The Importance of Advent and Christmas:

Unique Ideas for Outreach

by Steve Dunn

The Advent and Christmas season are exciting and inspiring times in the life of most churches.  It is also one of prime times of the year when God seems to have the world’s attention–even if Christ is squeezed into all the other activities. People “go to church” during the season but not generally because they are seeking a Savior.  People tend to go to church during Advent and Christmas for family reasons or to recapture some warm past memories of their childhood.

Many churches focus on one of two things during this time: (1) Outreach projects, focusing on giving to the least and the last, and (2) Christmas programs to help inspire people with the eternal message of Christmas.  Both are admirable aims.

But there are some other aspects of this season that create primary ministry opportunities.  Here are a few:

It is a season of grief. The loss of a loved one in the previous year often has its first painful visitation during the family time that is Christmas. How about providing some opportunities for grief care or grief groups open to the public?

It is a season of loneliness.  Broken relationships or distance from children, for example, make the Christmas season a lonely journey; especially for those in nursing homes.  Instead if simply Christmas caroling, what about a series of evenings or afternoons where people go in pairs to visit residents who have no church or no family and just spend time with them?

It is a season of family stress.  People often dread the holidays because the fault lines in relationships begin appearing. What about an evening of hot chocolate or warm cider offered to the community staffed by a good Christian family counselor with suggestions and strategies for managing that relational stress?

All three of these outreaches create the potential for building redemptive relationships with seekers and the unchurched after the decorations come down and the Christmas carols stop filling the air.


By Chuck Lawless

In the 1990s, Peter Wagner published The Healthy Church, a book describing several diseases that churches sometimes exhibit. Some of his descriptions are quite helpful (e.g., koinonitis = excessive, inward fellowship), and the list itself challenges readers to come up with their own descriptions.

Here are ten diseases I see as I consult with unhealthy churches around the country:

Community Disconnect Disease. Churches with this disease meet within a given community, but they do not know that community. Often, church members drive to the church building, meet as “church,” and then drive home—without ever taking note of a changing community around them. In fact, I’ve seen church members with this disease lock their doors as they drive through the community where their congregation gathers.

Methodological Arthritis. I give credit to my former student, Kevin Minchey, for naming this condition. The name says it all: this church is stuck in doing things the way they’ve always done them. Change (that is, movement) is painful, and it’s seemingly easier not to take a step forward. What these churches often don’t recognize is that standing still is also risky. Eventually, they will not move at all.

The “Grass is Greener” Syndrome. This syndrome is a malady of leaders who are always looking for the next church leadership position. They establish no roots, and their current congregation is only a stepping-stone to the next place. Because they are always looking elsewhere, they miss the present tense blessings of their ministry. And, though leaders think otherwise, a church often recognizes when its leader has this syndrome.

Professional Wrestling Sickness. I grew up watching professional wrestling (with my Church of God grandma, no less). Professional wrestling is hero vs. villain, right vs. wrong, good vs. evil—but it’s all fake. The church with PWS talks a good game in standing for righteousness, but hypocrisy is everywhere. And, as in professional wrestling, most spectators watching the show know it’s fake, too.

Program Nausea. Churches with Program Nausea try a program, toss it soon, and then quickly try the next one. They never have a settled “organizational stomach” and direction. Members of this kind of diseased church are so accustomed to change that they seldom invest in any program. Why should they invest in what will soon be spit out, too?

Baby Believer Malady. This congregation is doing evangelism well, but they have no strategy to grow new believers. Their unwritten, and wrong, assumption is, “As long as you show up for our small groups and worship service, you’ll grow.” This church disciples poorly and often elevates leaders on the basis of attendance rather than spiritual maturity.

