Category Archives: Church Revitalization

Notes From the Pepperdine Lectures – Tim Spivey pt. 2

Notes from the Pepperdine Bible Lectures – part two of Tim Spivey’s class on church revitalization/renewal.

“All We Are Meant to Be: Reviving and Sustaining Growing and Healthy Churches” pt. 2 by Tim Spivey

  • Begins by reviewing the principles from the first class.
  • Key to remember: “Decisions must be made from principle, not pain!” Too many church leaders base decisions on an avoidance of pain instead of solid principles.
  • “Do not structure your church to be the same size it is.” Churches should be structured as if they’re three times the size they are.
  • Idea for churches whose facilities are currently at 60-70% capacity on Sunday morning: switch to two services – one at 9am and another at 10:30am with Bible classes running simultaneously during each. Get members to serve in a class at one time and attend the worship service at the other.


  • Simplify your church’s schedule! Focus on making your Sunday morning assembly the best it can be, have excellent small groups that meet Sunday evenings, and excellent mid-week meetings on Wednesday nights. Simplifying makes you leaner and meaner. Focus on doing just a few things, but do them very well. Shoot for excellence, not “good enough.”
  • Sunday mornings must be consistently vibrant and meaningful. If you’re not consistent – if your meetings are only meaningful every once and a while – members will not bring their friends.
  • What’s really going on in the minds of your members: “I want to bring my friends, but I don’t want the assembly to embarrass me.” Church leaders must organize assemblies members can be proud of – not embarrassed by.

Practical steps to having consistently vibrant/meaningful assemblies:

  • 1) Plan! Put the time in on the front end. Do not throw assemblies together at the last minute. Know what songs you’re going to sing ahead of time, practice them.
  • 2) Be on time! Create a culture of expectation that says, “What we’re doing here matters.” On time for staff = well before the assemblies are scheduled to begin (like an hour or two). Get the janitor to turn every light in the building on early.
  • No staff shows up later than a volunteer. If you want your volunteers to give it their best, leadership must go the extra mile and serve as models for everyone else.
  • Tim shows up at 5:30AM on Sunday mornings at his church. The first assembly isn’t until several hours later. Sunday is the longest work day of the week for him, and the most important.
  • You’ve heard the old saying, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” In church leadership as it pertains to Sunday assemblies, “Earliness is next to godliness.”
  • 3) Take care of your volunteers! Create a culture of encouragement. Tim writes at least one thank you card per week to someone serving the church. He makes it a point to go from classroom to classroom thanking all the volunteers.
  • Principle to remember: “Volunteers are more important than the people they serve!” If you treat volunteers poorly, everyone else suffers. Take care of your volunteers – they make up the backbone of your church!

Sideways Energy

  • Sideways energy describes what’s created when some church programs/assemblies work against others. For instance, at Tim’s church, the youth group met on Sundays, Tuesday nights, and Wednesday nights. The Tuesday night meeting was student led and just for the youth group, while the Wednesday night meeting was the normal youth group class that met while the rest of the church was together for mid-week assembly. They found that the Tuesday night meeting was working against the Wednesday night meeting because families didn’t have the time to do both. Tuesdays were valuable because they were student led, and Wednesdays were valuable because the youth were together with the rest of the church. Solution: eliminate the Tuesday meeting, and make the Wednesday meeting student-led. This eliminated the sideways energy.
  • If there’s a program or assembly that causes sideways energy to occur, look for a way to make that go away. The solution likely involves eliminating something or combining it with something else.

Big Idea Teaching Method

  • Most churches send too many messages at once. There’s a topic for Bible class, another topic for the sermon, another for small groups, and another for Wednesday nights. It would be better if teaching were focused on a single lesson presented in different ways so people can really internalize it.
  • Tim’s church did a series on the topic of rest. All the kids that morning showed up in their pajamas. All the Bible classes, small groups, sermon – everything was on the topic of rest during that series. The kids all got little plants in their classes with instructions on caring for it (give it sunlight, water, care) to illustrate the principle everything else centered around. Entire families got the lesson together – this is “Big Idea” teaching.
  • Tim did another series called, “Old School: Messages from God.” They designed a set for the stage that had lots of memorabilia from school, Tim told stories about his schooling experience as a child. Topics on things like, lunch money (what the Bible has to say about finances), dealing with bullies, etc. Everything from the childrens’ classes to the church bulletin was built around this theme.
  • With Big Idea teaching, all the messages a church is sending/lessons they’re teaching center around the Sunday morning sermon. This is a great way to help people learn effectively.
  • Big Idea = everyone works together.
  • Books to check out on this subject: The Big Idea: Aligning the Ministries of Your Church through Creative Collaboration by Dave Furgeson along with Sticky Church and Sticky Teams: Keeping Your Leadership and Church Staff on the Same Page by Larry Osbourne.

