Helping the Small Church Do More Than Survive

frustrationIt’s Sunday, and the crowd is small. You’ve worked hard, prayed harder, and you feel your heart break. Why can’t we grow? Why can’t we reach out? Are we just doomed to extinction?

Every leader in a small church experiences the raw emotions of great desire coupled with frustration.

That’s where Strengthening Mission Churches helps. Our goal at SMC is to place resources into the hands of struggling, yet valiant church leaders in small churches. Go through our video library of titles to get help. More is scheduled In the coming months, we plan to ramp up our work.

We will look at:

How do I get the congregation to help in the church? (We usually call this involvement, and it takes more than just a plea during the announcements or a signup sheet posted on a foyer bulletin board.)

How do I get an evangelistic congregation? You’ve preached the sermons and harangued, pleaded, and guilted. Everyone sees evangelism as the church’s job, just not my task. We’ll tackle how to start an evangelism push that is non-threatening and easy.

How do I deal with technology in the church? Today, it seems that Powerpoint is the king, but small churches have trouble implementing it inexpensively. What can you do to bring more technology into the church?

Then there is conflict! How do I handle in such a way as not to damage the church or avoid it all together, so it smolders? Listen to Robert Oglesby give you concrete steps to deal with the inevitable clashes in congregations.

This space will cover these and many other topics. In the coming months, we will have this space dedicated to some of these areas, but more importantly, we will provide short, online video resources to help.

So come back for more. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. More importantly, let me know what perplexes you and what could help you. Leave a comment below and we can start the conversation.

A New Chapter

Robert Oglesby Bio PictureMany preachers have long tenures in churches, but no preacher can say he has been the only preacher a 52 year old church has ever had. That distinction goes to Robert K. Oglesby, the pulpit minister of the Waterview Church of Christ.

On September 7th he announced he would be retiring on February 1, 2014 2015, the 52nd anniversary of coming to the newly planted Waterview church in Richardson, TX. Since that time, the church of about 150 has grown to over 1300, started a new congregation in North Plano, and has been instrumental in dozens of mission works. One of them is Strengthening Mission Churches.

While Robert is retiring from preaching at Waterview every Sunday, he will still continue to work part-time. One of his duties will be to help with SMC programs.

He has already contributed several titles in our video lending library.

  • Preparation and Delivery of Sermons
  • The Dynamics of Teaching Adult
  • Beginning Leadership
  • How to Interpret the Bible
  • Personal Evangelism Training
  • Becoming a Better Leader

We look forward to producing new material with Robert. Plans call for some kind of training in conflict resolution, effective meetings, and group dynamics in Bible classes.

For those of us at Waterview, we thank the Lord for the long time of work which today is as sharp as it ever has been. For you, it will be an opportunity to learn from one of the best local ministers in recent history.

A Simple Word with Big Power

draftThe hour was growing long in the tooth. Eyelids drooped. Tempers tightened. For an hour, the leadership team had discussed, argued, and cajoled about the issue. The only thing that happened was the clock’s hands moved farther.

The solution is found in a magic word in the leadership dictionary. It’s a simple word, one we know but hard to use.

The word is “draft.”

What’s the magic of a draft of a document?

A draft signals someone has thought about an issue and has tried to solve it. At the same time, a draft indicates a work in progress. It is something which can be altered, massaged or changed.

An effective servant-leader changes the direction and dynamics of the next meeting with a “draft.” He has listened carefully to the issues and objections which were raised. He knows the itches which need to be scratched and has a map of the minefields. In a draft, he takes all these concerns, objections, hopes and fears and finds solutions that fit the needs of the group. He then organizes the thoughts and writes then concisely on paper for everyone to review. The final step is he writes in large letters at the top DRAFT.

At the next meeting, the draft gets read. Beware! Don’t fall in love with your wonderful prose. Allow it to be edited. Take note of changes. Once the group has reviewed it (usually in a very short period of time), the word DRAFT comes off.

Drafts are important because it lets the leadership group think about the solution rather than just complaining about the problem. With a draft in hand, meetings grow shorter, thinking gets focused and solutions gain traction.

The next time your church group (eldership, business meeting, etc.) gets stuck, go off and write a draft. See what it does to energize your church leadership.

A Statement No Preacher Should Make

stumpedSeldom does inspiration hit like lightning sparking a lightning rod.

That means sitting in your study chair, staring out the window waiting for the next great idea for a sermon is fruitless. Preaching each Sunday requires more perspiration than inspiration.

But Sunday’s coming and you cannot think of anything to preach.

What do you do?

