Ron Sylvia

While Ron Sylvia sat in a worship service in June 1994, God began a conversation with him. “Ron,” God said, “I want you to begin a contemporary praise and worship church.”

While awaiting confirmation, Ron says his son, Jared, tugged on his sleeve and said, “Daddy, I love to hear you preach. I wish I could hear you preach every Sunday.”

Despite the supportive comment, Ron was still full of doubt. Later in the service, his eyes made contact with a man he had not seen for quite some time. They smiled and nodded, and afterward, the man found Ron and asked if they could have lunch later that week.

Days later, the man told Ron he was leaving their current church, to find another house of worship — something more contemporary. Confirmations continued to come daily through conversations, Scripture, and conflict. Ron knew that God was tugging on his heart to start a new church, but he didn’t know how, where, or what.

In Ron’s daily quiet times, the Lord led him to Psalm 37, which confirmed the calling to launch Church @ The Springs near Orlando, Florida. God was clearly calling Ron;…

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Preaching PulpitEvery time we preach we have an opportunity to fulfill our God-given calling to impact lives with the truth of God’s Word and the hope of the Gospel. But the effectiveness of our preaching is impacted by a host of variables we cannot control, including distractions in the room. But there is something we can control, and that is how well we prepare.

I’ve written extensively on several aspects of sermon preparation including forming a preaching team, nailing down a weekly prep schedule, and seeking healthy feedback. But I find one of the most often neglected aspects of effective sermon preparation is rehearsing the sermon. By rehearsing I mean preaching the entire message by yourself (or to a handful of people) before you actually preach the sermon to your church.

The reluctance to rehearse is varied. Some preachers might think it’s awkward to preach to themselves. They’re totally right, by the way. It is awkward, but that does not mean you shouldn’t do it. Other preachers might avoid it because they don’t think it’s necessary. Still others may have just never thought of it. I…

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Andy StanleyI was honored to have Andy Stanley as one of my personal mentors for several years. As you can imagine, I learned so much from him. As much as anything, he helped me understand the power of simple systems.

When I was 28 years old, Andy told me something I’ll never forget. He said:

“Shawn, every church is perfectly structured for the results they’re getting now.”

Thanks for that one, Andy! I’ve not told you that enough!

After pastoring for nearly two decades and consulting with hundreds of churches since then, I am convinced that this law of church growth stands true:

Church systems are perfectly designed to produce the results they’re getting now. If they want better results, they have to improve their systems.

Why does a church spike in attendance, only to shrink back to the same water level of attendance? The church is perfectly structured for the results they’re getting now.

Why do churches see guests come in every week, new baptisms every year, and yet maintain the same attendance? The church is perfectly structured for the results they’re getting now.

Why…

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Winners

If you’re a pastor, you’re a motivator. In fact, motivational preaching is one of the most powerful and persuasive tools for change our culture knows.

W. A. Criswell, one of my own preaching heroes, defined preaching as “seeking to move a man’s will God-ward.” He went on to define teaching as “instructing that man in the will and ways of the Lord.”

I agree with the late Dr. Criswell that both are the tasks of the local church pastor, but it was his words about the motivational nature of preaching particularly captured my heart.

The very idea of motivational preaching may have negative undertones with many people because we assume that the Gospel is at odds with a message of personal motivation. Or at least we feel that the doctrine of depravity is incompatible with a doctrine of personal achievement. But when we begin with a proper perspective of self — that we are completely and totally dependent on the redemptive power of God — then the Gospel becomes the most motivational message of all.

We win. We are winning, even when it seems that we’re losing. So we are winners, now and forever because of the grace of God…

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Big City

My first pastorate was in a town of 300 people. It was a very special church. Each Sunday I would go to lunch at a different member’s home. We will never forget those days. It was a great place for me to learn.

One of the greatest lessons about vision I learned in the simplest manner while I was at that church. Some of the church’s leadership determined we needed to air-condition the building. This led to a business meeting. We were discussing the situation as the ping-pong match began. One of the men felt strongly we did not need to do it because “times were hard.” A godly woman in the church had heard about all she wanted to hear. She stood up and said to them, “God will take care of this. Let’s help the church move forward to the future for our younger families.” In her passionate speech and plea, she nailed the hard time’s issue by telling them she would give the first $1,000. Needless to say, within minutes the whole issue was solved. The church was getting its own central heat and air unit.

In the middle…

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Liked

The desire to be liked and approved of by others runs deep in most of us. Maybe all of us. We are wired for connection to other humans. We are made to be in meaningful relationships. And when we know or sense that someone in our sphere of influence doesn’t like us, it hurts.

From the time we start school as young children, we do whatever we can to gain the acceptance and approval of others.

  • If we’re nerdy, we play the smart card.
  • If we’re goofy, we play the fun card.
  • If we’re athletic, we play the jock card.
  • If we’re musical, we just play something, anything (even a trumpet) to fit in with others who are like us — hoping beyond hope that others will embrace us as valuable.

As we enter our teen years, we might feign apathy and act as if we don’t care about being liked.

But we do care. A lot.

Over time, after a broken heart or two or 20, and after rejection after rejection, we typically start to withdraw in an act of self-preservation. However, our retreat from people doesn’t stop our deep-seated need to be recognized and…

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Church Planting

When Kay and I arrived in Orange County, it wasn’t our mission to plant a mega church. We wanted to plant a mission church.

