January 1, 2015

The Most Important Trend of Church Trends in 2015 And What To Do About It

Church trends 2015 by Will Mancini

I like reading about trends and I like thinking about the long lists of church trends. Two of my most widely read posts on church trends include:

This year I want to do something different by focusing on one important church trend. By calling it the most important trend, I want to state up front that I am not building my case with stats. What I do have is 14 years of weekly meetings with church leaders across the country talking about what’s happening in the church.

Specifically, in the last two years, I have see one common thread become a common rope. Its presence is now ubiquitous; every church I talk with mentions this problem when we discuss the Local Predicament in our Kingdom Concept work (challenges and opportunities expressed in the local culture). I have never seen a problem discussed this commonly amidst a diversity of church sizes and denominational affiliations.

WHAT IS THE ONE TREND?

Your Most Committed People Will Attend Worship Services Less Frequently than Ever in 2015

What does this mean? Simply that people who once attended four times a month may only attend three times a month. Members who once attended twice a month will only come once a month.

Now I could build a case with stats, but you are probably a little curious. Let me say a few things and then move on.

There are some stats that validate the slow continual decline of church attendance. However, this doesn’t get at what I am seeing, mainly because it’s diluted by a mass of non-evangelical data and halo-effect responses (people answering more positively than reality would suggest).

In addition, Auxano has produced hundreds of primary research congregational surveys that do reference worship frequency data decline that would support my observation. However, I have not aggregated the data yet. If you want more info on this, you can read my post on the 20 Most Important Measurables of a church.

Finally, in 2013, Thom Rainer stated that decreasing frequency of church attendance is the number one reason for church decline.

The bottom line is that the data doesn’t reveal the significance of the increasing reality among the COMMITTED members of evangelical churches and the massive opportunity this presents for us as leaders.

WHAT IS CAUSING THIS TREND?

There are several reasons why people attend church less frequently. The first and most obvious place, (and the only place Thom Rainer goes) is waning commitment. People attend less when spiritual priorities are less important. Let’s consider some reasons:

  • Increasing involvement with kid’s activities including more “multiple activity” commitments (sports, music, etc.) for longer durations with greater competitiveness. The growth of club sports and the intensity of competition creates a market for kids to get started earlier and be involved longer. This is literally eating our families alive when it comes to time.
  • Greater mobility in general and the rise of virtual work places. 25% of white collar Americans travel as a part of making a living. People with discretionary time are more likely to be traveling. People are working virtually and changing their habits and expectations about living on-the-go or in remote places.
  • Access to church online. Now it’s easier to stay connected to the church if you must travel or if you’re just having problems at home getting ready for church in the morning. Within two minutes, I can be streaming one of many great worship services from across the country with my entire family, from my laptop to my widescreen via Apple TV.

 WHAT SHOULD WE DO ABOUT THIS TREND?

Again, the knee-jerk response is to lament the decreasing commitment. Remember, people are always committed to some thing. How do we help people become all God wants them to be given these cultural limitations? Or dare I say cultural opportunities.

#1 – Add value not venues 

Rather than just creating more things for people to do “at church” how can you add more value to people through fewer ministry venues? For example, rather than starting a class on prayer, how can you create more value for people’s prayer lives 24/7? Perhaps you could adapt the material for the class and provide it in existing small groups. Or, maybe you could provide that content online rather than requiring someone to drive to church?

#2 – Think training over teaching

If you attend an effective online worship service, it is actually more intimate than an average mega-church worship experience. Chat rooms, follow-up, and engagement take place with great ease. My point is that intimate community doesn’t take place in many worship environments.

Think about it: The more that worship at your church is about teaching and inspiration only, the more people will be able to substitute your church offering with digital ones. The best way to address this is to think like a trainer not a teacher. Teaching is now ubiquitous and free. Training is not. What does that look like? Instead of just preaching on prayer, give them actual tools and ways to practice. Give them back door links on your website with additional training. Hand them a book, show them how to make a prayer journal, or create a daily devotional to follow on Twitter or Facebook.

