Children of God

I recently heard from Nelson Eagle, the Senior Consulting Manager at Christian Childcare Ministries.  He wrote to me about a childcare center they recently helped open.

A little background first though…

BGW partners with Christian Childcare Ministries to help churches open childcare centers across the country. While most churches have a childcare area they use on Sundays, it sits empty the rest of the week. Through Christian Childcare Ministries and BGW, churches are able to have an excellent childcare program that brings in community members every weekday, resulting in a community relationship that is up to 5x higher than before.

It is an incredible opportunity to be present in the lives of community families, meet a community need, and impact kids for God. This is one way you can be more embedded in your community.

But back to last week…

I received an email from Nelson that the brand new center they opened last August for a Baptist church in Denver is already profitable! They have passed an enrollment of 100 kids – that’s 100 families that this church has a closer relationship with than it ever could have before. It also means $20,000 in positive cash flow…per month(!) for the church.

This is a great example of what can be done through a sustainable ministry model. It is all about looking at what the community needs and how the church can be a part of it.

I hope it inspires you to consider how your church is embedded in the surrounding community. Is it known for being a ghost town every day but Sunday, or is it a community fixture? Are you treating the kids in your surrounding neighborhood like children of God? Are we impacting teh next generation and the millennial parents that drop them off and pick them up!

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Jonas, Carolina Panthers, and Sustainability

Last week, Eric Bahme and I had the pleasure to meet with David Henderson and many of the leaders at Venture Church. While we spent a few extra days in Charlotte which were not planned, it was a great time of reflection and prayer for where ministries are moving in the 21st century.

We’re excited to see how God is moving in Harrisburg and looking forward to starting Biblical Entrepreneurship and a BGW Stewardship campaign with them. They have an incredible heart for their community and faith in God’s call to create a more sustained presence there.

It reminds me of Jeremiah 29, where we read, “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’”

Now, I don’t think that Venture Church is at all like Israel in the sense that they are in exile, though storm Jonas posed quite a challenge to the whole eastern seaboard.

Where Venture and Israel are similar is in their call from God:

  1. To commit to where they have been sent for the long haul (for generations!)
  2. To work for the welfare of the city.
  3. To pray for the well-being of their city.

In this scripture we don’t see God calling Israel to seclude themselves, to hide until they run out of money and provisions, or to run away from the challenge of a secular/pagan city. Rather, God calls them to double down on their presence in the community. Doubling down is exactly what this ministry is doing.

I believe this is what God is calling churches throughout the United States to do today as well..and it’s what Eric and I get to work on every day at BGW. It’s an honor and a privilege and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Urban Islands: Where are the Churches?

In Luke 24, right before Jesus ascended into Heaven, he calls the disciples His witnesses. He assures them, “I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Stay in the city. Wait in the city. I am not done with you yet, Christ tells them.

This scripture comes to mind because I recently had the chance to spend the day with Steve Pike, founder of Urban Islands Project. UIP facilitates the planting of a cohort of churches at the same time in the same city.

We talked about how one of the many tsunamis underway in our country is a shift of people to urban centers. Unfortunately, churches are often absent. They have failed or fled, leaving urban folks without sources of stability, scriptural foundations, and community.

Throughout the day, we were able to brainstorm how BGW Sustainable Solutions can partner with Urban Islands to bring churches to the city. But we were also able to share our stories, our testimonies, and our passion for telling others about Christ.

Watching so many denominations and individual churches close their doors is difficult to see. But it doesn’t for a moment, make us give up hope. Steve said it well for both of us, “I don’t want to stand before God and say, everyone else was giving up so I decided I would too.” We know that God isn’t giving up on these cities, and we won’t either.

If you’re interested in either starting a church or expanding your current church’s influence, it would be great to hear from you and think together about what God may be calling you to.

Biblical Entrepreneurship

I spent the first three days of last week in an entrepreneurial teacher certification course through Nehemiah Project International Ministries. If you haven’t heard about Biblical Entrepreneurship, a curriculum developed by Patrice Tsague and taught worldwide, I hope you’ll check it out. BGW has a special partnership with them and we are excited to bring this program to as many of our projects as we can.

In the teacher training, we each took turns teaching different parts of the curriculum. I chose to teach on the section entitled, “Understanding Biblical Profit.” I felt that it was a unique opportunity to tell a few stories from my life, since I have gone after both worldly and biblical profit.

I first pursued success through my own power and might through the development of hotels, bars, restaurants, and casinos. My partners were out of the gambling capital of the world, and my life with them was limitless. I could do or have anything I wanted, with just the snap of my fingers. But it had a very, very limited value. Through God’s grace (though I didn’t recognize it as that at the time), I lost absolutely everything and found myself at the deep pit of despair.

