Archives For Ed Stetzer

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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Over the years, I’ve seen lots of great church-planting practices, and many not-so-great ones. Too many churches open and then close too often because instead of looking to God, they were looking to themselves. Even more unfortunate is the fact that many church plants continue to exist but are like an enclave for the small community of people who attend. It’s like the community couldn’t care less that the church exists.

We must always ask ourselves: What difference does my church plant make in this community and in the world?

It’s a significant question that will take lots of prayer and a good plan. As you consider this, let me share three church-planting practices that need to die if we are to begin and sustain church plants that glorify God and keep us on mission with him.

First, we need to stop the sort of messaging that communicates (implicitly or explicitly) that all other churches are really bad and ours is the best.

I have seen this a lot over the years. For example, a mailer may go out and the messaging says something like:…

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A church that breaks barriers needs a leader that breaks barriers.

Dealing with sin is of the utmost importance for a leader. But there is another issue that isn’t often discussed, and for those in ministry it goes hand-in-hand with confronting sin: the importance of a strong work ethic.

With sin, we cannot work hard enough to make God happy. Jesus did that for us. But when we experience joy in our forgiveness and salvation, God empowers us to work hard and accomplish things for his glory.

A barrier-breaking pastor is driven to do the work God has given him. In the beginning of Genesis, God says a lot about our work. He has made us to do work, but sin has made it frustrating and difficult.

Sin can certainly lead us to be workaholics, and we burn out or the people around us deal with their own burnout. But it can also lead to the opposite: a poor work ethic.

As a church leader you often do a lot of the work outside of the view of your people, and…

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Planting and Growth

Can our people articulate a simple Gospel message and call men and women to faith in Jesus Christ?

There’s no question that church planting has become the hot new thing. And I’m glad.

When I started my first church in 1988, it was an oddity. Now, it is mainstream.

This morning, I am in a hotel in Boston, about to talk to evangelism leaders, and two young men came up and said, “Are you Ed Stetzer?” Turns out I am, and they are church planters/pastors meeting in a high rise hotel in Back Bay Boston, at Reunion Christian Church.

Today, it’s normal that church planters are everywhere — even in Boston when I’m here talking about evangelism to evangelism leaders.

Books, conferences, and initiatives that champion church planting are manifold. This is a good thing. But it seems to me we’ve got better conferences and bigger excitement and, according to the research, only incremental progress when it comes to the evangelistic fruits of actual church planting.

Statistically, we have more church planting, but slightly less evangelistic impact. And, most importantly, too many church plants don’t have the needed evangelistic…

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Many say it’s been a tough decade for evangelicals. The media says that Christianity is in great decline. The media, and some Christian authors, predict doom and gloom.

Yet, the actual numbers tell a different story for evangelical Christians. (You can read much more about that in these links.)

Issues in the Future of Evangelicalism

Nominal Nation: The Shift Away from Self-Identified Christianity

The Rapid Rise of Nondenominational Christianity

Yet, that does not mean all is well.

I do think we are in challenging times. The last 10 years have brought us to that reality. There have been a few distractions along the way.

The emerging church came promising answers to evangelicals for a “third way,” but flamed out and now looks more like the avant-garde wing of mainline Protestantism.

Some tried to withdraw from culture, but culture just kept coming.

Some slowly replaced regular Gospel proclamation with moralistic therapeutic deism – being good makes you a better person, and that makes “the man upstairs” happy.

Still others were so driven by pragmatism that they eventually began to…

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You can’t plant a church without partners and you can’t grow a healthy church without evangelism. But those will look different for different planters in different contexts.

It has become fairly common to send a large (30+) group of people somewhere to plant a church. Others seek to build a group exclusively from the harvest in their new community. The churches I’ve planted never began with a core group. I have always parachuted in – that’s really the best description. While I have never begun with a core group, at the same time, I’ve never begun without a team. Once on site, I set about building a team.

Biblical kingdom growth is evangelism that results in new churches. Though I’ve never seen a church planted with 100 percent new believers or lost people, it is certainly biblical to expect a large number of the members and attenders to come from the harvest. It is concerning to see an increasing number of church plants where the vast majority of the people are dissatisfied, disgruntled, or re-energized Christians.

Sadly, strategies that lend themselves to transfer growth have become the norm. In…

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In light of modern cultural realities, here are three methodological shifts churches should consider to more effectively make disciples and reach our communities.

Consider scattering over gathering

Why not push more of the functions of church life to the periphery of church, including the amount of times we gather? I know this may sound counterintuitive and I don’t want to completely de-emphasize the large gathering. Gatherings are biblical.

But it would make more sense in our current context to do less gathering and more scattering. We are beyong the place where saying “Everyone come!” will bring unbelievers to a gathering. Churches need to have more of a “Let’s go!” mentality.

