by Matthew Raley
I believe churches need to have a business plan to reverse their decline, a plan that directs resources toward the New Testament goal of moving people to maturity in Christ (Colossians 1.28-29).
The reason local churches are in decline is that they have confused goals, and incoherent business plans. They direct resources toward activities and programs that contribute nothing to a person’s spiritual maturity — even detract from it. Consequently they get zero New Testament return on investment.
Last post, I gave three outcomes that a church business plan needs to produce. I think we either “toil” to produce this kind of maturity in Christ, “struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works” within us, or else admit that our church life is nothing but words.
1. Submission of heart-and-mind to the Bible. Evangelical churches say they want this outcome, but mere pep talks will never produce it. Significant resources have to go to preaching. A pastor has to labor in scholarship, and in honing his rhetorical craft.
2. An individual, daily practice of worship. Again, churches say they want this. But ask leaders what operations they have put in place to produce it and the response tends to be vague.
3. Obedience to the fifth commandment. Many evangelicals don’t want to honor older people. There is little emphasis on it, much less any clear operational thinking on how to teach it, much less any resources devoted to it. Indeed, I’ve never heard an evangelical leader say that honoring parents is a decisive part of nurturing healthy congregational life.
I also promised additional outcomes. And here are two:
4. Daily faith in God financially.
The people I know who are gaining Christ-like maturity are trusting God economically. I have found that people who want godliness without growing in their practice of work, giving, and spending restraint are deluded.
People must be apprenticed in trusting God with money, and this can’t be done solely in a classroom. Trusting God economically is learned through counseling, or through a trusted friendship, or through that great but neglected teacher, an employer. I am convinced that churches need to become junctions of faith, work, and entrepreneurship.
Much of our discipleship in Orland actually happens on the job. Our leaders invest their personal time and finances heavily in job creation. Many of our people, some profoundly weak in crucial skills, have been trained by our employers spiritually. These employers do not put up with excuses. The process takes hard, daily, purposeful, prayerful work. It can only be done by employers who believe Christ transforms people.
A promising young guy named Matt moved to Orland without a job several years ago to attend our church with his new wife. We were just starting WestHaven Assisted Living, and our hard-nosed-employer-in-chief, Wade, offered Matt a job. After a few short years, Matt is a skilled manager, churchman, husband, and father. He is a self-controlled director his time and money, and a multi-generational asset to this community. He will tell you that God’s power working through his boss is a major factor in his growth.
Building a community to provide this kind of organic discipleship costs money, hundreds of hours of paid and volunteer time, expertise, and requires a willingness to say no to many decent but ultimately frivolous activities that dissipate energy. It is also slow going. But …
Return on investment: By apprenticing people economically, the church gains disciplined volunteer workers and generous financial givers. Capacity for ministry expands here.
5. Gospel-focused spirituality within the trials of divorce.
Divorce is today what slavery was in the 1st century: a common form of servitude for Christians. But if a church uses its resources wisely, it can toil in the power of the Spirit and succeed at producing godly people even amid the emotional, sexual, and financial losses of divorce.
To accomplish this, a church must reject the lie that divorced people are hopeless, and believe that Christ will use them to build his Kingdom. A church must deploy staff both to offer intensive crisis counseling and to train people in the congregation to equip each other biblically. Orland began putting resources into this kind of equipping system years ago, even putting one of our women through a M.A. program in biblical counseling. The work is slow and costly, but …
Return on investment: we have a growing team of lay disciple-makers, a documented crisis intervention system that has successfully interacted with welfare and court systems, and a lengthening roster of saved marriages. And we are a small church.
More outcomes next week.