It was then, in 1986, that I was finally able to see the Lord and recognize Him as my personal Savior. God taught me about obedience and stewardship. He put the everlasting value of the Kingdom of God on my heart in a way that every other kind of wealth fades away.

In the first half of my life, business was started to make a profit – it was the goal and objective, it was my reason for being. It was my god. In the second half though, I became engaged in business in order to serve others, in order to teach them about the stewardship. And above all, it was in order to serve God.

As you consider where your ministry or business is headed, I wonder if you are confident that it is firmly in a biblical direction. If not, what would need to change in order for that to be the case? If so, how can you teach others about it?

Everyone who has ever been in business has made lots and lots of mistakes and would love to have a do over. Unfortunately we do not get many do overs in business or in life. This is especially true with our families. I let profit – unbiblical profit – control every aspect of my life. The net result was not only an incredible bankruptcy, but the loss of my marriage and being able to watch 4 of my children grow up. I let the temporary attraction of riches overrule the things that have longterm and everlasting value.

As we have built and molded and shaped BGW over the years, we have learned a lot. At the beginning of this year when we sat down to discuss where we are headed, we talked to the young architects on our team about the importance of prioritizing their walk with God and their family. As we made decisions about how to help them do this, I wondered how the pastors and Christian leaders we work with are committing to prioritize their relationship with God and their families this year.

It is so easy to get caught up in travel, in finishing the tasks before us in any given week, in the triage of pastoral care, etc. And when we finally get to our beds at night, we collapse, then pull ourselves up the next day and do it all again. My challenge for you all, and for my internal office, is to examine your own lives, and the changes that would need to be made in order for you to steward this life God has given you for the long haul.

In Hebrews 12, we read that we are to run the race set before us…with endurance. This life isn’t a sprint, but a 100-mile ultra marathon. How are you training? What sustenance are you relying on? What is your pace? By considering these things, and allowing others into your life so that they may keep you accountable, you are on the right track – you are headed in a biblical direction. You’re on the road to biblical profit.

If you want to learn more, I’d encourage you to get in contact with us to learn more about participating in a Biblical Entrepreneurship course, or hosting one at your church.

Revitalization in the 21st Century: Brainstorming Ideas

In my newly released book, 10 Tsunamis Impacting Ministries, I discuss the state of the church in America today, offering not only concern, but a way forward (If you don’t have your copy yet, check out Amazon or iBooks, or get in touch with BGW to make a bulk order). But for now, you can get a sneak preview.

We’ve been talking about church revitalization and I believe one model which is available to churches today is Sustainable Revitalization.

First, I cannot encourage each of you enough to get together with leaders in your ministry, and even with your whole congregation to brainstorm ideas. Feel free to even use this blog as way to communicate those ideas to others. Together we can think creatively and come up with even more ways to impact the world for Christ!

But to get the ball rolling, here are some ideas which have been successful in the past and may be right for you. At the very least, they’ll get you thinking and dreaming.

  1. Use excess land for financial gain – senior housing, commercial, etc. Many ministries have large parking lots that are fully developed but used very little. In some cases they have land adjacent to the parking areas which could house sustainable projects without the cost of a developer buying or developing the parking, landscaping, site drainage, etc. Since the ministry owns the developed asset, it can be a financial partner in the proposed development with both short and long term ownership. Some of the uses could be office buildings, event centers, recreation buildings, etc.
  2. Use the ministry building on Saturdays only for non ministry events. This use alone could produce significant money to the ministry while bringing more people to the ministry facility.
  3. Install an indoor playground, which can be used predominantly on Saturday mornings and afternoons for the birthday parties of small children. This may be one of the best outreaches to young married people who have small children and could easily be the first introduction of your ministry to this group of people.
  4. Lease your commercial kitchen. These are perhaps the least used spaces in any church or school in the country. We can lease those to catering companies who will use them 6 days a week. They can even provide for a school’s hot food program in lieu of very expensive labor costs to run this program internally.
  5. Host after school care. There are many options to ministries to use their buildings for after school care or for remedial educational use. Again, understand that we are not talking about running these programs – only providing space in your building for that use.
  6. Create a specialty space. With Autism rising throughout our country, it is relatively easy to develop some specialty spaces that are equipped for autism use. These can be given to needy parents or rented out for sustainable income. In either case it has strong ministry potential.
  7. Senior day care or Alzheimer care is another possibility. One ministry that BGW has designed in California has a waiting list for people who use this facility. Another tremendous ministry with Kingdom building potential.
  8. Rent your excess classrooms to Christian education. Many Christian schools are paying $10,000 to $40,000 per month for spaces for their schools. If you have this excess space which is under utilized or the ability to construct more facilities on your campus this may be a very good Kingdom building potential for your ministry.

