Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Get Understanding

Os Guiness asked,

How are we to be wise and understanding, not simpy well-informed with a surplus of facts and figures? How are we to be always timely, never trendy? How are we to be redefined -- in the right way?

An increase in mission knowledge doesn’t make one an expert, it’s merely a tool to go to the next level in developing a purposeful purpose statement and a strategic plan for ministry. Without relevant and current information we don’t have a prayer (no pun intended) in creating world outreach program for our churches that will have a meaningful impact. Missions, as I've argued before, should not be “a thing we do,” but rather “the thing we are about.” To go to the next level in global outreach the local church must be purpose driven (that’s a catchy phrase, don’t you think) with in-depth research on the state of the world need.

Ed Dayton outlines the importance of doing research.

1. Research is an effort to supply missing information. If you know what you need to know you don't need research.

I am making the assumption that the average church does not have all the information needed to make well informed decisions about global missions. What does your church know about:

* The percentage of the church budget goes to missions? Five, ten, twenty percent?
* Of the money that goes to missions, how much of that money actually gets out of the country? (That does not mean buying lunch in the states for a missionary who works in the 10/40 window or a "fact finding mission" to Mongolia.)
* Of that money that actually gets overseas, how much of that goes to reaching the most unreached (two billion) people of the world? (Companion question: who are the unreached, where do they live and why are they unreached?)
* Of the missionaries your church supports, how many of them are actually a part of reaching those without a gospel witness?

2. How much research do you need? Just enough. Just enough to be able to make adequate plans at the level you are now working.

It’s true, we live in an age of information overload. There is more information in a daily issue of the New York Times than a seventeenth century Britisher would encounter in a lifetime. It’s also true that it’s impossible to attain all the facts; that we can be afflicted with analysis paralysis and never get anything done because we are still studying the problem. But in reality, information overload is not the problem I see in most churches. Most congregations are not looking for information and what little they have is either outdated or irrelevant to the task at hand.

3. If you don't intend to plan, don't worry about doing research. Any road will get you there.

And this seems to be the situation with so many. Churches plan on how they will conduct their worship service, they will plan on their next building program, heck, they will even plan for this summer’s softball league, but they have no plans for reaching the world. The mission project is most often an annual conference, showing a clip of starving kids and orphans, throwing money at the best presentation -- but plan? Not a chance.

The Preacher said, “With all your getting, get understanding" (Proverbs 4:7)

Here are some resources to begin the process for research and information:

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A "D" Is Not A Passing Grade

Recently I read about a “movement” of sorts. Though small in number, this movement is made up of educators who are disturbed by the American educational grading system. Their concern is about high school graduates who do not have the basic tools of math, science and reading skills to compete in a global market. This has spurred these educators to challenge the status quo. Their mantra is:

A “D” is not a passing grade.

Their argument is that giving a student a “D,” and some even argue against a “C” is rewarding, maybe even encouraging, students to just get by. By passing kids to the next level in school with an average or below average grade, our school system is encouraging mediocrity. Our children, they contend, should only be allowed to move forward when their scores are above average.

When I think of missions, the local sending church and worldwide outreach, I wonder if part of the harvest problem isn’t due to having a “D” mentality. Getting by seems to be sufficient. Missions is not an integral part of the local church purpose but merely a part of their portfolio -- ministry things they do. To raise the bar in missions, to go beyond minimum requirements for the Great Commission (GC), I am suggesting there be a focus on three things: Information, Purpose, Plan (strategy, tactic, etc.).

In some ways I think Purpose should go before Information. The problem, however, is that without proper information a purpose is often created in a vacuum. There are many churches that have a purpose statement that says little to nothing about its role in the GC. When a local congregation is properly informed it can create an informed and focused purpose. So, here is a list of things the church needs to be educated about for global outreach.

* The Need – Two-thirds of the world population are not followers of Christ, one-third without a Gospel witness.

* People Group Thinking – Overseas and in your local community.

* Balanced Allocation of Funds – 70/30 plan….70% of resources for Jerusalem, Judea, Samara (Ac. 1:8) ministry, 30% to the utter most part of the (unreached) world.

Information is the engine for both Purpose and Strategy. It’s tempting to start making a mission plan on everything from partnering with national’s in reaching the unreached to creating a short-term mission projects before becoming well informed. But being partially informed in missions is part of the problem with “C” mission outreach in today’s church. We have too many churches who have just enough knowledge to be dangerous but not helpful. Much of their knowledge is based on half-hearted research and following the trends or flavor of the month mission strategy. Before launching into a tactic consider this:

Begin a year’s study of missions which includes, setting up a reading list, find a study program (like a Perspectives class) in your area, create a committee, enlist a consultant to walk your church through the process.