Build a Dam

The best preaching comes from the overflow. To get a reservoir of ideas, have to build a dam.

Keep a notebook. They come in all forms from a pocket spiral notebook to electronic versions such as Evernote. When any idea comes, write it down with a few notes. The mind bubbles up ideas like a mountain stream. Once missed, they seldom return. Capture your thinking when you get it.

Readreadread. Usually preachers who have a dry well of creativity are not reading. Read all kinds of material. Read biographies, books on Bible topics, and current events. The mind will take the pieces and find order out of the myriad of details. If you can’t find time to read, get electronic books (most libraries have them) and listen in the care as you travel.

Make the most of daily Bible reading. The key to daily Bible reading is reading with “fresh eyes.” Keep a list of insights. What hits you that’s different than you’ve seen. It is in that “fresh glance” you find the ideas peeking out.

Play Hide and Seek

I’m sure you played hide and seek as a child. The point of the game is to find what is hidden from view.

The point of homiletic hide and seek is to find what you have not preached about. Do you keep a sermon log? You should. A sermon long reveals what you’ve preached on and what you’ve omitted. Look at your log. What have you left out? What have you hit lightly?  Preach on that!

Practice the Best Form of Flattery

One famous author said, “most of my ideas I have stolen from other writers. Thankfully, there was something worth stealing.”

When totally stuck, look at the work of other preachers. The advent of the internet made access to sermons ubiquitous. Listen to great preachers. Rework their thinking to own personality. You will find things you never thought about preaching. On top of that, you will learn about preaching, not just the subject preached. (If you need a good place to start, try here.)

There’s never an excuse to say to your leaders, “I just don’t know what to preach about.” If you are at a loss, you haven’t looked hard enough yet.


Getting Others to Do What They Know They Ought to Do

find fixesThrough a flood of sermons and classes and articles, preachers and elders inform people what they should do. They need to “win their friends to Christ.” Encourage each other by visiting. We need teachers–what about you?

It is clear people in the pew know what they should do. So why don’t they do it? That’s the question that scratches many a church leader’s head.

How do you get people to do what they know they should do, but resist doing?

First, change your thinking. We think of people as rational, logical, thinking human beings. Once they know the what, they can figure it out. But that’s misguided.

Everyone is also driven by emotions like fear, anxiety, and desire for staying comfortable. Chip and Dan Heath pictured this condition as a rider on an elephant. While the rider was on top of the 2 ton beast, he was going wherever the elephant decided. The rider is our rational mind. The elephant is our emotional side. If the elephant in us is jumpy, we will resist any action, regardless of how right it seems.

The second thing church leaders must do is “script the moves.” Take the anxiety out of the situation. When people know specifically what to do, they can usually do it. If they must come up with their own plan, they will spend elegant time thinking and no time doing.

You get the “elephant” to move with specific, concrete, doable steps. Here’s an example.

I wanted to get church leaders to visit people in need. The accusation was they were distant and did not care about needs f the people. Neither charge was accurate. But their rider said, “we need to do more visiting.” Their elephant says, “but I don’t know what to do.”

So, I laid out a plan to help them. (Notice, I decided lecturing was not an option. They needed help, not a wagging finger of shame!)

I called two men and gave them these instructions:

  • Would you visit three people with me on Tuesday night? (Notice, I told them how many we were going to visit and one what night.) I would like for us to spend no more than 15 minutes per household. (I limited their exposure.)
  • Since those we will visit have specific problems (having surgery, a son who was dying, etc.) I ask if they could simply lead a prayer on behalf of these people when we get there. (I told them specifically what they were to do.) I will drive. (That keeps them from having to get directions or worry about traffic.)
  • I will meet you at the church building at 7, and we will be finished no later than 8:30. (I provided them a specific time frame.) I then asked, “would you do that?” (I need to give them a chance to tell me no.)

The result was neither objected and were delighted. At the end of the night, they said, “we need to do more of this.”

What happened? I provided them a specific and definite path to take. They did not have to decide whom to visit, what to do when they got there, when they needed to leave, what night to do the visiting, or the time which was convenient.

For most problems in the church, people already know what they need to do. But they don’t have a well-paved road to do what they need to do. Script the moves and pave the way and most can do it.

(If you congregation needs such a method for evangelism, see our training series Personal Evangelism Training. It provides complete, specific tools so anyone could teach a friend or neighbor in a non-threatening, low-stress method.)

A Joyous Reunion

Strengthening Mission Churches began with the vision of a mission-minded man and his wife. Now, both have gone to their eternal home.