Theological Self-Deception Ailment. I am cautious here, lest I leave the impression that theology does not matter. No church with an unbiblical theology can be healthy. TSDA, on the other hand, is characterized by a belief that teaching theology is all that is required to be a healthy church. Teaching theology is critical, but a theology that does not lead to intentional evangelism, disciplemaking, and global missions is not biblical. Indeed, TSDA congregations tend to be classrooms more than New Testament churches.

“Unrecoverable Void” Syndrome. Church leaders and laypersons alike suffer from this syndrome, characterized by statements like, “This church will close its doors after I’m gone.” Symptoms include spiritual arrogance and self-righteous anger, though they may also include hyper-spiritual speech (“This is God’s church, and we’ll see what He does when I shake the dust off my feet”). Church members with UVS fail to realize that God’s church will go on without any of us.

Talking in Your Sleep Disease. You may recognize this church. They go through the motions, but the motions lack energy. They meet for worship, yet the singing is lifeless. Even the preaching is lackluster, as if the speaker is monotonously only meeting his obligation. Here is one way to recognize the church with TIYSD: many of the attenders really ARE sleeping!
Congregational Myopia. The congregation with this condition is nearsighted, focusing on themselves only. They have no vision for the future, and they fail to see that their current direction will likely lead to further disease and decline. Ask the leaders what their hope is for the church five years from now, and their description will sound strangely like the church in its current state.

What other diseases come to mind for you?

Give us a title and description, and we’ll provide a copy of my book, Discipled Warriors, and Dr. Rainer’s I Am a Church Member to the person who submits the most ingenious description by the end of the day on Wednesday.

Lifeway_Blog_Ad[1]Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary.


From Blake Coffee

forest-for-the-trees “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him,“You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. Mark 12:32-34

I believe the church has more than its share of leaders who cannot see the forest for the trees. They get so distracted by the minutia, the petty, the theological fine points, they lose sight of the main thing. I suspect you know a leader or two like that. You may even BE a leader like that…but, if you are, you probably do not know it. After all, what kind of leader would knowingly be like that?

The Pharisees and other teachers of the law in Jesus’ day were often that way. They were so distracted by the complexities of their traditions and the fine points of the Mosaic law, they had virtually lost sight of the Spirit behind those laws. Questions like, “What’s most important?” were particularly troublesome for them.

Jesus, on the other hand, seems to me to be a “big picture” kind of leader…at least in matters of theology. He always had an eye on the things which matter most, and he had a way of embarrassing the institutional religious thinkers of his day in this regard. He valued a theology which kept the main thing as the main thing. I think that is what he saw in this particular teacher of the law in Mark 12. This was a rare moment when Jesus actually commended one of those teachers, and it seems to me to be because this teacher was actually able to keep the details in perspective and to see the forest for the trees.

When I work with congregational conflict, I am never particularly surprised at how out of focus we church people are capable of becoming, how tunnel-visioned we get, particularly in matters of doctrine and theology. We can get so zoomed in on the differences among us that we completely lose sight of the major worldview we have in common. But I get particularly disappointed in shepherds among us who lose their focus on what is important, because they are who set the focus for the rest of us. Show me a church which is overly focused on money and material possessions, and I will show you church leadership who is out of focus that way. Show me a church who is overly focused on politics and I will show you church leadership who is leaning out of bounds in that same way. In matters of focus, we truly are a “follow the leader” kind of people.

Leadership vision which allows discussion on the finer points but which maintains its focus on the larger points is a vision Jesus commends. He saw it in this teacher of the law. He will acknowledge it in you as well. Keep your eyes on the forest, pastor. Always remind us and help us to see it. There will always be plenty of people around to point out the individual trees. You keep us focused on the major stuff. Jesus will be pleased.
© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website:

Continuing our discussion about change in the church, this from Sam Rainer’s CHURCH FORWARD blog.


Does the established nature of some churches hinder innovation? Is an established structure antithetical to quick, nimble changes? For most established churches, yes, but it does not mean established churches cannot innovate.