For the most part I would give the average American church a “C-“ for their GC grade. Certainly those who do it right, and there are a few, bring the average up. The church worldwide surely gets a “D.” For those who have never heard the name of Jesus, a “D” is not a passing grade.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Is Your Church The Solution Or The Problem?

The proportion of the world’s population that is unevangelized came down dramatically last century. The proportion that had not heard a gospel presentation shrank from 50.2 per cent in 1900 to 27.5 percent in 2004. Yet there are an estimated 1.747 billion people in the world who have never heard the gospel. Their ranks are expected to increase to 1.946 billion by 2025.

In a booming, high tech-oriented economy in which personal incomes have reached a combined $8 trillion…giving to Evangelical Protestant mission agencies has remained modest at best, at around $3 billion annually. For all the current emphasis on unreached peoples, only 0.01 per cent of the average Christian family income is aimed at reaching the so-called 10/40 window.

(Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century)

After one of my talks a man came up to me and said, “Talking about missions and the vast need is like trying to comprehend the national debt. I just can’t get my arms around it.”

Like the national debt, the Church has two options as it relates to world outreach. One, ignore the statistics and just go about doing missions as usual. This passive approach is part of the reason one third of the world has never had a Gospel witness.

Two, try to do something different, creative and strategic. The enormity of the task should not deter us from trying, even in a small way, to solve the problem. The great need is for the church to begin the process of truly fulfilling the Great Commission in taking the message of Christ to those who have never heard. Here is an outline for that process, which will be expanded in future posts.

1. Informed Missional Church. Local assemblies are the gatekeepers of the GC. One third of the world’s population, if they are to have a chance to hear the message of Christ, will only have that opportunity if, and when, the local church becomes truly informed. This education process will be long and continuous.

2. Purposed Missional Church. An informed congregation is one that creates an intentional purpose for reaching those without the message of Christ.

3. Strategic Missional Church. Purpose drives the local church to know (a) the target people for outreach, (b) the people who will do the work and, (c) how the task will be accomplished through global resources.

With these three components, coupled with focused and purposed prayer, the local congregation will be in a position to break away from being the problem to becoming a part of the solution in world outreach. This progression will not be accomplished overnight, but it does not require years to implement. The key is to begin and to move consistently forward.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Great Ecclesiastical Dilemma

Speaking before a group in a city with a population a little over 100,000 people, I asked this question? “How many churches are in this community?” A man in the class, who is also a member of the Gideon’s answered, “About 126.” I have no way of knowing if that number of congregations includes Catholic or ethnic churches, such as Hispanic or Korean assemblies. Either way, that number of assemblies represents one church for every 800 people in the area. By every standard you would have to say that the city has been reached with the Gospel.

The purpose of my talk was to point out the inequity of fulfilling the Great Commission. One third of the world’s population (now over 6 billion people) claim to be a followers of Christ. Another third of the world’s population are people groups who have never had an opportunity to even hear about Jesus. Ninety-five percent of all resources (money, human energy, programs) are to the one third who already claim to be followers of Jesus, along with the other third of the population which, though not believers, live in areas where there is an opportunity to hear the Gospel. Less than five percent of Christian resources is dedicated to the one third who have never heard the Good News.

What is interesting about this church, and typical of all congregations I visit, is that they are in phase one of a three-phase building program that will cost over a million dollars. Just about every church I visit are either already in or planning on an expansion program. Even though the class agreed with me that “If half of the churches in the city died tomorrow God would still have an adequate witness,” they couldn't possibly entertain the thought NOT to go forward with their church expansion.

Yesterday a friend was telling me about his church, one of the "first" churches in the city. They have a lousy location and are pressed by the competition of the other mega-churches in the area to do something to survive. They are now in a multi-million dollar relocation campaign because, quite honestly, they either have to compete or disband (a blasphemous thought).

Practically I cannot and do not judge these churches or pastors. To be a viable congregation the local church must think of ways to maintain their congregational size and at least marginal growth. Most of the time that reality means pouring money into upgrading everything from the nursery to sound equipment. Every congregation is at best a small business enterprise hoping to be the next super-center that is the largest congregation in the community. Falling short of that their next best hope is to survive. To reach that mega-church status will necessitate spending mega-dollars into a community that is already evangelized.