For more like this, visit Tim’s blog here and listen to his preaching here.

If you’re interested in ordering audio or video recordings from the 2010 Pepperdine Bible Lectures, go here.

You might also be interested in checking out Tim’s reflection on his time at the 2010 Pepperdine Bible Lectures here.

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Notes From the Pepperdine Lectures – Tim Spivey pt. 1

I attended many great classes at Pepperdine this year. Tim Spivey’s three were among the most relevant to the work with The Lake Merced Church of Christ in San Francisco.

Here are the notes from part 1 of Tim’s class:

“All We Are Meant to Be: Reviving and Sustaining Growing and Healthy Churches” pt. 1 by Tim Spivey

  • Introduces the concept of “wholism” – in churches everything is connected. The children’s ministry affects the adult ministry – the college ministry affects the worship service – the preaching style affects outreach. Just like the whole body is affected when a finger is broken, so also the entire church is affected when one ministry is weak or sick. This class is designed to be like a physical for your church. Take this information and give your church a checkup.
  • “I believe God has a bias toward the church flourishing … the command to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ applies to the church … when God creates something He wants it to flourish!”
  • Jesus constantly uses fruit/farming metaphors. The New Testament counts the number of people involved. Numbers matter because numbers are people, and people matter.
  • Simple principle: “Healthy things grow.”

Principle to Remember: Everything is Connected

  • In the church world everything is connected.
  • Illustration: a guy with a knee problem has bad posture which causes him to experience back pain. If he treats only the back pain but never the knee, the problem will never go away. Everything is connected.
  • Want a good youth ministry? You have to do a lot more than simply hire a youth minister – you have to ask what you’re willing to change about your worship service. Teens love music. Are you willing to let the youth minister do what needs to be done to reach teens?
  • The church is like a body – it can be very healthy, or it can be very sick. The church has an immune system. If you get a sore throat, you may think you have throat problems, but in reality you may have a virus. You must attack viruses!
  • Leadership = the gatekeeper of the immune system. Dysfunctional leadership = no hope.

Tolerance of Pain in Leadership

  • Effective leaders must be able to tolerate pain – pain in themselves, and pain in others.
  • Low-Low Leaders: this is the type of leader who can’t tolerate pain themselves, and they can’t tolerate others hurting either. This type of leader will go nowhere because change includes pain. The status quo will be held no matter what. Illustration: a child-centered family.
  • Low-High Leaders: this type of leader cannot tolerate pain themselves, but doesn’t mind a bit when others suffer. This type of person is a church terrorist. If they don’t get their way they make life very difficult for everyone else – they don’t mind splitting a church as long as they get their way. They put their own wants and needs in front of everything else.
  • High-Low Leaders: can tolerate a lot of pain in themselves, but cannot stand to see pain in others. This type of leader will take abuse from people without responding. If a church is led by this type of person, members will remain immature because they are allowed to do whatever they want, abuse whoever they want, behave however they want and this leader will say nothing because they don’t want to cause the other person pain. Many who serve as elders are this type of leader.
  • High-High Leaders: this type of leadership is characterized by Jesus. Can tolerate lots of pain themselves, and can tolerate pain in others. God suffers through Christ – decisions are not shaped by an avoidance of pain. The best decisions are made for the church even if it means someone isn’t going to get their way or someone will be unsatisfied.
  • Tim went on to tell a story about a 6’9 farmer that confronted him after he preached a sermon telling him he was an instrument of Satan. This was done in front of several people attending the assembly. Tim instructed the man he needed to meet with he and the elders of the church at a later time and they did. The elders plainly told this man if he ever did something like that again he would not be welcome back at their church. They realized their church was going to be sick if they let this behavior go. They did not, and the man decided to take his family and leave their church. They never saw him again.
  • “It’s popular for people to say ‘the church is a hospital for the sick.’ If the only people in your church are sick ones you will end up with a morgue!” Church is about finding health – not continuing in sickness. Sickness must be dealt with, and sometimes this will cause pain.
  • Dysfunctional people are allowed to stay because the leadership decides to tolerate pain. Many times leadership allows the unhealthy people to run off the healthy people. You must decide what you’re doing is too important to tolerate bullies in the church!