A church plant is an innovation. Innovation is the process of successfully establishing something new. To introduce something new—and to get it to work longer than a month—is innovation. Perhaps some luck into the right change at the right time. Perhaps some churches land on the right demographic with the right leadership. Not all innovations are intentional or well-planned. But an effective church plant should be noted as innovation.

As organizations become more established, they tend to be less prone to change. By its nature, an established organization has a system in place that pushes against change. To establish is to create firm stability. Churches need stability. For example, a discipleship process that is not rooted into the culture of the church (or established) is not likely to last long. And it’s only a matter of time before the innovative church plant begins to feel the pull of becoming established. Everything is new only once, after all.

While stability is necessary, every church should also innovate. Established churches, in particular, can take comfort in the establishment. Traditions and history can easily become a guise for complacency. Innovation can take a back seat to the entrenched processes that help create the stability. While most church planters will admit to having many of the same people problems as established churches, church plants do innovate more easily. They have no history pulling them in a certain direction. Everyone is new. The church is new. Each decision is new. In the early days of a church plant, everything feels like an innovation even if it’s not.

So what hurdles to innovation exist in the established church? Here are four examples.

Lack of intentionality. Generally, established churches have more resources than new churches. When resources are limited, churches must be more intentional about innovation. Failure—especially one that is expensive—can quickly derail a church with limited resources. When resources are plentiful, the temptation is to be less intentional. Established churches can generally absorb more failures. But a practice of spaghetti-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks is not true innovation. It’s haphazard chaos. Give it a month and see how many people get annoyed.

Lack of originality. Build on your foundation, but don’t slap a new logo on an existing program and call it innovation. Innovation is introducing something new, not introducing something with the façade of newness.

The wrong metrics. What gets measured gets done, and what you measure is typically an indicator of what you value. A mature church will measure different things than a new church. Most church plants are not attempting to track down meeting minutes from a dozen committees for next week’s business meeting. And established churches don’t have to worry about the retention ratio of people from a launch service. However, an overemphasis on the metrics sustaining the establishment will inevitably deemphasize innovation and dissuade team members from attempting innovation.

The ease of appeasement. In an established church some leaders prefer the ease of appeasing members rather than innovating to reach new people. Obviously, a long-term member may not desire to be appeased, but rather challenged. However, most churches have a segment of people who would rather rest in the stability of the establishment. It’s not necessarily a sin issue, and leaders should care about all members whatever their spiritual maturity. Appeasing existing members, however, is much easier than challenging a church to innovate and reach new people. Even in a healthy established church, one ready to reach outward, innovation is a challenge. The typical established church has several groups of people who joined during different seasons of the church for different reasons. Even when people agree to reach outward, getting them to agree on timing, direction, budgeting, and pace is a challenge. It’s easier to appease. But appeasement is never innovation.

Though established churches are not new, they can still introduce new things. They can innovate. Hurdles exist. These hurdles, however, are surmountable.

This post was originally published at my Church Executive blog.


From Charles Stone, these insights on the hidden factors that you must deal with when managing change in a church.change_bulldozer

 Why does it seem so hard to bring change in a church?

by Charles Stone

In my 30 plus years in ministry, change management has been one of the most challenging tasks I’ve faced. Most pastors would probably agree. Recently I learned an insight about how people’s brains work that helped me see what I may have unintentionally overlooked when I initiated a change.

Our brains are wired for us to want certainty in our lives. When something feels ambiguous or uncertain, we subconsciously feel threatened. When we feel threatened, it creates an away response, rather than a toward response. In the case of church change, an away response might be negativity, fear, passive resistance, or complaining from people. On the other hand, a toward response could be excitement, support, and good gossip, how we hope the church would respond. The more uncertain and ambiguous church change appears, the less support we’ll get and the more difficult the change will become.

So how we can we make church change less ambiguous and easier to bring about? I’ve listed some pointers below based on some recent findings in neuroscience.