#3 Design for ministry ends not means

Most churches are already over-programmed and under-discipled. Perhaps this “negative” trend is a positive way to awake from the myth that more activity at church means greater spiritual vitality. It does not. Use the challenge to rediscover the difference between ministry ends and ministry means. Start by articulating the kind of disciple that your church is trying to produce. The win was never to get people to come to church a lot in the first place, but to follow Jesus better. You don’t need a ton of church activities to be a follower of Jesus. Think about it: Is Jesus going to give you a scorecard in heaven asking you how many times people came to your worship services, Bible studies and service projects? Or, is He going to consider what kind of thinking, being, and doing those times produced in the lives of our people?

If typical church attendance isn’t the ultimate goal to begin with, how can this trend become an opportunity?

 

>> Read more from Will.

March 17, 2014

Smiling is Not Enough: The Top Ten Mistakes Your Volunteers Make Welcoming Guests at Church

Guest at Church, Will Mancini & AuxanoThe team at Auxano enjoys playing the role of “secret worshipper” when we take a church through our visioning process called the Vision Pathway.  We call it a guest perspective evaluation. As I prepare to debrief a church again tomorrow, I want to share some general insights on welcoming ministry and hospitality for guests.

Here are the top ten mistakes I see when volunteers are helping me as a first time guest:

#1   Volunteers have not thought in advance about my next step as a guest so they don’t know how to guide the conversation with me. 

#2   Volunteers  are talking with friends and don’t notice me.

#3   Volunteers are doing task work and are not available or responsive the moment I show up.

#4   Volunteers generally hesitate when I initiate with a question. 

#5   Volunteers don’t know where the most pertinent information is located.

#6   Volunteers  tell me what to do with no information or tools or other people to help me.  

#7   Volunteers generally look preoccupied, distracted or unsure of themselves in their non-verbals even when being friendly.

#8   Volunteers are unaware of the basic “how to” questions for checking-in children of every age.

#9   Volunteers don’t introduce me to others at the church.

#10 Volunteers gave me written information that is not important, pertinent or strategic (sending me on a bee-line to the trash can). 

If you want more resources on welcoming ministry and church guest services, check out VisionRoom.com and follow Bob Adams who works as Auxano’s Vision Room curator and guest services maven. Here is a list of resources on his blog

My team and I want to connect with you. Fill out the short form below and one of our Navigator’s will contact you.

December 31, 2013

How to Communicate Your Church’s Vision Visually (2014 Ministry Vision and Planning Countdown Post #4)

Communicate your church vision visuallyIf you are clear about who you are and where you are going as a church that’s awesome. Now it’s time to help everyone else in the world to see it, catch it and pass it on. The single most powerful way to help people become contagious carriers of your vision is to give it to them visually! Did you know that of all five of your senses, your brain allocates 80% of its energy to the eyes. We are visual thinkers. I have watched over and over and over, how many people NEVER get the vision through words alone. So what kind of visuals are we talking about? Allow me to explain two ways. First, I will ask you some simple questions as a bit of a litmus test. Second, I have attached Auxano’s brand process guide to illustrate how we build a design and communication toolbox for churches. Have You Communicated Vision Visually?

  • Does your logo tell a story or create a conversation starting point?
  • Do you hand out a program or worship guide during services that is hard to throw away?
  • Is your church’s mobile website easy to use and engaging?
  • Can you draw your church’s strategy as a simple napkin sketch? (i.e., how you make disciples)
  • Do you capture video testimonies that illustrate your church’s mission, vision and values in the lives of people?
  • Do you have stylistically appealing tagline? (font, color, placement)
  • Can you read and see things about your church on social media (facebook, twitter, instagram)?
  • Do you have a 3-5 minute anchor video that shows where God is taking your church?
  • Do you have a consistent set of purposefully chosen design elements (based on you mission and values) that make up the look and fee of your primary communication tools?
  • Does your space intentionally utilize your church’s brand from architectural pieces and symbols to banners and signage?

