Author Archives: Thom Schultz

10 ways through the same-sex tsunami

Some say this is the one issue that will single-handedly destroy the church in America. I don’t buy that. But I do anticipate that some churches will suffer unnecessarily because of their mishandling of the same-sex controversy.

Whether they like it or not, churches will increasingly face decisions related to homosexuality. These include:

  • References to homosexuality in preaching and teaching.
  • Guidance for those who teach and lead youth and children.
  • Counseling: with those who experience same-sex attraction, and with affected family members, and with those who wonder if they should attend a loved-one’s same-sex wedding.
  • Church policies: membership and leadership qualifications.
  • Rites: if a gay or lesbian couple asks for their child to be baptized, or if church facilities may be used for a same-sex wedding or reception.
  • Accommodation: restrooms for transgender individuals.
  • Legal: the threat of civil or state legal action. And what actions are covered–or not–by insurance?

Some churches will navigate these issues successfully. Others will make serious missteps that will damage their ministry.

In a recent webinar I outlined 10 ways for churches and all followers of Christ to find their way through the prevailing same-sex controversies. Before I share these tips with you, please understand that my purpose in this article is not to advocate a particular position on homosexuality. My purpose today is to offer some practical tools to help you navigate some potentially explosive situations–regardless of your established position.

1. Be proactive. In an online poll during my webinar, two-thirds of the listeners said their church had not yet addressed the topics of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. It’s crucial to get ahead of the discussion–to deal with it before it deals with you. Due to societal shifts and court decisions, ignoring the topic is no longer a healthy option.

2. Talk with and listen to those who differ with you. Regardless of your personal position, get to know those who hold opposing views. Do as Jesus did. Converse with, get to know, share a meal with those who don’t think as you do. You’ll build bridges of understanding and trust.

3. Acknowledge and discuss opposing perspectives. Ramming through one position without discussing the other leaves your people unprepared for those other arguments when they encounter them outside of Sunday. This includes differing perspectives on what the Bible has to say about marriage and homosexuality. Compare this article from Family Research Council to this one from Christian Century to get a feel for the contrast of different thinking out there.

4. Use love language–rather than hate language. Today we often hear, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” And we also hear references to “homophobic merchants of hate.” Regardless of intent, after such discourses, most people report hearing only hatred. That’s not helping the cause of Christ. Let’s give “hate” a rest.

5. Understand the difference between acceptance and endorsement. People fear if we accept a person we tacitly endorse the person’s every behavior. And then love gets lost. Jesus demonstrated love and acceptance when he encountered the woman caught in adultery. He accepted her, loved her, and protected her from the religious people who sought to condemn her. After declining to condemn her himself, he told her, “Go and sin no more.” He did not endorse her adultery. But he loved and accepted her.

6. Engage in fearless conversation. Navigating this topic is best served by dialog rather than one-way bullhorn communication. People need to interact, and ask questions. Sociologist Josh Packard found that millions are walking away from churches because they’re not given ample opportunity to engage in the conversation about such topics as homosexuality. A new resource, Navigating the Conversation, provides a platform for biblically based discussion on same-sex issues. It’s time to trust that the Holy Spirit will prevail when tough topics are carefully opened to discussion.

7. Use genuine humility. Admit you don’t have all the answers. People are repelled by Christians who pose as know-it-alls. Tone down the bravado. Acknowledge that some questions remain. Such as, what is the cause of homosexuality or same-sex attraction?

8. Beware of making homosexuality your signature issue. Some churches–on both sides of the argument–have made this issue their poster child. That’s a mistake. It’s driving people away. Yes, we need to talk about this issue–along with scores of other important things facing God’s people today. But homosexuality is not the defining issue of the gospel.

9. Remember your true mission. Is it to draw a line in the sand on one aspect of sexuality? Hopefully, a church’s mission has something to do with drawing people into a close relationship with Jesus Christ. Make that what people think of first.

10. Pray. Ask God to direct your thoughts and actions. Pray together as a community of faith. This issue can be tricky for a congregation or an individual Christian. The good news: God is faithful. He stands ready to help you do your part. And he will do his part.

Thom Schultz  – www.holysoup.com

The church’s hidden back door

Beef up outreach. Emphasize evangelism. Plant more churches. Polish the marketing.

None of this is reversing the overall trend of church decline. Even when a church attracts new members it doesn’t grow. Why?

It can’t add people fast enough to make up for the legions slipping out the back door.

They are the Dones–those who are done with organized church. New research reveals the enormity of the back-door effect. Sociologist Josh Packard, as a follow-up to his book Church Refugees, conducted a new national study through the Social Research Lab to determine the size, make-up and motivations of the formerly churched population in the United States.

The survey results are stunning. Some 31 percent of the entire U.S. adult population was once churched and now has dropped out and disconnected from any organized church. That’s a population of 65 million adults.