Almost 30 years ago, health concerns forced Harvey Childress to leave full-time ministry. In his time he planted churches in the upper Midwest and was instrumental in the founding of York College. He and his wife Sue preached, visited, prayed, and promoted. Dozens of churches owe their very existence to Harvey and Sue and their passion for evangelism.

When Harvey retired, the Lord was not finished with him. He wanted to help small, mission churches grow and develop strong leadership. Harvey and Sue settled at the Waterview Church of Christ in Richardson, TX where the elders encouraged him to keep up his work with small churches through contacts and, ultimately, through video training. The seed of that work became Strengthening Mission Churches.

Harvey passed away a few years ago. On Monday, June 4th, his wife Sue joined him in heaven. (It was Harvey’s birthday!) They are reunited again for eternity with a Lord they served with an unwavering heart.

Sue’s services were held at Waterview on Saturday, June 9th.

We thank God for Harvey and Sue. May we have the same passion to carry on their work in the kingdom.

The Leader as Conductor

Many leaders can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but they must learn to play the music of leadership.

Musicians use diverse tools to get a desired effect. When the score calls for a sustained note, the violinist draws the bow across the strings. However, a rapidly moving piece demands the machine-gun sound of a staccato tongue. It depends on the effect needed.

What kind of leadership music do you play? It depends on the effect you want to get.

Most leaders start with the question, “what do I want to do?” That question can have many answers.

…preach a sermon.

…hold a seminar.

…have a meeting.

…teach a class.

All are good answers to that question. But the question is asked out of sequence. Before “what” you must ask, “what effect do I want to get?” That question yields dramatically different answers.

…create excitement among the parents of our young children.

…have 40 people from our community.

…train 20 of our members to teach the gospel to their friends.

…energize our deacons to keep them from getting discouraged.

The second question frames a better answer for the first.

  • The preacher will craft his sermon in a certain way to reach the audience.
  • The seminar will need a topic and approach which entices the community. The meeting should focus on praise and planning.
  • The class must do more than provide information. It must focus on hands-on training.

When a leader starts with the effect question, he then knows what to plan, whom to target, and what to avoid. Too many times events result in sighs of “I don’t know why they are not interested.” That’s because the leaders ignored the “effect” question.

The musician uses the tools at his disposal to get the proper effect. The leader, too, must master the music of leadership. Ask the right question first.

Company with These–Run from Those

Vaclav Havel was the president of Czechoslovakia when I was there several years ago, as a result, I associate him with political matters. Therefore, I was a little surprised recently to read a quote from him addressing the subject of truth-seeking.

Here is what he said:

“Keep the company of those who seek the truth — run from those who have found it.”

Some people have given up on any search for truth. Their solution is that no real truth for everybody actually exists.

The rest of us, however, are still in pursuit of the truth. We feel that religious truth comes from the mind of God through the pens of His inspired authors who wrote the Bible.

With such a noble motive, how can a “truth-search” possibly be wrong? There are several likely possibilities. Truth is both simple and complex at the same time. The surface face of truth can be quickly seen. The inner core of truth sometimes eludes all but the most determined study.

As long as we are struggling in search of truth, we tend to have a certain humility. It’s similar to a mountain climber who is struggling to reach the top of the mountain and not sure he’ll make it. On the other hand, when we feel we may have reached the summit of truth, we may relax and become complacent. With complacency comes the tendency toward smugness. With smugness comes arrogance. A smug, arrogant attitude is not becoming to anyone.

Let us never decide we have found “all truth.”

Instead, let us always open our Bibles with the attitude of: “Speak, Lord, your servant hears” (I Samuel 3:9).

Robert K. Oglesby

Pulpit Minister, Waterview Churh of Christ

The Struggle of Small Churches

Locked doors.

Grim faces.

Frayed emotions.

Sadly, this is the picture of many small churches of Christ. Begun with dreams, they died for lack of resources. They needed to reach out, but didn’t know how. They had people, but they did not know where to go or what to do. It was hard to keep the wolf from the door.

Somewhere in the journey, frustration overcame the dream.

It was out of that picture, the Waterview church in Richardson, Texas gave birth to Strengthening Mission Churches. Armed with the passion that small churches can survive, thrive, and grow, the Waterview elders put into play a video library stocked with titles by experienced and talented church leaders. They could teach leadership, church growth, Bible class teaching, preaching, and involvement.

At SMC, we want to be your partner in ministry. We want to help you. Look through our site and you will find a video library with dozens of title to help you. You can learn leadership, how to survive in ministry, and get some inspiration at the same time.

Thanks for coming. Let’s get to work in a small church!