Steps to Revitalization

  • Begins with Spiritual Renewal. Seek this above all else for your church.
  • Is there a vibrancy to your assemblies that will cause someone who is seeking God to enter in and realize He’s there?
  • Preaching, Worship, and Prayer should be your top three priorities if you want to revitalize your church. Underprepared preaching, lifeless worship, and rote prayer is a recipe for failure in a church revitalization effort. “Many assemblies are like a church business meeting with a sermon chaser.”
  • When considering what the church should do, God is both the means and the end. Preaching, prayer, and worship center us on God.
  • Refine Church Structure. Church structure is spiritual for a whole lot of reasons. Most important is that it affects how well we can reach people.
  • Advice: structure yourselves as a church that’s three times the size you already are. What happens if you plant an oak tree in a flower pot?
  • When your facility  reaches 60-70% capacity in an assembly, start another assembly. People don’t like full buildings (the people who’ve been with your church a long time do, but not new people).
  • Most churches are structured to be the size they are, and they stay that size. The reason they don’t grow is because they’re not structured to handle it.
  • Expanding your church’s structure does not mean an expansion of activities. Your church should not have the number of activities/ministries of a church three times its size – this will kill you. In fact, you should probably have about half of the activities of a church your size. Churches book themselves solid because they think it looks virtuous, but oftentimes programs that are started are more of a hindrance than a help. Only do what you can do  very well – don’t overexert.
  • Don’t look at your weaknesses first to see what needs to change – look at your strengths to see what you can build on. Fellowship is usually a great strength is smaller churches. Hold on to this and build on it somehow. Fellowship doesn’t mean ‘everybody knows everybody’ – it does mean ‘everybody knows somebody.’ Illustration: small town fellowship. Not everyone in the town knows one another, but everyone knows somebody and feels part of the community. Don’t strive to be a big church where everyone knows everyone else – strive to be like a small town where everyone knows someone.

Concluding Thoughts

  • You will lose people. Expect it. Name a church that doesn’t lose people. Ask yourself, “Is God going to run this ship, or is fear of losing some people going to run this ship?”
  • The question should never be, “Are people leaving?” The question should be, “Who is leaving and why? Are they leaving because we’re sticking to our vision and mission in the world/community that they’ve decided they don’t like, or are they leaving for another reason?” Do not let fear and manipulative people run your church – let God’s mission run your church.

Great stuff!

For more like this, visit Tim’s blog here or listen to his preaching here.

If you’re interested in ordering audio or video recordings from the 2010 Pepperdine Bible Lectures, go here.

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Top 10 Reasons Small Churches Tend to Stay Small

I read a good article on this morning written by a seasoned pastor named Joe McKeever entitled 10 Reasons Small Churches Tend to Stay Small.

I really appreciate Mr. McKeever’s take on church growth. Here’s his explanation:

By using the word “grow,” I do not mean in numbers for numbers’ sake. I do not subscribe to the fallacy that bigness is good and small churches are failures. What I mean by “grow” is reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ … any church—large or small—that does not place a high value on evangelism and outreach to the unchurched can’t expect to grow…period.

Growth is not getting members of other congregations to switch to yours. Growth is reaching the lost, and to that I say Amen.

The article goes on to highlight the top ten reasons small churches tend to stay small. Here’s each point with a brief explanation:

1. Wanting to Stay Small

According to McKeever, no one ever verbally says, “We want to stay small,” but actions speak for themselves. If new ideas are constantly rejected and new people are frozen out of the inner fellowship, it could be because church members simply don’t want their church to get bigger. Growing larger would mean things would change, and familiarity is comfortable. Personal comfort is more important than mission in churches that want to stay small.