Missiologically, the inequity in allocation of resources borders on being criminal. People and nations, those who make up two-thirds of the world with little or no Gospel witness, compete for the five cents that is not consumed by the one-third over evangelized Christian population.

The ecclesiastical dilemma is trying to figure out how reach the unreached while locally staying in business. Is there an answer in solving this inequity? Yes, but it will be painful and probably not popular. We’ll look at some of the options later.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Churches Do The Darndest Things

Standing in the front row listening to the worship music, the pastor leaned over and said to me, “In a few minutes there will be a lady in our church who will present you with a gift. We have group of older women in our church who make quilts and they give them to Alzheimer patients and missionaries.”

I nodded in the affirmation, but after a few minutes I couldn’t contain myself, almost busting out loud laughing as I thought of the pastor’s comment. I leaned toward him and said, “Think about what you just said. You give gifts to Alzheimer patients and missionaries!”

The pastor didn’t miss a step as he smiled and replied, “Yeah, I think they see you as an affinity group.”

I don’t feel a need to make a point out of this incident -- I thought it was incredibly funny. I do think, however, it’s interesting that when congregations think of charities, they think of missionaries. The days of missionary barrels (used clothing for those returning to the U.S.) is still alive and well. Missionaries are kind of like God’s Goodwill project. Since I spend so much of my time trying to elevate the profession of vocational missionaries before churches, my preference would be their admiration for us be demonstrated differently than a quilt. However, these dear women in this church gave a gift that was a truly a labor of love. The message may get mixed sometimes, but the motive is genuine. Who knows, next week I may get a jar of homemade jam that is given to missionaries and convicts. Churches do the darndest things.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Donor Attrition

Last night I received a call from a colleague. He was “ticked off” at a supporting pastor because he, seemingly, has dropped their monthly support. He was not so upset with the action as much as he was with the process. The pastor of the church has not written him about dropping they’re funding and this, to my friend, is unethical. Quoting my granddaughter I told my friend he needed to take a “chill pill.” Getting irate, incensed and writing a nasty letter to the pastor wasn’t going to help things. My advice to him was to pick up the phone or write an email or letter to the church and just make a casual inquiry about the fact he has not received financial backing from them for past two months. From there we talked about the reality of donor attrition.

One of the reasons this unhappy colleague called me was because I told him over lunch a couple of days before that I was in the states to shore up my donor base. Throughout the course of a year we generally lose one or two donors and I recounted that I had received a letter from one donor congregation stating they were going to discontinue their support, which reflected 5% of our budget. Living in a country where the inflation rate is over 10% a year, a significant drop of funding can result in a serious financial situation if there are not new streams of resources in the pipeline. If a vocational missionary is not actively raising support they are passively moving into deficit.

As I told my caller last night, because we depend on the freewill gifts of others we must recognize donor support will always be in a state of unrest. Churches often change pastors who don’t know our work or me. Congregations change mission philosophy; donors lose their jobs or there are economic downturns in the community. Sometimes people just don’t like what I do, or even my personality. I have lost support for all kinds of reasons; some don’t make any sense at all. (Like the pastor who said he can only support people through his denomination, as it’s too much work for his secretary to make out two checks every month). Donor attrition is a reality; it just comes with the territory.

Since I have been in the business over thirty years, I am no longer surprised or even angered when a church or individual ceases to discontinue their financial backing. It’s never fun to lose support and sometimes there is a temptation to take loss of funding as personal rejection. I have friends who are very generous in supporting other ministry projects, but for some reason don’t even think about our ministry. (It’s probably "A prophet is worthy except in his own country" syndrome.) It would be easy to feel hurt that those closest to me and my wife would think so little of what we do that they don’t perceive our work as an eternal investment. However, I refuse to dwell on that line of thinking, as it is a snare of false validation.

For me, and those who share my vocation, we must keep things in perspective as it relates to finances and ministry. While I must continue a posture of maintaining support due to donor attrition, funding is merely a means to an end. My role in God’s grand scheme is to promote and facilitate the taking of the message of Christ to those who have never heard. To get uptight about who is or who isn’t backing us is pointless. To try to analyze why someone has ceased to support us is a waste of energy. Focus on the reason why we work and Who we serve. Donor attrition is serious and sometimes painful, but it’s a historical reality. Our Lord is a pretty good example of one who lost support. Rather than becoming angry with those who left Him in His greatest need, He focused on His purpose. My advice is to keep your eye on the goal, not the financial bottom line.