To be successful, leaders need to empower people. Church members need to be released as witnesses in their everyday lives—to be the “church scattered.”

In some cases, it’s helpful to empower small groups to have a broader functionality, even to the point of these groups functioning almost like little congregations. Some can be pre-church plants.

When ownership and responsibility is distributed, the more likely you are to have greater impact in a community.

Consider how to use pathways

We need a…

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talkopenly

As I see the widespread presence and pain of mental illness, another reality confronts me: oftentimes Christians struggle with talking about and understanding mental illness.

There are three points that I want to lay out to encourage all of us to confront effectively the stigma and issues of mental illness. More importantly, let’s seek training to care for our brothers, sisters, and even ourselves who suffer with these challenges.

We struggle with how to struggle

The first glaring issue is that Christians struggle with how to struggle with mental illness. In many ways, the church, the supposed haven for sufferers, is not a safe place for those who struggle with mental illness.

Throughout church history, people have written about the “dark times” and how they trusted the Lord in the midst of a trial. But in our churches today, we often feel like we can’t talk about our problems, and so we can’t effectively deal with our suffering.

This truth stretches from the top down. The sad reality of our present church culture is that if a pastor were to talk about the mental illness with which they’re struggling,…

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From 1795 to 1810 the Baptists and the Methodists planted 3,000 churches in 15 years on the western frontier: Kentucky and Tennessee. But today, Methodists and Baptists are declining.

Methodists and Baptists—now in many different denominations—are seeking to recapture that passion. Of the denominations in decline, the ones that have a chance at growth will embrace a church planting focus.

Even mainline denominations are asking how to engage in church planting.

Many from mainline denominations get frustrated when they see the urgency with which evangelicals try to reach people. They’ll lose this frustration when they realize those are the people who plant churches.

How will mainline denominations need to go about this kind of change? Some haven’t planted churches in a while. They’ll have to relearn a part of their own history. They’ll also need to look into other traditions, denominations, movements, and networks to see what else is being done in this area.

I was recently with some mainline denominational leaders and was asked how they might accelerate their church planting focus.

How Mainline Denominations Accelerate Church Planting

If you are a part of a mainline church and recognize this need for change, first I would say,…

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I’ve heard the story of a man who was criticized for his evangelism methodology by a fellow believer. He was told that his methods weren’t personal enough, too mechanistic, and they would never work.

The man, saddened by the criticism, thought for a few moments about the challenge leveled in his direction. With great care and genuine concern in his voice he responded, “I much prefer my method of doing evangelism to your way of not doing it.”

Now that’s an evangelism mic drop moment.

I’ve seen that credited to D.L. Moody and James Kennedy, but regardless of who said it the story reminds us of our situation today.

The Need

In a culture that is quickly changing—one that has openly embraced secularism and spirituality without any sort of biblical foundation—evangelism is shockingly and sadly unengaged by many Christians. The people around us are increasingly secular, and our evangelistic efforts are on a downward trend.

That means we have a big problem, friends.

All Christians love evangelism, as long as someone else is doing it.

At LifeWay Research, we have analyzed the evangelistic behavior of Christians almost ad…

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There may be no more under appreciated person in the Kingdom that the bi-vocational pastor. Many of them are the only staff member of a small church. They work a job during the week and are still expected to perform most, if not all, of the ministry functions of a full-time pastor.

Through the years I have known bi-vocational pastors who had to take time off work to do funerals, did periodic weddings, and still had to preach two or three sermons a week. They did counseling, attended deacons meetings, met with the personnel committee, finance committee, or any number of other groups.

The week of a church planter was recently summarized like this:

Long days have become the standard for Nathan Vedoya. As a bi-vocational church planter, there’s no such thing as typical, but this may be as close as it gets. He wakes up early, shares the breakfast-making responsibilities with his wife, and drops the kids off at school before heading to his full-time job as the shelter manager for Hope Mission in Edmonton, Alberta. His wife, Deen-Deen, also heads out to a full day of work at around the same time.

Vedoya spends…

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Bible Study

When was the last time you read a book? For almost 1 in 4 of us, it was more than a year ago, according to Pew Research. That’s three times the number who didn’t read a book in 1978. In America, we have a literacy problem. But more concerning to me, we have a biblical literacy problem. Americans, including churchgoers, aren’t reading much of any book, including the Good Book.

The Sad Statistics

Christians claim to believe the Bible is God’s Word. We claim it’s God’s divinely inspired, inerrant message to us. Yet despite this, we aren’t reading it. A recent LifeWay Research study found only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40 percent of the people attending read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible—essentially the same number who read it every day.

Small groups are key to combating and changing the epidemic of biblical illiteracy.

Because we don’t read God’s Word, it follows that we don’t know it. To understand the effects, we can look to statistics of…

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