…please pray for us.  I’ll let you know how the meeting goes.

October Headache and Medicine

October 13, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s October.  That means two things: 1. Creating a Budge. 2. Trees Change Color.

If you know me, you know that my math skills stop at about a 3rd grade level.  I rely upon my bride to keep us in the red…or black.  I don’t really understand those two colors in regards to budget – can’t remember which is which.  So, October is always the time when churches start putting together their next year’s budget (unless they have a different fiscal year).  Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing.

Outside resources start to wean new churches as they get older.  The understanding is that you’ll be growing and raising up stewards.  This gives you a couple of years before you have to be on your own (as if God’s not really pulling all the strings).  This is the case with us.

I feel like we’ve been doing really well as a new church.  If we have to talk about numbers…let’s do it.  We have about 70-80 people in church on a Sunday morning (this includes 20-25 kids).  A good number of those people are followers of Jesus Christ and have given their hearts to him.  They are on the path of becoming deeper disciples of Christ and that means growing in stewardship.

However, we have a fair number of people who are not believers.  So…it only makes sense that they would not be as quick to give to the church.  Now, I need to say at this point that I could be completely wrong about this.  I have absolutely zero knowledge about anyone’s giving (except my own family’s).  Anyway, we’re not self-supporting (again with the thought that God’s really the support).

So, we’re cutting where we can cut and going to talk more about stewardship.  Perhaps we’ll ask people to make some commitments regarding their giving for 2011.

I have my annual October headache.

I live in Michigan, though.  And this means that God has blessed me with a headache-help.  It’s called the changing colors of the trees that line my street and leaves that fall on my lawn.  I guess it reminds me that it happens every year, and that God makes it happen, AND that it will happen again next year, AND that next year it will be God, yet again, who makes it happen.

I think he’s got the whole thing under control.  Whether we’re talking about green or orange – it all falls from above.