Stay close to your key influencers during the entire change process. Remember, the more threatened someone feels, the more they will resist change. Learn their unique personalities because some personalities respond better to change than others. (Brin Jr. & Hoff, 1957).
Remain sensitive to characteristics that impact a person’s feeling of threat caused by the uncertainty change brings.
The more politically conservative they are, the more they may feel threatened by change (Jost et al., 2008).
The more personal anxiety they’re experiencing, the more threatened they may feel from change (Bishop, 2007).
The lower a person’s self esteem, the more resistant they can be to change (Ford & Collins, 2010).
Keep people informed with timely reports on how the change is progressing (helps minimize uncertainty).
Cast a compelling vision on how the new change can make things better (a form of reframing current reality).
Teach about characters in the bible who created certainty through faith, believing God was in control despite difficult circumstances and uncertain futures.
Teach about how to keep a healthy Christ centered self-esteem.
Teach on how to biblically manage anxiety—see blog

What are some tips you’ve learned that have helped bring change?

Related Posts:

6 Keys to Managing Church Change
The Brain and Successful Church Change


Bishop, S. (2007) Neurocognitive Mechanisms of Anxiety: and Integrative Account. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, xxx (x), pp.1–10.

Brin Jr., O. & Hoff, D. (1957) Individual and Situational Differences in Desire for Certainty. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 54(2), pp.225–229.

Ford, M.B. & Collins, N.L. (2010) Self-esteem Moderates Neuroendoctrine and Psychological Responses to Interpersonal Rejection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98 (3), pp.405–419.

Jost, J.T., Nosek, B.A. & Gosling, S.D. (2008) Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3 (2), pp.126–136.

Published on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 @ 8:43 AM CDT


by Sharon Hodde Miller

She Worships

We sat in the car together, her in the driver’s seat and me in the passenger, as she recounted the disintegration of her marriage. Years ago she had watched as her husband slowly succumbed to alcoholism, dragging the family down with him. She fought hard for her marriage and begged him to quit, but nothing ever changed.

Both the husband and wife were active members in their church, so she sought her pastor for help. She hoped the church community would intervene and stand beside her. On behalf of her marriage and her children, she hoped her Christian friends would speak up. Do something. Do anything.

But they were silent.

Eventually, her marriage could not withstand the heavy burden of addiction, and it collapsed.

Over the years, I’ve encountered a lot of stories like this one. More recently, Ike and I desperately tried to help a friend as his marriage unraveled. Located on the opposite side of the country we did our best to counsel him over the phone, all the while praying that his local church would come around him. After all, they had presided over his wedding and vowed to support his marriage. Surely they would come forward.

But they were silent.

A short time later, his wife left him and our friend was left shattered.

Then there was the time my friend’s teenage daughter was suicidal. My friend tried in vain to solicit the help of her church’s youth minister. It was a large church and he did not respond to her calls, so I pulled some strings since I had personal ties to the church–the head pastor was a friend of a friend. Once I was put in touch with the church leadership, I received the following response:

“We are aware of the situation.”

But they never did a thing.

And finally, there was the woman going through a divorce because of her husband’s infidelity. The couple had children and the whole situation was a mess. The couple was involved in a local church, but when I asked what the pastors had done to intervene, I was informed, “Our church tends to stay out of people’s personal lives.”

Four instances when church members were in dire need of support from their Christian community. They needed the loving arms of Christ’s Body to come around them and lift them up. These were not prodigal members who had stopped attending years ago, nor had they strategically ducked under the radar. These individuals had sought out help from their church leadership, but no help was to be found.

Mega churches take a lot of flak for this kind of thing. With so many church members to wrangle, critics wonder how mega churches can attend to the pastoral needs of their flock.

However, only two of the above four stories involved a mega church. One was in a small country parish, and another in a wealthy, urban mainline church. To be sure, large numbers can be an obstacle to intimacy, but in some of our churches the obstacle lies elsewhere: in the church’s culture.