With that kind of exodus, it’s difficult for any church to back-fill, much less show a net gain. And this phenomenon affects churches of all sizes and types. Even megachurches, long cited as models of numerical growth, deal with the gaping back door. Few of these church leaders reveal their attrition numbers, but they quietly talk about the revolving door effect. One who has spoken out is Mark Batterson, senior pastor of the large National Community Church. He has admitted that his church sees 40 percent turnover per year. “We have to grow 40% to break even,” he said.

ColanderChurches are facing a colander effect. They can attempt to turn on the faucet of incoming members. But if the people are draining out the bottom at a fluid rate, those colander churches can’t keep up. All of the local and national chatter about outreach and evangelism may be well-intended. But until churches sincerely address the back door problem, overall attendance gains are unlikely.

Leaders in the business world face similar issues. They often consider customer health and potential in two buckets–acquisition and retention. They will tell you that acquisition of new customers is typically far more expensive and difficult than retention of existing customers. And the better they do with customer retention the more likely they are to see overall growth. That’s why successful businesses are passionate about knowing their customers, their attitudes, and, if they leave, what caused them to walk away.

Exodus of the Religious DonesSociologist Packard has quantified why some of the church’s most active and generous members are leaving. He describes the reasons in Church Refugees and in the new research report Exodus of the Religious Dones. Here’s the good news: these reasons for leaving are fixable. If a church is willing to seriously address them. They’re factors such as teaching style, stifling bureaucracy, and excessive judgmentalism.

For church leaders who wish to slow the flow of people out the back door, here are some suggestions:

Drop the defensiveness. Stop blaming the Dones, or labeling their concerns as excuses, or dismissing them as consumer shoppers, or trashing them as “nominal” Christians. None of this defensive finger-pointing will change anything; it will only distract you from making changes that can make a real difference.

Learn why people are leaving. Read the research mentioned above to understand overall attrition trends. And contact your people who drift away. Conduct exit interviews with them. Listen, without defending. The object is not to bait them into returning. The object is to learn and prevent future defections.

Make healthy changes. Address those factors that are causing people to walk away. Fix these things before investing in more new member acquisition tactics. Healthy disciple-making starts with those in the flock.

Packard’s new research also uncovered another chilling reality–the large number of active churchgoers who say they’re “this close” to leaving. I’ll describe them and their characteristics in my next article.

Donations are up – Except at church

Are people in the pew pinching their pennies? Across the country, congregations and denominations are recording year-over-year declines in giving. For some it’s reached panic time.

What’s going on? Have general economic conditions made people stingier? Apparently not. National statistics show that overall charitable giving has actually increased in recent years. And donations are expected to increase more this year. But giving to churches continues to shrink.

As churches face budget shortfalls, the church consultants and clergy bloggers have been feverishly churning out list after list of strategies to plug the drain of dollars. “10 Ways to Increase Giving in Your Church.” “5 Things You Can Do to Increase Giving in Your Church.” “15 Ways to Increase Your Church’s Offerings.” The recommendations in the lists are rather predictable:

“Talk about stewardship–often, every week.”
“Explain the church’s financial situation.”
“Use online giving systems.”
“Offer finance classes.”
“Ask new members for their pledges right away.”
“Invite your big givers to share their giving testimonies.”
“Hire a stewardship consultant.”
The trouble is, some of these techniques may be making things worse. Church financial tactics sometimes scare people away–provoking them to join the Dones. One of them commented, “It was always a plea for money. Fear tactics were used to promote getting folks to give. They created a give-to-get mentality, as if God is a bill collector in the sky. Pay him or he will repossess your good health or punch you.” Yikes.

Now, I understand that a church has real financial needs. And I understand that God encourages people to be givers. But perhaps it’s time to give the top-10 giving lists a rest. And consider some approaches that actually work with real people. Here’s a view from the pew.

Don’t shame me. Inspire me. I remember a hired-gun fund-raising consultant who chided the congregation for spending our money on vacations instead of contributing that money to the church’s building fund. That tactic backfired. Conversely, when I’ve heard how my gifts will be used to make a real difference, I’ve been motivated to join that effort.

Tell me a story. Give me actual examples of our gifts at work. Tell me about the little girl who heard about Jesus for the first time at our church’s VBS. Tell me about our youth group members who built a wheelchair ramp that granted freedom to a disabled man. Tell me about the water well that brought life to the isolated village in Kenya.

Shape a budget that builds the Kingdom, not an empire. When administrative and facilities costs inundate the church’s budget, givers look elsewhere to make our gifts accomplish more. If the church wants me to give selflessly, show me how my gifts go well beyond church amenities that are designated to placate me and my fellow church attendees.

Ultimately, when the relationship with Jesus becomes the central focus, his people want to give–not out of guilt, or obligation, or obedience–but out of love.

Thom Schultz – holysoup.com