Archives For Ed Stetzer

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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As someone who both cares about the mission of the Church and leads a research organization, I watch the trends in the Church and the culture. Occasionally, someone asks me to share some thoughts on the big picture, in the case of the North American context, questions related to “streams” of Protestantism.

Based on research, statistics, extrapolation, and (I hope) some insight, I notice three important trends continuing in the next 10 years.

Trend #1: The Hemorrhaging of Mainline Protestantism

This trend is hardly news—mainliners will tell you of this hemorrhaging and of their efforts to reverse it.

Mainline Protestantism is perhaps the best known portion of Protestantism, often represented by what are called the “seven sisters” of the mainline churches. Mainline churches are more than these, but these seven are the best known, perhaps:

  • United Methodist Church
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
  • Episcopal Church
  • Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
  • American Baptist Churches
  • United Church of Christ (UCC)
  • The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

They tend to fall on the progressive side of the theological continuum, but there is diversity of theology as well (Methodists, as a whole, are probably most conservative, for example).

Mainline Protestantism is in trouble and in substantive decline. Some…

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As I’ve said before, Christianity is not dying; nominal Christianity is.

Today, Pew Research Center released a report drawing a variety of headlines—everything from “Christianity faces sharp decline as Americans are becoming even less affiliated with religion” to “Pew: Evangelicals Stay Strong as Christianity Crumbles in America.”

So what are we supposed to think of Christianity in America?

The nominals are becoming the nones, and the convictional are remaining committed.

The big trends are clear, the nominals are becoming the nones, yet the convictional are remaining committed.

In other words, Americans whose Christianity was nominal—in name only—are casting aside the name. They are now aligning publicly with what they’ve actually not believed all along.

The percentage of convictional Christians remains rather steady, but because the nominal Christians now are unaffiliated the overall percentage of self-identified Christians is decline. This overall decline is what Pew shows—and I expect it to accelarate.

As I have said before, not one serious researcher thinks Christianity in America is dying. What we see from Pew is not the death-knell of Christianity, but another indication that Christianity in America is being refined.

As such, let me share three takeaways from…

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Outside TemperatureIsn’t it easier to point out the wrongdoings of others and tell people what to do, rather than be a part of the solution?

My wife and I have noticed this in our children—they love playing the victim. So whenever there’s conflict, instead of figuring it out themselves, they come to us crying out “injustice!”

I wonder where they learned that from? I knew I never should’ve let them watch Sesame Street…

In order to fix this attitude, a few days ago, my wife began teaching them the difference between being bossy and being a leader. Here’s the difference:

  • Bossy people point out the wrongdoings of others, expect others to fix their issues, and are never wrong.
  • Leaders take responsibility for situations, don’t dwell on problems, focus on solutions, and make change happen.

As I was reflecting on this new paradigm of parenting (my wife is amazing by the way), I couldn’t help but notice the similarities that it had with thermometers and thermostats. Let me explain:

  • Thermometers point out what currently is, expect others to do something with that information, and they provide us with the standard—they are never wrong. Thermometers are indicators.
  • Thermostats, on the other…

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