Would you like to do a better job this year with this important aspect of vision-casting? If so, check out the brand process guide that we use at Auxano. It tells the story of the design and communication toolbox we did for Christ Fellowship in West Palm Beach last year.

DOWNLOAD:  The Auxano Brand Process Guide

If you are interested in getting some outside help for branding & design, you can let us know here.

December 28, 2013

Ministry Vision & Planning Series: Three Disciple Making Catalysts in the Life of Jesus (#6 of the 2014 Countdown)

Jesus the disciple maker It’s easy for the church’s disciple-making mission to get cluttered with lots of programmatic stuff. So as you look ahead to the next year, try refreshing your conviction for disciple-making by looking to the Master himself.

In each of the three synoptic gospels we see a different scene in the life of Jesus just before he calls his twelve disciples. Each snapshot, I believe,  reveals a unique aspect of both the heart of Jesus and his earthly-eternal kingdom strategy.

 Snapshot #1: The Great Opportunity Meets a Great Shortage (Matthew 9:35-38)

Before Jesus calls the twelve from Matthew’s perspective, we see the compassion of Jesus for the crowds. As he looked over masses (sheep without a shepherd) he observes that “the harvest is plenty but the workers are few.” His last command before selecting his inner circle is to pray earnestly to the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers. In the light of the urgent opportunity Jesus begins investing deeply into the Twelve. The first catalyst is the massive gap between the need and the manpower.

 Snapshot #2: Building the Infrastructure Not the Popularity (Mark 3:7-12)

Mark shows us a different angle of Jesus’ motive just before he appoints the Twelve. In this passage he repeats the phrase “great crowd” showing for the first time the sheer volume of people who were responding to Jesus. Not only that, he shows the intensity of their pursuit by explaining how the people were “pressing around him” and how they needed to escape in a boat “lest they be crushed.” If that wasn’t enough even the demons cried out that he was the Son of God. What was Jesus final act before appointing the twelve? Jesus strictly ordered them NOT to make him known.

Why in the world did Jesus come to earth if he wanted to lower the volume of his identity and mission? Why would he intentional minimize his platform? The answer is simple. He wasn’t building a stage and a audience, he was building a people movement. And the disciple-making infrastructure was being threatened by the quick popularity.  Thus he focuses even more on the Twelve. The second catalyst is the threat of a shallow and wide ministry. 

Snapshot #3: The Weight of Life’s Brevity on Earth (Luke 6:6-11)

In Luke’s snapshot before selecting the Twelve,  we see a simple healing scene. This is where Jesus heals the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. It’s also the first time we see the scribes Pharisees filled with fury to the point that they begin plotting what they are going to do with Jesus. This is the fountainhead of the death plot that would end Jesus’ physical opportunity on planet earth to be a disciple-maker. The next thing we see him doing is praying to the Father all night and then recruiting his core team.

The third catalyst is the recognition that you won’t be around forever.

What about you?

As you plan this year, how does Jesus disciple-making conviction, and especially these three catalysts, rescue you from a “program management” culture. Are you herding people through classes and events? Are you relying too much on  better preaching? Or do you have a robust, disciple-making strategy built around life-on-life investment, like Jesus.

Take these catalysts into your planning time:

  1. Helping people see the amazing opportunity of lost souls and recruiting them to pray for more harvest workers.
  2. Building the core with significant time investment before gathering the crowd.
  3. Being deeply aware of the finite window on earth to invest in others in light of eternity.
September 21, 2013

10 Rules of Raw that will Make Your Church More Relevant

Will Mancini - The Austin Stone

Raw is the best way to articulate the new relevance of church. Keep in mind that the term itself has varied definitions, most of which are helpful in describing mindset of church leaders that are better at reaching people in their 20s and 30s.