What ideas do you have? I know this can be an overwhelming conversation and process. You aren’t alone in it though. BGW has walked with many churches throughout every stage of this process. If you would like to simply talk about the potential of a sustainable project at your ministry, don’t hesitate to be in contact with me.

BGW even offers ministry assessments completed by a team of consultants who have decades of experience. We can asses your community, financial situation, and building, as well as meet in person with your pastor one-on-one and your leadership team in an evening summit. Together we’ll determine what’s next.

What better way to start the new year?

Revitalization: Which Model is Right for You?

Merry Christmas! The last few weeks we’ve been talking about Thom Rainer’s insight into church revitalization. Today we’ll consider a few different kinds of revitalization that he outlines and the ways BGW projects have carried out revitalization. I hope that as we near the new year, these ideas are especially helpful as you consider your goals for 2016.

In my first blog in this series, I discussed that every church needs to practice revitalization – I see it as a way of life, not a last resort when things get tough.

Typically though, there are a handful of different more drastic styles of revitalization. According to Rainer (here and here), here are the top 5:

  1. Acquisitional Revitalization – In this model, a struggling church gives way to another one – asking them to come in and take over. It is also possible to look at this like a Partnership Revitalization, which would look like a few churches coming together and merging, in order to figure out what the future looks like together. BGW sees this model frequently and it makes so much sense.
  2. Covenantal Revitalization – Here, existing members and leaders all vow to make behavioral changes. It is unclear what changes will occur or how they will navigate these changes without any additional resources or leadership. But at least they are committed to something new. The only question in this model is what that is. I have not personally seen this model really create revitalization, but it is a starting point.
  3. Leadershift Revitalization – In those mode of revitalization, the leadership is what changes. Perhaps a new pastor comes on, with new vigor and ideas for what is next. If this is the model you choose, the question is if the congregation committed to the church and its future, even if the leadership isn’t exactly as they had hoped or envisioned. Most entrepreneurs do not want anything to do with leadership. Find ways to involve leaders at all levels without wearing them out with meetings.
  4. Relocational Revitalization – Some churches may decide that their location is what is holding them back. Perhaps it is and moving to a new community will provide space and opportunity for growth. Beware of abandoning a community just because it is challenging though. You must ask if you are leaving because you are called to leave or if you are just running away. We may need to circle these communities in prayer, reach out to people in these communities and start seeing people within our churches living in these communities with their light shining bright.
  5. Organic Revitalization – In this model, a church tries new methodologies and approaches with their existing resources and persons. Rainer believes this is the least successful model because the focus is often on fixing symptoms rather than root issues. I think the hardest thing about this type of revitalization is that it is hard to start. It’s not only an uphill battle since everyone is already used to another way of being, leaders may have a hard time finding time and money to create a new program and practice.

What if there were a sixth option though?

Sustainable Revitalization – Your church may be interested in doing some exciting forms of ministry and aren’t sure how to fund them, or perhaps you are trying to find a way to be invested in your community and think running a business might be a way to do it. Obviously, we have some bias to this model since it is paramount to the financial future of the church. This is called out in detail in my book 10 Tsunamis Impacting Ministries.

Your building could bring significant return on investment to your ministry, if you allow outside groups to use it in a variety of forms. Whether you have a facility now or are interested in building one, there are many options on the horizon. We have guided churches through many different forms of this kind of revitalization, and you could be next. Let’s take a look at a few of their experiences:

A church of ours in Silver Spring, Maryland has had over 400 different public events and over 150 concerts since opening their new building four years ago. Another, in Escondido, California, has over $40,000 per month in income from non-church related rental of their facility!

In addition, we are working with a group in Portland, Oregon that is doing a women’s and children’s shelter. They are purchasing an older motel which will be renovated and used for the shelter. The State of Oregon will be the responsible party for paying the operating expenses which will give the ministry significant cash to fully reach this group of people while paying all of the expenses of their ministry.

We have another project in Rowlett, Texas that has taken excess land and developed two major soccer fields and 10 practice fields on it. Leases net out $120,000 per year and bring thousands to their site on evenings and weekends. The church already owned the infrastructure to make this project happen, they just needed to carry out the vision.