2. A Quick Turnover of Ministers

If a church is turning over ministers every couple of years, that’s a problem. It takes a while for a new minister to build trust with the church members. If trust isn’t built, ministers are ineffective.

3. Domination by a Few Strong Members

If a minister leaves a church and a leadership vacuum develops, a strong member or two will often step in to help out without the intent taking over the church. But Joe says “taking over” is often what inadvertently happens. This strong individual or small group “takes care of things” while the church searches for a new minister. If the newly hired minister leaves after a short time, the same people step in to “take care of things” again, and now there’s a veiled authority structure in the church every new minister coming in will have to deal with. Instead of being able to lead, McKeever says new ministers are told “that’s not the way we do things around here” by the behind-the-scenes authorities derailing plans.

4. Not Trusting the Leaders

McKeever says:

I’ve seen this phenomenon occur in small churches (and never in large ones) at the monthly business meetings. In the small-and-determined-to-stay-small church, discussion centers on why 35 cents was spent on call-forwarding and $2.00 on paper for the office. Leaders and pastors alike are always frustrated that the congregation doesn’t trust them with $20.00, let alone $200.00.

The determined-to-stay-small church is far more concerned about the dollars and cents in the offering plate than about the lost souls in the community. This church would never step out in faith and do something bold to reach the lost and unchurched, and if they did, unless their mindset changed, they would then harass their leaders into the grave demanding an accounting of every dime spent.

If money is more important than mission, that’s a problem.

5. Inferiority Complex

This is that attitude that says, “We can’t do anything because we’re small.” As a result, no dreaming takes place. A preacher I look up to once said, “You ought to set God-sized goals for your life. A God-sized goal is a goal that’s so big, so huge, so massive, that it will only be accomplished if God is involved! Set it, take action to achieve it, and pray for God to get involved!” The same principle applies to churches.

If a church group never dreams, if a church group never develops a desire to be part of something bigger than themselves, it could be because they’re suffering from an inferiority complex that says, “We’re not good enough, talented enough, wealthy enough, whatever enough,” and they never try. Or they compare themselves to other churches: “We’re not X church with Y resources, so we can’t do Z.” Not only does this attitude show the people making up the church group don’t believe in themselves, they’re also displaying a lack of faith in God. After all, He can do the impossible!

6. No Plan

Going along with #5, small churches that stay small usually have no solid plans for the future. If you ask church members what the vision for their church is, they’ll often give you blank stares in return. With no vision and plan for achieving it, there’s no forward momentum – only stagnation.

7. Bad Spiritual Health

As McKeever puts it, if a church group is more well-known for a list of things they do and don’t do instead of the characteristics and attributes of Christ, then that group is sick. Churches should mirror Jesus. Just because a church is small doesn’t mean it’s sick, but more often than not if a church is sick it’ll be small (and will tend to stay that way).

8. Lousy Fellowship (Inwardly Focused Instead of Outwardly Focused)

This describes a church group that may be friendly to outsiders, but they aren’t real friends to outsiders. In other words, they may say “hi,” but they won’t go out of their way to develop real relationships. It’s nearly impossible for a guest to plug in to the inner circle of a church where this type of fellowship exists no matter how hard they try, so instead of sticking around they leave.

9. A State of Neglect Permeates the Church Building

McKeever says a building in shabby shape is often a sign of something deeper: “a dying church that doesn’t tend to its business.” The attitude prevalent here is one of apathy. When you get down to it, the church members don’t really care that much, and it shows in the facilities. Believe it or not, environment communicates a whole lot to outsiders before anyone says a word to them.

10. No Prayer

McKeever says this is simply a choice – “pray or quit.” If a church is reaching the lost, God is involved. Want Him to get involved? Ask. Don’t want Him involved? Don’t ask. Simple, yet oft overlooked.


There’s a lot more to McKeever’s article than the brief synopsis I’ve given you here. If you’re interested, I encourage you to read the whole thing for yourself. I’m adding it to my list of church revitalization resources.

I do, however, see a flaw in McKeever’s reasoning. Namely, his focus is almost solely on “the church members” – he doesn’t say much at all about church leaders other than his portrayal of us as victims. In my estimation churches tend to stay small more often because of bad leadership than because of “bad membership.” That being said, there’s still plenty of good stuff in this article that’s worth thinking about.

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