Raw =

  • not processed, undiluted & unvarnished
  • frank, overt & stark
  • powerfully impressive & hard core

For this post I will not reference demographics, but summarize the ambiance I see regularly in churches that have a stronger edge in attracting and sending younger leaders. To provide illustration, I will use a recent service I attended at The Austin Stone.

#1 Integrity of self-expression is stylish.   Raw = Don’t try to hard

If you haven’t noticed, it really doesn’t matter what your style is, it just matters that you are true to whoever you are. When that happens, the passion and the “being good at being you” factor, trumps genre.

At Austin Stone for example, an African American worship leader led a primarily Anglo congregation. At one point we sang a hymn, at one point we screamed our heads off, chanting recently written worship choruses.

#2 Honesty is the new quality.   Raw = Be vulnerable

Does “excellence” really matter anymore? In some ways yes and in other ways no. The basic expectations of our culture bring a “quality threshold” that a public gathering like a church should meet. But people don’t notice when you have it. It’s a permission-to-play thing; they only notice it when you don’t. What they do notice is the vulnerability of the leader. If he or she is refreshingly honest, there is respect and attraction.

When Tyler David bookended his message with an illustration, it wasn’t just helpfully clear and it wasn’t just funny. It was revealing. He was willing to make fun of himself and that made a huge difference with his audience. When it came time for serious application of the text, sharing his own weakness was natural.

#3 Influence is proximate or not at all.  Raw = Get closer than comfortable

The hunger for relationship and connection not only requires honestly but proximity and access. People want to be up-close with others. You can impress people from a distance but people don’t want to be just impressed, they want to be known. And they probably want you “closer” than you realize.

Screen Shot 2013-09-21 at 9.38.26 AMAt the Stone, platform leaders stayed around and mingled. The put up slides to introduce their leadership- they wanted to be visible. The greeters were incredibly engaging. After-the-service opportunities to connect were very clear with people-savvy people “lining the way.” Albeit a large service (I am guess over 2,000), the environment invited people into relationship.

Austin Stone Welcoming

#4 Bold is beautiful.  Raw = Magnify reality

The opportunity to be bold is related to the first three rules. So don’t try to be bold if your not being real. But when it comes to the overall tone of your organization and your leadership style, boldness is desirable. This is not the time, or the generation, to shield the truth about sin, or leave the benefits of the gospel understated. Don’t paint in muted colors; show more contrast and create higher definition in all you do.

The message at Austin Stone had many short punchy statements that carried a boldness factor. The lyrics and the volume of worship could be described as bold. Perhaps the first bold impression  is the name of the church itself. It is not “Austin Stone” it is, “The Austin Stone.” Does that sound too arrogant to you? Maybe it’s just being bold in a way that you’re not used to.

#5 Direct gains respect.  Raw = Don’t spin, don’t schmooze

Model preaching during my years of seminary carried an “indirect factor.”  We looked for metaphors to carry the force of a point. For example, you didn’t say, “You need to be more accepting.”  You tell a story about someone who took down their fence, and say, “Take down your fences.”

Today it is possible to be too indirect.  Some specific statements in Tyler David’s sermon include:

- You can’t see God, you can’t see Jesus, you can’t see the Holy Spirit…What can you see if this Gospel is good? You see community.

- It’s easy to think you are loving when everyone you love is like you.

- Some communities simply feed our egos and hide our arrogance.

- Without mission our communities turn our gifts on each other and nitpick in the name of holiness.

Sometimes a go-for-the-throat style is more appreciated. Have you noticed this trend over the last few years?

THE NEXT FIVE RULES…

In the next post I will unpack the next five rules of raw:

#6 Keep it simple or throw it away.  Raw = Make it obviously usable

#7 Challenge is expected.  Raw = Go hard core

#8 No acceptance, no good.  Raw = Take everything “as is”

 #9 Young is smart.  Raw = Let the rookies play

#10 Feel something.  Raw = Move me