Imagine if you could cut your mortgage and reduce your overhead expenses by two thirds or more?

What if you could interact with more people, offer employment to some of your congregants, and gain sustainable income in the process?

Could this be the key that will unlock revitalization for your ministry?

Now’s the fun part – you get to dream up what this should look like for you. What vision is God putting on your heart?

Don’t let your resources determine your direction, let your direction determine your resources. Could getting involved in a for-profit model of sustainable ministry be a new and exciting form a revitalization that is right for you?

Next week I’ll offer a few more ideas for you, from my newly released book, 10 Tsunamis Impacting Ministries. If you don’t have your copy yet, check out Amazon or iBooks, or get in touch with BGW to make an individual or bulk order.

Eight Ways Pastors Lay the Groundwork for Church Revitalization

Church revitalization is a growing and controversial topic today. Last week, we discussed some of Thom Rainer’s excellent insight and its practical application. Let’s see what else he has to say.

In a post titled, “Four Major Ways Pastors Hinder Church Revitalization,” Rainer describes how pastors can get in their own way. He touches on the same topic in “Four Kinds of Church Leaders Who Will Not Lead in Revitalization.” Bringing these two posts together and framing them in a constructive light, let us consider today, “Eight Ways Pastors Lay the Groundwork for Church Revitalization.”

  1. Spend time with congregants and visitors who remind you why you’re a pastor – to equip God’s people for service, for the sake of building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-13). Scripture calls you to teach, train, and prepare them for service, not to mope around placating nagging critics!
  2. Constantly call people to the Great Commission! As a visible and regular example to your congregation and community, they will look to you for how to spend their time and money. Does how you use your time and allocate resources engage them in a mission for those who are still lost, or does it leave them comfortably stagnant in the existing congregation?
  3. Be a teaching church from the very start. Offer classes that introduce people to the church and what being a Christian means – and don’t skimp! Be clear about the Christian message, call, and expectations. Don’t try to pull the wool over their eyes, thinking that will help ease them into this whole church thing. They’ll appreciate your clarity and opportunities to ask honest questions.
  4. Prioritize prayer, corporately and individually. Make time for prayer during each worship service, not just a little prayer here or there but prayer that will encourage everyone present to think about the importance of prioritizing it in their daily lives too. Pray not as if it is a means to an end, but because you have been invited into a prayerful relationship with God. In prayer we get to come as we are before God, without anything to offer or hide. This is an incredible gift, especially in that we can do it together! When else do we practice such vulnerability in community?
  5. Take the present moment seriously. The alternative is living anxiously, in the past (either with regret or yearning) or the future (full of fearful hesitation or simply wanting to escape the here and now). The present moment demands something from us though, and if we cannot stand up and face it today, how will we do it tomorrow? It is not that it will get easier or better if we focus on today, it just means we’ll be admitting to God that we need Him, today and every day. It means not relying any longer on ourselves, but on God alone. It means trusting that when we let go of our anxious grasp, Christ will catch us (and that He is in fact already holding us!).
  6. Be honest with yourself and the congregation. We are often guilty of pretending everything is alright when it’s not. But fake smiles are barely convincing to ourselves and are really off-putting to newcomers. Rather than waiting for something to get really bad before talking to the church about it, let them in from the beginning. This is one way that church revitalization can happen as an every day occurrence. Congregants will be much more likely to participate in constant, little shifts and changes if they are kept in the loop, rather than a huge change that comes as a total surprise. If you’ve been stuck in the cycle of denial and hiding things until now, it’s time to start a new and healthy cycle.
  7. Look at ministry as an adventure. Being at a church, whether as staff or a congregant, is not meant to be comfortable. It’s actually fundamentally uncomfortable to learn that it is not all about us but is about God! On a day to day basis though, practice looking for the adventure and choosing it. You don’t need to walk all the way out to the edge of the plank every day, but keep a constant look out, and shift your sails accordingly. Perhaps a good place to start is thinking about new ways to teach your congregation about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and tithing.
  8. Take the long view. While short-term success is exciting, long term health is life-giving. One way to focus on the long view is by creating a handful of simple but meaningful values that you consistently teach. Whether these are written out in the bulletin or you do sermon series or Bible studies focusing on them, create a variety of opportunities for people to engage in them. Perhaps congregants could even be the ones to suggest values and help write the descriptions that go along with them. The bottom line is, these values should be so clear and practiced consistently that anyone who visits the church could go home and tell a friend what the values are and how they could participate in living them out this week.

We’ll talk more next time about the different kinds of church revitalization and what might be right for you. Until then, which of the ideas above jump out to you most?