Christians have a reputation for being too involved in other people’s business, for being too judgmental, too self-righteous. And there certainly are Christians like that. I’ve heard my fair share of stories about young women being ambushed by random church ladies who thought their was outfit too immodest, or church discipline techniques that were executed too severely.

When a rebuke is outside the context of a loving, trusting, and sacrificial relationship, and without an aim toward restoration, then “accountability” is indeed problematic. But the antidote to this mistaken practice is not silence. We aren’t helping one another, or the church’s reputation, by staying out of one another’s lives.

Consider the Apostle Paul, who is a wonderful example of accountability done right. He rebuked the Corinthians harshly in his first letter to them, but this was not a random stone cast from afar, outside the context of a relationship. He knew them, loved them, had labored with them. He had established a relational climate defined by love and commitment to Christ.

And because of that climate, Paul was able to speak sternly when the time called for it. He did not consider it loving to watch in silence as the Corinthian Christians engaged in an immorality that was worse than their surrounding culture. Instead he spoke up, intervened, and gave specific instructions for change.

In many churches, there is a culture of love that isn’t very loving. While some Christians simply don’t want to be inconvenienced by the messiness of broken families and lives, others are hesitant to step on toes, or they’re afraid of losing a friend. To those who don’t want to be inconvenienced, it’s time for a gut check. Christ suffered pain and humiliation on the cross for your salvation. Becoming a Christian means following Jesus’ path. If you can’t be bothered to give your time to a brother or sister who needs you, then you need to reevaluate what it means to follow Christ.

For those who don’t want to lose friends or have an awkward conversation, think about it this way: In the opening story, the husband’s friends may have spared their relationship by avoiding an awkward conversation about his alcoholism. But the price of their friendship was the destruction of his family. They kept their friend, but his children lost their father; he eventually drank himself to death.

To be fair, his friends may not have been able to save him. Even if they had spoken up or condemned his actions, he may not have changed. The story may have had the same ending. But there would have been one key difference: the message conveyed to his wife and children would have been one of support. The community could have come around them as a buffer, but instead the wife felt abandoned and helpless.

Part of the church’s witness involves constructing a community so loving, so close, so connected to God that non-believers yearn to be a part. But as long as we are marked by either harsh judgmentalism or silence in the face of sin and hardship, this holy reputation will elude us. So speak up, friends, and get your hands dirty in the messy lives of the people around you. Don’t be so afraid of being a nosy church person; I suspect we need much more of them.


This is a great post by Todd Rhoades with some questions worth asking. = Steve

Poking the Sacred Cow in your church… what should you be asking?
Posted by Todd Rhoades in Leadership on Nov 26th, 2012 | 4 comments

I read an interesting article over at FastCompany this morning about an Australian hotel company that is changing the 11AM checkout rule.You can check out their unbelievably annoying promo for what they are calling the “Overstay Checkout” here:

According to the article, the hotel company started first by looking at their guests biggest gripes: having to check out early (by 11AM).

The truth is… when the hotel was asked why someone HAD to absolutely check out at 11AM if no one else had booked the room the next night, the hotel did not have a good answer.

It appeared to be a sacred cow — something you do but don’t know why.

That got me thinking.

What ‘sacred cow’ questions are we afraid to ask in the church.

Let’s take Sunday’s for example:

1. Why do we HAVE meet on Sundays?

2. Why do we HAVE to meet on Sunday MORNINGS?

3. Why are our services 60 minutes long?

4. Why do we do 30 minutes of music/announcements and 30 minutes of preaching?

5. Why do we use an offering PLATE?

6. Why do we do everything the way we do it?

What is YOUR church’s sacred cow question?

What should you think about changing that would really shake things up?

What groaning/griping to you hear the most from your people? Is this tied in any way, shape, or form to some type of sacred cow question you should be re-asking and re-answering?

Something to think about…

// Read more here…