That is, we wanted to plant a church that would plant other churches.

  • We wanted to plant at least one daughter church per year, and we’ve gone beyond that.
  • We wanted to send out at least 200 career missionaries, and we’ve sent out hundreds more than that.
  • We wanted to send thousands to the mission field, and we’ve sent tens of thousands.

I’ve been saying this for 30 years now: You don’t judge the strength of a church by its seating capacity, but by its sending capacity!

The ultimate goal of the Purpose Driven paradigm of church leadership isn’t just maturity. It’s missions.

If you’re just starting out, or have any interest at all in church planting, carefully read these 10 basic principles of planting a multiplying church.

1. Start with focused prayer.

Kay and I spent six months praying and asking God where we should go. The Bible says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1a NIV).

More than any skill, talent, or resource, you need God’s guidance, direction, and blessing! So…

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That phrase “teaching hospital” jumped out at me during a conversation with Geoff Surratt, who was then pastor of church planting at Saddleback Church. As we discussed the vision of Grace Hills Church over lunch, Geoff helped me put words to the burden I kept feeling to plant more than a church: to plant a multiplying movement of reproducing churches.

I believe in church planting. I believe that the local church is supposed to multiply itself, birthing daughter churches, and that this is not only biblically mandated, but a highly practical way to expand the Kingdom of God in our culture.

America has seen well over 1,000 new megachurches spring up the last decade, and our actual transforming impact upon America is often difficult to spot. We need more churches. Why?

  • People are going to Hell without Jesus, and the percentage of our population without a relationship with Christ is on the increase.
  • Many existing churches are dying, and birthing new babies is usually easier than raising the dead.
  • God has ordained the local church as his primary vehicle of spiritual and social change in the world.
  • New churches reach more people, faster. It takes…

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I’ve planted several churches, and I know how hard it can be. I’ve never “closed” a plant, but I’ve sat with several others that have. It is painful — but sometimes it is helpful.

I think that doing an “autopsy” is a helpful part of the learning experience, and something that is not done often enough. Here is one such reflection from John Thomas, a former planter.

As an aside, one of the more fascinating documents we references in Viral Churches was an autopsy report by Todd Hunter. At the time, Todd was director of church planting for the Vineyard and later the head of the Vineyard. Now he is an Anglican Bishop (and we shared a pulpit and some fellowship time last week with the Anglican Church in America). You can download that report from 1986 (an eternity in church-planting years) here.


A Guest Post from John Thomas

Of course, I had heard the stats about church planting failures. Regardless, I went for it knowing the Lord was leading me to start a new church for his glory. I read all the books, attended the conferences, took…

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From the beginning, Pastor Rick’s vision for Saddleback Church was to attract unbelievers, lead them to Christ, grow them into mature believers through the work of the Holy Spirit, and send them out on mission, all for God’s global glory. His goal was always to be a disciple-making and disciple-sending church. Out of this vision, came the Purpose Driven paradigm as the intentional process to accomplish this goal.

He first asked the question, “What is spiritual maturity?” and then, “How might one measure it?” He knew it was a myth that spiritual maturity is measured only on what you know. Pastor Rick says, “Many churches evaluate spiritual maturity solely on the basis of how well you can identify Bible characters, interpret Bible passages, quote Bible verses, and explain biblical theology. The ability to debate doctrine is considered by some as the ultimate proof of spirituality.” Some people who are not even believers have an incredible knowledge of the Bible without any spiritual growth in their lives. Spiritual maturity is not just cognitive.

So he set about to discover the characteristics of spiritual maturity and how leadership could measure it. He came to the conclusion…

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Do you remember what it was like to go to church for the first time?

A lot of pastors have been in church for so long that we can’t remember. Maybe you grew up going to church with your family like I did. If so, you can’t remember because you were too young.

If you came to faith in Jesus later in life, you might have an advantage in this area. You know how awkward it was.

Maybe you didn’t know anyone. Maybe you only knew one friend who invited you there. Maybe you were nervous. Maybe you were afraid it would be a cult. You were probably more than a bit skeptical.

Pastors cannot afford to lose touch with what it is like to be an unbeliever in church if we want to continue to reach people with the Good News of Jesus Christ. So, if your church is trying to reach your community, as it should, then you must assume that there skeptics in the room.

Maybe they were invited by a friend, family member, or co-worker. Maybe they found your church online. Maybe they had a horrible week and wandered in looking for something,…

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Work

Work dominates our lives — especially those of us in ministry.

The typical American spends about 150,000 hours — or 40 percent of his life — at work (I suspect that for pastors, the number is even higher!)

In other words, you’ll spend more time working in ministry, thinking about ministry, and commuting to your ministry than you will eating, relaxing, and vacationing — all combined — this year.

Now, God wants you to succeed in ministry. In fact, in the Bible, God offers this guarantee:

“Put God in charge of your work, then what you’ve planned will take place” (Proverbs 16:3 MSG).

What does it mean to put God in charge of your work? There are three steps I’d suggest:

Seek God’s Direction

Ask him to guide you every day: in your planning . . . your organizing . . . your decision making . . . your implementing . . . and in relating to everyone you come in contact with. “The Lord is pleased when good people pray” (Proverbs 15:8a GNT).

Sharpen Your Skills

Be the best you can be for God’s glory. Never stop learning. Look for ways to cultivate the talents he’s given you.“If the ax is dull and…

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